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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.

Acts 27:9-12

Since much time had passed, and the voyage was now dangerous because even the Fast[a] was already over, Paul advised them, 10 saying, “Sirs, I perceive that the voyage will be with injury and much loss, not only of the cargo and the ship, but also of our lives.” 11 But the centurion paid more attention to the pilot and to the owner of the ship than to what Paul said. 12 And because the harbor was not suitable to spend the winter in, the majority decided to put out to sea from there, on the chance that somehow they could reach Phoenix, a harbor of Crete, facing both southwest and northwest, and spend the winter there.

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The first eight verses of Acts 27 describe the beginning of Paul’s and Luke’s voyage to Rome from Caesarea. Festus, the Roman governor, allowed Luke, the author of Acts, to accompany his good friend Paul on the journey. The centurion in charge of the ship, Julius, was also well disposed towards the Apostle.

The weather at this time of year, late summer, was unpredictable for sea voyages. In mid-September, seafaring became dangerous. By mid-November, sea voyages stopped until early the following year.

They had spent a few weeks at Fair Havens — Kalous Limenas — near the city of Lasea waiting for better prospects. Now, the Fast — the Jewish Day of Atonement — was already over. This would have been in the early autumn, and it was time to make a decision whether to stay or go (verse 9).

John MacArthur explains this next part of the voyage (emphases mine):

Now we come to stage two. If stage one is the start, stage two is the stay. Here they are in Fair Havens, taking on supplies and waiting for a change of winds. And they’re getting anxious to go to Rome. I mean they want to get to Rome, you see, before the season ends. They want to get to Rome before the winter comes. You see what happens is if they can’t get to Rome, then this fellow who is running the ship is going to have to take care of the whole crew for the winter. And that means three to four months in harbor before they can get off again.

In addition to that, to be stuck in Fair Havens would be absolute disaster. It was open, it was exposed to the winds of the sea. It was not a commodious harbor, as it says in verse 12. It wasn’t a good place to spend the winter. And nothing was happening there; no fun and games in Fair Havens. Plus there was a sort of a desire to make a little money on the deal. If the ship had been owned, indeed, as some indicate by its captain, he would have wanted to get his supplies there as fast as possible and get his money and not have to spend the whole winter paying these people for idleness. And so they wanted to gamble and they figured we’re going to try to make it. If we could just get a change of wind we’ll take off.

Now verse 9. “Now when much time was spent,” – Now, we don’t know how much time, but plenty of time. Maybe weeks went by, maybe more. Very likely at least a month – “and when sailing was now dangerous,” — Now notice. If they got there sometime at the end of August, and a month passed, the notation that Luke makes now is they’re in the dangerous season. They’re in the period of time when to sail is dangerous. Then he adds – “because the fast was already passed.” The fast is referenced to the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur, the Jewish fast.

If you know anything about Jewish history you’ll remember that Yom Kippur occurs on the 10th day of the 7th month of the Jewish calendar, which is the month of Tishri. That falls into the Roman calendar at the end of September or the beginning of October. In A.D. 59 we know, historically, that Yom Kippur was on October 5th. If this is the year, then A.D. 59, it is already after October 5th. They are well into the dangerous season for trying to cross the open sea. Any attempt now would really be a gamble.

Paul, having been a passenger on many ships during his ministry, warned them that leaving Fair Havens would result in a perilous voyage, causing not only injury and loss of cargo but also the ship — and lives (verse 10).

However, Julius, the centurion, was more interested in what the ship’s pilot and captain had to say on the matter (verse 11).

Matthew Henry’s commentary elaborates:

They would not be advised by Paul in this matter, Acts 27:11. They thought him impertinent in interposing in an affair of this nature, who did not understand navigation; and the centurion to whom it was referred to determine it, though himself a passenger, yet, being a man in authority, takes upon him to overrule, though he had not been oftener at sea perhaps than Paul, nor was better acquainted with these seas, for Paul had planted the gospel in Crete (Titus 1:5), and knew the several parts of the island well enough. But the centurion gave more regard to the opinion of the master and owner of the ship than to Paul’s; for every man is to be credited in his own profession ordinarily: but such a man as Paul, who was so intimate with Heaven, was rather to be regarded in seafaring matters than the most celebrated sailors. Note, Those know not what dangers they run themselves into who will be governed more by human prudence than by divine revelation. The centurion was very civil to Paul (Acts 27:3), and yet would not be governed by his advice. Note, Many will show respect to good ministers that will not take their advice, Ezekiel 33:31.

MacArthur explains the pilot and captain relationship. In his translation, the words used are ‘master’ and ‘owner’:

Now, those two words master and owner are very difficult to translate because they are obscure words. The best translation of the word master, in my mind, is sailing master or pilot. This is the man who was responsible for steering and navigating. And the word owner is not really the word for owner but probably should be translated captain. So that the thing would say the pilot and the captain. Now in some cases, the captain was an owner, if in fact it was a private vessel. But if it was one of the imperial fleet grain ships he would be simply the captain.

The word is used only here. It’s not the common word for owner, but has to do probably with him as the captain. And if he was the owner he probably was also the captain, but it seems best to see it perhaps as a Roman ship, and these two would be the sailing master or the pilot and the captain. And the centurion agrees with them. And you really can’t blame the guy. I mean they were the experts, right? You can’t blame the centurion for believing the navigator and the captain. And so he does.

Because Fair Havens was not a destination in which to spend the winter, the majority decided to sail to the port of Phoenix — Phenice, present day Lutro — on the island of Crete to spend the winter there (verse 12).

Phenice is a derivation of ‘palm tree’.

Henry says that the ship’s crew would have made the decision to set sail. He also has more information on Phenice and the appeal of Crete as a winter destination:

Some of the ship’s crew, or of the council that was called to advise in this matter, were for staying there, rather than venturing to sea now that the weather was so uncertain: it is better to be safe in an incommodious harbour than to be lost in a tempestuous sea. But they were outvoted when it was put to the question, and the greater part advised to depart thence also; yet they aimed not to go far, but only to another port of the same island, here called PheniceIt is here described to lie towards the south-west and north-west. Probably the haven was between the two promontories or juttings-out of land into the sea, one of which pointed to the north-west and the other to the south-west, by which it was guarded against the east winds. Thus hath the wisdom of the Creator provided for the relief and safety of those who go down to the sea in ships, and do business in great waters. In vain had nature provided for us the waters to sail on, if it had not likewise provided for us natural harbours to take shelter in.

