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Sunday, May 28, 2017 is Exaudi Sunday, which comes between Ascension Day and Pentecost.

My post from 2013 explains more about this particular Sunday, considered to be a very sad one by Jesus’s disciples because He had returned to His Father in heaven.

These days, as far as I know, only traditional Lutherans refer to this day as Exaudi Sunday. However, it was once a widespread term in the Church.

Exaudi is Latin, from the verb exaudire (modern day equivalents are the French exaucer and the Italian esaudire). It has several meanings, among them: hear, understand and discern, as well as heed, obey and, where the Lord is concerned, grant. The French version of the Catholic Mass uses exaucer a lot, as do hymns: ‘grant us, Lord’.

Exaudi Sunday is so called because of the traditional Introit, taken from Psalm 17:1. The two first words in Latin are ‘Exaudi Domine’ — ‘Hear, Lord’.

The New Testament readings for Year A in the three-year Lectionary are Acts 1:6-14, 1 Peter 4:12-14 and 1 Peter 5:6-11. The Gospel reading is John 17:1-11.

Commentary follows, emphases mine.

Acts 1:6-14

1:6 So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?”

1:7 He replied, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority.

1:8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

1:9 When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.

1:10 While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them.

1:11 They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”

1:12 Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a sabbath day’s journey away.

1:13 When they had entered the city, they went to the room upstairs where they were staying, Peter, and John, and James, and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James son of Alphaeus, and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James.

1:14 All these were constantly devoting themselves to prayer, together with certain women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, as well as his brothers.

It is important to know that St Luke wrote the Book of Acts — Acts of the Apostles. John MacArthur explains:

And Luke was closely associated with the Apostles from about the time of Jesus’ death, around 30 A.D., to about 60 or 63 A.D. where evidently he penned this book. And in those intervening 30‑plus years, as Luke travelled in the companionship of the Apostles, he penned what was going on. And the story of the book of Acts is the beginning of the church at Jerusalem and its explosion until it reaches the capital of the world, one of those uttermost parts of the earth, the city of Rome.

Note that the disciples still believed that Jesus was a temporal ruler of sorts (verse 6). Jesus responded, saying that only God the Father knows when that time will come (verse 7). Furthermore, they did not realise the full import of the power of the Holy Spirit that would soon descend on them days later at that first Pentecost (verse 8).

Suddenly, Jesus ascended to heaven (verse 9). Two angels appeared to explain what just happened (verse 10), saying that He will return again in the same way. They were talking of the Second Coming.

MacArthur states the importance of the Ascension:

That means that right now in this month in this year … the same Jesus Christ in the same glorified body that was touched by those disciples is sitting at the right hand of the Father, no different than He was when He left.

You say, “You mean He’s up there in that same body that walked on the earth, that same body that the disciples felt and touched and ate with and talked with, that same Jesus Christ in that same form is sitting at the right hand of the Father?” That’s exactly what I mean. He was taken up. And the proof of the pudding comes in verse 11 when it says this same Jesus who was taken up shall what? Shall so come in like manner as you see Him go. When He comes back He’ll be the very same that He was when He left.

Jesus’s friends and family returned from Mount Olivet to Jerusalem to pray (verses 12-14).

As I explained in 2013, Jesus had told them this would happen. All of His words on this subject are in the Gospels. My post has an exposition of the related verses as well as a warning about putting them into a postmodern context.

Believe what the New Testament says. Christ will come again in glory. Make no mistake. Unbelievers will be shaking in their boots on that fateful day wishing they had never been born.

1 Peter 4:12-14

4:12 Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that is taking place among you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.

4:13 But rejoice insofar as you are sharing Christ’s sufferings, so that you may also be glad and shout for joy when his glory is revealed.

4:14 If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the spirit of glory, which is the Spirit of God, is resting on you.

These verses have historical as well as contemporary significance. Peter wrote this letter some time in 64 AD, John MacArthur says. He explains that was the year when Nero fiddled and Rome burned:

The fire spread fast, and although it began on that day it lasted three days and nights, and it broke out again and again even though they tried to check it.  The Romans actually believed that Nero was responsible for burning their great city and their homes.  Why?  Because Nero had this strange fixation with building, and he wanted to build a new city and so they believed that he burned down the old one.

To divert blame away from himself, Nero accused the Christians, which worked in his favour:

Publicly he blamed the Christians for burning Rome.  It was an ingenious choice, frankly, on his part because the Christians were already the victims of hatred and already the victims of slander.  They were connected with Jews in the minds of most people who had been dispersed in the diaspora.  And since there was a rather growing anti-Semitism, it was easy to have an anti-Christian attitude as well …

Christians perished in a delirium of savagery at that time, and even lynching became very common.  Within a few years Christians were imprisoned, racked, seared, broiled, burned, scourged, stoned and hanged.  Some were lacerated with hot knives and others thrown on the horns of wild bulls.

This is the ‘fiery ordeal’ to which Peter refers in verse 12. Peter then tells his flock to rejoice in the face of brutal persecution, because believers will rejoice when they finally see Christ’s glory revealed.

Going further, Peter says that the Spirit of God, that of glory, rests upon the persecuted (verse 14).

MacArthur offers this analysis:

The point here is to expect suffering, expect it, don’t be surprised at it, don’t think it’s some strange thing, expect it.  Peter has consistently through this epistle said that persecution for the Christian in various forms is inevitable.  It is inevitable.  In fact, the surprise would be if it didn’t come … Godly lives lived in an ungodly world confront that world, and we become a kind of unwelcome conscience that is distasteful.  And, if we name the name of Christ loudly enough, we become offensive.  The goodness alone of a Christian can be an offense to a wicked world.  And when you add to that the proclamation of the name of Christ, we become particularly offensive.  It’s as if Peter is saying suffering is the price of discipleship. 

Also:

In view of our precious salvation, he said early in the epistle, suffering is nothing.  In view of our present situation, suffering is very important because how we react to it determines how effective our evangelistic testimony is.  And in view of Christ’s personal Second Coming and our ultimate salvation, it isn’t even worthy to be compared, said Paul, with the glory which shall be revealed in us.  So, are we are understanding already this far in the epistle that Peter is concerned that we see suffering in a right perspective.

Now for the meaning of suffering for Christ:

Suffering for the sake of Christ reveals who’s genuine, right?  The phonies aren’t going to hang around.  That’s why through the years we have always said the persecuted church is the pure church …

Readers who have been following my posts on the Book of Acts know about the purification of the church through suffering and persecution, from Stephen the first martyr to Paul the Apostle. Peter himself was martyred.

MacArthur explains persecution from Peter’s words:

if you can expect it, you can waylay its initial impact.  It’s part of God’s design.  It’s the way He proves the genuineness of your faith and it’s the way He purges your life.  It takes out all the pride and all of the sort of self, the illusion of self-control, the illusion that you can control your world and all of its responses.  It strips you and makes you totally dependent on Him, and that’s a good process.

The second thing that Peter wants to say to us is to rejoice in it.  Not only are we to expect it, but when it comes we’re to rejoice in it.  Notice verse 13 and 14.  “But to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing so that also at the revelation of His glory you may rejoice with exaltation.  If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you’re blessed because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.”  Now, just take that little phrase in verse 13 “keep on rejoicing,” present tense, keep on rejoicing.  This is the right attitude in the midst of persecution.  This is the right attitude in the midst of affliction, rejection, anything the world brings against you for the sake of righteousness and for the sake of the name of Jesus Christ.  Any of that which comes against you should be cause for rejoicing.  Remember the words of our Lord?  Listen to this, Matthew 5:10 through 12: “Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”  If you’re being persecuted for righteousness, it’s evidence that you belong to the kingdom of heaven.  “Blessed are you when men cast insults at you, and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely on account of Me.  Rejoice and be glad.”  That is a strange one, isn’t it?  “Rejoice and be glad for your reward in heaven is great and that’s the way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”  You’re in good company.

Regarding the Spirit of God:

What it says is that when you suffer, God’s presence rests on you.  And God’s presence comes in the form of His Spirit, the Spirit who is glory in His essential attribute, even the Spirit who is God.  My, what a tremendous, tremendous truth.  The Spirit of glory, yea, the Spirit of God.  As the Shekinah rested in the tabernacle and the temple long ago, so the Shekinah glory of God, the Holy Spirit in glorious splendor and power rests upon suffering Christians. 

Now, what does the word “rest” mean?  What is that talking about?  Well, simply to refresh by taking over for you.  Rest, in the sense of refreshing by taking over, by becoming the dominant power in the midst of your suffering …

In the midst of the severest persecution and suffering, God grants a special dispensation of the presence of His Holy Spirit, and He rests on the believer, which means He takes over.  And the mind transcends.

MacArthur points to Stephen the first martyr as being a perfect example. I wrote about Stephen’s apologetic and his stoning in my concluding discourse on Acts 7.

1 Peter 5:6-11

5:6 Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, so that he may exalt you in due time.

5:7 Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you.

5:8 Discipline yourselves, keep alert. Like a roaring lion your adversary the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour.

5:9 Resist him, steadfast in your faith, for you know that your brothers and sisters in all the world are undergoing the same kinds of suffering.

5:10 And after you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, support, strengthen, and establish you.

5:11 To him be the power forever and ever. Amen.

Peter exhorts his converts to humble themselves before God so that He may raise them up when the time comes (verse 6).

We are to cast our anxiety before God, the only One who cares for us (verse 7).

In the meantime, we are to increase our self-discipline, keeping ourselves on the watch for temptation and worldliness (verse 8). Satan never sleeps.

Therefore, we must resist Satan and remain strong in the faith, just like our fellow Christians (verse 9).

God is always aware of those who suffer in His name. He is the God of all grace and will restore those suffering temptation and persecution (verse 10). May we glorify God and His almighty, everlasting power over sin and suffering (verse 11).

John MacArthur analyses Peter’s letter as follows (emphases mine):

So Peter says then that the building blocks of spiritual attitudes include submission, humility and trust.  Now let’s move on tonight to the things that are ahead of us.  Starting in verse 8 we find the fourth necessary attitude for spiritual maturity, an attitude of self-control, an attitude of self- control … 

It means to be in control of the issues of life, having the priorities of life in the proper order and the proper balance.  It requires a discipline of mind and a discipline of body that avoids the very intoxicating allurements of the world … 

Abraham, through the eye of faith, understood spiritual priorities and didn’t get himself tangled up with earthly enterprises

Look at verse 8.  The reason we have to have our priorities right, the reason we need to trust God, the reason we need to humble ourselves under His almighty hand, and the reason we need to submit to those in authority over us and to God Himself is because our adversary, the devil, prowls about like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour.  Peter says be on the alert, be on the alert.  Not only sober minded, not only having your priorities right, but watchful.  It’s an aorist imperative, stay awake, be ready, be alert, watch out.  Now strong trust in God’s mighty hand, strong trust in God’s care, strong confidence that we can cast all of our anxiety on Him does not mean carelessness and it doesn’t mean indulgence.  It doesn’t mean that because we trust God and because we throw all our care on Him that we become indolent and lazy and let down our guard or we will become victims of the enemy.  The outside forces that come against us demand us to be alert, vigilance.  The enemy, by the way, is very subtle.  According to 2 Corinthians chapter 11 he disguises himself as an angel of light and his ministers as angels of light.  He very rarely shows himself for who he isHe almost always masks himself as a religious personality, almost always endeavoring somehow in some way to be able to approach you subtly so that you can’t recognize the reality of who he is

He’s always active and he’s always looking for an opportunity to overwhelm us.  His aim is to sow discord, to break fellowship, to accuse God to men, to accuse men to God, to accuse men to each other, to undermine confidence, to silence confession, to get us to stop serving God.  He’s always after us.  He is called in John’s gospel three times the prince of this world.  He commands the human system …

In another sermon, MacArthur explains that Peter says not to attack Satan but to remain firm on the side of godly faith and truth.

