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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 21:37-40 and 22:1

Paul Speaks to the People

37 As Paul was about to be brought into the barracks, he said to the tribune, “May I say something to you?” And he said, “Do you know Greek? 38 Are you not the Egyptian, then, who recently stirred up a revolt and led the four thousand men of the Assassins out into the wilderness?” 39 Paul replied, “I am a Jew, from Tarsus in Cilicia, a citizen of no obscure city. I beg you, permit me to speak to the people.” 40 And when he had given him permission, Paul, standing on the steps, motioned with his hand to the people. And when there was a great hush, he addressed them in the Hebrew language,[a] saying:

22 “Brothers and fathers, hear the defense that I now make before you.”

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Last week’s post was about the riot that took place in Jerusalem, instigated and agitated by Ephesian Jews who had spread lies about Paul’s preaching.

The Roman chiliarch — tribune, garrison commander — could make no sense out of the mob’s shouts, so he had Paul arrested.

Paul humbly asked the tribune if he could say something to him (verse 37). The tribune was astonished that Paul could speak Greek. Matthew Henry’s commentary expresses it another way:

I am surprised to hear thee speak a learned language …

John MacArthur has more (emphases mine):

Greek was the language of the culture. Greek was the language of the educator. Greek was the language of those who had been outside Jerusalem and educated elsewhere. He was surprised. You say, “Why?” Because in his mind, he thought Paul was nothing but a common r[abble] rouser. He even had an idea who he was. He had no concept at all that this man was an intelligent, cultured, educated man with Greek upbringing.

The tribune revealed why he was so surprised. He thought that Paul was the Egyptian who had instigated a violent insurrection and had never been caught (verse 38). The insurrection had taken place around that time. Two historians, Josephus and Eusebius, wrote about it. Henry explains:

Josephus mentions this story, that “an Egyptian raised a seditious party, promised to show them the fall of the walls of Jerusalem from the mount of Olives, and that they should enter the city upon the ruins.” The captain here says that he led out into the wilderness four thousand men that were murderers–desperadoes, banditti, raparees, cut-throats. What a degeneracy was there in the Jewish nation, when there were found there so many that had such a character, and could be drawn into such an attempt upon the public peace! But Josephus says that “Felix the Roman president went out against them, killed four hundred, and took two hundred prisoners, and the rest were dispersed.”–Antiq. 20. 171; Wars 2. 263. And Eusebius speaks of it, Hist. 2. 20. It happened in the thirteenth year of Claudius, a little before those days, about three years ago. The ringleader of this rebellion, it seems, had made his escape, and the chief captain concluded that one who lay under so great an odium as Paul seemed to lie under, and against whom there was so great an outcry, could not be a criminal of less figure than this Egyptian. See how good men are exposed to ill-will by mistake.

MacArthur’s take is somewhat different: that the Egyptian and his men killed people in the crowd, then vanished. As the Egyptian’s intent was to kill Jews, he waited for major feast days when maximum numbers would gather in Jerusalem:

And of course, his [inten]t, this Egyptian, was to murder Jews. He was anti-Jewish. And what’s interesting about it is that … they captured and killed a total of 600. And when they had done that, the rest escaped, including this leader. And what is fascinating is the whole thing went underground. And this Egyptian continued to lead a band of assassins, who appeared in Jerusalem at feast times, mingled among the crowds carrying daggers, and assassinating people, and then fading into the crowd. Then killing somebody else, and then fading into the crowd.

And always when the feast days occurred, there was the threat of the assassins moving among the people to slaughter the Jews one at a time. Now, when this soldier saw them grabbing Paul, his first assumption was they’ve caught one of those assassins that mingles in the crowd, maybe that Egyptian himself. Well, that’s the conclusion, but of course when Paul said to him in Greek, “Can I speak to the people?” he was shocked because he knew that such an Egyptian r[abble] rouser would not be cultured enough to speak Greek.

Paul explained his origins, stating that he was a Jew and that he came from part of the Roman Empire, Tarsus in Cilicia, mentioning that Tarsus was no obscure city (verse 39). Tarsus had a university. MacArthur tells us:

In fact, Tarsus was ranked anciently with Athens and Alexandria as a city of culture, art and education.

Paul politely asked for permission to address the mob, whom he graciously referred to as ‘the people’.

The tribune duly granted permission, so Paul — a man of short stature — stood on the steps to be better seen by all and made a hand gesture to get their attention (verse 40). Imagine how he must have looked at that point: bloody and dishevelled. When they quietened down, he spoke to them in Aramaic (their Hebrew dialect). He knew the language because he had studied in Jerusalem.

MacArthur discusses how Paul viewed that moment as a grand opportunity, despite the circumstances:

Paul got into this situation, didn’t try to run from it, he accepted it. Why? It was a God-ordained situation. You say, “You mean God let this happen?” No, God made this happen. God put Paul in this place, because it was a positive testimony that He wanted in a negative situation. You see, a positive testimony in a negative situation means there’s potential for change; and so that’s what God wanted. So, number one, if you’re ever going to do anything in a negative situation, if you’re going to do anything confronting the system at all, you’ve got to accept that as a God-allowed or God-ordained opportunity.

The second principle was turn it into an opportunity. Accept it as a God-ordained situation; turn it into an opportunity. Paul did that. He didn’t say, “Oh, I hope something happens so I can talk. Lord, I’ve opened the door.” You know, some people are sitting around waiting for the Lord to do something. They’re going to be sitting around a long time.

As bad as Paul must have looked, he must have felt even worse. Yet, he felt motivated to speak to hundreds of people in Christ’s service.

He addressed them charitably — ‘brothers and fathers’ — and urged them to hear his defence (Acts 22:1).

Next time — Acts 22:2-21

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What follows are the readings for the Twenty-fifth Sunday after Pentecost, November 11, 2018.

These are for Year B in the three-year Lectionary cycle.

There are two sets of first readings and Psalms. I have given the second selections blue subheadings below. Emphases mine throughout.

Today’s themes are widows and obedience.

First reading

Readings from the Book of Ruth continue. Naomi and Ruth were both widows, mother-in-law and daughter-in-law, respectively. Naomi arranged a new husband for Ruth. Ruth became the grandmother of Jesse — and great-grandmother of David, ancestors of Jesus.

Ruth 3:1-5; 4:13-17

3:1 Naomi her mother-in-law said to her, “My daughter, I need to seek some security for you, so that it may be well with you.

3:2 Now here is our kinsman Boaz, with whose young women you have been working. See, he is winnowing barley tonight at the threshing floor.

3:3 Now wash and anoint yourself, and put on your best clothes and go down to the threshing floor; but do not make yourself known to the man until he has finished eating and drinking.

3:4 When he lies down, observe the place where he lies; then, go and uncover his feet and lie down; and he will tell you what to do.”

3:5 She said to her, “All that you tell me I will do.”

4:13 So Boaz took Ruth and she became his wife. When they came together, the LORD made her conceive, and she bore a son.

4:14 Then the women said to Naomi, “Blessed be the LORD, who has not left you this day without next-of-kin; and may his name be renowned in Israel!

4:15 He shall be to you a restorer of life and a nourisher of your old age; for your daughter-in-law who loves you, who is more to you than seven sons, has borne him.”

4:16 Then Naomi took the child and laid him in her bosom, and became his nurse.

4:17 The women of the neighborhood gave him a name, saying, “A son has been born to Naomi.” They named him Obed; he became the father of Jesse, the father of David.

Psalm

This is a famous Psalm about the bountiful blessings of parenthood. This is the origin of the name of the fundamentalist Quiver movement.

Psalm 127

127:1 Unless the LORD builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the LORD guards the city, the guard keeps watch in vain.

127:2 It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives sleep to his beloved.

127:3 Sons are indeed a heritage from the LORD, the fruit of the womb a reward.

127:4 Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the sons of one’s youth.

127:5 Happy is the man who has his quiver full of them. He shall not be put to shame when he speaks with his enemies in the gate.

First reading

This reading from 1 Kings is about the prophet Elijah, whom the Lord shielded from his enemy Jezebel. It was a time of drought and famine. Here we read of another widow who received blessings when she obeyed the Lord.

1 Kings 17:8-16

17:8 Then the word of the LORD came to him, saying,

17:9 “Go now to Zarephath, which belongs to Sidon, and live there; for I have commanded a widow there to feed you.”

17:10 So he set out and went to Zarephath. When he came to the gate of the town, a widow was there gathering sticks; he called to her and said, “Bring me a little water in a vessel, so that I may drink.”

17:11 As she was going to bring it, he called to her and said, “Bring me a morsel of bread in your hand.”

17:12 But she said, “As the LORD your God lives, I have nothing baked, only a handful of meal in a jar, and a little oil in a jug; I am now gathering a couple of sticks, so that I may go home and prepare it for myself and my son, that we may eat it, and die.”

17:13 Elijah said to her, “Do not be afraid; go and do as you have said; but first make me a little cake of it and bring it to me, and afterwards make something for yourself and your son.

17:14 For thus says the LORD the God of Israel: The jar of meal will not be emptied and the jug of oil will not fail until the day that the LORD sends rain on the earth.”

17:15 She went and did as Elijah said, so that she as well as he and her household ate for many days.

17:16 The jar of meal was not emptied, neither did the jug of oil fail, according to the word of the LORD that he spoke by Elijah.

Psalm

Interestingly, the Lectionary compilers scheduled Psalm 146 again, last week’s Psalm for one of the first readings.

Psalm 146

146:1 Praise the LORD! Praise the LORD, O my soul!

146:2 I will praise the LORD as long as I live; I will sing praises to my God all my life long.

