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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

Acts 10:30-33

30 And Cornelius said, “Four days ago, about this hour, I was praying in my house at the ninth hour,[a] and behold, a man stood before me in bright clothing 31 and said, ‘Cornelius, your prayer has been heard and your alms have been remembered before God. 32 Send therefore to Joppa and ask for Simon who is called Peter. He is lodging in the house of Simon, a tanner, by the sea.’ 33 So I sent for you at once, and you have been kind enough to come. Now therefore we are all here in the presence of God to hear all that you have been commanded by the Lord.”

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Last week’s post pointed out how important it was for Peter to follow the divine vision he was given and go with Cornelius’s men — Gentiles — to the Roman centurion’s home in Caesarea. This was the fulfilment of God’s plan to open the Church to Gentiles. Christ was no longer exclusively for the Jews and those who maintained those traditions (Samaritans).

We left off last week where Peter, accompanied by Jewish converts from Joppa, arrived with Cornelius’s men in Caesarea. Peter asked Cornelius why he was summoned.

Cornelius related the vision he received (verses 30-32). I wrote about that vision a few weeks ago. The only wording difference is an updated version from Cornelius: ‘your prayer has been heard’ (verse 31).

He said that because now Peter was in front of him. Recall that when the angel appeared to Cornelius, he said (Acts 10:4): ‘Your prayers and your alms have ascended as a memorial before God’.

Matthew Henry offers insight as to how and where Cornelius might have prayed at home that afternoon (emphases mine below):

He was at the ninth hour praying in his house, not in the synagogue, but at home. I will that men pray wherever they dwell. His praying in his house intimates that it was not a secret prayer in his closet, but in a more public room of his house, with his family about him; and perhaps after prayer he retired, and had this vision. Observe, At the ninth hour of the day, three of the clock in the afternoon, most people were travelling or trading, working in the fields, visiting their friends, taking their pleasure, or taking a nap after dinner; yet then Cornelius was at his devotions, which shows how much he made religion his business; and then it was that he had this message from heaven. Those that would hear comfortably from God must be much in speaking to him.

Henry also has this to say about the angel’s appearance:

He describes the messenger that brought him this message from heaven: There stood a man before me in bright clothing, as Christ’s was when he was transfigured, and that of the two angels who appeared at Christ’s resurrection (Luke 24:4), and at his ascension (Acts 1:10), showing their relation to the world of light. [3.] He repeats the message that was sent to him (Acts 10:31,32), just as we had it, Acts 10:4-6.

As for Cornelius saying that his prayer was heard:

We are not told what his prayer was; but if this message was an answer to it, and it should seem it was, we may suppose that finding the deficiency of natural light, and that it left him at a loss how to obtain the pardon of his sin and the favour of God, he prayed that God would make some further discoveries of himself and of the way of salvation to him. “Well,” saith the angel, “send for Peter, and he shall give thee such a discovery.”

Cornelius went on to acknowledge his appreciation of Peter’s presence in his house and said that all there gathered in the presence of God awaited the Apostle’s words as the Lord commanded (verse 33). That demonstrates Cornelius’s faith and belief. The others around him would have been family members and trusted friends.

Henry has a beautiful analysis of the centurion’s words:

Observe, [1.] Their religious attendance upon the word: “We are all here present before God; we are here in a religious manner, are here as worshippers” (they thus compose themselves into a serious solemn frame of spirit): “therefore, because thou art come to us by such a warrant, on such an errand, because we have such a price in our hand as we never had before and perhaps may never have again, we are ready now at this time of worship, here in this place of worship” (though it was in a private house): “we are present, paresmen–we are at the business, and are ready to come at a call.” If we would have God’s special presence at an ordinance, we must be there with a special presence, an ordinance presence: Here I am. “We are all present, all that were invited; we, and all that belong to us; we, and all that is within us.” The whole of the man must be present; not the body here, and the heart, with the fool’s eyes, in the ends of the earth. But that which makes it indeed a religious attendance is, We are present before God. In holy ordinances we present ourselves unto the Lord, and we must be as before him, as those that see his eye upon us.

He then breaks down Cornelius’s request of Peter to speak as the Lord commanded:

Observe, First, Peter was there to preach all things that were commanded him of God; for, as he had an ample commission to preach the gospel, so he had full instructions what to preach. Secondly, They were ready to hear, not whatever he pleased to say, but what he was commanded of God to say. The truths of Christ were not communicated to the apostles to be published or stifled as they thought fit, but entrusted with them to be published to the world. “We are ready to hear all, to come at the beginning of the service and stay to the end, and be attentive all the while, else how can we hear all? We are desirous to hear all that thou art commissioned to preach, though it be ever so displeasing to flesh and blood, and ever so contrary to our former notions or present secular interests. We are ready to hear all, and therefore let nothing be kept back that is profitable for us.”

What a moment that must have been for everyone there.

John MacArthur has this take on salvation, submission and Peter’s reaction to what Cornelius said:

A man’s salvation is no accident. God orders the whole sequence, but men’s submissive will must move in. Where do you see the submission of Cornelius? In the word immediately. His will was ready. There are the first two things in salvation. Sovereign call and submissive will. Submissive will. You know what I love about that verse 33? He says, “We’re here present to hear all things that are commanded thee of God.” Cornelius says, “Peter, give us the whole shot. We want it all.” Boy, have you ever had an audience like that? Man, what evangelism. I mean he’s so used to fighting it in Jerusalem. Can you imagine all those open hearts. It must’ve taken him for a moment.

What do we see then this morning? We see how God works in salvation on the one hand, but demands submission in the will of a man.

And that theme of a submissive will to the sovereign call is one that runs through the entire set of New Testament letters, whether from Peter, Paul or John.

Peter spoke. This next reading is in the Lectionary at Epiphany (verses 34-38) and, more fully, at Easter, when all of the following is read. Peter’s message remained consistent with what he preached immediately after receiving the Holy Spirit at the first Pentecost (Acts 2), although he tailored it for a Gentile audience by omitting the Old Testament prophecies in detail:

34 So Peter opened his mouth and said: “Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, 35 but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. 36 As for the word that he sent to Israel, preaching good news of peace through Jesus Christ (he is Lord of all), 37 you yourselves know what happened throughout all Judea, beginning from Galilee after the baptism that John proclaimed: 38 how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. 39 And we are witnesses of all that he did both in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree, 40 but God raised him on the third day and made him to appear, 41 not to all the people but to us who had been chosen by God as witnesses, who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. 42 And he commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one appointed by God to be judge of the living and the dead. 43 To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”

The account of Cornelius and his household concludes next week.

Next time — Acts 10:44-48

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Bible evangewomanblogspotcomThe 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 10:24-29

24 And on the following day they entered Caesarea. Cornelius was expecting them and had called together his relatives and close friends. 25 When Peter entered, Cornelius met him and fell down at his feet and worshiped him. 26 But Peter lifted him up, saying, “Stand up; I too am a man.” 27 And as he talked with him, he went in and found many persons gathered. 28 And he said to them, “You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a Jew to associate with or to visit anyone of another nation, but God has shown me that I should not call any person common or unclean. 29 So when I was sent for, I came without objection. I ask then why you sent for me.”

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Last week’s entry was about Peter pondering the vision he was given about all foods being clean when Cornelius’s men arrived to take him to Caesarea. Peter, a guest in Simon the tanner’s house in Joppa, provided the men with hospitality before setting off with them the next day.

I wrote last week that it was interesting that men from Joppa, converts, accompanied Peter and the Gentiles — Cornelius’s emissaries — on the journey (verse 23).

There is much significance behind that. Jews were not allowed to mix with Gentiles other than in the street or in commerce. Therefore, not only was it a big deal that Peter invited the Gentiles into Simon’s house for refreshment and sleep, but this commingling in travel would also further the mixing of the two groups.

Peter’s vision was now making sense to him, and he followed its instruction.

Both Matthew Henry and John MacArthur point out that this division between Jew and Gentile was never part of Mosaic law.

Henry tells us more and adds that there was similar animosity on the part of Gentiles (emphases mine):

It was not made so by the law of God, but by the decree of their wise men, which they looked upon to be no less binding. They did not forbid them to converse or traffic with Gentiles in the street or shop, or upon the exchange, but to eat with them. Even in Joseph’s time, the Egyptians and Hebrews could not eat together, Genesis 43:32. The three children would not defile themselves with the king’s meat, Daniel 1:8. They might not come into the house of a Gentile, for they looked upon it to be ceremonially polluted. Thus scornfully did the Jews look upon the Gentiles, who were not behindhand with them in contempt, as appears by many passages in the Latin poets.

We see this in verse 28, when Peter refers to his vision and rightly extends it from food to people, in this case, the Gentiles. Peter used the term ‘unlawful’.

MacArthur explains ‘unlawful’ and discusses ‘anathema’:

Notice the term unlawful. “You know that it is an unlawful thing.” Athematas, it means taboo. The Old Testament ceremonial law, of course, didn’t say that, but the rabbis added that. In fact, the rabbis said that defilement by going into a Gentile home was a seven-day defilement. Now the only seven-day defilement were contact…was contact with a dead body, but the Jews believed that the Gentiles put their aborted children down the drains. That when a Gentile woman had an abortion, she put the…the dead fetus down the drain, and so any contact with a Gentile home was contact with a defilement of a dead body. Therefore, that was a seven-day defilement; and because of the seriousness of such a defilement, Jews would not enter Gentile homes.

As for the the converts accompanying Peter and the Gentiles from Joppa to Caesarea, Henry said it was common. St Luke, the author of Acts, did not say whether Peter invited them or whether they invited themselves, however, everyone had good intentions:

Either Peter desired their company, that they might be witnesses of his proceeding cautiously with reference to the Gentiles, and of the good ground on which he went, and therefore he invited them (Acts 11:12), or they offered their service to attend him, and desired they might have the honour and happiness of being his fellow travellers. This was one way in which the primitive Christians very much showed their respect to their ministers: they accompanied them in their journeys, to keep them in countenance, to be their guard, and, as there was occasion, to minister to them; with a further prospect not only of doing them service, but of being edified by their converse.

Acts 11:12 says that six men from Joppa went. Whatever the circumstances were surrounding their decision to go, MacArthur says this was highly significant for the development of the Church. MacArthur thinks that Peter probably invited the men. We see God’s grace at work in giving them good and holy desires:

In fact, they became the key to the unifying of Jew and Gentile. You say, “What are you saying that for?” Just to say this. God not only led Peter through the direct voice of that… of the vision, through the very direct communication medium, but God led Peter through Peter’s own desires and Peter’s own ideas. God didn’t say, “Peter, take along six guys.” No, He didn’t do that at all. You say “Well, Peter just wanted to take ’em along?” Yeah, but where do you think he got that desire? God gave it to him, because God knew it was crucial to have them there.

