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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy have omitted — 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 15:1-5

The Jerusalem Council

15 But some men came down from Judea and were teaching the brothers, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.” And after Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and debate with them, Paul and Barnabas and some of the others were appointed to go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and the elders about this question. So, being sent on their way by the church, they passed through both Phoenicia and Samaria, describing in detail the conversion of the Gentiles, and brought great joy to all the brothers.[a] 4 When they came to Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the church and the apostles and the elders, and they declared all that God had done with them. But some believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees rose up and said, “It is necessary to circumcise them and to order them to keep the law of Moses.”

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Last week’s post was about Paul and Barnabas’s return to the church in Antioch — the one in Syria — on their return to Jerusalem.

This is an essential passage showing how close the Church came to splitting between Jewish and Gentile converts. As we see from the title, Acts 15 is all about the Jerusalem Council which prevented this split.

This is very important, especially for Christians who are enthralled by Hebraic Christianity.

First, a review of the reading, then an analysis to follow.

Some men had gone to Antioch from Judea to preach to the converted Gentiles that if they were not circumcised according to Mosaic law, they could not be saved (verse 1).

This, of course, was contrary to God’s will and to what Paul and Barnabas had preached in Antioch when they founded the church there. Consequently, Paul and Barnabas took against this false teaching, fiercely debating the issue with the false teachers. The church in Antioch appointed the two of them along with selected members of the church there to go to Jerusalem and sort the matter out once and for all (verse 2).

On their way, they visited the churches in Phoenicia and Samaria to tell the people of the many, many Gentiles who converted (verse 3), which made those listening very happy indeed.

When they reached Jerusalem, the church there formally greeted — ‘welcomed’ — them. Paul and Barnabas told how God worked through them to build strong churches in various faraway towns and cities, converting Gentiles as well as Jews (verse 4).

However, some Christians who were former Pharisees, objected saying that the Gentiles could not be saved unless they were circumcised (verse 5). The use of the word ‘party’ in that verse is the same as reference to a political party today. There are references to the ‘circumcision party’ in the New Testament. These are the same people. They are also referred to as Judaisers.

Judaisers believed that no Gentile man could truly become Christian without circumcision. Their reasoning was that, as the Messiah — Jesus — was promised to the Jews, every true Christian in their eyes had to follow Jewish law. Gentiles were not worthy, because they had not initially been included in the promise of a Messiah. Therefore, they had to follow Jewish law in order to be saved.

John MacArthur compares their false teaching to a house with an enclosed front porch (see no. 8). You can sit on the front porch all you like without ever being invited into the main house, where all the real activity takes place. The Judaizers were willing to welcome Gentiles to a certain extent, but they would have to stay on the front porch until they earned their way — via circumcision — into the inner sanctum, i.e. eternal salvation. Wrong.

There were some exceptions to this, but all had to do with either people who were part Jewish — the Samaritans — or Gentiles who had renounced paganism and worshipped with the Jews without getting circumcised, such as Cornelius and the Ethiopian eunuch.

Not surprisingly, the Gentile converts in Antioch, so happy that they, too, could be saved, were troubled by these false teachers from Judea. So were Paul and Barnabas.

MacArthur says that this was fracturing the church in Antioch, because the converted Jews would no longer eat with converted Gentiles or — worse — go to the Lord’s table with them. Even Peter fell for this when he went to Antioch. Paul was furious (emphases mine):

And you know a guy that you’d expect better out of really goofed up, and it’s Peter. In Galatians 2:11 Paul tells us what Peter did, Peter was at Antioch too, at the time that some of these people, whether the same group or not we don’t know, but some Judaizers showed up, of the circumcision party, that was the group that believed you had to get circumcised to get saved. “When Peter was come to Antioch,” verse 11 of Galatians 2, Paul said, “I withstood him to the face,” that must have been quite a confrontation, Peter was no slouch, “because he was to be blamed.”

There was also a political aspect here. Some of these Judaisers were Zealots, keen on overthrowing Roman rule by any means necessary. Some thought that by making Gentile Christian men get circumcised, they could increase their numbers in order to dominate Rome. Matthew Henry’s commentary posits that, if an insurrection were successful, some of those Zealots were quite willing to blame Gentiles, who would then have been imprisoned or killed:

But now that they hear the doctrine of Christ is received among the Gentiles, and his kingdom begins to be set up in the midst of them, if they can but persuade those that embrace Christ to embrace the law of Moses too they hope their point will be gained, the Jewish nation will be made as considerable as they can wish, though in another way; and “Therefore by all means let the brethren be pressed to be circumcised and keep the law, and then with our religion our dominion will be extended, and we shall in a little time be able to shake off the Roman yoke; and not only so, but to put it on the necks of our neighbours, and so shall have such a kingdom of the Messiah as we promised ourselves.”

John MacArthur says it is possible that the Judeans who were preaching falsely to the Gentiles might have been tailing Paul and Barnabas on their long journey, going to the churches after they left town:

… these guys may well have traversed the paths of Paul and Barnabas, if they did that they were pretty zealous, wouldn’t you say? If they went to all of that trouble? Transportation in those days being what it was, by foot, everywhere through the Taurus Mountains, the whole bit. If that did happen, and we can’t be dogmatic, but if it did they were zealous. Even their journey to Antioch alone gives some indication of their zeal. And along that line, I think they were probably, some of them at least sincere. Feeling that a whole lot of pagans who didn’t know anything about Judaism couldn’t jump in at the end of a process, they had to come the whole route, including Judaism and the law of Moses.

We find that, according to those in Jerusalem, not only was circumcision necessary, following Mosaic law was, too (verse 5).

MacArthur points out that this could have harmed the Church immeasurably, because there would have been a Jewish church and a Gentile church, which is not at all what God intends:

Now here you had a terrible, terrible potential disaster, because this was to impose legalism on the Gentiles, this could have been a…absolutely destructive, it could have created two churches, it could have created the Gentile church who would have maintained their salvation by grace, and the Jewish church maintaining their salvation by law, and you would have had two churches, the very thing our Lord prayed for that they may be what? One would have been violated from the very beginning. And so it became a crucial issue to deal with this.

MacArthur spends some time in his sermon explaining how St Paul had to tackle these same false teachings in his letters to the Galatians, warning against resubmitting to the yoke of bondage (Galatians 5:1) — ceremonial law. MacArthur has more on Paul — an ex-Pharisee himself — and Galatians:

In chapter 3 verse 11, just in case you didn’t get the message, he says, “But that no man is justified by the law in the sight of God, it is evident because,” even in Habakkuk, in the Old Testament it says, “The just shall live by,” what? by “faith. And the law is not of faith.”

You can’t mix the two. Over in chapter 5 verse 6, this is a clear statement, “For in Jesus Christ neither circumcision avails anything, nor uncircumcision, but,” what’s the next word? “Faith.” Now you see Paul in his own mind was clear on this issue, it wasn’t a problem for him.

Several years ago, when I first started my website, there was a book making the rounds on certain Protestant websites about living the ‘perfect’ life by following the Book of Leviticus. It was not written by a convert, but by a pastor who had always been in the Church. You can’t get saved by following the law. Divine grace is a free gift from God. Faith via grace saves us, not circumcision or, for the ladies, ritual baths. Nor do Mosaic dietary rules save. What did we see in Cornelius’s story? The Lord gave Peter a divine vision about food, before sending him off to preach to the Gentile, Cornelius.

