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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

Acts 26:24-29

24 And as he was saying these things in his defense, Festus said with a loud voice, “Paul, you are out of your mind; your great learning is driving you out of your mind.” 25 But Paul said, “I am not out of my mind, most excellent Festus, but I am speaking true and rational words. 26 For the king knows about these things, and to him I speak boldly. For I am persuaded that none of these things has escaped his notice, for this has not been done in a corner. 27 King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know that you believe.” 28 And Agrippa said to Paul, “In a short time would you persuade me to be a Christian?”[a] 29 And Paul said, “Whether short or long, I would to God that not only you but also all who hear me this day might become such as I am—except for these chains.”

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My last post, just before Easter, discussed Paul’s account of his conversion. He ended by saying that Christ was the first to rise from the dead.

That statement caused Festus, the Roman governor, to accuse the Apostle of having lost his senses through too much education (verse 24). Festus was a pagan and knew nothing of ancient Scripture, which mentions life after death in several places.

John MacArthur explains:

Festus couldn’t handle that resurrection idea. He – he thought there’s only one kind of person who would babble on about visions and about revelations and about voices out of heaven and about resurrections, and that’s a mad man. Paul, you’ve learned too much.

But, then, Jesus was also derided in a similar fashion. So were the prophets of the Old Testament (emphases mine):

Jesus spoke what He spoke in John 8 and they said, “You’ve got a demon”In chapter 10, verse 20 and 21 of John’s gospel they said, “You’re mad. You’re out of your mind talking like that.” Yes, and that’s what Paul said. In I Corinthians 1, he said, “The preaching of the gospel is to them that perish foolishness, foolishness, because the natural man understandeth not the things of God.” It isn’t even anything new. In Hosea 9:7 they said the prophets were mad.

Matthew Henry’s commentary takes Festus’s remark further, as an excuse not to condemn Paul. The reason Festus has Agrippa in attendance is so that Agrippa can work out a criminal charge that Festus can put on his report accompanying Paul to Rome, where he requested trial. Henry says:

he thinks he has found out an expedient to excuse himself both from condemning Paul as a prisoner and from believing him as a preacher; for, if he be not compos mentis–in his senses, he is not to be either condemned or credited.

Paul responded by saying he was speaking ‘true and rational words’ (verse 25). He responded to the charge with courtesy, by referring to the governor as ‘most excellent Festus’.

Paul then narrowed his focus to Agrippa, his primary goal all along. He told Festus that Agrippa knew about these events in the life of Christ, because news of them had spread everywhere; they did not happen in a vacuum (verse 26).

MacArthur provides this analysis:

Oh, the Jews had bought off the Roman soldiers and told them to tell everybody that the disciples stole the body. But still it was common knowledge that the Christians had gone everywhere preaching Jesus was alive. Here we are 25 years later and Agrippa is no dumbbell. He knows what the Christians taught. Common knowledge. “You know the life and death and resurrection of Jesus Christ were common knowledge, you know that, Agrippa, don’t you? You know that what I’m saying is not the babbling on of a madman. You know there are people who believe there’s evidence for this.”

Beloved, you know how Paul – he is so brilliant. He has presented to Agrippa the whole gospel and now he just nails him against the wall and forces him to a conclusion that he probably wouldn’t have made on his own. And he forces Agrippa to be a silent witness to Festus. Agrippa hasn’t said a word, and yet Agrippa is standing there with his mouth shut attesting to what Paul has said as being true. You know this, don’t you, Agrippa? By the very fact that Agrippa didn’t say anything he acquiesced. The case is clear. The king knows it.

Anybody who believes the prophets, anybody who believes Moses, and anybody who believes historical fact must conclude that Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah. “And you know it Agrippa, you know it.” Ooh, that is – I mean going after it. That’s attack folks. He really tackled Agrippa head on.

Then Paul confronted Agrippa directly, first by asking him if he believed in the prophets then by stating he believed in them (verse 27). Recall that in addition to Festus and Agrippa, also listening were Agrippa’s incestuous sister Bernice and a roomful of local dignitaries. Everyone knew Agrippa and Bernice were adherents of the Jewish faith. Paul took clear advantage of that fact.

MacArthur explains:

He wants to do for Agrippa what he wants him to do for himself. Make the only logical conclusion that Jesus is the Messiah. Well Agrippa’s stuck. If Agrippa says, “Yes, I do believe the prophets,” then he has admitted that he believes Jesus is the Messiah and he’s in real trouble with his whole nation. If he says, “No, I don’t believe the prophets,” then he’s still in trouble with his nation. So he can’t say yes or no. “You believe, don’t you Agrippa?” Argh.

Agrippa knew where Paul was going with his rhetoric, so he asked Paul if he expected conversion in such a short time (verse 28). Agrippa’s question can be interpreted in a number of ways ranging from tongue-in-cheek to a serious response. Henry’s commentary posits that Agrippa was close to conversion, as Festus’s predecessor Felix was until he sent Paul away because the Apostle had disturbed his conscience:

Some understand this as spoken ironically, and read it thus, Wouldst thou in so little a time persuade me to be a Christian? But, taking it so, it is an acknowledgement that Paul spoke very much to the purpose, and that, whatever others thought of it, to his mind there came a convincing power along with what he said: “Paul, thou art too hasty, thou canst not think to make a convert of me all of a sudden.” Others take it as spoken seriously, and as a confession that he was in a manner, or within a little, convinced that Christ was the Messiah; for he could not but own, and had many a time thought so within himself, that the prophecies of the Old Testament had had their accomplishment in him; and now that it is urged thus solemnly upon him he is ready to yield to the conviction, he begins to sound a parley, and to think of rendering. He is as near being persuaded to believe in Christ as Felix, when he trembled, was to leave his sins: he sees a great deal of reason for Christianity; the proofs of it, he owns, are strong, and such as he cannot answer; the objections against it trifling, and such as he cannot for shame insist upon; so that if it were not for his obligations to the ceremonial law, and his respect to the religion of his fathers and of his country, or his regard to his dignity as a king and to his secular interests, he would turn Christian immediately. Note, Many are almost persuaded to be religious who are not quite persuaded; they are under strong convictions of their duty, and of the excellency of the ways of God, but yet are overruled by some external inducements, and do not pursue their convictions.

Paul answered Agrippa by saying that he did not mind a short or lengthy conversion. He would pray that Agrippa — and everyone else present — could enjoy the same experience in Christ, minus the persecution — ‘chains’ (verse 29).

MacArthur says:

You know, he wasn’t bitter. He didn’t say, “Ah, you ought to have these chains and I ought to be sitting up on that throne.” There wasn’t any of that brash talk. He just says, “I wish you had, I wish you had what I have. I want to give you my soul liberty. Oh I don’t mean I want to give you my physical chains. I just – I want to give you the freedom of soul that I know. There’s Agrippa in purple, Bernice decked out in all of her jewels. Festus is there in his Roman scarlet. All the dignitaries are there, and Paul looks at all this fancy group and he says, “I wish you were all like I am.” They’re looking at each other and he says, “Except for these chains. I’m talking spiritually.”

They had everything in the world but they had nothing, right? “What does it profit a man if he gain the whole world and loses his own soul.” What will a man give in exchange for his own soul? Jesus said. I will die to save Agrippa but I wouldn’t wish my chains on him. Yeah, because you know he could have died on the spot for what he said. He would die to save Agrippa. He was expendable. It didn’t bother him. But he wouldn’t wish his chains on Agrippa. That’s the heart of the Christian. That’s sincere evangelism. That’s evangelism with love.

How true.

Some might say this was another ‘loss’ for Paul, but MacArthur views the matter differently:

People say to me, “You know, I – I’ve tried to share Christ here, there, and everywhere and there doesn’t seem to be any response.” That’s all right. God didn’t call you to save people. He called you to preach Christ. He’ll do the saving. All He asks out of you is that you be faithful. You could not sublimate Paul’s passion. You could not catch his dominant spirit and squelch it. He just continued to be faithful. Why? … Because his orientation to service was toward God not based on the response of men.

Spread the Gospel and be faithful to the Lord. That is all He asks of us.

Next time — Acts 26:30-32

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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

Acts 26:19-23

19 “Therefore, O King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision, 20 but declared first to those in Damascus, then in Jerusalem and throughout all the region of Judea, and also to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds in keeping with their repentance. 21 For this reason the Jews seized me in the temple and tried to kill me. 22 To this day I have had the help that comes from God, and so I stand here testifying both to small and great, saying nothing but what the prophets and Moses said would come to pass: 23 that the Christ must suffer and that, by being the first to rise from the dead, he would proclaim light both to our people and to the Gentiles.”

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Last week’s entry discussed Paul’s defence before King Herod Agrippa II, the Roman governor Festus, Agrippa’s incestuous sister Bernice and a group of dignitaries. Paul spoke of his Damascene conversion.

Festus asked Agrippa to hear Paul speak so that he, Festus, would have a criminal charge to put on Paul’s report which he needed in order to be tried by Nero. Paul believed that he had a fairer chance with Nero than he would in Jerusalem, where he had spent his younger years as a Pharisee under Gamaliel’s tutelage then as a persecutor of Christians. Now the Jews wanted to kill him because he had converted to Christianity himself.

Matthew Henry’s commentary tells us that this scene took place two decades after Paul’s conversion (emphases mine):

It was now above twenty years since Paul was converted

Furthermore, Paul knew that it was God who helped him survive in his ministry (verse 22):

and all that time he had been very busy preaching the gospel in the midst of hazards; and what was it that bore him up? Not any strength of his own resolutions, but having obtained help of God; for therefore, because the work was so great and he had so much opposition, he could not otherwise have gone on in it, but by help obtained of God.

