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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

Acts 25:23-27

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

John MacArthur has this:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next time — Acts 26:1-11

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What follows are readings for the Second Sunday in Lent, March 17, 2019.

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

Emphases below mine.

First reading

The Lord makes a covenant with Abram, though He lets him know that His people will not be without suffering (see missing verses which follow). At this time, Abram and his wife Sarai had no children and his heir was his steward Eliezer. Isaac came later.

Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18

15:1 After these things the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision, “Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.”

15:2 But Abram said, “O Lord GOD, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?”

15:3 And Abram said, “You have given me no offspring, and so a slave born in my house is to be my heir.”

15:4 But the word of the LORD came to him, “This man shall not be your heir; no one but your very own issue shall be your heir.”

15:5 He brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your descendants be.”

15:6 And he believed the LORD; and the LORD reckoned it to him as righteousness.

15:7 Then he said to him, “I am the LORD who brought you from Ur of the Chaldeans, to give you this land to possess.”

15:8 But he said, “O Lord GOD, how am I to know that I shall possess it?”

15:9 He said to him, “Bring me a heifer three years old, a female goat three years old, a ram three years old, a turtledove, and a young pigeon.”

15:10 He brought him all these and cut them in two, laying each half over against the other; but he did not cut the birds in two.

15:11 And when birds of prey came down on the carcasses, Abram drove them away.

15:12 As the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram, and a deep and terrifying darkness descended upon him.

15:17 When the sun had gone down and it was dark, a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch passed between these pieces.

15:18 On that day the LORD made a covenant with Abram, saying, “To your descendants I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates….”

Here are the missing verses 13 through 16 about judgement via captivity, then deliverance:

13 Then the Lord said to Abram, “Know for certain that your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs and will be servants there, and they will be afflicted for four hundred years. 14 But I will bring judgment on the nation that they serve, and afterward they shall come out with great possessions. 15 As for you, you shall go to your fathers in peace; you shall be buried in a good old age. 16 And they shall come back here in the fourth generation, for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete.”

Psalm

Although scholars of the Psalms disagree as to when David wrote these verses, all agree that they are of universal importance with regard to faith in God as our strength and our refuge.

Psalm 27

27:1 The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?

27:2 When evildoers assail me to devour my flesh– my adversaries and foes– they shall stumble and fall.

27:3 Though an army encamp against me, my heart shall not fear; though war rise up against me, yet I will be confident.

27:4 One thing I asked of the LORD, that will I seek after: to live in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the LORD, and to inquire in his temple.

27:5 For he will hide me in his shelter in the day of trouble; he will conceal me under the cover of his tent; he will set me high on a rock.

27:6 Now my head is lifted up above my enemies all around me, and I will offer in his tent sacrifices with shouts of joy; I will sing and make melody to the LORD.

27:7 Hear, O LORD, when I cry aloud, be gracious to me and answer me!

27:8 “Come,” my heart says, “seek his face!” Your face, LORD, do I seek.

27:9 Do not hide your face from me. Do not turn your servant away in anger, you who have been my help. Do not cast me off, do not forsake me, O God of my salvation!

27:10 If my father and mother forsake me, the LORD will take me up.

27:11 Teach me your way, O LORD, and lead me on a level path because of my enemies.

27:12 Do not give me up to the will of my adversaries, for false witnesses have risen against me, and they are breathing out violence.

27:13 I believe that I shall see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living.

27:14 Wait for the LORD; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the LORD!

Epistle

Paul tells the Philippians not to despair in this life. Transformed by Christ, they — and we — are citizens of Heaven.

Philippians 3:17-4:1

3:17 Brothers and sisters, join in imitating me, and observe those who live according to the example you have in us.

3:18 For many live as enemies of the cross of Christ; I have often told you of them, and now I tell you even with tears.

3:19 Their end is destruction; their god is the belly; and their glory is in their shame; their minds are set on earthly things.

3:20 But our citizenship is in heaven, and it is from there that we are expecting a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.

3:21 He will transform the body of our humiliation that it may be conformed to the body of his glory, by the power that also enables him to make all things subject to himself.

4:1 Therefore, my brothers and sisters, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, my beloved.

Gospel

There are two Gospel choices for this particular Sunday. One is Luke’s account of the Transfiguration, the assigned reading for the last Sunday in Epiphany, but perhaps provided again as it corresponds well with the Epistle. The other passage from Luke follows, about the spiritual blindness of the Pharisees and the evil nature of Herod (‘that fox’). Jesus simply tells the Pharisees that His work is not finished, then laments the unbelief in Jerusalem.

Luke 13:31-35

13:31 At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to him, “Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.”

13:32 He said to them, “Go and tell that fox for me, ‘Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work.

13:33 Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way, because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed outside of Jerusalem.’

13:34 Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!

13:35 See, your house is left to you. And I tell you, you will not see me until the time comes when you say, ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.'”

Jesus saves sinners who willingly acknowledge that He is Lord. Those sinners who are unwilling to do so suffer divine judgement.

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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

Acts 25:13-22

Paul Before Agrippa and Bernice

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The story continues next week.

Next time — Acts 25:23-27

What follows are readings for the First Sunday in Lent, March 10, 2019.

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

Emphases mine below.

