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Here are the readings for the Fifth Sunday of Easter, May 10, 2020.

These are for Year A in the three-year Lectionary used in public worship.

Emphases below are mine.

First reading

This is the story of Stephen’s martyrdom. He was the Church’s first martyr (feast day December 26) and one of the first deacons. Saul of Tarsus — later, Paul the Apostle — had played a big role in persecuting the Christians of Jerusalem.

Acts 7:55-60

7:55 But filled with the Holy Spirit, he gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God.

7:56 “Look,” he said, “I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!”

7:57 But they covered their ears, and with a loud shout all rushed together against him.

7:58 Then they dragged him out of the city and began to stone him; and the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul.

7:59 While they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.”

7:60 Then he knelt down and cried out in a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he died.

Psalm

This Psalm ties in well with the first reading, especially verse 5.

Psalm 31:1-5, 15-16

31:1 In you, O LORD, I seek refuge; do not let me ever be put to shame; in your righteousness deliver me.

31:2 Incline your ear to me; rescue me speedily. Be a rock of refuge for me, a strong fortress to save me.

31:3 You are indeed my rock and my fortress; for your name’s sake lead me and guide me,

31:4 take me out of the net that is hidden for me, for you are my refuge.

31:5 Into your hand I commit my spirit; you have redeemed me, O LORD, faithful God.

31:15 My times are in your hand; deliver me from the hand of my enemies and persecutors.

31:16 Let your face shine upon your servant; save me in your steadfast love.

Epistle

Readings from 1 Peter continue. Peter exhorts his converts to holiness.

1 Peter 2:2-10

2:2 Like newborn infants, long for the pure, spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow into salvation

2:3 if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.

2:4 Come to him, a living stone, though rejected by mortals yet chosen and precious in God’s sight, and

2:5 like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.

2:6 For it stands in scripture: “See, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious; and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.”

2:7 To you then who believe, he is precious; but for those who do not believe, “The stone that the builders rejected has become the very head of the corner,”

2:8 and “A stone that makes them stumble, and a rock that makes them fall.” They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do.

2:9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.

2:10 Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

Gospel

John’s Gospel has the lengthiest account of the Last Supper recording Jesus’s final messages to the Apostles. This is but one sublime passage.

John 14:1-14

14:1 “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me.

14:2 In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?

14:3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also.

14:4 And you know the way to the place where I am going.”

14:5 Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?”

14:6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

14:7 If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.

14:8 Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.”

14:9 Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?

14:10 Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works.

14:11 Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves.

14:12 Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father.

14:13 I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son.

14:14 If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.

Blessings to all, especially to those of us who cannot attend church because of coronavirus.

What follows are the readings for the Fourth Sunday of Easter, May 3, 2020.

These are for Year A in the three-year Lectionary used in public worship.

Emphases below are mine.

First reading

Readings from Acts 2 continue, describing what happened after the first Pentecost.

Acts 2:42-47

2:42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.

2:43 Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles.

2:44 All who believed were together and had all things in common;

2:45 they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need.

2:46 Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts,

2:47 praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.

Psalm

Psalm 23 was read a few weeks ago; some passages from Scripture turn up more than once in the Lectionary in the same year. In any event, this is too beautiful not to repeat.

Psalm 23

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

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

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

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

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

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

Epistle

Readings from 1 Peter continue. Peter counsels his converts on the proper conduct during a time of persecution: follow Christ’s example.

1 Peter 2:19-25

2:19 For it is a credit to you if, being aware of God, you endure pain while suffering unjustly.

2:20 If you endure when you are beaten for doing wrong, what credit is that? But if you endure when you do right and suffer for it, you have God’s approval.

2:21 For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you should follow in his steps.

2:22 “He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.”

2:23 When he was abused, he did not return abuse; when he suffered, he did not threaten; but he entrusted himself to the one who judges justly.

2:24 He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that, free from sins, we might live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed.

2:25 For you were going astray like sheep, but now you have returned to the shepherd and guardian of your souls.

Gospel

The rest of the Eastertide Gospel readings alternate between John and Luke. Here we have John’s account of Jesus as the Good Shepherd, which ties in well with the Epistle.

John 10:1-10

10:1 Very truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit.

10:2 The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep.

10:3 The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.

10:4 When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice.

10:5 They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers.”

10:6 Jesus used this figure of speech with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.

10:7 So again Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep.

10:8 All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them.

10:9 I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture.

10:10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”

May God bless all who read this, especially those who are unable to worship in church at this unprecedented time.

Readings follow for the Third Sunday of Easter, April 26, 2020.

These are for Year A in the three-year Lectionary used in public worship.

Emphases below are mine.

First reading

Peter’s first sermon at the first Pentecost continues.

Acts 2:14a, 36-41

2:14a: But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them,

2:36 “Therefore let the entire house of Israel know with certainty that God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified.”

2:37 Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and to the other apostles, “Brothers, what should we do?”

2:38 Peter said to them, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

2:39 For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.”

2:40 And he testified with many other arguments and exhorted them, saying, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.”

2:41 So those who welcomed his message were baptized, and that day about three thousand persons were added.

Psalm

David penned this psalm of general thanksgiving to God; He hears and answers all those who are in distress.

Psalm 116:1-4, 12-19

116:1 I love the LORD, because he has heard my voice and my supplications.

116:2 Because he inclined his ear to me, therefore I will call on him as long as I live.

116:3 The snares of death encompassed me; the pangs of Sheol laid hold on me; I suffered distress and anguish.

116:4 Then I called on the name of the LORD: “O LORD, I pray, save my life!”

116:12 What shall I return to the LORD for all his bounty to me?

116:13 I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the LORD,

116:14 I will pay my vows to the LORD in the presence of all his people.

116:15 Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his faithful ones.

116:16 O LORD, I am your servant; I am your servant, the child of your serving girl. You have loosed my bonds.

116:17 I will offer to you a thanksgiving sacrifice and call on the name of the LORD.

116:18 I will pay my vows to the LORD in the presence of all his people,

116:19 in the courts of the house of the LORD, in your midst, O Jerusalem. Praise the LORD!

Epistle

Readings from 1 Peter continue. The converts were persecuted. He gives them spiritual encouragement during their time of temporal difficulties.

1 Peter 1:17-23

1:17 If you invoke as Father the one who judges all people impartially according to their deeds, live in reverent fear during the time of your exile.

1:18 You know that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your ancestors, not with perishable things like silver or gold,

1:19 but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without defect or blemish.

1:20 He was destined before the foundation of the world, but was revealed at the end of the ages for your sake.

1:21 Through him you have come to trust in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are set on God.

1:22 Now that you have purified your souls by your obedience to the truth so that you have genuine mutual love, love one another deeply from the heart.

1:23 You have been born anew, not of perishable but of imperishable seed, through the living and enduring word of God.

Gospel

Last week’s reading was the end of John’s Gospel. We now turn to Luke’s Resurrection story of the road to Emmaus, more about which in this post:

The road to Emmaus — a great Easter story

Luke 24:13-35

24:13 Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem,

24:14 and talking with each other about all these things that had happened.

24:15 While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them,

24:16 but their eyes were kept from recognizing him.

24:17 And he said to them, “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?” They stood still, looking sad.

24:18 Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?”

24:19 He asked them, “What things?” They replied, “The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people,

24:20 and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him.

24:21 But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place.

24:22 Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning,

24:23 and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive.

24:24 Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him.”

24:25 Then he said to them, “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared!

24:26 Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?”

24:27 Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.

24:28 As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on.

24:29 But they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.” So he went in to stay with them.

24:30 When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them.

24:31 Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight.

24:32 They said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?”

24:33 That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together.

24:34 They were saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!”

24:35 Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.

Eastertide is the best time of the Church year. Embrace it. Enjoy it.

May this season lift our hearts and minds, even if we cannot gather together for worship.

What follows are the readings for the Second Sunday of Easter, April 19, 2020.

These are for Year A in the three-year Lectionary used in public worship.

This particular day was traditionally known as Quasimodo Sunday, because of the Latin Introit: ‘Quasi modo geniti infantes, rationabile, sine dolo lac concupiscite’. This translates to: ‘As newborn babes, desire the rational milk without guile’ and is intended for those baptised the week before. Centuries ago, it was on this day that the recently baptised went without their white robes for the first time.

This day is also known as Low Sunday, because the return to regular Sunday observance resumes. The ceremonies of Easter Vigil and Easter Day are over.