Furthermore, we endure this battle together as believers, trusting God:

Suffering is a way of life as God is accomplishing His holy perfecting work in you.  Just look at the goal, he says, and realize everybody’s in it …

Wherever he comes from and in whatever form and manner, the solution is the same, spiritual weapons, stand in the truth, trust God.  And in my trust in God I go to prayer and I let the commander fight the battleIf I know the truth and obey the truth and commit my life to God, I stand strong.

MacArthur points out that Peter is not talking about daily grace from God but the grace He gives us to resist temptation:

while you are being personally attacked by the enemy, you are being personally perfected by God.  It’s personal. Himself[,] He’s doing it.  Marvelous thought.  He is intimately involved in the suffering of our lives.

God Himself is there battling and through the battle you become perfect, confirmed, strong and established.  Submission, humility, trust, self-control, vigilant defense, and hope. 

John 17:1-11

17:1 After Jesus had spoken these words, he looked up to heaven and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you,

17:2 since you have given him authority over all people, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him.

17:3 And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.

17:4 I glorified you on earth by finishing the work that you gave me to do.

17:5 So now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had in your presence before the world existed.

17:6 “I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word.

17:7 Now they know that everything you have given me is from you;

17:8 for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me.

17:9 I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours.

17:10 All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them.

17:11 And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.

The first ten verses are the initial part of what is known as the High Priestly Prayer. I wrote about them in 2014 for a Maundy Thursday post, as Jesus spoke the words in John 17 at the Last Supper. You can also read parts 2 and 3.

As we approach Pentecost Sunday, we should find today’s Exaudi Sunday readings encouraging and uplifting, in spite of the worldly and vicious clamour around us.

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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

Acts 8:1-3

Saul Ravages the Church

And Saul approved of his execution.

And there arose on that day a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. Devout men buried Stephen and made great lamentation over him. But Saul was ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison.

——————————————————————————————

Acts 7 related the apologetic and death of Stephen, the first martyr.

Only his final words and his stoning are in the three-year Lectionary used in public worship.

Over the past few weeks, I have discussed what he said to the temple court and why.

Stephen, one of the first deacons, was also divinely given the gift of ‘doing great wonders and signs among the people’ (Acts 6:8). He also spoke openly about Jesus in Solomon’s Portico (Porch) at the temple. For this, he was arrested on charges of blasphemy: blaspheming God, Moses, the law and the temple. Acts 7 contains his address and the council’s action against him.

Stephen first got the council’s attention by saying he had revered the same traditions as they and respected the history of the people of Israel. He related the story of Abraham, then of Joseph.

At that point, he accomplished two objectives: holding his audience’s attention and defending himself against the charge of blaspheming God.

As Stephen related his scriptural knowledge of the early patriarchs, he also indicted his audience for rejecting Jesus. His reason for mentioning Joseph was to get them to realise that Joseph’s brothers treated him the same way the Jews treated Jesus.

Stephen went on to discuss Moses scripturally, to show that he had not blasphemed him. He began with Moses’s childhood, then his early adulthood, which included self-exile to Midian. After 40 years, an angel of the Lord appeared to Moses in the burning bush and told him he would be going to Egypt to deliver the Israelites.

He then discussed the next part of the apologetic: the Israelites’ rejection of Moses and their turning to idolatry, which was part of their way of life for generations to come. God had left them to their own devices.

What Stephen did throughout his entire apologetic — case for, defence of religious doctrine — was to demonstrate that God’s chosen people had rejected those He sent to them. Similarly, they had rejected Jesus. Stephen exhorted them to consider those rejections very carefully.

Finally, Stephen had to defend himself against charges that he blasphemed the temple. He ended his apologetic by accusing the Jews of rejecting the Holy Spirit. That enraged them and they took him outside of Jerusalem to be stoned.

Among them was Saul, later Paul the Apostle. Acts 7 ends with this (emphases mine):

58 Then they cast him out of the city and stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul.

Matthew Henry’s commentary has this analysis:

Now, the stoning of a man being a laborious piece of work, the witnesses took off their upper garments, that they might not hang in their way, and they laid them down at a young man’s feet, whose name was Saul, now a pleased spectator of this tragedy. It is the first time we find mention of his name; we shall know it and love it better when we find it changed to Paul, and him changed from a persecutor into a preacher. This little instance of his agency in Stephen’s death he afterwards reflected upon with regret (Acts 22:20): I kept the raiment of those that slew him.

Before I begin with today’s verses, it is also useful to look at the King James Version, which adds to the drama of the reality in Jerusalem.

I will be returning to these in the commentary below:

And Saul was consenting unto his death. And at that time there was a great persecution against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered abroad throughout the regions of Judaea and Samaria, except the apostles.

And devout men carried Stephen to his burial, and made great lamentation over him.

As for Saul, he made havock of the church, entering into every house, and haling men and women committed them to prison.

As Acts 8 opens, St Luke tells us that Saul approved of this execution (verse 1). We know how on fire the converted Saul — the Apostle Paul — was for Jesus Christ. He dominates the letters of the New Testament. Therefore, just imagine what he was like pre-Damascene conversion. I’ll return to this later, but he was a powerful man, both as Saul and as Paul.

For now, both Matthew Henry and John MacArthur believed that Saul had a lot to do with Stephen’s death.

MacArthur says:

He was involved from the very beginning of this conflict with Stephen …

And Saul was the leader, and it may have been that right there at the death of Stephen, he got the whole deal organized. “At that same time” it says. He might have pulled that mob around him, and the very seed of bloodshed was Stephen was dying, was the thing that really spawned the group of people that followed this man Saul around to kill Christians.

Henry’s commentary tells us that Paul probably asked Luke, the author of Acts, to insert the part about consent in the first verse as an expiation for his subsequent guilt:

We have reason to think that Paul ordered Luke to insert this, for shame to himself, and glory to free grace. Thus he owns himself guilty of the blood of Stephen, and aggravates it with this, that he did not do it with regret and reluctancy, but with delight and a full satisfaction, like those who not only do such things, but have pleasure in those that do them.

Saul wanted to ensure the Church died, hence St Luke’s mention of ‘a great persecution’ against Her in Jerusalem. MacArthur explains:

Now we don’t have any of the gory details of what Saul did specifically, we only have some general terms. But whatever it was, it resulted in the people being scattered all over everywhere and being driven out of the city. He just drove them out, and I am sure that the ones who were driven out were dominantly the Hellenistic Jews, the Grecian Jews who didn’t really belong there. And it may have been in these early times that the whole movement was still associated with Stephen as a Grecian Jew.

They fled to Judea and Samaria.

Only the Apostles stayed in the city. There were many converts in Jerusalem and they needed the Twelve. No doubt, they were also intent on converting more Jews. It could be that, as the Apostles came from the area near Jerusalem and spent the feast days there that there was a certain comfort level. It is possible that the converts who had lived in or near Jerusalem all their lives felt the same way.

John MacArthur explains that a whole host of dynamics were at work at this time, good and evil. Stephen’s death was a turning point for the Church, and Acts 8 demonstrates that. The Church was now largely leaving Jerusalem — God’s chosen who had rejected His Son — for the Gentile world. Also observe that what Jesus said quickly came true:

Here’s what Jesus says to be the pattern of the expansion of the church: “But ye shall receive power after the Holy Spirit has come upon you and you shall be witness unto Me.” Now here comes the pattern. “Both in Jerusalem and all Judea.” Now, Jerusalem was a city in which, which was in Judea, as a province or country. And so He said “In Jerusalem and all Judea, then in Samaria, and then the outermost part of the earth.” Now there you have the outline of the book of Acts. First in Jerusalem, then Judea, then Samaria, then the world. And so in 8, we’re beginning to move out of Jerusalem, into Judea and Samaria; the gospel extending. And the Samaritans, I think, in the mind of God, formed a perfect bridge to the Gentile world, because the Samaritans were half-breeds. They were part Jewish, part Gentile. And so it was a little extension, then to go smack into the Gentile situation … So chapter 8, then, is the beginning of the church moving out. And it’s a sad thing in a sense, as well as a great thing, to see the gospel move out. It’s a sad thing to see the door shut on Jerusalem.

Therefore, although the Church remained there, Jerusalem was no longer the main focus. It was now time for the Church to expand elsewhere, to more favourable audiences. As we have seen in the preceding chapters in Acts, whenever there was a setback, God and the Holy Spirit gave the fledgling Church more grace and fortitude to move forward.

Here’s MacArthur’s take. I like his analogy of fire, very much befitting a discussion of the Holy Spirit:

The Holy Spirit is in the business of turning negatives into positives, of taking disasters and turning them into miracles. You can’t blockade the Holy Spirit. He likes to take those kind of tragedies and turn them into victory.

If you’ve been with us in our study of the book of Acts, you know what He’s done with Peter and John. Every time they got in a hopeless situation, it just was a greater opportunity to preach the gospel. Every time they got into a negative scene, the Spirit of God turned it into a positive. Every time the persecution arose, the preaching followed right on its heels. And God allowed the gospel to reach into areas and the hearts of people who could never otherwise be reached, other than through persecution. It’s kind of like trying to stamp out a fire, and the harder you jump on it, the more you scatter the embers and start fires all over everywhere. And that’s exactly what happened. They started jumping all over the church in Jerusalem and all they did was send the embers all over the world, because that’s how the Holy Spirit works.

Verse 2 tells us that Stephen had a dignified, religious burial. Our two commentators differ in their interpretation of ‘devout men’.

MacArthur thinks that the ‘devout men’ were, in fact, pious Jews who thought that his stoning was wrong. He reasons this from the wording:

If they were referring to Christians, it would have said “believers,” or “the brothers,” or something. But it says “devout men”. That’s a term that has to do with pious Jews. And what it says is this: “There were some Jews in Jerusalem, though not Christians, who still believed that the murder of Stephen was wrong.” That’s kind of nice to know. There was still some fertile soil for the gospel in Jerusalem. The apostles stayed; devout men carried Stephen.

Under Jewish law, criminals had to be buried, although Jews were not allowed to lament over them. Yet, these men openly and emphatically lamented him:

So in a very real sense – and incidentally it was probably very public. What they were doing there was reacting by protest to the murder of this man. Now here’s some fertile soil for the apostles to reach for the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Henry surmised that they would have been fellow converts, which I am more inclined to believe, since Stephen was very holy and had been very visible at the temple during his brief ministry. Also, what Christians would have disowned such a man? Here is Henry on the devout men:

Stephen’s death bewailed by others (Acts 8:2)– devout men, which some understand of those that were properly so called, proselytes, one of whom Stephen himself probably was. Or, it may be taken more largely; some of the church that were more devout and zealous than the rest went and gathered up the poor crushed and broken remains, to which they gave a decent interment, probably in the field of blood, which was bought some time ago to bury strangers in. They buried him solemnly, and made great lamentation over him. Though his death was of great advantage to himself, and great service to the church, yet they bewailed it as a general loss, so well qualified was he for the service, and so likely to be useful both as a deacon and as a disputant. It is a bad symptom if, when such men are taken away, it is not laid to heart. Those devout men paid these their last respects to Stephen, (1.) To show that they were not ashamed of the cause for which he suffered, nor afraid of the wrath of those that were enemies to it; for, though they now triumph, the cause is a righteous cause, and will be at last a victorious one. (2.) To show the great value and esteem they had for this faithful servant of Jesus Christ, this first martyr for the gospel, whose memory shall always be precious to them, notwithstanding the ignominy of his death. They study to do honour to him upon whom God put honour. (3.) To testify their belief and hope of the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come.

It could have also been a mix of new Christians and empathetic Jews attending to Stephen’s burial.

Verse 3 brings us back to Saul and his vigilance and violence in going house to house to rout Jerusalem of Christian men and women.

The King James Version mentioned above says that Saul ‘made havock’, which means laying violent waste and ruin to something, in this case, the Church. Saul wanted to achieve the wanton destruction of Christ’s holy Bride.