First reading

Moses gives the instructions for observing the Feast of the First Fruits, an offering of the initial harvest of the season in thanksgiving to the Lord, who liberated the Israelites from Egypt. As Matthew Henry’s commentary points out, the first fruits are the ones people most wish to enjoy, hence, it was only fitting that one sacrificed those to God in an act of self-denial. Self-denial is appropriate for Lent, as is remembering that God gives us all good things, including the food we eat.

Deuteronomy 26:1-11

26:1 When you have come into the land that the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance to possess, and you possess it, and settle in it,

26:2 you shall take some of the first of all the fruit of the ground, which you harvest from the land that the LORD your God is giving you, and you shall put it in a basket and go to the place that the LORD your God will choose as a dwelling for his name.

26:3 You shall go to the priest who is in office at that time, and say to him, “Today I declare to the LORD your God that I have come into the land that the LORD swore to our ancestors to give us.”

26:4 When the priest takes the basket from your hand and sets it down before the altar of the LORD your God,

26:5 you shall make this response before the LORD your God: “A wandering Aramean was my ancestor; he went down into Egypt and lived there as an alien, few in number, and there he became a great nation, mighty and populous.

26:6 When the Egyptians treated us harshly and afflicted us, by imposing hard labor on us,

26:7 we cried to the LORD, the God of our ancestors; the LORD heard our voice and saw our affliction, our toil, and our oppression.

26:8 The LORD brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with a terrifying display of power, and with signs and wonders;

26:9 and he brought us into this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey.

26:10 So now I bring the first of the fruit of the ground that you, O LORD, have given me.” You shall set it down before the LORD your God and bow down before the LORD your God.

26:11 Then you, together with the Levites and the aliens who reside among you, shall celebrate with all the bounty that the LORD your God has given to you and to your house.

Psalm

This Psalm was written for encouragement during a time of pestilence, yet, it applies equally to all believers. The Lord is our refuge, our fortress and our salvation.

Psalm 91:1-2, 9-16

91:1 You who live in the shelter of the Most High, who abide in the shadow of the Almighty,

91:2 will say to the LORD, “My refuge and my fortress; my God, in whom I trust.”

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.

Here are the missing verses (ESV):

For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler
    and from the deadly pestilence.
He will cover you with his pinions,
    and under his wings you will find refuge;
    his faithfulness is a shield and buckler.
5 You will not fear the terror of the night,
    nor the arrow that flies by day,
nor the pestilence that stalks in darkness,
    nor the destruction that wastes at noonday.

A thousand may fall at your side,
    ten thousand at your right hand,
    but it will not come near you.
You will only look with your eyes
    and see the recompense of the wicked.

Epistle

Paul tells the Romans that all who confess that Jesus is Lord will be saved.

Romans 10:8b-13

10:8b “The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim);

10:9 because if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.

10:10 For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved.

10:11 The scripture says, “No one who believes in him will be put to shame.”

10:12 For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him.

10:13 For, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”

Gospel

Luke recounts Jesus’s 40 days in the wilderness, beset by temptation and encounters with the devil.

Luke 4:1-13

4:1 Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness,

4:2 where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished.

4:3 The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.”

4:4 Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone.'”

4:5 Then the devil led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world.

4:6 And the devil said to him, “To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please.

4:7 If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.”

4:8 Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.'”

4:9 Then the devil took him to Jerusalem, and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here,

4:10 for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you,’

4:11 and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.'”

4:12 Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'”

4:13 When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.

The ‘opportune time’ refers to Judas’s betrayal (Luke 22:53). Jesus said to the Jewish hierarchy — led by Judas — at His arrest at the Mount of Olives:

53 When I was with you day after day in the temple, you did not lay hands on me. But this is your hour, and the power of darkness.”

There is much to examine in Sunday’s readings. I have been finding it useful to read the Lectionary selections beforehand rather than just rely on hearing them in church.

I am certain that if more families got together before Sunday worship to read and discuss these Scripture passages, our young people would understand Christianity much better than they do at present.

Nothing saddens me more than to see teens and twenty-somethings gravitate to other world religions — or none! — for the simple reason that they know nothing about Christianity!

It is up to adults to show the way by teaching the Bible to their youngsters. Let’s make it a priority, beginning now, during Lent.

Stained glass question jeremypryorwordpresscomLent is a contentious season in the greater Church.

Many Protestants still consider it a Catholic practice, but Anglicans (including Episcopalians) and Lutherans also consider these 40 days a time of particular prayer and self denial accompanied by enhanced spiritual reflection.

These posts might be helpful in explaining Lent:

Ash Wednesday reflections

Lent, denominational differences and freedom in Christ

St Athanasius and the Lenten practices of the early Church

Lent in the early Church — not a pagan practice

Lutheran reflections for Lent

Some Christians seek a daily Lenten programme. The following posts have useful ideas:

Ideas for Lent

Why not read the Bible this Lent?

Bible study plan suggestions

Lenten disciplines can be part of a useful path to sanctification. For that reason, it is a good idea to retain and practice what we have learned during Lent throughout the rest of the year.

Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent, is March 6, 2019.

Below are the readings for this day in Year C of the three-year Lectionary used in public worship.

The faithful are now called to examine their consciences, repent of sin and be reconciled to God through Jesus Christ.

Emphases mine below.