That said, Eastertide continues until Pentecost Sunday.

You can read more about Quasimodo Sunday in the following post. The eponymous Victor Hugo character was found as an abandoned baby outside Notre-Dame Cathedral on this particular Sunday, hence his name:

Quasimodo Sunday — seriously

Emphases below are mine.

First reading

This is what Peter preached on the first Pentecost.

Acts 2:14a, 22-32

2:14a But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them,

2:22 “You that are Israelites, listen to what I have to say: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with deeds of power, wonders, and signs that God did through him among you, as you yourselves know-

2:23 this man, handed over to you according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of those outside the law.

2:24 But God raised him up, having freed him from death, because it was impossible for him to be held in its power.

2:25 For David says concerning him, ‘I saw the Lord always before me, for he is at my right hand so that I will not be shaken;

2:26 therefore my heart was glad, and my tongue rejoiced; moreover my flesh will live in hope.

2:27 For you will not abandon my soul to Hades, or let your Holy One experience corruption.

2:28 You have made known to me the ways of life; you will make me full of gladness with your presence.’

2:29 “Fellow Israelites, I may say to you confidently of our ancestor David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day.

2:30 Since he was a prophet, he knew that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would put one of his descendants on his throne.

2:31 Foreseeing this, David spoke of the resurrection of the Messiah, saying, ‘He was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh experience corruption.’

2:32 This Jesus God raised up, and of that all of us are witnesses.

Psalm

Here David writes of himself but more appropriately of the Messiah to come: Jesus Christ. Peter refers to verse 10 in his preaching above (Acts 2:27).

Psalm 16

16:1 Protect me, O God, for in you I take refuge.

16:2 I say to the LORD, “You are my Lord; I have no good apart from you.”

16:3 As for the holy ones in the land, they are the noble, in whom is all my delight.

16:4 Those who choose another god multiply their sorrows; their drink offerings of blood I will not pour out or take their names upon my lips.

16:5 The LORD is my chosen portion and my cup; you hold my lot.

16:6 The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; I have a goodly heritage.

16:7 I bless the LORD who gives me counsel; in the night also my heart instructs me.

16:8 I keep the LORD always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved.

16:9 Therefore my heart is glad, and my soul rejoices; my body also rests secure.

16:10 For you do not give me up to Sheol, or let your faithful one see the Pit.

16:11 You show me the path of life. In your presence there is fullness of joy; in your right hand are pleasures forevermore.

Epistle

Peter wrote of the everlasting life to come, thanks to the Resurrection. Therefore, let us be glad and rejoice, regardless of our trials and troubles. Verses 8 and 9 tie in well with the Gospel.

1 Peter 1:3-9

1:3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,

1:4 and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you,

1:5 who are being protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.

1:6 In this you rejoice, even if now for a little while you have had to suffer various trials,

1:7 so that the genuineness of your faith–being more precious than gold that, though perishable, is tested by fire–may be found to result in praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.

1:8 Although you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy,

1:9 for you are receiving the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

Gospel

The Gospel for this day is always the story of Thomas, who doubted. Blessed are those who have not seen yet believed. Refer back to the Epistle, 1 Peter:8-9.

I have more on this reading below:

Doubting Thomas — John 20:19-31

Doubting Thomas: When seeing is believing

John 20:19-31

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May everyone reading this be blessed with abundant faith through divine grace.

Easter resurrection Karl Heinrich BlochEaster 2020 is like no other.

Pray this never happens again for centuries to come.

In England, this is the first Easter without church services since 1213.

Because of the coronavirus lockdown, the Queen’s dispensing of Maundy money on Maundy Thursday could not take place. The Palace had to send this year’s Maundy money by post to worthy recipients such as Jane Armstrong, who has volunteered at her local church for over 50 years.

The Mirror interviewed Mrs Armstrong, a retired teacher:

Jane, 76, of Bishop Auckland, County Durham, has run youth clubs, crisis support groups and food banks, at Woodhouse Close Church, since the late 1960s.

The Maundy Thursday service at Windsor would have been the third time she met the Queen.

Her package from the Queen contained a £5 coin commemorating William Wordsworth in a red pouch, a 50p coin for the 2020 Olympics in a silver pouch.

The 94 specially-minted silver pennies were in a white pouch.

The married mum-of-two and grandmother-of-one said: “In the letter she expressed her sadness that it couldn’t go ahead.

“I understand that she has never missed a service and that Maundy Thursday is very important to her as she has strong Christian
commitments.

“I think she is quite sad about it. It was way before Christmas I had the invitation.

“I was surprised but it’s quite an honour. I’m very committed to my work at the church and I felt it was important. I think it was for the
work I do at the church.

“All my life I’ve worked at the church. We are very involved in the community.

“It’s been a privilege to be part of that. I’m still in and out every day even at my age.

“We are still working during coronavirus and the food bank is open every day.

“It would have been the third time I had met the Queen after I received my MBE in 1996 and later a ceremony with the Queen for the Church Urban Fund …“

This churchless Easter and the coronavirus lockdown must have affected the Queen deeply, because she issued another message only six days after her televised message which reached audiences around the world. Her Easter message is audio only and revolves around the light in the Paschal candle which symbolises the hope that Christ’s Resurrection brings to all believers. This is subtitled, but the Daily Mail also has a transcript:

It’s hard to disagree with this:

Since childhood, Easter has always been my favourite holiday, for religious and secular reasons. Consequently, today, April 12, 2020, is bittersweet.

The main thing to remember about Easter is that, without Christ’s Resurrection, there would have been no Church.

Therefore, I was somewhat dismayed to see that our local Easter services leaflet which arrived a couple of weeks before lockdown showed an image of the Crucifixion rather than an image of the Resurrection. Sadly, many Britons today, unchurched as they are, believe that Christianity is stupid because Jesus died and that was the end of His story. We get very few lessons about the Resurrection in schools here. Questions will be asked on the Day of Judgement.

What follows are the readings for the Resurrection of the Lord, Year A, in the three-year Lectionary.

Emphases mine below.

First reading

There are two options for the first reading, Acts 10 or Jeremiah 31.

First option

I wrote about this passage from Acts 10 at length a few years ago:

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

Acts 10:34-43

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Second option

The Lord promised His chosen that He would bring them out of captivity in Babylon.

Jeremiah 31:1-6

31:1 At that time, says the LORD, I will be the God of all the families of Israel, and they shall be my people.

31:2 Thus says the LORD: The people who survived the sword found grace in the wilderness; when Israel sought for rest,

31:3 the LORD appeared to him from far away. I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you.

31:4 Again I will build you, and you shall be built, O virgin Israel! Again you shall take your tambourines, and go forth in the dance of the merrymakers.

31:5 Again you shall plant vineyards on the mountains of Samaria; the planters shall plant, and shall enjoy the fruit.

31:6 For there shall be a day when sentinels will call in the hill country of Ephraim: “Come, let us go up to Zion, to the LORD our God.”

Psalm

Psalm 118 is a fitting one for Easter. This post explains more about it:

Psalm 118, Christ’s Passion and Eastertide

Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Epistle

There are two choices for the Epistle. One is the passage from Acts 10 above. The other is from Colossians 3.

Colossians 3:1-4

3:1 So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.

3:2 Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth,

3:3 for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.

3:4 When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory.

Gospel

There are two choices for the Gospel: John’s account and Matthew’s.

This post discusses both accounts:

Happy Easter — He is risen!

First option

John recounts how he — ‘the other disciple’ — and Peter went to see the empty tomb after Mary Magdalene alerted them.

John 20:1-18

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

20:10 Then the disciples returned to their homes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Second option

This was the Gospel reading for Easter Vigil on Holy Saturday.

Matthew 28:1-10

28:1 After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb.

28:2 And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it.

28:3 His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow.

28:4 For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men.

28:5 But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified.

28:6 He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay.

28:7 Then go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.’ This is my message for you.”

28:8 So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples.

28:9 Suddenly Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshiped him.

28:10 Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”

Newer readers might find these Easter posts of interest. The Easter poem by the Revd George Herbert is a good one to share with children:

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

Easter poems from an inspired Anglican, the Revd George Herbert

George Herbert: 17th century poet and priest

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

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

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

Holy Week and Easter — the two-part story

The road to Emmaus — a great Easter story

Happy Easter — yes, Jesus rose from the dead! (2018, with explanation of Resurrection accounts, Year B readings)

The Easter story: reflections on Mark 16:1-8 (Dr Gregory Jackson, Lutheran)

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

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

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

Despite our restrictions, today is the day to keep the risen Christ in our minds and hearts.