Henry gives us a chilling description of Saul, a Pharisee, by the way:

Paul owns that at this time he persecuted this way unto the death (Acts 21:4), and (Acts 26:10) that when they were put to death he gave his voice against them …

He aimed at no less than the cutting off of the gospel Israel, that the name of it should be no more in remembrance, Psalms 83:4. He was the fittest tool the chief priests could find out to serve their purposes; he was informer-general against the disciples, a messenger of the great council to be employed in searching for meetings, and seizing all that were suspected to favour that way. Saul was bred a scholar, a gentleman, and yet did not think it below him to be employed in the vilest work of that kind. (1.) He entered into every house, making no difficulty of breaking open doors, night or day, and having a force attending him for that purpose. He entered into every house where they used to hold their meetings, or every house that had any Christians in it, or was thought to have. No man could be secure in his own house, though it was his castle. (2.) He haled, with the utmost contempt and cruelty, both men and women, dragged them along the streets, without any regard to the tenderness of the weaker sex; he stooped so low as to take cognizance of the meanest that were leavened with the gospel, so extremely bigoted was he. (3.) He committed them to prison, in order to their being tried and put to death, unless they would renounce Christ; and some, we find, were compelled by him to blaspheme, Acts 26:11.

MacArthur says that Saul genuinely believed he was doing the right thing:

Galatians 1:13 proves that: “Just as you heard of my manner of life in time past, in the Jew’s religion. How that beyond measure I persecuted the church of God and wasted it. And profited in the Jew’s religion above many my equals and mine own nation, being more exceedingly zealous of the traditions of my fathers. I thought I was pleasing God. I was so zealous for my religion.” But he was wrong.

MacArthur calls our attention to the KJV word ‘haling’, the antiquated form of ‘hauling’:

He just hauled them out of the houses. It means dragging, literally. It’s used in John 21:8 of dragging the fishnet in with all the fish. Remember when Peter caught so many fish he just dragged them? That’s what he did. He grabbed them, dragged them out into the street, and threw them in jail.

From this, we can better understand the violence of Saul’s conversion in Acts 9. It had to be that way.

Acts 8 goes on to follow the ministry of Philip in Samaria, which we will encounter next time.

As there are special Sundays coming up for the next few weeks, Forbidden Bible Verses will resume in June 2017.

Next time: Acts 8:4-8

Over the past few weeks I have been running a series of posts on Percy Dearmer‘s 1912 volume, Everyman’s History of the Prayer Book, published by Mowbray.

These are the previous posts in the series:

Percy Dearmer on the Anglican Thirty-nine Articles of Religion

Percy Dearmer on the title page of the Book of Common Prayer

Percy Dearmer on the title page of the Book of Common Prayer – part 1

Percy Dearmer on the title page of the Book of Common Prayer – part 2

Percy Dearmer on the earliest church service manuscripts

That last post referenced Chapter 4 of Dearmer’s book. That chapter has so much information in it that it will be the subject of my next few Sunday night posts.

In today’s excerpt, Dearmer provides the various elements of Christian worship documented in the New Testament.

Last week’s entry discussed elements 5 and 6 (below) — prophecy and tongues, respectively — in a biblical context.

The others are listed below. Please note that not all of the following are part of Sunday worship services (emphases mine):

We find, in fact, many elements of Christian worship in the New Testament—(1) Praise, as in 1 Cor. xiv. 26, and in these canticles and hymns; (2) Prayer, as in 1 Cor. xiv. 14 – 16, and of course in many other places; (3) Lessons, as the reading of Epistles in 1 Thess. v. 27 and Col. iv. 16, and doubtless also the reading of “memoirs” of Christ as well as of books of the Old Testament; (4) Sermons, as in Acts xx. 7, 1 Tim. iv. 13 (5) Prophecy, probably resembling the utterances and prayers which break the silence of a Quakers’ meeting (or of those “quiet meetings” which are now happily being revived in the Church of England), as it is mentioned in 1 Cor. xiv. 1, 29, 1 Thess. v. 20, and in 1 Cor. xi. 4, where we learn that women took part in the praying and prophesying, because St. Paul rebuked some for doing this unveiled. This passage is interesting because it shows that the Apostle’s injunction, “Let your women keep silence in the churches” (1 Cor. xiv. 34), did not mean that they were not to take any part in the service, but referred to a habit which had grown up amongst the women, of chattering during service time: the men, it seems from the context, interrupted by babbling with “tongues,” or by all prophesying at once, and then the women increased the confusion by asking questions about what they meant — which is not to be wondered at; (6) Tongues, which we see by 1 Cor. xiv. 23-39, were already becoming somewhat of a babel, and are unfavourably compared by St. Paul with Prophecy; (7) Almsgiving [the Offering], 1 Cor. xvi. 1, 2 Cor. ix. 1 – 15; (8) The Agape (see p. 178), called by St. Paul a dominical supper, or Lord’s supper [it was not the Eucharist but a more informal sharing of food], kyriakon deipnon, in 1 Cor. Xi. 20-22; (9) Unction, in Jas. v. 14, besides Exorcism (Acts xvi. 18) and the manifold ministry of healing.

There are other rites, including home worship:

All these elements are in addition to or contained within the central Rites (to be dealt with in our concluding chapters) of (I) Baptism, (II) the Laying on of Hands (after Baptism [Confirmation]), (III) the Breaking of the Bread [the Eucharist], (IV) the Laying on of Hands for consecration to the Ministry, as well as (V) the daily worship at home, or at first in the Temple, or the gathering for prayer and exhortation in the synagogues.

Therefore, even during the Apostolic Age, certain rites were already regularly adhered to, although in a less formal way. Christians took their cues from their worship leaders and certain elements — prayers, the hearing of Scripture, the offering, the sermon and the Supper — were standard.

Next time: How service books developed

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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

Acts 7:44-50

44 “Our fathers had the tent of witness in the wilderness, just as he who spoke to Moses directed him to make it, according to the pattern that he had seen. 45 Our fathers in turn brought it in with Joshua when they dispossessed the nations that God drove out before our fathers. So it was until the days of David, 46 who found favor in the sight of God and asked to find a dwelling place for the God of Jacob.[a] 47 But it was Solomon who built a house for him. 48 Yet the Most High does not dwell in houses made by hands, as the prophet says,

49 “‘Heaven is my throne,
    and the earth is my footstool.
What kind of house will you build for me, says the Lord,
    or what is the place of my rest?
50 Did not my hand make all these things?’

————————————————————————————————

This post concludes the apologetic of Stephen, who defended himself against charges of blasphemy in the temple court.

Stephen, one of the first deacons, was also divinely given the gift of ‘doing great wonders and signs among the people’ (Acts 6:8). He also spoke openly about Jesus in Solomon’s Portico (Porch) at the temple. For this, he was arrested on charges of blasphemy: blaspheming God, Moses, the law and the temple. Acts 7 contains his address and the council’s action against him.

Stephen first got the council’s attention by saying he had revered the same traditions as they and respected the history of the people of Israel. He related the story of Abraham, then of Joseph.

At that point, he accomplished two objectives: holding his audience’s attention and defending himself against the charge of blaspheming God.

As Stephen related his scriptural knowledge of the early patriarchs, he also indicted his audience for rejecting Jesus. His reason for mentioning Joseph was to get them to realise that Joseph’s brothers treated him the same way the Jews treated Jesus.

Stephen went on to discuss Moses scripturally, to show that he had not blasphemed him. He began with Moses’s childhood, then his early adulthood, which included self-exile to Midian. After 40 years, an angel of the Lord appeared to Moses in the burning bush and told him he would be going to Egypt to deliver the Israelites.

Last week’s post discussed the next part of the apologetic: the Israelites’ rejection of Moses and their turning to idolatry, which was part of their way of life for generations to come. God had left them to their own devices.

What Stephen did throughout his entire apologetic — case for, defence of religious doctrine — was to demonstrate that God’s chosen people had rejected those He sent to them. Similarly, they had rejected Jesus. Stephen exhorted them to consider those rejections very carefully.

In this final part, Stephen had to defend himself against charges that he blasphemed the temple. Therefore, he gave a true, scriptural account of its history, beginning with the tent in the wilderness, crafted according to God’s instructions to Moses (verse 44).

Exodus 25 documents those instructions fully. Although it was portable, God commanded parts of it to be made out of gold, silver, bronze and semi-precious stones.

There was the Ark of the Covenant:

16 And you shall put into the ark the testimony that I shall give you.

On top of the Ark was the mercy seat of pure gold:

21 And you shall put the mercy seat on the top of the ark, and in the ark you shall put the testimony that I shall give you. 22 There I will meet with you, and from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubim that are on the ark of the testimony, I will speak with you about all that I will give you in commandment for the people of Israel.

God also commanded that a Table for Bread be made out of acacia wood and gold:

29 And you shall make its plates and dishes for incense, and its flagons and bowls with which to pour drink offerings; you shall make them of pure gold. 30 And you shall set the bread of the Presence on the table before me regularly.

Finally, there was the elaborate Golden Lampstand.

God was preparing the people of Israel — His chosen — for Christ. The Table for Bread had the holy bread of the Presence, a precursor to the Christian Holy Communion.

The Golden Lampstand was to be tended such that its light never went out, suggesting the light of Christ: the Light of the World.

Recall that in Revelation 1, Christ tells St John of the seven lampstands: the seven churches.

GotQuestions.org has a good article on the lampstand in the Bible, excerpted below (emphases mine):

In the tabernacle, the lampstand was to be placed in the first section, called the Holy Place (Hebrews 9:2). The lamp was to be tended by Aaron and his sons so that its light never went out. The lampstand was to give forth light day and night (Exodus 27:20–21). The lampstand’s being the only source of light points directly to Christ as being the light of the world (John 8:12; 9:5). Jesus is the “true light that gives light to everyone” (John 1:9) and the only way anyone can come to the Father (John 14:6).

Jesus also calls His church the “light of the world” (Matthew 5:14), not of their own doing but because Christ is abiding in the church (John 1:4–5). A Christian who is shining with the light of Christ will live a godly life (1 Peter 2:9). Scripture is overflowing with references that compare and contrast light and darkness, believer and unbeliever, right up through the book of Revelation. In Revelation 1:20 Christ says the “seven lampstands are the seven churches.” The churches of Christ are to walk in the light of God (1 John 1:7) and spread the light of the gospel so that all people will glorify God (Matthew 5:16).

There is other symbolism in the lampstand: it was made of one piece, as Christ is one with His church (Colossians 1:8); the six branches (6 being the number of man) plus the main shaft equals seven lights (7 being the number of completion)—man is only complete in Christ (John 15:5).

Returning to Stephen, he said that when Joshua led the Israelites, God had cleared the Promised Land — Canaan — of Gentiles so that it could be theirs. The tent of witness continued (verse 45).

What follows are verses of interest about the Promised Land.

Joshua 3:10:

10 And Joshua said, “Here is how you shall know that the living God is among you and that he will without fail drive out from before you the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Hivites, the Perizzites, the Girgashites, the Amorites, and the Jebusites.

Joshua 23:9:

9 For the Lord has driven out before you great and strong nations. And as for you, no man has been able to stand before you to this day.

2 Chronicles 20:7:

Did you not, our God, drive out the inhabitants of this land before your people Israel, and give it forever to the descendants of Abraham your friend?

Acts 13:19:

19 And after destroying seven nations in the land of Canaan, he gave them their land as an inheritance.

Returning to Stephen’s apologetic and the tent of witness, he said that the people continued to use it for worship until the time of King David, who found favour with God and wanted to build a dwelling place for Him among His chosen (verse 46).

Stephen wisely omitted mentioning David’s sins, of which he had later repented. One of these, which relates directly to the history between the tent of witness and the first temple is documented in 1 Chronicles 21, where David disobeyed God and took a census of Israel. God then used David’s seer Gad and an angel to bring the king to repentence by building an altar to Him:

1 Then Satan stood against Israel and incited David to number Israel.

But God was displeased with this thing, and he struck Israel. And David said to God, “I have sinned greatly in that I have done this thing. But now, please take away the iniquity of your servant, for I have acted very foolishly.” And the Lord spoke to Gad, David’s seer, saying, 10 “Go and say to David, ‘Thus says the Lord, Three things I offer you; choose one of them, that I may do it to you.’” 11 So Gad came to David and said to him, “Thus says the Lord, ‘Choose what you will: 12 either three years of famine, or three months of devastation by your foes while the sword of your enemies overtakes you, or else three days of the sword of the Lord, pestilence on the land, with the angel of the Lord destroying throughout all the territory of Israel.’ Now decide what answer I shall return to him who sent me.” 13 Then David said to Gad, “I am in great distress. Let me fall into the hand of the Lord, for his mercy is very great, but do not let me fall into the hand of man.”