First reading

At the time of Joel’s prophecy, the land of Judah would be ravaged by locusts and caterpillars — a divine judgement. It was time for repentance and reconciliation. Note the mention of a fast in verses 12 and 15.

Joel 2:1-2, 12-17

2:1 Blow the trumpet in Zion; sound the alarm on my holy mountain! Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble, for the day of the LORD is coming, it is near

2:2 a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and thick darkness! Like blackness spread upon the mountains a great and powerful army comes; their like has never been from of old, nor will be again after them in ages to come.

2:12 Yet even now, says the LORD, return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning;

2:13 rend your hearts and not your clothing. Return to the LORD, your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and relents from punishing.

2:14 Who knows whether he will not turn and relent, and leave a blessing behind him, a grain offering and a drink offering for the LORD, your God?

2:15 Blow the trumpet in Zion; sanctify a fast; call a solemn assembly;

2:16 gather the people. Sanctify the congregation; assemble the aged; gather the children, even infants at the breast. Let the bridegroom leave his room, and the bride her canopy.

2:17 Between the vestibule and the altar let the priests, the ministers of the LORD, weep. Let them say, “Spare your people, O LORD, and do not make your heritage a mockery, a byword among the nations. Why should it be said among the peoples, ‘Where is their God?'”

Second reading

Matthew Henry’s commentary says that this passage on fasting from Isaiah is appropriate for any era. Fasting should involve prayer and charity, not quarelling or sinning otherwise whilst one is abstaining from food.

Isaiah 58:1-12

58:1 Shout out, do not hold back! Lift up your voice like a trumpet! Announce to my people their rebellion, to the house of Jacob their sins.

58:2 Yet day after day they seek me and delight to know my ways, as if they were a nation that practiced righteousness and did not forsake the ordinance of their God; they ask of me righteous judgments, they delight to draw near to God.

58:3 “Why do we fast, but you do not see? Why humble ourselves, but you do not notice?” Look, you serve your own interest on your fast day, and oppress all your workers.

58:4 Look, you fast only to quarrel and to fight and to strike with a wicked fist. Such fasting as you do today will not make your voice heard on high.

58:5 Is such the fast that I choose, a day to humble oneself? Is it to bow down the head like a bulrush, and to lie in sackcloth and ashes? Will you call this a fast, a day acceptable to the LORD?

58:6 Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke?

58:7 Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin?

58:8 Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly; your vindicator shall go before you, the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard.

58:9 Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer; you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am. If you remove the yoke from among you, the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil,

58:10 if you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday.

58:11 The LORD will guide you continually, and satisfy your needs in parched places, and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters never fail.

58:12 Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to live in.

Psalm

Students of the Bible will immediately recognise the following Psalm, the most penitential of David’s writings. Matthew Henry says that the reference to hyssop prophesies the Blood of Christ.

Psalm 51:1-17

51:1 Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions.

51:2 Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin.

51:3 For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me.

51:4 Against you, you alone, have I sinned, and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are justified in your sentence and blameless when you pass judgment.

51:5 Indeed, I was born guilty, a sinner when my mother conceived me.

51:6 You desire truth in the inward being; therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart.

51:7 Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.

51:8 Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that you have crushed rejoice.

51:9 Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities.

51:10 Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me.

51:11 Do not cast me away from your presence, and do not take your holy spirit from me.

51:12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and sustain in me a willing spirit.

51:13 Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will return to you.

51:14 Deliver me from bloodshed, O God, O God of my salvation, and my tongue will sing aloud of your deliverance.

51:15 O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise.

51:16 For you have no delight in sacrifice; if I were to give a burnt offering, you would not be pleased.

51:17 The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.

Epistle

Paul discusses the importance of being reconciled with God through Jesus Christ through holiness and righteousness. In enumerating the trials that Christians might undergo, may they never forget that although the world sees that believers have nothing, they actually have everything they need through faith in Jesus, leading to eternal life.

2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10

5:20b We entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.

5:21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

6:1 As we work together with him, we urge you also not to accept the grace of God in vain.

6:2 For he says, “At an acceptable time I have listened to you, and on a day of salvation I have helped you.” See, now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation!

6:3 We are putting no obstacle in anyone’s way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry,

6:4 but as servants of God we have commended ourselves in every way: through great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities,

6:5 beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger;

6:6 by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, holiness of spirit, genuine love,

6:7 truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left;

6:8 in honor and dishonor, in ill repute and good repute. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true;

6:9 as unknown, and yet are well known; as dying, and see–we are alive; as punished, and yet not killed;

6:10 as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing everything.

Gospel

Jesus tells us how to practice piety and self denial through fasting: keep it quiet and never boast about it. Verses 19 through 21 will also be familiar to many.

Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21

6:1 “Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven.

6:2 “So whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward.

6:3 But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing,

6:4 so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

6:5 “And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward.

6:6 But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

6:16 “And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward.

6:17 But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face,

6:18 so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

6:19 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal;

6:20 but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal.

6:21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

It is hard to think of a better Gospel to lead us into Lent. For anyone observing this season, I pray that you be abundantly blessed in all your undertakings, especially those further enabling the Christian journey.

A few days ago, I watched an abortion survivor give her testimony against Planned Parenthood before the US House Judiciary Committee on September 9, 2015.