Happy Easter! He is risen!

Forbidden Bible Verses will appear tomorrow.

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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy 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 28:30-31

30 He lived there two whole years at his own expense,[a] and welcomed all who came to him, 31 proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance.

———————————————————————————————————

Last week’s entry discussed Paul’s discourse to the Jews of Rome.

Some translations of Acts 28 have a verse 29:

And when he had said these words, the Jews departed, and had great disputing among themselves.

One can imagine that, verse 29 or not, they no doubt parsed Paul’s words and debated his message intensely.

Now we come to the end of St Luke’s Book of Acts, a tremendous Spirit-inspired account of the growth of the early Church after the first Pentecost. Those who have not followed the passages excluded from the three-year Lectionary can find the relevant entries and exegeses on my Essential Bible Verses page beginning with Acts 2:12-13, which is nearly three years old now. It’s amazing how time flies.

Returning to today’s verses, Luke tells us that Paul remained in Rome for two years, living at his own expense, even though he was a prisoner of Caesar’s, and welcomed all who came to him (verse 30).

It is possible that he did have his case heard before Nero, who, at that time, did not have a particular issue with Christians preaching. His prohibition on such preaching came later.

Our commentators have diverging views on what happened during these two years with regard to Paul’s case.

Matthew Henry offers the possibilities that the Roman justice system either forgot about him or that he was indeed tried more than once (emphases mine):

Two whole years of that good man’s life are here spent in confinement, and, for aught that appears, he was never enquired after, all that time, by those whose prisoner he was. He appealed to Cæsar, in hope of a speedy discharge from his imprisonment, the governors having signified to his imperial majesty concerning the prisoner that he had done nothing worthy of death or bonds, and yet he is detained a prisoner. So little reason have we to trust in men, especially despised prisoners in great men; witness the case of Joseph, whom the chief butler remembered not, but forgot, Genesis 40:23. Yet some think that though it be not mentioned here, yet it was in the former of these two years, and early too in that year, that he was first brought before Nero, and then his bonds in Christ were manifest in Cæsar’s court, as he says, Philippians 1:13. And at this first answer it was that no man stood by him, 2 Timothy 4:16. But it seems, instead of being set at liberty upon this appeal, as he expected, he hardly escaped out of the emperor’s hands with his life; he calls it a deliverance out of the mouth of the lion, 2 Timothy 4:17, and his speaking there of his first answer intimates that since that he had a second, in which he had come off better, and yet was not discharged.

John MacArthur thinks that the Roman justice system was merely slow:

So, I did a little research, and I found some interesting things. Historians note that long delays were very common in first-century trials in the Roman government, because of the tremendous backup of trials that they had. They had a court system something like ours, and people kept getting stacked up, and trials were put off; only they didn’t let them out, they kept them in jail. Also, isn’t it likely that the records of all of the information about him that must have been sent from the Roman governor in Judea had been lost in the shipwreck?

And sending back to get more records, and then sending the records back again, was a many-month problem. In addition to that, Roman law required that the accusers, or those that were prosecuting the case, be in Rome to accuse him. And I told you before that I have serious doubts whether any of those Jews would have come to Rome to persecute Paul, because of the fact that they knew they had no case. Now, it is most likely that there was eighteen-month or a twenty-four month statutory period in which the prosecution must state his case.

At the end of that time, if the case had not been stated, the prisoner would be released. It is my conviction, at the end of those two years Paul was released, and for a period of time, ministered yet. Then was made a prisoner again, for the final time, and that was the time in which he was beheaded. Roman law dealt very very, very harshly with unsuccessful prosecutions, and so, there just never was one. And so, for two years he was free to minister. Those were busy two years. You know what he did in these two years? Led a whole bunch of people to Christ.

Luke ends Acts by saying that Paul preached about Jesus Christ and the kingdom of God boldly and without hindrance (verse 31).

Paul also wrote letters to the churches.

Henry tells us:

During these two years’ imprisonment he wrote his epistle to the Galatians, then his second epistle to Timothy, then those to the Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and to Philemon, in which he mentions several things particularly concerning his imprisonment; and, lastly, his epistle to the Hebrews just after he was set at liberty, as Timothy also was, who, coming to visit him, was upon some account or other made his fellow-prisoner (with whom, writes Paul to the Hebrews, Hebrews 13:23, if he come shortly, I will see you), but how or by what means he obtained his liberty we are not told, only that two years he was a prisoner.

MacArthur does not think that Paul wrote Hebrews, which I will discuss more this week, as it is the next book I intend to write about.

However, MacArthur has a bit more, including the names of people who were with him at least some of that time:

He wrote the book of Colossians, he wrote the book of Philemon, he wrote the book of Ephesians, and he wrote the book of Philippians. Everybody came and went. In Colossians, he tells them that Aristarchus is with him, Luke is with him, Mark is with him, Jesus Justus is with him, Epaphras is with him, Demas is with him. He was having a terrific time. In Philippians, he tells about what was going on. Philippians 1, he tells about the salvation that’s going on, and he’s just having a great time.

He further talks about his blessing, and how the gospel is spreading. Chapter 2, verse 24, he says, “It’s not going to be long; then I’ll come and see you Philippians.” And he apparently is realizing that the imprisonment is kind of winding down. His bonds – verse 1 – chapter 1:13 – are being manifest in all the palace. Chapter 4, the saints of Caesar’s household greet you. So people were being saved, and great things were happening. He was then likely released, had a ministry of travel, came back as a prisoner.

In his final imprisonment, he wrote 1-2 Timothy and Titus. Probably about four years later, and outside, on the road to Ostia, he was finally beheaded.

Henry says that Paul might have realised his goal of evangelising in Spain, although we cannot be certain:

Tradition says that after his discharge he went from Italy to Spain, thence to Crete, and so with Timothy into Judea, and thence went to visit the churches in Asia, and at length came a second time to Rome, and there was beheaded in the last year of Nero. But Baronius himself owns that there is no certainty of any thing concerning him betwixt his release from this imprisonment and his martyrdom

As for Nero’s volte face, Henry tells us what two of the early Church fathers — Tertullian and Chrysostom — wrote. The latter gave an account of one of the emperor’s mistresses who became a Christian and renounced her wicked ways, which enraged Nero:

… it is said by some that Nero, having, when he began to play the tyrant, set himself against the Christians, and persecuted them (and he was the first of the emperors that made a law against them, as Tertullian says, Apol. cap. 5), the church at Rome was much weakened by that persecution, and this brought Paul the second time to Rome, to re-establish the church there, and to comfort the souls of the disciples that were left, and so he fell a second time into Nero’s hand. And Chrysostom relates that a young woman that was one of Nero’s misses (to speak modishly) being converted, by Paul’s preaching, to the Christian faith, and so brought off from the lewd course of life she had lived, Nero was incensed against Paul for it, and ordered him first to be imprisoned, and then put to death.

As for takeaways from Paul’s ministry in Rome — and elsewhere — MacArthur says:

Let me sum this up this way. What does this teach us about evangelism? Just note these things, will you, on your outline? Let me make a statement about. What do we learn about his effective evangelism? … Where did he preach? Anywhere.

And how did he preach? I’m going to give you three thoughts. Number one, he preached lovingly. Notice verses 17 to 20. Remember how conciliating he was to the Jews, how loving he was? How he said, “I have no accusation against my nation – in spite of all that’s been done to me?” He preached lovingly. Second, he preached biblically. He expounded and testified the kingdom of God, as it was recorded in the law of Moses and out of the prophets, verse 23. He preached biblically. It wasn’t his opinion; it was biblical truth applied and fulfilled in the Messiah.

He also preached doctrinally. That is, he taught the great doctrines of the kingdom – verse 31. The things concerning the Lord Jesus Christ. Verse 23 indicates he taught concerning the kingdom of God. He preached lovingly, biblically and doctrinally. When did he preach? When? Number one – promptly. Give you four thoughts. He preached promptly; verse 17, after three days he began. Second thing, tirelessly; verse 23, he preached from morning till evening, tirelessly. Thirdly, he preached incessantly; for two whole years he preached, verse 30 and 31.