Now, believe me, people, this is a great introduction as to how God works in the life of a believer. You and I don’t hear voices anymore. If we do, you come to see me. We don’t hear voices, and we don’t see visions, and God doesn’t do great, you know, skywriting…and give us all certain visions like in the old days. But how does God lead? He leads through our desires, and here we see exactly that. And mark it, people, it was just as important to have those guys there as it was for Peter to see that vision; but one of those came by God’s direct media. The other came by His indirect media, which is as He works in our hearts by His Holy Spirit to bring what He wants to do

It was critical that those Jewish Christians go, but there wasn’t any command. That’s how God works in us today. We…we don’t have the first half anymore. We just have that part. Philippians 2:13, “For it is God…I like this…who works in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure.” Don’t you like that? God is working in me to will and to do of His good pleasure

And I think that’s how He works if you’re the right vessel. Now, if your desires are all clogged up with your own self-desires, you got problems filtering it out.

Verse 24 describes the men arriving in Caesarea ‘the following day’. Most probably, everyone was on foot, including the Gentiles. We will see next week that verse 30 says Cornelius talked about having his vision four days before. He sent his men to Joppa to fetch Peter immediately afterwards. From this we can deduce that it was a two-day trip each way. Henry says:

It seems, it was above a day’s journey, nearly two, from Joppa to Cesarea; for it was the day after they set out that they entered into Cesarea (Acts 10:24), and the afternoon of that day, Acts 10:30. It is probable that they travelled on foot; the apostles generally did so.

Note also in verse 24 that Cornelius had gathered his relatives and close friends with him. He knew something spiritually life-changing was going to happen. Henry emphasises Cornelius’s generosity in wanting to share this special time with others whom he loved and trusted:

Note, We should not covet to eat our spiritual morsels alone, Job 31:17. It ought to be both given and taken as a piece of kindness and respect to our kindred and friends to invite them to join with us in religious exercises, to go with us to hear a sermon. What Cornelius ought to do he thought his kinsmen and friends ought to do too; and therefore let them come and hear it at the first hand, that it may be no surprise to them to see him change upon it.

Whether Cornelius was overly excited or completely overcome by Peter’s presence, we do not know. However, his instinct was to fall down before Peter and worship him (verse 25).

Peter immediately lifted Cornelius up and disabused him of such a notion (verse 26): ‘Stand up; I, too, am a man’.

Given Peter’s humility, then, it is amazing that the Catholic Church came up with the idea of considering him as the first pope and that he was to have successors. MacArthur goes into all of that, citing a German book on Catholic doctrine, and concludes:

But Peter wants no worship. It is wrong to worship Peter. He is no pope. He is nothing to be worshiped. He is a man. Get up off your feet. Quit kissing his toe. He’s a man…He disallowed it at the very start, and no Christian is ever to be worshipped. No saint…at all. In Acts 14:14, they started to worship Paul and Barnabas…They were all calling ’em Jupiter and Mercury and thinking they were gods, and Paul says in verse 15, “What are you doing? We are men of like passions with you. Get up. What’s all this nonsense?”

You wanna hear what Isaiah said? Isaiah 42:8, he said this, “I am the Lord. That is My name, and My glory will I not give to another.” Did you hear that? “I am the Lord. That is My name. I am the Lord. That is My name. I will not give My glory to another.”…There’s only one in the Bible who ever accepted worship. You know who that was? God. There’s only one in the New Testament who ever accepted worship. Who is that? Jesus Christ. Then who is He? God. Peter didn’t want the worship of anybody.

Peter, post-vision, willingly entered Cornelius’s house. The former observant Jew goes into a Gentile’s house. This is highly significant.

There he sees many people (verse 27) and tells them of his vision that he is not to consider anyone unclean (verse 28).

Peter added that he came willingly, ‘without objection’, and asked why he was summoned (verse 29).

Note Peter’s discernment. He asked why he should be there. He did not work on assumptions or suppositions.

The story continues next week, but the three recent posts below explain how the first Pentecost transformed Peter from being foolish and rashly spoken into a true spiritual leader and fisher of men:

John MacArthur on St Peter

John MacArthur on Peter’s leadership qualities

More from John MacArthur on Peter’s leadership journey

Next time — Acts 10:30-33

Bible GenevaThe 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 (also here).

Acts 10:17-23

17 Now while Peter was inwardly perplexed as to what the vision that he had seen might mean, behold, the men who were sent by Cornelius, having made inquiry for Simon’s house, stood at the gate 18 and called out to ask whether Simon who was called Peter was lodging there. 19 And while Peter was pondering the vision, the Spirit said to him, “Behold, three men are looking for you. 20 Rise and go down and accompany them without hesitation,[a] for I have sent them.” 21 And Peter went down to the men and said, “I am the one you are looking for. What is the reason for your coming?” 22 And they said, “Cornelius, a centurion, an upright and God-fearing man, who is well spoken of by the whole Jewish nation, was directed by a holy angel to send for you to come to his house and to hear what you have to say.” 23 So he invited them in to be his guests.

The next day he rose and went away with them, and some of the brothers from Joppa accompanied him.

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Last week we read of Peter’s vision about all foods being clean. Peter was initially reluctant to accept this divine instruction, but, by the third time the vision was given to him, he complied.

I wrote recently about how the Peter of the Gospels was transformed once he received the Holy Spirit at the first Pentecost. He turned into a robust leader — fisher — of men in Christ’s holy name:

John MacArthur on St Peter

John MacArthur on Peter’s leadership qualities

More from John MacArthur on Peter’s leadership journey

Peter is about to make another life-changing move, which also impacted the life of the Church. This move was divinely ordained. God gave Cornelius, a God-fearing Gentile, a vision and the instruction to send his men from Caesarea to Joppa in search of Peter. Then He gave Peter a vision about all food being clean.

John MacArthur says:

God chose Cornelius. God just picked him out of all available Gentiles, God chose to do this in Cornelius’ life. God not only chose Cornelius, the receiver, God chose Peter, the messenger; and we learned something else about sovereignty and salvation. God not only chooses who will be saved, but He chooses how. He chooses vehicles to use.

Now this is not apart from man’s will, but it is in conjunction with man’s will. Nevertheless, God chose Cornelius, the receiver. God chose Peter, the messenger; and this is how salvation always begins …

Cornelius, then, was prepared by God. Then God, as we saw, began the preparation of Peter. Now how you gonna get a stubborn, died-in-the-wool, traditionalistic, nationalistic Jew to open up his heart and his arms to a Gentile? That’s a tough one. Well, God had to do a lotta work on old, crusty Peter to get him to the place where he’d ever pull off this thing, and He did. He sovereignly chose Peter, first of all, because he was available.

Now we take up today’s reading. Peter was still trying to figure out the vision when Cornelius’s men arrived at the house of Simon the tanner, where Peter was staying (verse 17). He was on Simon’s roof when he received the vision and was still up there when the men enquired of Simon whether Peter was staying there (verse 18).

Peter was still thinking about the meaning of the vision when the Holy Spirit told him to get off the roof and accompany the men whom the Spirit had sent (verses 19, 20).

Matthew Henry says that we sometimes find answers to the divinely imponderable through active service to God’s people:

Those that are searching into the meaning of the words of God, and the visions of the Almighty, should not be always poring, no, nor always praying, but should sometimes look abroad, look about them, and they may meet with that which will be of use to them in their enquiries;

I especially like this (emphases mine below):

for the scripture is in the fulfilling every day.

This is exactly what happened to Peter. The Holy Spirit got him off the roof before Simon’s servants had a chance to go look for him. The vision was about to make sense.

Peter went to meet the men and, after identifying himself, asked why they were looking for him (verse 21). Remember, these men were Gentiles. One of them was a Roman soldier, which might have been a bit scary for Peter had the Spirit not explained that He had sent them.

The men explained that they came on behalf of Cornelius (verse 22). They included the description of him being a ‘God-fearing man’ and ‘well spoken of by the whole Jewish nation’. That was important. Peter deciphered that Cornelius, although not Jewish himself, believed in the God of Israel, worshipped with the Jews, associated with them and gave alms as an observant Jew would. The men also told Peter of Cornelius’s vision and the direction from ‘a holy angel’ to go in search of him to hear what he had to say.

Peter invited the men into Simon’s house as his guests before he left with them the next day for Caesarea (verse 23). Interestingly, some of the male converts from Joppa accompanied them.

Think of it — a Jew willingly inviting Gentiles into a Jewish house. This was just not done. There was plenty of antipathy and suspicion between Jew and Gentile — yes, both sides, not just from the Jews — and St Luke, the author of Acts, documents this in the early Church. We will see how this unfolded in the next few chapters.

MacArthur reminds us:

Some Jews had said the Gentiles were created by God to be the fuel for the fires of hell. This is a very narrow view. If a Jewish boy married a Gentile girl, a funeral was held. The Gentiles, in return, looked on Jews as slave material, persecuted, oppressed, and killed them. In fact, the Gentiles commonly called Jews enemies of the human race. You can get a little bit of imagination of this kind of contempt about the Gentile to the Jew when you hear Pilate saying, almost with dripping sarcasm, “I surely am not a Jew, am I?” The disdain in his voice, and you can hear the same sting of…of Gentile hate in the voices of the owners of the slave girl, you know, who was used to make them money by sorceries. And when Paul and Silas came along and cast out the demon in Philippi, you can remember the words of those leaders. They said, “These men, being Jews, do just exceedingly trouble our city.” There was a…a great hatred among the Gentiles for the Jews, a deep disdain, as if they didn’t belong even in the framework of humanity.

However, the divine master plan was to bring Gentiles into the church — and Peter was God’s instrument in making this happen.

MacArthur says:

In Acts 10, God directs the momentous, historical event when the church extends itself from the Jews and the half-breed Samaritans to encompass Gentiles. This is the final phase in the expansion of the church.

He reminds us that our Lord knew since forever that Peter and Cornelius would be brought together for this purpose. When you think of it this way, it becomes even more exciting and amazing:

Cornelius is important because Christ chose him before the foundation of the world, and his salvation itself is important … We wanna see what God was doing in Cornelius’ life. So as we look at the history, we’re also gonna see the sequence of salvation as illustrated in the life of Cornelius, and I think what we have here is…is a very general pattern for how salvation happens in the life of anybody. So we not only see history, but so many times we know Scripture’s like a diamond. It has different facets, and every time you turn the light on, you see a new one …

Now, the first point in the sequence of salvation is sovereign call. Sovereign call. Now, this we found in verses 1 through 20, and that’s where we’ve been before, so we’ll not go all over those verses; but the first 20 verses illustrate to us sovereign call. What that means is God sovereignly is active in salvation. It all is initiated by God. It isn’t men running around saying, “Oh, I’ve found that there’s a God somewhere. I think I believe.” All on their own will, no, God is sovereign in salvation; and we saw in the first 20 verses that God chose Cornelius. God just picked him out of all available Gentiles, God chose to do this in Cornelius’ life. God not only chose Cornelius, the receiver, God chose Peter, the messenger

And from this sermon, he touched on the same subject, concluding:

God is forever and ever doing that, people. I hope you’re learning that in your life. Never to be impatient, impatient with God when He’s trying to teach you how to be obedient. And so immediately he does exactly what God told him to do, and this is exciting, because it helps us to see again that God uses human instruments. God just coulda come down and said, “Okay, Cornelius, zap, you’re saved.” But God uses human instruments. God wanted to use Peter.

The story continues next week.