146:3 Do not put your trust in princes, in mortals, in whom there is no help.

146:4 When their breath departs, they return to the earth; on that very day their plans perish.

146:5 Happy are those whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the LORD their God,

146:6 who made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them; who keeps faith forever;

146:7 who executes justice for the oppressed; who gives food to the hungry. The LORD sets the prisoners free;

146:8 the LORD opens the eyes of the blind. The LORD lifts up those who are bowed down; the LORD loves the righteous.

146:9 The LORD watches over the strangers; he upholds the orphan and the widow, but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin.

146:10 The LORD will reign forever, your God, O Zion, for all generations. Praise the LORD!

Epistle

The author of Hebrews continues his discourse on Jesus as the eternal High Priest, the Messiah.

Hebrews 9:24-28

9:24 For Christ did not enter a sanctuary made by human hands, a mere copy of the true one, but he entered into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf.

9:25 Nor was it to offer himself again and again, as the high priest enters the Holy Place year after year with blood that is not his own;

9:26 for then he would have had to suffer again and again since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the age to remove sin by the sacrifice of himself.

9:27 And just as it is appointed for mortals to die once, and after that the judgment,

9:28 so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin, but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.

Gospel

Readings from Mark continue. Today’s concerns the widow’s mite.

Mark 12:38-44

12:38 As he taught, he said, “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces,

12:39 and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets!

12:40 They devour widows’ houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.”

12:41 He sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the crowd putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums.

12:42 A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny.

12:43 Then he called his disciples and said to them, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury.

12:44 For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.”

This passage is often misused. Jesus was condemning the scribes and felt pity for the widow who felt compelled to contribute her last coins. The Jewish leaders really did take advantage of widows in those days.

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 21:27-36

Paul Arrested in the Temple

27 When the seven days were almost completed, the Jews from Asia, seeing him in the temple, stirred up the whole crowd and laid hands on him, 28 crying out, “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. 30 Then all the city was stirred up, and the people ran together. They seized Paul and dragged him out of the temple, and at once the gates were shut. 31 And as they were seeking to kill him, word came to the tribune of the cohort that all Jerusalem was in confusion. 32 He at once took soldiers and centurions and ran down to them. And when they saw the tribune and the soldiers, they stopped beating Paul. 33 Then the tribune came up and arrested him and ordered him to be bound with two chains. He inquired who he was and what he had done. 34 Some in the crowd were shouting one thing, some another. And as he could not learn the facts because of the uproar, he ordered him to be brought into the barracks. 35 And when he came to the steps, he was actually carried by the soldiers because of the violence of the crowd, 36 for the mob of the people followed, crying out, “Away with him!”

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Last week’s entry described the Nazirite vow that James and the elders in Jerusalem ordered Paul to take in order to pacify Jews in Jerusalem who were lying about Paul’s preaching.

Paul did so, but, as we see here, all the Spirit-led prophecies about the dangers that he would face in Jerusalem came true. From this point, the Book of Acts shows Paul no longer as a free man founding and building churches, but as a prisoner of Christ. John MacArthur explains (emphases mine below):

…. beginning here in chapter 21, he becomes a prisoner. And as a prisoner, we find that he gives six separate defenses of his actions

Now, you’ll notice that these six defenses are given before the mob; the first one; before the council the second; the third and fourth before the governors who are Felix and Festus; the fifth one before the king, and the last before the Jews. And you’ll notice, also, that there are three cities involved, the first two came in Jerusalem, the next in Caesarea and the final in Rome. And the result of the first accused, the next absolved, and the last awaiting trial

I think, just to add a footnote, as a prisoner from here on out, we ought to get some idea of how Paul viewed his imprisonment. And just to give you a point of reference at which you can make contact, I would call your attention to Ephesians chapter 3, and verse 1 … Paul says, “For this cause, I, Paul, the prisoner of Jesus Christ, for you Gentiles.” Now keep this in the back of your mind: Paul never viewed his situation as anything other than God authored, okay? He never viewed his imprisonment as an imprisonment of men. He doesn’t say, “I write unto you, Paul, a prisoner of Rome.” He’s always a prisoner of whom? Jesus Christ. It was Christ who brought him into such predicaments.

In Philippians he says, “My bonds in Christ are manifest in all the palace.” He never saw himself as a prisoner of men. He saw himself only as a prisoner of the will of Jesus Christ. And so consequently, his imprisonment represented nothing but a new ministry. It didn’t mean the end of anything. It meant the beginning of something. He says to them, “My bonds in Christ are made manifest in all the palace.

And at the end of Philippians, he says, “The saints greet you chiefly that are of Caesar’s household.” It’s just a question of winning people to Christ who were available to be reached through prison. And I love what he says when he says, “I may be bound, but the Gospel is not bound.” And so he never says his imprisonment as having anything to do with men, but always with God. And God uses him to give a glorious testimony; positive witness in every one of those trials, even though they were all negative situations.

Jews from Asia Minor stirred the crowd in Jerusalem against Paul when he appeared at the temple at the end of his Nazirite vow (verse 27). He was to pay the sacrifices of himself and four other men whom James and the elders of the church in Jerusalem had designated.

These ‘Jews from Asia’ called out to the ‘men of Israel’ — observant Jews — calling for ‘help’ against Paul, about whom they circulated lies regarding  his preaching (verse 28).

They also falsely accused him of bringing Gentiles past the point where only Jews were allowed.

Verse 27 uses the words ‘stirred up’ the crowd, which MacArthur says means ‘confused’ the crowd in the original Greek that St Luke, the author of Acts, used:

The word stirred up, though there are other English statement stirred in the New Testament, the actual Greek word used here is only used here, and it means confused. “They confused the mob.” Mobs are always confused, as I just said, and they confused the mob, and they laid hands on Paul. Here’s Paul in there finishing up his Nazarite vows, and a whole bunch of these Jews from Ephesus descend on him, grab him, and they stir up the confusion of the mob, and this crying and yelling, verse 28, “Crying out, men of Israel, help.”

Matthew Henry’s commentary points out that the Jews of Jerusalem had not accused Paul of wrongdoing, only the Jews who probably knew him from his preaching in Asia Minor, specifically Ephesus. He also explains that their ranting rhetoric was to agitate true Jews into action, as if Paul were a thief or a traitor:

They cried out, “Men of Israel, help. If you are indeed men of Israel, true-born Jews, that have a concern for your church and your country, now is your time to show it, by helping to seize an enemy to both.” Thus they cried after him as after a thief (Job 30:5), or after a mad dog. Note, The enemies of Christianity, since they could never prove it to be an ill thing, have been always very industrious, right or wrong, to put it into an ill name, and so run it down by outrage and outcry. It had become men of Israel to help Paul, who preached up him who was so much the glory of his people Israel; yet here the popular fury will not allow them to be men of Israel, unless they will help against him. This was like, Stop thief, or Athaliah’s cry, Treason, treason; what is wanting in right is made up in noise.

They falsely claimed to have seen Trophimus, a Gentile convert from Ephesus, in an inner part of the temple where only Jews were allowed, intimating that Paul was to blame for that (verse 29).

By now, those readers who are still learning the New Testament are wondering why there was such a commotion at this particular time. Recall that Paul was on his way to Jerusalem, along with his companion Luke and a group of Gentiles — among them Trophimus — to celebrate Pentecost (Acts 20:1-6). Acts 20:6 mentions that Luke and Paul had celebrated the Feast of the Unleavened Bread, the first seven days after Passover. Jewish tradition was still part of Paul’s and other Jewish converts’ lives at that time.

Most people will have observed that the main Jewish and Christian festivals occur around the same timeframe: Hannukah and Christmas, Passover and Easter, the Feast of Weeks and Pentecost.

The Feast of Weeks is the celebration of the Jews receiving Mosaic Law 50 days after the Exodus. The Exodus is commemorated at Passover, and the Feast of Weeks comes 50 days after that. To remember these laws being handed down is a highly important time for a Jew. At that time, the Jews from other nations would have returned to Jerusalem, as they had done for Passover. MacArthur explains:

Historians tell us it could be 2 million people there. Two million people milling around that city at feast time. Now the term Pentecost, and it was the feast of Pentecost as we’ve seen in past study, Paul wanted to get there at Pentecost, and that was a time when people really moved in Jerusalem from everywhere. That’s why those Asian Jews were there. It signifies the 50th. Penta means 50. This is 50 days after Passover. And it was the Old Testament feast of harvest sometimes called the Feast of Weeks, and sometimes called the Day of First Fruits.

It celebrates the first fruits of the wheat harvest, does Pentecost. And so it was that celebration. But after the exile, it had become kind of a different celebration. It was said that the Torah, the Law, the Law of Moses, was given 50 days after the Exodus. So the feast of Pentecost then became associated with the celebration of the birthday of the Law. Now, mark that because that’s very important, because it helps us to understand the attitude of the people. They were in the midst of a celebration of the Law, which means they were celebrating Jewishness to its nth degree. At this particular celebration, the concentration on the Law leads me to conclude two things: One, the fact that Paul wanted to be there indicates that he does revere the Law. In fact, in Romans 7, he said, “I delight in the Law of God.” So he wasn’t anti-Jewish Law. He wasn’t anti-law. In that sense, he delighted in God’s Law. But the fact, also secondly that it was a Jewish celebration of the law, means that the crowd was hyper concerned about the Law and its sanctity.