And I like it at the end of verse 31: “with all confidence” – he preached boldly. When did he preach? Promptly, tirelessly, incessantly, and with great boldness. That’s just kind of an addition. To whom did he preach? Verse 17, to the Jews; verse 28, to the Gentiles; to anybody. And what did he preach? What was Paul’s message? Verse 23, persuading them concerning Jesus. Verse 31, teaching the things concerning the Lord Jesus Christ. He preached Jesus, that’s who he preached.

People, what does that say to us? Where are we to preach? Wherever we are. How are we to preach? Lovingly, biblically, doctrinally. When are we to preach? Promptly, tirelessly, incessantly, and with boldness. To whom are we to preach? Jew or Gentile; anybody. And what are we to preach? Jesus Christ. And what are the results? The results are exciting. Verse 24, some believed; some believed. Verse 29, some argued and went away. Some believe and some do not.

There is another important point. Rome then was not unlike some of the world’s great cities today. It was degenerate. It had a few rich people and a lot of poor people. The Romans also owned slaves. Yet, Paul never preached a social gospel.

MacArthur describes the city and Paul’s approach:

As Paul entered the city, he would have seen the temple of Jupiter, which stood out and dominated the city. There was no Coliseum in Rome at the time of Paul. He would have seen on the Palatine hill the three houses of Augustus Tiberius and Caligula, which now had been tied together to make one formidable and massive palace, the home of Nero. He would have seen the great temple of Mars.

And all of this would have spoken to him of the degeneracy, and the idolatry and paganism, of this great city. Rome had become the center of paganism, and the center of decadence, and it was on its way down. The population of Rome at the time when Paul arrived would be approximately two million people; two million people confined to a very small area. Historians tell us that one million of them were slaves, and the other million of them were known as citizens. That is, they were legitimate citizens.

The vast majority of them were absolutely penniless, paupers who slept in the street, and who slept upon the parapets, and whatever else they could find, outdoors in the city of Rome, because they had absolutely nothing. But they were citizens, and they had citizenship, and consequently, they lorded it over the slaves. But nearly all of the two million people were absolute paupers – both the slaves and the citizens – and all of the money resided in the hands of a very few. There were 700 senators – once there was a thousand, but that had begun to degenerate.

There were 10,000 knights, 15,000 soldiers, and then a handful or so of dignitaries, and that was pretty much it. And all of the finances, and all of the power, rested with those people, and the mass of the two-million people existed in abject poverty. This bred all kinds of decadence. The great mass of paupers, who were even proud of their citizenship, held the slaves in contempt beneath them, and of course, there were constant slave revolts. Thousands of these poor people had no homes, and their lives were totally amoral.

Into this melee of depraved and deprived humanity came the apostle Paul, the messenger of the Lord Jesus Christ. And his interest in Rome was not sociological, it was not economic, it was not cultural; it was purely evangelism. He desired to win them to Jesus Christ and to mature the Christians.

Paul’s example demonstrates why today’s focus on the social gospel is wrong.

Paul did not preach about revolt.

Paul did not advocate reparations.

Paul preached the Good News of Jesus Christ and the promise of eternal life to those who believe.

May we, therefore, learn from his ministry and do likewise ourselves.

Next time — Hebrews 1:13-14

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 28:23-28

23 When they had appointed a day for him, they came to him at his lodging in greater numbers. From morning till evening he expounded to them, testifying to the kingdom of God and trying to convince them about Jesus both from the Law of Moses and from the Prophets. 24 And some were convinced by what he said, but others disbelieved. 25 And disagreeing among themselves, they departed after Paul had made one statement: “The Holy Spirit was right in saying to your fathers through Isaiah the prophet:

26 “‘Go to this people, and say,
“You will indeed hear but never understand,
    and you will indeed see but never perceive.”
27 For this people’s heart has grown dull,
    and with their ears they can barely hear,
    and their eyes they have closed;
lest they should see with their eyes
    and hear with their ears
and understand with their heart
    and turn, and I would heal them.’

28 Therefore let it be known to you that this salvation of God has been sent to the Gentiles; they will listen.”[a]

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Last week’s entry discussed the Roman Jews’ request for more information on Christianity, which they called a ‘sect’.

Before delving into today’s passage, John MacArthur makes an excellent observation not only about the content of Acts 28 but also about the entire Book of Acts (emphases mine):

the whole book of Acts is the story of God’s final striving with the Hebrew people. From the time that God called Abraham and founded the nation, He has been striving with Israel.

Historically, throughout all of the Old Testament, Israel failed to live up to the information and the revelation that they had. They grieved the heart of God, they wounded His heart, they broke His heart, and judgment after judgment after judgment after judgment came. There were several captivities that came. One tragic note in the history of Israel was when the entire northern kingdom just disintegrated. Israel was just continually failing to live up to the covenant with God. And yet God was gracious, and Christ finally came.

And first, John the Baptist announced it to Israel. Then, Christ came first to Israel. Then, at the day of Pentecost, when the church was born, the Spirit of God was sent to the midst of Israel. As the church scattered, the apostle Paul went into town, and he went first to Israel, into the synagogues. And finally, now we come to Rome; the last solemn abandonment of Israel. It was only 10 years later – or less – from the record of this passage, that the Roman eagles stormed into Jerusalem, and destroyed Judaism, for good.

What we have today that is called Judaism is only a faint shadow of what Judaism was. It was destroyed in 70 A.D. This is the last solemn, biblical warning to Israel. This is the last time God ever went to the Jew first, right here. Now, the words that Paul quotes in this passage are taken from Isaiah 6. Isaiah spoke them at a time when Israel was in sin. Our Lord Jesus spoke them in Matthew 13, showing the kingdom would be taken from Israel. John quotes the same words in John, chapter 12, and now Paul quotes them.

The prominent Jews in Rome went to Paul’s lodgings on an appointed day to hear what he had to say about Christianity (verse 23). In his love for them, which he had for all Jews — even those who wanted to kill him, as Luke documented throughout Acts — Paul spent hours trying to persuade them that Jesus is the Messiah. He cited the Pentateuch — the first five books from Moses — and he cited the prophets.

I cannot imagine how passionately yet rationally Paul, a converted Pharisee, laid this out. He would have felt duty bound from his heart. He wanted so much to persuade these Jews, his brothers, to believe.

He succeeded with some, but not with all (verse 24).

They left after Paul cited Isaiah 6:9-10 (verses 26, 27), which Paul prefaced by saying that the Holy Spirit was correct about those to whom Isaiah prophesied (verse 25).

In effect, Paul asked them to really consider that one last message. Paul was saying that what had happened to their forefathers will happen to them if they do not heed his discourse. God would make them spiritually blind with no way back.

Matthew Henry’s commentary says:

He perceived by what they muttered that there were many among them, and perhaps the greater part, that were obstinate, and would not yield to the conviction of what he said; and they were getting up to be gone, they had had enough of it: “Hold,” says Paul, “take one word with you before you go, and consider of it when you come home: what do you think will be the effect of your obstinate infidelity? What will you do in the end hereof? What will it come to?”

1. “You will by the righteous judgment of God be sealed up under unbelief. You harden your own hearts, and God will harden them as he did Pharaoh’s’; and this is what was prophesied of concerning you. Turn to that scripture (Isaiah 6:9,10), and read it seriously, and tremble lest the case there described should prove to be your case.” As there are in the Old Testament gospel promises, which will be accomplished in all that believe, so there are gospel threatenings of spiritual judgments, which will be fulfilled in those that believe not; and this is one. It is part of the commission given to Isaiah the prophet; he is sent to make those worse that would not be made better. Well spoke the Holy Ghost by Esaias the prophet unto our fathers. What was spoken by JEHOVAH is here said to be spoken by the Holy Ghost, which proves that the Holy Ghost is God; and what was spoken to Isaiah is here said to be spoken by him to their fathers, for he was ordered to tell the people what God said to him; and, though what is there said had in it much of terror to the people and of grief to the prophet, yet it is here said to be well spoken. Hezekiah said concerning a message of wrath, Good is the word of the Lord which thou hast spoken, Isaiah 39:8. And he that believes not shall be damned is gospel, as well as, He that believes shall be saved, Mark 16:16. Or this may be explained by that of our Saviour (Matthew 15:7), “Well did Esaias prophesy of you. The Holy Ghost said to your fathers, that which would be fulfilled in you, Hearing you shall hear, and shall not understand.” (1.) “That which was their great sin against God is yours; and that is this, you will not see. You shut your eyes against the most convincing evidence possible, and will not admit the conclusion, though you cannot deny the premises: Your eyes you have closed,” Acts 28:27. This intimates an obstinate infidelity, and a willing slavery to prejudice. “As your fathers would not see God’s hand lifted up against them in his judgments (Isaiah 26:11), so you will not see God’s hand stretched out to you in gospel grace.”