In Galatians, Paul taught other lessons relating to Mosaic law. One was that we should not glorify in other people’s flesh, meaning that Judaisers were thrilled when a Gentile Christian began to follow the old law,. They were counting up the numbers of misled converts. The other lesson was that if the law supersedes Christ, then He died in vain:

In chapter 6 … “As many as desire to make a fair show in the flesh,” ha, they wanta show off their legalism, “they constrain you to be circumcised.” So he knew there were teachers doin’ this, “they make the issue in the flesh, they constrain you to be circumcised.” But look at 13, “For neither they themselves who are circumcised keep the law, but desire to have you circumcised, that they may glory in your flesh.” What does that mean?

That they made glory over the fact that you became a Jew. You see they have an exalted..’such an exalted view of Judaism, that the very fact that you had to become what they are to get saved, makes them think they’re somethin’. If everybody’s gotta come…become what I am to be saved, then I must really be somethin’. Paul says, “God forbid that I should glory in the flesh.” That’s what he means. I should glory only in what? “In the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, for in Christ Jesus (verse 15) neither circumcision avails anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature.” So law, legalism, ritual, ceremony, circumcision, the whole thing means nothing in salvation, absolutely nothing. Now in chapter 2 verse 21 of Galatians he kind of gives what might be a summary statement. “I do not make void the grace of God.” You know what happens if you add law to grace? You know what you do to grace? You make it void. “If righteousness came by the law, then Christ is dead in vain.”

MacArthur explains the essentials about grace and salvation:

If righteousness is ours through law, then we don’t need grace. In other words if I go in to the court and the judge says, you’re innocent, go free, I don’t need grace, right? I didn’t break the law. But if I go in to the court and the judge says, you’re guilty, go free, that’s grace. And every man is guilty. We’ve all broken the law, law can’t satisfy, we shattered the law, only grace. You can’t confuse law and grace, they don’t go together, if you add law to grace you don’t have grace. If you add grace to law for that matter you don’t have law. And so the Apostle Paul was clear, he just simply said there is no connection between the two. Nobody ever got saved by keeping the law all the law did was show you how bad you were, nobody ever was justified by the law, only by grace, and if ya try to mix the two you destroy grace. God wants to confirm every man a sinner and then give him grace.

In other words, there is no front porch — legalism — to salvation.

The story of the Jerusalem Council continues next week. Peter also makes a brief appearance.

Next time — Acts 15:6-11

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Bible boy_reading_bibleThe 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 have omitted — 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 14:24-28

Paul and Barnabas Return to Antioch in Syria

24 Then they passed through Pisidia and came to Pamphylia. 25 And when they had spoken the word in Perga, they went down to Attalia, 26 and from there they sailed to Antioch, where they had been commended to the grace of God for the work that they had fulfilled. 27 And when they arrived and gathered the church together, they declared all that God had done with them, and how he had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles. 28 And they remained no little time with the disciples.

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Last week’s post was about the stoning of Paul in Lystra, his genuinely miraculous recovery, his journey with Barnabas to Derbe — home of Timothy — then back to Lystra, Iconium and Antioch in Pisidia to appoint elders for each church and, with prayer and fasting, commend them to God.

All of this was in Pisidia, part of Anatolia — Asia Minor.

At this point, they were embarking on their lengthy return to Jerusalem, returning to other places where they had converted Gentiles and create a church body (rather than a building).

They left the region of Pisidia and travelled south to the coastal region of Pamphylia (verse 24). The main city was Perga, on the coast. This was a return trip. Paul and Barnabas established a church there (Acts 13:13-14a). They returned to preach the word once more (verse 25). Matthew Henry explains they wanted to make more converts:

making a second offer, to see if they were now better disposed than they were before to receive the gospel. What success they had there we are not told …

From Perga, they travelled to Attalia (present day Antalya). The Church is still alive and well, even though this is part of Turkey:

Some of the bishops attributed to the episcopal see of Attalea in Pamphylia may instead have been bishops of Attalea in Lydia (Yanantepe), since Lequien lists them under both sees.[11][12] No longer a residential bishopric, Attalea in Pamphylia is today listed by the Catholic Church as a titular see.[13]

Then Paul and Barnabas crossed the Mediterranean Sea to return to Antioch (verse 26), the Syrian city where Barnabas had established a church which grew to such an extent that he asked for Paul’s help (Acts 11). They found a thriving church:

where they had been commended to the grace of God for the work that they had fulfilled.

What a beautiful way St Luke, the author of Acts, had with words.

In Antioch (Syria), Paul and Barnabas shared the grace and Spirit-filled story of their journeys, the conversions, the persecution and the new churches. Particularly important was the opening of the Church to Gentiles (verse 27). No doubt, there was also a lot of preaching and prayer. We do not know how many of the congregation they met with. Henry has several possibilities:

It is probable that there were more Christians at Antioch than ordinarily met, or could meet, in one place, but on this occasion they called together the leading men of them; as the heads of the tribes are often called the congregation of Israel, so the ministers and principal members of the church at Antioch are called the church. Or perhaps as many of the people as the place would hold came together on this occasion. Or some met at one time, or in one place, and others at another.

John MacArthur has an interesting take, reminding us that our two preachers would have given God every glory and thanks for those churches:

Can you imagine when they hustled up the hills and arrived at Antioch and nobody had heard from them for a year and a half to two years? These are the two most beloved people in the church and they arrived and they probably looked emaciated and scrawny and scarred all up from beatings with rods and whips and stone. I mean they were a mess, and they arrived and what a joyous time. Can you imagine what a joyous time? You probably say, “I bet they had a testimonial banquet. Probably gave them a little plaque that said, ‘For successful missionary effort above and beyond the call of duty, Paul and Barnabas.” No such thing. Verse 27, “When they come and gathered the church together they reviewed all that they had done.” Is that what it says? Oh, it doesn’t say that. All that God had done with them. You know what they saw themselves as? Tools. God was the master carpenter.

Paul and Barnabas stayed with their disciples — and friends — some time in Antioch. Henry posits that this was:

longer than perhaps at first they intended, not because they feared their enemies, but because they loved their friends, and were loth to part from them.

That gives me the impression that they met as many church members and new converts as they could during that time. What a blessing that must have been for everyone.

MacArthur concludes:

If I came to the end of my life and if God said to me, “John, anything You want me to say I’d like to say” you know what I’d like Him to say? “John, you did it. I gave it to you to do and you did it.” That’s what I want here. Well – what? Done. I mean I want to do it. I like that. Paul came to the end of his life and says, “I’m ready to die. I did it. Finished the course, fought the good fight, kept the faith. Okay, Lord. I’m ready. I did it.”

Boy, I’ll tell ya, if we all did it what would be done? Do it, will ya? Whatever it is God is calling you to do, do it. You’ve got to have these characteristics – know your gifts, be bold, divine power, humility, persistence, follow-up, commitment, and give Him all the glory and do it.

Next time: Acts 15:1-5

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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy have omitted — 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 14:19-23

Paul Stoned at Lystra

19 But Jews came from Antioch and Iconium, and having persuaded the crowds, they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing that he was dead. 20 But when the disciples gathered about him, he rose up and entered the city, and on the next day he went on with Barnabas to Derbe. 21 When they had preached the gospel to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch, 22 strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God. 23 And when they had appointed elders for them in every church, with prayer and fasting they committed them to the Lord in whom they had believed.

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My last post on Acts, three weeks ago, was about Paul and Barnabas’s ministry in Iconium, which turned divisive, with the Jews trying to poison the Gentiles’ minds against the two preachers. Once they learned of a plot to assault and stone them, Paul and Barnabas left for Lystra.

In Lystra, also discussed in my post, the crowd listening to them nearly worshipped them as gods — Zeus (Paul) and Hermes (Barnabas) — and nearly offered them sacrifices. Paul and Barnabas had a most difficult time trying to convince the people that their blessings came from God, not false deities.