14 So the Lord sent a pestilence on Israel, and 70,000 men of Israel fell. 15 And God sent the angel to Jerusalem to destroy it, but as he was about to destroy it, the Lord saw, and he relented from the calamity. And he said to the angel who was working destruction, “It is enough; now stay your hand.” And the angel of the Lord was standing by the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite.

18 Now the angel of the Lord had commanded Gad to say to David that David should go up and raise an altar to the Lord on the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite.

25 So David paid Ornan 600 shekels[a] of gold by weight for the site. 26 And David built there an altar to the Lord and presented burnt offerings and peace offerings and called on the Lord, and the Lord[b] answered him with fire from heaven upon the altar of burnt offering. 27 Then the Lord commanded the angel, and he put his sword back into its sheath.

Returning to Stephen and his apologetic, he said that it was King Solomon, David’s son, who built the first temple (verse 47). That is documented in four places in the Old Testament, one of them being 2 Chronicles 3:1:

1 Then Solomon began to build the house of the Lord in Jerusalem on Mount Moriah, where the Lord[a] had appeared to David his father, at the place that David had appointed, on the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite.

Stephen then gave his audience a warning about the temple: that God does not dwell in manmade houses (verse 48). To support his argument, he cited Isaiah 66:1-2 (verses 49-50). God’s throne is in heaven. The earth is his footstool. Anything man can build to honour God comes from things God Himself created.

John MacArthur analyses this. Ironically, the words in verse 48 came from Solomon himself:

Solomon said, when he built the house for God, “It’s not going to hold Him.” And Stephen’s saying, “I’m not blaspheming the Temple, friends. I’m saying God is bigger than the box you’ve got Him in, and I’m only saying what Solomon said. So don’t accuse me of blaspheming your temple. Solomon would be accused of it, too. Look what he said.”

Stephen’s citing Isaiah 66:1-2 offered further support for Solomon’s words and the fact that whatever we build in homage to God is, really, nothing much in His eyes.

Matthew Henry’s commentary points out that what matters is making God’s world a place that honours Him in all things, beginning with us and the state of our souls:

And as the world is thus God’s temple, wherein he is manifested, so it is God’s temple in which he will be worshipped. As the earth is full of his glory, and is therefore his temple (Isaiah 6:3), so the earth is, or shall be, full of his praise (Habakkuk 3:3), and all the ends of the earth shall fear him (Psalms 67:7), and upon this account it is his temple.

Acts 7:51-60 are in the three-year Lectionary for St Stephen’s feast day, December 26. However, they bear discussion here to give you the end of the trial and what happened next.

Stephen ramped up his indictment of the temple leaders, accusing them and their people historically of persecuting anyone God sent to them up through and including Christ. He charged them with a continuous, stubborn, historical rejection of the Holy Spirit. Just as bad, he accused them of not keeping the law:

51 You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you. 52 Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who announced beforehand the coming of the Righteous One, whom you have now betrayed and murdered, 53 you who received the law as delivered by angels and did not keep it.”

That was the final straw:

54 Now when they heard these things they were enraged, and they ground their teeth at him.

Death by stoning was on its way. Stephen became the Church’s first martyr.

Stephen had held a figurative mirror up to them, making them look at their hypocrisy and spiritual blindness. They could not respond in any way other than with murderous anger. Even then, they never repented.

MacArthur offers this insight regarding Jesus’s words coming to fruition:

Jesus, speaking to Israel, Luke 13:28, “There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth when ye shall see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God and you yourselves thrown out.”

See, the Jews had waited all along for the kingdom. They had dreamed of the kingdom. The King came, offered them the kingdom, and what did they do to the King? They killed the King. They forfeited the kingdom. Jesus says, “You’re going to spend forever grinding your teeth at God when you see you didn’t get into the kingdom.”

And in Matthew we have it again, in chapter 8 and verse 12. Listen to these words. They’re fearful words. “But the sons of the kingdom,” you know who that is? That’s Israel, the rightful heirs to the kingdom. “Shall be cast into outer darkness. There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

Then you go on in Matthew to chapter 13, and you have it all over again. Whenever you hear something once in the Bible, it’s absolutely important. Whenever you hear it repeated over and over again, it is extremely important. Matthew, chapter 13, and verse … 41, “The Son of Man shall send forth His angels and they shall gather out of His kingdom all those that offend and them who do iniquity and cast them into the furnace of fire. There shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth.” You know, hell’s going to be full of mad people, angry people. Verse 50, “and shall cast them into the furnace of fire. There shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth.”

Chapter 22 of Matthew, verse 13, Jesus isn’t finished. He says, “Then said the king to the servants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, take him away, cast him into outer darkness. There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.'” You find it again in chapter 24 of Matthew as He’s still talking about the kingdom. Verse 51, “shall cut him asunder, appoint him his portion with the hypocrites. There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

God was merciful to Stephen before he died. Note how St Luke describes him and the moment before the Jewish leaders took him out of Jerusalem to be stoned to death:

55 But he, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. 56 And he said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”

Stephen was brimming with faith — and forgiveness — until the horrific end. What a role model for Christians:

59 And as they were stoning Stephen, he called out, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” 60 And falling to his knees he cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” And when he had said this, he fell asleep.

In closing, it’s worth pointing out verse 58:

58 Then they cast him out of the city and stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul.

MacArthur does not mention Saul in his sermon. However, Matthew Henry states that this is the Saul who would convert and become Paul, the last Apostle, who actually referred to Stephen in his ministry:

Now, the stoning of a man being a laborious piece of work, the witnesses took off their upper garments, that they might not hang in their way, and they laid them down at a young man’s feet, whose name was Saul, now a pleased spectator of this tragedy. It is the first time we find mention of his name; we shall know it and love it better when we find it changed to Paul, and him changed from a persecutor into a preacher. This little instance of his agency in Stephen’s death he afterwards reflected upon with regret (Acts 22:20): I kept the raiment of those that slew him.

Saul and Stephen, incidentally, are the subjects of next week’s verses.

Next time — Acts 8:1-3

Over the past few weeks I have been running a series of posts on Percy Dearmer‘s 1912 volume, Everyman’s History of the Prayer Book, published by Mowbray.

These are the previous posts in the series:

Percy Dearmer on the Anglican Thirty-nine Articles of Religion

Percy Dearmer on the title page of the Book of Common Prayer

Percy Dearmer on the title page of the Book of Common Prayer – part 1

Percy Dearmer on the title page of the Book of Common Prayer – part 2

Percy Dearmer on the earliest church service manuscripts

That last post referenced Chapter 4 of Dearmer’s book. That chapter has so much information in it that it will be the subject of my next few Sunday night posts.

What caught my eye — and is the subject of today’s entry — is Dearmer’s sound interpretation of St Paul’s instruction regarding prophecy and tongues from 1 Corinthians 14. (I use the ESV.)

Dearmer defines both terms for us.

Prophecy:

probably resembling the utterances and prayers which break the silence of a Quakers’ meeting (or of those “quiet meetings” which are now happily being revived in the Church of England), as it is mentioned in 1 Cor. xiv. 1, 29, 1 Thess. v. 20, and in 1 Cor. xi. 4 …

Tongues:

which we see by 1 Cor. xiv. 23-39, were already becoming somewhat of a babel, and are unfavourably compared by St. Paul with Prophecy …

For each, Dearmer went on to explain what St Paul meant in 1 Corinthians 14:34:

the women should keep silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission, as the Law also says.

This passage is contentious, especially today with the contrast between certain fundamentalist notions of ‘federal’ (‘male’) headship and women’s active participation in church services, particularly those who have been ordained in certain denominations.

Dearmer provides suitable historic explanations, particular to the Corinthians.

With regard to prophecy (emphases mine):

This passage is interesting because it shows that the Apostle’s injunction, “Let your women keep silence in the churches” (1 Cor. xiv. 34), did not mean that they were not to take any part in the service, but referred to a habit which had grown up amongst the women, of chattering during service time

The men then joined in with tongues:

the men, it seems from the context, interrupted by babbling with “tongues,” or by all prophesying at once

One exacerbated the other:

and then the women increased the confusion by asking questions about what they meant — which is not to be wondered at

Paul gave the Corinthians specific instructions on both in 1 Corinthians 14.

Paul valued prophecy over tongues (verse 5), because prophecy built up, encouraged and consoled the whole congregation (verse 3).

He told those speaking in tongues that they needed to be ready to interpret what they had just uttered, so that the rest of the congregation could understand (verses 13-17).

This is interesting:

18 I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you. 19 Nevertheless, in church I would rather speak five words with my mind in order to instruct others, than ten thousand words in a tongue.

Remember that, in Acts 2:12-13, about which I wrote in December 2016, the 70 who received the Holy Spirit at the first Pentecost began speaking in foreign languages — tongues. Some of the Jews ridiculed them because they did not understand the languages spoken. They said these holy followers of Jesus were intoxicated on new wine.

With that in mind, Paul exhorts the Corinthians to be mindful of what they say and how they say it (verse 23):

If, therefore, the whole church comes together and all speak in tongues, and outsiders or unbelievers enter, will they not say that you are out of your minds?

Paul made a clear distinction between tongues and prophecy. Each was for a different audience. Tongues, he said, were for unbelievers’ ears (verse 21, citing Isaiah 28:11, Deuteronomy 28:49). Prophecy was for the believers. Paul says that both, done properly, would have a dramatic effect on the listener:

24 But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or outsider enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all, 25 the secrets of his heart are disclosed, and so, falling on his face, he will worship God and declare that God is really among you.

That is what happened in the early chapters of Acts and what Paul wanted the Corinthians to achieve.

He wanted them to speak in an orderly fashion and maintain silence rather than speak idly (‘Oooh, I wonder what that was about?’):

27 If any speak in a tongue, let there be only two or at most three, and each in turn, and let someone interpret. 28 But if there is no one to interpret, let each of them keep silent in church and speak to himself and to God. 29 Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weigh what is said. 30 If a revelation is made to another sitting there, let the first be silent. 31 For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all be encouraged, 32 and the spirits of prophets are subject to prophets. 33 For God is not a God of confusion but of peace.

40 But all things should be done decently and in order.

1 Corinthians 14 also gives us an idea of the worship of Paul’s converts:

26 What then, brothers? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up.

From these early practices — ‘done decently and in order’ — a liturgy began developing which became fuller and more structured as the Church matured. An orderly worship benefited everyone in the congregation.

Next week’s post will describe New Testament Christian worship in more detail.

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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

Acts 7:35-43

35 “This Moses, whom they rejected, saying, ‘Who made you a ruler and a judge?’—this man God sent as both ruler and redeemer by the hand of the angel who appeared to him in the bush. 36 This man led them out, performing wonders and signs in Egypt and at the Red Sea and in the wilderness for forty years. 37 This is the Moses who said to the Israelites, ‘God will raise up for you a prophet like me from your brothers.’ 38 This is the one who was in the congregation in the wilderness with the angel who spoke to him at Mount Sinai, and with our fathers. He received living oracles to give to us. 39 Our fathers refused to obey him, but thrust him aside, and in their hearts they turned to Egypt, 40 saying to Aaron, ‘Make for us gods who will go before us. As for this Moses who led us out from the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.’ 41 And they made a calf in those days, and offered a sacrifice to the idol and were rejoicing in the works of their hands. 42 But God turned away and gave them over to worship the host of heaven, as it is written in the book of the prophets:

“‘Did you bring to me slain beasts and sacrifices,
    during the forty years in the wilderness, O house of Israel?
43 You took up the tent of Moloch
    and the star of your god Rephan,
    the images that you made to worship;
and I will send you into exile beyond Babylon.’