In verse 19, Paul says that he did not disobey our Lord’s instructions during that dramatic conversion, which left him blind for three days. That blindness and shock forced him to think about his role as persecutor. He was going from Jerusalem to Damascus to persecute Christians there. He had to rethink his hate, repent and turn his energies towards preaching God’s grace and Christ Jesus with the same strength of conviction. And, with much prayer then and afterwards, so he did.

Paul told Agrippa where his ministry led him, first to the Jews, then to the Gentiles, giving all the same message: repent — (re)turn to God — with commensurate behaviour (verse 20).

Henry explains:

… they ought, (1.) To repent of their sins, to be sorry for them and to confess them, and enter into covenant against them; they ought to bethink themselves, so the word metanoein properly signifies; they ought to change their mind and change their way, and undo what they had done amiss. (2.) To turn to God. They must not only conceive an antipathy to sin, but they must come into a conformity to God–must not only turn from that which is evil, but turn to that which is good; they must turn to God, in love and affection, and return to God in duty and obedience, and turn and return from the world and the flesh; this is that which is required from the whole revolted degenerate race of mankind, both Jews and Gentiles; epistrephein epi ton Theon–to turn back to God, even to him: to turn to him as our chief good and highest end, as our ruler and portion, turn our eye to him, turn our heart to him, and turn our feet unto his testimonies. (3.) To do works meet for repentance. This was what John preached, who was the first gospel preacher, Matthew 3:8. Those that profess repentance must practise it, must live a life of repentance, must in every thing carry it as becomes penitents. It is not enough to speak penitent words, but we must do works agreeable to those words.

Yet, Paul said, the Jews in Jerusalem objected, seizing him in the temple, where he was completing his Nazirite vow, and attempting to kill him (verse 21). Henry points out the irony of the situation, coming from self-proclaimed holy men:

As true faith, so true repentance, will work. Now what fault could be found with such preaching as this? Had it not a direct tendency to reform the world, and to redress its grievances, and to revive natural religion?

Of course, they were enraged because Paul preached that the same promise that was given to Jews was also given to the Gentiles. John MacArthur says:

That was the problem. Verse 21, “For these causes the Jews caught me in the temple and went about to kill me.” You know why they wanted him dead? Because he was offering equal salvation to whom? Gentiles. The Jews could not tolerate equality with Gentiles. And so Paul says, “They wanted me dead because I offered an equal salvation to Gentiles.” They wanted to kill me in the temple. And you remember they tried to kill him, didn’t they, in the temple. That’s how this whole thing started. That’s how he became a prisoner to begin with.

Paul proclaimed that only God could have allowed him to survive his many travails. MacArthur elaborates:

He says, in 22, “Having therefore obtained help from God,” I love that. He always was getting that. I mean when he – when he was in Lystra they killed him outside the city. The Lord raised him from the dead. When he got to Philippi and they put him in jail, the Lord brought along an earthquake and let him out. It’s amazing the man had help from God all the time. And again, here you have the – the tremendous dichotomy of human effort and divine sovereignty. We struggle and work and give and sweat, and discipline ourselves to work as hard as we can to produce as much as we can for the glory of the Lord. And at the same time it’s all His undergirding strength, isn’t it? This is what Paul is acknowledging.

Paul then said that nothing he preached ever went against Scripture, from Moses through to the prophets (verse 22). Christ — the Messiah — would come to mankind, redeem their sins through suffering and rise from the dead, at which point God’s promise of salvation was equally open to the Gentiles (verse 23).

Henry explains that all of this was in Scripture, therefore, it was strange that could the Jews would object:

Three things they prophesied, and Paul preached:– (1.) That Christ should suffer, that the Messiah should be a sufferer–pathetos; not only a man, and capable of suffering, but that, as Messiah, he should be appointed to sufferings; that his ignominious death should be not only consistent with, but pursuant of, his undertaking. The cross of Christ was a stumbling-block to the Jews, and Paul’s preaching it was the great thing that exasperated them; but Paul stands to it that, in preaching that, he preached the fulfilling of the Old-Testament predictions, and therefore they ought not only not to be offended at what he preached, but to embrace it, and subscribe to it. (2.) That he should be the first that should rise from the dead; not the first in time, but the first in influence–that he should be the chief of the resurrection, the head, or principal one, protos ex anastaseos, in the same sense that he is called the first-begotten from the dead (Revelation 1:5), and the first-born from the dead, Colossians 1:18. He opened the womb of the grave, as the first-born are said to do, and made way for our resurrection; and he is said to be the first-fruits of those that slept (1 Corinthians 15:20), for he sanctified the harvest. He was the first that rose from the dead to die no more; and, to show that the resurrection of all believers is in virtue of his, just when he arose many dead bodies of saints arose, and went into the holy city, Matthew 27:52,53. (3.) That he should show light unto the people, and to the Gentiles, to the people of the Jews in the first place, for he was to be the glory of his people Israel. To them he showed light by himself, and then to the Gentiles by the ministry of his apostles, for he was to be a light to enlighten those who sat in darkness. In this Paul refers to his commission (Acts 26:18), To turn them from darkness to light. He rose from the dead on purpose that he might show light to the people, that he might give a convincing proof of the truth of his doctrine, and might send it with so much the greater power, both among Jews and Gentiles. This also was foretold by the Old-Testament prophets, that the Gentiles should be brought to the knowledge of God by the Messiah; and what was there in all this that the Jews could justly be displeased at?

MacArthur reminds us of the symbolism in the Old Testament, which is particularly apposite as we approach Easter:

Have you read Psalm 22? Have you read Isaiah 53? It’s there. What about all the pictures of all the lambs in the Old Testament? What about the Passover Lamb? It’s all there. “And then that He should rise from the dead.” That’s there too in the Psalms. “Thou shalt not suffer Thine holy one to see corruption.” It’s all there. I’m just preaching what the Old Testament teaches.

Paul was not telling his story to Agrippa just as a self-defence, but also as a means of converting him. More on that after Easter.

Next time — Acts 26:24-29

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 26:12-18

Paul Tells of His Conversion

12 “In this connection I journeyed to Damascus with the authority and commission of the chief priests. 13 At midday, O king, I saw on the way a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, that shone around me and those who journeyed with me. 14 And when we had all fallen to the ground, I heard a voice saying to me in the Hebrew language,[a] ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.’ 15 And I said, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ And the Lord said, ‘I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. 16 But rise and stand upon your feet, for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you as a servant and witness to the things in which you have seen me and to those in which I will appear to you, 17 delivering you from your people and from the Gentiles—to whom I am sending you 18 to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.’

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Last week’s entry discussed the first part of Paul’s witness — and self-defence — to King Herod Agrippa II, the last of the Herods, who heard him in a grand assembly with his incestuous sister Bernice, the Roman governor Festus and local dignitaries decked out in their best finery.

Festus had to place a criminal charge on his report that would accompany Paul to Rome, to be heard, at the Apostle’s request, by the emperor — Nero, at that time. Therefore, Festus asked for Herod Agrippa II to hear what Paul had to say. Agrippa II, a Jew by practice but not by tribe, would know more about Jewish law than the recent newcomer from Rome.

Think of it. Paul believed he stood a better chance of justice in Rome, by a pagan court under a mad emperor, than in Jerusalem, where he was educated as a young Pharisee.

Paul explains his Damascene conversion, which really gives witness to the supernatural. Paul continued his defence by saying that he was going the Syrian city as as the chief persecutor of Christians. Not being content, he journeyed with all the authority provided by the Jewish hierarchy in Jerusalem (verse 12).

He then went on to say that at midday, a light immeasurably brighter than the noonday sun struck him and those travelling with him (verse 13). What else could it mean than a divine act, especially when that indescribable light caused them to be struck to the ground (verse 14)? As Matthew Henry’s commentary says, if only Paul had been struck to the ground by its brilliance, one might hold his testimony suspect. Yet, all his companions were similarly blinded and lost their balance, too (emphases mine):

… it shone round about those that journeyed with him: they were all sensible of their being surrounded with this inundation of light, which made the sun itself to be in their eyes a less light. The force and power of this light appeared in the effects of it; they all fell to the earth upon the sight of it, such a mighty consternation did it put them into; this light was lightning for its force, yet did not pass away as lightning, but continued to shine round about them.

Paul recounted that he heard a voice — Christ’s — speaking in Hebrew asking him why he was persecuting Him, noting that Paul was having a tough time kicking against the goads (verse 14). Goads are used to tame animals. They are strong restraints which they learn to accept. Restraint — as well as repentance and conversion — was what the future Apostle was about to experience in the three days to come, blinded and duly restrained from his zealous urge to persecute the faithful.

Paul said that he stopped kicking at the goads at that point, addressing Christ as Lord — unthinkable for such a puritanical Pharisee as he. Yet, there he was, blind, helpless — and, most importantly, powerless.

These three posts describe, scripturally and with theological sources, what Paul experienced, as recounted in Acts 9:

Part 1 of Acts 9:1-9: Saul’s — St Paul’s — conversion

Part 2 of Acts 9:1-9: Saul’s — St Paul’s — conversion (includes interesting info from John MacArthur on his own conversion)

Acts 9:10-19 — when scales fell from the eyes of Saul of Tarsus (final part of St Paul’s conversion story)

Paul then sped up the story for Agrippa II by giving him his ministry: to witness for Christ in having seen Him via that brilliant light, delivering him from the spiritually blind Jews of his day into giving him the power to witness to the Gentiles (verses 16, 17).

The message to Paul from Christ Jesus was that he would send him to open the eyes of both to turn from Satan — from ‘darkness to light’ — so that they might receive forgiveness of sins and sanctification by faith through belief in Him (verse 18).

Even reading this passage now, Paul’s fifth defence, it is equally as powerful when told it before and Luke, the author of Acts, recounted as the Apostle experienced it early on.