However, the Jews in Iconium were still furious with Paul and Barnabas. Jews from Antioch in Pisidia were equally enraged. Groups from both places — in Asia Minor (Anatolia), by the way — went to Lystra to stir the crowd up against the two men. They stoned Paul, because Barnabas was less of a threat, and ‘supposing’ he was dead, dragged him out of the city (verse 19).

John MacArthur tells us a bit about the author of Acts — St Luke’s — use of the Greek word for ‘supposing’ (emphases mine):

Now the word “supposing” is the word “namidsoe”. Now this word is an interesting word. It has two meanings. The first meaning is to have a custom, like it was a custom to do this or it was a custom to do that, but the second meaning is to suppose something. It is very obvious when it is used to mean accustom and when it is used to mean supposing. It is obvious from the context of any passage where it appears. Now it is used to mean supposing many times in the New Testament. Far and away the vast majority of those times – get this – it means to suppose something that is not true. Got that one? That’s the key to the interpretation. Far and away, in fact I think only two or three times, it is used otherwise. It is used far and away to mean to suppose wrongly and that is its use in the Book of Acts.

What happened to Paul in Lystra is interesting for two reasons.

First, it partially parallels what happened to Stephen, the first martyr, at the end of Acts 7. The Jews were so outraged at his apologetic for Jesus that they stoned him. They took him out of the city first, whereas they stoned Paul within the city limits then removed him.

Secondly, who was behind Stephen’s stoning? Saul of Tarsus — this same Paul who was stoned. Then, Saul had his Damascene conversion (Acts 9), discussed here, here and here. After Saul had been blind for three days, the Lord appeared to someone who did not know him, a Christian Damascene by the name of Ananias. The Lord told Ananias where to find Saul and to lay hands on him so that he would regain his sight. Ananias knew that Saul was a chief persecutor of Christians and he told the Lord of Saul’s fearsome reputation:

15 But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. 16 For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.”

Now Paul had experienced what Stephen went through, albeit not fatally.

Another aspect of this stoning shows how fickle people can be. A short time before, they called Paul Zeus and wanted to worship him. Matthew Henry’s commentary puts it this way:

they were irritated to such a degree that the mob rose and stoned Paul, not by a judicial sentence, but in a popular tumult; they threw stones at him, with which they knocked him down, and then drew him out of the city, as one not fit to live in it, or drew him out upon a sledge or in a cart, to bury him, supposing he had been dead. So strong is the bias of the corrupt and carnal heart to that which is evil, even in contrary extremes, that, as it is with great difficulty that men are restrained from evil on one side, so it is with great ease that they are persuaded to evil on the other side. See how fickle and mutable the minds of carnal worldly people are, that do not know and consider things. Those that but the other day would have treated the apostles as more than men now treat them as worse than brutes, as the worst of men, as the worst of male-factors. To-day Hosanna, to-morrow Crucify; to-day sacrificed to, to-morrow sacrificed … Popular breath turns like the wind. If Paul would have been Mercury, he might have been enthroned, nay, he might have been enshrined; but, if he will be a faithful minister of Christ, he shall be stoned, and thrown out of the city. Thus those who easily submit to strong delusions hate to receive the truth in the love of it.

Some disciples — converts — followed the men taking Paul out of the city. Paul stood up (verse 20). They all re-entered Lystra. The next day, he and Barnabas went on to the nearby town of Derbe.

That Paul stood up and continued as normal demonstrates that a restorative — healing — miracle had taken place. Henry tells us (addition of a definition mine):

Though he was not dead, yet he was ill crushed and bruised, no doubt, and fainted away; he was in a deliquium, so that it was not without a miracle that he came so soon to himself, and was so well as to be able to go into the city. Note, God’s faithful servants, though they may be brought within a step of death, and may be looked upon as dead both by friends and enemies, shall not die as long as he has work for them to do. They are cast down, but not destroyed, 2 Corinthians 4:9.

MacArthur says that we can be sure that Paul had not died, that he was instead, as Henry describes, seriously injured:

the Holy Spirit is not in the business of minimizing resurrections. If this was a resurrection of the Apostle Paul I think you would have a lot more said about it that is said there, especially in the Book of Acts. The Book of Acts is dominated by a careful explanation of miracle after miracle after miracle. For the Holy Spirit to do a miracle like that and not make it clear means that the very purpose of the miracle is disallowed. What is a miracle for? A sign that points to the truth, but the sign there is so small you can’t even read it, and the Holy Spirit is in the business of making billboards. If this was a resurrection of Paul you’d have a lot more information about it than just there, and Luke is in the business of making clear cut, precise statements about miracles.

Derbe appears to be a footnote. Luke did not write much about it other than to say that Paul and Barnabas preached the Good News and made many disciples (verse 21). Paul did not write about Derbe, either.

Henry has an interesting detail about Derbe:

And it should seem that Timothy was of that city, and was one of the disciples that now attended Paul, had met him at Antioch and accompanied him in all this circuit; for, with reference to this story, Paul tells him how fully he had known the afflictions he endured at Antioch, Iconium, and Lystra, 2 Timothy 3:10,11. Nothing is recorded that happened at Derbe.

Derbe was also their final destination. After facing all the physical and mental persecution, they retraced their steps back to Lystra, Iconium and Antioch!

How dangerous was that? Most people would have said, ‘We don’t want to get killed. We went, we made disciples. They’ll be okay.’

MacArthur explains the determination of these men:

They went all the way back. Why? Because the Great Commission is not to make people Christians, it’s to make them what? Disciples. So it was dangerous to return. I mean they’d been kicked out of every town they’ve been in and it was taking their life in their hands but they believed so much in follow-up that they took their life in their hands.

They went back to the town where they’d been stoned, they went back to the towns where they’d been thrown out and their lives had been threatened. They went back fearlessly because they believed in follow-up. Sure it was dangerous. It was dangerous to go back but it was more dangerous for those new babes not to have meat and milk so they went back. I love that verse 21 ’cause that teaches follow-up. Don’t ever lead anybody to Jesus Christ that you’re not willing to nurture.

Verse 22 lists what follow-up entails: strengthening the disciples, encouraging their faith and telling them of the trials and tribulations of believing in Jesus Christ. (There is one final step in verse 23: organisation of the local church.)

The Cross offends. Even Baby Jesus offends! Everything about Christ offends those hostile to His everlasting Light.

Taking the follow-up steps one-by-one, strengthening — in some translations, ‘confirming’. MacArthur explains the Greek word for ‘confirming’:

Now the word “confirming” comes from a Greek word that really is made up of two wordsIt’s made of “epi” which means a pawn and “sterics” which means a prop or a support, and when they went back they went back to prop up the disciples.

You know a new babe can’t stand up, right? It’s like a new little baby. They just flop and lie there, and when you start to teach them to walk you’ve got to lift them and prop them up and hold their little arms and wiggle them around and get them to kind of get the feel of what it’s all about and away it goes after a while but that’s exactly the way it is as a Christian. You’ve got a baby and the baby is gonna have to be propped up. This word … is used four times in the Book of Acts to talk about propping up new believers. Acts 15:32, 15:41 and 18:23 in here, and it talks about each case of propping up the new believers. So they went back to prop them up. Literally it means to strengthen them, to help them to stand on their own, to be strong, and that’s the goal for every Christian minister, isn’t it?

The props — support — entailed:

Teaching doctrine, teaching principles, giving them props. That’s basic.

The next step is to encourage the new disciples in their faith. This is where exhortation — encouragement (not criticism) — comes in:

Now you can give them the doctrine but you don’t stop there, right? You don’t say, “Well we’ve had our doctrine for this morning. Goodbye.” You say, “What are you going to do about it?” And then you whammo and you get in there with the charge and all that, and that’s what’s in verse 22, “Confirming the souls of the disciples and then exhorting them.”