MacArthur has this analysis:

Isaiah, Jesus, John, and Paul all quote the very same words. What do they say? Look at verse 25: “And when they had agreed not among themselves, they departed.” Boy, that is so tragic. That is the last Biblical abandonment of Israel, after Paul had spoken one word. Here’s what drove them away: “Well spoke the Holy Spirit by Isaiah the prophet unto our fathers.” There’s a note on inspiration, the Holy Spirit speaking through Isaiah.

This is what He said: “Go unto this people, and say, ‘Hearing you shall hear, and shall not understand; and seeing you shall see, and not perceive: For the heart of this people is become fat’” – or obtuse – “‘and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes have they closed; lest they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them.’” You’ll notice verse 27 says: “They closed their ears, they closed their eyes, they sealed up their understanding.”

Verse 26 says: “Now they can’t hear, now they can’t understand.” What began as a willful act turned into the sovereignty of God. Israel rejected, willfully blinded themselves, willfully deafened themselves, willfully did not understand, and consequently were tied to that kind of destiny, as God sealed their ears, their eyes, and their minds. Turn for a minute with me to John 12, and I just want to show you the similar passage here, and point some things out to you.

… Now, what began as willful blindness turned into sovereign blindness; frightening. They did not in verse 37; they could not in verse 39. He who will not believe may find some day that he cannot believe.

Paul closed by saying that the Gentiles would hear the Gospel message and, therefore, salvation is theirs (verse 28).

MacArthur explains, still citing John 12:

Verse 30: “The Gentiles who followed not after righteousness, have attained to righteousness.” Verse 31: ”But Israel has failed.” Now, all of that to show that God turns to the Gentiles, but notice carefully, chapter 11, verse 17: “And if some of the branches be broken off” – now, the branches here are Israel, and the root or the trunk is the blessing of God. “If some of the branches are broken off, and thou, being a wild olive tree, were grafted in among them.”

In other words, the Gentile is the wild olive tree grafted into the trunk of God’s blessing; the Jews are the ones cut off. Verse 18: “Boast not against the branches.” In other words, just because the Gentiles have been grafted in is no cause for us to boast against the Jews. Verse 19: “Thou wilt say then, ‘The branches were broken off, that I might be grafted in.’” You think you’re better than the Jews? Well, because of unbelief they were broken off, and you stand by faith. “Be not highminded, but fear: For if God spared not the natural branches, take heed lest He also spare not you.”

You see? Now, be careful that you don’t become overmuch proud, or God may just cut you off. “Behold therefore the goodness and severity of God: on them who fell, severity; and toward thee, goodness, if you continue in His goodness: otherwise thou shalt also be cut off.” And here he’s talking about the total of the Gentiles. “And they also, if they abide not still in unbelief, shall be grafted in.” Now, notice that? Israel will be re-grafted in if they believe. “For God is able to graft them in again.

“For if you were cut out of the olive tree which is wild by nature, and grafted contrary to nature into a good olive tree” – you’re not even a normal olive tree, you’re a wild one – “how much more shall these, who are the natural branches, be grafted into their own olive tree?” Listen, the end of verse 25: “blindness in part has happened to Israel, only until the fullness of the Gentiles be come in” – until the completion of the church. “And so all Israel shall be saved.” Listen, God will graft in Israel again.

And so, we see that He’s not ultimately through with them, because that would be to break His eternal covenants. But for the time being, God has set Israel aside, the kingdom is postponed, and the Gentiles are drawn to Him. Verse 28: “Be it known therefore unto you, that the salvation of God is sent to the Gentiles, and they will hear it.” Now, this has happened over and over again in the book of Acts: chapter 11, verse 18; chapter 13, verse 46 and 47; chapter 14:27; 15, verses 14 to 18; and chapter 18, verse 6; we see this move to the Gentiles.

Does this ruin God’s plan? No. It didn’t ruin His plan. God will restore Israel. So, we see the inversion, the reversal; and we are the recipients of the blessing of that reversal: Gentiles who believe.

Pray that all unbelievers — not only the Jews — come to believe that Jesus Christ is Lord. I often wonder if some atheists have had a sovereign judgement placed on them. I hope not, but the thought of such a judgement is, as MacArthur says, ‘frightening’.

Next week’s post ends this study of Acts and discusses the rest of Paul’s time in Rome.

Next time — Acts 28:30-31

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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy 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 28:17-22

Paul in Rome

17 After three days he called together the local leaders of the Jews, and when they had gathered, he said to them, “Brothers, though I had done nothing against our people or the customs of our fathers, yet I was delivered as a prisoner from Jerusalem into the hands of the Romans. 18 When they had examined me, they wished to set me at liberty, because there was no reason for the death penalty in my case. 19 But because the Jews objected, I was compelled to appeal to Caesar—though I had no charge to bring against my nation. 20 For this reason, therefore, I have asked to see you and speak with you, since it is because of the hope of Israel that I am wearing this chain.” 21 And they said to him, “We have received no letters from Judea about you, and none of the brothers coming here has reported or spoken any evil about you. 22 But we desire to hear from you what your views are, for with regard to this sect we know that everywhere it is spoken against.”

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In last week’s entry, Paul had arrived in Rome at long last, greeted by Christians who met him along the way and journeyed with him into that great city.

Three days after his arrival, Paul sought to speak to the Jews to discuss his case (verse 17).

Wherever he went during his ministry, he sought his fellow Jews first. Not only were the Jews God’s chosen people, but Paul also wanted to set out to explain why Jesus is the Messiah.

Before delving into these verses further, it is worth looking into the history of Jews in Rome around this time in history. Nero was emperor when Paul was in Judea and in Rome. Before Nero, Claudius ruled.

Claudius had banned all Jews from Rome, but now that Nero had succeeded him, they returned.

Matthew Henry says they probably were not allowed synagogues yet, even though there were religious congregations of sorts with rabbis (emphases mine):

It was not long since, by an edict of Claudius, all the Jews were banished from Rome, and kept out till his death; but, in the five years since then, many Jews had come thither, for the advantage of trade, though it does not appear that they were allowed any synagogue there or place of public worship; but these chief of the Jews were those of best figure among them, the most distinguished men of that religion, who had the best estates and interests. Paul called them together, being desirous to stand right in their opinion, and that there might be a good understanding between him and them.

John MacArthur, on the other hand, thinks that there were synagogues at the time of Paul’s stay:

He introduces himself, first of all, to the Jews. “And it came to pass, that after three days” – you’ll notice he doesn’t ever let any grass grow under his feet – “Paul called the chief of the Jews together.” Now, that is not one person; that is many of them. All of the important leaders of the synagogues, and historians have told us there’s anywhere from 12 down to 7 synagogues operating in Rome at this time in history. Each of those synagogues would have some chief men.

MacArthur also says that there were laymen who were wealthy and influential among the Jewish communities. Paul addressed them as ‘brethren’, and in older translations, ‘men and brethren’:

There were also wealthy trade merchants and other people who were of an official character in the city of Rome who were Jewish, who would have been in on this. So, “Paul called the chief of the Jews together: and when they were come together, he said unto them, ‘Men and brethren, though I have committed nothing against the people, or customs of our fathers, yet was I delivered prisoner from Jerusalem into the hands of the Romans.’” And here is Paul’s pattern, as always; we see that whenever he has gone to a city previously, to whom did he go first? To the Jews.

Paul began by stating that he had never done anything against the Jews. Yet, the Jews in Jerusalem had him taken prisoner by the Romans.

Paul went on to say that the Romans found him guilty of no crime, therefore, no punishment — including the death penalty (verse 18). Now Paul was a Roman citizen, but when the Romans took him prisoner, the Jews had accused Paul of being an infiltrator from Egypt, one who had stirred up riots in Jerusalem. This, of course, was false, but took time for the Romans to establish and for Paul to set straight himself directly to the Jews afterwards.

Paul then said that the Jews objected to the Romans’ intention of setting Paul free and, because of that, he wanted to appeal to Caesar (verse 19). Once again, he said he had no complaint against the Jewish people, or ‘nation’.