Paul was trying not only to defend himself and his scriptural beliefs. He was also trying to urge Agrippa — and, possibly indirectly, his incestuous sister Bernice (known throughout the ancient world as such) — to repent of his sins and embrace the risen Christ as Lord and Saviour. MacArthur posits this about Agrippa II and Paul’s discourse:

He doesn’t need more of God. He doesn’t need more information. He needs a total rebirth. And then, in addition he [Paul] says, “My message was this. To tell that they may receive forgiveness of sins.” Boy, I imagine old Bernice was wiggling around at that point. I imagine Agrippa was going, “Mph,” like this. Paul was a penetrating personBut when he said that they may receive forgiveness of sins, I can see a long stare and a long pause. Because Agrippa and Bernice knew enough to know that what they did was sin. They knew it not only because they knew the Scriptures, but – the Old Testament, but they knew it because they knew their conscience.

In a sense Paul was saying, “Forgiveness is available, Agrippa. Whatever you and Bernice have done, whatever you are, that’s our message.” I’m telling you that’s an exciting message to be able to give the world, isn’t it? To be able to say to somebody who is a Christian, “My little children, He has forgiven you all your trespasses for His name’s sake.” Oh what a blessed thought. That’s what Paul meant when he said, “Blessed is the man to whom the Lord does not impugn iniquity. Blessed is the man to whom the Lord charges no sin.”

Some might object to that, however, MacArthur rightly points out that we do not know who God’s elect are. And, as Sunday’s Gospel reading, that of the Parable of the Prodigal Son, teaches: those who repent at the eleventh hour are part of that elect. MacArthur tells us:

You say, “But surely even if you’re a Christian, God will lay some sin at your feet.” Not at all. “Who shall lay any charge to God’s elect? It is God that justifies. Shall Christ? Nay.” Shall Christ accuse the one He died to save? No. Shall Christ accuse you of the sin He died and bore? No. There’s no accusation against you. Forgiveness is full and free and complete. In addition to the moment transformation from darkness to light, power to Satan to God, forgiveness of sin, there’s the future. He gives you an inheritance among them who are sanctified. The word sanctified means holy. You know another marvelous thing about becoming a Christian is the future promise of an inheritance undefiled and reserved for us. Isn’t that marvelous? An inheritance with God.

And then he gives the way you can attain it. Look at the end of verse 18. It’s all yours Agrippa, by” – What? – “faith that is in Me.” Jesus said to Paul that day, Paul you go and you preach “to open their eyes, to turn them from darkness to light, from the power of Satan to the power of God, that they may receive forgiveness of sin and inheritance among those who are sanctified by faith that is in Me.” You tell them that if they believe in Me it is all theirs. And so Paul quotes to Agrippa the words of Jesus, the words of our Lord as they were given to him in Damascus.

There’s only one way to know those things and that’s by faith. The simple gospel of Jesus Christ that we’re called on to preach is the gospel of Ephesians 2:8 and 9, “For by grace are you saved through faith, that not of yourselves. It is the gift of God, not of works, lest any man should boast.” So he says, “Agrippa, look what happened to me. I was a Jew of all the Jews. I was zealous not only for Judaism, but I was killing Christians and trying to get them to blaspheme

Paul’s testimony continues next week.

Next time — Acts 26:19-23

As my series Forbidden Bible Verses is about Acts at the moment, I ran across photos of Caesarea and Ephesus, cities that St Paul knew well.

My reader Amy P of Tesserology has a brilliant post with her photos of stadia, old and new: ‘The Pizza and Circuses Bit’.

In it are her pictures of Caesarea and Ephesus. Please check them out, as they are magnificent.

This is what Amy had to say about Caesarea:

… the city of Caesarea had been constructed to impress back in the day with its own theater as well as a hippodrome for chariot racing.  Originally built by Herod the Great in the first century BC, this site along Israel’s coast is now a sprawling collection of ruins full of amazing layers of history!

Pausing amid all the evidence of conquest and contention, I still somehow thought that I could imagine the arena’s being filled with residents taking in a race just for pleasure, and that I could conjure from the Mediterranean breezes the sounds of pounding hooves, grinding chariot wheels and enthusiastic cheers…

The hippodrome is huge, and it’s right on the coastline. That must have made for splendid social occasions.

Of Ephesus, she says:

Among the many architectural and archaeological treasures in the ancient Greek city of Ephesus is its Great Theater.

The site in present day Turkey once played host to events ranging from gladiatorial games to concerts to political and religious discussions.  Originally built in the third century BC, it was later renovated by the Romans to seat up to 25,000.  Clambering among its rows of seats in search of the best acoustics gave me a real appreciation for the great shape those fans must have been in – and for the escalators at Staples Center where my LA Kings play…

You bet, Amy. I wouldn’t fancy climbing up to the top tier — way too much of a workout!

If you enjoy travel, sports, history and photography, then you’ll really like Tesserology.

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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

Acts 26:1-11

Paul’s Defense Before Agrippa

26 So Agrippa said to Paul, “You have permission to speak for yourself.” Then Paul stretched out his hand and made his defense:

“I consider myself fortunate that it is before you, King Agrippa, I am going to make my defense today against all the accusations of the Jews, especially because you are familiar with all the customs and controversies of the Jews. Therefore I beg you to listen to me patiently.

4 “My manner of life from my youth, spent from the beginning among my own nation and in Jerusalem, is known by all the Jews. They have known for a long time, if they are willing to testify, that according to the strictest party of our religion I have lived as a Pharisee. And now I stand here on trial because of my hope in the promise made by God to our fathers, 7 to which our twelve tribes hope to attain, as they earnestly worship night and day. And for this hope I am accused by Jews, O king! Why is it thought incredible by any of you that God raises the dead?

9 “I myself was convinced that I ought to do many things in opposing the name of Jesus of Nazareth. 10 And I did so in Jerusalem. I not only locked up many of the saints in prison after receiving authority from the chief priests, but when they were put to death I cast my vote against them. 11 And I punished them often in all the synagogues and tried to make them blaspheme, and in raging fury against them I persecuted them even to foreign cities.

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Last week’s entry discussed the pompous appearance of the Roman governor Festus, Herod Agrippa II, Bernice and the great and the good to hear Paul speak. It was an occasion to satisfy their curiosity and perhaps to spark amusement.

Festus needed Agrippa II to hear Paul so that he could write a credible accusation on the criminal report he had to send with Paul to Rome. Paul, having had no satisfaction in Caesarea, appealed to Caesar — the emperor Nero — via Festus.

Agrippa II understood the Jewish law, even if he, as an adopted Jew, did not follow much of it himself.

Agrippa granted Paul permission to speak, and the Apostle began his defence (verse 1).

Paul was gracious in acknowledging Agrippa’s permission and announced that he would defend himself against all Jewish accusations. He also mentioned that Agrippa understood Jewish ‘customs and controversies’, imploring the last of the Herods to hear him ‘patiently’ (verses 2, 3).

Paul then explained his early life, saying that the Sanhedrin knew his origins (Tarsus in Cilicia) and his education in Jerusalem (under Gamaliel). Members of the Sanhedrin — his accusers — would have known him from his years in Jerusalem (verse 4).

The Jewish hierarchy knew that he was a Pharisee. Pharisees were the strictest observers of the laws of Moses (verse 5).

He then alluded to the Jewish belief in the Messiah and the resurrection of the dead, lamenting that the Jews were accusing him believing those tenets of faith (verse 7). He pressed on by asking why they objected to his belief in the resurrection of the dead (verse 8), which is a belief rooted in the Old Testament. Only the Sadducees, who did not believe in the supernatural, disregarded it.

Students of Acts know that later in the chapter, it becomes apparent that Paul really wanted to convert Agrippa II. John MacArthur tells us (emphases mine):

And he’s saying, “Agrippa, I want you to know what this Jesus did.”

Now, Agrippa didn’t need to hear the facts of Jesus dying and so forth. He knew all that. He needed to hear what Christ had done in his resurrection power. And so that’s what Paul wants to tell him and everybody else who hears. So he begins with his conduct. Look at verses 4 and 5. He describes his early life. “My manner of life from my youth, which was at the first among mine own nation at Jerusalem, know all the Jews who knew me from the beginning, if they would testify that after the strict sect of our religion I lived a Pharisee.”

Now, he says, “You know from the earliest years of my life I was educated at Jerusalem. And all the Jews know this. And if they had the courage to testify they would have to admit that I belonged to the strictest sect of our religion. I lived a Pharisee.” Now, Pharisee was the strict legalist and he was even at the strict end of the strict legalists. He was a right-wing, right-wing Pharisee. So he says, “My manner of life from my youth I was trained in Orthodox Judaism right here in Jerusalem and all the Jews know this. They know I sat at the feet of Gamaliel.

“They know that after the strictest sect,” – and Paul does something here in using the word “strictest” that Greek writers are allowed to, that you’re never allowed to do in English comp. He uses a double superlative. And a double superlative really lays heavy emphasis in the Greek. What he says is “I belonged to the most-strictest sect.” He is laying tremendous weight on this emphasis. He stresses that, “If anybody ever lived who was convinced that Judaism was the final word of God, it was me. I belonged to the farthest, farthest, farthest extreme legal view and everybody knows I did.”

And you see what he was doing? He’s setting them up for the transformation. He’s showing them how zealous he was as a Jew in order that they might understand the tremendous cataclysmic effect of the transformation that occurred at Damascus. And so Paul stresses, “I believed in the strictest way in all the facets of Judaism. I was a Pharisee.” Having talked about the conduct of his past life he now goes into his condemnation, verses 6 to 8. “And now I stand and am condemned or judged. I’m condemned for the hope of the promise made of God unto our fathers.” He says, “I was raised a Jew. I was a Pharisee and now I am being condemned. And you know why I am being condemned? I am being condemned for believing the promises that God made to the Jewish fathers.”

You say, “Well is this hope?” Look at it in verse 6. “For the hope of the promise.” Listen what was the Jewish hope? The Jewish hope is this, and this is the context here. The Jewish hope was the coming of Messiah. The hope of every Jew was Messiah would come and deliver Israel. Why Israel had been struggling against bondage from Egypt right up until this time. They were still under Rome.