You know what exhorting means? It means to push a person toward a certain kind of conduct. It means to say, “Now here are the facts. Now go do it!”

That sounds a bit abrupt, but MacArthur reminds us that Paul was kind and patient:

Listen to what Paul says, 1 Thessalonians 2, “We were gentle among you.” That’s a good thing to remember in your exhortation. You don’t want to be like a bull in a china closet. “Gentle as a nursing mother and we being affectionately desirous of you we were willing to impart unto you not the Gospel of God only but our own souls.” We just gave ourselves. That’s part of it, isn’t it? Follow-up, giving yourself. Verse 9 he says, “We labored and travailed, laboring night and day” and the idea here is a painful work, just excruciating, agonizing in follow-up, and verse 11, “As you know how we exhorted and encouraged and charged every one of you as a father does his children that you should walk worthy.” That’s not teaching; that’s exhortation. Exhortation is teaching’s companion. Here’s the doctrine, now go do it! That’s exhortation. Exhortation is important, isn’t it?

The final point is setting the expectation for trial and tribulation. Think of what happened to the preachers in Acts. When they did not die or were stoned and otherwise persecuted, Satan was there with sorcerers to fill in the gaps. Imagine these converts witnessing the events that took place in their respective towns and cities. They must have been verbally and physically abused, too. Belief in Christ is costly.

MacArthur says:

In fact, Jude said, “You’re really gonna have to earnestly contend for the faith. Fight for it.” New babes, Satan tries to rip it away. The second thing he says, not only exhorting them but continue in the faith, this is beautiful, “We must through much tribulation enter the Kingdom of God.” A guy is going along in a pretty happy go lucky life, just winging it. All of a sudden he gets saved and he realizes he’s in a war. He’s saved, he’s come to Christ, there’s peace and joy, blessedness, and the guy gets saved and wham, smash, bam. I mean Satan belts him from every angle and problems that he can’t even believe and all kinds of things begin to trouble him and the guy doesn’t know what’s going on so immediately when dealing with a new Christian you must exhort him to anticipate … tribulation, trouble.

Get ready, my friend. You got saved, Satan’s coming, and he’s gonna unload, and I don’t think we’re fair with a new believer unless we tell him that. They need to be exhorted about the fact that tribulation is part of it. All that live Godly are gonna be suffering persecution and you’re gonna contend for the faith. You’re gonna fight for it

The whole system is against the Kingdom of God and when you enter the Kingdom you are one of the enemy of Satan and his hosts, and so people need to be exhorted to hang on and continue in the faith. From God’s standpoint salvation is secured eternally by sovereignty. From the human’s viewpoint it is secured visibly by continuance and so he says, “Get ready for trouble. It’s gonna come.” But I’ll tell you something, and I’ve said it before, if you don’t have trouble you don’t have victory, right? And who wants to live a life where there’s no victory? What a dull life. You say, “Yeah but there’s no battles.” That’s dull. I mean everybody wants to win. There’s got to be a contest if there’s gonna be a winner.

After the completion of these three steps — strengthening, encouragement and setting expectations for trouble — one more remains: organising the local church (verse 23). Paul and Barnabas appointed elders — senior leaders. MacArthur explains:

Organization. Now notice the interesting thing here, the ordained elders. Now elders are to rule in the church. Often the question is, “What kind of church government do you believe in? I believe in the kind of church government where the elders rule the church. You say, “Well does that mean that they just dictate?” No it doesn’t. It means they’re sensitive to the people and answerable to God.

Other translations of ‘appointed’ include ‘ordained’, which is a more straightforward verb. Paul and Barnabas ordained the elders. MacArthur gives us the ancient Greek ritual of ordination, which involved a consensus of raised hands among the congregation:

“ordained”, very interesting word in the Greek.

The term originally meant, “to select by a vote of raised hands.” Now people have always said, well, should a church vote on its leaders? The word progressed from that meaning and by the time Paul wrote this it meant simply to appoint or choose but it had a lingering significance of the raised hand idea, and incidentally it is used one other place in 2 Corinthians 8:19 and there it definitely does mean the idea of a congregation selecting. So the word means “to choose then with approval of the people by raised hands.” You know that’s probably how they did it.

It is likely that Paul and Barnabas chose the nominees, and the congregation voted with raised hands.

The second part of verse 23 is profound. Paul and Barnabas prayed and fasted after ordaining the elders. Henry says:

It is good to join fasting with prayer, in token of our humiliation for sin, and in order to add vigour to our prayers.

MacArthur says:

Boy, that’s a serious business, you know? Remember what Josiah said? “Like people, like priest. Nobody ever goes higher than its leadership” so they prayed with fasting, concentrated prayer, and I think people when you talk about fasting that’s where fasting really becomes what I think God intended it to be when you’re so lost in prayer over some spiritual battle or some spiritual issue that food becomes insignificant, and they poured out their hearts before God in prayer because they knew they had a critical decision in every town they went to. If they chose wrong leadership Satan could destroy what they had begun. Prayer and fasting.

Finally, Paul and Barnabas committed the elders to the Lord. Henry has a succinct, beautiful explanation of this:

When we are parting with our friends, the best farewell is to commend them to the Lord, and to leave them with him.

MacArthur tells us that Paul and Barnabas had done all they could humanly do:

You know I’ve spent myself on some people and I get down to the last and I say, “God, I’ve done everything I can do.” I’m giving this one over to the head of the church, Jesus Himself. You have to do that, don’t you? … I’m glad that that’s the final knot on the string of follow-up, aren’t you, that it’s God’s?

He tells us what Paul and Barnabas did next:

You say boy, they must’ve been tired. Tired? How about bruised? How about weary? How about overdone physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually? How about wiped out? I mean they had had it. It’s just unbelievable what they had gone through, and this had been going on for at least a year and a half untiringly. Now they’re going back home. They finished. They’re going home. Gonna have to cross the Taurus Mountains again with all the robbers and all that stuff and fast rivers. Oh, brother.

Their story continues next week.

Next time — Acts 14:24-28

Epiphany Magi salesianity_blogspot_comEpiphany is on January 6, also known as Twelfth Night.

Before discussing the Old Testament reading for this day, I have a number of posts about Epiphany:

A Lutheran pastor reflects on the Epiphany

More Lutheran reflections on the Epiphany

Remembering the Epiphany in chalk

The Epiphany and the Bible

Why the Epiphany is so important — a Lutheran perspective

A Lutheran perspective on the Magi

Jesuit astronomer discusses the Star of Bethlehem (2016)

What to remember about Epiphany (2016)

Epiphany and king cake — a history

The three-year Lectionary Epistle reading is Ephesians 3:1-12. and the Gospel reading is Matthew 2:1-12.

The Old Testament reading is as follows:

Isaiah 60:1-6

60:1 Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you.

60:2 For darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the LORD will arise upon you, and his glory will appear over you.

60:3 Nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn.

60:4 Lift up your eyes and look around; they all gather together, they come to you; your sons shall come from far away, and your daughters shall be carried on their nurses’ arms.

60:5 Then you shall see and be radiant; your heart shall thrill and rejoice, because the abundance of the sea shall be brought to you, the wealth of the nations shall come to you.

60:6 A multitude of camels shall cover you, the young camels of Midian and Ephah; all those from Sheba shall come. They shall bring gold and frankincense, and shall proclaim the praise of the LORD.

Note the last verse!

Commentary for these verses comes from Matthew Henry.