Next time — Acts 10:24-29

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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy 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 10:9-16

Peter’s Vision

The next day, as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the housetop about the sixth hour[a] to pray. 10 And he became hungry and wanted something to eat, but while they were preparing it, he fell into a trance 11 and saw the heavens opened and something like a great sheet descending, being let down by its four corners upon the earth. 12 In it were all kinds of animals and reptiles and birds of the air. 13 And there came a voice to him: “Rise, Peter; kill and eat.” 14 But Peter said, “By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean.” 15 And the voice came to him again a second time, “What God has made clean, do not call common.” 16 This happened three times, and the thing was taken up at once to heaven.

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Last week’s entry discussed the vision of Cornelius, a Roman centurion stationed with his family in Caesarea.

Cornelius was what the Jews called a ‘God-fearer’ (Acts 10:2), meaning that he was a Gentile who believed in the God of Israel and observed parts of Jewish law. He never became a full Jew but was welcome to worship and associate with the Jews. In the vision, an angel of the Lord told Cornelius to send his men to Joppa to fetch Peter and take him to Caesarea. The divine plan here was to make Cornelius the first fully Gentile convert. The Samaritan converts from earlier chapters of Acts were half-Jew and half-Assyrian.

Acts 10 is the introduction to Gentile conversion. John MacArthur describes how events in Acts unfolded (emphases mine):

We find that God prepares two people. First He prepares the Gentile, and then He prepares the Jew. The Gentile is Cornelius, and the Jew is Peter. It has to start somewhere, so it starts with two guys. It’s gotta be more than theory. It’s gotta happen, so He picks out two people, Cornelius and Peter, and He gives each one a special vision, which is like sort of training in preparation. Before they’ll ever come together, there’s gonna have to be a lot of soil tilled up, and so He begins with a vision here in the first eight verses or so to Cornelius, and then from verse 9 on, He gives a vision to Peter; and this, then, is the beginning of the Gentile inclusion in the church. By the time you hit chapter 11, the Gospel’s gone to Antioch and Gentiles are getting saved. By the time you come from there and you start moving ahead, you hit chapter 13, and all of a sudden Paul’s going full blast to the Gentiles, and the problem is…is moving out, and it’s becoming sublimated. The thing is really going, and Jews and Gentiles are coming together in Christ. Peter runs back to Jerusalem. Says, “You’ll never believe it. People, you’ll never believe it. They got the same gift we got.” See. And then the report comes, and the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15, which finally comes to the conclusion that they will accept them fully as those who belong to Jesus Christ. So it all begins here in chapter 10 …

So, this vision that God gave to Peter is about moving him away from regarding certain foods and people — Gentiles — as unclean. Matthew Henry has this terse comment:

Peter had not got over this stingy bigoted notion of his countrymen, and therefore will be shy of coming to Cornelius … The scriptures of the Old Testament had spoken plainly of the bringing in of the Gentiles into the church. Christ had given plain intimations of it when he ordered them to teach all nations; and yet even Peter himself, who knew so much of his Master’s mind, could not understand it, till it was here revealed by vision, that the Gentiles should be fellow-heirs, Ephesians 3:6.

Verse 9 tells us that as Cornelius’s men were on their way to Joppa, Peter went on the roof to pray. He had no idea what was coming next.

Recall that Peter was staying with Simon the tanner in Joppa. Simon was an unclean person in the eyes of the Jews because of his occupation.

Roofs in that era and in that part of the world were terraces — places where people congregated or enjoyed peace and quiet. Peter went on Simon’s roof to pray. No doubt he was observing Jewish patterns of prayer which meant he prayed several times a day.

The ‘sixth hour’ means this was at noon. Given the time of day, he was hungry. Henry has this observation:

From morning to night we should think to be too long to be without meat; yet who thinks it is too long to be without prayer?

How true.

While the midday meal was being prepared inside the house, Peter fell into a trance on the roof (verse 10). Henry explains:

probably he had not that day eaten before, though doubtless he had prayed before …

The trance was:

ecstasy, not of terror, but of contemplation, with which he was so entirely swallowed up as not only not to be regardful, but not to be sensible, of external things. He quite lost himself to this world, and so had his mind entirely free for converse with divine things; as Adam in innocency, when the deep sleep fell upon him. The more clear we get of the world, the more near we get to heaven: whether Peter was now in the body or out of the body he could not himself tell, much less can we, 2 Corinthians 12:2,3. See Genesis 15:12,Ac+22:17.

The hunger and the prayer was the perfect time for the divinely sent vision of a large sheet — like a tarp — with four corners, containing all manner of animals, reptiles and birds (verses 11, 12). There were no fish on it, because Jews are allowed to eat fish. It is a ‘neutral’ food, by the way, meaning it can be combined with meat or dairy in Jewish dietary law.

We talk about the four corners of the earth. Peter is seeing this before his eyes. This is not only about food, it is also about spreading the Gospel around the world via the Church. Jesus died and rose from the dead for everyone, not only the Jews.

Henry tells us:

Some make this sheet, thus filled, to represent the church of Christ. It comes down from heaven, from heaven opened, not only to send it down (Revelation 21:2), but to receive souls sent up from it. It is knit at the four corners, to receive those from all parts of the world that are willing to be added to it; and to retain and keep those safe that are taken into it, that they may not fall out; and in this we find some of all countries, nations, and languages, without any distinction of Greek or Jew, or any disadvantage put upon Barbarian or Scythian, Colossians 3:11. The net of the gospel encloses all, both bad and good, those that before were clean and unclean.

Also:

it may be applied to the bounty of the divine Providence, which, antecedently to the prohibitions of the ceremonial law, had given to man a liberty to use all the creatures, to which by the cancelling of that law we are now restored. By this vision we are taught to see all the benefit and service we have from the inferior creatures coming down to us from heaven; it is the gift of God who made them, made them fit for us, and then gave to man a right to them, and dominion over them. Lord, what is man that he should be thus magnified! Psalms 8:4-8. How should it double our comfort in the creatures, and our obligations to serve God in the use of them, to see them thus let down to us out of heaven!

A voice from heaven said, ‘Rise, Peter; kill and eat‘ (verse 13).

There is no instruction there about vegetarianism.

The Lord gave Peter a vision of animals and other edible creatures, not of plants.

Peter resisted the divine order by saying he had never eaten anything common — i.e. defiled — or unclean (verse 14). He obeyed Mosaic law as laid out in Leviticus.

MacArthur explains:

all of these dietary laws were given to Israel, and so, consequently, in the mind of a Jew, there was a division between clean animals and unclean animals; and no self-respecting kosher Jew would ever eat anything but clean animals; and Peter was this. He never touched anything but the clean, because that was the tradition. And you say, “Well, why did God make this distinction? Why did God make clean and unclean animals?” Well, No. 1, it is true, I think, that there are some animals who are perhaps more liable to carry epidemic-type diseases; and because of the fact that the preparation of food in those days wasn’t anything to what it became, God was kind of purifying Israel from at least the dominant threat of epidemic. Because, you see, they lived in a…in a community that was always close together. They moved in the wilderness in like a little garrison of people all jammed together. If an epidemic ever broke out, it could wipe ’em all out, and so God preserved their existence this way, although I think that’s only a minor point, because He coulda kept the diseases from them by His sovereign power.

The major point is this. God had them eating certain animals and not certain other animals for this primary reason. To distinguish them from … Gentile peoples. Now, in those days, social intercourse occurred at banquets. They didn’t have any of the entertainment we have today … feasting was how they had common relationships, so God just did this. God gave the Jews such distinct dietary laws that they couldn’t get together socially with Gentiles. Do you see? That was the point, because, as they went into the land of Canaan, it was so…so easy for them to get intermingled. Look what happened to ’em anyway. But God drew lines so that they would not be able, were they obedient to His standards, to be able to have a social kind of relationship with Gentiles, and that’s the point.

It is the same way today in much of the Jewish world. It’s a big deal for a Gentile to be invited to a Jewish home, especially for dinner or a party. It doesn’t happen that often.

The heavenly voice spoke again to Peter, rebuking him for calling God’s creatures common — defiled — or unclean (verse 15).

Henry explains that this vision represented the lifting of dietary law. Nothing is to be refused, especially living creatures. ‘Kill and eat’:

he has now, for reasons suited to the New-Testament dispensation, taken off that restraint, and set the matter at large–has cleansed that which was before polluted to us, and we ought to make use of, and stand fast in, the liberty wherewith Christ has made us free, and not call that common or unclean which God has now declared clean. Note, We ought to welcome it as a great mercy that by the gospel of Christ we are freed from the distinction of meats, which was made by the law of Moses, and that now every creature of God is good, and nothing to be refused; not so much because hereby we gain the use of swine’s flesh, hares, rabbits, and other pleasant and wholesome food for our bodies, but chiefly because conscience is hereby freed from a yoke in things of this nature, that we might serve God without fear.

MacArthur discusses the social importance of this freedom for the growth of the Church:

He is abolishing, I believe, the Old Testament Jewish dietary laws. Why? They were designed to separate the Jew from the Gentile. What is the body of Christ designed to do? Unite them. Therefore, this one social line barrier had to be removed for them to come together. You see, they had to learn to be able to socialize around the tables together, because they were now one. And, you know, in the early years of the church, you know, this was the problem that kept popping up. The Jews and the Gentiles who were both in the church wouldn’t eat together, and this is what Paul dealt with in Romans 14. That’s the whole reason Roman 14 is written, because the…you know what would happen? The Gentiles were abusing their privileges. They’d have Jewish converts over and serve ham. See? And Paul says, “Now, you don’t need to do that. Sure, you’re free, and there’s nothing unclean, but you don’t need to do that, because that’s purposely offending that Jew who doesn’t yet understand his liberties.”

But he also says to the Jew, “Don’t you try to make the Gentile conform to dietary laws that God has set aside.” See, God wanted to remove the barrier that had been built to keep from being impure. He wanted to take it down so they could be one in Christ, and so I believe that statement there is the statement that abolishes the Old Testament dietary laws. Now that doesn’t mean you’re supposed to eat everything. I…that’s obvious. You know, there’s supposed to be a sensibility in terms of what we eat, but, nevertheless, there are no ceremonial dietary laws to keep people apart, because He wants us together; and this was the beauty of what the early church finally found. That what they called the agap[e] or the love feast, they came together to eat. Beautiful.

St Luke, the author of Acts, wrote that this happened three times before the sheet with the living creatures was taken back to heaven (verse 16).

The number three, as used in the Bible, is one of divine completeness and perfection. Bible.org has more, including this:

the biblical writers often employed the number three or wrote in patterns of three to provide a special emphasis that sought to engage their hearers/readers in exploring the full significance of the events or details of the passage at hand.

Henry describes what happened during the vision:

The sheet was drawn up a little way, and let down again the second time, and so the third time, with the same call to him, to kill, and eat, and the same reason, that what God hath cleansed we must not call common; but whether Peter’s refusal was repeated the second and third time is not certain; surely it was not, when his objection had the first time received such a satisfactory answer. The trebling of Peter’s vision, like the doubling of Pharaoh’s dream, was to show that the thing was certain, and engage him to take so much the more notice of it. The instructions given us in the things of God, whether by the ear in the preaching of the word, or by the eye in sacraments, need to be often repeated; precept must be upon precept, and line upon line. But at last the vessel was received up into heaven. Those who make this vessel to represent the church, including both Jews and Gentiles, as this did both clean and unclean creatures, make this very aptly to signify the admission of the believing Gentiles into the church, and into heaven too, into the Jerusalem above.