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

Stephen, one of the first deacons who was also divinely given the gift of ‘doing great wonders and signs among the people’ (Acts 6:8). He also spoke openly about Jesus in Solomon’s Portico (Porch) at the temple. For this, he was arrested on charges of blasphemy: blaspheming God, Moses, the law and the temple. Acts 7 contains his address and the council’s action against him.

Stephen first got the council’s attention by saying he had revered the same traditions as they and respected the history of the people of Israel. He related the story of Abraham, then of Joseph.

At that point, he accomplished two objectives: holding his audience’s attention and defending himself against the charge of blaspheming God.

As Stephen related his scriptural knowledge of the early patriarchs, he also indicted his audience for rejecting Jesus. His reason for mentioning Joseph was to get them to realise that Joseph’s brothers treated him the same way the Jews treated Jesus.

Stephen went on to discuss Moses scripturally, to show that he had not blasphemed him. He began with Moses’s childhood, then his early adulthood, which included self-exile to Midian. After 40 years, an angel of the Lord appeared to Moses in the burning bush and told him he would be going to Egypt to deliver the Israelites.

Today’s verses are a continuation of the discourse. What Stephen did throughout his entire apologetic — case for, defence of religious doctrine — was to demonstrate that God’s chosen people had rejected those He sent to them. Similarly, they had rejected Jesus. Stephen exhorted them to consider those rejections very carefully.

The angel led Moses — the man the Israelites had rejected — back to Egypt to free them from bondage (verse 45). Note that Stephen quotes the Israelites. They said the same things to Moses that the Jews of Jesus’s time said to Him. Matthew Henry explains:

Now, by this example, Stephen would intimate to the council that this Jesus whom they now refused, as their fathers did Moses, saying, Who made thee a prophet and a king? Who gave thee this authority? even this same has God advanced to be a prince and a Saviour, a ruler and a deliverer; as the apostles had told them awhile ago (Acts 5:30), that the stone which the builders refused was become the head-stone in the corner, Acts 4:11.

Stephen gave full praise to Moses throughout his discourse, thereby proving that he was not blaspheming him at all.

He pointed out that Moses performed ‘wonders and signs’ in Egypt, at the Red Sea and in the wilderness (verse 36).

Stephen then reminded the temple court that Moses told the Israelites that one day a prophet would come from their midst (verse 37). That was a clear reference to Jesus.

John MacArthur says (emphases mine):

You say, “Well, how does that present Christ?” Listen, they knew everything about Christ, and if they looked at the facts they’d see that Christ paralleled Moses in every way. You see? That’s the point. They knew all the facts. For example, Moses was a deliverer from among his own people, a Jew. So was Jesus Christ. Moses came down from a palace to release men in bondage. He condescended. So did Jesus Christ. Moses offered himself to Israel and was rejected and then went and raised up seed among the Gentiles …

Moses was rejected the first time but accepted the second time, and so will be Jesus Christ. Moses was a great redeemer. So was Jesus Christ. Moses leads people out of bondage. So does Jesus Christ. You can talk about Moses as a type of Christ over and over and over. Moses is even a shepherd. So is Jesus Christ. So Moses said, “You look, and when you see one like me, you listen to him. He’s your Messiah.” And they had looked, and they had not seen. And Jesus said of them, “You are blind leaders of the blind.” They couldn’t see anything. Blind. So the history of Moses is the foreshadowing of the history of Christ.

Stephen continued, saying that Moses was the one appointed to be with the Israelites in the wilderness. It was Moses who received the oracles — the Ten Commandments — which he then gave to God’s people (verse 38).

Note that Stephen said ‘living oracles’, thereby demonstrating that he knew the Commandments are still to be obeyed. Therefore, Stephen defended himself successfully against the accusation that he blasphemed the law.

With regard to verse 38, in some translations, ‘church’ is used instead of ‘congregation’. John MacArthur explains that the Greek word used was ‘ekklesia’, meaning ‘called-out ones’, or God’s chosen people who were called out of Egypt.

MacArthur says that we mustn’t confuse ‘church’ with the Christian church. It’s more of a congregation:

The New Testament church doesn’t start until the Day of Pentecost. There was no church in the wilderness as we know it … The reason he calls the group of Israelites the called-out ones is because they were called out of Egypt, not because they were the body of Christ, the church. So let’s call them a called-out congregation.

Stephen then pointedly related to the temple court audience that the Israelites rejected Moses a second time, turning to Egyptian pagan ways (verse 39):

 Our fathers refused to obey him, but thrust him aside …

This happened when Moses went up Mount Sinai to receive God’s law. He stayed there a long time, long enough for the Israelites in their disobedience to ask Aaron for idols (verse 40). They were so impatient for Moses’s return, saying they didn’t know what had happened to him, that they wanted false gods instead.

Stephen mentioned this as a clear indictment that the Jews had not changed.

MacArthur explains:

This is a shot. “Whom our fathers would not obey.” He says, “You want to talk about disobedience to God’s laws, then check your own history. You’re always going back to the sanctity and sacredness of your forefathers. They were the ones that were disobedient. “Whom our fathers would not obey, but thrust him from them, and in their hearts turned back again into Egypt.” They said “Nuts” to Moses. “We want to do what we did in Egypt.”

Remember what they did? Moses was up there getting the law, and what are they doing? Making false gods that they learned about in Egypt and worshipping them at the foot of the mount where Moses is getting the law. Israel’s not so sacred. Their fathers weren’t so to be esteemed. They sure couldn’t boast of the fathers’ loyalty to Moses or the law. They weren’t loyal to Moses or the law. They rejected Moses even at Sinai. They rejected God’s law even while it was being given. They didn’t even wait to hear it. They rejected it before they even knew what it was.

MacArthur tells us that the Israelites knew what they were doing. Oral tradition about their forefathers had been passed down through the generations, from earliest times. Consider Abel:

Listen, they knew enough of the law to know you don’t worship the gods of the Egyptians. Abel knew that. Abel knew to make a sacrifice to the true God, didn’t he? … He knew it, and if he knew it, he did it by faith, and if he did it by faith, faith is based on revelation. “Faith cometh by,” what? “Hearing.” Therefore, he had to hear something. He operated on faith. They knew to worship the true God, and they knew to sacrifice only to Him.

Stephen went on to describe the Israelites’ heinous disobedience while Moses was receiving the law from God. They constructed a golden idol then celebrated their handicraft (verse 41).

MacArthur tells us that Aaron tried to dissuade them from constructing this calf, or young bull:

He said, “If you’re going to do this, then you’ll have to bring all your earrings, your gold earrings and your gold ornaments.” And it may have been that he wanted to stop them from doing it by putting the price so high they wouldn’t want to give up those things. But they did. Maybe he figured that if I’ll get them to do that, they won’t be willing to. But they did. They brought it all, melted it all down and made a golden calf, a golden bull.

MacArthur explains the significance of the golden calf:

the young bull would be the fact that the Egyptians worshipped Apis and Mnevis, two bulls. One was supposed to be Osiris reincarnated. The other was the sun god reincarnated. And so they worshipped these two bulls, and this is Egyptian worship. They had learned this in Egypt.

This ‘rejoicing’ that Stephen spoke of was more of an orgy. MacArthur says:

the Book of Exodus tells us that they took their clothes off and they were in naked shame, carrying on a sexual orgy in the worship of this young bull. All the time, Moses is up there communing with God. Boy, you talk about contrast, friends. You’ll never see a more stark one than that.

Stephen is just absolutely indicting the land of Israel and the nation of Israel for rejecting God all the way through.

Upon his return, Moses was furious to see all that had gone on while he was receiving divine law. God was even angrier. God wanted to destroy His people, but Moses prayed, asking for His mercy instead. So, God ‘turned away’ and left them to their own devices (verse 42). The ‘host of heaven’ refers to the stars and planets.

MacArthur reminds us:

God said, “I’ll only slay 3,000, and let the rest live.” But none of them ever entered the Promised Land. All they did was live 40 years wandering all over the place. And Moses was so mad he slammed down the tablets of stone and broke them all over everywhere and had to go back up and get another set.

Matthew Henry points out that when God left the Israelites to their own devices:

they walked in their own counsels, and were so scandalously mad upon their idols as never any people were

Stephen, in relating this history lesson, went on to quote Amos 5:25-27 (verses 42, 43):

25 “Did you bring to me sacrifices and offerings during the forty years in the wilderness, O house of Israel? 26 You shall take up Sikkuth your king, and Kiyyun your star-god—your images that you made for yourselves, 27 and I will send you into exile beyond Damascus,” says the Lord, whose name is the God of hosts.

‘Damascus’ in Amos 5:27 is ‘Babylon’ in Stephen’s context, by the way. It is thought Stephen said ‘Babylon’ to emphasise the captivity of Israel.

Henry offers a detailed analysis of these last two verses — Acts 7:42-43. God asked if His people had offered Him sacrifices during their time in the wilderness. Notice how He addressed them as ‘O house of Israel’, implying He had chosen them and they, in turn, rejected His law for them:

No; during all that time sacrifices to God were intermitted; they did not so much as keep the passover after the second year. It was God’s condescension to them that he did not insist upon it during their unsettled state; but then let them consider how ill they requited him in offering sacrifices to idols, when God dispensed with their offering them to him.

As for Stephen’s audience:

This is also a check to their zeal for the customs that Moses delivered to them, and their fear of having them changed by this Jesus, that immediately after they were delivered these customs were for forty years together disused as needless things.

Henry then explains the horrors of the Israelites’ gods and idols, which they worshipped from that point until their much later captivity in Babylon ended. This lasted for generations:

Moloch was the idol of the children of Ammon, to which they barbarously offered their own children in sacrifice, which they could not do without great terror and grief to themselves and their families; yet this unnatural idolatry they arrived at, when God gave them up to worship the host of heaven. See 2 Chronicles 28:3. It was surely the strongest delusion that ever people were given up to, and the greatest instance of the power of Satan in the children of disobedience, and therefore it is here spoken of emphatically: Yea, you took up the tabernacle of Moloch …

Then there is the matter of the universe:

Some think Remphan signifies the moon, as Moloch does the sun; others take it for Saturn, for that planet is called Remphan in the Syriac and Persian languages. The Septuagint puts it for Chiun, as being a name more commonly known. They had images representing the star, like the silver shrines for Diana, here called the figures which they made to worship. Dr. Lightfoot [a Bible scholar of Henry’s era] thinks they had figures representing the whole starry firmament, with all the constellations, and the planets, and these are called Remphan–“the high representation,” like the celestial globe: a poor thing to make an idol of, and yet better than a golden calf!

God’s ultimate punishment was to send the Israelites to captivity in Babylon. After that, their idol worship ended.

MacArthur sums this up for us:

So in a short little statement, Stephen recites the history of idolatry in Israel, from Sinai to Babylon. And you know they had the law all that time? They had the law. All those years they had the law. They had teachers of the law, scribes and everybody. They just kept rejecting, rejecting, rejecting, rejecting. So Stephen says, “Don’t accuse me of blaspheming the law. Check your own history.”

MacArthur says that nothing has changed, even today:

If Jesus had been our Messiah, all of those great Jewish leaders would’ve known He was our Messiah. We wouldn’t have missed it.” That’s one of the things that Jews even argue about today. “Why, with all of the great rabbis and teachers of the past, they would know if the Messiah came. They wouldn’t have missed him.”

That is why Stephen framed his apologetic the way he did:

And Stephen says, “Guess what? You missed Moses. Guess what? You missed Joseph. You never picked up on Joseph until the second time around, and you never picked up on Moses until the second time around.” And when is it they’re going to pick up on Jesus? The second time around. That’s no argument at all. “We would’ve known.” Your history proves you didn’t know. “You do always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers have done, so do you.” “You’re right on schedule. It always takes two times to get through to you.”

Scripture says that the second time around will be too late.

Let us pray for those who reject Christ, whoever they might be. Let us pray for them to be delivered from spiritual blindness and carnal captivity.

Stephen’s discourse continues in next week’s instalment.