Matthew Henry points out that a number of Gentiles were in the audience who no doubt struggled with the notion of the resurrection of the dead. They might have found it confusing — or amusing:

Now many of his hearers were Gentiles, most of them perhaps, Festus particularly, and we may suppose, when they heard him speak so much of Christ’s resurrection, and of the resurrection from the dead, which the twelve tribes hoped for, that they mocked, as the Athenians did, began to smile at it, and whispered to one another what an absurd thing it was, which occasioned Paul thus to reason with them.

He then went on to describe his adult life as a Pharisee persecuting Christians (verses 9, 10): namely Stephen the first martyr, but also many others. Stephen was put to death, others were scourged and imprisoned.

He described how he tried to make Christians blaspheme — still an instrument of spiritual and psychological torture used by totalitarian governments today. He concluded by saying that Jerusalem not was not enough to satisfy his violent zealotry, so he went to other cities to persecute Christians there (verse 11).

Henry describes the unimaginable hatred that raged through Paul’s body and mind during that self-righteous period immediately before his conversion:

His rage swelled so against Christians and Christianity that Jerusalem itself was too narrow a stage for it to act upon, but, being exceedingly mad against them, he persecuted them even to strange cities. He was mad at them, to see how much they had to say for themselves, notwithstanding all he did against them, mad to see them multiply the more for their being afflicted. He was exceedingly mad; the stream of his fury would admit no banks, no bounds, but he was as much a terror to himself as he was to them, so great was his vexation within himself that he could not prevail, as well as his indignation against them. Persecutors are mad men, and some of them exceedingly mad. Paul was mad to see that those in other cities were not so outrageous against the Christians, and therefore made himself busy where he had no business, and persecuted the Christians even in strange cities. There is not a more restless principle than malice, especially that which pretends conscience.

MacArthur reminds us of the pact that the Jews had with the Roman soldiers: deny the Resurrection. This is how Jesus became as hated as He is loved. MacArthur says that Paul knew the Jews’ anger revolved around Jesus as Messiah:

He knew that the Jews did believe in the resurrection but that they wouldn’t accept the resurrection of Jesus. And one of the most startling acts of willful rejection anywhere in Scripture, you have Matthew 28:11This is after the resurrection, “And when they were going behold some of the watch, some of the Roman soldiers who were guarding the tomb, came to the city, showed the chief priests all that was done.” The Romans came in and said, “I hate to tell you this, but there was a resurrection.

And the chief priests got assembled with the elders and took much counsel and gave much money to the soldiers.” Now, if you know anything about how the Jews hated the Romans you know they wouldn’t want to give them any money. They would have despised the fact of giving them money. You say, “Why did they do it? What do you think it was?” Bribery! They said, “Say this. ‘His disciples came by night and stole him while we slept.’” Now that’s a real bright statement. If they were asleep, how could they possibly testify that while they were asleep the disciples came and stole the body? They bought them off. And if you get in trouble with the Roman governor for sleeping, we’ll take care of that. “So they took the money and did as they were taught and this is the saying commonly reported among the Jews until this day.”

They still believe it. And it tells in the Bible how it all started. The soldiers were bribed. Willful rejection. So it might have been fine for Agrippa to say, “That’s great, Paul. I believe in the resurrection. That’s a Jewish hope. That’s great, but we just don’t believe Jesus rose from the dead.” And so that launches Paul, that – knowing that Agrippa’s thinking that. Paul was the master of analyzing the response and then reacting to it. Look at the book of Romans. He answers all the questions that you were thinking but never asked. The same thing happens here. He knows that Agrippa’s question is regarding Jesus, not the totality of the resurrection.

The story of Paul’s defence continues next week, with his dramatic Damascene conversion.

Next time — Acts 26:12-18

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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

Acts 25:23-27

23 So on the next day Agrippa and Bernice came with great pomp, and they entered the audience hall with the military tribunes and the prominent men of the city. Then, at the command of Festus, Paul was brought in. 24 And Festus said, “King Agrippa and all who are present with us, you see this man about whom the whole Jewish people petitioned me, both in Jerusalem and here, shouting that he ought not to live any longer. 25 But I found that he had done nothing deserving death. And as he himself appealed to the emperor, I decided to go ahead and send him. 26 But I have nothing definite to write to my lord about him. Therefore I have brought him before you all, and especially before you, King Agrippa, so that, after we have examined him, I may have something to write. 27 For it seems to me unreasonable, in sending a prisoner, not to indicate the charges against him.”

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In last week’s entry, Herod Agrippa II told the Roman governor Festus that he very much wanted to hear what Paul had to say.

Agrippa II said that out of curiosity more than anything. He had no wish to become a convert. Nor did his sister Bernice, his consort. Yes, she was well known in the ancient world for sleeping with her brother.

Festus immediately assented to Agrippa’s request, and the next day, a commingling of the notional great and the good men from the region, along with Bernice, converged on the governor’s hall, complete with military tribunes, at which point Paul, the prisoner, was brought into their midst (verse 23).

Those who know Acts are aware that no one came out of religious interest. This was a big occasion, where every man wore his finery. They were there to rub shoulders with each other and outdo each other in their appearance.

Matthew Henry’s commentary describes the scene (emphases mine):

Agrippa and Bernice took this opportunity to show themselves in state, and to make a figure, and perhaps for that end desired the occasion, that they might see and be seen; for they came with great pomp, richly dressed, with gold and pearls, and costly array; with a great retinue of footmen in rich liveries, which made a splendid show, and dazzled the eyes of the gazing crowd. They came meta polles phantasias–with great fancy, so the word is. Note, Great pomp is but great fancy. It neither adds any read excellency, nor gains any real respect, but feeds a vain humour, which wise men would rather mortify than gratify. It is but a show, a dream, a fantastical thing (so the word signifies), superficial, and it passeth away. And the pomp of this appearance would put one for ever out of conceit with pomp, when the pomp which Agrippa and Bernice appeared in was, [1.] Stained by their lewd characters, and all the beauty of it sullied, and all virtuous people that knew them could not but contemn them in the midst of all this pomp as vile persons, Psalms 15:4. [2.] Outshone by the real glory of the poor prisoner at the bar. What was the honour of their fine clothes, compared with that of his wisdom, and grace, and holiness, his courage and constancy in suffering for Christ! His bonds in so good a cause were more glorious than their chains of gold, and his guards than their equipage. Who would be fond of worldly pomp that here sees so bad a woman loaded with it and so good a man loaded with the reverse of it?

However, they could not see that Paul, as physically modest and poorly attired as he was, would forever be revered as a great Apostle, whereas they would largely fade into history. They would have scorned anyone who would have suggested it at the time. Oh, the irony.

John MacArthur has this:

Now, if we can believe tradition, Paul was not very imposing, physically. You see all of this glitter and glamour and fantasia going on, and all this stuff, and in walks a little bandy-legged, baldheaded Jewish guy, who maybe couldn’t see too well, and had a two year Tunic on, that had been a cell with him, or wherever he was kept; and he’s shackled by a chain, and he stands in the middle.

And you can imagine people saying, did we come to hear this guy? Hey, it’s a little overdone, isn’t it, for him? But you know what’s amazing about Paul, it didn’t matter what was going on around him, he always dominated the scene, didn’t he? He always dominated the scene. He was not, apparently, an imposing figure. But they may have said, this guy is a problem? You know, Luke has a great sense of values and he must have a great sense humor because the contrast here is just really interesting. And I imagine that all those people, with all their paraphernalia on, especially Agrippa, and Bernice – and probably Festus, too – would really have been super scandalized if they’d known that history recorded that they looked like a bunch of jerks, and Paul’s the one that stuck and looked liked somebody.

They never would’ve dreamed that. They never would dream that history would record that Paul was the dramatic hero, and they were stupid, foolish. Putting on a big show, like a bunch of kids playing house, in the backyard. All the VIPs and in walks Paul. Maybe the greatest of the VIPs, apart from Jesus Christ, that ever lived. A beautiful thing

Festus explained to those present the background of the Jews wanting to murder Paul (verse 24). He added that, to the contrary of what the Jews claimed, he could not find any offence that Paul had committed and that the Apostle had requested his case be tried by the emperor (verse 25).

Then Festus explained why he invited Agrippa, who knew the Jewish faith, to the hearing. In order to send Paul to Rome, Festus would have to write a criminal report. Yet, as it stood, he had nothing to write. Therefore, he hoped that Agrippa might advise on a criminal charge arising from the hearing (verse 26).

He concluded his introduction of the hearing by saying that it seemed unjust to send a prisoner to a higher court without a reasonable accusation (verse 27).

MacArthur explains that, legally, Paul probably did not need to even be present. This was a hearing, not a trial. Yet, Paul never missed an occasion to preach about Christ, the Cross and the Resurrection:

Legally speaking Paul didn’t even have to show up. Now, he would have had a hard time trying not to show up, because they would’ve dragged him in. But he maybe could have argued wisely, from the law standpoint, and said, you better not take me in there, I’ve had my trial. I’ve been judged innocent; I pleaded my case to Rome, I have no need to go to that thing. And he may have been able to get out of it, but not Paul. Why wouldn’t he wanna get out of it? Because it was another platform, to do what? Preach Christ. Everything that ever happened in the man’s life, he turned around to that.

So, we first of all see the consultation regarding his testimony, then the circumstances around his testimony. What a beautiful stage – all set, for him to preach. And whole place is jammed with pagans from wall to wall. People who didn’t know the Lord, and he just had of ’em as an audience. I mean he was in paradise. You know this is exciting because this is the objective of the church, to go into the world and preach the gospel. You know, you read the New Testament and you read about the church meeting, the church meets and prays and breaks bread, fellowships, studies of the word of God – the church never meets to evangelize, it always go out into the world to do that. And here he is. He’s out there confronting the world, nose to nose.