MacArthur says:

Phoenicia is the ancient name of the coastline of Israel. That’s not the translation that’s best. It should be … Phenice, which was a port 40 miles down Crete. Forty miles further along the island was the port of Phenice …

Historians tell us that anciently the only place in the winter that was a comfortable place to stay was on Crete.

The story continues next week. Was there ever a time, post-conversion, when Paul erred in his speech? No.

Next time — Acts 27:13-20

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What follows are readings for the Fifth Sunday of Easter, May 19, 2019.

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

Emphases below mine.

First reading

This scene in Jerusalem took place after Peter had converted the Roman centurion Cornelius and his household (here, here, here, here, here and here). The first 18 verses of Acts 18 are not included in the Lectionary readings that the Episcopal Church uses, so I wrote about them as being ‘Forbidden Bible Verses’. Fortunately, they are part of the standard readings for other denominations:

Forbidden Bible Verses — Acts 11:1-18

Acts 11:1-18

11:1 Now the apostles and the believers who were in Judea heard that the Gentiles had also accepted the word of God.

11:2 So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers criticized him,

11:3 saying, “Why did you go to uncircumcised men and eat with them?”

11:4 Then Peter began to explain it to them, step by step, saying,

11:5 “I was in the city of Joppa praying, and in a trance I saw a vision. There was something like a large sheet coming down from heaven, being lowered by its four corners; and it came close to me.

11:6 As I looked at it closely I saw four-footed animals, beasts of prey, reptiles, and birds of the air.

11:7 I also heard a voice saying to me, ‘Get up, Peter; kill and eat.’

11:8 But I replied, ‘By no means, Lord; for nothing profane or unclean has ever entered my mouth.’

11:9 But a second time the voice answered from heaven, ‘What God has made clean, you must not call profane.’

11:10 This happened three times; then everything was pulled up again to heaven.

11:11 At that very moment three men, sent to me from Caesarea, arrived at the house where we were.

11:12 The Spirit told me to go with them and not to make a distinction between them and us. These six brothers also accompanied me, and we entered the man’s house.

11:13 He told us how he had seen the angel standing in his house and saying, ‘Send to Joppa and bring Simon, who is called Peter;

11:14 he will give you a message by which you and your entire household will be saved.’

11:15 And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them just as it had upon us at the beginning.

11:16 And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’

11:17 If then God gave them the same gift that he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could hinder God?”

11:18 When they heard this, they were silenced. And they praised God, saying, “Then God has given even to the Gentiles the repentance that leads to life.”

Psalm

This beautiful Psalm calls upon all creation to abundantly praise God.

Psalm 148

148:1 Praise the LORD! Praise the LORD from the heavens; praise him in the heights!

148:2 Praise him, all his angels; praise him, all his host!

148:3 Praise him, sun and moon; praise him, all you shining stars!

148:4 Praise him, you highest heavens, and you waters above the heavens!

148:5 Let them praise the name of the LORD, for he commanded and they were created.

148:6 He established them forever and ever; he fixed their bounds, which cannot be passed.

148:7 Praise the LORD from the earth, you sea monsters and all deeps,

148:8 fire and hail, snow and frost, stormy wind fulfilling his command!

148:9 Mountains and all hills, fruit trees and all cedars!

148:10 Wild animals and all cattle, creeping things and flying birds!

148:11 Kings of the earth and all peoples, princes and all rulers of the earth!

148:12 Young men and women alike, old and young together!

148:13 Let them praise the name of the LORD, for his name alone is exalted; his glory is above earth and heaven.

148:14 He has raised up a horn for his people, praise for all his faithful, for the people of Israel who are close to him. Praise the LORD!

Epistle

In the continuing series of readings from Revelation, we move from John’s imagery of Christ Jesus as the Lamb of God to the ‘Alpha and the Omega’ and the ‘new Jerusalem’.

Revelation 21:1-6

21:1 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.

21:2 And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.

21:3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them as their God; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them;

21:4 he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.”

21:5 And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.”

21:6 Then he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give water as a gift from the spring of the water of life.

Gospel

This took place at the Last Supper, after Jesus dismissed Judas.

John 13:31-35

13:31 When he had gone out, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him.

13:32 If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once.

13:33 Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come.’

13:34 I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.

13:35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

This is another set of uplifting readings for Eastertide, which should give us continued joy about our Lord: the Resurrection and the Life.

stdunstanDo you ever wonder about the origin of displaying ‘lucky’ horseshoes near a door?

I always thought it was pagan superstition.

However, the origin lies in a legend about St Dunstan — whose feast day is on May 19 — and the devil.

St Dunstan’s two encounters with the devil are said to have taken place in Mayfield, East Sussex. VillageNet has a detailed description of Mayfield’s history, including the legends about Dunstan (emphases mine):

The saint, formerly a blacksmith, was working at his forge when the Devil paid him a visit, disguised as a beautiful woman, with a view to leading him astray. However St Dunstan spotted the cloven hooves beneath the dress, and grabbed the devil’s nose with his red hot pincers! thus foiling Satan’s evil intentions. According to another legend, Satan returned again as a weary traveller in need of a horseshoe, Dunstan saw through the disguise once again and beat the Devil until he pleaded for mercy, and swore never to enter any house with a horseshoe above the door.

St Dunstan’s Episcopal Church in the Diocese of Atlanta has this variation on the legends:

He was the most popular saint in England for nearly two centuries, having gained fame for the many stories of his greatness, not least among which were those concerning his famed cunning in defeating the Devil.

English literature contains many references to him, for example in A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, and in this folk rhyme:



St Dunstan, as the story goes,
Once pull’d the devil by the nose
With red-hot tongs, which made him roar,
That he was heard three miles or more.

Another story relates how Dunstan nailed a horseshoe to the Devil’s hoof when he was asked to re-shoe the Devil’s horse. This caused the Devil great pain, and Dunstan only agreed to remove the shoe and release the Devil after he promised never to enter a place where a horseshoe is over the door. This is claimed as the origin of the lucky horseshoe.

In 1871, Edward G Flight wrote a humorous poem about the legends with accompanying text, which is equally amusing. The renowned George Cruikshank provided the illustrations (see one on the right, courtesy of CatholicSaints.Info). The Horse Shoe: The True Legend of Saint Dunstan and the Devil, Showing How the Horse-Shoe Came to Be a Charm Against Witchcraft is worth a look. Here is an excerpt of the text (emphases in the original):

To all good folk in Christendom to whom this instrument shall come the Devil sendeth greeting: Know ye that for himself and heirs said Devil covenants and declares, that never at morn or evening prayers at chapel church or meeting, never where concords of sweet sound sacred or social flow around or harmony is woo’d, nor where the Horse-Shoe meets his sight on land or sea by day or night on lowly sill or lofty pinnacle on bowsprit helm mast boom or binnacle, said Devil will intrude.