And so anybody who stood in blatant opposition would be the most flagrant kind of violator of the very thing they were celebrating, and that tends to create the kind of antagonism that this group uses to really try to kill Paul. So they stir up the crowd and the headless mob, and they start yelling, “Help.” And of course, that’s just as if some blasphemy has occurred, or some terrible defamation of the character of God, or the character of Moses. This is some slander that has occurred, desecration of the sanctuary, and they cry out, ‘Men of Israel, Help.” And then they announce the problem. “This is the man,” and they’ve got him by now, “that teaches all men everywhere against the people and the Law and this place.”

Now on to the reason why Paul would not have brought Trophimus, a Gentile, beyond the boundaries of the temple. First of all, Paul would not have challenged the boundaries, because part of him still respected the traditions and laws in which he had been raised a Pharisee. Secondly, the Romans took the temple boundaries seriously as well, because a) they knew they were paramount for the Jews and b) they did not want any disorder on Roman territory. I wrote at length in my commentary on the latter part of Acts 16 — where Paul and Silas were freed from prison via an earthquake — that the prison guard watching them feared for his life. One of the penalties for allowing prisoners to escape was the death penalty. Therefore, if people were running riot in Jerusalem, governors in Rome would have called the authorities in Jerusalem to account.

MacArthur tells us more:

I’ll tell you something else: If he had dragged Trophimus in there, he would’ve dragged him in there at the cost of his life, and he wouldn’t have done that to his friend. No, of course Paul didn’t take Trophimus into the temple; sacred place. They just _____ it out. Trophimus was a Gentile. It says in verse 29, “He was an Ephesian.” And for a Gentile to enter the temple was terrible. The Gentiles could only go to the outer court. In fact since that was true, it became known as the Court of the Gentiles. And between that and the inner court, the next court was called the Court of the Women, and it got that name because the women could go into that court. And then further on in the men went, and then of course the priest and the high priest all the way into the holy of holies. But in the outer court, the Gentiles could go.

Now, between the outer court and the inner court, the Court of the Women, the temple treasury, was a barricade. And periodically, along pillars on the barricade were placed signs. And they were written in two languages, Latin and Greek, so that all the pagans could read them. This is what they said, and interestingly enough, we have found two of those from Herod’s temple. Archaeologists discovered one in 1871, another one in 1935, and they both said the same thing: “No man of alien race is to enter within the barricade that goes around the temple. And if anyone is taken in the act, let him know that he has himself to blame for the penalty of death that follows.”

Now, anybody who went in there as a Gentile died, and the Romans honored that law. They knew how sacred it was to the Jews. And in fact, it was a way of keeping Gentile religion and Gentile gods and idols out of the temple. It was sort of a stopping point for the intrusion of the system of the world. And they didn’t let it be violated. Well, when these guys said they took Greeks into the temple that was just enough to stir up everybody, and give a justification for the murder of Paul.

Now what’s interesting in this: Even if Paul had taken Trophimus in there, it would not have been Paul that died, it would’ve been Trophimus. So it shows that the whole thing was out of whack all the way down the line. Paul couldn’t be killed for going in there; he was a Jew. If anybody got killed, it would be the Gentiles who violated it. So the whole thing was a pretense and in all the confusion, the mob had no idea what they were doing, which is like any mob.

The whole city ran amok and a mob dragged Paul — there to complete his Nazirite vow (oh, the irony) — out of the temple and shut the door (verse 30).

Note that these Asian Jews never went to either the religious or secular authority with their complaint against Paul. They were insistent on making real trouble, relying on lack of reason. Matthew Henry observes:

They cannot prove the crime upon him, and therefore dare not bring him upon a fair trial; nay, so greedily do they thirst after his blood that they have not patience to proceed against him by a due course of law, though they were ever so sure to gain their point; and therefore, as those who neither feared God nor regarded man, they resolved to knock him on the head immediately.

MacArthur points out:

“And they all ran together, took Paul, drew him out of the temple, and at once the doors were shut.” They wanted to make sure they got him out of there so they could go on worshipping God, while they killed God’s anointed. Amazing how they did this. This is what they did at the trial of Jesus. They wanted to make sure they didn’t violate the Sabbath while they executed the Messiah: Made sure they didn’t violate any of the things that were going on at that particular time. Didn’t want to enter into the house of the Gentiles at all, because they would defile themselves. They stayed outside and screamed for the blood of the Messiah.

Then, the tribune of the Roman troops — the cohort — found out what was going on (verse 31). MacArthur says it was highly important to quell this riot quickly. Also, contrary to the dictionary definition of cohort being several hundred men, he says that there were 1,000 men in the garrison:

The one great thing that the Roman Government wanted in its colonies and its possessions was civil order. They didn’t tolerate civil disorder. They didn’t tolerate it from the people, and any commander who allowed it was in real trouble. And so they had an observation tower to watch because most of what went on in terms of congregating went on in the temple courtyard, and the garrison of at least 1,000 men in the temple right there on the northwest wall of the temple yard.

Well, the soldiers looking down saw what was going on. Verse 31, “As they went about to kill him, tidings came unto the chief captain of the band.” That’s not a musical band, that’s the band of soldiers, “that all Jerusalem was in an uproar.” Man, they could see that a big deal was going on. They had to get the riot squad ready. These were highly trained men. They were ready to move out.

A commander of a garrison was known in Greek as a chiliarch. The word ‘millennium’ replaced ‘chiliasm’. There was also a Christian movement called chiliasm. The root of all three words means ‘one thousand’:

The Greek word is chiliarch or chiliarc, and it means a thousand. In fact, the old designation of the millennium was chiliasm, because it’s a thousand-year kingdom. Chiliasts were those who believed in the thousand-year literal kingdom. Chiliarch means a thousand, so here was the head of the whole thousand. It’s always easy to tell the Roman structure of soldiers just from that. There are centurions. How many would they be over? One hundred; chiliarch, a thousand.

The tribune — the chiliarch — got the centurions and their subordinates, the soldiers, down to the mob, which, for obvious reasons, stopped beating Paul (verse 32). Then the tribune arrested Paul and bound him with two chains, exactly as Agabus had prophesied when Paul was in Caesarea a few days beforehand (Acts 21:7-14).

As the tribune could not get a coherent answer from the mob as to Paul’s identity or his crime, he ordered his men to take Paul to the barracks (verse 34). The mob were still up in arms, so the soldiers had to carry Paul — a short man — away (verse 35).

The mob said something reminiscent of the one pardoning Barabbas and condemning Christ (verse 36): ‘Away with him!’

Matthew Henry makes an excellent observation about verse 36:

See how the most excellent persons and things are often run down by a popular clamour. Christ himself was so, with, Crucify him, crucify him, though they could not say what evil he had done. Take him out of the land of the living (so the ancients expound it), chase him out of the world.

This is the reason that the display of strong emotion was largely looked down upon until 20 years ago.

For this reason, the expression of strong emotion is a very bad thing. It can lead good people astray, into mob violence. It’s time for modern society to rein it in. Strong emotion serves no positive purpose and can actually lead to harm.

Next time — Acts 21:37-40 through Acts 22:1

What follows are the readings for the Twenty-fourth Sunday of Pentecost, November 4, 2018.

These are for Year B in the three-year Lectionary cycle.

There are two sets of first readings and Psalms. I have given the second selections blue subheadings below. Emphases mine throughout.

Today’s readings are uplifting, pointing to the knowledge and wisdom of faith.

First reading

This is the moving story of Naomi and Ruth, mother-in-law and daughter-in-law, joined together in faith and love of the Lord.

Ruth 1:1-18

1:1 In the days when the judges ruled, there was a famine in the land, and a certain man of Bethlehem in Judah went to live in the country of Moab, he and his wife and two sons.

1:2 The name of the man was Elimelech and the name of his wife Naomi, and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Chilion; they were Ephrathites from Bethlehem in Judah. They went into the country of Moab and remained there.

1:3 But Elimelech, the husband of Naomi, died, and she was left with her two sons.

1:4 These took Moabite wives; the name of the one was Orpah and the name of the other Ruth. When they had lived there about ten years,

1:5 both Mahlon and Chilion also died, so that the woman was left without her two sons and her husband.

1:6 Then she started to return with her daughters-in-law from the country of Moab, for she had heard in the country of Moab that the LORD had considered his people and given them food.

1:7 So she set out from the place where she had been living, she and her two daughters-in-law, and they went on their way to go back to the land of Judah.

1:8 But Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, “Go back each of you to your mother’s house. May the LORD deal kindly with you, as you have dealt with the dead and with me.

1:9 The LORD grant that you may find security, each of you in the house of your husband.” Then she kissed them, and they wept aloud.

1:10 They said to her, “No, we will return with you to your people.”

1:11 But Naomi said, “Turn back, my daughters, why will you go with me? Do I still have sons in my womb that they may become your husbands?

1:12 Turn back, my daughters, go your way, for I am too old to have a husband. Even if I thought there was hope for me, even if I should have a husband tonight and bear sons,

1:13 would you then wait until they were grown? Would you then refrain from marrying? No, my daughters, it has been far more bitter for me than for you, because the hand of the LORD has turned against me.”

1:14 Then they wept aloud again. Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, but Ruth clung to her.

1:15 So she said, “See, your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and to her gods; return after your sister-in-law.”

1:16 But Ruth said, “Do not press me to leave you or to turn back from following you! Where you go, I will go; Where you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God.

1:17 Where you die, I will die– there will I be buried. May the LORD do thus and so to me, and more as well, if even death parts me from you!”

1:18 When Naomi saw that she was determined to go with her, she said no more to her.

Psalm

The Psalm lists the joy and blessings that God brings to those who follow Him. Verse 3 is another favourite of mine.

Psalm 146

146:1 Praise the LORD! Praise the LORD, O my soul!

146:2 I will praise the LORD as long as I live; I will sing praises to my God all my life long.