Acts 26, which we will begin next week, records Paul’s dramatic and bold testimony to this pompous group of unbelievers.

Next time — Acts 26:1-11

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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

Acts 25:13-22

Paul Before Agrippa and Bernice

13 Now when some days had passed, Agrippa the king and Bernice arrived at Caesarea and greeted Festus. 14 And as they stayed there many days, Festus laid Paul’s case before the king, saying, “There is a man left prisoner by Felix, 15 and when I was at Jerusalem, the chief priests and the elders of the Jews laid out their case against him, asking for a sentence of condemnation against him. 16 I answered them that it was not the custom of the Romans to give up anyone before the accused met the accusers face to face and had opportunity to make his defense concerning the charge laid against him. 17 So when they came together here, I made no delay, but on the next day took my seat on the tribunal and ordered the man to be brought. 18 When the accusers stood up, they brought no charge in his case of such evils as I supposed. 19 Rather they had certain points of dispute with him about their own religion and about a certain Jesus, who was dead, but whom Paul asserted to be alive. 20 Being at a loss how to investigate these questions, I asked whether he wanted to go to Jerusalem and be tried there regarding them. 21 But when Paul had appealed to be kept in custody for the decision of the emperor, I ordered him to be held until I could send him to Caesar.” 22 Then Agrippa said to Festus, “I would like to hear the man myself.” “Tomorrow,” said he, “you will hear him.”

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Last week’s entry was about Paul’s plea to be heard before ‘Caesar’ — meaning the emperor Nero — in Rome rather than by the Sanhedrin in Jerusalem. The Sanhedrin wanted to murder him for two years.

John MacArthur has an excellent summary of Paul’s story thus far (emphases mine):

… the only thing that stands out in the text is, that the man hasn’t done anything. He has not blasphemed God by desecrating the Temple, as he was accused. He has not defied Israel by disobeying the Mosaic Law. He has not defied Rome, by being an insurrectionist and creating riots against the government. He has not done any of those things, and all of those courts, both Jewish and Roman, have attested to the fact that he has not, done those things.

But, you see, he has been retained as a prisoner, because the Roman Governors don’t have the courage to release him because they know the Jews want him dead, and they’re afraid of the Jews, if they let him go. They’re afraid that they will pressured, that there will be riots by the Jews, and they will have a hard time coping with them, so acquiesced to the Jews’ wishes, by keeping Paul and prisoner, and they play footsie with the desire of the Jews to execute him. They know he’s innocent, but they don’t let him go because they’re afraid of the Jews – it’s, blackmail is what it is. That’s an old story, with Roman Governors. The Jews did it, to all of them.

And so, we see in the situation here, that Paul should have been should have released; he’s proven innocent on four occasions, but they still have him there, in prison, in Caesarea, because they know the Jews want him dead, and they think they might be pacified if the just keep him incarcerated. But Paul, you know, realizes this just can’t go on like this, and here realizes his life is in danger, so he knows he’s not gonna get any justice in Caesarea. And he’s never gonna get off the hook, in Caesarea, so he has the only the recourse possible left to him, and that is that, which any Roman citizen had, who was brought before a Court, anywhere in the world, he appealed to Caesar.

There is also a divine aspect to Paul’s desire in reaching Rome, because our Lord appeared to him in Jerusalem and told him that Rome was where he would go (Acts 23:11):

11 The following night the Lord stood by him and said, “Take courage, for as you have testified to the facts about me in Jerusalem, so you must testify also in Rome.”

There was one problem. Festus had to send a criminal report in order for Paul to be heard in Nero’s court. As none of the Sanhedrin’s false allegations could be substantiated, Festus had no content for such a report.

Meanwhile, as Festus was the new governor, Herod Agrippa II — the last of the Herods and the son of Herod Agrippa I, eaten alive by worms — came to visit with his consort Bernice (verse 13).

There have been many women named Bernice, but in reading this Bernice’s story, one wonders how the name became so popular. Bernice was Agrippa II’s sister — and his companion in every sense of the word.

Matthew Henry says that Agrippa II was the great-grandson of Herod the Great, who was in power when Jesus was born. Also, although he was Jewish by religion, he was not so via blood lines:

The Jewish writers speak of him, and (as Dr. Lightfoot tells us) among other things relate this story of him, “That reading the law publicly, in the latter end of the year of release, as was enjoined, the king, when he came to those words (Deuteronomy 17:15), Thou shalt not set a stranger king over thee, who is not of thy brethren, the tears ran down his cheeks, for he was not of the seed of Israel, which the congregation observing, cried out, Be of good comfort, king Agrippa, thou art our brother; for he was of their religion, though not of their blood.”

MacArthur explains that the Romans did not give Agrippa II much territory over which to rule. In fact, he was quite Roman, but, because he was king, had power over religious appointments and Jewish ceremonial worship:

Festus was, if anything the superior to Herod. Even though Herod was the King, he was only a vassal King. He was to the land, what Queen Elizabeth is to England; it’s sort of Pomp and Circumstances, and not a whole lot else. The Roman Government had subjugated all of Israel’s own authority, and this man was just a puppet thing. In fact, he was reared, for most of his life, in Rome. It wasn’t till the time that his father died and after, that he was given some territory to rule in Israel, that he left Rome. He spent the last days of life in Rome, and died there. So, he was really Roman oriented and Roman, in allegiance, though he was Jewish. And, of course, as a King, was in charge of the appointment of Priests and the operation of the ceremonies of Jewish worship. So, he was very, very familiar with this

He was reared in Rome, he lived in Rome, until his father died in 44 A.D. Claudius, the Emperor of Rome wanted to appoint him to the Kingdom that his father had, but everybody told him, he was too young – he was only 17. So, they waited another six years, till he was 23, and then they gave him only a part of the territory.

A little later, when he matured, and when was 27, they gave him a little more of the territory, and he really ruled a very small – relatively smaller. You have Northern Palestine and Galilee, just a little section, up there. And he strictly a vassal King – he was Jewish in nationality, he Roman in perspective. I think it very interesting that he established his Capital at Caesarea Philippi, which is a different Caesarea, than the one that is – this location, at this text. Caesarea Philippi was north, and he changed the name of it, to Neronius in order to fascinate Nero

As for Bernice, she was Drusilla’s — Felix’s wife’s — sister. Felix was Festus’s predecessor, who had been sent back to Rome in disgrace because the Jews in Jerusalem complained to the emperor about him.

When discussing Bernice, Henry warns us against saying that people were better in the old days. Bernice had been married to her own uncle, another Herod, and, after his death, went back to her brother Agrippa II. Then, she married the king of Cilicia, got divorced and returned once more to Agrippa II:

She was his own sister, now a widow, the widow of his uncle Herod, king of Chalcis, after whose death she lived with this brother of hers, who was suspected to be too familiar with her, and, after she was a second time married to Polemon king of Cilicia, she got to be divorced from him, and returned to her brother king Agrippa. Juvenal (Sat. 6) speaks of a diamond ring which Agrippa gave to Bernice, his incestuous sister:

Berenices
In digito factus pretiosior; hunc dedit olim
Barbarus incestæ, dedit hunc Agrippa sorori.

That far-famed gem which on the finger glow’d
Of Bernice (dearer thence), bestowed
By an incestuous brother.–GIFFORD.

And both Tacitus and Suetonius speak of a criminal intimacy afterwards between her and Titus Vespasian. Drusilla, the wife of Felix, was another sister. Such lewd people were the great people generally in those times! Say not that the former days were better.

MacArthur says that Bernice kept returning to her brother, because her reputation was so bad that no other man wanted her:

Historian Josephus, tells – and he is the major Historian of that era, and reliable – that they lived in incest. And it became very common knowledge, this debauched situation. Bernice got around, and every once in awhile she’d had an interlude with a lover, but would always come back, because the lover would always dump her, sooner or later because of this terrible incest that kept perpetuating. In fact, the son Vespasian, Titus – the one who really was so instrumental in part of the destruction of Jerusalem, took Bernice as his lover. But when he got her back to Rome, the talk around Rome was so bad, he dumped her, and she went right back into the incest with Agrippa. And they lived in it, until they died, and they lived to a very old [age], and lived in Rome.

We will see that St Luke, inspired by the Holy Spirit to write Acts, never mentions Agrippa without adding ‘and Bernice’.

MacArthur cites Dr Harry Ironside, a famous Bible scholar of the 20th century, who had this to say about the infamous couple:

Doctor Ironside said, “If Agrippa dies unsaved, we may be that God links Bernice with him, still. And when Agrippa stands, eventually, at the Great White Throne, Bernice will be there, too.” In other words, Bernice represents sin, that sin, that evil thing in his life from which he never could be separated, in time or eternity, unless he would judge the sin and get right with God. Surely, there is something intensely solemn here. Oh, the awfulness of sin, how it clings. It’s a vivid illustration, isn’t it? – And, Bernice.

Agrippa and Bernice stayed at the Roman governor’s palace — incidentally, Agrippa I’s — for several days, during which time Festus brought Paul into the conversation. Festus explained that Paul was a holdover prisoner from Felix’s time (verse 14). He went on to describe his meeting with the Sanhedrin in Jerusalem (verse 15).

Festus explained that he told the Jews they would have to bring charges about Paul and that the Apostle was allowed to defend himself against the accusations (verses 16, 17).

Festus intimated that he had imagined Paul had done something very wrong indeed until his accusers could not substantiate any of their accusations (verse 18).

Then, Festus brought Jesus into the conversation, as the main point of contention between Paul and the Jews (verse 19). To Festus, Jesus was some sort of religious figure, but he did not understand the implications of Paul saying that He rose from the dead and the Jews denying the Resurrection. Festus thought there was a dispute only about a man still being alive or dead.

Festus told Agrippa II that he gave Paul the opportunity to be tried in Jerusalem again (verse 20), but that Paul had appealed to Caesar instead (verse 21).