Flight’s work includes a letter from ‘a friend’ describing the virtues of the noble horse and how the horseshoe repels the devil (emphases mine):

… In proportion as they developed unblemished honour, with undaunted bravery, graceful bearing, and magnanimous generosity, were they deemed worthy to rank among Christendom’s bright chivalry.

The horse-shoe was, no doubt, regarded as typical of the noble qualities of its wearer. These being so hateful to the ugly, sly, intriguing, slandering, malevolent, ill-conditioned, pettifogging, pitiful arch-enemy, it might well be supposed that the mere apparition of that type would scare him away. To this supposition is ascribable the adoption of the horse-shoe, as an infallible charm against the visits of old Iniquity.”

The Drinks Business has a good page on St Dunstan and provides us with a more recent, although doubtful, story concerning the holy man and the devil. This, they say, was popular during the past two centuries. It concerns the frost that occurs in the West Country in England around St Dunstan’s feast day, May 19:

The tale was apparently particularly popular in Devon in the 19th and 20th centuries and goes thus.

Dunstan had bought some barley and made some beer, which he then hoped to sell for a good price. Seeing this the Devil appeared before him and offered to blight the local apple trees with frost (the tale is presumably set in Somerset, perhaps when Dunstan is Abbot of Glastonbury). This would ensure there was no cider and so drive demand for beer. Dunstan accepted the offer but stipulated that the frost should strike from the 17-19 May.

As stories go this comes close to blackening the good name of the saintly man who tweaked the Devil’s nose and the legend likely arose among disgruntled cidermakers who perhaps thought Dunstan wasn’t doing enough to protect their crop on his feast day.

The article also says that, because Dunstan was not only a blacksmith but also a silversmith and jeweller, the London Assay Office used to start its new hallmark year on his feast day:

He was, reputedly, a skilled blacksmith and jeweller and is generally venerated as a patron saint of smiths.

In his various roles as bishop and archbishop he worked hard to restore monastic life in England and reform the English church.

Dying in 988 he was canonised in 1029 and until Thomas Becket’s martyrdom in 1170 he was considered England’s favourite saint.

His association with silversmithing meant that for a good 600 years the London Assay Office hallmarks ran from 19 May (his feast day) to 18 May the following year. This was only changed in 1660 when Charles II moved it to his own birthday, 29 May.

What a fascinating history to a centuries-old legend about the lucky horseshoe.

On Saturday, May 11, 2019, March for Life UK held their annual march in London which finished in Parliament Square:

This march does not receive much publicity from either the media or the Church:

Despite that, the march attracted over 5,000 people:

Despite the running narrative that young people support abortion, that did not appear to be the case last Saturday:

The event also had a number of pro-life speakers, some of whom travel the world for the cause.

Obianuju Ekeocha is one of them:

Melissa Ohden is another:

Britons also spoke in favour of life in the womb:

There was also entertainment:

Workshops were held before the march began at The Emmanuel Centre and Westminster Church House:

The next day — May 12 — was National Children’s Day:

Hundreds of abortions are performed every day in the UK:

Mental health is the subject we rarely hear about when abortion is discussed, yet it is a very important one.

This lady knows from first hand experience and explained it all in her workshop (see above):

Any woman in the UK reading this who needs to talk to someone after their abortion might wish to contact and visit Rachel’s Vineyard in Wetherby, West Yorkshire.

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 27:1-8

Paul Sails for Rome

27 And when it was decided that we should sail for Italy, they delivered Paul and some other prisoners to a centurion of the Augustan Cohort named Julius. And embarking in a ship of Adramyttium, which was about to sail to the ports along the coast of Asia, we put to sea, accompanied by Aristarchus, a Macedonian from Thessalonica. The next day we put in at Sidon. And Julius treated Paul kindly and gave him leave to go to his friends and be cared for. And putting out to sea from there we sailed under the lee of Cyprus, because the winds were against us. And when we had sailed across the open sea along the coast of Cilicia and Pamphylia, we came to Myra in Lycia. There the centurion found a ship of Alexandria sailing for Italy and put us on board. We sailed slowly for a number of days and arrived with difficulty off Cnidus, and as the wind did not allow us to go farther, we sailed under the lee of Crete off Salmone. Coasting along it with difficulty, we came to a place called Fair Havens, near which was the city of Lasea.

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The Roman governor Festus had acquiesced to Paul’s request to go to Rome to have his case heard.

Festus had Paul put on board a ship to take him part of the way to Rome (verse 1). Other prisoners accompanied him. So did Luke, the author of Acts, and another Christian, Aristarchus (verse 2). It is possible that Festus, believing Paul was innocent, granted him permission to take two friends for mutual support.

Matthew Henry says that one more friend might have accompanied Paul:

Dr. Lightfoot thinks that Trophimus the Ephesian went off with him, but that he left him sick at Miletum (2 Timothy 4:20), when he passed by those coasts of Asia mentioned here (Acts 27:2), and that there likewise he left Timothy.

A centurion, Julius, was in charge of passengers and cargo. Julius was from the Augustan Cohort. Cohort in this context means legion or band of men. Some of his 100 men would have guarded Paul.

John MacArthur explains the role of the likes of Julius and his men in Roman history (emphases mine):

Now the Augustus’ band is interesting. I told you a couple of weeks ago that Augustus was a title for the emperor. This was a special band of men, a special cohort of men assigned to the emperor. They were special envoys. They were like special couriers. Their name – they were called frumentarii. Frumentarii means pertaining to grain. And the reason they got this name, pertaining to grain was because initially when the Roman government began to send its troops and garrison them and station them all over the imperial empire, they had to get food to their troops. And there were men assigned to the accompaniment of the food. They were men who were responsible for the transportation of the food safely.

These were the men who were the special food envoys and they were called frumentarii. That is they pertained to the grain. But as time when on, these special couriers also got into really becoming very sophisticated imperial agents. They were responsible for spying. They were responsible for transporting important political prisoners and personalities back and forth between Rome and its armies and its garrisons in its various provinces. And so they were set aside from the regular troop duty and assigned to this very important area.

Julius was a commander commanding a hundred such men. Now, how many of the hundred accompanied Paul on the ship we do not know. But with Julius and his men, the crew of the ship, Paul and the prisoners, there was a good group. Later on when they changed ships there was a total of 276 people. We don’t know how many on this first vessel, but at least 276 on the second as it’s indicated later on in the passage.

Acts 27 is about the entire journey to Rome, fraught with peril after an initial calm.