Having seen this vision — although not quite understanding it — Peter was prepared to meet Cornelius. The story continues next week.

Next time — Acts 10:17-23

Bible readingThe 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 10:1-8

Peter and Cornelius

10 At Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion of what was known as the Italian Cohort, a devout man who feared God with all his household, gave alms generously to the people, and prayed continually to God. 3 About the ninth hour of the day[a] he saw clearly in a vision an angel of God come in and say to him, “Cornelius.” And he stared at him in terror and said, “What is it, Lord?” And he said to him, “Your prayers and your alms have ascended as a memorial before God. And now send men to Joppa and bring one Simon who is called Peter. He is lodging with one Simon, a tanner, whose house is by the sea.” When the angel who spoke to him had departed, he called two of his servants and a devout soldier from among those who attended him, and having related everything to them, he sent them to Joppa.

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We are entering another exciting chapter in Acts. This book is a tremendous documentation of the explosive expansion of the early Church.

The previous chapters recounted the countless number of Jewish converts to Christianity. We also read about the growth of the Church among the Samaritans, who were half Jew, half Gentile because they intermarried with Assyrians. St Luke, the author of Acts, then documented the conversion of the Gentiles, the first of whom is Cornelius.

Cornelius was a Roman centurion of the Italian cohort — regiment, literally ‘band’ — who was stationed in Caesarea (verse 1). John MacArthur tells us:

Josephus, I think it is, tells us that there were five cohorts stationed in Caesarea, so they had a lotta Roman soldiers in that place…Make it a little study. It’s interesting. Sometime study centurions in the New Testament. You’ll find that they always appear to be good men. In fact, Jesus had some most interesting conversations with centurions.

Matthew Henry gives us more information (emphases mine below):

We are here told that he was a great man and a good man–two characters that seldom meet, but here they did; and where they do meet they put a lustre upon each other: goodness makes greatness truly valuable, and greatness makes goodness much more serviceable. 1. Cornelius was an officer of the army, Acts 10:1. He was at present quartered in Cesarea, a strong city, lately re-edified and fortified by Herod the Great, and called Cesarea in honour of Augustus Cæsar. It lay upon the sea-shore, very convenient for the keeping up of a correspondence between Rome and its conquests in those parts. The Roman governor or proconsul ordinarily resided here, Acts 23:23,24,25:6. Here there was a band, or cohort, or regiment, of the Roman army, which probably was the governor’s life-guard, and is here called the Italian band, because, that they might be the more sure of their fidelity, they were all native Romans, or Italians. Cornelius had a command in this part of the army. His name, Cornelius was much used among the Romans, among some of the most ancient and noble families. He was an officer of considerable rank and figure, a centurion. We read of one of that rank in our Saviour’s time, of whom he gave a great commendation, Matthew 8:10.

It is also interesting that the Lord chose a centurion rather than a philosopher or, as in the case of some of the Apostles, a fisherman.

Matthew Henry explains. The first sentence is well worth remembering. The last sentence is particularly important to note, as it would appear this was a sort of judgement on the Jews for rejecting Christ:

Fishermen, unlearned and ignorant men, were the first of the Jewish converts, but not so of the Gentiles; for the world shall know that the gospel has that in it which may recommend it to men of polite learning and a liberal education, as we have reason to think this centurion was. Let not soldiers and officers of the army plead that their employment frees them from the restraints which some others are under, and, giving them an opportunity of living more at large, may excuse them if they be not religious; for here was an officer of the army that embraced Christianity, and yet was neither turned out of his place nor turned himself out. And, lastly, it was a mortification to the Jews that not only the Gentiles were taken into the church, but that the first who was taken in was an officer of the Roman army, which was to them the abomination of desolation.

Verse 2 tells us that Cornelius was a ‘devout’ man. He and his household ‘feared God’. He gave alms generously and prayed ‘continually’. He was a Gentile following Jewish beliefs and customs, although not circumcision, in his case. No doubt he followed the Jewish laws about charity and adhered to their frequent prayer schedule.

MacArthur describes the three different types of Gentiles, some of whom believed in the God of Israel. It is no accident that the words ‘feared God’ are in verse 2, because the God-fearer was one of these three types:

Now, the term feared God became a technical term for Gentiles. There were three kinds of Gentiles in the mind of a Jew. One kind was just the plain, old, run-of-the-mill Gentile. The other kind, and this is getting better on the scale, the other kind was a God-fearer quote. This was a Gentile who had been sick of his own religion, the immoralities and the idolatries of his own faith, and he was sick of the whole polytheistic thing, and he had come to the conclusion in his mind that the God of Israel was the true God. He actually began to pray to that God. He perhaps become involved in the worship in certain synagogues or temple, or the temple itself. Much like, you remember, the eunuch, chapter 8, whom Philip met. But he was…he was involved in the Jewish ethic. He believed in the ethics of the Old Testament, but he had never been circumcised. He was not then a full proselyte. He was what they called a God-fearer.

The third level of Gentile would be the proselyte who had come all the way to Judaism, actually gone through the act of circumcision, and fully identified himself with Israel and was considered to be a Jew in a spiritual sense. Now you have all three. Well, Cornelius is the guy in the middle. He’s the God-fearer. He is not a full Jew, so he is to be considered a Gentile…but he did fear God. He was sick of the immorality and the emptiness of his own religion. He had attached himself to the Jewish religion. He didn’t accept the ceremonial laws, perhaps, and the circumcision, etc., but he often attended worship, no doubt. He believed in one God and in the ethics of the Old Testament.

At the ‘ninth hour of the day’, Cornelius received a vision from an angel of the Lord (verse 3). The ninth hour of the day was three o’clock in the afternoon. It is significant, because that was the time of the ritual sacrifice in the temple. Devout Jews prayed at that time of day, and, in Acts 10:30, Cornelius said that is what he was doing.

The angel addressed Cornelius by name. Henry explains:

he called him by his name, Cornelius, to intimate the particular notice God took of him.

Not surprisingly, Cornelius was terrified and asked what the matter was (verse 4). No doubt he thought the Lord was going to reprimand him in some way. Henry tells us:

The wisest and best men have been struck with fear upon the appearance of any extra-ordinary messenger from heaven; and justly, for sinful man knows that he has no reason to expect any good tidings thence. And therefore Cornelius cries, “What is it, Lord? What is the matter?” This he speaks as one afraid of something amiss, and longing to be eased of that fear, by knowing the truth; or as one desirous to know the mind of God, and ready to comply with it, as Joshua: What saith my Lord unto his servant? And Samuel: Speak, for thy servant heareth.

The angel reassures Cornelius that his prayers and alms have ascended to God. That is from the Old Testament and one of the reasons that incense was used, the fragrant smoke being a visible symbol of prayers and sacrifices rising to God.

Henry cites Leviticus:

Cornelius prayed, and gave alms, not as the Pharisees, to be seen of men, but in sincerity, as unto God; and he is here told that they were come up for a memorial before God. They were upon record in heaven, in the book of remembrance that is written there for all that fear God, and shall be remembered to his advantage: “Thy prayers shall be answered, and thine alms recompensed.” The sacrifices under the law are said to be for a memorial. See Leviticus 2:9,16,5:12,6:15. And prayers and alms are our spiritual offerings, which God is pleased to take cognizance of, and have regard to.

Some people consider themselves Christians, yet they do not pray daily. Prayer is worship. Prayer is our active acknowledgement of God the Father and God the Son. It’s essential to the Christian life. Furthermore, God hears our prayers and blesses us accordingly.

MacArthur points out:

You know, it seems to me that as I study the Bible, great things always happen when people are in prayer. God moved on Cornelius when he was in prayer. You’re gonna see in a minute that it was Peter, when he was praying, that God moved on, as well. Prayer’s a great place to be, on your knees before God, for God to speak, and here it happens.

God moves in response to prayer. You say, “What was Cornelius praying about?” I don’t know what he was praying about, but I can take a good guess. I think he was saying, “God, I wanna know more about You. I want the fullness.” He was searching for more light and God was about to invade him with light, and here came the angel, the angelic appearance.

The angel told Cornelius to send men to Joppa and to bring Peter to his house (verse 5). Note that the angel did not tell Cornelius to go himself, but to send his men instead.

Two things are striking about this verse. The first is that there was an action to be performed in obedience to the Lord. The second is that Cornelius was not to meet Peter himself in Joppa.

MacArthur takes this further. This is really important:

God not only chooses the receiver and responds to the searching heart of the receiver and prepares the receiver, but God gives the receiver the opportunity to respond actively. Now God could’ve said through this angel, “Cornelius, all you have to do is these steps. Do you know that God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life or whatever?” And he could’ve gone through the Gospel, see. He could’ve simply gone right to the Gospel, said, “Cornelius, do you believe.” ________ “I believe.” “It’s over, Cornelius, great.” But, no, He didn’t do that.

No, you see, Paul said that we were sent to the world for the obedience of faith, Romans 1. You see, God always wants to tie with faith an act of obedience, because that’s what the Christian life is all about. You might as well learn it at the beginning. That’s why the Bible says, “If you believe in your heartRomans 10:9 and 10, and do what else?...confess with your mouth, the Lord Jesus Christ, you’ll be saved.” God wants some kind of act of obedience tied in with that salvation. So He gives to…to Cornelius the opportunity to be obedient; and isn’t it interesting that if I were Cornelius, here would’ve been my reaction. “Uh, can I go myself? Why do I have to send guys? That means they’ll go there, and they’ll get him, and he’ll have to come here, and that’s a lot of time. I wanna get there.”

I don’t read that in the text. Praise the Lord, he was obedient. He was believing God, and he was obedient. You say, “Well, why would God take this time?” I think there’s two reasons. No. 1, I think was the fact that God wanted Peter also to act on faith, ’cause Peter was gonna have to pack up and head for Cornelius’ house strictly on faith. I mean to have a bunch of Roman soldiers arrive at his door and say, “Come on, we’re taking you to a man who wants to see ya.” That’s a little scary. Roman soldiers.

Secondly, I think, in order to break the barriers down, that the Lord wanted Peter to lead Cornelius to Christ in Cornelius’ own house, which no Jew would ever enter, and so God had the plan laid out, and Cornelius didn’t hassle God. He believed and obeyed.

The angel told Cornelius that Peter was lodging at Simon the tanner’s house by the sea in Joppa (verse 6).

Last week’s entry explained the Jewish opprobrium towards tanners. Their profession was unclean, therefore, they, too were unclean. Tanning also smells, even today. Yet, Peter stayed with Simon for a long time, probably two years. From this, we see the inclusivity of Christianity, which the Apostle himself displayed.

MacArthur tells us why tanners lived by the sea:

Tanners had their house by the seaside, because they needed the salt water for the tanning processes.

After the angel left him, Cornelius called two of his servants and a devout soldier (verse 7). He explained the vision to them and sent them to Joppa (verse 8). Last week’s entry also discussed Joppa, more about which can be found at BiblePlaces.com.