146:3 Do not put your trust in princes, in mortals, in whom there is no help.

146:4 When their breath departs, they return to the earth; on that very day their plans perish.

146:5 Happy are those whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the LORD their God,

146:6 who made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them; who keeps faith forever;

146:7 who executes justice for the oppressed; who gives food to the hungry. The LORD sets the prisoners free;

146:8 the LORD opens the eyes of the blind. The LORD lifts up those who are bowed down; the LORD loves the righteous.

146:9 The LORD watches over the strangers; he upholds the orphan and the widow, but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin.

146:10 The LORD will reign forever, your God, O Zion, for all generations. Praise the LORD!

First reading

Verse 4 is the opening line to the Jewish prayer, the Shema, the first prayer that Jewish children learn. The Shema is comprised of Deuteronomy 6:4-9. It is said regularly in synagogue as well as at home. Verse 9 is the reason why observant Jews have on their front doorframes a mezuzah, a small container with two Scripture passages, those from the Shema and, another prayer, the Vehaya (Deuteronomy 11:13-21). Common among Orthodox Jewish men is the tefillin — phylacteries — commanded in verse 8. The tefillin, a small box with Scripture verses, is affixed to the forehead during prayer and a leather strap is bound to the hand and forearm.

Deuteronomy 6:1-9

6:1 Now this is the commandment–the statutes and the ordinances–that the LORD your God charged me to teach you to observe in the land that you are about to cross into and occupy,

6:2 so that you and your children and your children’s children, may fear the LORD your God all the days of your life, and keep all his decrees and his commandments that I am commanding you, so that your days may be long.

6:3 Hear therefore, O Israel, and observe them diligently, so that it may go well with you, and so that you may multiply greatly in a land flowing with milk and honey, as the LORD, the God of your ancestors, has promised you.

6:4 Hear, O Israel: The LORD is our God, the LORD alone.

6:5 You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.

6:6 Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart.

6:7 Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise.

6:8 Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead,

6:9 and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.

Psalm

The Psalm discusses the happiness the faithful have in obeying God’s commandments.

Psalm 119:1-8

119:1 Happy are those whose way is blameless, who walk in the law of the LORD.

119:2 Happy are those who keep his decrees, who seek him with their whole heart,

119:3 who also do no wrong, but walk in his ways.

119:4 You have commanded your precepts to be kept diligently.

119:5 O that my ways may be steadfast in keeping your statutes!

119:6 Then I shall not be put to shame, having my eyes fixed on all your commandments.

119:7 I will praise you with an upright heart, when I learn your righteous ordinances.

119:8 I will observe your statutes; do not utterly forsake me.

Epistle

Readings continue from the Book of Hebrews, which John MacArthur says was written in 68 AD, two years before the destruction of the Temple. He says it was intended as a final warning to convert. It’s a beautiful book which perfectly explains why Jesus Christ is the eternal High Priest, the promised Messiah.

Hebrews 9:11-14

9:11 But when Christ came as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation),

9:12 he entered once for all into the Holy Place, not with the blood of goats and calves, but with his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption.

9:13 For if the blood of goats and bulls, with the sprinkling of the ashes of a heifer, sanctifies those who have been defiled so that their flesh is purified,

9:14 how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to worship the living God!

Gospel

This passage from Mark alludes to the aforementioned verses from Deuteronomy 6. The scribe written about below understood.

Mark 12:28-34

12:28 One of the scribes came near and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, he asked him, “Which commandment is the first of all?”

12:29 Jesus answered, “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one;

12:30 you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’

12:31 The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”

12:32 Then the scribe said to him, “You are right, Teacher; you have truly said that ‘he is one, and besides him there is no other’;

12:33 and ‘to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the strength,’ and ‘to love one’s neighbor as oneself,’ –this is much more important than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.”

12:34 When Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” After that no one dared to ask him any question.

Verses 29 and 30 are in the short version of the Ten Commandments prayer at the beginning of the Anglican Holy Communion service.

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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

Acts 21:19-26

19 After greeting them, he related one by one the things that God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry. 20 And when they heard it, they glorified God. And they said to him, “You see, brother, how many thousands there are among the Jews of those who have believed. They are all zealous for the law, 21 and they have been told about you that you teach all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children or walk according to our customs. 22 What then is to be done? They will certainly hear that you have come. 23 Do therefore what we tell you. We have four men who are under a vow; 24 take these men and purify yourself along with them and pay their expenses, so that they may shave their heads. Thus all will know that there is nothing in what they have been told about you, but that you yourself also live in observance of the law. 25 But as for the Gentiles who have believed, we have sent a letter with our judgment that they should abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols, and from blood, and from what has been strangled,[a] and from sexual immorality.” 26 Then Paul took the men, and the next day he purified himself along with them and went into the temple, giving notice when the days of purification would be fulfilled and the offering presented for each one of them.

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Last week’s entry was about Paul’s preliminary meeting with a small group of Jewish converts from the church of Jerusalem. The following day’s events, described in today’s passage, were with a larger group, led by James (the Just and/or the Less), who wrote the eponymous Epistle. This James was not the Apostle James, brother of the Apostle John, both the sons of Zebedee.

John MacArthur describes the backdrop to this meeting. Also recall that Paul was delivering a sizeable monetary contribution from the Gentile churches (emphases mine):

So there they arrive, and it’s Paul’s time to report. They had the fellowship, passed out the money, though it doesn’t say anything about that. I’m sure they did, and I’m sure that’s what contributed to the gladness, and I know that they accepted it, because the Lord doesn’t have those kind of purposes at that kind of expense without good results. So I’m sure it was a great reception, though the text says nothing about it.

And then they were going to listen to Paul, because Paul was going to report. And so they got together, and the wonderful fellowship; and ol’ Paul had set churches together in Syria, and in Cyprus, and Galatia, and Macedonia, and Achaia, and Asia Minor; and he had had so many fantastic experiences; and Jews were saved, Gentiles were saved, and this and that and the other. And you can just imagine they were all anxious to find out all the details of what had gone on in his ministry, and so he reports to them all this information.

Note how Luke, the author of Acts, expresses the achievements (verse 19). He — nor Paul, for that matter — said that Paul did all these wonderful things. He says that God was responsible. Both commentators — John MacArthur and Matthew Henry — point this out.

MacArthur says:

That’s what I like about Paul. “He declared particularly what things God had wrought among the Gentile by his ministry.” Now notice he declared particularly. He didn’t speak in generality. He told them incident after incident after incident of what God had done.

Luke was careful to give us examples throughout Acts of God’s work in building the Church:

Acts 14: “He came back from his journey, his first journey.” Listen to his report, I like this: “And when they had come together and gathered the church together, they reviewed all that God had done with them,” – that’s so good, because they see themselves as tools and God’s doing the work“all that God had done with them, and now He had opened the door of faith under the Gentiles.” Isn’t that good?

Chapter 15, verse 12, when they came to Jerusalem, “Then all the multitude kept silent, and they listened to Barnabas and Paul.” And you know what they did? They declared what miracles and wonders God had wrought.

And, you know, Peter was the same way. He came back. Peter had won a Gentile to Christ. He actually led Cornelius to Christ. Now Peter could’ve come back and said, “I led a Gentile to the Lord. I did.” No, he came back, and he said, “You’ll never believe this. You know what God did? God granted unto the Gentiles life.” God did it.

Always the godly man gives God the credit, right? It’s a simple point, but it’s there. So important. That’s what Peter meant when he said, “If any man speaks,” – 1 Peter 4:11 – “let him speak as of the oracles of God. If any man ministers, let him do it as of the ability which God gives, that God in all things may be glorified.” That’s why the apostle Paul said in Ephesians 3, “I pray that you be filled of the fullness of God, and then you exceeding of all you can ask or think according to the power that works in us,” – and then what? – “that in the church, God may be glorified.” Always the glory is His, always His; and Paul had that kind of mind. The mind of Christ, friends, is the mind of humility; and he gave God the glory. So we see the communion.

Matthew Henry’s commentary points out that there was no envy among the church leaders in Jerusalem because God received the credit:

Paul ascribed it all to God, and to God they gave the praise of it. They did not break out into high encomiums of Paul, but left it to his Master to say to him, Well done, good and faithful servant; but they gave glory to the grace of God, which was extended to the Gentiles. Note, The conversion of sinners ought to be the matter of our joy and praise as it is of the angels’. God had honoured Paul more than any of them, in making his usefulness more extensive, yet they did not envy him, nor were they jealous of his growing reputation, but, on the contrary, glorified the Lord. And they could not do more to encourage Paul to go on cheerfully in his work than to glorify God for his success in it; for, if God be praised, Paul is pleased.

After glorifying God for these church successes, the church leaders told Paul about the many thousands of converts in Jerusalem (verse 20). Older translations use ‘myriads’; a ‘myriad’ means ‘tens of thousands’. Luke stopped giving us a count of converts early on in Acts, because so many in Jerusalem came to believe in Jesus Christ as Messiah.

Then they told him of Judaisers, those ‘zealous for the law’ (verse 20). These were men who believed all converts needed to be circumcised first. They believed a Gentile had to observe Mosaic law and ceremony before he could become a Christian. They were spreading the word that Paul had been preaching against Moses and against circumcision (verse 21).

The Judaisers featured earlier in Acts. In Acts 11, they were angry that Peter, through God’s help, converted Cornelius, a Roman centurion and Gentile, to the faith.