The first ship they sailed on was one registered in Adramyttium in Asia Minor (verse 2). It was a coastal vessel, which was returning with goods for the various ports of call in that part of the world. Henry’s commentary says that it would have picked up goods from Africa and made interim stops along the way:

this ship brought African goods, and, as it should seem, made a coasting voyage for Syria, where those goods came to a good market.

The next stop was Sidon, where Julius kindly let Paul and his friends disembark so that he could be ‘cared for’ (verse 3). As Henry stated above, Paul was ill and needed medical attention. Fortunately, Sidon also had a Christian community, as MacArthur explains:

In Sidon, apparently, there was a church. The believers were called Friends. And that didn’t come as any shock, I think. In reading that I thought back to John 15:15, where Jesus said, “No longer will I call you servants, but from now on I’ll call you” – What? – “friends.” And one of the terms that was used commonly for the designation of Christians was that of friends.

And there was a church founded in Sidon, most likely founded in the repercussions of the persecution of Stephen. You’ll remember back in the early part of the book of Acts that when the persecution broke out against Stephen, the church was scattered. And the scattering of the church Judea and Samaria area was pretty well evangelized. And, apparently, a church was begun in the area of Sidon, even as there was in the area of Tyre. Paul had visited that church on his trip to Jerusalem. Now he visits Sidon on the way from. And so he went there.

But an interesting thing to note is this. You say, “What did he do when he went there or why did he go?” Well I’m sure he went for the fellowship of believers because he loved that. I’m sure he did some teaching. I’m sure he did some ministering just because that’s the nature of the man, I mean you couldn’t restrain the man. He was too committed to those things. But it says here, “To refresh himself.” The interesting thing about this is the word refresh is a medical term. It has to do with medical care and it indicates that he was sick.

The apostle Paul at this particular point is a sick man. And it isn’t any wonder with all that he has endured in the time intervening since his liberty, having been a prisoner for two years. And so in his illness he is probably not able to gain the diet, the rest, and the care that he needed on shipboard. And Julius allows him the privilege of going to be with Christians who minister to him, equally, as he ministers spiritually to them.

When they left Sidon, they sailed under the ‘lee’ — shelter — of Cyprus, because the winds were against them (verse 4). The ship hugged the coastline.

MacArthur says that they were most likely on the sea in the late summer, a borderline season with regard to weather, not much different to hurricane season in the Caribbean and southern United States:

… when there was a problem with the wind, going along the coast was to the advantage because they could take advantage of land winds and, as well, the current of the Mediterranean runs that very route west. And so they took advantage of land winds, as well as the current to run them up around the island of Cyprus and to the west. The way the wind was blowing probably would have been very helpful to ships coming the opposite direction from, say Rhodes or Crete down toward Sidon. And that’s the way Paul came when he came. He came straight across south of Crete. But on the return, because of the winds, was unable to do that.

Now this is summer. It is estimated that Festus took office in early July of A.D. 59 or 60. And that means that if he took office in early July, by the time he went to Jerusalem, came back, heard Paul, had Agrippa come down, had that little thing with Agrippa and figured out what to do with Paul and waited for the proper ship, it is probably mid-August by now. And mid-August would be the time that Paul would be departing. The winds were basically westerly winds in the summer, blowing from the west. And they could easily tack against the wind and make good progress toward Rome.

But mid-August was pretty borderline. If you wait too long you get into a treacherous season. From November 11th on to the end of March, nobody crossed the Mediterranean. The winds were extremely strong and the sea was very rough and all shipping ceased from November 11th to the end of March. But from September 14 to November 11th, that period between the summer sailing season and the winter closed season was known as the treacherous season. You just really didn’t know. It was a gamble to sail in the open sea from September 14th till November 11th. So at this particular point, as they near the end of August, they are flirting with a borderline situation.

When they reached Myra, on the southwest coast of Asia Minor, Julius found a ship registered in Alexandria and transferred prisoners and goods to it (verse 6). Henry tells us this was a good decision because it would not have made many stops:

Alexandria was now the chief city of Egypt, and great trading there was between that city and Italy; from Alexandria they carried corn to Rome, and the East-India goods and Persian which they imported at the Red Sea they exported again to all parts of the Mediterranean, and especially to Italy. And it was a particular favour shown to the Alexandrian ships in the ports of Italy that they were not obliged to strike sail, as other ships were, when they came into port.

The winds were against them — again, part of the borderline weather situation for that time of year — so it took them longer than expected to get near the port of Cnidus. They then sailed under the lee of Crete off Salmone (verse 7).

MacArthur explains:

Verse 7, “and when we had sailed slowly many days,” – they had westerly winds, that is winds blowing at them from the west against which they could tack and progress – “and scarcely were come off Cnidus. The wind not permitting us we sailed under the lee of Crete off Salmone.” Now look at your map. They left Myra and very slowly did they sail west the inside passage between Rhodes and the mainland there of Asia Minor, and they proceeded to the very last point, Cnidus. Now, they would at that point have harbored in Cnidus. Now, if you feel you’re really bogged down in National Geographic trivia, hang on. The Lord has a purpose in all of this.

But they had passed Cnidus and, of course, immediately when they did this they left the shelter of land. The gentle land winds ceased. The protection ceased and the wind became extremely strong as they ventured immediately into the open sea. And they were unable to harbor at Cnidus. They could not direct the ship into the harbor and so they had to let it go. They couldn’t handle the wind. What they did was they ran smack into the prevailing wind and they plunged right into the pressing plummeting headwaters, and they couldn’t handle it. And you’ll notice, the only thing they could do is let it go and try to get the ship down around the underside of Crete in order to be able to hide from the wind, to have some kind of a break from the wind that was blowing.

Now you know, perhaps a different kind of ship could have handled it. They say that a schooner or a sloop or something can take a six-degree angle into a wind and ride it in. But a great big thing like this; these Roman ships – and we have much information about them archeologically – were clumsy. Great big heavy – in fact, they could displace a tremendous amount of water, much tonnage. And, of course, as grain ships they would be loaded down.

They were clumsy, they had a single mast with a great big square sail on it. And they preferred, usually, to sail under just that one enormous sail and run before the wind. They just really didn’t handle themselves well when the wind was contrary. And so the wind wouldn’t let them get into either of Cnidus’ two harbors, and they did have two there. And so they had to go down around the treacherous Cape Salmone and try get on the back side of Crete and be sheltered from the wind. And once they got around it they would be secured from the nor’wester wind that was blowing.