Melissa Ohden is, happily, not the only abortion survivor, but further proof that there are many living miracles. The good Lord’s design was to have them survive the worst procedures, give those babies care through concerned hospital staff and provide them with loving adoptive families to nurture and raise them.

This is powerful testimony — and it’s just over six minutes long. I encourage everyone, especially logical, rational, pro-choice readers to listen to what this lady says and to especially note what she survived at 31 weeks old — saline solution over a five-day period — designed to burn her to death (see the medical report at 1:06 minutes in):

It turns out that Melissa’s biological parents wanted her to be born and wanted to get married. However, Melissa’s maternal grandmother — a pillar of the community — said they were much too young (aged 19) and that would impact the family’s social standing negatively. So, Melissa’s grandmother forced the abortion procedure against the 19-year-old’s will (see first 14 minutes in this 2013 video of hers):

Returning to the first video, Melissa says that she was fortunate in that the abortion procedure was performed in a hospital rather at a Planned Parenthood clinic. She says that Planned Parenthood are experts at ensuring that abortion survivors — live babies — die.

Melissa survived abortion in 1977. That was only five years after Roe v Wade was passed. Those of us who were alive at the time were told that abortion was a simple ‘medical procedure’ performed at an early stage on a ‘lump of cells’. I had no idea until now that abortions then were also performed at an advanced stage of pregnancy.

When she was a newborn, doctors told Melissa’s adoptive parents that she would be chronically ill throughout her life. Certainly, she had seizures and other illnesses that no baby should suffer. Yet, despite all the odds, thanks to God’s mercy and a loving family, Melissa grew up to become a healthy child — and a healthy adult.

Melissa holds a Masters degree in social work and worked in that field dealing with clients who had problems with substance abuse, domestic violence and sexual assault.

Melissa researched the failed abortion herself, which took dogged attempts over the years. Finally, she was able to obtain her medical records of the failed saline procedure at St Luke’s Hospital — oh, the irony — in Sioux City, Iowa.

Melissa’s journey was, at times, understandably painful emotionally. She came to terms with the circumstances of her birth and her biological family by becoming a Christian. She is a practising Roman Catholic.

Visit Melissa’s website for more information.

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 25:6-12

After he stayed among them not more than eight or ten days, he went down to Caesarea. And the next day he took his seat on the tribunal and ordered Paul to be brought. When he had arrived, the Jews who had come down from Jerusalem stood around him, bringing many and serious charges against him that they could not prove. Paul argued in his defense, “Neither against the law of the Jews, nor against the temple, nor against Caesar have I committed any offense.” But Festus, wishing to do the Jews a favor, said to Paul, “Do you wish to go up to Jerusalem and there be tried on these charges before me?” 10 But Paul said, “I am standing before Caesar’s tribunal, where I ought to be tried. To the Jews I have done no wrong, as you yourself know very well. 11 If then I am a wrongdoer and have committed anything for which I deserve to die, I do not seek to escape death. But if there is nothing to their charges against me, no one can give me up to them. I appeal to Caesar.” 12 Then Festus, when he had conferred with his council, answered, “To Caesar you have appealed; to Caesar you shall go.”

——————————————————————————————–

Last week’s post was about Festus’s arrival in Judea and how he went up to Jerusalem to meet the Sanhedrin, in order to try and patch up bad feelings that Felix, his predecessor, had engendered. Two years after Paul was first imprisoned in Caesarea, the Jewish hierarchy were so consumed by hate that they still wanted to murder him!

I said last week that hate was like a cancer. People who hate a person or a situation often say they feel a certain gnawing in their gut — something is eating away at them. Very bad news!

Of course, hate and anger are two grievous — not to mention longlasting — sins. Sin is slavery. This is why we should be grateful that Jesus died to save us from sin. John MacArthur says (emphases mine):

our Lord says that sin is bondage, sin is slavery. In Titus 3, sinners are called doulos, bondslaves to lust; in Romans 6:19, a bondslave to uncleanness. Sin is slavery; sin captures a man. A man is not a free man, he is a slave. The only release from the slavery is death, and isn’t it marvelous to realize that it was only as you were crucified with Jesus Christ, only, as Romans 6 says, that you died in Him, that were freed from death? You woke up in the resurrection, and became a doulos to a new master; not sin, but Jesus Himself.

You’re still a bondslave, but you’re a bondslave to Jesus Christ. And I’ll tell you something: being a bondslave to Christ is better than being free to sin. And so, you see the binding character of sin. How sad it is that these men would allow two years to go by, and still be totally destroyed on the inside by this hatred for Paul. Paul, who loved them, and was an innocent man.

Porcius Festus stayed several days in Jerusalem, then returned to Caesarea, where he was based (verse 6). The next day, he had Paul brought before him for trial.

The members of the Sanhedrin whom Festus had invited during his stay in Jerusalem appeared for the trial, bringing vicious charges against Paul, none of which they could substantiate (verse 7). They stood around Paul, possibly to intimidate him: many against one.

Matthew Henry says that the charges were many and heinous:

They charged him with high crimes and misdemeanors. The articles of impeachment were many, and contained things of a very heinous nature. They represented him to the court as black and odious as their wit and malice could contrive; but when they had opened the cause as they thought fit, and came to the evidence, there they failed: they could not prove what they alleged against him, for it was all false, and the complaints were groundless and unjust. Either the fact was not as they opened it, or there was no fault in it; they laid to his charge things that he knew not, nor they neither.