The passage ends with Agrippa telling Festus he would like to hear from Paul personally, and the Roman governor agreed to the request (verse 22).

MacArthur says that Agrippa worded his request in such a way that implied he knew something of Paul — and of Jesus:

… just a little footnote, “Agrippa, I would also hear the man myself,” is an imperfect, and it gives the idea of a continuous action. It may be, that he had continuously wished to hear this man, having heard about him. There’s no doubt in my mind, that he had heard about it, and that had been a constant wish to hear him. It was a curiosity with Agrippa.

The story continues next week.

Next time — Acts 25:23-27

Bible openThe 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 (here and here).

Acts 24:10-21

10 And when the governor had nodded to him to speak, Paul replied:

“Knowing that for many years you have been a judge over this nation, I cheerfully make my defense. 11 You can verify that it is not more than twelve days since I went up to worship in Jerusalem, 12 and they did not find me disputing with anyone or stirring up a crowd, either in the temple or in the synagogues or in the city. 13 Neither can they prove to you what they now bring up against me. 14 But this I confess to you, that according to the Way, which they call a sect, I worship the God of our fathers, believing everything laid down by the Law and written in the Prophets, 15 having a hope in God, which these men themselves accept, that there will be a resurrection of both the just and the unjust. 16 So I always take pains to have a clear conscience toward both God and man. 17 Now after several years I came to bring alms to my nation and to present offerings. 18 While I was doing this, they found me purified in the temple, without any crowd or tumult. But some Jews from Asia— 19 they ought to be here before you and to make an accusation, should they have anything against me. 20 Or else let these men themselves say what wrongdoing they found when I stood before the council, 21 other than this one thing that I cried out while standing among them: ‘It is with respect to the resurrection of the dead that I am on trial before you this day.’”

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Paul was on trial before Felix, the Roman governor, in Caesarea.

Last week’s entry discussed Tertullus’s attempt to smear Paul’s reputation for his clients, the Sanhedrin. He made outrageous accusations.

Now it was Paul’s turn to speak. He addressed Felix not with flattery, as Tertullus had, but by simply acknowledging Felix’s authority and that he had confidence the governor would hear him favourably. Therefore, he would make his defence ‘cheerfully’ (verse 10).

Although it seems an odd thing to say, given Felix’s corrupt nature as a governor, Paul was effectively telling him, ‘When you hear what I have to say, you will know this is a religious matter, not one of sedition against the Roman government. You have been in this region long enough to know what this dispute is about.’

Matthew Henry’s commentary offers this analysis of the message Paul conveyed to Felix (emphases mine):

1. He could say of his own knowledge that there had not formerly been any complaints against Paul. Such clamours as they raised are generally against old offenders; but, though he had long say judge there, he never had Paul brought before him till now; and therefore he was not so dangerous a criminal as he was represented to be. 2. He was well acquainted with the Jewish nation, and with their temper and spirit. He knew how bigoted they were to their own way, what furious zealots they were against all that did not comply with them, how peevish and perverse they generally were, and therefore would make allowances for that in their accusation of him, and not regard that which he had reason to think came so much from part-malice. Though he did not know him, he knew his prosecutors, and by this might guess what manner of man he was.

Paul wisely ignored Tertullus’s accusations and went on to restate his case, as he had done in Jerusalem.

He began by saying that he had arrived in Jerusalem only 12 days earlier, ‘to worship’ (verse 11). Paul stated that he did not start any disputes either in the synagogues or in the city (verse 12) — therefore, nothing of either a religious or a secular nature.

Of those 12 days, Paul had been a prisoner for six, which Felix would have known. He was saying that he would not have had a chance to organise an uprising against Jew or Roman.

Paul added that neither Tertullus or the Sanhedrin could prove any of their accusations against him (verse 13).

St Luke, the author of Acts, gave us much detail about Paul’s time in Jerusalem. Looking back in the previous chapters, when Paul arrived in Jerusalem, the Church leaders there told him that he should complete his Nazirite vow with four other men and pay for all the animal sacrifices involved. This, the elders said, was necessary to placate local Jews.

When he attempted to complete the Nazirite vow with the men, a group of Jews falsely accused him of stirring up trouble in Asia Minor, probably Ephesus. This resulted in a mob physically and verbally attacking Paul.

Then, the Romans took Paul prisoner. The Roman tribune in Jerusalem, Claudius Lysias, could not get a reasoned set of accusations from the Jews, at least 40 of whom vowed to murder Paul, so he had the Apostle escorted from Jerusalem to Caesarea and effectively escalated the Apostle’s case to Felix.

Now back to Paul’s self-defence. Paul responded to Tertullus’s accusation that he was a member of a sect of Nazarenes (who did not have a good reputation) by saying that he belonged to the Way, the commonly used term for Christianity in that era. He rightly described the Way as the true worship of the Jewish God of our Fathers (Abraham, Isaac and Jacob) and correct interpretation of Scripture (verse 14).

Paul went on to say that, because he truly hoped in God, he knew there would be a final resurrection of the both the ‘just and the unjust’, Judgement Day (verse 15). For that reason, Paul said, he made sure that his conscience was clear before God and man (verse 16).

John MacArthur tells us that Paul was not only explaining the Way but was also pointing a finger at his accusers for falsely worshipping God by denying the Messiah:

“The Way” is the title of Christianity; the unsaved people used to slur the Christians by calling them “Nazarenes” or slur them by calling them “Christians,” “little Christs,” but the Christians called themselves “The Way,” members of The Way. That’s good, isn’t it?

We say, “Where did they get that name?” Well, it’s pretty obvious; there is no other way. Jesus said, “I am the way.” Peter preached, “There is no other name under Heaven given among men whereby we must be saved.” Peter even uses it in II Peter 2:2. He says that “False teachers, by their pernicious ways, cause the way of truth to be evil spoken of.” So this was a title for Christianity used by Christians: The Way.

Yes, he says, “I confess to you that after the Way which they call heresy” – yeah, they call it heresy – “…so worshiped I the God of my fathers, believing all things written in the Law and in the Prophets and have hope toward God, which they themselves also allow, that there shall be a resurrection of the dead, both of the just and of the unjust.” You can see the High Priest saying, “Yuck! Here we go again on the resurrection,” because the Sadducees didn’t believe in the resurrection, right? That’s what started the fight in the Sanhedrin.

So you know what Paul says? “I would just like to say that it is true that I am a believer in the Way and consequently, I truly worship my God; I believe all of His revelation, including the part about resurrection,” as if to say “take that.” Who’s the real heretics? The high priests who have ceased worshiping God because there is only one way to God; Jesus said, “No man comes to the Father but by Me,” who have ceased believing all the Law and the Prophets because if you believed all the law and the prophets, you are going to have to believe in Christ because all the Law and the prophets talked about was Christ. “And who have ceased believing in the great hope of Israel, the hope of a resurrection.” They’re the heretics. It’s a pretty strong argument.

Henry makes this point about the resurrection of the dead. It was fundamental to the Jewish faith, too:

The resurrection of the dead is a fundamental article of our creed, as it was also of that of the Jewish church. It is what they themselves also allow; nay, it was the expectation of the ancient patriarchs, witness Job’s confession of his faith; but it is more clearly revealed and more fully confirmed by the gospel, and therefore those who believed it should have been thankful to the preachers of the gospel for their explications and proofs of it, instead of opposing them.

MacArthur provides scriptural citations:

The traditional hope of the Jew was the resurrection. You say, “Did the Old Testament teach a resurrection?” Of course it did! Isaiah 26:19, Job 19:26, Daniel 12:2, and elsewhere the Old Testament taught a resurrection.

I believe in my heart that Abraham believed in a resurrection, that’s why he was willing to sacrifice Isaac. I think that was ultimate faith.

Over time, MacArthur explains, the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Bible) became the only ones that were legally binding on the Jews:

the Sadducees standing there didn’t believe in a resurrection. You say, “How did they get around it if it’s in Isaiah, Job, Daniel, etc.?” They got around it because they said this, “The only binding truth in the Old Testament is what Moses said out of the first five books. That’s it.” That’s why, when Jesus was having an argument about resurrection, He quoted Exodus 3, because He knew that was the only thing that they would adhere to. He used it by implication; the name of God being the indication of resurrection.

The Sadducees were not traditional; they were heretics. They denied that which the Old Testament taught. They were modernists. They were the aristocratic family and they were the modernists theologically. They were not traditional Jews, and I’m sure the accusers here are mostly Sadducees. The high priest was a Sadducee, and most likely the other elders were as well. So Paul says “boy, I’m the guy that believes in the truth, the resurrection of the dead, the just and the unjust.” Yes, there will be a resurrection of both. Unsaved people? Yes, they will be resurrected physically, in some form.

Then Paul moved on to discuss his purpose in going to Jerusalem. He said that he was coming with alms and offerings for his ‘nation’, meaning the Christians of that city (verse 17). Paul had collected offerings from the various Gentile churches he visited elsewhere to bring to the poor congregation in Jerusalem.

MacArthur explains the difference between alms and offerings as well as why Paul said ‘my nation’. The recipients were the Jews who believed that Christ Jesus fulfilled Holy Scripture:

And so, he said, “I came to bring alms to my nation, even offerings.” And the idea of offerings – you say, “What’s the difference between alms and offerings?” Alms is the definition of what he brought; offering is the source of what he brought.

It was the money for the needy given by the Gentiles. “They were offerings,” he said, “that I brought to give to the needy. That’s why I came.” Now, I want you to notice something interesting. He says, “After many years I came to bring alms to my nation.” You say, “Well, wait a minute. He didn’t give them to the nation. He gave them to the Christian Jews.” … The only true Jew in existence is what? The Christian Jew, the one who is a Jew not outwardly, but inwardly. And so, there’s no reason to qualify that.