Eventually, they came to a place called Fair Havens, near the city of Lasea (verse 8). The name was deceiving. Henry says:

It was not a commodious haven to winter in, so it is said, Acts 27:12. It had a fine prospect, but it lay exposed to the weather. Note, Every fair haven is not a safe haven

MacArthur gives us a glimpse into the rest of Acts 27:

Verse 8, “And passing it with difficulty,” listen they didn’t have an easy time getting around that Cape Salmone on the east coast tip of Crete. It was tough. With difficulty means just that. It’s a 140-mile long island, Crete is, and they just wanted to turn the edge and get into shelter. With great difficulty they finally made it and came to a place called Kalous Limenas. That’s Greek for Fair Havens, near to which was the city of Lasea. Now, you say, “That’s a terrific place to be in a storm, Fair Havens.” Well, Fair Havens was really a hokey place. And they weren’t at all excited about being in Fair Havens, but at least they made it. And the first foreboding sign of a difficult trip had made itself known.

Some might wonder why Luke went into all this detail about this journey to Rome. Henry says it was documented proof for historical reasons:

What course they steered, and what places they touched at, which are particularly recorded for the confirming of the truth of the history to those who lived at that time, and could by their own knowledge tell of their being at such and such a place.

Henry draws a useful conclusion about the Christian life from this voyage:

Though the voyage hitherto was not tempestuous, yet it was very tedious. They many that are not driven backward in their affairs by cross providences, yet sail slowly, and do not get forward by favourable providences. And many good Christians make this complaint in the concerns of their souls, that they do not rid ground in their way of heaven, but have much ado to keep their ground; they move with many stops and pauses, and lie a great while wind-bound. Observe, The place they came to was called The Fair Havens. Travellers say that it is known to this day by the same name, and that it answers the name from the pleasantness of its situation and prospect. And yet, (1.) It was not the harbour they were bound for; it was a fair haven, but it was not their haven. Whatever agreeable circumstances we may be in in this world, we must remember we are not at home, and therefore we must arise and depart; for, though it be a fair haven, it is not the desired haven, Psalms 107:30.

Something to keep in mind.

Next time — Acts 27:9-12

What follows are the readings for the Fourth Sunday of Easter, May 12, 2019.

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

Emphases below are mine.

First reading

Peter raises Dorcas (Tabitha) from the dead. The miracle brings many to believe in Christ.

Acts 9:36-43

9:36 Now in Joppa there was a disciple whose name was Tabitha, which in Greek is Dorcas. She was devoted to good works and acts of charity.

9:37 At that time she became ill and died. When they had washed her, they laid her in a room upstairs.

9:38 Since Lydda was near Joppa, the disciples, who heard that Peter was there, sent two men to him with the request, “Please come to us without delay.”

9:39 So Peter got up and went with them; and when he arrived, they took him to the room upstairs. All the widows stood beside him, weeping and showing tunics and other clothing that Dorcas had made while she was with them.

9:40 Peter put all of them outside, and then he knelt down and prayed. He turned to the body and said, “Tabitha, get up.” Then she opened her eyes, and seeing Peter, she sat up.

9:41 He gave her his hand and helped her up. Then calling the saints and widows, he showed her to be alive.

9:42 This became known throughout Joppa, and many believed in the Lord.

9:43 Meanwhile he stayed in Joppa for some time with a certain Simon, a tanner.

Psalm

This beautiful Psalm needs no introduction!

Psalm 23

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

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

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

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

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

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

Epistle

Readings from Revelation continue with the theme of Jesus as the Lamb of God, the one sufficient propitiation and sacrifice for our sins.

Revelation 7:9-17

7:9 After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands.

7:10 They cried out in a loud voice, saying, “Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!”

7:11 And all the angels stood around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God,

7:12 singing, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.”

7:13 Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, robed in white, and where have they come from?”

7:14 I said to him, “Sir, you are the one that knows.” Then he said to me, “These are they who have come out of the great ordeal; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.

7:15 For this reason they are before the throne of God, and worship him day and night within his temple, and the one who is seated on the throne will shelter them.

7:16 They will hunger no more, and thirst no more; the sun will not strike them, nor any scorching heat;

7:17 for the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

Gospel

Jesus explains that He is the Shepherd whom God has called to look after His people forever more.

John 10:22-30

10:22 At that time the festival of the Dedication took place in Jerusalem. It was winter,

10:23 and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the portico of Solomon.

10:24 So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.”

10:25 Jesus answered, “I have told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name testify to me;

10:26 but you do not believe, because you do not belong to my sheep.

10:27 My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me.

10:28 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand.

10:29 What my Father has given me is greater than all else, and no one can snatch it out of the Father’s hand.

10:30 The Father and I are one.”

Wow. What excellent — and moving — readings. I pray that our clergy do them justice.

In thinking about Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris, I will never forget the power that a beautiful house of worship can have on the human heart.

I saw several French cathedrals for the first time decades ago.

When taking tours of Notre-Dame cathedrals in Paris and Chartres, the respective guides told us that those majestic houses of worship were built for ‘the glory of God’.

Confession

A Catholic woman of my acquaintance visited Notre-Dame in Paris a few years ago for the first time. She had not been to confession in at least 20 years and suddenly felt compelled to confess her sins before a priest. She duly did so in the magnificent cathedral.

The priest held out a large crucifix and gently urged her to touch Christ’s wounds as she made her confession. She was moved to tears. She said it was one of the most meaningful religious experiences she’d ever had.

Conversion

Vatican Cardinal Raymond Burke said that the surroundings of Notre-Dame de Paris were so powerful that the French poet Paul Claudel converted to Christianity.

On Tuesday, April 16, 2019, the day after the fire, The Daily Wire reported (emphases mine):

Not only did Notre Dame glorify God with its beauty, it also had the power to convert men’s hearts, according to the cardinal, as in the case of poet Paul Claudel.

“It is fitting to recall that it was in the same cathedral that the poet Paul Claudel (1868-1955) had a singular experience of the beauty of God, during the chanting of the Magnificat while attending Vespers on Christmas of 1886,” said Burke. “His singular experience on that Christmas night led to his conversion to the Catholic faith. It should not escape us that the via pulchritudinis, the way of beauty, is a most important and irreplaceable means of announcing God to a culture fraught with secularism and materialism.”

I could not agree more.

Contemplation

At the very least, most visitors to Notre-Dame enter a spirit of contemplation.

Everyone is quiet, and that, to me, seems in spite of rules about decorum.

I always wanted to sit there for an afternoon to meditate and pray after touring the cathedral. Unfortunately, because of busy schedules during my visits, I was never able to spend much time in contemplation and prayer. My friends were always waiting for me, the last one to leave.