Whilst we can read this as strictly a history of the Jews coming out of captivity, this is also a prophecy of God’s covenant with the Church (emphases mine):

The long continuance of the church, even unto the utmost ages of time, was there promised, and here the large extent of the church, even unto the utmost regions of the earth and both these tend to the honour of the Redeemer. It is here promised, I. That the church shall be enlightened and shone upon, Isaiah 60:1,2. II. That it shall be enlarged and great additions made to it, to join in the service of God, Isaiah 60:3-8. III. That the new converts shall be greatly serviceable to the church and to the interests of it, Isaiah 60:9-13. IV. That the church shall be in great honour and reputation among men, Isaiah 60:14-16. V. That it shall enjoy a profound peace and tranquility, Isaiah 60:17,18. VI. That, the members of it being all righteous, the glory and joy of it shall be everlasting, Isaiah 60:19-22.

The Jews had divinely-given light bestowed on them when they were no longer captive. The Lord’s blessings truly bestowed on them, it was time for them to arise, shine and reflect that light to others (verse 1).

God is Light. Jesus is Light. There is no better light:

As far as we have the knowledge of God in us, and the favour of God towards us, our light has come. When God appears to us, and we have the comfort of his favour, then the glory of the Lord rises upon us as the morning light when he appears for us, and we have the credit of his favour, when he shows us some token for good and proclaims his favour to us, then his glory is seen upon us, as it was upon Israel in the pillar of cloud and fire. When Christ arose as the sun of righteousness, and in him the day-spring from on high visited us, then the glory of the Lord was seen upon us, the glory as of the first-begotten of the Father.

Also:

What is the duty which the rising of this light calls for: “Arise, shine not only receive this light, and” (as the margin reads it) “be enlightened by it, but reflect this light arise and shine with rays borrowed from it.” The children of light ought to shine as lights in the world. If God’s glory be seen upon us to our honour, we ought not only with our lips, but in our lives, to return the praise of it to his honour, Matthew 5:16; Philippians 2:15.

Even though darkness — extreme darkness — will cover the rest of the earth, God’s glory will rise and appear over His people, protecting them (verse 2):

What a foil there shall be to this light: Darkness shall cover the earth but, though it be gross darkness, darkness that might be felt, like that of Egypt, that shall overspread the people, yet the church, like Goshen, shall have light at the same time. When the case of the nations that have not the gospel shall be very melancholy, those dark corners of the earth being full of the habitations of cruelty to poor souls, the state of the church shall be very pleasant.

Nations and kings will be drawn to the light of God’s people (verse 3). Henry points out that this did not happen to the Jews, therefore, this prophecy was meant for the Church. As such, there is no one place that this will occur. Rather, people will be drawn to the light as Christians exhibit it:

There is no place now that is the centre of the church’s unity but the promise respects their flocking to Christ, and coming by faith, and hope, and holy love, into that society which is incorporated by the charter of his gospel, and of the unity of which he only is the centre–that family which is named from him, Ephesians 3:15. The gospel church is expressly called Zion and Jerusalem, and under that notion all believers are said to come to it (Hebrews 12:22. You have come unto Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem), which serves for a key to this prophecy, Ephesians 2:19.

We have been reading in Acts about the purity of the early Church, despite rogue members, sorcerers and persecution. Thanks to that purity — that light — the Church expanded enormously in Gentile lands. That is what Isaiah prophesied:

The purity and love of the primitive Christians, their heavenly-mindedness, contempt of the world, and patient sufferings, were the brightness of the church’s rising, which drew many into it. The beauty of holiness was the powerful attractive by which Christ had a willing people brought to him in the day of his power, Psalm 110:3 …

Lift up thy eyes round about, and see them coming, devout men out of every nation under heaven, Acts 2:5.

Many will flock to join Christ’s followers, wanting to be part of their light (verse 4). And so it happened in Acts. The powerful, accurate — and doctrinal — teaching of Peter, Paul, Barnabas and the local leaders of the various churches they established drew thousands of followers. The reference to nursing refers to the yearning to be taught and fed the Gospel, as a nurse takes care of her young charges:

There shall come some of both sexes. Sons and daughters shall come in the most dutiful manner, as thy sons and thy daughters, resolved to be of thy family, to submit to the laws of thy family and put themselves under the tuition of it. They shall come to be nursed at thy side, to have their education with thee from their cradle.” The church’s children must be nursed at her side, not sent out to be nursed among strangers there, where alone the unadulterated milk of the word is to be had, must the church’s new-born babes be nursed, that they may grow thereby, 1 Peter 2:1,2. Those that would enjoy the dignities and privileges of Christ’s family must submit to the discipline of it.

Great things will happen as the Church expands and her people turn from worldly ways to abundant charity (verse 5):

Those that are brought into the church by the grace of God will be sure to bring all they are worth in with them, which with themselves they will devote to the honour and service of God and do good with in their places. (1.) The merchants shall write holiness to the Lord upon their merchandise and their hire, as Isaiah 23:18. “The abundance of the sea, either the wealth that is fetched out of the sea (the fish, the pearls) or that which is imported by sea, shall all be converted to thee and to thy use.” The wealth of the rich merchants shall be laid out in works of piety and charity. (2.) The mighty men of the nations shall employ their might in the service of the church: “The forces, or troops, of the Gentiles shall come unto thee, to guard thy coasts, strengthen thy interests, and, if occasion be, to fight thy battles.” The forces of the Gentiles had often been against the church, but now they shall be for it for as God, when he pleases, can, and, when we please him, will, make even our enemies to be at peace with us (Proverbs 16:7), so, when Christ overcomes the strong man armed, he divides his spoils, and makes that to serve his interests which had been used against them, Luke 11:22.

Verse 6 is in part a prophecy of the Magi, who travelled for many months to reach the Christ Child. As Gentiles, they knew nothing of God the Father, but they knew that a special birth had taken place and they followed the star to the right place. They paid homage to Him with gold, frankincense and myrrh.

As we know from the New Testament, countless Gentiles came to know God through learning of Jesus Christ. They gave offerings of goods and personal belongings to glorify the Lord by giving to His people in the Church.

Contrast that with today’s churches. Some are full. Most are not. Yes, people convert every day to Christianity, but more stay away. It is because many denominations have renounced purity or put it to one side, preferring to meet the world on earthly terms. Where a strong background in doctrine via the Bible is lacking, there is little hope. Let us pray that this situation begins to reverse itself.

We’re still in Christmastide (through January 6, Twelfth Night), so I am continuing — and concluding — a short series on Americans’ views of Christmas.

On Monday, I explained that there really is a war on Christmas: Jesus offends.

On Tuesday, I recapped Pew Research’s ‘5 facts’ about Christmas in the United States. That was the big picture.

Now we drill down into Pew Research Center’s detail, published on December 12, 2017: ‘Americans Say Religious Aspects of Christmas Are Declining in Public Life’.

In short, the people conducting the war on Christmas are winning. And, yes, there is a war on Christmas.

A summary with excerpts from Pew follow. Emphases mine below, unless noted otherwise.

The numbers of Americans celebrating Christmas are still over 90% per cent, however, less than half of those celebrating now consider December 25 as primarily a religious holiday:

Currently, 55% of U.S. adults say they celebrate Christmas as a religious holiday, including 46% who see it as more of a religious holiday than a cultural holiday and 9% who celebrate Christmas as both a religious and a cultural occasion. In 2013, 59% of Americans said they celebrated Christmas as a religious holiday, including 51% who saw it as more religious than cultural and 7% who marked the day as both a religious and a cultural holiday.

Americans are not bothered too much about the declining emphasis on the religious aspects of Christmas. Some of those polled perceived a de-emphasis; others did not:

Overall, 31% of adults say they are bothered at least “some” by the declining emphasis on religion in the way the U.S. commemorates Christmas, including 18% who say they are bothered “a lot” by this. But the remaining two-thirds of the U.S. public either is not bothered by a perceived decline in religion in Christmas or does not believe that the emphasis on the religious elements of Christmas is waning.