You say, “Well, maybe Paul is kind of getting himself off the hook by using a generality.” Not really. Paul did not distinguish the Christian Jew from the rest, because, in his mind, a true Jew was one who believed in the Messiah, Jesus Christ, and he was right. And so, he did bring to his nation these things. “I came here,” he says, “To bring alms to my nation, offerings. And there I was in the temple, minding my own business” – that’s in the white spaces between 17 and 18.

Paul went on to say that he was completing his Nazirite vow quietly in the temple when ‘Jews from Asia’ (verse 18) began shouting false accusations about him. He left that bit unspoken, but covered it by saying they are the ones who should be before Felix, not the Sanhedrin, defending their accusations (verse 19).

However, Paul said, as the Jews from Asia are not present, then the Sanhedrin should say what they think he is guilty of (verse 19), other than a robust defence of the resurrection of the dead (verse 20). That pointed the finger straight back at the Sadducees.

Henry clarifies Paul’s message:

When I was there, they could not take offence at any thing I said; for all I said was, Touching the resurrection of the dead I am called in question by you this day (Acts 24:21), which gave no offence to any one but the Sadducees. This I hope was no crime, that I stuck to that which is the faith of the whole Jewish church, excepting those whom they themselves call heretics.”

MacArthur says that, with his statement, Paul had exonerated himself from any civil charges. In other words, this was a purely theological matter, which a Roman court did not handle:

Paul knows that that’s no criminal issue at all. That’s a theological discussion. These guys were standing right there; they had been in the council. They had nothing to say. There was no accusation given. The only thing they could say was that he had said something about the resurrection and everybody got uptight about it. That’s all. It was theological; no issue for a court. And incidentally, Felix knew this. He knew it even before Paul’s testimony, because in chapter 23:29, he got a letter from the tribune of Jerusalem, who explained it.

“Whom I perceived,” he said, “to be accused of questions of their law but having nothing laid to his charge worthy of death or bonds.” In other words, Claudius Lysias, when he sent Paul to Felix, sent this letter along, and said, “Hey Felix, this guy hasn’t done one thing to break the law. It’s a whole theological issue between the Jews.” And so, what Paul does in the last of his testimony is in verse 21. What he does is, he throws the whole case back into theology, and it’s a very wise move. Here he is as wise as a serpent.

He just throws the whole case into the theological area, and he knows from experience that a Roman judge cannot make a determination in a case or regarding Jewish theology. There is no crime, there’s no criminal act, there’s no civil crime; there’s nothing. Felix knew that, he knew the real issue. Paul just gave him the responsibility. He says, “The only thing they’ve got that hassles them is that I made a statement concerning the resurrection of the dead, and I said that’s probably the issue, that that’s the only thing that they could bring up.”

The story continues next week, turning to Felix’s spiritual health.

Next time — Acts 24:22-27

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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

Acts 24:1-9

Paul Before Felix at Caesarea

24 And after five days the high priest Ananias came down with some elders and a spokesman, one Tertullus. They laid before the governor their case against Paul. And when he had been summoned, Tertullus began to accuse him, saying:

“Since through you we enjoy much peace, and since by your foresight, most excellent Felix, reforms are being made for this nation, in every way and everywhere we accept this with all gratitude. But, to detain[a] you no further, I beg you in your kindness to hear us briefly. For we have found this man a plague, one who stirs up riots among all the Jews throughout the world and is a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes. 6 He even tried to profane the temple, but we seized him.[b] By examining him yourself you will be able to find out from him about everything of which we accuse him.”

The Jews also joined in the charge, affirming that all these things were so.

———————————————————————————————————-

Last week’s entry discussed Paul’s safe arrival in Caesarea, thanks to an impressive Roman military escort. There he lodged in an apartment in Herod’s praetorium, which Felix the Roman governor used. God achieved His goal for Paul by working through unbelievers.

Jerusalem’s Roman tribune, Claudius Lysias, had escalated Paul’s case upwards to Felix the governor, who wanted to convene members of the Sanhedrin to hear their complaint against Paul.

Five days after Paul’s arrest in Jerusalem, the high priest Ananias, accompanied by religious elders — akin to religious Supreme Court justices — and a spokesman, Tertullus, appeared before Felix in Caesarea to state their case (verse 1).

Tertullus was a slick orator for hire, a go-between between non-Romans and Roman authorities. He would charge a fee to help plead a case or to butter up Roman authorities. He could twist the truth convincingly.

Matthew Henry’s commentary says:

his speech (or at least an abstract of it, for it appears, by Tully’s orations, that the Roman lawyers, on such occasions, used to make long harangues) is here reported, and it is made up of flattery and falsehood; it calls evil good, and good evil.

John MacArthur tells us Tertullus was a (emphases mine):

professional case reader; a guy who could come in there and read this deal off, and figure it all out, and then could go and plead the thing. This is a man who probably was versed in legal procedure as far as Rome went. He probably spoke eloquent Latin; and, he was the guy they were going to have plead the case. It says at the end of verse 1 that, “He informed the governor.” The high priest and the other people from the Sanhedrin just stood there while Tertullus did the talking.

BibleHub says we should not make too many assumptions about Tertullus’s religious identity or nationality:

Although he bore a Roman name, he was not necessarily a Roman; Roman names were common both among Greeks and Jews, and most orators were at this time of eastern extraction. Nor is it definitely to be concluded from the manner of his speech (Acts 24:2-8) that he was a Jew; it has always been customary for lawyers to identify themselves in their pleading with their clients.

Tertullus began presenting the Sanhedrin’s case by first flattering Felix, lauding his peaceful rule, his foresight and his reforms (verses 2, 3).

In reality, that was untrue. Even Roman historians and the Jewish historian Josephus attested that Felix’s tenure was characterised by disordered violence, which he put down with too much force at times, resulting in more revolt. The Jewish Encyclopedia states:

Felix exercised, as Tacitus says, “the royal prerogative in a slavish sense, with all manner of cruelties and excesses”; it was he who excited the bitter feelings of the Jewish patriots to the highest pitch, and for this even his patron Jonathan reproached him in the end.

When Paul was there:

A fierce contest arose at that time between the Jewish and Syrian citizens of Cæsarea, and as Felix acted unjustly toward the Jews, he was recalled by Nero about 60 C. E. (“Ant.” xx. 8, §§ 7-9; “B. J.” ii. 12, § 7). At the intercession of Pallas he escaped punishment (“Ant.” l.c.).

Pallas was Felix’s brother. Both were Greek freedmen. By rights, Felix could have been severely punished for not only allowing, but possibly contributing, to local unrest. Romans in positions of authority, from governors down to prison guards, were expected to maintain order at all times. Depending on the offence, the death penalty was also in force for those who did not do their jobs properly.

He lured his second wife, Drusilla (Herod Agrippa I’s daughter), away from her then-husband:

Related to Claudius by a former marriage, Felix, immediately on entering office, alienated the affections of the Jewish princess Drusilla, sister of Agrippa II., from her husband, King Azizus of Emesa (Josephus, “Ant.” xx. 7, § 2; comp. Acts xxiv. 24).

Felix, Drusilla, their son Marcus Antonius Agrippa and daughter Antonia Clementiana returned to Rome in 58 AD. (Therefore, this episode with Paul took place around two years earlier.) His wife and son died when Mount Vesuvius erupted in 79 AD. He married for a third time, although details are scarce.

Back now to Tertullus, who went on to make the Sanhedrin’s case ‘briefly’ against Paul (verse 4). He truly put himself in the Sanhedrin’s shoes rhetorically, by calling Paul ‘a plague’, one who ‘stirs up riots among all the Jews throughout the world‘ and a ‘ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes’ (verse 5). Well, one couldn’t get much stronger verbiage than that. Remember that Tertullus might not have believed what he was saying but that he was paid handsomely to make his clients’ case.

As Henry says, Tertullus had:

a saleable tongue (as one calls it) …

Therefore, we should not be angry with him but rather angry with the Sanhedrin:

those dignified men that had such malicious hearts as to put such words into his mouth.

Note Tertullus’s half-truths. Paul did not stir up riots; Jews were angry at his preaching the truths of the Good News. He was not a ringleader; he was a preacher and a teacher who came in peace and love wherever he went.

MacArthur explains that, even though Tertullus was talking about matters religious, he was simultaneously trying to make a case that Paul was a seditionist — a potential civil charge which might have swayed Roman opinion against the Apostle:

… there was the potential that this could stick if the right twist on the truth could be brought to bear. So they accuse him of being a man of sedition, and one who moves people to riot, and The Romans did not tolerate it. They were paranoid about revolution. They were paranoid about insurrections and riots, because they had managed to conquer; they had placed all their rulers and soldiers in these areas to keep the peace; and this is the one thing they feared.

This is why Tertullus made the Sanhedrin’s claims carefully in order to keep the case under Felix:

Now, he doesn’t name any riot. You know why? If he had named a riot in any area, it would have immediately removed the responsibility from Felix because they would have had to transfer Paul into that area to be tried under whoever had the jurisdiction over the area

So they accuse him, then, of leading sedition among all the Jews throughout the world; an accusation of treason. And it isn’t true. He was accused, of course, of creating dissention everywhere he went, but that was only because people created the dissention in response to what he was preaching.

Then, Tertullus returned to the religious aspect of the argument: the Sanhedrin prevented Paul from trying to profane the temple (verse 6), which was a bald-faced lie. Paul was completing his Nazirite vow, but the Jews were so incensed, they couldn’t think straight (Acts 21:28-29):

28 … “Men of Israel, help! This is the man who is teaching everyone everywhere against the people and the law and this place. Moreover, he even brought Greeks into the temple and has defiled this holy place.” 29 For they had previously seen Trophimus the Ephesian with him in the city, and they supposed that Paul had brought him into the temple.

By the way, if Trophimus had been with him, the Jews were allowed under Roman law to kill him, because he was a Gentile. Paul, a Jew, would have lived.