House of God

Cardinal Burke had this to say about Notre-Dame’s beauty and the intention behind it:

“For Catholics, churches are not monuments but are the House of God, in which we really and truly encounter Heaven,” he said. “Because of God’s immeasurable and unceasing love of us in the Church, churches are also the House of the Church.”

That relationship with God, Burke notes, is what spurred our Medieval ancestors into erecting such a glorious monument. “For that reason, the faithful in the 12th Century employed only the most beautiful and enduring materials in constructing the Cathedral which was intended to last throughout the ages until the Coming of Our Lord at the end of time,” he said.

Why more people do not understand that is beyond me. That includes Christians, too, by the way.

Going into Notre-Dame de Paris or any of the other great cathedrals is as close as we can get in this transitory life to a glimpse of Heaven.

Let us pray that Notre-Dame is rebuilt and restored — respectfully and lovingly — to its original state for future generations.

Not knowing the circumstances surrounding the inferno at Notre-Dame in Paris is bad enough.

Now lovers of the mediaeval cathedral, the French capital’s monumental house of worship, wonder what is meant by the words ‘restoration’ and ‘rebuilding’.

Does the French government consider the two words to be the same as the average person who treasures what was lost? What about expert architects? What about building contractors?

This was what the cathedral looked like at the end of the day on Wednesday, April 24, 2019. Protective coverings were placed over the vulnerable parts of the structure:

One week later, on Tuesday, April 30, Paris police released aerial footage of the protective sheet covering the cathedral’s massive roof from a drone’s eye view:

That day, Le Huffington Post reported findings of a YouGov poll they commissioned in France which showed that 54 per cent of people want a restoration ‘identical to the original’. Only 25 per cent support President Macron and Prime Minister Philippe’s plan for an ‘architectural gesture’:

Twenty-one percent of the people surveyed were undecided.

The more conservative the participant, the greater the desire for a full, authentic restoration: from 66 per cent to 69 per cent, depending on political orientation.

A design firm from Lyon, NAB, released its plans for a greenhouse roof garden and spire containing beehives unlikely to please those who love the original structure with its dramatic vaults. Le Huffington Post published NAB’s shocking images on April 26. Have a chair nearby, because you’ll need a sit down and a cuppa after seeing them.

That same day, Le HuffPo released a short video wherein an architect, a historian, an urban design expert and a sociologist gave their opinions of the current buzz by government officials, architects and building firms about the cathedral’s reconstruction. Interviewed separately, they said the same things. The project seemed to be politically motivated, with an objective of proposed plans devised too hastily involving companies eager to make money at the expense of France’s — and the world’s — heritage. One said that the stone needs at least a year to dry out thoroughly, therefore, completing the reconstruction in five years’ time was a nonsense:

Those hoping to be part of Prime Minister Philippe’s working group on the way forward for Notre-Dame will need to take UNESCO’s perspective on board, too. Fortunately, UNESCO agrees with the French public with whom YouGov spoke:

The Art Newspaper‘s editorial begins with this (emphases mine):

The 28 April appeal by over 1000 academics, restorers and architects for an extension to President Macron’s five-year deadline for the restoration of Notre Dame can find comfort in the the cathedral’s status as a Unesco World Heritage site, because the guidelines on how to approach restoring such a great monument already exist.

They are implicit in the conditions accepted by France when Notre-Dame was inscribed on the World Heritage List in 1991 as part of a grouping that includes the great buildings along the Seine from the Pont de Sully to the Pont de Bir-Hakeim.

First and foremost, Notre Dame’s World Heritage status calls for international principles of restoration to be integrated into the discussions on how to restore it. Decisions will have to be taken on how to consolidate its structural parts, restore the damaged surfaces, reconstruct the roof, the spire and the stained-glass windows. All these choices need to be made in accordance with the conservation principles promoted by the World Heritage Convention and expressed in the Conservation Charters of the International Council on Museums and Sites (Icomos). While the international documents, starting with the 1964 Venice Charter, do not bear legal value per se, they are recognised by the French Codes as the basis for decisions on the conservation and reconstruction of historical monuments.

So far, so good.

The editorial goes on to say that this does not preclude using modern technologies and techniques to achieve a more ‘resilient and secure’ result. These would not affect what a visitor or regular worshipper sees, however:

The “contemporaneity” of this gesture will lie in its in its construction techniques and monitoring technologies, rather than the visible forms of the building.

But — and it’s a big ‘but’ — more modern stained glass might be part of the renovation and restoration:

if new windows are needed, it could be a great opportunity for contemporary artists, as with the designs of Marc Chagall and Imi Knoebel for Reims cathedral.

UGH. No, just no. Those modern stained glass designs are horrible, and I’ve viewed a number of them in European cathedrals from the 1970s to the present.

So, although that is just one man’s opinion, he happens to be Francesco Bandarin:

an architect and former senior official at Unesco, director of its World Heritage Centre (2000-2010) and assistant director-general for culture (2010-2018).

I do think a lot of French people will be upset if Notre-Dame is not restored to the original design. Admittedly, the following discussion took place on Holy Thursday, three days after the fire, when emotions were running high. From RMC’s Les Grandes Gueules:

One of the panellists, a young Protestant, said she wanted the cathedral restored to the original. She put forward her case with passion:

She said that she was quite conservative when it comes to restoring historic buildings because they are testaments to their respective eras:

Traditionalists could find 21st century help a boon to their cause.

In 2015, Andrew Tallon, an architectural historian, had the foresight to capture the complete design of Notre-Dame digitally:

As for the actual building work, BFMTV’s high-tech expert Anthony Morel said that the use of 3D design enabled one monument in Egypt to be rebuilt to the original, down to the smallest detail. He says the same can be done with Notre-Dame. This is a great little video. Just watch the pictures:

As for recreating the Forest — the oak roof — offers have been coming in from around the world from owners of large estates with old oak forests who are willing to cut down trees a few hundred years old and replant new ones.

So, although one of France’s heritage experts said on April 16 that rebuilding the Forest cannot be done

Bertrand de Feydeau, vice-president of Fondation du Patrimoine, said the cathedral’s roof cannot be rebuilt exactly as it was before the fire because “we don’t, at the moment, have trees on our territory of the size that were cut in the 13th century.”

… do a search online for offers of oak donations and there are many news articles to read, including this one from England’s Nottingham Post on April 19:

The Duke of Rutland has pledged to send ancient oak trees from the Belvoir Castle estate to France to help with the rebuilding of Notre-Dame following a devastating fire.

The historic cathedral in Paris was hit by fire on April 15, causing huge damage to the building, large parts of which were made from wood.