MacArthur tells us:

The end of verse 7, all these grievous complaints against Paul were laid, “which they could not prove.” They couldn’t prove any of them. No witnesses, no support, no evidence, no case. Now, you say, “Well, maybe they hadn’t really worked on it.” Don’t you believe that. You know, in chapter 23, they tried to get a case against Paul, and there weren’t any witnesses there. They tried again in chapter 24, and there weren’t any witnesses.

Now, I think one of the notes – this is just a little thought I have; it may be true, may not be – but I think the possibility of verse 6 saying that “he had tarried in Jerusalem for eight or ten days” – some of your Bibles only say ten days, the original manuscripts say eight or ten days. That the reason the Holy Spirit puts that there is because that gives the Jews plenty of time to get their case together.

And you better believe that, since they had been shot out of the saddle twice already because of a lack of evidence, and a lack of witnesses, that they used those eight or ten days, at least a good portion of them, to scurry around and try to find some witnesses, or bribe some witnesses, and God never let it happen. There were no witnesses. Paul had done nothing. There was nobody who witnessed what he did, because he didn’t do anything. And apparently, God didn’t even allow them to bribe some witnesses.

And so, they show up without any witnesses.

Once again, Paul argued his own case, rightly maintaining his innocence; he had committed no crime against either the Jews or the Romans (verse 8).

Henry explains:

(1.) He had not violated the law of the Jews, nor taught any doctrine destructive of it. Did he make void the law by faith? No, he established the law. Preaching Christ, the end of the law, was no offence against the law. (2.) He had not profaned the temple, nor put any contempt at all upon the temple-service; his helping to set up the gospel temple did not at all offend against that temple which was a type of it. (3.) He had not offended against Cæsar, nor his government. By this it appears that now his cause being brought before the government, to curry favour with the governor and that they might seem friends to Cæsar, they had charged him with some instances of disaffection to the present higher powers, which obliged him to purge himself as to that matter, and to protest that he was no enemy to Cæsar, not so much as those were who charged him with being so.

Festus, in order to ingratiate himself with the Sanhedrin, asked Paul if he would like to go up to Jerusalem and be tried there (verse 9). MacArthur says that Festus implied that he would judge the case:

Now, he knew that if he just dumped Paul, he’d really be in bad, bad trouble, because the Jews from the very beginning would be against him, because they wanted this man dead. And he was scared to release Paul, though he knew he was innocent. He wanted to be in with the Jews, he wanted to do what was expedient, so he comes up with a compromise. Verse 9: “But Festus, willing to do the Jews a favor” – now, where is justice, friends? What is this favor routine? – “answers Paul, and said, ‘Will you go up to Jerusalem, and there be judged of these things before me?’”

“I’ve got an idea, Paul. We’ll compromise. You will go to Jerusalem, but I’ll be the judge.” That sounds like a compromise. They wanted to have Paul go to Jerusalem, and they, as the Sanhedrin, would judge him. “No, we’ll go to Jerusalem because they want that, but I’ll compromise; I’ll be the judge.” Well, the issue was not even an issue; there was no trial because there was no case, and they had just proven that again, for about the fourth time.

Paul, a Roman citizen, responded by saying that he was in the right place for trial: Caesar’s tribunal (verse 10). He said that he had done nothing against the Jews and added pointedly to Festus:

as you yourself know very well.

Paul went on to say that if he did something that deserved the death penalty, then he would accept that, however, he rightly maintained his innocence, even more so because the Jews could produce no evidence and no witnesses to the contrary (verse 11).

Paul concluded by saying he would appeal to Caesar. His is interesting, because it would have consequences. Paul no longer meant ‘Caesar’s tribunal in Caesarea’, but the emperor himself. The emperor at that time was the infamous Nero.

MacArthur explains the implications:

Now, when he said that, that was not just an offhand comment; that was an official appeal … A lower court judgment could be appealed to Caesar. In fact, the appeal could be given before or after the verdict of the lower court. All the apostle Paul had to do, if he was Latin, was say, “Ad Caesarem provoco,” or “Caesarem appello,” and that amounted to “Í appeal to Caesar,” and the case ended on the spot and was transferred to Rome. This was one of the rights of a Roman citizen, and that’s what Paul does.

He says, “I’m taking this thing to Rome.” Now, he knew he was getting nowhere in Caesarea. He was mired down in the stupidity of this little political battle that was going on, and he was the victim of the whole thing. He says, “I appeal to Rome,” and the very moment that he said that, the thing shifted out of the hands of Festus, into the hands of Caesar in Rome. Now, I can imagine that, in a sense, that Paul got kind of excited on the inside when he said that, ’cause he knew that, back in 23:11, when he was sleeping that night in the cell, the Lord came to him and said, “Hey, don’t be too discouraged.

“You’ve been faithful preaching the Word here. The next stop is Rome.” So, he knew God was getting him there, and when he was able to say, “I appeal to Caesar,” he must have been somewhat exhilarated, realizing that was the ticket to Rome. Well, you know what, there’s another thought here that I had, and that is that appealing to Caesar wasn’t just really that great, when you consider who Caesar was. You know, if he probably would have, in a sense, thought about it long enough, he would’ve said, “I’m probably better off with an expedient character like Festus, than I am with a complete maniac like Nero.”