Next time: Acts 7:44-50

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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

Acts 7:30-34

30 “Now when forty years had passed, an angel appeared to him in the wilderness of Mount Sinai, in a flame of fire in a bush. 31 When Moses saw it, he was amazed at the sight, and as he drew near to look, there came the voice of the Lord: 32 ‘I am the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham and of Isaac and of Jacob.’ And Moses trembled and did not dare to look. 33 Then the Lord said to him, ‘Take off the sandals from your feet, for the place where you are standing is holy ground. 34 I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt, and have heard their groaning, and I have come down to deliver them. And now come, I will send you to Egypt.’

————————————————————————————————————-

My previous post, published before Holy Week, continued an exposition of Stephen’s self-defence in the form of an apologetic, possibly the first Christian one, to the temple court.

Stephen, one of the first deacons who was also divinely given the gift of ‘doing great wonders and signs among the people’ (Acts 6:8). He also spoke openly about Jesus in Solomon’s Portico (Porch) at the temple. For this, he was arrested on charges of blasphemy: blaspheming God, Moses, the law and the temple. Acts 7 contains his address and the council’s action against him.

Stephen first got the council’s attention by saying he had revered the same traditions as they and respected the history of the people of Israel. He related the story of Abraham, then of Joseph.

At that point, he accomplished two objectives: holding his audience’s attention and defending himself against the charge of blaspheming God.

As Stephen related his scriptural knowledge of the early patriarchs, he also indicted his audience for rejecting Jesus. His reason for mentioning Joseph was to get them to realise that Joseph’s brothers treated him the same way the Jews treated Jesus.

Stephen went on to discuss Moses scripturally, to show that he had not blasphemed him. He began with Moses’s childhood, then his early adulthood, which included self-exile to Midian.

Today’s verses are a continuation of the discourse.

Although we all know the story of Moses and the burning bush, there is a lot to look at here.

These verses tie in with Exodus 3, which tells us that when this took place, Moses was tending the flock of his father-in-law Jethro. Moses’s wife’s name was Zipporah.

One day, 40 years after Moses left Egypt, he was in the wilderness of Mount Sinai — the same as Horeb, the mountain of God (Exodus 3:1). John MacArthur says the two names are used interchangeably.

An angel appeared to Moses in a burning bush (verse 30). Although it does not happen frequently, spontaneous combustion has been known to occur in that part of the world. Some modernist theologians think that the bush self-combusted, however, Matthew Henry tells us (emphases mine):

the bush, in which this fire was, though combustible matter, was not consumed

Henry explains that the bush was a symbol not only of the state of God’s children at the time and a revelation of God’s presence — what MacArthur says is the Shekinah Glory — but also a foretelling of the Messiah:

it represented the state of Israel in Egypt (where, though they were in the fire of affliction, yet they were not consumed), so perhaps it may be looked upon as a type of Christ’s incarnation, and the union between the divine and human nature: God, manifested in the flesh, was as the flame of fire manifested in the bush.

Moses was amazed at the sight and approached the bush (verse 31).

Incidentally, John MacArthur says that the Greek word for ‘sight’ is oramah. The Greek word pan means ‘all’. This is the etymology of the word ‘panorama’.

When the Lord God announced Himself, Moses looked away (verse 32). His awestruck state moved from wonder at a natural phenomenon to the fear of God.

Henry says the fire was the Son of God:

He trembled, and durst not behold, durst not look stedfastly upon it; for he was soon aware that it was not a fiery meteor, but the angel of the Lord; and no other than the Angel of the covenant, the Son of God himself. This set him a trembling.

MacArthur explains why God introduced Himself as He did:

God was establishing the covenant again. God said, “I promised Abraham, ‘I’ll bring you into the land and it’ll be yours.’ I repeated it to Isaac. I repeated it to Jacob.'” God is coming back to Moses as the covenant God, you see? He’s coming back to Moses with the promise of the fulfillment of the covenant that He made that they would go into the land.

Henry gives the same explanation but goes further, emphasising the words ‘I am the God’, which means that after Abraham, Isaac and Jacob departed this mortal coil, they were only physically dead. Their souls are still alive. Henry explains that Jesus said the same in Matthew 22:31-22, about which I wrote in 2016:

For if the death of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, cannot break the covenant-relation between God and them (as by this it appears it cannot), then nothing else can: and then he will be a God, (1.) To their souls, which are now separated from their bodies. Our Saviour by this proves the future state, Matthew 22:31,32. Abraham is dead, and yet God is still his God, therefore Abraham is still alive. God never did that for him in this world which would answer the true intent and full extent of that promise, that he would be the God of Abraham; and therefore it must be done for him in the other world … (2.) To their seed. God, in declaring himself thus the God of their fathers, intimated his kindness to their seed, that they should be beloved for the fathers’ sakes, Romans 11:28,De+7:8.

Henry points out that the Apostles and, here, Stephen, the Hellenist (Greek) Jew who converted, was actually showing respect for Moses and understood the love of God — much more than his Jewish audience:

Now this is that life and immortality which are brought to light by the gospel, for the full conviction of the Sadducees, who denied it. Those therefore who stood up in defence of the gospel, and endeavoured to propagate it, were so far from blaspheming Moses that they did the greatest honour imaginable to Moses, and that glorious discovery which God made of himself to him at the bush Now the preachers of the gospel preached up this covenant, the promise made of God unto the fathers; unto which promise those of the twelve tribes that did continue serving God hoped to come, Acts 26:6,7. And shall they, under colour of supporting the holy place and the law, oppose the covenant which was made with Abraham and his seed, his spiritual seed, before the law was given, and long before the holy place was built? Since God’s glory must be for ever advanced, and our glorying for ever silenced, God will have our salvation to be by promise, and not by the law; the Jews therefore who persecuted the Christians, under pretence that they blasphemed the law, did themselves blaspheme the promise, and forsook all their own mercies that were contained in it.

The Lord told Moses to remove his sandals because he was standing on holy ground (verse 33). Henry tells us that this was because Moses was about to deliver his people from captivity, therefore, fulfilling the Covenant that God made with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob:

When God had declared himself the God of Abraham he proceeded, 1. To order Moses into a reverent posture: “Put off thy shoes from thy feet. Enter not upon sacred things with low, and cold, and common thoughts. Keep thy foot, Ecclesiastes 5:1. Be not hasty and rash in thy approaches to God; tread softly.” 2. To order Moses into a very eminent service. When he is ready to receive commands, he shall have commission. He is commissioned to demand leave from Pharaoh for Israel to go out of his land, and to enforce that demand, Acts 7:34.

The Lord gave Moses his divine commission (verse 34). The Lord saw the suffering of His people. He heard their cries for freedom. He descended to Moses that they might be delivered. And Moses would fulfil that plan.

Henry tells us that this holds true today for the Church:

Observe, (1.) The notice God took both of their sufferings and of their sense of their sufferings: I have seen, I have seen their affliction, and have heard their groaning. God has a compassionate regard to the troubles of his church, and the groans of his persecuted people; and their deliverance takes rise from his pity.

Henry reminds us that Christ delivered us, bringing us to salvation:

(2.) The determination he fixed to redeem them by the hand of Moses: I am come down to deliver them. It should seem, though God is present in all places, yet he uses that expression here of coming down to deliver them because that deliverance was typical of what Christ did, when, for us men, and for our salvation, he came down from heaven; he that ascended first descended.

Furthermore, God’s plans are sovereign. They will succeed:

Moses is the man that must be employed: Come, and I will send thee into Egypt: and, if God send him, he will own him and give him success.

What an encouraging thought to ponder during the week ahead. God does not ignore our plights. God is fully aware of what we are going through.

With regard to Stephen, as Matthew Henry’s commentary states, he understood the role of Jesus as Messiah. Stephen explained that to his audience in light of Scripture and with reverence. The men in the temple court accused him of multiple counts of blasphemy. Yet Stephen was not the blasphemer. They were.

Stephen had not finished his discourse. There is more to his apologetic which my next two posts on consecutive Sundays will discuss in more detail.

Next time — Acts 7:35-43

Sunday, April 23, 2017 is the Second Sunday of Easter.

The Gospel reading for this day is John 20:19-31, the story of Thomas the Apostle, depicted below in a painting by Caravaggio called The Incredulity of St Thomas.

The Bible never states that Thomas actually touched Christ’s wounds.  Nonetheless, it is a dramatic illustration of this encounter and poses an interesting thought: what if?

It is interesting that Caravaggio depicts Christ guiding Thomas’s forefinger into his wound. One can imagine Him saying quietly, ‘Go on, Thomas. Feel the spot where they pierced me. See for yourself.’ It’s a form of rebuke: ‘You stayed away for a week, doubting. Now you’ll find out.’

The links below provide more information about this Gospel reading:

Doubting Thomas — John 20:19-31

Doubting Thomas: When seeing is believing

This particular Sunday was known as Quasimodo Sunday for centuries. Today, it is called Low Sunday or, in the case of the Catholic Church, Divine Mercy Sunday.

Quasimodo Sunday was of particular importance to those who had been baptised the week before, on Easter Day.

Find out more below:

Quasimodo Sunday — seriously

It is sad that so many denominational Christians — including clergy — know so little Church history. The more we know, the deeper the meaning. It can be compared to family history. Aren’t our families even more important to us once we have more background on our relatives and ancestors? So it should be with our church family.

Forbidden Bible Verses returns next week.

jesus-christ-the-king-blogsigncomHappy Easter! He is risen!

I hope that all of us enjoy this feast day, the most important in the Church year.

I have many past posts on Easter:

Easter: the greatest feast in the Church year

Easter Sunday: Thoughts on this greatest of days

Happy Easter — He is risen!

The significance of Easter to the Church (various questions answered)

Psalm 118, Christ’s Passion and Eastertide

Easter poems from an inspired Anglican, the Revd George Herbert

Part I of a Martin Luther Easter sermon: the story of Christ’s Resurrection

Part II of a Martin Luther Easter sermon: the fruits and benefits of Christ’s Resurrection

Holy Week and Easter — the two-part story

The road to Emmaus — a great Easter story

Epistle for Easter in Year C — Acts 10:34-43 (2016)

The Easter story: reflections on Mark 16:1-8 (Dr Gregory Jackson, Lutheran)

Judge Andrew Napolitano on the meaning of Easter (great, especially from a layman)

Easter documentaries — when knowing the Bible helps — part 1

Easter documentaries — when knowing the Bible helps — part 2

Easter, the egg and the hare (one of the fullest accounts about Easter symbolism)

Mary Magdalene and the legend of the egg (Christian — not pagan!)

Many of us have lingering questions about Easter, myself included, and this is probably because we are not that well acquainted with all the Gospel accounts of the time between Jesus’s death and the Resurrection.

Today’s post provides excerpts from two of John MacArthur’s sermons on the subject: ‘The Amazing Burial of Jesus, Part 1’ and ‘The Resurrection of Jesus Christ, Part 1’.

Subheads and emphases mine below.

Summary

Anyone knowledgeable about the Christian faith is aware of the significance of the cross, where our sins were borne by the Lord Jesus Christ to free us from the penalty and guilt of sin. Just as significant is the resurrection of Jesus Christ–the single greatest miracle the world will ever know. It demonstrates Christ’s finished work of redemption and reminds us that His power over death will bring us to glory.

Why Jesus died within a few hours

Interestingly, there was discussion on some of my Holy Week posts this year about the rapidity of Jesus’s death on the cross.

MacArthur explains:

Jesus was nailed to the cross at nine in the morning, but most victims lingered much longer on the cross, some for many days. No one took His life from Him; He voluntarily gave it up (John 10:17-18). Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor who ordered His execution, was astounded when He heard Christ was dead so soon (Mark 15:44).

Also significant is that the day He died was a Friday, meaning that Sabbath started at sunset that day:

It was imperative that Christ be dead early enough in the day so He could be put in the grave some time on Friday. That day had to be included as one of the three days He would be in the earth (the others being Saturday and Sunday).

John 19:31-33 states that the Jewish leaders were concerned about Jesus and the two criminals remaining on the cross before a Passover Sabbath. They would have to die and be removed beforehand. The quickest way of ensuring death was to have their legs broken:

31 Since it was the day of Preparation, and so that the bodies would not remain on the cross on the Sabbath (for that Sabbath was a high day), the Jews asked Pilate that their legs might be broken and that they might be taken away. 32 So the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first, and of the other who had been crucified with him. 33 But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs.