Donations have been pouring in from around the world to help with the project, and British estates and gardens have also got in on the act.

Around 100 historic homes have pledged to donate oak trees which were planted hundreds of years ago to be used for timber, including the Duke of Rutland, who owns Belvoir Castle.

He said: “Anyone who lives in an old building knows there’s something special about the way it was built and the materials used.

“The trees in the original roof at Notre-Dame probably started growing over a thousand years ago.

“We’re able to donate replacements because my great-great-grandfather had the foresight to plant trees that would only be valuable long after he died.

“And in turn we’ll replant every tree we fell – someone will need them for something in another few hundred years …

Belvoir Castle itself has been destroyed by fire, last being rebuilt in 1832.

It is a member of Historic Houses, an association for independently owned historic homes and gardens in Britain.

It was the Duke of Rutland who suggested to the members they should donate oaks towards the rebuilding of Notre-Dame.

And even though they will only be able to donate a fraction of what is needed, they hope it will inspire others to do the same.

There is hope. People WANT to help — and ARE helping!

Let us continue to pray for the proper and full restoration of Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris.

My next post will look at Notre-Dame from the perspective of the positive influence of aesthetics on the meaningful religious experience.

Last week, I posted various opinions about the mysterious cause of the fire at Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris.

This second part largely concerns the oak beams in the roof and what one architectural expert said in an interview afterwards.

I have also added a Twitter thread identifying the mystery man from the cathedral’s tower.

The oak Forest

On Tuesday, April 16, 2019 — the day after the blaze — Canada’s National Post reported on the cathedral’s roof, known as the Forest (emphases mine):

Among the biggest challenges facing the reconstruction of the iconic church is rebuilding the intricate latticework of wooden beams that made up the roof’s frame, known as the “Forest.”

The 800-year-old oak beams were added to the cathedral in 1220. Because of the building’s gothic style which called for high vaulted ceilings, tall, sturdy oaks were sourced from nearby forests.

Each beam that held up the lead roof was constructed from a single tree, requiring about 13,000 individual trees in total, CNN reported.

When workers began constructing the roof hundreds of years ago, they cleared 21 hectares of oak trees. To reach the heights required for the style, carpenters needed to use massive trees. That meant when the trees were cut down, they likely would have been 300 to 400 years old. In other words, the trees used to build the cathedral — immortalized in Victor Hugo’s 1831 novel “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” — sprouted in the eighth or ninth centuries.

To get the dimensions and structure right in the Middle Ages, workers first built the frame on the ground. Then, it would be disassembled and hoisted to the ceiling with lifting gear, where it was reassembled. The oak beams would be set at 55-degree angles as the gothic style called for.

“Its dimensions are impressive,” the church’s website says. It’s more than 100 metres long, 13 metres wide and the transept is 10 metres high.

The article has impressive photos, by the way.

A 210-pound lead roof went on top of the Forest. The builders had to use lead instead of traditional clay, because Paris is not near any clay deposits.

Therefore, it is not surprising that samples of the oak are being investigated.

I will come back to the oak and an architect’s interviews later in the post.

What was and wasn’t happening

The following Twitter thread clarifies various aspects of the fire, including the identity of the man walking around one of the towers early on.

By Wednesday of Holy Week — April 17, 2019 — some questions were answered:

These two relate to the mystery man in the tower:

Now on with the rest of the thread:

This is the final tweet:

Former French chief architect speaks

On Tuesday, April 16, Benjamin Mouton, Chief Architect of Historic Monuments in France from 2000 through 2013, gave an interview to one of France’s news channels, LCI (La Chaîne d’Info):

Benjamin Mouton has spent his entire career working on France’s historic monuments, including their restoration. He has also been awarded some of France’s highest accolades including Knight of the National Order of the Legion of Honor, Officer in the National Order of Merit and Commander of the Order of Arts and Letters.

NewsWars has this important soundbite, translated, from the video:

“So, you’re telling us that this type of timber doesn’t burn like that?” Mouton was asked by an LCI host.

Oak that is 800-years-old is very hard – try to burn it,” Mouton said. “Old oak, it is not easy at all. You would need a lot of kindling to succeed… It stupefies me.”

Batiactu, a website that reports building trade news, was also able to interview Mouton that day. Excerpts follow (translated):

As Chief Architect of Historic Monuments, Benjamin Mouton was in charge of Notre-Dame Cathedral from 2000 to 2013, for which he led the heavy fire detection project. He has not yet been able to go inside the building, but already fears the impact of the fire and the collapse of the frames on the overall stability of the building.

Mouton repeated the words of his successor Philippe Villeneuve, with whom he stays in contact:

Benjamin Mouton affirms to Batiactu that he was “totally incredulous” in the face of this fire that could have spread from the renovation site, and that suspicions could be focused on the “valley”, where the nave and the transept of the cathedral meet.

He explained that:

the melted scaffolding will not be doing the vaults any good, as this creates a significant mechanical shock

He said that the stones that made up the vaults were turned to ash. They were the most important part of the building:

The stones are going to turn into lime, and the water fired by the firefighters creates a second heat shock.

As for the fire detection and prevention systems in place:

The fire protection set up in the cathedral was at its highest level.

When I took care of the fire detection, which was very expensive, it took only a few minutes for a fire officer to resolve any doubt. We had many wooden doors replaced by fire doors [and] we limited all electrical appliances, which were forbidden in the attic.

He also told Batiactu:

In my 40 years of experience, I have never known a fire of this sort.

He also pointed out the slow burn of oak:

The fire could not start from a short circuit, from a simple incident. It takes a real heat load at the start to launch such a disaster. Oak is a particularly hard wood.

Different types of wood have different burning temperatures

On Thursday, April 25, RMC’s Les Grandes Gueules had a segment on their news and talk programme about the fire.

I was quite cross to hear that they thought a smouldering cigarette butt could have started the fire!

I have a plank of seasoned oak that I almost posted to them with a letter asking them to leave a lit cigarette on it to see if it would burn the wood. While there might be a burn mark left, the oak is highly unlikely to ignite!

South Yorkshire Firewood has a page on different types of wood and how they burn. The reason Benjamin Mouton brought up the maturity of the oak was that thick, 800-year-old oak planks would not burn very quickly at all.

South Yorkshire Firewood deals in firelogs. The company rightly points out that logs need to be ‘seasoned’ before burning. Afterwards, one generally wants a slow yet steady burn in the fireplace. Therefore, one needs kindling and one needs good wood. They explain:

Hardwoods are generally more dense than softwood and therefore burn for longer and produce more heat …

Despite providing a more efficient fuel source, hardwood can be difficult to ignite from cold. Softwood kindling is therefore best used to get a fire started, the resinous and fibrous nature of softwood helping it to burn from cold. Once a fire is established and there is some heat in the base of the fire, it should be fuelled with hardwood to maintain a slow burning fire with a good heat output.