MacArthur ties this vision and obedience together for us:

Cornelius is getting prepared. What have we seen in the preparation of the receiver over here? We’ve seen 1) God chose him. 2) God responded to his open heart. 3) God prepared the soil with the proper information and instruction. 4) God promises more light. “He shall tell thee what thou oughtest to do.” 5) God asks for the obedience of faith. Meanwhile, He prepares the messenger, Peter, down in Joppa.

Peter’s preparation — also a vision — is the subject of next week’s post. Peter learned another great lesson in his life which further aided his powerful ministry.

Next time — Acts 10:9-16

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 9:36-43

Dorcas Restored to Life

36 Now there was in Joppa a disciple named Tabitha, which, translated, means Dorcas.[a] She was full of good works and acts of charity. 37 In those days she became ill and died, and when they had washed her, they laid her in an upper room. 38 Since Lydda was near Joppa, the disciples, hearing that Peter was there, sent two men to him, urging him, “Please come to us without delay.” 39 So Peter rose and went with them. And when he arrived, they took him to the upper room. All the widows stood beside him weeping and showing tunics[b] and other garments that Dorcas made while she was with them. 40 But Peter put them all outside, and knelt down and prayed; and turning to the body he said, “Tabitha, arise.” And she opened her eyes, and when she saw Peter she sat up. 41 And he gave her his hand and raised her up. Then, calling the saints and widows, he presented her alive. 42 And it became known throughout all Joppa, and many believed in the Lord. 43 And he stayed in Joppa for many days with one Simon, a tanner.

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Last week’s post, about Peter’s healing of the paralytic Aeneas, explained why St Luke — who wrote Acts — shifted focus for a few chapters from Saul (St Paul) to Peter. Briefly, Saul had fled Jerusalem for his home city of Tarsus for a time.

Peter had a dramatic ministry:

Acts 2:33-35 – Peter, Pentecost, Peter’s first sermon, Jesus the Messiah and Lord

Acts 4:22 – Peter, John, the lame man, miracle, healing miracle (includes Acts 3:4-10)

Acts 5:1-6 – Ananias, Peter, lying to the Holy Spirit and God, hypocrisy, sin, deception, death

Acts 5:7-11 – Sapphira, Peter, testing the Holy Spirit, deception, death, sin

Acts 5:12-16 – Signs and wonders, healing miracles, miracles, the Apostles, Peter, women

Acts 8:14-25 – Philip, Simon Magus, sorcery, money, divine gifts, God, Holy Spirit, Peter, John

Acts 9:32-35 — Peter, healing miracle, Aeneas

The following post also gives insight into Peter’s character and personality:

John MacArthur on Peter

Peter was ministering in Lydda, which was where he healed Aeneas. Last week’s post had more on Lydda, past and present.

Lydda was close to Joppa, where Dorcas lived. The city’s modern name is Jaffa. BiblePlaces.com has a good page on the history of the port accompanied by photographs. It is near Tel Aviv and is not to be confused with Haifa, which is a modern port created by the Israelis.

The name Dorcas is Greek. Dorcas’s name in Aramaic was Tabitha. Both translate as ‘gazelle’ or, as Matthew Henry notes, ‘doe’, signifying a pleasing creature. She was a baptised convert and her life’s work was devoted to others (verse 36). Henry elaborates (emphases mine):

1. She lived at Joppa, a sea-port town in the tribe of Dan, where Jonah took shipping to go to Tarshish, now called Japho. 2. Her name was Tabitha, a Hebrew name, the Greek for which is Dorcas, both signifying a doe, or hind, or deer, a pleasant creature. Naphtali is compared to a hind let loose, giving goodly words; and the wife to the kind and tender husband is as the loving hind, and as the pleasant roe, Proverbs 5:19. 3. She was a disciple, one that had embraced the faith of Christ and was baptized; and not only so, but was eminent above many for works of charity. She showed her faith by her works, her good works, which she was full of, that is, in which she abounded. Her head was full of cares and contrivances which way she should do good. She devised liberal things, Isaiah 32:8. Her hands were full of good employment; she made a business of doing good, was never idle, having learned to maintain good works (Titus 3:8), to keep up a constant course and method of them. She was full of good works, as a tree that is full of fruit. Many are full of good words, who are empty and barren in good works; but Tabitha was a great doer, no great talker: Non magna loquimur, sed vivimus–We do not talk great things, but we live them. Among other good works, she was remarkable for her alms–deeds, which she did, not only her works of piety, which are good works and the fruits of faith, but works of charity and beneficence, flowing from love to her neighbour and a holy contempt of this world.

Dorcas was a seamstress who made clothes for the poor. She fell ill and died. The widows who attended to her prepared her body but, instead of burying her, laid her in an upper room (verse 37). John MacArthur explains:

Now, the custom of the Jews at death was immediately to bury the body, since they did not do any embalming. They would merely do what they called the washing, the Mishnah prescribed a certain washing, and then the burial immediately. But in this case, they didn’t bury her, which was very unusual, because dead bodies were a very unsacred thing in Israel to a Jew, and they didn’t let dead bodies hang around.

Henry adds information about the water and says the room where Dorcas was laid out could well have been the meeting place for the disciples of Joppa:

they washed the dead body, according to the custom, which, it is said, was with warm water, which, if there were any life remaining in the body, would recover it; so that this was done to show that she was really and truly dead. They tried all the usual methods to bring her to life, and could not. Conclamatum est–the last cry was uttered. They laid her out in her grave-clothes in an upper chamber, which Dr. Lightfoot thinks was probably the public meeting-room for the believers of that town; and they laid the body there, that Peter, if he would come, might raise her to life the more solemnly in that place.

MacArthur goes on to say:

They know Peter’s nearby, and they also know Peter has the power to raise the dead if the design of God is that; and so rather than burying her with great faith, they take her body and they stick it upstairs in the upper chamber.

The disciples in Joppa sent two men to Lydda to get Peter to make the ten-mile walk to see Dorcas (verse 38). They did not tell Peter why they came, but simply said he needed to go with them right away.

Peter needed no persuading and went with the men to Joppa. When they reached the house of Dorcas, the grieving widows showed him some of her handiwork, among them undergarment tunics (verse 39).

Henry wrote that the widows were likely to have been poor and recipients of her charity. MacArthur thinks that the widows helped her and that she led their ministry, the original Dorcas Circle.

There must have been quite a hubbub, as Dorcas was a pillar of her community. Peter, as Jesus did when He raised Jairus’s daughter, got everyone outside (verse 40). No doubt, the widows wanted to see what he would do, but Peter — as did Jesus — needed to be alone.

Peter knelt and prayed. Henry points out that this was a greater task than healing Aeneas. It involved restoring life:

in this greater work he addressed himself to God by solemn prayer, as Christ when he raised Lazarus; but Christ’s prayer was with the authority of a Son, who quickens whom he will; Peter’s with the submission of a servant, who is under direction, and therefore he knelt down and prayed.

Peter turned to the woman, and, as is so often with the miracles documented in the New Testament, asked her to do something, in this case, arise.

She opened her eyes and, upon seeing Peter, sat up. He extended his hand to Dorcas, which Henry says was not done solely to help her but also to welcome her back to life. He then summoned the ‘saints’ — quite possibly, including male disciples — and the widows to see Dorcas restored to life (verse 41).

News travelled quickly around Joppa and many more souls believed in the Lord (verse 42). Henry was certain that word of the miracle extended beyond that port city:

it being a town of seafaring men, the notice of it would be the sooner carried thence to other countries, and though some never minded it many were wrought upon by it. This was the design of miracles, to confirm a divine revelation.

Peter stayed in Joppa for some time, at the home of a tanner named Simon (verse 43). Luke’s inclusion of Simon’s occupation is an important detail. Tanning leather was one of the lowliest occupations. Even today, tanning, whilst necessary, is looked down upon. It is a smelly business.

MacArthur explains:

One of the most despicable trades in the mind of a Jew was that of a tanner, because a tanner, you see, dealt with the dead…the skin of dead animals, making leather. No self-respecting Jew would have anything to do with a tanner. He was despised; and, in fact, the Mishnah said if a woman had a husband who took on the trade of a tanner, she had the right to divorce him, because he went into something so defiled. A tanner was not respected. Not only that, it was ceremonially unclean.

However, Peter chose to stay with a tanner, revealing that, even though he knew all the social opprobrium about the occupation. Peter lodged with someone who was among the lowest of the low.

MacArthur adds that Peter’s stay was not a short one, either:

He stuck around a couple years, and the whole time he lived in Simon’s house, and he never turned him into a carpenter. He let him be what he was. He didn’t make him change. 

I would not be surprised if Simon’s social status increased as a result. Peter might have taught the people of Joppa a valuable lesson in inclusion and humility.

Next time: Acts 10:1-8

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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy 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 9:32-35

The Healing of Aeneas

32 Now as Peter went here and there among them all, he came down also to the saints who lived at Lydda. 33 There he found a man named Aeneas, bedridden for eight years, who was paralyzed. 34 And Peter said to him, “Aeneas, Jesus Christ heals you; rise and make your bed.” And immediately he rose. 35 And all the residents of Lydda and Sharon saw him, and they turned to the Lord.

———————————————————————————————

Last week’s entry ended with Saul’s — Paul’s — escape from the Jews in Jerusalem to the port of Caesarea. He set sail from there to return home to Tarsus for a time.

Last week’s reading ended with this verse:

31 So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria had peace and was being built up. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it multiplied.

At this point, the Apostles were leaving Jerusalem to visit the newly established churches. Although there were thousands of converts in the city and the Apostles still ministered to them, there was no more that could be done there. So, they began travelling back and forth.

The Jews in Jerusalem had also turned their attention away from Christians to the Roman government. Saul’s departure helped facilitate this. John MacArthur explains (emphases mine below):

The church is in a state of rest. Verse 31 says, “All the churches had rest and they were edified, built up spiritually, and they began to multiply.” And this was for several reasons. This was, of course, due particularly to the work of the Spirit of God. But it was also due to the fact that Saul got out of town and didn’t create such a mess, so many problems. And it was also due to the fact that the Jews were now bugged by Caligula, the Roman emperor, wanting to set up idols in Jerusalem. And they were fighting the Romans. They didn’t have time to fight the church. So the church had a little period of rest here.

Eventually, most of the Apostles left Jerusalem altogether, as Saul found when he returned from Tarsus:

In fact, when Saul finally came to Jerusalem, according to Galatians 1, he said the only apostles he found there were James and Peter. The rest of them were long gone. The other ten were moving around preaching.

With Saul out of the picture for the time being, Luke resumed documenting Peter’s ministry. Saul — as Paul — does not dominate Acts until Chapter 13.