In Acts 15 (here, here, here, here and here), the Jerusalem Council convened to discuss the Gentile question. Peter spoke eloquently, as did Paul, Barnabas and James. The Holy Spirit inspired the church in Jerusalem to unanimously agree on not obliging Gentile converts to follow Mosaic law. They issued a letter to sister churches under the supervision of the one in Antioch (Syria) to that effect (Acts 15:28-29):

2For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay on you no greater burden than these requirements: 29 that you abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols, and from blood, and from what has been strangled, and from sexual immorality. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well. Farewell.” 

Jude Barsabbas and Silas travelled with Paul and Barnabas to deliver that news. The letter from the Jerusalem Council to the Gentiles went via Paul, Barnabas, Silas and Judas Barsabbas to the church in Antioch (Syria). The members of the church in Antioch rejoiced at receiving the news.

MacArthur surmises that the Judaisers knew Paul was coming to Jerusalem and began spreading untruths about his teaching. Recall that the truth was that Paul had been converting many Gentiles. That said, he personally still kept with some Jewish traditions himself. The Judaisers wanted to make Paul out as an apostate. As they were in Jerusalem, this had the potential for provoking much tension, which it duly did. MacArthur explains how the Judaisers were stirring the pot:

You see, these things were precious things to these Jewish people. They were their life, their culture, their tradition. And what these people, these Judaizers were doing, was undermining Paul by saying he doesn’t want anything to do with Judaism. He’s a heretic. He’s apostatized. And the word “apostasy” is the word “forsake” right here. He’s apostate. He’s teaching that you should be apostate from Moses. And, boy, Moses was sacred stuff to them.

Believe me, people, Satan is the father of lies. Did you know that? He is a liar from the beginning. The first time he opens his mouth, he’s lying in Genesis; and he doesn’t stop, and he lies incessantly. Even when he sneaks up and tells the truth, it’s for a lying reason. He’s a liar; that’s who he is. You want a good definition of Satan? He is a liar. And you ought to know that, because he lied about everything; and he lies about Paul.

You know something? Paul never taught Jews to forsake Moses, he taught Gentiles not to think they had to become Jews. See the difference? He taught Gentiles not to be circumcised. Why? Because they didn’t need that. He taught Gentiles you don’t need the ceremonies of the law. He did not teach Jews not to be circumcised, and he did not teach Jews not to follow those traditions.

Paul himself wrote that he maintained Jewish traditions in order to convert more Jews. We see this in today’s passage. He wrote about it more at length in 1 Corinthians 19:

19 For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. 20 To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. 21 To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. 23 I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.

MacArthur reminds us that Paul also had Timothy, a half-Jew, circumcised for the same reason:

In fact, in the case of Timothy, he actually had Timothy circumcised, didn’t he, Acts 16:2 and 3. The reason he had him circumcised was he was a Jew; he was at least half Jewish, which qualified him; and he said, “If you’re circumcised, you’ll be much more effective in reaching other Jews, because they’ll accept you as a Jew.” He did not teach Jews to avoid circumcision, he did not do that at all. This was a lie, flat out.

The leaders of the church in Jerusalem said that something must be done (verse 22). They commanded Paul — ‘do what we tell you’ — to take a Nazirite vow along with four other men who were undertaking one (verse 23). They also told Paul to pay for the required sacrifices involved at the temple, believing that the Judaisers would see this public act and be convinced that Paul was no apostate (verse 24).

I have written about the Nazirite vow before. Three men in the Bible lived their lives as Nazirites: Samson, Samuel and John the Baptist. Most Jewish men of those eras, however, took short-term Nazirite vows.

Paul had already taken a Nazirite vow before — Acts 18:18-23 — to give thanks for the church in Corinth. He probably did that in Jerusalem.

The Lord gave Moses the protocol for the Nazirite vow in Numbers 6, well worth reading. Nazirite has nothing to do with Nazareth or Nazarenes, by the way. ‘Nazir’ means ‘to separate’; the Nazirite is commanded to separate himself from the world. He grows his hair, takes no strong drink, eats modestly and wears the simplest of clothing. John the Baptist exemplified the Nazirite life perfectly.

The sacrifices at the temple must have cost Paul dearly. MacArthur thinks that Paul probably kept a lot of what he earned in making tents for emergency expenditures. Along with more commonplace sacrifices, expensive animal sacrifices — a one year old male lamb, one ewe of the same age and a ram — were required of each Nazirite (Numbers 6:14). Paul had to pay for five sets of these animals: for himself and for the four men.

The leaders of the church in Jerusalem then explained that Gentiles did not have to follow these rules and they repeated to Paul the text of the aforementioned letter from the Jerusalem Council (verse 25).

Paul duly followed the orders of the church leaders and took the Nazirite vow with the four other men (verse 26).

Next week’s verses continue the story. For those unfamiliar with it, MacArthur has this:

A riot started out, and I mean it was one full-scale riot.

But what is interesting – and I just want to draw this quickly. Listen, what was interesting in this whole deal about the riot was that everybody was screaming their heads off. In fact, the Romans finally came running down the steps of Fort Antonius, and scooped Paul out of the middle of the gang, and tried to save his life. It was such a big mess; they couldn’t get him out of the crowd, they had to lift him up and carry him. They tried to get through the steps, the people were all screaming.

So the Roman chiliarch – the guy who was the commander of the thousand, the head man – he starts yelling out, “What did he do? What are you killing him for?” And he got so many answers, he was so confused, he couldn’t understand anything. He just hauled him off and put him in the barracks. The mob was so messed up and confused, and they were yelling all kinds of things that nobody knew what was going on. And the interesting thing about it is through the entire thing, from beginning to end, Paul never says a word; he doesn’t say anything. He wasn’t standing there screaming, “I didn’t do anything.” He didn’t say anything.

You say, “What does that prove?” I think it just adds support to our overall theme. And what’s our overall theme? The measure of the man is – what? – humility.

You say, “John, how do you see the humility in a man?” I’ll just give you those three things I gave you at the bottom of the outline, listen to them. I see in this beautiful passage the humility of Paul three ways. Number one, verses 19 and 20: his submission before God. He was humble before God. When he came to give his report, he said, “This is what God has done.” That’s humility.

Secondly, he humbled himself before Christian authority. The elders said, “Do this.” He did it. Thirdly, he even humbled himself to suffer the pain of persecution. Why? Because it was God’s will, was it not? Didn’t the Holy Spirit say, “It’s going to happen. It’s going to happen. It’s going to happen.” When it happened, he was silent.

Beloved, humility is when I am humbling before God, humbling before the leaders of the church who are an authority over me, and humbling myself before the persecution of the world, because my Lord said it would happen if I lived a godly life. That’s true humility. That’s the measure to the man.

Acts is one of the best books in the Bible. Something powerful happens in every chapter. We can be grateful to the Holy Spirit for inspiring Luke to write it.

Next time — Acts 21:27-36

 

What follows are the readings for the Twenty-third Sunday after Pentecost, October 28, 2018.

These are for Year B in the three-year Lectionary cycle.

There are two sets of first readings and Psalms. I have given the second selections blue subheadings below. Emphases mine throughout.

First reading

Readings from the Book of Job conclude. Here the Lord restores Job’s fortunes and reunites him with his loved ones. The Lord blessed him for the rest of his life.

Job 42:1-6, 10-17

42:1 Then Job answered the LORD:

42:2 “I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.

42:3 ‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’ Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.

42:4 ‘Hear, and I will speak; I will question you, and you declare to me.’

42:5 I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you;

42:6 therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes.”

42:10 And the LORD restored the fortunes of Job when he had prayed for his friends; and the LORD gave Job twice as much as he had before.

42:11 Then there came to him all his brothers and sisters and all who had known him before, and they ate bread with him in his house; they showed him sympathy and comforted him for all the evil that the LORD had brought upon him; and each of them gave him a piece of money and a gold ring.

42:12 The LORD blessed the latter days of Job more than his beginning; and he had fourteen thousand sheep, six thousand camels, a thousand yoke of oxen, and a thousand donkeys.

42:13 He also had seven sons and three daughters.

42:14 He named the first Jemimah, the second Keziah, and the third Keren-happuch.

42:15 In all the land there were no women so beautiful as Job’s daughters; and their father gave them an inheritance along with their brothers.

42:16 After this Job lived one hundred and forty years, and saw his children, and his children’s children, four generations.

42:17 And Job died, old and full of days.

Psalm

The Psalm reflects the joy the faithful have in the Lord’s blessings and protection.

Psalm 34:1-8, (19-22)

34:1 I will bless the LORD at all times; his praise shall continually be in my mouth.

34:2 My soul makes its boast in the LORD; let the humble hear and be glad.

34:3 O magnify the LORD with me, and let us exalt his name together.

34:4 I sought the LORD, and he answered me, and delivered me from all my fears.

34:5 Look to him, and be radiant; so your faces shall never be ashamed.

34:6 This poor soul cried, and was heard by the LORD, and was saved from every trouble.

34:7 The angel of the LORD encamps around those who fear him, and delivers them.

34:8 O taste and see that the LORD is good; happy are those who take refuge in him.

34:19 Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the LORD rescues them from them all.

34:20 He keeps all their bones; not one of them will be broken.

34:21 Evil brings death to the wicked, and those who hate the righteous will be condemned.

34:22 The LORD redeems the life of his servants; none of those who take refuge in him will be condemned.

First reading

Jeremiah prophesies that deliverance from captivity in Babylon is coming soon. The Lord will enable those who are unable to walk to freedom to do so comfortably. The house of Ephraim, which turned away from God, will be restored to His favour and be exalted.

Jeremiah 31:7-9

31:7 For thus says the LORD: Sing aloud with gladness for Jacob, and raise shouts for the chief of the nations; proclaim, give praise, and say, “Save, O LORD, your people, the remnant of Israel.”