There is also a political party split on those perceptions:

A higher share of Republicans than Democrats express the view that the religious aspects of Christmas are emphasized less now than in the past (68% vs. 50%). And the partisan gap is even bigger when it comes to whether this perceived trend is seen as negative. Fully half of Republicans and those who lean toward the GOP say they are bothered “a lot” (32%) or “some” (20%) by a declining emphasis on the religious aspects of Christmas. Among Democrats, just one-in-five say they are bothered “a lot” (10%) or “some” (11%) by these changes.

There was also a political divide between the two parties’ adherents and church attendance at Christmas:

Nearly two-thirds of Republicans and those who lean toward the GOP say they will attend church on Christmas (65%). Among Democrats, 45% plan on attending religious services this year.

There was a slight religious split — between Protestant Evangelicals and other denominations — with regard to the seasonal greetings ‘Merry Christmas’ and ‘Happy Holidays’:

Most white evangelical Protestants say they prefer for stores and other businesses to greet their customers by saying “merry Christmas” during the holidays. But evangelicals are somewhat less likely to express this view today (61%) compared with 2012 (70%).

Within every other major Christian tradition, there are at least as many people who say the holiday greetings used by stores and businesses don’t matter to them as there are who say they prefer “merry Christmas.”

As for the biblical narrative, Pew asked their subjects about belief in four biblical Christmas details: the Virgin Birth, Jesus in a manger, the angel announcing His birth to shepherds and the arrival of the Magi. All results below are comparisons between 2014 and 2017. All show a decline.

Those who believe in the Virgin Birth have declined by seven per cent: 73% to 66%.

Those who believe that the Christ Child lay in a manger declined by six per cent: 81% to 75%.

Those who believe that the angel announced His birth to shepherds declined by seven per cent: 74% to 67%.

Those who believe the Magi visited Jesus declined by seven per cent: 75% to 68%.

The number who believe all four events took place dropped eight per cent: 65% to 57%.

Worryingly, fewer Christians believe these events took place:

Overall, the share of Christians who believe in all four of these elements of the Christmas story has dipped from 81% in 2014 to 76% today. This decline has been particularly pronounced among white mainline Protestants (see below for details).

The survey report did not say why, but the decline could be due in part to churches’ de-emphasis on the Bible in general. Many denominations are now social justice centres, nothing more.

The decline in three years’ time was most marked among Millennials, adults born after 1980. These are all big drops:

Millennials’ belief in the Virgin Birth fell from 67% to 55% — 12 points.

Their belief that Baby Jesus lay in a manger fell from 78% to 65% — 12 points.

Their belief that an angel announced His birth to shepherds fell from 68% to 54% — 14 points.

Their belief that the Magi visited Jesus fell from 75% to 57% — 15 points.

The percentage of Millennials believing all four events took place fell from 59% to 44% — 15 points.

WHY?

This generation is now raising children. What are these parents telling their offspring about Christ’s birth?

Something is very wrong with the Christmas picture in the United States.

End of series

As I mentioned yesterday, slowly but surely, the war on Christmas is making more incursions in the United States.

Pew Research findings prove it.

A December 18, 2017 Pew Research Fact Tank article, ‘5 facts about Christmas in America’, shows that little by little, year after year, secularist thought is turning the tide.

A summary with excerpts follows. Bold emphases in the original, those in purple mine.

The first fact states that, although 90% of Americans and 95% of Christians celebrate Christmas — holding steady over recent years:

the role of religion in Christmas celebrations appears to be declining. Today, 46% of Americans say they celebrate Christmas as primarily a religious (rather than cultural) holiday, down from 51% who said this in 2013, with Millennials less likely than other adults to say they celebrate Christmas in a religious way. A majority of U.S. adults (56%) also say religious aspects of Christmas are emphasized less in American society today than in the past, though relatively few are bothered by this trend.

Wow! So now, only 46% of Americans celebrate Christmas as primarily a religious holiday.

And over half don’t care if the religious aspect is de-emphasised, which, as Americans told Pew, is happening.

The second fact concerns the greetings ‘Merry Christmas’ and ‘Happy Holidays’:

 About half of Americans (52%) now say it doesn’t matter how stores greet their customers over the holidays, up from 46% in 2012. About a third (32%) choose “merry Christmas” – down considerably from the 42% who said this five years ago. Republicans are much more likely than Democrats to say they prefer “merry Christmas.”

The preference for ‘Merry Christmas’ dropped by ten per cent in only five years’ time! It’s now under one third.

Also, why is it not surprising that more Republicans than Democrats prefer ‘Merry Christmas’?

The third fact concerns public Nativity displays on government property:

A growing share says religious displays should not be allowed on government property under any circumstances (26%, up from 20% three years ago). At the same time, a declining share say Christian symbols should be allowed on government property even if they are unaccompanied by symbols from other religions (37% today, down from 44% in 2014). Roughly three-in-ten (29%) say these displays should be allowed only if they are accompanied by other religious symbols like Hanukkah candles, a share that has held relatively steady in recent years.

In 2014, 20% believed there should be no religious displays on government property. In just three years, that percentage has grown by six points.

Furthermore, the number those who support Christian symbols on government property at Christmas has decreased by seven per cent in the same time period.

That is a lot in such a short space of time.

The fourth fact is not a survey piece as such but relates to Christmas displays on public property and how successful they are in going unchallenged:

In the 1980s, the Supreme Court handed down two landmark rulings that allow for displays of Christmas crèches, Hanukkah menorah and other religious holiday symbols on public property so long as they do not actively endorse or promote a particular religion or religion in generalIn practice, religious symbols that are a part of larger secular holiday display (containing, say, Christmas trees, Santa Claus and reindeer) have had a much better chance of surviving a court challenge than those displays that are solely or more overtly religious.

The fifth fact relates to Americans’ belief in the biblical Christmas story between 2014 and 2017:

Two-thirds (66%) say Jesus was born to a virgin, compared with 73% who said this in 2014; 75% believe he was laid in a manger, down from 81%. Similarly, the shares who say they believe that wise men, guided by a star, brought Jesus gifts — and that an angel appeared to shepherds to announce the birth of Jesus — also have declined. A slim majority of U.S. adults (57%) believe that all four of these things actually happened, down from 65% three years ago. Belief in these events has declined not only among people with no religious affiliation, but among Christians as well. Overall, about one-in-five Americans (19%) now say none of these things actually happened.

Ding! Ding! Ding! An increasing number of Christians no longer believe the events of Christmas and Epiphany took place.

How sad is that?

Also, in 2014, just under two-thirds of Americans believed all four events took place. That percentage has dropped eight points since then to an anaemic 57%.

Again, this has happened in only three years’ time.

Good grief.

What will the results be in 2020? I shudder to think.

Don’t let anyone tell you there is no war on Christmas. There is, and the anti-Christmas people are winning, bit by bit, year by year.

Another Pew survey follows tomorrow.

As we are still in Christmastide (through January 6, Twelfth Night), my next two posts will address the war on Christmas as seen in the United States.

Secularists and leftists laugh at this notion, but it does exist.

On December 22, 2017, Fox Radio host Todd Starnes had a poignant news story about a Christian couple, Mark and Lynn Wivell, of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.

Among the Wivells’ outdoor Christmas decorations was a beautiful display that read ‘JESUS’.

Todd Starnes tells us:

A few days later they received an email from the homeowner’s association asking them to remove the sign. One of their neighbors had complained that the “JESUS” display was offensive.

“We know that Christmas was about the birth of Jesus,” Mr. Wivell told the Evening Sun newspaper. “I was quite shocked it offended somebody, but I guess in today’s world I shouldn’t have been.”

The homeowner’s association came up with a brilliant wheeze to get the Wivells to take the sign down:

They argued that the “JESUS” display was a sign – and signs are not permitted.