MacArthur says:

They derived this particular rule from Deuteronomy 21:22-23, which says, “If a man have committed a sin worthy of death, and he be put to death, and thou hang him on a tree, his body shall not remain all night upon the tree, but thou shalt surely bury him that day (for he who is hanged is accursed by God), that thy land be not defiled.” Apparently they didn’t always follow that regulation since historians tell us that bodies were often left on crosses for days. But on this Passover they made sure to perform this particular injunction to the limit.

John 19:34:37 says:

34 But one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water. 35 He who saw it has borne witness—his testimony is true, and he knows that he is telling the truth—that you also may believe. 36 For these things took place that the Scripture might be fulfilled: “Not one of his bones will be broken.” 37 And again another Scripture says, “They will look on him whom they have pierced.”

Why did the soldiers pierce the crucified?

the soldiers would give the victim what Jewish scholar Alfred Edersheim termed the “coup de grace” (lit., “the stroke of mercy”)–the death stroke (The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, 2 vols. [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1953], 2:613). A soldier would ram his spear into the victim’s heart … One proposal is that the pain of his shattered legs would traumatize the victim so that the spear thrust would be somewhat of a relief … The general idea behind the spear thrust and the leg breaking was to cause the victim to die immediately. 

Onee prophecy fulfilled, mentioned in John 19:36, is in Psalm 34:20:

He keeps all his bones;
    not one of them is broken.

Another prophecy fulfilled, regarding the piercing in John 19:37, is in Zechariah 12:10:

10 “And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and pleas for mercy, so that, when they look on me, on him whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over him, as one weeps over a firstborn.

There were other prophecies fulfilled that day:

Verse 34 tells us that blood and water came out of Christ’s pierced side–a sign of death. That’s a fulfillment of a prophecy from Psalm 69–a psalm that contains prophecies of the crucifixion scene, such as verse 21: “They gave me also gaul for my food, and in my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink.” Verse 20 says, “Reproach hath broken my heart.” Under the intense weight of all the sins of everyone who ever lived or will live, it is not inconceivable that a human heart could rupture. Thus another prophecy was fulfilled.

The importance of Jesus’s burial

The burial of Jesus as told in Matthew 27:57-66 is:

a marvelous account of God’s intervention into every detail in the life of Christ. We see God’s testimony unfold through Joseph of Arimathea (vv. 57-60), the two Marys (v. 61), and the chief priests and Pharisees (vv. 62-66). They play important roles in the burial of Jesus, validating the truthfulness of Christ’s claim to be the Son of God.

Joseph of Arimathea — prophecies fulfilled

jesus-laid-in-a-tomb-f5462516571Joseph of Arimathea’s actions played a significant role in fulfilling two prophecies regarding Jesus:

57 When it was evening, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who also was a disciple of Jesus. 58 He went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then Pilate ordered it to be given to him. 59 And Joseph took the body and wrapped it in a clean linen shroud 60 and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had cut in the rock. And he rolled a great stone to the entrance of the tomb and went away. 

MacArthur tells us:

The entire chapter of Isaiah 53 is devoted to the death of Christ. It says He was despised and rejected, truly a man of sorrows (v. 3). He bore our griefs and carried our sorrows (v. 4). He was wounded for our transgressions and bruised for our iniquities (v. 5). He was taken from prison into judgment (v. 8). Verse 9 says, “His grave was assigned to be with wicked men, yet [He was] with a rich man in his death” (NASB). That unusual prophecy would be difficult to understand apart from the scenario of Christ’s burial. He was supposed to have been buried with criminals, but instead was buried in a rich man’s tomb.

Then, there were Jesus’s words regarding Jonah (Matthew 12:40):

Jesus said, “Just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the sea monster, so shall the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth” (NASB). Jesus predicted that there would be three days between His death and resurrection–that He would be in the earth for three days.

Therefore:

God used Joseph of Arimathea to fulfill those prophecies, and thus provide testimony to the deity of Christ.

MacArthur says:

I don’t know what caused Joseph of Arimathea to publicly manifest himself as a follower of Jesus Christ. Perhaps it was the earthquake, the darkness, the graves opening, and the veil of the Temple ripping from top to bottom (Matt. 27:45, 51-54). Perhaps it was simply his love for Jesus and the agony he felt watching Him endure pain and suffering on the cross. One thing we can be sure of: God worked on his heart to bring to pass the fulfillment of prophecy.

The three days

How can we be sure there were three days between His burial and Resurrection? This is a recurring question, one which is sometimes hotly debated.

MacArthur explains:

Some people have difficulty reconciling what Jesus said in Matthew 12:40 about the length of His stay in the grave: “As Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” Does that mean Jesus had to be in the earth three full days and nights? No. Many commentators take that view and back the crucifixion to Thursday, so the three days and nights are Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, with His rising on Sunday. The obvious problem with that view is that we are left with a fourth- day resurrection. Yet all the passages in Scripture dealing with this issue indicate He was to rise on the third day. That eliminates the need for interpreting Matthew 12:40 as referring to three 24-hour periods. The phrase “three days and three nights” was simply an idiom of the Jewish people referring to a three-day period.

For example, if you were to say, “I’m going to San Diego for three days,” does that mean you’ll be there for three 24-hour periods? Not necessarily. It could mean you’ll be there for a few hours one day, all day the next day, and a few hours the third day. That is how Scripture refers to Christ’s burial.

In Luke 24:21 the disciples traveling the road to Emmaus were bemoaning the death of Christ, saying, “We hoped that it had been he who should have redeemed Israel; and, besides all this, today [Sunday] is the third day since these things were done.” They understood that the Lord’s prophecy of His resurrection wasn’t going to take place after three 24-hour periods, but on the third day, which from Friday would be Sunday. After all, Jesus said He would “be killed, and be raised again the third day” (Matt. 16:21). Matthew 17:23 repeats, “They shall kill him, and the third day he shall be raised again.” The chronological, historical references to the death of Christ indicate a third-day resurrection, not one following three 24-hour periods. When Jesus referred to three days and three nights, we can conclude He was referring to a part of three 24-hour periods. Rabbi Eleazar ben Azariah (who lived around A.D. 100) said, “A day and night are an Onah [a portion of time] and the portion of an Onah is as the whole of it (Jerusalem Talmud, Shabbath ix.3; cf. Babylonian Talmud Pesahim 4a).

The two Marys

Matthew 27:61 says:

Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were there, sitting opposite the tomb.

MacArthur tells us:

Mary Magdalene came from Magdala, a village on the west coast of the Sea of Galilee. The other Mary was the mother of James and Joseph (v. 56). John 19:25 calls her the wife of Clopas, or Alphaeus. (Matthew 10:3 refers to James as the son of Alphaeus to differentiate him from James the son of Zebedee.) She was one of the ladies who followed Him from Galilee to attend to His physical needs by providing food and sustenance. Other ladies had been present during the crucifixion and burial, but they apparently left with Joseph and Nicodemus (v. 60). Only these two women remained.

These two ladies also went to Jesus’s tomb on the third day (Matthew 28:1):

Now after the Sabbath, toward the dawn of the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb.

They went to the tomb because they loved Jesus that much, but also, MacArthur says:

perhaps hoping against hope that what He said might come to pass.

The earthquake — the third day

The two Marys approached the tomb at dawn of the third day, when an earthquake took place and an angel appeared, whose appearance was ‘like lightning’ (Matthew 28:2-7). The words ‘and behold’ are a call to pay close attention:

And behold, there was a great earthquake, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. 3 His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. And for fear of him the guards trembled and became like dead men. But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he[a] lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead, and behold, he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him. See, I have told you.” So they departed quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples.

MacArthur breaks this down for us:

Now this is the second earthquake in three days. There was an earthquake when Christ died, you remember, that split the rocks wide open and opened graves and dead people came alive among the saints. So this is the second earthquake. And God again is moving and God is demonstrating in a physiological way His activity. It’s not new for God. You can look to the past. For example, back in Exodus 19:18 at the giving of the law, 1 Kings chapter 19 verse 11, God came in an earthquake. You can look into the future and you read about it in Joel 2:10 that the time of the coming of the Lord there will be an earthquake. Revelation 6, Revelation 8, Revelation 11 describe that kind of thing. Jesus Himself even referred to it in the great Olivet Discourse, Matthew 24:7, about the earthquake that’s going to be coming or earthquakes attendant with His return. So when God begins to move in the world, the world shakes.

And here these women are approaching…they haven’t yet come to the garden. Instantly there is an earthquake. The epicenter of the earthquake is at the tomb. And the seismic radiation waves rumble through the ground beyond the grave and no doubt rock the land on which the women walk. They feel the earthquake not knowing what has happened.

Now what caused the earthquake? I suppose most people have just sort of concluded, “Well, the resurrection of Christ,” but that’s not the right answer. The resurrection didn’t cause the earthquake. Matthew tells us what caused the earthquake. “There was a great earthquake for or because an angel of the Lord descended from heaven.” When this angel hit the garden it created seismic waves. The word for “earthquake” is the root word seismos from which we get seismograph. And when the angel hit the land it sent out an earthquake. And these women not even knowing what was going on felt the movement of the earth, no doubt, as they approached the tomb. But the earthquake was not caused by the resurrection of Christ, it was caused by the arrival of an angel to open the tomb. Nothing, by the way, says that he let Jesus out of the tomb. That is a fallacy.

Have you ever seen a picture of an angel and a stone rolled back and Jesus coming out? That isn’t right. I mean, Jesus did not have the power to raise Himself from the dead and then wait in there until somebody moved the stone so He could get out. No one actually saw the resurrection. The women experienced the seismic ramifications of that event of the angel coming and the phenomena around the resurrection. The resurrection occurred in an invisible way, no one was in there to see it. Christ came out of that grave.

Put it this way very simply. The angel did not move the stone to let the Lord out. The angel moved the stone to let the women in so they could see that He was already gone.

You say, “Well, how could He get out of there?” Well the same way John 20:26 says the disciples were meeting on the eighth day and Jesus was in their midst, the door being shut. The same way He came through the wall into the upper room is the same way He went out of the rock of the grave which we shouldn’t imagine as any problem for one in His glorified form. So no one saw the resurrection. The angel came not to let the Lord out but to let the women in and to let the apostles in and to let us in and to let the whole world in to see that He wasn’t there.

Faith on display

The faith of the Marys was stronger than that of the disciples.

MacArthur says:

God honored their faith by allowing them to give testimony to what they saw. However feeble their faith may have been, it certainly was stronger than that of the disciples.

Remember, too, that the men were reluctant to believe the women:

The truth is that the disciples were reluctant to believe what the women said (Luke 24:6-12). Thomas was reluctant to believe when he heard from the other disciples who had seen their risen Lord (John 20:24-25). So God gave us first-hand witnesses to spread the word of the resurrection. Through eyewitness testimony and fulfilled prophecy in the burial of Christ, God was at work vindicating Jesus Christ as His Son.

What they saw

The Gospel accounts differ slightly in who went to the tomb and on the number of angels or men there.

Matthew 28 says only the two Marys went and that there was one angel. Only Matthew mentions the earthquake.

Mark 16 says that Salome (not Herod’s stepdaughter, by the way) accompanied the Marys. Mark says there was a ‘young man’ dressed in a white robe sitting inside the tomb.

Luke 24 names the two Marys, says there were two men present in dazzling apparel and records that Peter went to the tomb later.

John 20 records that only Mary Magdalene went and that Peter and an unnamed disciple went to the tomb after she met them. John himself was ‘the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved’. John mentions two angels later (verse 12) who appeared to Mary Magdalene after Peter and John left the tomb.

Regardless, MacArthur looks at Matthew’s and John’s accounts and describes what they saw.

In Matthew 28:

… there were the linen wrappings undisturbed the way they had been wrapped around His body. And the head napkin in a separate place. There was no turmoil, no big hurry to unwrap Him and throw everything on the floor and get out of there. It was just the way it had been when His body was in it only He was gone.