Softwood can produce a very pleasing flame to look at but it will burn very quickly and you will get through a large volume of wood in a very short time.

As for oak:

The density of the wood also affects how long it needs to be seasoned for. Oak is a very dense wood and can take up to 2 years to season fully.

One of the best firewoods but needs a long seasoning period due to its density. Burns slowly and is long lasting. On smaller stoves it is best burnt in smaller pieces than other woods.

Now, I am not for one moment suggesting that someone put lit kindling on the cathedral’s oak beams, but if anyone thinks a lit cigarette caused this fire, they need to read up more on oak, particularly old oak!

Although Benjamin Mouton was not in a position to say so, there’s something mighty suspicious about this fire.

Tomorrow, I will report on what rebuilding Notre-Dame might mean and what such a reconstruction would entail.

Bible read me 1The three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

Acts 26:30-32

30 Then the king rose, and the governor and Bernice and those who were sitting with them. 31 And when they had withdrawn, they said to one another, “This man is doing nothing to deserve death or imprisonment.” 32 And Agrippa said to Festus, “This man could have been set free if he had not appealed (E)to Caesar.”

—————————————————————————————————–

Last week’s entry was about Paul’s earnest attempt to convert Herod Agrippa II, the last of the Herods.

The Roman governor Festus and Agrippa did not give Paul any more time to speak. Agrippa rose, then Festus, then Agrippa’s sister Bernice, then the other dignitaries gathered there (verse 30). Matthew Henry posits that Agrippa was close to conversion but, like Festus’s predecessor Felix, backed off. As with Felix, that was the last of the matter. Felix had visibly trembled. We don’t know what happened with Agrippa. He probably did not want to wrestle with a guilty conscience, either. More’s the pity.

Festus and Agrippa remarked on Paul’s innocence (verse 31).

Agrippa said that if Paul had not appealed to Rome for trial he would have been set free (verse 32).

However, one must ask whether Nero — ‘Caesar’ — even knew about Paul, his imprisonment or his innocence.

John MacArthur says that he probably did not know (emphases mine):

They could have let him go. There wasn’t any reason to appeal to Caesar now. There wasn’t any case. Caesar hadn’t heard a word about it. There hadn’t even been a letter written, but they hide behind the appeal of Paul. Oh, too bad. Boy, we could have let him go if he hadn’t appealed to Rome. Opportunistic fool, coward! How stupid. You see how a man – even though he has the gospel directed right at him – unless he activates his will, is lost? You say, “What – what hindered, what hindered Agrippa? What hindered Festus?” I mean he was innocent. Why would they – why would they push this case hiding behind this phony deal about he appealed to Rome.

Personally, I do not think either man cared about Paul. According to their reasoning, if he wanted to plead his case as a Roman citizen in Rome, that was his right. They probably thought he had been prisoner in Judea long enough and they wanted rid of him. In addition, the Jews had wanted to kill Paul for two years. He was likely seen as being too much trouble.

MacArthur thinks it was a question of the two rulers’ egos:

Because the most important thing to them was popularity, right? I’ll tell you what hindered them. One, popular, big egos. Two, immorality hindered Agrippa. He was a – he was absolutely vile, self-centeredness, unbelief, pride, ignorance, indifference, all the same old things that hinder other people.

He says that Paul was not bothered:

But you know something. It didn’t discourage Paul. He had some people who believed and some people who cursed him, but he didn’t change did he? When he got to Rome, remember what he did the first thing he got there? He started preaching Jesus again.

Matthew Henry’s commentary says that, at this point in history, the Romans had not yet begun putting Christians to death, therefore, Paul was innocent of any crime:

After this, Nero made a law for the putting of those to death who professed the Christian religion, but as yet there was no law of that kind among the Romans, and therefore no transgression; and this judgment of theirs is a testimony against that wicked law which Nero made not long after this, that Paul, the most active zealous Christian that ever was, was adjudged, even by those that were no friends to his way, to have done nothing worthy of death, or of bonds.

Contrary to MacArthur, Henry states that some historians believe that as soon as a prisoner appealed to Rome, he had to be sent there for trial, yet, Henry did not think this was relevant in Paul’s situation. Yet, he says that Agrippa and Festus likely used it as an excuse:

Some think that by the Roman law this was true, that, when a prisoner had appealed to the supreme court, the inferior courts could no more discharge him than they could condemn him; and we suppose the law was so, if the prosecutors joined issue upon the appeal, and consented to it. But it does not appear that in Paul’s case the prosecutors did so; he was forced to do it, to screen himself from their fury, when he saw the governor did not take the care he ought to have done for his protection. And therefore others think that Agrippa and Festus, being unwilling to disoblige the Jews by setting him at liberty, made this serve for an excuse of their continuing him in custody, when they themselves knew they might have justified the discharging of him.

Henry was clearly troubled by Paul’s request to be tried in Rome, wondering if it was a case of acting in haste and repenting at leisure. He offers this analysis:

And now I cannot tell, (1.) Whether Paul repented of his having appealed to Cæsar, and wished he had not done it, blaming himself for it as a rash thing, now he saw that was the only thing that hindered his discharge. He had reason perhaps to reflect upon it with regret, and to charge himself with imprudence and impatience in it, and some distrust of the divine protection. He had better have appealed to God than to Cæsar. It confirms what Solomon says (Ecclesiastes 6:12), Who knows what is good for man in this life? What we think is for our welfare often proves to be a trap; such short-sighted creatures are we, and so ill-advised in leaning, as we do, to our own understanding. Or, (2.) Whether, notwithstanding this, he was satisfied in what he had done, and was easy in his reflections upon it. His appealing to Cæsar was lawful, and what became a Roman citizen, and would help to make his cause considerable; and forasmuch as when he did it it appeared to him, as the case then stood, to be for the best, though afterwards it appeared otherwise, he did not vex himself with any self-reproach in the matter, but believed there was a providence in it, and it would issue well at last. And besides, he was told in a vision that he must bear witness to Christ at Rome, Acts 23:11. And it is all one to him whether he goes thither a prisoner or at his liberty; he knows the counsel of the Lord shall stand, and says, Let it stand. The will of the Lord be done.

Luke, the author of Acts, sailed with Paul to Rome. Acts 27 is all about that dramatic journey.

Next time — Acts 27:1-8

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