If you have been following this series on Acts, you might recall that once Peter was filled with the Holy Spirit at the first Pentecost, he was utterly transformed. He not only became a powerful preacher but he was also able to heal and confer the Holy Spirit on others. He also had incredible powers of discernment and knew when people were lying. Here are the relevant passages:

Acts 2:33-35 – Peter, Pentecost, Peter’s first sermon, Jesus the Messiah and Lord

Acts 4:22 – Peter, John, the lame man, miracle, healing miracle (includes Acts 3:4-10)

Acts 5:1-6 – Ananias, Peter, lying to the Holy Spirit and God, hypocrisy, sin, deception, death

Acts 5:7-11 – Sapphira, Peter, testing the Holy Spirit, deception, death, sin

Acts 5:12-16 – Signs and wonders, healing miracles, miracles, the Apostles, Peter, women

Acts 8:14-25 – Philip, Simon Magus, sorcery, money, divine gifts, God, Holy Spirit, Peter, John

Verse 32 tells us that Peter was on the move outside of Jerusalem. If we look at it in a contemporary context, he was performing duties of a bishop. However, then, he was not considered as such and went as an itinerant preacher. Matthew Henry explains Peter’s ministry:

As an apostle, he was not to be the resident pastor of any one church, but the itinerant visitor of many churches, to confirm the doctrine of inferior preachers, to confer the Holy Ghost on those that believed, and to ordain ministers. He passed dia panton–among them all, who pertained to the churches of Judea, Galilee, and Samaria, mentioned in the foregoing chapter. He was, like his Master, always upon the remove, and went about doing good; but still his head-quarters were at Jerusalem, for there we shall find him imprisoned, Acts 12:2.

He visited the ‘saints’ at Lydda. Henry tells us:

He came to the saints at Lydda. This seems to be the same with Lod, a city in the tribe of Benjamin, mentioned 1 Chronicles 8:12, Ezra 2:33. The Christians are called saints, not only some particular eminent ones, as saint Peter and saint Paul, but every sincere professor of the faith of Christ. These are the saints on the earth, Psalms 16:3.

A man named Aeneas lived there, bedridden with paralysis (verse 33). Peter went to heal him.

Note what Peter said to him (verse 34):

Jesus Christ heals you;

and:

rise and make your bed.

Peter, being full of grace, faith and the Holy Spirit, did not take credit for the miracle, but instead gave it to Whom it belongs.

As with other healing miracles, from Jesus to Peter, once the person is made whole and healthy again, he or she is asked to do something they had never been able to do or had not been able to do in many years. This is from Acts 3, when Peter healed a paralysed man at the temple:

But Peter said, “I have no silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk! And he took him by the right hand and raised him up, and immediately his feet and ankles were made strong.

Henry says that these instructions indicate we are to make use of our God-given abilities:

(2.) He ordered him to bestir himself, to exert himself: “Arise and make thy bed, that all may see thou art thoroughly cured.” Let none say that because it is Christ that by the power of his grace works all our works in us therefore we have no work, no duty, to do; for, though Jesus Christ makes thee whole, yet thou must arise and make use of the power he gives thee: “Arise, and make thy bed, to be to thee no longer a bed of sickness, but a bed of rest.” (3.) Power went along with this word: he arose immediately, and no doubt very willingly made his own bed.

Henry reminds us of the spiritual element in every miracle:

Christ chose such patients as this, whose disease was incurable in a course of nature, to show how desperate the case of fallen mankind was when he undertook their cure. When we were without strength, as this poor man, he sent his word to heal us.

When the residents of Lydda and Sharon saw the man, they became believers (verse 35). That must have been a highly powerful moment. Henry tells us that not every person saw him, but enough did and many more enquired about the healing, therefore, it was persuasion enough:

We can scarcely think that every individual person in those countries took cognizance of the miracle, and was wrought upon by it; but many, the generality of the people in the town of Lydda and in the country of Saron, or Sharon, a fruitful plain or valley, of which it was foretold, Sharon shall be a fold of flocks, Isaiah 65:10. 1. They all made enquiry into the truth of the miracle, did not overlook it, but saw him that was healed, and saw that it was a miraculous cure that was wrought upon him by the power of Christ, in his name, and with a design to confirm and ratify that doctrine of Christ which was now preached to the world. 2. They all submitted to the convincing proof and evidence there was in this of the divine origin of the Christian doctrine, and turned to the Lord, to the Lord Jesus. They turned from Judaism to Christianity; they embraced the doctrine of Christ, and submitted to his ordinances, and turned themselves over to him to be ruled and taught and saved by him.

MacArthur adds historical and geographical information about Lydda and Sharon:

Lydda’s an interesting town. It’s very historic, very old. In the Old Testament it was called Lod, L-o-d. And it’s still called that today and if any of you have ever been to Israel, you’ve been there, because that’s where the airport is. And it’s about ten miles east of Jaffa or Tel Aviv. And so Lod is a very old, very ancient and in this time it was a very, very important city because it was right on the area of the trade route from Egypt to Babylon going east. And a lot of the goods that were dropped off at the seaport of Joppa went to Jerusalem right through Lod. So it was a very important kind of a mainline town …

Now Sharon here is not the name of a girl. It’s the name of a valley from Joppa clear north to the top of Mount Carmel, a long valley of many miles between the mountains and the sea of…Mediterranean Sea, that beautiful fertile valley. We drove right up through that valley. It’s become a synonym for fertility, Sharon. Beautiful and that whole valley…the gospel just went north, whom, as a result of the raising of this paralytic.

In closing, MacArthur makes an excellent point about Peter and his ministry which we can apply in our own lives — even as laypeople:

Everybody who’s active seems to be able to find enough to do. The little principle the rich get richer can apply in terms of spiritual richness. Boy when you get into rich ministries you’ll find that you’ll…first of all, you’ll bear fruit and then you’ll bear more fruit and then before you know it, you’ll bear much fruit. And Peter, with all the burdens he carried, and I know he was a busy guy and I bet you people wanted his time and demanded his time and wanted to talk to him and sit with him and counsel with him and have him speak for their groups and there this and that. And yet God kept opening new ministries. There was never any end to it. I really believe people that if you ever want to be fruitful in the ministry of Jesus Christ, you’re going to have to now get in the mainstream of what God is doing. God does not go up to the shelf and dust you off for some great, important ministry. Start where you are. There are so many things needful to be done, to pray, to teach, to minister to others needs, to use your spiritual gifts. And as we begin to do this, as we’re into the mainstream of the priorities of what God is doing, He’ll butt us right up against ministries right after the other …

Peter was moving. And it came to pass as he was going around everywhere, God zapped into Lydda right where He wanted him. Now if you’re active in doing what God’s doing, if you’re caught up in the mainstream, then you’re going to find so many ministries, your life is going to be abundantly enriched beyond which you could even dream. If you’re too busy doing your thing, then you may not even know ministries exist.

Next week’s reading will feature the dramatic miracle concerning Dorcas.

Next time — Acts 9:36-43

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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy 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 9:26-31

Saul in Jerusalem

26 And when he had come to Jerusalem, he attempted to join the disciples. And they were all afraid of him, for they did not believe that he was a disciple. 27 But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles and declared to them how on the road he had seen the Lord, who spoke to him, and how at Damascus he had preached boldly in the name of Jesus. 28 So he went in and out among them at Jerusalem, preaching boldly in the name of the Lord. 29 And he spoke and disputed against the Hellenists.[a] But they were seeking to kill him. 30 And when the brothers learned this, they brought him down to Caesarea and sent him off to Tarsus.

31 So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria had peace and was being built up. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it multiplied.

———————————————————————————————–

Last week’s post discussed the ministry of Saul of Tarsus — St Paul — in Damascus after his conversion.

That entry says that after his Damascene conversion, Paul immediately went out to preach in Damascus, then he went to nearby Arabia for a few years prior to returning to Damascus. By then, the Jewish leaders there — possibly in Arabia, too — were out to kill him. Fellow converts managed to get Saul safely outside of the city by lowering him in a basket through a hole in the wall surrounding Damascus. Saul was small, by the way. His Roman name, Paul, means ‘little’.

Fleeing Damascus, Saul went to Jerusalem. Matthew Henry posits that a case could be made for the possibility that Saul made another trip there, although we cannot know for certain (emphases mine):

This is thought to be that journey to Jerusalem of which he himself speaks (Galatians 1:18): After three years I went up to Jerusalem, saith he, to see Peter, and abode with him fifteen days. But I rather incline to think that this was a journey before that, because his coming in and going out, his preaching and disputing (Acts 9:28,29), seem to be more than would consist with his fifteen days’ stay (for that was no more) and to require a longer time; and, besides, now he came a stranger, but then he came, historesai Petron–to confer with Peter, as one he was intimate with; however, it might possibly be the same.

In Jerusalem, Saul attempted to join the disciples, but the converts feared him (verse 26). It is no wonder, considering that Saul viciously terrorised converts and was involved in the stoning of Stephen, the first martyr (read here and here). He was on his way to Damascus to round up converts to bring back to the temple in Jerusalem for trial on heresy charges. That was his idea, by the way, not something that came from the Jewish leaders, although they gladly went along with his plan.

So, Saul, a Pharisee, was a particularly bad hombre, which explains why his Damascene conversion was such a brutal one. It had to be:

Part 1 of Acts 9:1-9: Saul’s — St Paul’s — conversion

Part 2 of Acts 9:1-9: Saul’s — St Paul’s — conversion (includes interesting info from John MacArthur on his own conversion)

Acts 9:10-19 — when scales fell from the eyes of Saul of Tarsus (final part of St Paul’s conversion story)

Matthew Henry thought that the disciples in Jerusalem should have been kinder to him, but I am on their side. Paul had form. This is Henry’s argument:

They knew what a bitter persecutor he had been, with what fury he went to Damascus some time ago; they had heard nothing of him since, and therefore thought he was but a wolf in sheep’s clothing. The disciples of Christ had need to be cautious whom they admit into communion with them. Believe not every spirit. There is need of the wisdom of the serpent, to keep the mean between the extremes of suspicion on the one hand and credulity on the other; yet methinks it is safer to err on the charitable side, because it is an adjudged case that it is better the tares should be found among the wheat than that the wheat should any of it be rooted up and thrown out of the field.

Saul found a sponsor in Barnabas, who introduced him to the Apostles and explained his conversion story to them (verse 27).

John MacArthur did not have much to say about this passage, but Henry gives us possible reasons why Barnabas was convinced Saul was a legitimate convert:

How Barnabas came to know this, more than the rest of them, we are not told; whether he had himself been at Damascus, or had had letters thence, or discoursed with some of that city, by which he came to the knowledge of this; or whether he had formerly been acquainted with Paul in the Grecian synagogues, or at the feet of Gamaliel, and had such an account of his conversion from himself as he saw cause enough to give credit to: but so it was that, being satisfied himself, he gave satisfaction to the apostles concerning him, he having brought no testimonials from the disciples at Damascus, thinking he needed not, as some others, epistles of commendation, 2 Corinthians 3:1.

Henry’s conclusion is worth noting:

Note, The introducing of a young convert into the communion of the faithful is a very good work, and one which, as we have opportunity, we should be ready to do.

The life of St Barnabas is interesting. He was born a Levite, a priestly class from the Old Testament. In order to be a Levite, one’s mother has to be Jewish and one’s father must be a Levite.

Barnabas was born in Cyprus. Saul came from Tarsus, in modern-day Turkey. The Jews from that part of the world were called Hellenists. (Hellas is the Greek name for Greece.)