Henry says:

It is true Paul did not impose the customs of the fathers upon the Gentiles: they were never intended for them. But it is as true that he never opposed them in the Jews, but did himself, when he was among them, conform to them. He never quarrelled with them for practising according to the usages of their own religion, but only for their enmity to the Gentiles, Galatians 2:12. Paul had the testimony of his conscience for him that he had done his duty to the Jews.

MacArthur rightly points out that if the Romans had freed Paul in Judea, the Jews would have retaliated violently. A Roman governor did not want disorder in the territory he governed, because he could be recalled.

MacArthur provides this analysis:

… even though he was innocent all the way down the line, here he is a prisoner in Rome. It is not because he is guilty that he is a prisoner; it is because the Romans were being blackmailed by the Jews. In other words, if the Romans did not keep him in prison, if they did not prosecute him, the Jews would lead an insurrection against Rome in Judea, and that would be very bad. So, the Roman governor succumbed to the pressure of the Jewish leaders, and kept Paul a prisoner.

Now, verse 18 takes us a little further into his introduction, as he talks to the elders of the Jews, the chief ones. Talking about the Romans, “Who, when they had examined me” – the Romans examined him; repeatedly they examined him, Felix, Festus and Agrippa – “Who, when they had examined me, would have let me go, because there was no cause of death in me.” He establishes right at the very beginning that in the eyes of Roman government, he is innocent. What he is saying is, “This is a Jewish problem. The Jewish people have sent me here, but in the eyes of the Roman law, as I faced it there, I am innocent.”

Through all that series of examinations – in chapter 24 with Felix, in chapter 25 with Festus, and in chapter 26 with Agrippa – he was innocent. Why was he not freed? Verse 19: “But when the Jews spoke against it” – or against me – “I was constrained to appeal unto Caesar.” In other words, he says, “Even though I was innocent, the Jews kept the pressure on me. So much so that my only escape was to appeal to Caesar and have this thing transferred to Rome, with the hope that I might get a fair trial.”

They recognized, you’ll remember, that he wasn’t going to get any justice in Judea because of the Jewish pressure, and so he did what every Roman citizen had the right to do: he appealed his case to Rome. And he was then transported to Rome, where his case was to be heard; and he felt, perhaps, that justice could be attained there. Now, having said all of this might be kind of a bad thing, because he really lays the onus on the Jews, and he may be just sort of X-ing himself out of any ministry.

So, in order to kind of neutralize what he’s just said, he adds the bottom half of verse 19. “Not that I had anything to accuse my nation of.” Now, notice, this is really a very important thing. He hastens to show that his defense is only that. It is only a defense. It is not offensive against the Jews. He’s saying, “I’m not condemning the Jews. I’m not attacking the Jews. I’m only defending myself. I have nothing against them. I’m not attacking back,” is what he’s saying.

He was no traitor to the natural cause of Judaism; he was a Jew in nationality, and he was a Jew in interest, certainly he was a Jew in his special love for them. You’ll notice that he says, “I have nothing to accuse my nation of.” What he’s saying is, “I am the accused, not the accuser. I have no bitterness toward Israel. I draw no accusation against them. I only defend myself.” And you remember back on all five of the defenses that we have heard of Paul, Paul has leveled no accusations against them. He has merely defended himself.

In verse 20, Luke, the author of Acts, cites Paul, giving us a mention of chains. The ‘hope of Israel’ to which Paul refers as the cause of said chains is Christ Jesus — the Messiah — and the resurrection of the dead, with the life of the world to come.

So why did the Jews not want to believe that Jesus was the Messiah? Henry answers the question perfectly, which is why we must not get caught up in today’s social justice warrior (SJW) Christianity — a huge theological error:

Because he preached that the resurrection of the dead would come. This also was the hope of Israel; so he had called it, Acts 23:6,24:15,26:6,7. “They would have you still expect a Messiah that would free you from the Roman yoke, and make you great and prosperous upon earth, and it is this that occupies their thoughts; and they are angry at me for directing their expectations to the great things of another world, and persuading them to embrace a Messiah who will secure those to them, and not external power and grandeur. I am for bringing you to the spiritual and eternal blessedness upon which our fathers by faith had their eye, and this is what they hate me for,–because I would take you off from that which is the cheat of Israel, and will be its shame and ruin, the notion of a temporal Messiah, and lead you to that which is the true and real hope of Israel, and the genuine sense of all the promises made to the fathers, a spiritual kingdom of holiness and love set up in the hearts of men, to be the pledge of, and preparative for, the joyful resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.”

They responded that they had no written or oral remarks from Judean Jews about Paul (verse 21).

That sounds amazing, but MacArthur gives us two possible reasons why.

Here is the first:

You say, “How could this possibly be?” Remember this: Paul’s ship was probably the last ship, right? to come from Judea to Rome. Why? Because it left really later than it should have left. And by the time it got through all of the terrible storms, and was smashed on Malta, and everything, there wouldn’t have been any other ships but that one, very likely. Why?

Because when Paul was finally going to be sent to Rome, it was only a matter of days before he grabbed the first ship and was on his way. So, Paul would have been on the first ship to Rome from that area. There couldn’t have been anybody getting there any sooner. And of course, then when they had to spend the winter, he probably picked up the closest ship, and would have been there, again, before any messenger could have come; that’s very possible. 

Now the second:

But in addition to that, I think it’s important to remember, too, that the Jews were probably not real anxious to pursue the case to Rome, because they didn’t have a case, right?

And they were probably somewhat satisfied just to have him out of Judea, and so, they didn’t bother to send anybody with any word about it. And the attitude of these Jews is very diplomatic. They deny any knowledge of his case. No one had come and told them these things, and they were saying, “We’re open to hear what it is that you have to say.” The leaders of the Sanhedrin, as I say, probably didn’t bother to come. They had been such miserable failures in front of the provincial rulers, they weren’t about to come across as a total flop in front of Caesar.

And, incidentally, I think that an interesting thing to note is that the Roman government looked very, very harshly on somebody who prosecuted a case without strong evidence. And it would have been a very difficult thing to prosecute Paul, who was a Roman citizen, in the city of Rome, especially when they didn’t even have a case. And then, to add to that, a favorable information from Festus and Felix; there was no way they were going to come to Rome. There was no way they were going to make a stand against this man.

But, then, they wanted to know more about Christianity — ‘this sect’ — because it came in for so much criticism (verse 22).

Both Henry and MacArthur see the Roman Jews’ views as being suspect.

Henry tells us that they were both right and wrong:

“We desire to hear of thee what thou thinkest–ha phroneis what thy opinions or sentiments are, what are those things which thou art so wise about, and hast such a relish of and such a zeal for; for, though we know little else of Christianity, we know it is a sect every where spoken against.” Those who said this scornful spiteful word of the Christian religion were Jews, the chief of the Jews at Rome, who boasted of their knowledge (Romans 2:17), and yet this was all they knew concerning the Christian religion, that it was a sect every where spoken against. They put it into an ill name, and then ran it down. (1.) They looked upon it to be a sect, and this was false. True Christianity establishes that which is of common concern to all mankind, and is not built upon such narrow opinions and private interests as sects commonly owe their original to. It aims at no worldly benefit or advantage as sects do; but all its gains are spiritual and eternal. And, besides, it has a direct tendency to the uniting of the children of men, and not the dividing of them, and setting them at variance, as sects have. (2.) They said it was every where spoken against, and this was too true. All that they conversed with spoke against it, and therefore they concluded every body did: most indeed did. It is, and always has been, the lot of Christ’s holy religion to be every where spoken against.

MacArthur sets us up for next week’s passage:

So, they say – “We haven’t heard anything of you, and we’re interested in what you have to say about this sect, that we hear everywhere spoken against. It has a bad reputation among us Jews.” And I think they moderated that; I think they could have said, “which we despise and hate,” because they knew all about Christianity, believe that, folks. The church had already been established in Rome. They were playing a little diplomacy here.

All right, that leads us to the third section in our paragraph, or really two paragraphs, and that is the invitation. Having seen their openness and interest, Paul then proceeds to give them a message and an invitation. He establishes a time for a great meeting, a day to make his presentation. All the Jewish leaders gather to hear him speak. And I think it’s kind of the fulfillment of Romans 1, where he said in verse 14, “I am debtor to the Greeks, and the Barbarians; to the wise, and to the unwise.