Festus then went off to confer with his council, possibly to confirm that Paul was a Roman citizen. Upon his return he affirmed Paul’s request (verse 12).

The wheels were now set in motion.

Henry notes the bitter irony that going to Rome to appeal to Nero seemed safer than going up to Jerusalem:

it is a hard case that a son of Abraham must be forced to appeal to a Philistine, to a Nero, from those who call themselves the seed of Abraham, and shall be safer in Gath or Rome than in Jerusalem. How is the faithful city become a harlot!

Paul’s story continues next week.

Next time — Acts 25:13-22

In the traditional period of Shrovetide, Transfiguration Sunday — the last Sunday of Epiphany — was known as Quinquagesima Sunday.

You can read more about the three Sundays before Lent and Shrovetide in the following posts:

Shrovetide — a history

The Sundays before Lent — an explanation

Ash Wednesday is on March 6, 2019, which means that March 5 is Shrove Tuesday, Pancake Day and/or Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday), the last time to feast before Easter.

What follows are the readings for Quinquagesima — Transfiguration — Sunday, March 3, 2019, so called because of the Gospel reading about the Transfiguration of Christ, a glimpse given to three Apostles of His eternal glory. Jesus was unimaginably, startlingly radiant.

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

Emphases mine below.

First reading

The Israelites saw a similar, startling radiance in Moses’s face when he brought down the two tablets from Mount Sinai. (Moses appeared at the Transfiguration; see the Gospel reading below. Paul also referred to him in his letter to the Corinthians in the Epistle.)

Exodus 34:29-35

34:29 Moses came down from Mount Sinai. As he came down from the mountain with the two tablets of the covenant in his hand, Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God.

34:30 When Aaron and all the Israelites saw Moses, the skin of his face was shining, and they were afraid to come near him.

34:31 But Moses called to them; and Aaron and all the leaders of the congregation returned to him, and Moses spoke with them.

34:32 Afterward all the Israelites came near, and he gave them in commandment all that the LORD had spoken with him on Mount Sinai.

34:33 When Moses had finished speaking with them, he put a veil on his face;

34:34 but whenever Moses went in before the LORD to speak with him, he would take the veil off, until he came out; and when he came out, and told the Israelites what he had been commanded,

34:35 the Israelites would see the face of Moses, that the skin of his face was shining; and Moses would put the veil on his face again, until he went in to speak with him.

Psalm

The Psalm references Moses in discussing the Lord’s eternal holiness, majesty and righteousness.

Psalm 99

99:1 The LORD is king; let the peoples tremble! He sits enthroned upon the cherubim; let the earth quake!

99:2 The LORD is great in Zion; he is exalted over all the peoples.

99:3 Let them praise your great and awesome name. Holy is he!

99:4 Mighty King, lover of justice, you have established equity; you have executed justice and righteousness in Jacob.

99:5 Extol the LORD our God; worship at his footstool. Holy is he!

99:6 Moses and Aaron were among his priests, Samuel also was among those who called on his name. They cried to the LORD, and he answered them.

99:7 He spoke to them in the pillar of cloud; they kept his decrees, and the statutes that he gave them.

99:8 O LORD our God, you answered them; you were a forgiving God to them, but an avenger of their wrongdoings.

99:9 Extol the LORD our God, and worship at his holy mountain; for the LORD our God is holy.

Epistle

Paul referred to Moses’s veil. In the case of the Jews of the early Church era, Paul said theirs was a veil of spiritual blindness. They had hardened their hearts to Moses. However, turning to the Lord through Jesus Christ would remove that figurative veil. No longer would those who did so be spiritually blind. Instead, they would come to know the Lord God through His Son and the Holy Spirit.

2 Corinthians 3:12-4:2

3:12 Since, then, we have such a hope, we act with great boldness,

3:13 not like Moses, who put a veil over his face to keep the people of Israel from gazing at the end of the glory that was being set aside.

3:14 But their minds were hardened. Indeed, to this very day, when they hear the reading of the old covenant, that same veil is still there, since only in Christ is it set aside.

3:15 Indeed, to this very day whenever Moses is read, a veil lies over their minds;

3:16 but when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed.

3:17 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.

3:18 And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit.

4:1 Therefore, since it is by God’s mercy that we are engaged in this ministry, we do not lose heart.

4:2 We have renounced the shameful things that one hides; we refuse to practice cunning or to falsify God’s word; but by the open statement of the truth we commend ourselves to the conscience of everyone in the sight of God.

Gospel

This is one of my favourite Gospel readings. One can rather appreciate why Peter and brothers John and James (sons of Zebedee) wanted that moment to last forever. They did not yet understand what a revelation it was of not only the eternal glory to come in the next life but that Jesus is truly the Son of God. Note how Jesus selflessly continued His ministry afterwards, in healing the boy with a demon.

Luke 9:28-36, (37-43a)

9:28 Now about eight days after these sayings Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray.

9:29 And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white.

9:30 Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him.

9:31 They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.

9:32 Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake, they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him.

9:33 Just as they were leaving him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah” — not knowing what he said.