31:8 See, I am going to bring them from the land of the north, and gather them from the farthest parts of the earth, among them the blind and the lame, those with child and those in labor, together; a great company, they shall return here.

31:9 With weeping they shall come, and with consolations I will lead them back, I will let them walk by brooks of water, in a straight path in which they shall not stumble; for I have become a father to Israel, and Ephraim is my firstborn.

Psalm

The Psalm describes the immense joy that God’s people experienced when liberated from Babylon in Ezra’s time. The first verse expresses so much; it is one of my favourites.

Psalm 126

126:1 When the LORD restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dream.

126:2 Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy; then it was said among the nations, “The LORD has done great things for them.”

126:3 The LORD has done great things for us, and we rejoiced.

126:4 Restore our fortunes, O LORD, like the watercourses in the Negeb.

126:5 May those who sow in tears reap with shouts of joy.

126:6 Those who go out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, carrying their sheaves.

Epistle

Readings continue from the Book of Hebrews on the subject of Christ Jesus as the ultimate, perfect High Priest, now and forever.

Hebrews 7:23-28

7:23 Furthermore, the former priests were many in number, because they were prevented by death from continuing in office;

7:24 but he holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues forever.

7:25 Consequently he is able for all time to save those who approach God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.

7:26 For it was fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, blameless, undefiled, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens.

7:27 Unlike the other high priests, he has no need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for those of the people; this he did once for all when he offered himself.

7:28 For the law appoints as high priests those who are subject to weakness, but the word of the oath, which came later than the law, appoints a Son who has been made perfect forever.

Gospel

Readings continue from Mark’s Gospel. Jesus restores the sight of the blind beggar Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, who followed Him afterwards. Parallel readings are in Matthew 19 and 20.

Mark 10:46-52

10:46 They came to Jericho. As he and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho, Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the roadside.

10:47 When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”

10:48 Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”

10:49 Jesus stood still and said, “Call him here.” And they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take heart; get up, he is calling you.”

10:50 So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus.

10:51 Then Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” The blind man said to him, “My teacher, let me see again.”

10:52 Jesus said to him, “Go; your faith has made you well.” Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way.

There is also a spiritual aspect to Bartimaeus’s healing. Not only can he now physically see, but his spiritual health has been made whole as well, evidenced by his following Jesus.

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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

Acts 21:17-18

Paul Visits James

17 When we had come to Jerusalem, the brothers received us gladly. 18 On the following day Paul went in with us to James, and all the elders were present.

———————————————————————————————

Last week’s post discussed Paul and Luke’s stay in Jerusalem with an old or longtime (or both) disciple, Mnason of Cyprus.

Luke, the author of Acts, recorded that they were ‘gladly’ received by the church members there (verse 17). Matthew Henry’s commentary says that one Bible scholar described it as receiving Paul’s words gladly:

Streso observes that the word here used concerning the welcome they gave to the apostles, asmenos apodechein, is used concerning the welcome of the apostles’ doctrine, Acts 2:41. They gladly received his word. We think if we had Paul among us we should gladly receive him; but it is a question whether we should or no it, having his doctrine, we do not gladly receive that.

John MacArthur says that true fellowship took place. Let us also remember that Paul had with him donations from the Gentile churches destined for Jerusalem. However, we can safely surmise that they were happier to see Paul than finding out about the donations. MacArthur points out that this was a small meeting with a few church members (emphases mine below):

First of all, we find communion occurs as he arrives. And by the word “communion,” I don’t mean they all sat down at the Lord’s Table. The word means fellowship or sharing. The first thing that happened was there was a beautiful time of sharing with the believers when Paul arrived. I mean after all, the man was a tremendous missionary, he had accomplished tremendous things. He arrives with these dear Gentile saints, and he arrives with this money, and it’s a great time of sharing and rejoicing. In verses 17-28 we have that noted for us.

Notice 17 to begin: “And when we were come to Jerusalem, the brethren received us” – in what way? – “gladly.” It was a happy reception. You say, “Why?” Well, because they brought money. Why else? Well, I think that’s a good thought. That probably was true. They probably were thrilled about the money, because not for themselves necessarily, but there were many needy saints.

But I would not simply say that it was the money. I wouldn’t just, you know, say they were motivated crassly. I think there was great joy in their hearts, because they brought along a whole group of Gentile converts, and they saw the people that had been won to Jesus Christ. And they were glad too, because of the fact that the Gentile church was showing this tremendous act of love toward them. And they knew what animosities and bitterness there was between Jew and Gentile, and here were these Gentiles making a magnanimous offer of love to these Jerusalem Jews. And then there was Paul, and Paul was a beloved man, and there was just a warm and glad fellowship of sharing.

Notice verse 17: “Brethren,” – this was Christians who received him. It was private, but it was unofficial, they just had a little fellowship.

The next day, Paul and Luke met James and the elders of the church in Jerusalem (verse 18). This one verse indicates that the structure of the church there had changed over the years, since the first Pentecost.

Henry’s commentary says:

It should seem that James was now the only apostle that was resident at Jerusalem; the rest had dispersed themselves to preach the gospel in other places. But still they forecasted to have an apostle at Jerusalem, perhaps sometimes one and sometimes another, because there was a great resort thither from all parts. James was now upon the spot, and all the elders or presbyters that were the ordinary pastors of the church, both to preach and govern, were present. Paul saluted them all, paid his respects to them, enquired concerning their welfare, and gave them the right hand of fellowship. He saluted them, that is, he wished them all health and happiness, and prayed to God to bless them. The proper signification of salutation is, wishing salvation to you: salve, or salus tibi sit; like peace be unto you. And such mutual salutations, or good wishes, very well become Christians, in token of their love to each other and joint regard to God.

MacArthur has much more on how the church in Jerusalem had evolved. He says it had been at least two decades since Jesus’s time on Earth. What started out as Apostles increasing the growth of the church there, soon aided by deacons (e.g. Stephen the first martyr and Philip the Evangelist), became structured enough so that most of the Twelve were able to move on from there to evangelise elsewhere:

When the church at Jerusalem first began, it was ruled by – whom? – the apostles. If you recall, you go clear back into the early times of the church, and the apostles ruled. For example, even in Acts 4, you have them all bringing their money and putting it at whose feet? The apostles’ feet. The apostles actually carried on the administration of the church. It wasn’t until the 6th chapter of Acts that the apostles begin to realize that things were getting out of hand, and invited the people to choose out from among them some men full of faith, full of wisdom, full of the Holy Spirit to take care of the business.

By the time you get to Acts 15:2, I think this is very interesting. It says that, “Paul, when he went to Jerusalem,” – in Acts 15 – “met with the apostles and the elders.” So you have a beginning of a transition. First the apostles did everything, and eventually God began to raise up elders, spiritual leaders.

Now by the time you get to Acts 21, they go in and it isn’t any apostles there, there’s only James and the elders. You say, “What happened to the apostles? Did they die?” They’re not dead, they’re gone. You say, “Where did they go?” They went out preaching all over the place. They’re on mission work

… the reason they were gone I think was two-fold. One, they had ministries; and two, they realized the Jerusalem church could be turned over to the leadership which they had raised there.

Now watch, by the time you get to the Epistles, there is no mention of apostles, there is no mention of prophets. There is, I should say in terms of the leadership in the pastoral epistles, there is only a mention of elders or bishops. That’s the same term: presbyters, pastors, same thing.

So what happens then in church organizations? You start with apostles ruling in Jerusalem. Then they begin to raise up elders, and you have a combination of apostles and elders. Pretty soon, the apostles go, and you have the church ruled by elders; and that becomes the pattern of the New Testament eventually. And by the time Paul pens the last of his epistles, the pastoral epistles, and lays down the organization of the church, the church is to be ruled by elders.

And Paul says to Titus, “Ordain elders in every city.” That becomes the pattern. So here, I think it’s important to see that we’re watching the transition of the church. It’s at least 25 years since Jesus has died, and it’s taken this time for the transition to occur.

It is important to know how the Church evolved and how the leadership changed within the first 25 years.

Another point to bring up is the identity of James. It was not James the Great (son of Zebedee, Apostle and brother of the Apostle John), the patron saint of Spain. He had already been martyred by Agrippa (Acts 12:2).

St Jerome wrote that it was James the Less and James the Just, whom he believed were the same person (and author of the eponymous Epistle). Wikipedia says:

James the Less could also be identified as being James the brother of Jesus (James the Just). Jerome also concluded that James “the brother of the Lord” is the same as James the Less. To explain this, Jerome first tells that James the Less must be identified with James, the son of Alphaeus.[9] After that, James the Less being the same as James, the son of Alphaeus, Jerome describes in his work called De Viris Illustribus that James “the brother of the Lord” is the same as James, son of Alphaeus:

James, who is called the brother of the Lord, surnamed the Just, the son of Joseph by another wife, as some think, but, as appears to me, the son of Mary sister of the mother our Lord <Mary of Cleophas> of whom John makes mention in his book.(John 19:25)[10]

Thus, Jerome concludes that James the Less, James, son of Alphaeus and James the brother of Jesus are one and the same person.

Centuries later, John Gill must have studied Jerome, because he wrote the same in his Bible commentary:

not the son of Zebedee and brother of John, for he was killed by Herod some years ago; but James the son of Alphaeus, and brother of our Lord, who presided over this church; it seems there were no other apostles now at Jerusalem, but they were all dispersed abroad that were living, preaching the Gospel in the several parts of the world: Paul took the first opportunity Of paying a visit to James, very likely at his own house, to give him an account of his success among the Gentiles, and to know the state of the church at Jerusalem, and confer with him about what might be most proper and serviceable to promote the interest of Christ; and he took with him those who had been companions with him in his travels, partly to show respect to James, and partly to be witnesses of what he should relate unto him …

However, not every theologian is certain that the James the Less and James the Just were the same person, as Wikipedia explains:

Modern Biblical scholars are divided on whether this identification is correct. John Paul Meier finds it unlikely.[5] Amongst evangelicals, the New Bible Dictionary supports the traditional identification,[6] while Don Carson[7] and Darrell Bock[8] both regard the identification as possible, but not certain.