This is a more complex set of verses than it first appears. The story unfolds further next week.

Next time — Acts 28:23-27

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 28:11-16

Paul Arrives at Rome

11 After three months we set sail in a ship that had wintered in the island, a ship of Alexandria, with the twin gods[a] as a figurehead. 12 Putting in at Syracuse, we stayed there for three days. 13 And from there we made a circuit and arrived at Rhegium. And after one day a south wind sprang up, and on the second day we came to Puteoli. 14 There we found brothers[b] and were invited to stay with them for seven days. And so we came to Rome. 15 And the brothers there, when they heard about us, came as far as the Forum of Appius and Three Taverns to meet us. On seeing them, Paul thanked God and took courage. 16 And when we came into Rome, Paul was allowed to stay by himself, with the soldier who guarded him.

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Last week’s post discussed the healing miracles that Paul performed for the people on Malta through the divine power that God had granted him.

With winter over (verse 11), it was time to resume the journey to Rome.

Luke gives us a bit of information about the ship (verse 11). It was from Alexandria, the breadbasket of Egypt at the time, an important source of grain for Rome. The ship also had a figurehead of Castor and Pollux, gods which were widely worshipped in Greece and Rome. These are the twins for the astrological sign Gemini, but in the ancient world, they represented much more.

Wikipedia explains (emphases in the original):

Castor[a] and Pollux[b] (or in Greek, Polydeuces[c]) were twin half-brothers in Greek and Roman mythology, known together as the Dioscuri.[d]

Their mother was Leda, but they had different fathers; Castor was the mortal son of Tyndareus, the king of Sparta, while Pollux was the divine son of Zeus, who seduced Leda in the guise of a swan. Though accounts of their birth are varied, they are sometimes said to have been born from an egg, along with their twin sisters Helen of Troy and Clytemnestra.

In Latin the twins are also known as the Gemini[e] (literally “twins”) or Castores,[f] as well as the Tyndaridae[g] or Tyndarids.[h] When Castor was killed, Pollux asked Zeus to let him share his own immortality with his twin to keep them together, and they were transformed into the constellation Gemini. The pair were regarded as the patrons of sailors, to whom they appeared as St. Elmo’s fire. They were also associated with horsemanship, in keeping with their origin as the Indo-European horse twins.

The Ancient History Encyclopedia tells us (emphases mine):

The twins were considered the protectors of the home and hospitality, oaths, friendship, and sporting activities. Castor was held to be a skilled horse-tamer while Pollux possessed great boxing skills. Both were thought to protect warriors in battle and sailors at sea, especially those in life-threatening situations, and they would often appear in person at such times. At sea they were thought to appear in the form of St. Elmo’s fire.

In Italy the cult of the twins went back to the mid-6th century BCE. For the Romans the twins were the offspring of Jupiter and Leda; both were particularly associated with cavalry and Castor was adopted by the Roman knights (equites) for their patron. In addition, the twin brothers were represented in the constellation Gemini. Other associations were the dokana symbol (two vertical wooden posts connected by two horizontal beams), pairs of amphorae, snakes, and bossed shields.

Matthew Henry says that a Bible scholar, Dr Lightfoot, reckoned that Luke included the detail to indicate that the centurion Julius and his crew might have believed they would have better sailing conditions with these deities notionally watching over them:

Dr. Lightfoot thinks that Luke mentions this circumstance to intimate the men’s superstition, that they hoped they should have better sailing under this badge than they had had before.

They first landed on Sicily, which is fairly close to Malta geographically. They anchored at Syracuse, where they stayed for three days (verse 12). Syracuse had long been the most important port in Sicily, although, after the 7th century, Palermo overtook it in importance.

John MacArthur is quite sure that Paul wasted no time in Syracuse and began preaching the Good News:

Tradition says that Paul founded a church there too. Now I don’t know whether that’s true but it sounds like him. I mean I’ve got 3 days here I might as well start a church. Amazing, I’m telling you. There’s no way to calculate the man’s spirit. And, incidentally, Sicily is an island about 80 or 90 miles away from Malta and a 3-day layover there.

From there, the wind caused them problems, so they tacked then docked at Rhegium (verse 13), which is known as Reggio di Calabria today. It is at the toe of Italy’s ‘boot’ — the region of Calabria — not far from Sicily.

A more favourable southerly wind blew in and they were able to dock at Puteoli (verse 13), which is now called Pozzuoli. It, too, was an important port and more protected than the coastline near Rome. Its name comes from the volcanic sulphur which comprises its terrain.

Bible Map explains:

The region in which the town was situated is of volcanic formation, the name Puteoli being due to the odor of the sulphureous springs or to the wells of a volcanic nature which abound in the vicinity. The volcanic dust, called pozzolana today, was mixed with lime to form a cement of the greatest durability, which was weatherproofing against the influence of seawater.

Its sheltered location made it a resort for Roman nobility:

The region about Puteoli together with Baiae became the favorite resort of the Roman nobility, and the foundations of many ancient villas are still visible, although partly covered by the sea.

Luke states that he, Paul and their friends found Christians there with whom they stayed before journeying on to Rome (verse 14). Recall that the centurion Julius was favourably disposed towards Paul and no doubt allowed him this liberty. It could be that Julius himself had business to do and/or friends to visit in this city.

MacArthur describes the small Christian community in Puteoli:

There was a large Jewish community in Puteoli. It was a trade center like Corinth or Ephesus or Antioch and it would be occupied by Jews who were there for the trade business. And they found some Christians there and they had a terrific time for 7 days with a Christian. Some think the church at Puteoli and at Rome could have been founded as early as 50 to 60 A.D. so that’s very possible. It wasn’t a church that Paul founded. They were already there, and it must have been a blessed fellowship – an exciting time as they shared together. And Paul, finally, he was just 145 miles from Rome and here was a group of Christians. It must have thrilled his heart.

They made the journey to Rome on foot at that point. MacArthur says they would have travelled via the famous Appian Way:

The end of verse 14, “And so we came to Rome.” “So we came to Rome.” At last! Now they would have had to go from Puteoli on the very famous Appian Highway. The Appian Way. Name[d] for Claudius Appia who was the commissioning builder in 312. It led to Rome and so off they go on the Appian Way.

At this point, Paul had already written his letter to the Romans. He had never seen them before, but he would now. I cannot imagine what that must have been like for him. His lengthy letter helped those Christians better organise their growing community, structurally and doctrinally.

So, grateful members of the church in this great city travelled to nearby cities along the Appian Way to greet Paul. It is possible that the believers of Puteoli sent word that the Apostle was there. That he was a prisoner of Rome was no matter to them. When Paul saw them, he thanked God and ‘took courage’ (verse 15).

Henry explains:

They had heard much of his fame, what use God had made of him, and what eminent service he had done to the kingdom of Christ in the world, and to what multitudes of souls he had been a spiritual father. They had heard of his sufferings, and how God had owned him in them, and therefore they not only longed to see him, but thought themselves obliged to show him all possible respect, as a glorious advocate for the cause of Christ. He had some time ago written a long epistle to them, and a most excellent one, the epistle to the Romans, in which he had not only expressed his great kindness for them, but had given them a great many useful instructions, in return for which they show him this respect. They went to meet him, that they might bring him in state, as ambassadors and judges make their public entry, though he was a prisoner. Some of them went as far as Appii-forum, which was fifty-one miles from Rome; others to a place called the Three Taverns, which was twenty-eight miles (some reckon it thirty-three miles) from Rome. They are to be commended for it, that they were so far from being ashamed of him, or afraid of owning him, because he was a prisoner, that for that very reason they counted him worthy of double honour, and were the more careful to show him respect.

MacArthur gives us this insight:

Paul saw thanked god and what? Took courage. Was encouraged. Oh, he was thrilled at this reception. It had been three years since he wrote the Roman letter. Three years since he said I want to come to you on minister to you and impart a spiritual gift and mutually be comforted by you. Three years had gone by and they remembered him and they were eager for him.

Mercifully, Julius must have given Paul permission to stay by himself in Rome with only one soldier to guard him (verse 16).

MacArthur says that it was horrible for Paul to have been chained to his guard the entire time:

He was chained all the time to a Roman soldier. Verse 20 tells us about that, and verse 30. He had his own house and his own private guard was chained to him. But whenever I think about him being chained to the guard I always think about the guard being chained to him and I think that’s probably worse – never being able to get away from that guy would really be tough.