9:34 While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud.

9:35 Then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!”

9:36 When the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and in those days told no one any of the things they had seen.

9:37 On the next day, when they had come down from the mountain, a great crowd met him.

9:38 Just then a man from the crowd shouted, “Teacher, I beg you to look at my son; he is my only child.

9:39 Suddenly a spirit seizes him, and all at once he shrieks. It convulses him until he foams at the mouth; it mauls him and will scarcely leave him.

9:40 I begged your disciples to cast it out, but they could not.”

9:41 Jesus answered, “You faithless and perverse generation, how much longer must I be with you and bear with you? Bring your son here.”

9:42 While he was coming, the demon dashed him to the ground in convulsions. But Jesus rebuked the unclean spirit, healed the boy, and gave him back to his father.

9:43a And all were astounded at the greatness of God.

It should be noted that the boy’s father had asked the Apostles to heal him, because Jesus had given them His own divine powers to go preach and heal. For whatever reason — perhaps doubt about this commission or lack of prayerfulness on their part — they could not drive out the demon. Hence, Jesus’s rebuke of them as a ‘faithless and perverse generation’.

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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

Acts 25:1-5

Paul Appeals to Caesar

25 Now three days after Festus had arrived in the province, he went up to Jerusalem from Caesarea. And the chief priests and the principal men of the Jews laid out their case against Paul, and they urged him, asking as a favor against Paul[a] that he summon him to Jerusalem—because they were planning an ambush to kill him on the way. Festus replied that Paul was being kept at Caesarea and that he himself intended to go there shortly. “So,” said he, “let the men of authority among you go down with me, and if there is anything wrong about the man, let them bring charges against him.”

—————————————————————————————————–

Last week’s post concluded Acts 24 and recounted what happened to Felix at the instigation of the Jews.

Now Porcius Festus is in place in Judea. This is two years after Paul was imprisoned under Felix in a pleasant apartment at the Roman governor’s praetorium, formerly Herod’s palace.

Three days after his arrival, Festus travelled from Caesarea up to Jerusalem (verse 1). He was entering a hate-filled atmosphere, which Felix had exacerbated. Festus wanted to meet the Jews and see if he could calm down the situation he had inherited. John MacArthur explains (emphases mine):

Now, we have to feel a little badly for Festus because his predecessor’s incompetency left him a legacy of profound hate, and he had to suffer from the tremendous hatred that the Romans felt coming from the Jews. They hated any of their oppressors, and so the Romans got it. And then the incompetency of all the governors didn’t help it at all. So, Festus was definitely in a hot spot. Show you how he responds to his situation; begin in verse 1. “Now when Festus was come into the province” – that is, Judea was considered a Roman province – “after three days he ascended from Caesarea to Jerusalem.”

Now, Festus arrives on the scene in Caesarea, which of course was the Roman headquarters. They had taken over the palace of Herod and turned it into the Roman praetori[um], where the governor lived, and from where he ruled and operated. He spends three days there getting everything organized, and whatever he had to do – pushing the parchments around his desk and finding out who was doing what, whatever orientation he needed. But after a brief three days in Caesarea, he recognizes the need to go to Jerusalem.

So, he ascends – and that’s, as I say, always you’re going up to Jerusalem, since it’s elevation was so great. He ascends from Caesarea to Jerusalem, and he does this because he recognizes that the first thing he has to do in office is to conciliate the Jewish population. The animosity toward Felix, the animosity toward the Romans, was extensive, it was great, it was hot; there was hostility. He recognizes that he must go to Jerusalem, the national center of Israel. He must acquaint himself with the high priest, with the Jewish council, the Sanhedrin.

He must become well aware of the customs and the politics as it exists in the situation in which he has been thrust. He knows these contacts are important. He must establish a warm working relationship between the high priest and the Sanhedrin. Now, you see, the Romans were a little bit afraid of the Jews. You know, the previous Roman governors had been really cornered by the Jews. They were masters at blackmail; they had blackmailed Pilate into crucifying Jesus Christ.

The Sanhedrin laid out their case against Paul to Festus (verse 2). The favour they asked against Paul was to ask Festus to send him to Jerusalem so that they could ambush him and kill him along the way (verse 3). That is why I highlighted the words ‘two years’ above, to emphasise how hate festers. This is why the Bible tells us not to hate. It ends up like a festering wound to the soul.

Both John MacArthur and Matthew Henry point out the danger of religious hate, probably the worst type of hate mankind has ever known throughout history.

Henry’s commentary gives us the short version:

These inhuman hellish methods, which all the world profess at least to abhor, have these persecutors recourse to, to gratify their malice against the gospel of Christ, and this too under colour of zeal for Moses. Tantum religio potuit suadere malorum–Such was their dire religious zeal.

MacArthur has a lot more. Suffice it to say that religious conflicts, including this one, are the work of Satan. Atheists say religious conflicts have to do with religion, therefore, abolish religion. No, it is Satan inserting himself into men’s minds, filling them with malevolence and evil:

And here, folks, is the principle that I told you we’d arrive at: the hatred of religious people. Isn’t it amazing? They claimed to love God, and God is love, and they have murder on their minds. Oh, it’s amazing how ethical religion is until it comes into conflict with another system: the truth. Isn’t it amazing that the real struggle isn’t between all the false systems; have you ever noticed how wonderfully they get along? But it’s always that the false systems are fighting the truth. And so, here they come, and their only desire is a favor, not justice.