Barnabas was born Joseph. When he converted, he gave his worldly goods to the church in Jerusalem and the Apostles gave him his new name, which means ‘son of the prophet/consolation/encouragement’. He first appears in Acts 4:36-37:

36 Thus Joseph, who was also called by the apostles Barnabas (which means son of encouragement), a Levite, a native of Cyprus, 37 sold a field that belonged to him and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet.

It is possible that both he and Saul studied together under Gamaliel in Jerusalem.

Acts 11 describes his ministry in Antioch. Before his arrival, Antioch already had so many converts that the Apostles despatched Barnabas to oversee the church there. Barnabas was gratified by the number of new converts, but as he added even more souls, he realised he needed help and called on Saul, who stayed there for a year to minister with him.

A John Mark — who might or might not be St Mark, the Gospel author — is thought to have been related to Barnabas either as a cousin or a nephew. Wikipedia describes his involvement, Barnabas and Paul’s work and how Acts refers to them:

The successful preaching of Christianity at Antioch to non-Jews led the church at Jerusalem to send Barnabas there to oversee the movement (Acts 11:20–22). He found the work so extensive and weighty that he went to Tarsus in search of Paul (still referred to as Saul), “an admirable colleague”, to assist him.[10] Paul returned with him to Antioch and labored with him for a whole year (Acts 11:25–26). At the end of this period, the two were sent up to Jerusalem (AD 44) with contributions from the church at Antioch for the relief of the poorer Christians in Judea.

They returned to Antioch taking John Mark with them, the cousin or nephew of Barnabas.[11] Later, they went to Cyprus and some of the principal cities of Pamphylia, Pisidia, and Lycaonia (Acts 13:14). After recounting that the governor of Cyprus Sergius Paulus believed, the Acts of the Apostles 13:9 speaks of Barnabas’s companion no longer as Saul, but as Paul, his Roman name, and generally refers to the two no longer as “Barnabas and Saul” as heretofore (11:30; 12:25; 13:2, 7), but as “Paul and Barnabas” (13:43, 46, 50; 14:20; 15:2, 22, 35). Only in 14:14 and 15:12, 25 does Barnabas again occupy the first place, in the first passage with recollection of 14:12, in the last two, because Barnabas stood in closer relation to the Jerusalem church than Paul. Paul appears as the more eloquent missionary (13:16; 14:8-9, 19-20), whence the Lystrans regarded him as Hermes, Barnabas as Zeus[12] (14:12).

There is more at the link, however, this is to give you some insight as to how important these ministries were. St Barnabas is considered to be the founder of the Cypriot Orthodox Church and the patron saint of Cyprus. His feast day is June 11. He was martyred on that day in 61 AD in Salamis, Cyprus — the city of his birth. The Jews there were furious with his preaching:

Church tradition developed outside of the canon of the New Testament describes the martyrdom of many saints, including the legend of the martyrdom of Barnabas.[3] It relates that certain Jews coming to Syria and Salamis, where Barnabas was then preaching the gospel, being highly exasperated at his extraordinary success, fell upon him as he was disputing in the synagogue, dragged him out, and, after the most inhumane tortures, stoned him to death. His kinsman, John Mark, who was a spectator of this barbarous action, privately interred his body.[16]

Wikipedia also puts forth the case for Barnabas and John Mark having been among the original 70 disciples:

Although many assume that the biblical Mark the Cousin of Barnabas (Colossians 4:10) is the same as John Mark (Acts 12:12, 25; 13:5, 13; 15: 37) and Mark the Evangelist, the traditionally believed author of the Gospel of Mark, according to Hippolytus of Rome,[19] the three “Mark”s are distinct persons. They were all members of the Seventy Apostles of Christ, including Barnabas himself. There are two people named Barnabas among Hippolytus’ list of Seventy Disciples, one (#13) became the bishop of Milan, the other (#25) the bishop of Heraclea. Most likely one of these two is the biblical Barnabas; the first one is more likely, because the numbering by Hippolytus seems to indicate a level of significance. Clement of Alexandria (Stromata, ii, 20) also makes Barnabas one of the Seventy Disciples that are mentioned in the Gospel of Luke 10:1ff.

Back to today’s reading. With Barnabas’s introduction, Saul preached boldly for Christ in Jerusalem (verse 28). Not surprisingly, this angered the Jews, particularly the Hellenist Jews, the group from which Saul came. He was able to scripturally out-debate them which led them to become so hate-filled that they wanted to kill him (verse 29).

John MacArthur reminds us:

The Hellenist Jews. He was one of them. And you know who was the last guy to preach to them? Stephen. He picked up the mantle of Stephen and took off right at the point Stephen quit. He went right back to the Hellenist Jews. Went right back to their synagogues and started debating with them again. Boy just having gotten over the shock of Stephen, it must have been something to try to handle this guy.

Recall that the Lord told Ananias in Damascus, whom He sent to baptise Saul:

16 For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.”

This happened in Damascus — and possibly in Arabia — and, now, once again, in Jerusalem. Saul, the persecutor, was becoming by divine intent, Saul the persecuted.

When his brothers in Christ heard of this plot by the Hellenists to kill him, they got Saul out of the city, took him to Caesarea — a port on the Mediterranean Sea — and shipped him back home to Tarsus (verse 30).

Matthew Henry examines the reasons why:

They remembered how the putting of Stephen to death, upon his disputing with the Grecians, had been the beginning of a sore persecution; and therefore were afraid of having such a vein opened again, and hastened Paul out of the way. He that flies may fight again. He that fled from Jerusalem might do service at Tarsus, the place of his nativity; and thither they desired him by all means to go, hoping he might there go on in his work with more safety than at Jerusalem. Yet it was also by direction from heaven that he left Jerusalem at this time, as he tells us himself (Acts 22:17), that Christ now appeared to him, and ordered him to go quickly out of Jerusalem, for he must be sent to the Gentiles, Acts 9:15. Those by whom God has work to do shall be protected from all the designs of their enemies against them till it be done. Christ’s witnesses cannot be slain till they have finished their testimony.

Verse 31 has several nuances. The Church was once more at peace. Saul, the chief persecutor, had been converted. He, the powerful persecutor turned convincing convert, had also fled the Hellenists in Jerusalem. The Hellenists were not interested in anyone else. Preaching continued and more Jews converted. Because all were walking in the way of the Lord and filled with the Holy Spirit, the Church grew and grew.

MacArthur adds a historical note about what was going on in Rome at this time and an instructive principle of the growth of Christianity, then and now:

… at this point in history a very interesting footnote comes out that you must understand. At this point, the emperor of Rome was Caligula. And Caligula attempted to set up idols in Jerusalem. And this got the Jews so angry that the Jews concentrated their fight against Caligula and consequently left the Christians alone for a period of time. That occurred at the same time. So Paul’s leaving and the Jews preoccupation with Caligula’s efforts to set up idols gave the church rest and as a result of the rest of the church it says “the church was edified and walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit it was,” what, “multiplied.”

First it was edified and then it was multiplied. You want to know the pattern for church growth? People say to me, how do you build a church? You don’t build a church, you build a believer and the church will build itself. There it is, first edify, what kind of growth is that? Spiritual. Then multiply, what kind of growth is that? Numerical. You people who are here today aren’t here because we had a contest to get you here. You’re here in most cases, in fact, if not in all cases, because some Christians’ lives were changed and they touched your life. That’s the only way God ever intended the church to grow. And it grew.

MacArthur also tells us what Paul did next:

They put him on a boat and Galatians 1:21, he says, “Afterwards, I came into the regions of Syria and Cilicia.” Tarsus was in Cilicia. What do you think he did there? It’s terrific. The indication of what he did is in Chapter 15:23 of Acts

It says, “The apostles and elders and brethren send greeting,” … “unto the brethren who are of the Gentiles in Syria and Cilicia.” Guess what he did? He went all over the place founding churches. He was absolutely inexhaustible. There was no stopping the man. He was a human preaching machine. You couldn’t stop him. He got to Syria and Cilicia and even in Antioch and he took off preaching Jesus. Over in verse 41, he went through Syria and Cilicia later on confirming the churches that he had established. Fantastic. And he didn’t worry about anything. He was fearless. It didn’t matter what was going on. If they tried to kill him or not try to kill him, he was so bold.

The story continues next week.

Next time: Acts 9:32-35

Bible readingThe 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 9:23-25

Saul Escapes from Damascus

23 When many days had passed, the Jews[a] plotted to kill him, 24 but their plot became known to Saul. They were watching the gates day and night in order to kill him, 25 but his disciples took him by night and let him down through an opening in the wall,[b] lowering him in a basket.

————————————————————————————————-

Last week’s entry discussed Saul of Tarsus preaching to converts in Damascus in their synagogues.

They had already been converted. He was originally going to the Syrian city to arrest them and bring them back to Jerusalem for trial on charges of heresy.

On the way, Christ made sure Saul had his Damascene conversion, described in the posts below:

Part 1 of Acts 9:1-9: Saul’s — St Paul’s — conversion

Part 2 of Acts 9:1-9: Saul’s — St Paul’s — conversion (includes interesting info from John MacArthur on his own conversion)

Acts 9:10-19 — when scales fell from the eyes of Saul of Tarsus (final part of St Paul’s conversion story)

After his three days in spiritual solitary confinement, he immediately went to preach to the converts there.

Verse 23 tells us that ‘many days had passed’, then Saul had to leave Damascus.

How long a period of time is that? In Greek — St Luke’s language, and Luke wrote Acts — it was a very long period of time. For whatever reason, Luke omitted Paul’s three-year stay in Arabia, near Damascus.

Matthew Henry explains (emphases mine):

Luke here makes no mention of Paul’s journey into Arabia, which he tells us himself was immediately after his conversion, Galatians 1:16,17. As soon as God had revealed his Son in him, that he might preach him, he went not up to Jerusalem, to receive instructions from the apostles (as any other convert would have done, that was designed for the ministry), but he went to Arabia, where there was new ground to break up, and where he would have opportunity of teaching, but not learning; thence he returned to Damascus, and there, three years after his conversion, this happened, which is here recorded.

John MacArthur also refers to this period, similarly mentioning Galatians 1:16-17:

He says after his conversion, “neither went I up to Jerusalem to them who were apostles before me, but I went into Arabia and returned again unto Damascus. Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to see Peter and abode with him fifteen days.”

MacArthur describes this part of Arabia:

What was he doing in Arabia? Well, God sent him there, no question about it, but there’s several things to consider. That part of the world had an Arabia that’s a little different than the Arabia we know today. It’s much north of that and it was called Nabatean Arabia. And it is very likely that at this particular time in history Nabatean Arabia had actually included the city of Damascus. According to some geographical indications, Damascus would have actually been in what was known as Arabia. So that Damascus would be a city on the very frontier of Arabia which would be to the east of it.

We discover in verse 23 that the Jews plotted to kill him. Recall Saul’s powerful personality which made him a great Apostle, although he was not part of the original Twelve nor the replacement for Judas (that was Matthias, Acts 1).

Whatever happened in Arabia, his robust personality and fervent preaching sparked opposition from powerful people. Our commentators have their own theories.