I’ll leave it up to you to decide.

Next time — Acts 21:19-26

What follows are the readings for the Twenty-second Sunday after Pentecost, October 21, 2018.

These are for Year B in the three-year Lectionary cycle.

There are two sets of first readings and Psalms. I have given the second selections blue subheadings below. Emphases mine throughout.

First reading

Readings from Job continue. God speaks to Job to reveal his ignorance. Matthew Henry has a good commentary on this chapter for those of us, myself included (who actually took a university course on the book), who still find it difficult to understand.

Job 38:1-7, (34-41)

38:1 Then the LORD answered Job out of the whirlwind:

38:2 “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?

38:3 Gird up your loins like a man, I will question you, and you shall declare to me.

38:4 “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding.

38:5 Who determined its measurements–surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it?

38:6 On what were its bases sunk, or who laid its cornerstone

38:7 when the morning stars sang together and all the heavenly beings shouted for joy?

38:34 “Can you lift up your voice to the clouds, so that a flood of waters may cover you?

38:35 Can you send forth lightnings, so that they may go and say to you, ‘Here we are’?

38:36 Who has put wisdom in the inward parts, or given understanding to the mind?

38:37 Who has the wisdom to number the clouds? Or who can tilt the waterskins of the heavens,

38:38 when the dust runs into a mass and the clods cling together?

38:39 “Can you hunt the prey for the lion, or satisfy the appetite of the young lions,

38:40 when they crouch in their dens, or lie in wait in their covert?

38:41 Who provides for the raven its prey, when its young ones cry to God, and wander about for lack of food?

Psalm

The Psalm is an apt accompaniment to the reading from Job, describing God’s everlasting glory and majesty.

Psalm 104:1-9, 24, 35c

104:1 Bless the LORD, O my soul. O LORD my God, you are very great. You are clothed with honor and majesty,

104:2 wrapped in light as with a garment. You stretch out the heavens like a tent,

104:3 you set the beams of your chambers on the waters, you make the clouds your chariot, you ride on the wings of the wind,

104:4 you make the winds your messengers, fire and flame your ministers.

104:5 You set the earth on its foundations, so that it shall never be shaken.

104:6 You cover it with the deep as with a garment; the waters stood above the mountains.

104:7 At your rebuke they flee; at the sound of your thunder they take to flight.

104:8 They rose up to the mountains, ran down to the valleys to the place that you appointed for them.

104:9 You set a boundary that they may not pass, so that they might not again cover the earth.

104:24 O LORD, how manifold are your works! In wisdom you have made them all; the earth is full of your creatures.

104:35c Praise the LORD!

First reading

In this reading, Isaiah prophesies Jesus Christ. This is one of the most moving readings in the Old Testament, describing His brutal suffering and death for our sake. Matthew Henry says this could reasonably be called the Gospel of Isaiah.

Isaiah 53:4-12

53:4 Surely he has borne our infirmities and carried our diseases; yet we accounted him stricken, struck down by God, and afflicted.

53:5 But he was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the punishment that made us whole, and by his bruises we are healed.

53:6 All we like sheep have gone astray; we have all turned to our own way, and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.

53:7 He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.

53:8 By a perversion of justice he was taken away. Who could have imagined his future? For he was cut off from the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people.

53:9 They made his grave with the wicked and his tomb with the rich, although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth.

53:10 Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him with pain. When you make his life an offering for sin, he shall see his offspring, and shall prolong his days; through him the will of the LORD shall prosper.

53:11 Out of his anguish he shall see light; he shall find satisfaction through his knowledge. The righteous one, my servant, shall make many righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities.

53:12 Therefore I will allot him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong; because he poured out himself to death, and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.

Psalm

The accompanying Psalm describes the enduring love God has for His faithful people.

Psalm 91:9-16

91:9 Because you have made the LORD your refuge, the Most High your dwelling place,

91:10 no evil shall befall you, no scourge come near your tent.

91:11 For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways.

91:12 On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.

91:13 You will tread on the lion and the adder, the young lion and the serpent you will trample under foot.

91:14 Those who love me, I will deliver; I will protect those who know my name.

91:15 When they call to me, I will answer them; I will be with them in trouble, I will rescue them and honor them.

91:16 With long life I will satisfy them, and show them my salvation.

Epistle

Readings continue from the Book of Hebrews. Here the author discusses Christ as High Priest and refers to examples in the Old Testament to show the Jews that Jesus is the Messiah.

Hebrews 5:1-10

5:1 Every high priest chosen from among mortals is put in charge of things pertaining to God on their behalf, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins.

5:2 He is able to deal gently with the ignorant and wayward, since he himself is subject to weakness;

5:3 and because of this he must offer sacrifice for his own sins as well as for those of the people.

5:4 And one does not presume to take this honor, but takes it only when called by God, just as Aaron was.

5:5 So also Christ did not glorify himself in becoming a high priest, but was appointed by the one who said to him, “You are my Son, today I have begotten you”;

5:6 as he says also in another place, “You are a priest forever, according to the order of Melchizedek.”

5:7 In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission.

5:8 Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered;

5:9 and having been made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him,

5:10 having been designated by God a high priest according to the order of Melchizedek.

Gospel

Readings from Mark continue. Here brothers James and John boldly impose themselves on Jesus. However, Jesus says that they do not understand what they are asking and that their request is not His to grant. Furthermore, He says that in His service, no one lords leadership positions over other people, true of Jesus in His humiliating death on the Cross.

Mark 10:35-45

10:35 James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came forward to him and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.”

10:36 And he said to them, “What is it you want me to do for you?”

10:37 And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.”

10:38 But Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?”

10:39 They replied, “We are able.” Then Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized;

10:40 but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.”

10:41 When the ten heard this, they began to be angry with James and John.

10:42 So Jesus called them and said to them, “You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them.

10:43 But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant,

10:44 and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all.

10:45 For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”

I hope the clergy who choose Job are able to tie it in with the Epistle and Gospel in the sermon. Personally, I would choose Isaiah 53, a much more compelling reading and one that truly fits with the others, focussing on Christ’s humiliating crucifixion as the one and sufficient sacrifice, the redemption for our sins.

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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

Today’s reading is from the King James Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur (as cited below).

Acts 21:15-16

15 And after those days we took up our carriages, and went up to Jerusalem.

16 There went with us also certain of the disciples of Caesarea, and brought with them one Mnason of Cyprus, an old disciple, with whom we should lodge.

—————————————————————————————————————–

Last week’s entry was about Paul’s and Luke’s time in Caesarea, where they stayed with Philip the Evangelist and his four prophesying daughters. Agabus travelled from Judea to prophesy that, once in Jerusalem — their final destination — Paul would have his hands and feet bound. Paul resolved to continue his journey.

I used the KJV this week because the verses are more descriptive and evocative of this final leg of the journey to Jerusalem.

Luke, the author of Acts, was still with Paul, as the writing is in the first person.

After their stay in Caesarea came to an end, they gathered their belongings — ‘carriages’ — and continued onward to Jerusalem (verse 15). John MacArthur explains (emphases mine):

carriages doesn’t mean horse-drawn carriages; it’s luggage, baggage – “we took up our baggage and went to Jerusalem.”

Matthew Henry’s commentary has more:

They took up their carriages, their bag and baggage, and as it should seem, like poor travellers or soldiers, were their own porters; so little had they of change of raiment. Omnia mea mecum porto–My property is all about me. Some think they had with them the money that was collected in the churches of Macedonia and Achaia for the poor saints at Jerusalem

Luke says that some of the Christians in Caesarea accompanied them to Jerusalem (verse 16), a customary sign of friendship and fellowship in that era. In addition, both MacArthur and Henry say that Paul’s boldness brought out their own boldness. They were also protective of Paul and thought they could be of help to him when he encountered problems in Jerusalem.

MacArthur points out that it was not a short journey, highlighting the friendly intent of the Caesareans accompanying Paul and Luke:

And so they took off on a 64 or so mile journey and went to Jerusalem.

I think it’s interesting that verse 16 says, “There went with us also certain of the disciples of Caesarea.” And here again, you have the same custom that when those people traveled, Christian friends went along with them all the time, halfway or a part of the way, or maybe all the way, just to accompany them to show good faith and fellowship and love to them; a beautiful custom.

MacArthur also mentions Paul’s infectious boldness:

I just love this, “There went with us certain of the disciples of Caesarea.” Isn’t that fantastic? Here were all these, “Don’t go; don’t go. Oh, you’re going to get persecuted.” And you know what happened? Paul left, and they all went with him.

You see, courage is contagious. Instead of all their moaning and weeping affecting him, his courageous affected them. He was a marked man. He was hated. He was going to be in prison, and they were going to be identified with him, but they became willing to pay the price because he was. That’s leadership by example.