They wanted that new governor’s inexperience and desire to gain their favor to play to their benefit in the execution of Paul. Now, friends, any time you see hatred like this, it smacks of Satanic origin. The reason religious people hate the truth is because religious people are in Satan’s system, and Satan’s system is against Christ’s system. And they despised Paul, not because Paul was that kind of a person; no, he’d lived his whole life as a Jew before his conversion, and they had loved him, right?

In fact, he was chosen for their court. In fact, he was the leader of all the persecution. He was a friend of everybody, a student of Gamaliel; he was one of their top boys. But immediately when he became identified with Jesus Christ, they immediately hated him; not for his sake, but for Christ’s sake – The hatred of religionists toward the truth. That’s right. You read in the New Testament, and you’re going to find out that the greatest persecution that comes toward the truth comes from false doctrine, false teachers, who slander us so that the truth is evil spoken of, right? Paul said it to Timothy.

Satan’s hate goes on. Let me take you to a passage to illustrate it – John 15, our Lord speaking to his disciples. I want to show you several verses, so turn to it – John 15. Now, if you were to give me – and I’m not going to ask you to do it out loud. But if you were to give me a definition of the world – when I say the term world, which is the Greek word kosmos in the Bible, what do you think of? You think immediately, don’t you, of Satan’s evil system? But then I add this, folks – I hasten to add it.

When you think of the world as Satan’s evil system, don’t just think of bars, and crime, and prostitution, and immorality, and whatever else you think of – war, and anything else. When you think of the world, think primarily of religion. Because that is the pinnacle of the development of Satan’s system, for he is an angel of light, and his ministers are angels of light, 2 Corinthians tells us. So, when you think of the world, don’t necessarily think only of the immoral system, but of the “ethical religionists’” system.

Now you notice verse 18. “If the world” – or the system – “hates you, you know that it hated Me.” Listen, most of the hatred toward Jesus Christ did not come from atheism, it came from Judaism, right? Yes. “If the world hates you, you know it hated me.” What part of the world hated Him? Was it the prostitutes that hated Jesus? Was it the criminals that hated Jesus? You don’t read any of that; it was the religionists that hated Him, because Satan is behind all false systems. “If the world hate you, you know it hated Me. If you were of the world, the world would love its own.”

Festus told the Sanhedrin that Paul was in Caesarea and that he would go there shortly (verse 4). He was pouring cold water on their plot. Now, whether he said that because Paul was a Roman citizen or there was paperwork saying he was innocent of crimes against Rome, we do not know. In any event, Festus had an objective view of Paul’s case, and the Sanhedrin were not going to change his mind.

Both Henry and MacArthur say that God continued to work through the Romans to preserve Paul’s life.

Henry says:

whatever was his reason for refusing it, God made use of it as a means of preserving Paul out of the hands of his enemies … God does not, as then, bring it to light, yet he finds another way, as effectual, to bring it to nought, by inclining the heart of the governor, for some other reasons, not to remove Paul to Jerusalem. God is not tied to one method, in working out salvation for his people. He can suffer the designs against them to be concealed, and yet not suffer them to be accomplished; and can make even the carnal policies of great men to serve his gracious purposes.

MacArthur tells us:

Who is running the show? Festus? God. Now, I’m going to tell you something exciting. Did you know that God ordains the attitudes and actions of men to bring about His own ends?

Festus concluded his meeting with the Sanhedrin by inviting ‘the men of authority’ to go down from Jerusalem with him and to levy charges against Paul, should that be warranted (verse 5).

Interestingly, the King James Version words verse 5 as follows:

Let them therefore, said he, which among you are able, go down with me, and accuse this man, if there be any wickedness in him.

Our commentators provide two nuanced interpretations.

Henry says:

“Let those among you who are able, able in body and purse for such a journey, or able in mind and tongue to manage the prosecution–let those among you who are fit to be managers, go down with me, and accuse this man; or, those who are competent witnesses, who are able to prove any thing criminal upon him, let them go and give in their evidence, if there be any such wickedness in him as you charge upon him.”

MacArthur has this:

“Let them, therefore, who are among you who are able” – notice the phrase who are able, you who are able. That has reference to those who are powerful; the word is dunatoi. It means you who are powerful ones, or influential ones,” or position. “Now, Youwho are the chief ones, you come on down with me to Caesarea and accuse him there, if there be any wickedness in him.”

The story continues next week, with Paul going on trial yet once more.

The question arises why the Holy Spirit would have inspired St Luke to write about these ordeals, one after another. First, Paul was unable to evangelise on a broad scale, so this is what he logically would have documented. Secondly, these latter chapters of Acts show Paul’s consistency in defending the faith. He came up with the same truthful answer time and time again. Thirdly, perhaps most importantly, Paul did not grow impatient with the Lord or his circumstances. He faced his imprisonment rationally, yet prayerfully, always considering himself a prisoner of the Lord Jesus Christ.

His fortitude really does bring home the truth of his words to Timothy (2 Timothy 4:7-8):

7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.

These are verses worth contemplating with regard to our own Christian journeys.

Next time — Acts 25:6-12

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