The Wivells were unmoved and kept the display up. Good! I hope they had a happy and blessed Christmas.

Starnes then discussed the war on Christmas:

Over the past few months we’ve heard the Mainstream Media tell us that Christmas is really not a big deal. They’ve tried to discount the meaning of the holiday.

Public colleges and universities have demanded that Christmas be an all-inclusive holiday — and it should be celebrated without religious references or traditions.

Even some government leaders have tried to erase Christmas from the public marketplace — fearing that people might be offended by the true meaning of the Christmas season.

I will go into that in tomorrow’s post. This war is working. Pew Research Center results prove it.

Starnes came up with his own brilliant strategy for reminding his listeners of the Reason for the season:

And that’s why I’ve started a new tradition at the Todd Starnes Show. Beginning this Christmas, I will read the Gospel of Luke’s account of the birth of Christ on the radio — verse by verse.

So I hope you will take a moment to our recitation of the birth of Christ …

Merry Christmas, America!

Well played! It’s about time.

Before exploring the first feast day of the year, I would like to wish all my readers a very happy, healthy and prosperous 2018!

Traditionally, January 1 was a Holy Day of Obligation in the Church and, until recently, that continued in the Roman Catholic Church.

Circumcision of Christ stained glassIn following from the birth of Christ on Christmas Day, January 1 would have been — in Church calendar terms — the day He was circumcised according to Jewish law, Luke 2:21:

21 And at the end of eight days, when he was circumcised, he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.

Over the years, where circumcision was considered taboo, other commemorations have replaced it, such as Solemnity of Mary the Mother of God.

However, a case can certainly be made for retaining a commemoration of the Circumcision, as it was the first time Jesus shed His precious blood, a foretelling of the Crucifixion. These posts explain more. The second one gives evidence that this feast day was also commemorated in the oldest Protestant denominations:

January 1 – Feast of the Circumcision of Christ

New Year’s Day: the Circumcision — and Naming — of Christ Jesus

As for the stained glass depiction, I am most grateful to my reader undergroundpewster who sent me two links about it last year:

The Circumcision window is currently in the Cloisters Museum in Manhattan. Originally made in Cologne, Germany ca. 1460–70 for the Kreuzbrüder (“Crutched Friars”). The Cloisters (http://www.metmuseum.org/visit/met-cloisters) is a way for us in the States to view a bit of old Europe without having to get a passport.

Window details at (http://www.ipernity.com/doc/laurieannie/35821507)

The ipernity.com link is a copy of the Cloisters’ description, where you can also see a full view of the stained glass window. What I have posted above — the mohel and the Christ Child — is a detail of a larger scene:

A mitred high priest sitting on a throne supports the Christ child on his lap with a draped hand. Two male figures kneel before him. The elder — bald, bearded and dressed in rich robes — holds a knife in his right hand as he initiates the circumcision. His young assistant, graced with golden curls but more modestly attired, holds a broad metalwork charger. The glance and gesture of the Christ child identifies the standing female in a white wimple and robes of blue as his mother, the Virgin, who witnesses the event. The cool palette underscores the solemnity of the rite.

Hmm. I thought that the mohel‘s assistant was Joseph. Joseph went with Mary to present the Christ Child in the Temple a few weeks later. But who am I to argue with art experts?

The Cloisters acquired the window in 2003. It is likely to be the only one depicting this event.

In closing, I wish you all the very best for the year ahead. May God bless you abundantly.

December 31, 2018 is the First Sunday after Christmas. Readings for Year B of the three-year Lectionary are used.

The Gospel reading used in Year B is the one traditionally read on February 2 — Candlemas.

That said, this reading about Simeon and Anna witnessing the presentation of Jesus in the Temple describes what took place 40 days after Jesus’s birth, not eight days. Luke 2:22-40 recounts Mary and Jesus appearing with Joseph after Mary had undergone the customary ritual purification. They also presented a sacrifice.

Note the timeframe in Luke 2:

21 And at the end of eight days, when he was circumcised, he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.

Jesus Presented at the Temple

22 And when the time came for their purification according to the Law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord 23 (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every male who first opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord”) 24 and to offer a sacrifice according to what is said in the Law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons.”

There is so much to study and consider in this passage that I broke it down into two parts several years ago.

Luke 2:22-32 discusses Simeon’s prophecy and the obedience of the Holy Family to Jewish law.

Luke 2:33-40 recounts Anna’s piety and explains the meaning of her father’s name Phanuel/Penuel/Peniel.

The other readings for Christmas 1, Year B, follow.

Where used, this is the first reading:

Isaiah 61:10-62:3

61:10 I will greatly rejoice in the LORD, my whole being shall exult in my God; for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation, he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.

61:11 For as the earth brings forth its shoots, and as a garden causes what is sown in it to spring up, so the Lord GOD will cause righteousness and praise to spring up before all the nations.

62:1 For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent, and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not rest, until her vindication shines out like the dawn, and her salvation like a burning torch.

62:2 The nations shall see your vindication, and all the kings your glory; and you shall be called by a new name that the mouth of the LORD will give.

62:3 You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the LORD, and a royal diadem in the hand of your God.

The Psalm is as follows:

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!

This is the Epistle:

Galatians 4:4-7

4:4 But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law,

4:5 in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children.

4:6 And because you are children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!”

4:7 So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God.

The aforementioned Gospel follows the Epistle.

The reading from Galatians is timely. The other day I wrote about an anti-Christmas guest editorial published in Australia and in the Washington Post in 2014. In short, WaPo tweeted the link to it again in 2017. The author, who lectures in Religious Studies at the University of Sidney, posits that there is no evidence Jesus lived among us. He says that Paul and other New Testament writers spoke of a ‘celestial Jesus’. The man’s former professor wrote a rebuttal for Australia’s ABC saying that Paul emphasised Jesus’s human qualities. He even cites Galatians 4:4.

Paul was not describing a celestial Jesus but One who came to earth as our Redeemer and Saviour.

The Washington Post — motto ‘Democracy Dies in Darkness’ — tweeted this Christmas message:

The article is from 2014! Yet, WaPo persists three years later.

Raphael Lataster is a lecturer in religious studies at the University of Sydney. ‘Did historical Jesus really exist? The evidence just doesn’t add up.’ is a most shallow article. Excerpts follow:

Did a man called Jesus of Nazareth walk the earth? Discussions over whether the figure known as the “Historical Jesus” actually existed primarily reflect disagreements among atheists. Believers, who uphold the implausible and more easily-dismissed “Christ of Faith” (the divine Jesus who walked on water), ought not to get involved …

The first problem we encounter when trying to discover more about the Historical Jesus is the lack of early sources. The earliest sources only reference the clearly fictional Christ of Faith. These early sources, compiled decades after the alleged events, all stem from Christian authors eager to promote Christianity – which gives us reason to question them. The authors of the Gospels fail to name themselves, describe their qualifications, or show any criticism with their foundational sources – which they also fail to identify. Filled with mythical and non-historical information, and heavily edited over time, the Gospels certainly should not convince critics to trust even the more mundane claims made therein …

Also important are the sources we don’t have. There are no existing eyewitness or contemporary accounts of Jesus. All we have are later descriptions of Jesus’ life events by non-eyewitnesses, most of whom are obviously biased. Little can be gleaned from the few non-Biblical and non-Christian sources, with only Roman scholar Josephus and historian Tacitus having any reasonable claim to be writing about Jesus within 100 years of his life. And even those sparse accounts are shrouded in controversy, with disagreements over what parts have obviously been changed by Christian scribes (the manuscripts were preserved by Christians), the fact that both these authors were born after Jesus died (they would thus have probably received this information from Christians), and the oddity that centuries go by before Christian apologists start referencing them …

Given the poor state of the existing sources, and the atrocious methods used by mainstream Biblical historians, the matter will likely never be resolved. In sum, there are clearly good reasons to doubt Jesus’ historical existence – if not to think it outright improbable.