Eagle-eyed readers will have observed that the ESV goes from verse 6 to verse 8. Some translations have the following, which makes the narrative much clearer:

and we would have judged him according to our law. 7But the chief captain Lysias came and with great violence took him out of our hands, 8commanding his accusers to come before you.

Tertullus concluded, saying that, ‘by examining him’, Felix would find out that the Sanhedrin was telling the truth (verse 8). I thought that Tertullus meant examining Paul, but MacArthur posits that ‘him’ referred to Claudius Lysias, as we will find out later in Acts 24:

Now they say it, “And if you want to know what happened, you just ask Claudius Lysias.” You say, “Well, they told lies, though.” Sure, but Claudius Lysias wasn’t going to get in a fight with them.

And, if you look at verse 22, it says, “Felix heard these things,” etc., etc. He deferred them and said, “When Lysias the chief captain shall come down, I will determine your case.” It seems as though the indication of 22 is that the reference was to hearing from Claudius Lysias

And so later on, in 22, Felix says, “I’ll check with him.” You know something? He never did

The Jews present affirmed what Tertullus had said (verse 9). MacArthur says that each accuser probably presented a short statement of assent:

So, so-and-so took the stand, and then another elder – and whatever else – and they all said, “Oh, everything he says is true.” They just perjured themselves up one side and down the other, lying right through their teeth. In the name of God, “servants of God” they called themselves, “lovers of God,” “lovers of the law,” they called themselves. And here they are, blatantly lying in order to preserve their religion and to execute a man they didn’t want around.

Paul was experiencing the same type of false accusations that Jesus had. Through the ages, especially today, Christians are going through the same persecution.

MacArthur says that if believers aren’t persecuted in some way, they’re not living a godly enough life:

Now listen; this is a very, very clear illustration of what a Christian should expect. How many times have we seen that, if a Christian really lives his life in the face of an ungodly world, he’s going to make waves? Is that right? 2 Timothy 3:12 says, “Yea, and all that will live godly in this present age shall suffer persecution.” If you’re going to live a godly life in the midst of an ungodly society, you’re going to get some flack. I mean, that’s expected; that’s how it will be. If you’re not getting any flack, you’re not living a godly life in the midst of an ungodly world. They can’t handle it.

Listen to what Peter said in 1 Peter 3:14. “…if you suffer for righteousness’ sake, happy are you. Don’t be afraid of their terror, neither be troubled, but sanctify the Lord God always in your hearts, be ready to give an answer to every man that asks you the reason for the hope that is in you with meekness and fear.” In other words, stand up there and give an answer boldly, meekly. Listen, “Having a good conscience,” which means you can stand up there with a clear conscience and give your answer. “Whereas they speak evil of you as evildoers, they may be ashamed to falsely accuse your good manner of life in Christ.”

What is he saying? Two things. One, have a blameless life. Two, have a clear testimony and let happen what happens …

Jesus put it this way in Matthew 5. He said, “Blessed are you when men shall revile you…and speak all manner of evil against you falsely. Blessed are you.” What do you mean “blessed”? That I made enemies? Jesus made enemies.

MacArthur isn’t advocating provoking hostile arguments with people about faith — not at all — but, in life, some unscrupulous people will naturally take issue with us. That might well include fellow church members — possibly even the clergy! Look at how the Jewish leaders took against Jesus and Paul.

Next week, we’ll look at Paul’s response.

Next time — Acts 24:10-21

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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy 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 23:31-35

31 So the soldiers, according to their instructions, took Paul and brought him by night to Antipatris. 32 And on the next day they returned to the barracks, letting the horsemen go on with him. 33 When they had come to Caesarea and delivered the letter to the governor, they presented Paul also before him. 34 On reading the letter, he asked what province he was from. And when he learned that he was from Cilicia, 35 he said, “I will give you a hearing when your accusers arrive.” And he commanded him to be guarded in Herod’s praetorium.

————————————————————————————————————————

Last week’s entry discussed the letter that Jerusalem’s Roman tribune Claudius Lysias — whom St Luke referred to by name in Acts 23:26 — sent to the Roman governor Felix.

Claudius Lysias had moved Paul’s case up the management chain, therefore, the Apostle was no longer his responsibility.

As we read last week, the tribune ordered two of his centurions — each in charge of 100 troops — to provide Paul with horses. It is quite possible that Luke, the author of Acts, accompanied Paul on this journey to Caesarea.

Paul had a huge military escort. The full phalanx of men took him during the night to Antipatris (verse 31). BibleHub’s atlas page tells us more about Antipatris, which was halfway between Jerusalem and Caesarea (emphases mine):

It was a town built by Herod the Great, and called after his father Antipater. It is probably identical with the modern Ras el-`Ain, “fountain head,” a large mound with ruins at the source of Nahr el`Aujeh, in the plain to the Northeast of Jaffa. There are remains of a crusading castle which may be the Mirabel of those times …

It is 28 ms. n. w. of Jerusalem, has ruins, a fine spring and is on the ancient Roman road: 27 ms. a little w. of n. are the ruins of Cesarea, on the coast. Another site has been suggested at Kefr Saba, 4 ms. n. of the first mentioned place.

The following day, no doubt after a short rest period, the main body of troops returned to the barracks in Jerusalem (verse 32). Antipatris was in a calmer region characterised by the lack of tension between Romans and Jews, as it was mostly Gentile. The more armed Roman troops were needed back in the city, hence their return. Therefore, the horsemen continued escorting Paul from Antipatris to Caesarea.

Matthew Henry’s commentary tells us:

Thence the two hundred foot-soldiers, and the two hundred spearmen, returned back to Jerusalem, to their quarters in the castle; for, having conducted Paul out of danger, there needed not strong a guard, but the horsemen might serve to bring him to Cæsarea, and would do it with more expedition

John MacArthur says:

Once they got him down to Antipatris, they were in Gentile territory – pretty much. And, they felt that the 70 horsemen could handle him, so the other 400 came back to Jerusalem. And that was wise, too, because he had to have his forces where they needed to be, back in the city.

Upon arrival, the cavalry presented Paul and the letter from Claudius Lysias to the governor, Felix (verse 33). They duly returned to Jerusalem.

Felix read the brief letter and asked Paul where he was from. Paul told him he was from Cilicia (verse 34), where Tarsus was.

Felix asked Paul that question, because he wanted to be sure that he was authorised to hear the case. MacArthur explains:

he had to determine who had jurisdiction. The Romans had divided their conquered world into various provinces over which there were procurators, or governors. Cilicia and Judea were considered to be in the domain of Felix, and that’s what he wanted to determine so that he would know that he had jurisdiction. When Paul replied that he was from Cilicia, which is just north of the Judea area, he agreed that that was his jurisdiction. He says, “I will try the case,” verse 35, “…when your accusers arrive.”

Having told Paul that he would hear his case, he commanded his men to put Paul up in one of Herod Agrippa I’s apartments (verse 35). That was the Herod who suffered a divine judgement of death by worms in Acts 12. He was eaten alive. His palace — praetorium — became the governor’s residence. So, Paul was lodging in the same building as Felix.

At the beginning of Acts 23, MacArthur said that there were four themes to the chapter: the confrontation, the conflict, the conquest and the consolation.

Clearly, this was a time of consolation for Paul, to be accommodated in such grandeur — even if he was a prisoner.

Throughout this chapter, MacArthur — and Henry — have pointed out that God was working through unbelievers, the Romans, to deliver Paul to safety. Luke did not write of divine intervention, but it is apparent. MacArthur says:

You talk about first class; he’d had been escorted by 470 soldiers, and now he is going to room in the palace. God is taking care of him.

You can just imagine that Paul is there in the palace just praising the Lord for a promise given only a night before, and fulfilled already – the care of the Lord for His children. Do you see a miracle in the passage? Did you see a miracle anywhere? No miracle. No signs, no wonders, and no mighty deeds. Did you see God at work in His providence, ordering the circumstances, ordering the lives of the people, moving all the scenes and the characters on the stage to accomplish His will?

Beloved, this passage tells me things about God even though God isn’t mentioned. One, it tells me God is faithful. He keeps His word. Do you believe that? Peter said this in 2 Peter 3:9, “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise.” I see a faithful God. He makes a promise in verse 11, and right in the morning He carries out the fulfillment of it. Paul is 60 miles closer to the promised destination the first day, and God confirmed that promise in his heart. God is faithful.

Second, God is caring. Did you see the care of God? Did you see how He takes care of His servant? He knows how much Paul can handle. He knew that it wasn’t time now for Paul to sneak out of town, or to be dragged out of town, or to be hustled through the Judean hillsides between the robbers and all of the people that were lurking there, and the seditionists; by two or three men, sort of scared and huddled in the corner. He knew how much Paul had endured, and He knew it was time for Paul to go first class, and that’s how he went.

Henry’s commentary points out another aspect, the fact that Paul’s stay in the governor’s palace brought him in contact with many great men with whom he could share the Good News:

Paul had never affected acquaintance or society with great men, but with the disciples, wherever he came; yet Providence overrules his sufferings so as by them to give him an opportunity of witnessing to Christ before great men; and so Christ had foretold concerning his disciples, that they should be brought before rulers and kings for his sake, for a testimony against them, Mark 13:9 … There he had opportunity of acquainting himself with great men that attended the governor’s court, and, no doubt, he improved what acquaintance he got there to the best purposes.

There is a concept popular in some Protestant denominations, that of common grace. Catholics would call it natural law. Jewish people understand it as the Noahide laws. Whatever the case, divinely oriented common decency prevents our world from completely falling apart through violence and depravity. Even though we all sin, most of us — wherever we are in the world and regardless of belief or unbelief — recognise the difference between right and wrong.

How the Romans treated Paul in Acts 23 is one good biblical example of divine intervention at work in unbelievers.

Next time — Acts 24:1-9

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First case: June 2-3, 2011 — resolved

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