Henry has an excellent description of their accompanying Paul, which has precedents in Scripture:

1. … If they could have persuaded Paul to go some other way, they would gladly have gone along with him; but if, notwithstanding their dissuasive, he will go to Jerusalem, they do no say, “Let him go by himself then;” but as Thomas, in a like case, when Christ would go into danger at Jerusalem, Let us go and die with him, John 11:16. Their resolution to cleave to Paul was like that of Ittai to cleave to David (2 Samuel 15:21): In what place my Lord the king shall be, whether in death or life, there also will thy servant be. Thus Paul’s boldness emboldened them. 2. Certain of the disciples of Cæsarea went along with them. Whether they designed to go however, and took this opportunity of going with so much good company, or whether they went on purpose to see if they could do Paul any service and if possible prevent his trouble, or at least minister to him in it, does not appear. The less while that Paul is likely to enjoy his liberty the more industrious they are to improve every opportunity of conversation with him. Elisha kept close to Elijah when he knew the time was at hand that he should be taken up.

Luke mentions the name of the man in Jerusalem with whom they lodged: Mnason (verse 16). When we read the verse, it sounds as if Mnason accompanied them part of the way to the city, but MacArthur doubts this was the case:

… it was worked out that the man named Mnason, you see a phrase “brought with them.” It really should say “brought to the home of Mnason.” Probably Mnason did not accompany them from Caesarea, but merely living in Jerusalem, they brought Paul and his friends to him.

The word ‘old’ is used to describe Mnason. Does ‘old’ refer to the man’s age or to his discipleship, as in an ‘old friend’ — a longtime friend?

MacArthur thinks it refers to his discipleship only. Mnason, he says, could well have advised Luke on writing Acts, since Luke was from Troas in Asia Minor and would not have known about all that had happened in Jerusalem at and immediately after the first Pentecost:

He may go back as far as Jesus, we don’t know; but certainly to the beginnings of the church. And he may have been a source for Luke. The fact that Luke writes here and notes Mnason as an early disciple may have been indicative of the fact that the Holy Spirit used Mnason to reveal some information to Luke in helping him write the book of Acts. Anyway, off they go to Jerusalem to stay at the home of this particular man.

Henry’s commentary says that Mnason was not only likely to have been an early disciple — possibly even one of the 70 at the first Pentecost — but also an aged one:

This Mnason is called an old disciple–a disciple from the beginning; some think, one of the seventy disciples of Christ, or one of the first converts after the pouring out of the Spirit, or one of the first that was converted by the preaching of the gospel in Cyprus, Acts 13:4. However it was, it seems he had been long a Christian, and was now in years. Note, It is an honourable thing to be an old disciple of Jesus Christ, to have been enabled by the grace of God to continue long in a course of duty, stedfast in the faith, and growing more and more prudent and experienced to a good old age. And with these old disciples one would choose to lodge; for the multitude of their years will teach wisdom.

MacArthur explains more about Mnason and the significance of Luke’s noting he was from Cyprus. A Hellenist Jew, such as Mnason, would have been brought up in Gentile culture, the way Paul was. Furthermore, it would have been prudent for Paul and the Caesareans not to put a converted Jew from Jerusalem into any additional trouble by giving him lodgings. There was also the issues of how Jewish Christian rites were observed and their feelings about Gentiles, to whom Paul had preached:

Mnason is a Greek name, a very common name; not uncommon at all, very common – and he was from Cyprus … Well, here’s a man who was from Cyprus 2000 years ago, and he was a Hellenist Jew. The word “Hellenist” simply means Greek or Gentile. He was a Gentile, not in the sense of his race, but in the sense of his culture. He was Hellenized.

… He was raised in a Greek country; he had a Greek name. And it is probably the reason, or at least a part of the reason, that they had arranged for Paul and his friends to stay there. I’m sure they didn’t really understand how receptive the Jewish Christians would be to a whole pile of Gentiles staying in their house, especially the Jewish Jews who lived in Jerusalem, since they were very much oriented toward the Mosaic ceremony. And so they found a more liberal Hellenistic Jew who was willing.

Henry says that Mnason likely knew that trouble lay ahead:

Mnason took Paul and his company to be his lodgers; though he had heard what trouble Paul was likely to come into, which might bring those that entertained him into trouble too, yet he shall be welcome to him, whatever comes of it.

The next section of Acts 21 requires context and explanation, as the church in Jerusalem had evolved and those who ministered to it had changed, so I will take it a few verses at a time.

Next time — Acts 21:17-18

What follows are the readings for the Twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost, October 14, 2018.

These are for Year B in the three-year Lectionary cycle.

There are two sets of first readings and Psalms. I have given the second selections blue subheadings below. Emphases mine throughout.

First reading

Readings from Job continue. Here Job discusses his perceived isolation from God.

Job 23:1-9, 16-17

23:1 Then Job answered:

23:2 “Today also my complaint is bitter; his hand is heavy despite my groaning.

23:3 Oh, that I knew where I might find him, that I might come even to his dwelling!

23:4 I would lay my case before him, and fill my mouth with arguments.

23:5 I would learn what he would answer me, and understand what he would say to me.

23:6 Would he contend with me in the greatness of his power? No; but he would give heed to me.

23:7 There an upright person could reason with him, and I should be acquitted forever by my judge.

23:8 “If I go forward, he is not there; or backward, I cannot perceive him;

23:9 on the left he hides, and I cannot behold him; I turn to the right, but I cannot see him.

23:16 God has made my heart faint; the Almighty has terrified me;

23:17 If only I could vanish in darkness, and thick darkness would cover my face!

Psalm

The Psalm reflects the same theme of isolation but also the hope that God will hear David’s plea for deliverance. Matthew Henry’s commentary says that David’s verses below can also be applied to Christ’s suffering.

Psalm 22:1-15

22:1 My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning?

22:2 O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer; and by night, but find no rest.

22:3 Yet you are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel.

22:4 In you our ancestors trusted; they trusted, and you delivered them.

22:5 To you they cried, and were saved; in you they trusted, and were not put to shame.

22:6 But I am a worm, and not human; scorned by others, and despised by the people.

22:7 All who see me mock at me; they make mouths at me, they shake their heads;

22:8 “Commit your cause to the LORD; let him deliver– let him rescue the one in whom he delights!”

22:9 Yet it was you who took me from the womb; you kept me safe on my mother’s breast.

22:10 On you I was cast from my birth, and since my mother bore me you have been my God.

22:11 Do not be far from me, for trouble is near and there is no one to help.

22:12 Many bulls encircle me, strong bulls of Bashan surround me;

22:13 they open wide their mouths at me, like a ravening and roaring lion.

22:14 I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint; my heart is like wax; it is melted within my breast;

22:15 my mouth is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to my jaws; you lay me in the dust of death.

First reading

Amos appeals to the people of Israel to foresake idolatry and return to the Lord God.

Amos 5:6-7, 10-15

5:6 Seek the LORD and live, or he will break out against the house of Joseph like fire, and it will devour Bethel, with no one to quench it.

5:7 Ah, you that turn justice to wormwood, and bring righteousness to the ground!

5:10 They hate the one who reproves in the gate, and they abhor the one who speaks the truth.

5:11 Therefore because you trample on the poor and take from them levies of grain, you have built houses of hewn stone, but you shall not live in them; you have planted pleasant vineyards, but you shall not drink their wine.

5:12 For I know how many are your transgressions, and how great are your sins– you who afflict the righteous, who take a bribe, and push aside the needy in the gate.

5:13 Therefore the prudent will keep silent in such a time; for it is an evil time.

5:14 Seek good and not evil, that you may live; and so the LORD, the God of hosts, will be with you, just as you have said.

5:15 Hate evil and love good, and establish justice in the gate; it may be that the LORD, the God of hosts, will be gracious to the remnant of Joseph.

Psalm

The Psalm similarly urges faith that the Lord hears our prayers for deliverance. Moses wrote this Psalm, the heading of which is ‘A prayer of Moses the man of God’, which he intended for the Israelites to recite during their time in the wilderness.

Psalm 90:12-17

90:12 So teach us to count our days that we may gain a wise heart.

90:13 Turn, O LORD! How long? Have compassion on your servants!

90:14 Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, so that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.

90:15 Make us glad as many days as you have afflicted us, and as many years as we have seen evil.

90:16 Let your work be manifest to your servants, and your glorious power to their children.

90:17 Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us, and prosper for us the work of our hands– O prosper the work of our hands!

Epistle

Readings continue from Hebrews. This passage concludes a chapter in which the author explains why the ancient Hebrews did not always benefit from God’s blessings, then outlines the blessings which those who believe in Christ will receive. This conclusion exhorts the converts to continue with their faith in Christ.

Hebrews 4:12-16

4:12 Indeed, the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.

4:13 And before him no creature is hidden, but all are naked and laid bare to the eyes of the one to whom we must render an account.

4:14 Since, then, we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession.

4:15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin.

4:16 Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

Gospel

Readings from Mark continue. Today’s verses are about the rich man who asked Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life. At least three verses will be familiar, even to those who are not well acquainted with Scripture — Mark 10:25, 27, 31.

Mark 10:17-31

10:17 As he was setting out on a journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

10:18 Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone.

10:19 You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; You shall not defraud; Honor your father and mother.'”

10:20 He said to him, “Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth.”

10:21 Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.”

10:22 When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.

10:23 Then Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!”

10:24 And the disciples were perplexed at these words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God!

10:25 It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”

10:26 They were greatly astounded and said to one another, “Then who can be saved?”

10:27 Jesus looked at them and said, “For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.”

10:28 Peter began to say to him, “Look, we have left everything and followed you.”

10:29 Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the good news,

10:30 who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age–houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields with persecutions–and in the age to come eternal life.

10:31 But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.”

When we have it easy — good salaries and material comforts — we often forget about matters spiritual. How many of the wealthiest men and women truly believe in God? Not many. They believe in themselves and their notional self-sufficiency. Hence, Jesus’s words in Mark 10:25. True then, true now.

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