And then the angel came after He left to move the stone so the world could come in and see that He was gone and sat there as the heavenly witness to what had happened. What a scene.

 I can’t imagine for a moment what that must have been like.

In John 20:

I believe this is the proper point to harmonize John’s special interest in Mary Magdalene. Mary was to the women what Peter was to the Apostles. She was impetuous. What happens here is fascinating. The women come into the garden and I think this is the best place to insert this, although we can’t be dogmatic, it seems to me to fit so perfectly here. When Mary comes in all she sees with her rather myopic viewpoint is this whole and the stone is gone. And she doesn’t take note of this angel. And seeing that the stone is moved and the grave is empty is enough for her.

John tells us her reaction. Let’s look at John chapter 20. “The first day of the week comes Mary,” and then he notes, “[She] started out when it was yet dark unto the sepulcher and sees the stone taken away from the sepulcher.” Now apparently that’s all she saw. She missed the angel. She saw just that the stone was removed. And then verse 2, “Then…without a delay…she ran.” She took off. “And she went right to the two most prominent apostles, she went to Simon Peter and to the other disciple whom Jesus loved,” which is John’s term used to describe himself and the fact that it’s to Peter and to the other disciple probably indicates they were in two different homes during this Passover time. We can’t be certain. But anyway, she ran to Peter and John to tell them.

And what did she tell them? “They have taken away the Lord out of the grave and we know not where they’ve laid Him.” They’ve taken Him…they? I don’t know who they are. She didn’t know who they are…somebody. “Peter therefore went forth and so did John and they came to the grave.” Verse 4 says they ran and John outran Peter and arrived first.

MacArthur returns to Matthew 28 to tie these two accounts together:

So as we come to the women then in the confrontation with the angel, Mary Magdalene is apparently gone. She’s bolted to tell Peter and John that the body had been stolen. The other ladies stayed and they have the wonderful experience of an encounter with an angel.

As I mentioned earlier, John 20 records that, after Peter and John returned home from the tomb, Mary Magdalene stayed behind. Not only did she see two angels, but, even better, she also saw Jesus. What an indescribable moment that must have been:

11 But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb. 12 And she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet. 13 They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” 14 Having said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15 Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” 16 Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned and said to him in Aramaic,[b] “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher). 17 Jesus said to her, “Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” 18 Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”—and that he had said these things to her.

MacArthur describes the angel in Matthew 28:

The angel is described for us in verse 3. “His countenance…or his face…was like lightning.” Now that’s a pretty graphic description, isn’t it? Like lightning flashing, brilliant, blazing. This, no doubt, to transmit the effulgence or the essence, the deity, the brilliance of the character of God. This is the glow of God. This is the Shekinah somehow transmitted from God to that angel, as it was on one occasion from God to Moses and shown on his face, do you remember that in the book of Exodus? This angel, this one representative of God, this messenger from God possessed the very character of deity. And it emanated from his glowing face. Also it says his raiment or garment was white as snow and this is emblematic of purity, holiness, of virtue.

So here is a holy angel…the holy angel sent from God bearing the very imprimatur of the character of God, an angel representative of deity, a created being who represents the uncreated cause of all beings, God Himself, this holy angel. This to distinguish him from some man, this to distinguish him from some demon, this to identify him as the agent of God, this beautiful, glorious, glowing, pure, holy being sitting on the stone as living witness to the risen Christ…God’s own assigned witness.

The angel’s presence frightened the guards in the extreme (Matthew 28:4):

And for fear of him the guards trembled and became like dead men.

MacArthur explains:

They went into temporary coma. They were knocked literally unconscious out of terror. Fear will do that. Fear will cause people to be paralyzed to the point where they go unconscious and that’s precisely what happened. They were knocked cold out of fear. They were victims of divine power. They had seen something they had never seen or thought of or ever been able to comprehend and they were not now able to comprehend it.

The women were afraid, too, but because they loved Jesus, they listened to the angel.

‘He has risen’

Jesus Light of the World 616Matthew 28:6 states that the angel said:

He is not here, for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he[a] lay.

Luke 24:6-7:

He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, 7 that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise.”

Mark 16:6:

And he said to them, “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here. See the place where they laid him.

MacArthur’s version of the Bible has ‘He was raised’. This indicates:

that He was raised by the power of the Father. Over and over again it says that in Scripture…Romans 6:4, Galatians 1:1, 1 Peter 1:3, a couple of those I mentioned to you. He was raised by the power of the Father. It also says, doesn’t it, in John 10:18, “I have power to lay My life down and I have power to…what?…take it up again.” So He was raised not only by the Father but He was raised by His own power. And then in Romans 8:11 it says He was raised by the power of the Spirit. “It is the Spirit of Him that raised up Jesus from the dead.” So the whole trinity is involved in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. And the angel gives this incredible announcement, “He’s not here He was raised.” The point is He’s alive.

And then I love this, “He was raised,” it says, “as He said.” Isn’t that great? I mean, He just jolts them with the memory that this is exactly what He said He would do on the third day, just like He said. And by the way, Luke 24:8 says, “And they remembered His words.” So, that’s what He meant…so that’s what He was saying.

What a day of drama and glory!

Truly, Jesus Christ is the Son of God.

Being there for the Lord

JesusChristIt amazes students of the Bible that the Apostles, who spent three years day in and day out with Jesus, were not the first to arrive at the tomb on the third day.

It was the women who were there. And they were blessed by the presence of an angel or angels. Mary Magdalene was further blessed by the presence of Jesus.

MacArthur says we can draw a lasting lesson from being faithful to and present for the Lord:

You know what that says to me? I don’t want to extrapolate too much on this but it’s nice if you’re there when the Lord does wonderful things. There’s a great spiritual truth in that somewhere and that is that the closer you stay to the Lord and what He’s doing, the more you’re going to enjoy what He’s doing. I don’t know about you but I’d rather be there and experience it than hear it from somebody else, wouldn’t you? I praise God for people who are there. I mean they’re there when the Lord is working. They’re there when His people gather together. They’re there when His Word is taught. They’re there when it’s time to come to your knees before Him. They’re there when it’s time to call on His power in ministry. And they’re the ones that experience first hand the moving of the power of God. No, they saw it because they were there.

I trust that you will be the kind of person like those women. What you may lack in faith you make up for in devotion, what you may lack in understanding you make up for in loyalty. And God will confirm your weakness and turn it into strength because you’re faithful enough and loyal enough to be where He is and where He’s moving and where He’s working.

Amen.

Once again, happy Easter, everyone. I hope we have a beautiful day, rain or shine, as we reflect on the Resurrection of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ our Lord.

Lent ends on the evening of Holy Saturday, generally timed around the first Easter Vigil service.

Many Christians enjoy attending Easter Vigil services to see the blessing and lighting of the Paschal Candle, which is lit at services for the next 40 days, until Ascension Day.

New holy water is blessed in Catholic and High Anglican churches. (Chrism Masses would have been held on Wednesday of Holy Week, at which time bishops bless the oil used in Baptism, Confirmation, Ordination and the Anointing of the Sick and Dying for the next year.)

Traditionally, catechumens — newcomers to the faith — are baptised at this service.

The following post has more information:

What happens on Holy Saturday?

During the day, families are busy purchasing and preparing festive dishes for Easter Day. A popular custom among Polish Catholics is to have their food blessed at church.

(Image credit: annhetzelgunkel.com)

The following post, with the help of the aforementioned website, explains the importance of these traditional ingredients:

Holy Saturday and food traditions

Every Christian culture has certain food traditions. In 2016, Mary Berry, the doyenne of English home cooks, presented a two-part programme for the BBC in which she explored different Easter treats from around the world. Find out more below:

Easter food explored — part 1 (Mary Berry, BBC — 2016)

Easter food explored — part 2 (Mary Berry, BBC — 2016)

A French cooking site has an interesting article on Easter food in Europe and Algeria. ‘Gâteaux de Pâques traditionnels’ has excellent close-up photographs by way of illustration. A summary of the article follows along with my own commentary.

France

In Alsace, the traditional Easter cake is made in the shape of a lamb. It was originally called Osterlammele — Easter lamb — suggesting its German origins.

Easter cakes in other European countries are also in lamb shapes, using special moulds. Polish lamb cakes are elaborately iced and decorated.

The one from Alsace is plainer, lightly dusted with icing sugar. Traditionally, it was wrapped in fine paper in the colours of Alsace or the Vatican.

Regardless of decoration, lamb cakes are rich in eggs, which were traditionally forbidden during Lent.

Wherever it is used, the lamb shape reminds us of the goodness of Christ and that we should follow His example.

All Recipes provides the instructions. The video below might not be the most expert, but I did enjoy watching the two young lads make a lamb cake:

Italy

Pasteria Napoletana is a popular Easter tart.

Its origins go back to pagan times, when a special bread made from spelt was offered to Ceres, the goddess of agriculture and fertility, in springtime.

Wikipedia says that it is possible that early bread evolved into a ritual bread made of honey and milk which catechumens received after their baptism on Easter Eve during the reign of Constantine.

In the 18th century, one of the nuns at the convent of San Gregorio Armeno in Naples, which still exists today, was responsible for the version eaten today. She wanted to create a tart that symbolised the Resurrection, including orange blossom water from the convent’s garden.

The symbolism is as follows: wheat for rebirth, flour for force and strength, eggs for infinity, white ricotta for purity and orange blossom water — along with dried fruit, spices and sugar — for richness.

Wikipedia says that the nuns were ‘geniuses’ in preparing these tarts, which had to be made on Maundy Thursday in order to set properly for Easter. They were then given to wealthy benefactors for the Easter table.

Although variations exist — sometimes with pastry cream added — each must have wheat and ricotta to be considered authentic.

Laura in the Kitchen has a recipe and a video:

Portugal

At Easter, the Portuguese eat folar, bread which can be sweet or savoury.

Sometimes folar is wrapped around whole eggs (before baking) to symbolise new life.

Other variations include chorizo or other charcuterie.

Traditionally, this bread is given to priests, godparents or godchildren as a symbol of happiness and prosperity.

The lady in the video below makes a savoury folar in the most traditional way — in a bread trough. The film is in Portuguese, but you can check it for consistency and shaping while you follow a recipe, in this case from Pocket Cultures:

Austria

Austrians celebrate Easter by including on their tables a rich brioche called Osterpinze or Pinza. (Oster means ‘Easter’.)

This brioche originated in southern Austria. It is shaped into three petals — no doubt to symbolise the Holy Trinity — and sometimes has a coloured Easter egg — the Resurrection and new life — in the centre. Orange blossom water is used in the dough. Some variations also include dried fruits for extra richness.

The Austrians adapted this recipe from pannetone. Italy borders the southern part of the country.

The Bread She Bakes has a recipe in English. Although the video below is in German, watch this gentleman’s techniques:

Algeria

Although Algeria is primarily Muslim today, it is important to remember that North Africa was the cradle of the early Church. One could certainly put forward a case for Christianity being an African faith, because it spread to Europe later.

Christians in Algeria ate Mouna Oranaise at Easter. La Mouna — a mountain — is situated outside of Oran, Algeria’s second largest city. Christians from Oran went to this mountain to celebrate Easter and to break bread.

Although the French article does not say, it seems likely that the bread developed into a brioche when the French arrived and took its present-day form.

All good brioches take time, and the Mouna takes six hours to rise: four initially, after which the dough is divided into two and left to rise for another two hours.

The Mouna has a rich egg glaze and is topped with pearl sugar.

Today, people of all faiths eat Mouna. A Muslim included the recipe on her Pinterest page. A YouTube video appears on the Sephardic (Jewish) food channel.

Christian pied-noirs brought the Mouna recipe to France as an Easter speciality. Make a brioche dough and include orange flower water or lemon zest. Knead the dough well — or use a food processor with a dough hook — to ensure the dough is nice and light:

I am sure that some of these Easter treats cross borders. I am particularly interested in hearing from others with regard to breads and pastries. Feel free to comment below!

In the meantime, I hope that everyone’s Easter preparations go well!

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