WaPo published the article on December 18, 2014. On December 24, Raphael Lataster’s former professor, John Dickson, wrote a rebuttal for Australia’s ABC. Dickson is an Honorary Fellow of the Department of Ancient History, Macquarie University, and he teaches a unit called ‘Historical Jesus to Written Gospels’ for Sydney University’s Department of Jewish Studies.

‘It’s Beginning to Look a lot Like Christmas … Mythicism’s in the Air’ is worthwhile reading. Excerpts follow (emphases mine):

You can almost set your clock by it. Another article appears arguing Jesus never lived – so Christmas must be upon us.

This time, however, I was particularly interested, not because Raphael Lataster’s piece in The Conversation had anything new to say but because it was written by a young man who just three years ago sat in my Sydney University class on “Historical Jesus to Written Gospels.”

I baulked at writing a reply until, amazingly, his article was picked up by the Washington Post of all places. Such is the appetite for the extraordinary!

Lataster has also written a book entitled There Was No Jesus, There is No God, a rather unsubtle contribution to the growing “new atheist” genre. And he is on his way to completing his PhD at Sydney University – notably in religious philosophy, not in history

But my concern is not with atheism, religious philosophy, or even Christian apologetics. It is with history. As his former lecturer, I am somewhat embarrassed to admit that Raphael’s 1000 words on Jesus would not receive a pass mark in any history class I can imagine, even if it were meant to be a mere “personal reflection” on contemporary Jesus scholarship. Lataster is a better student than his piece suggests …

First, Lataster has offered an academic contrivance, as he seeks to give respectability to what is known as “mythicism” – the view that Jesus started out as a purely celestial figure revealed in dreams and visions to prophetic figures like the apostle Paul and only later written into history-sounding texts like the Gospels …

“Mythicists” are the historical equivalent of the anti-vaccination crowd in medical science. They are controversial enough to get media attention. They have just enough doctors, or doctors in training, among them to establish a kind of “plausible deniability.” But anyone who dips into the thousands of secular monographs and journal articles on the historical Jesus will quickly discover that mythicists are regarded by 99.9% of the scholarly community as complete “outliers,” the fringe of the fringe …

Secondly, no student – let alone an aspiring scholar – could get away with suggesting that Christians “ought not to get involved” in the study of the historical Jesus. This is intellectual bigotry and has no place in academia, or journalism. I would likewise fail any Christian student who suggested that atheists should not research Jesus because they have an agenda. Nobody in the vast field of historical Jesus scholarship operates with such an us-and-them mentality

Thirdly, Raphael’s claim that the letters of Paul “overwhelmingly support the ‘celestial Jesus’ theory” is an indefensible exaggeration. It would have been valid to point out that a case for a mythical Jesus in Paul’s letters has recently been offered by atheist apologist and historian Richard Carrier. But one cannot talk of “overwhelming support” for this idea …

Lataster surely knows what every historical Jesus course makes plain: Paul’s evidence for the historical figure of Jesus is widely regarded as particularly early and significant. His letters weren’t written to defend a historical personage, and yet Paul refers in passing to Jesus as “born of a woman,” being a descendant of King David “according to the flesh,” having Twelve apostles, eating a final meal, being betrayed, and being crucified and buried. There is a mountain of data standing in the way of any claim of “overwhelming support” for the celestial Jesus theory.

Fourthly, there are numerous idiosyncratic statements throughout Lataster’s article which he passes off as accepted insights of historical study. For example, the claim that the Gospels are all “anonymous” is no more accurate than insisting that a modern biography is anonymous on the grounds that the biographer’s name appears only on the front and back cover of the book not in the body of the work. Of course, the Gospel writers did not begin by writing, “I, Mark, now want to write about Jesus of Nazareth …” But wherever we have a surviving front or back page of a Gospel manuscript, we find a superscript indicating the biographer’s name, and there is absolute uniformity of that name: euaggelion kata Markon, euaggelion kata Lukan and so on.

Finally, Raphael Lataster reveals that his real interest is in sceptical apologetics rather than ancient history when he opines, “There are no existing eyewitness or contemporary accounts of Jesus. All we have are later descriptions of Jesus’ life events by non-eyewitnesses.” Leaving aside the question of whether there are eyewitness accounts in the New Testament – many think there aresuch a statement overlooks the fact that virtually everything we know from ancient history comes to us from sources that are neither “contemporary” with events, nor written by eyewitnesses. What we know of Emperor Tiberius, for instance, comes mainly from the Roman chronicler Tacitus, who writes some 80 years after the emperor’s death. This is typical of ancient history, and it poses no dilemma to the contemporary scholar because it is clear that authors such as Tacitus, like the Gospel writers, employed earlier sources within their works.

In any case, to suggest that the Gospels are somehow dodgy because they are not contemporaneous accounts of Jesus indicates a basic unfamiliarity with the discipline of history. And it underlines the impropriety of a student in religious philosophy, whatever his faith perspective, assuming the mantle of academic historian. Anyone may express an opinion, of course, but opinion should not be offered under the guise of expertise

There is just an urgent need for all of us to be more cautious before making (or accepting) grandiose claims like, “there are clearly good reasons to doubt Jesus’ historical existence – if not to think it outright improbable.” Fail.

Thank you, Dr Dickson.

I found the WaPo tweet to Lataster’s article at the beginning of Imperator_Rex’s Christmas message, excerpted below:

1. The irony? Progressive liberals like to advertize their atheism and ridicule religion, but they’re actually some of the most religious people in history.

2. They have simply replaced worship of an external God with a new object of worship: themselves. Self-worship is the core of their perverse religiosity.

3. This makes them extremely gullible to con artists and evil people, who exploit the narcissism of liberal progressives while they serve their malign (criminal) self-interests …

5. If you know the right language and words to use, liberal progressives will give you a leave pass EVERY TIME. They will let you get away with anything, so long as you keep their narcissistic supply going.

Imperator_Rex then goes into a discussion about Obama and Obama worshippers.

19. Their extremely religious cult followers – such as the nauseating people who wrote the WaPo article at the start of this thread – were willing accomplices.

21. They rail against God and His believers, without realizing that they are the most extreme zealots around. In their arrogance they fail to understand that we have been warned about their type for millennia.

22. ‘If there arises among you a prophet or a dreamer of dreams..saying, ‘Let us go after other gods and let us serve them,’ you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams’ – Deuteronomy 12:29

23. ‘Take heed that no man deceive you. For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many’.
– Matthew 24:4-5

24. Whether you are religious or not, believe or not, Jesus’ powerful words resonate down the millennia. As does his request for us to commit to the way of the truth, the way & the light.

25. On this special day, let us reject the false song of the liberal progressives. The song that aims to persuade us to give power to evil men and women, as well as to anaesthetize us with sweet sounding lies.

26. We MUST face down our enemies. They will not go away. We live in a perpetual war between good and evil, light and dark, truth and lies. Whether we like it or not.

27. There will always be evil and bad people who seek to cover us in darkness for their malign ends. And their useful idiots, as this shameful WaPo piece proves.

‘Democracy Dies in Darkness’. Indeed it does, WaPo, indeed it does. The stark irony of this motto is inescapable.

30. And let us pray for the eventual defeat of America’s greatest enemies, as well as their cult members and propagandists. We are almost there – they are doomed – but we must remain vigilant.

Jesus & his disciples – the first Christians – would expect no less.

The end.

Just so.

I will have more about the Washington Post soon.

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