Henry thought the Jews in Arabia were out to get Saul because he — a Pharisee and one of the best — converted to Christianity. Recall from last week’s reading that Saul did not preach about his conversion but Christ alone, saying that He is the Son of God. The more Saul preached, the greater his faith and sermons grew. The Jews did not want people seeing that. Saul was the greatest walking advert ever for Christianity.

Henry’s commentary tells us:

The Jews took counsel to kill him, being more enraged at him than at any other of the preachers of the gospel, not only because he was more lively and zealous in his preaching than any of them, and more successful, but because he had been such a remarkable deserter, and his being a Christian was a testimony against them.

MacArthur thinks differently, that Saul got under the skin of Aretas, who ruled over Nabatean Arabia:

Now this Nabatean Arabia as it’s called was ruled by a king by the name of Aretas. That’s indicated to us in 2 Corinthians 11:32. It tells us that. And Aretas, it says in that same verse, had put a governor in Damascus and put a garrison to guard the city. Now that’s interesting. Aretas lent his soldiers to the Jews to catch Saul. Now why? What does Aretas care about Saul? Why does he want to give a garrison of soldiers to stand at the gates to capture Saul? The only answer that I can come across in my own thinking and this is my own thinking, is that somewhere along the lines Saul has irritated Aretas.

However, by saying that Aretas lent his soldiers to the Jews, MacArthur makes Henry’s point. Aretas could have exercised his own power here. After all, these were his troops. Instead, MacArthur says he lent them to the Jews.

Saul discovered the plot against him and we discover that ‘they’ — the Jews — were watching the city gates around the clock (verse 24). Henry tells us:

they incensed the governor against him, as a dangerous man, who therefore kept the city with a guard to apprehend him, at his going out or coming in, 2 Corinthians 11:32.

It would appear then that the Jewish leaders goaded Aretas into lending them his troops to apprehend Saul.

As the Jewish leaders did with Jesus, so they were doing with Saul. The leaders in Jerusalem during Jesus’s time and those in Damascus during Saul’s time saw both as temporal threats to their authority and privilege. No doubt Aretas worked hand-in-glove with the Jewish hierarchy the way the Romans did in Jerusalem.

To recap, Saul left Damascus soon after his conversion to go to Arabia. He stayed three years. He had to leave because of the tension he caused to the Jews during that time, who then got the ruler involved. He returned to Damascus. The Jewish leaders were watching the gates continuously, with military guards, to capture Saul.

However, disciples in Damascus helped Paul to escape the city (verse 25). Saul crouched in a basket, and they let him down through an opening in the city wall.

In the final part of the conversion story, the Lord, in summoning Ananias, told him of his purpose for Saul (Acts 9:16):

16 For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.”

The Lord did not let Saul of Tarsus off easily. Saul had terrorised converts in Jerusalem and arranged for them to die by stoning (e.g. Stephen, the first martyr). He was now going to let Saul get a taste of his own medicine.

However, the Lord was merciful to Saul in making him aware of the plot — possibly through someone notifying him — and in delivering him — with other men’s help — safely outside the city walls.

God sends help in human form when we need it.

This reminded me of the story about the man trapped in a severe storm who needed to be evacuated. He prayed, ‘God, please rescue me!’ A rescue boat came by. The man refused to get in. The prayer-rescue offer-refusal cycle happened twice more before the man prayed once again, ‘Why, Lord, did you not rescue me?’ The Lord replied, ‘I sent you three boats and you still didn’t get in.’

Saul, on the other hand, knew the Lord was sending him help in getting out of Damascus. May we all have such discernment.

Next time: Acts 9:26-30

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 9:19b-22

Saul Proclaims Jesus in Synagogues

For some days he was with the disciples at Damascus. 20 And immediately he proclaimed Jesus in the synagogues, saying, “He is the Son of God.” 21 And all who heard him were amazed and said, “Is not this the man who made havoc in Jerusalem of those who called upon this name? And has he not come here for this purpose, to bring them bound before the chief priests?” 22 But Saul increased all the more in strength, and confounded the Jews who lived in Damascus by proving that Jesus was the Christ.

————————————————————————————–

Last week, I wrote three lengthy posts on Paul’s conversion based on the first half of Acts 9. These are important, because only by carefully studying his Damascene conversion can we come to appreciate and understand how the Holy Trinity worked through Paul and made him such a pivotal Apostle, even though he was not of the original, or even replacement (Matthias, Acts 1), Twelve:

Part 1 of Acts 9:1-9: Saul’s — St Paul’s — conversion

Part 2 of Acts 9:1-9: Saul’s — St Paul’s — conversion (includes interesting info from John MacArthur on his own conversion)

Acts 9:10-19 — when scales fell from the eyes of Saul of Tarsus (final part of St Paul’s conversion story)

People say that Paul was much ‘greater’ than Peter. He certainly left his stamp on the Church and the New Testament. That said, God gave the two men different types of ministries.

Peter actually had the blessing of being with Jesus for three years. Paul did not.

Whilst foolhardy at times during Jesus’s ministry, Peter did not commit the sins that Paul did, requiring a brutal conversion. If Paul did not actually participate in murdering Christians, he certainly engineered and approved of it e.g. Stephen (Acts 7 and 8). He was pure evil before the Light of Christ struck him off his horse.

Ultimately, both died together as martyrs in Rome at the same time although in different ways, which is why their names are so often linked together. Their feast day is June 29 in the Western Church. They are the patron saints of Rome.

Now on to today’s verses. After he received the Holy Spirit and was baptised, Paul — still Saul — immediately began his ministry in Damascus (verse 19b). The city had a large Jewish population, possibly up to 20,000, and the Christian converts — ex-Jews — there, as elsewhere at that time, worshipped in the synagogues. So he had many new Christians to address.

Wherever he went in the city, Saul preached that Jesus is the Son of God (verse 20). He did not talk about his own dramatic testimony, only Christ and Christ crucified.

Matthew Henry elaborates:

When he began to be a preacher, he fixed this for his principle, which he stuck to ever after: We preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus our Lord; nothing but Christ, and him crucified. He preached concerning Christ, that he is the Son of God, his beloved Son, in whom he is well pleased, and with us in him, and not otherwise.

Martin Luther emphasised that principle and it holds true today.

John MacArthur clarifies what the words Son of God mean (emphases mine):

Jesus is God, He is very God of God in human flesh. He is only called Son in the sense that as the second person of the Trinity He came to earth. He is a Son in the sense that He was born. He is not a Son in terms of rank in the Trinity. He’s not less than the Father. He’s only a Son in an incarnate sense. Before His incarnation He was God the second person of the Trinity. The title Son belongs to His incarnation …

He is not a Son in the sense of inferiority to God the Father in any way, shape, or form. And I only say that because you’ll run into some people who’ll deny that He is God because He’s called the Son of God. Since we only know Christ from our standpoint in terms of incarnation, we call Him the Son of God and so did Saul, because we know Him in His incarnation. We call Him Jesus too, but that’s an incarnation name as well. We call Him Christ and that’s an incarnation name as well. So he began to preach that he is the Son of God.

The alternative to preaching Christ and Him only is a subjective testimony. MacArthur warns:

Now there’s nothing wrong with your testimony, it’s just that your testimony is relatively inconsequential in terms of the importance of the presentation of who Christ is, you see? Your testimony as a supplement is fine. Your testimony as a witness itself isn’t any good at all because it’s got to be more than that. All good preaching and witnessing is doctrinal. And really, you know, the church has gone overboard on people’s testimonies and people’s experiences and we have created, what I’m afraid, is almost a subjective approach to Christianity.

Now subjectivism is a curse that man has had to live with for a long time. Ever since the Garden of Eden when man sinned, immediately God started looking for man and man started looking at man. He ran in the Garden, I’m naked, I better cover myself. Man became man centered or subjective. God’s always been looking at man. Man’s always been turning inside. And man creates religions that are totally subjective. It’s all experiential. And even today the cultured philosophical men of our world have found an experiential religion, you know. The leap of faith. The upper story, whatever you call it.

But religion is subjective, but not Christianity. Romans 10, “Faith comes by hearing a speech about Christ.” Did you hear that? “Faith comes by hearing a speech about Christ.” Not a subjective analysis of what’s going on in me. Now it’s all right to talk about your own experience in certain context and it’s all right to include your testimony in terms of presentation, but never to the exclusion of the actuality of the presentation of Jesus Christ.

It is interesting that Saul’s own testimony, being so dramatic, rarely entered into his preaching. It did briefly later on, as documented in Acts 22 and 26. However, from the start — immediately upon beginning his ministry — he did not take that route.

Bear in mind that, from an early age, as a Pharisee, Saul was educated in Scripture and philosophy in Tarsus. Later, in Jerusalem, he continued his studies under the famed Gamaliel. He was blessed with a gift for sound logic and argumentation. Now he was using that blessing to preach to new Christians. MacArthur imagines the sermons:

And boy I imagine he unlocked that Old Testament, and it was exciting. And that’s how he became known his whole life as a preacher of Jesus Christ.

Recall that Saul originally went with his men to Damascus to round up Christian converts and take them back to the temple in Jerusalem for trial on charges of heresy. Now he is preaching to them, full of the Holy Spirit and knowledge of Christ.

It is no wonder then that the people were ‘amazed’ at hearing Saul before them preaching to them (verse 21). No wonder they were abuzz asking, ‘Isn’t this the man who was persecuting converts brutally in Jerusalem?’ And, as verse 21 tells us, they knew he was coming for them.

Yet, now he was one of them.

Matthew Henry says that the people would have found his conversion as a massive proof that Jesus is the Messiah:

Doubtless this was looked upon by many as a great confirmation of the truth of Christianity, that one who had been such a notorious persecutor of it came, on a sudden, to be such an intelligent, strenuous, and capacious preacher of it. This miracle upon the mind of such a man outshone the miracles upon men’s bodies; and giving a man such another heart was more than giving men to speak with other tongues.

St Luke, the author of Acts, wanted us to know that the more Saul preached, the stronger he became in faith and oratory (verse 22). As such, he was able to argue his case with Jewish opponents. ‘Confound’ in that verse means to frustrate.

Henry explains:

He grew more bold and daring and resolute in defence of the gospel: He increased the more for the reflections that were cast upon him (Acts 9:21), in which his new friends upbraided him as having been a persecutor, and his old friends upbraided him as being now a turncoat; but Saul, instead of being discouraged by the various remarks made upon his conversion, was thereby so much the more emboldened, finding he had enough at hand wherewith to answer the worst they could say to him. (2.) He ran down his antagonists, and confounded the Jews who dwelt in Damascus; he silenced them, and shamed them–answered their objections to the satisfaction of all indifferent persons, and pressed them with arguments which they could make no reply to. In all his discourses with the Jews he was still proving that this Jesus is very Christ, is the Christ, the anointed of God, the true Messiah promised to the fathers. He was proving it, symbibazon–affirming it and confirming it, teaching with persuasion. And we have reason to think he was instrumental in converting many to the faith of Christ, and building up the church at Damascus, which he went thither to make havoc of. Thus out of the eater came forth meat, and out of the strong sweetness.

Saul must have known it would not be long before he would be hunted down and persecuted.

More on that next week.

Next time — Acts 9:23-25

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