However, Henry posits a more optimistic view, and based on Julius’s lenient treatment of Paul from the beginning, I rather side with Henry’s perspective:

He is a prisoner, but not a close prisoner, not in the common jail: Paul was suffered to dwell by himself, in some convenient private lodgings which his friends there provided for him, and a soldier was appointed to be his guard, who, we hope, was civil to him, and let him take all the liberty that could be allowed to a prisoner, for he must be very ill-natured indeed that could be so to such a courteous obliging man as Paul. Paul, being suffered to dwell by himself, could the better enjoy himself, and his friends, and his God, than if he had been lodged with the other prisoners. Note, This may encourage God’s prisoners, that he can give them favour in the eyes of those that carry them captive (Psalms 106:46), as Joseph in the eyes of his keeper (Genesis 39:21), and Jehoiachin in the eyes of the king of Babylon, 2 Kings 25:27,28. When God does not deliver his people presently out of bondage, yet, if he either make it easy to them or them easy under it, they have reason to be thankful.

Indeed, the remainder of Acts 28 gives witness to the fact that Paul was able to preach and teach ‘with all boldness and without hindrance’ (verse 31).

Next time — Acts 28:17-22

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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

Acts 28:7-10

Now in the neighborhood of that place were lands belonging to the chief man of the island, named Publius, who received us and entertained us hospitably for three days. It happened that the father of Publius lay sick with fever and dysentery. And Paul visited him and prayed, and putting his hands on him, healed him. And when this had taken place, the rest of the people on the island who had diseases also came and were cured. 10 They also honored us greatly,[a] and when we were about to sail, they put on board whatever we needed.

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Last week’s entry discussed the welcome by the Maltese of Paul and the 275 other passengers who providentially survived the shipwreck.

They called Paul a ‘god’ when he shook off a poisonous viper off his hand and was unharmed.

John MacArthur says this, which relates to today’s Lectionary Gospel passage from Luke 10 (emphases mine):

Go back in your Bible to Luke 10. I’ll show you 2 passages. When the Lord first sent out the 70 to talk about the kingdom, they must have had a lot of snakes in those days. But when they sent them out he told them this promise, verse 19. Well, he gave them a lot of things. I like this. We’ll go back to verse 17. “And the 70 returned with joy saying, ‘Lord, even the demons are subject to us through your name.’” Horrific. “And he said unto them, ‘I beheld Satan as lightening fall from Heaven.’” Sure, he’s subject to my name, I remember when he fell.

Listen, “Behold I give unto you power to tread on serpents and scorpions and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall, by any means, hurt you.” Now he says don’t rejoice in the spiritual subject to you, rejoice that your names are written in Heaven. That’s a positive there. So he says I give you the power to tread on serpents. He sent them out with the ability to do that.

Now I want you to look at Mark 16:18. Now here he says to his disciples, now you’re going to in the world and many signs are going to accompany your ministry. You’re going to cast out demons. You’re going to speak with new languages. Verse 18, Mark 16. “They shall take up serpents and if they drink any deadly thing it shall not hurt them.” Now you see it’s fulfilled, isn’t it?

Now remember this, folks, that is not for today. You drink a bottle of poison you have no guarantees except that you’ll be dead. And if you play with poisonous snakes you cannot claim Mark 16:18. It’s interesting that the same people who want to claim that the speaking with new language was just for the apostles aren’t anxious to claim the drinking of poison or the playing with poisonous snakes.

This was purely for the apostolic era and an important thing but here’s the fulfillment of it. He just flicks off a poisonous snake. You say, well why this? I mean what a silly thing to happen. You know why God let that happen? Can you imagine the reaction of the people? God used miracles to confirm his apostles and to confirm their divine source and to confirm their word.

Incidentally, I can’t help when he flicked that snake off but think about the fact that ultimately, the ultimate snake is going to be flicked off – Satan himself. Romans 16:20, “I’ll shortly put Satan under your feet.” I like to think about that.

Luke, the author of Acts, does not tell us that Paul disabused them of the notion that he was a god, but we can be pretty sure that he did, because he shared the Good News wherever he went. Also recall that, at other times in Acts, Paul was quick to point out that he was a human being, not a deity:

Remember back in the 14th chapter he was there in the area of Galatia and there was this guy crippled from his birth, in verse 8, and Paul was preaching and he looked out and there was this guy and he says stand on your feet, fellow! The guy leaps up and jumps around. The people saw what he did. They lifted up their voices saying in the speech of Laconia, “The gods are come down to us in the likeness of men. And they called Barnabas Jupiter and Paul Mercury.”

And they brought out a bunch of animals to sacrifice to Jupiter and Mercury, and Paul and Barnabas tore their clothes and ran crying, “Sirs, why are you doing these things? We are men of like passions with you. We preach unto you that you should turn from these vanities unto the living God.” See, he didn’t want to be a part of that proliferation of deities, that polytheism that they were involved in. They wanted to the representatives of the true God, not a god.

The chief of the island, Publius, put all 276 survivors up for three days, showing them much hospitality (verse 7).

Matthew Henry says that the three days allowed Publius to make arrangements for their long term stay, which was three months:

he had a considerable estate in the island, and some think was governor, and he received them and lodged them three days very courteously, that they might have time to furnish themselves in other places at the best hand. It is happy when God gives a large heart to those to whom he has given a large estate. It became him, who was the chief man of the island, to be most hospitable and generous,–who was the richest man, to be rich in good works.

Even though he was materially well off, Publius could not prevent illness in his family. His father had been suffering from dysentery, so Paul visited the man, prayed and laid hands on him. He was duly healed (verse 8).

The King James Version uses the term ‘bloody flux’ for ‘dysentery’, because that is what it was called at the time.

MacArthur explains:

Now 1611 medicine leaves a lot to be desired and the King James was written in 1611 and bloody flux just doesn’t seem to make it. Fever I understand. The word for fever in the Greek is the word puretos and it means a gastric fever. The fact that it is in the plural, fevers, indicates that it was a recurring gastric fever.

Now the bloody flux is the Greek word dusentaria from which we get the word dysentery which is an intestinal disease. Now what he really had here was some sort of recurrent dysentery and a gastric fever accompanying it. Some historians record that this was a common problem in Malta because they have a certain kind of microbe in their goat’s milk. And so here Publius’ father who has this gastric problem, dysentery, to whom Paul entered in, prayed, laid his hands on him and healed him.

After this miraculous healing, others with diseases went to Paul to be healed (verse 9).

MacArthur is certain that Paul preached as he healed:

What Paul was doing by praying and laying hands on was identifying God’s power and the fact that he was God’s agent.

Now there is something that isn’t said here but it needs to be added to the text in this sense. I am totally convinced that what Paul also did here is to preach. And I think the reason it doesn’t say that is because it’s so obvious. The Lord Jesus Christ did not perform miracles without speaking to point out the fact that these miracles were to corroborate the testimony of the gospel. Peter, when he performed miracles, earlier in Acts, preached Christ. Paul, when he did miracles, preached Christ, having established the conformation of divine agency he then proclaimed the divine message.

So if Paul healed, believe it, Paul preached. And tradition tells us that he founded in these days the church at Malta.

I am glad that MacArthur mentioned the tradition about Publius. Of course, we read no more of him in the Bible, but it is believed that he was the first Bishop of Malta:

And tradition also tells us that the first pastor of the Maltese Christians was Publius. And very likely, if he had a house that could handle 276 guests, that’s probably where the church began too. And so we can be, even though it doesn’t say, confidently, the church was founded then and agreeing with tradition that Publius may well have been the first pastor and the church could have possibly even have met in his house. Someday, just to be sure, we’ll check out the Lamb’s Book of Life when we get there and we’ll well see a list of Maltese names and at the top will be Publius, and maybe following it will be names like Julius, a Roman Centurion and a few other people from a certain ship that had a wreck on the Coast of Malta.

Saint Publius is venerated in the Catholic and the Eastern Orthodox churches. Like the Apostle Paul, Publius also died as a martyr, but later, around 125 AD. Hadrian was emperor at the time.

The Maltese are friendly, open people, so it is not surprising to read Luke’s comment that they honoured all the shipwreck survivors greatly and, when it came time to leave, loaded their ship with everything necessary (verse 10).

I’ll have more about Paul’s journey to Rome next week.

Next time — Acts 28:11-16

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