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Isn’t there a division of church and state?
The short answer is that the First Amendment protects religious freedom and prohibits the establishment of a national church and state churches. It was Thomas Jefferson who wrote of the ‘separation between church and State’ in 1802 in a letter to the Danbury Baptists. They were concerned about their tax money supporting the Congregational Church, the state church of Connecticut at that time.
There is more to the story, detailed below.
However, Conservapedia tells us that there was a constitution that had a division of church and state (emphases mine below):
A phrase close to “separation of church and state”, but used for malevolent purposes and expanded to name education, does appear in Article 52 of the constitution of the Soviet Union (1977): “In the USSR, the church is separated from the state, and the school from the church.”
The First Amendment
The First Amendment to the United States Constitution reads as follows:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.
Conservapedia makes the argument that the First Amendment has its origins in the Bible:
The protection for free speech was largely motivated to safeguard the preaching of the Bible. Several passages in the Bible, both Old Testament and New Testament, support a right of free speech, including Numbers 11:26-30 (Moses allowed free speech by declaring, “If only all the people of the LORD were prophets!”); Mark 9:38-41 (admonition by Jesus not to stop strangers who cast out evil in his name).
George Washington’s farewell address
In his farewell address of September 19, 1796, George Washington said:
Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, Religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of Patriotism, who should labour to subvert these great Pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of Men & citizens. The mere Politican, equally with the pious man ought to respect & to cherish them. A volume could not trace all their connections with private & public felicity. Let it simply be asked where is the security for property, for reputation, for life, if the sense of religious obligation desert the Oaths, which are the instruments of investigation in Courts of Justice? And let us with caution indulge the supposition, that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure–reason & experience both forbid us to expect that National morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.
Ronald Reagan’s address to the Alabama State Legislature
Nearly 200 years later, on March 15, 1982, Ronald Reagan addressed the Alabama State Legislature:
And I know here that you will agree with me that standing up for America also means standing up for the God, who has so blessed our land. I believe this country hungers for a spiritual revival. I believe it longs to see traditional values reflected in public policy again. To those who cite the first amendment as reason for excluding God from more and more of our institutions and everyday life, may I just say: The first amendment of the Constitution was not written to protect the people of this country from religious values; it was written to protect religious values from government tyranny.
What Jefferson said
In 1801, a committee of the Danbury Baptist Association in Connecticut wrote Thomas Jefferson to ask about about their tax money supporting the Congregational Church, the state church of Connecticut at that time.
On New Year’s Day 1802, Jefferson replied, in part:
I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof thus building a wall of separation between church and State.
Connecticut did not change this mandate until 1818. That year, their constitution finally stated:
Article VII. Section 1. It being the duty of all men to worship the Supreme Being, the great Creator and Preserver of the Universe, and their right to render that worship in the mode most consistent with the dictates or their consciences, no person shall by law be compelled to join or support, nor be classed with, or associated to, any congregation, church, or religious association; but every person now belonging to such congregation, church, or religious association, shall remain a member thereof until he shall have separated himself therefrom, in the manner hereinafter provided. And each and every society or denomination of Christians in this State shall have and enjoy the same and equal powers, rights, and privileges; and shall have power and authority support and maintain the ministers or teachers of their respective denominations, and to build and repair houses for public worship by a tax on the members of any such society only, to be laid by a major vote of the legal voters assembled at any society meeting, warned and held according to law, or in any other manner.”
Jefferson worshipped in Capitol building
Atheists are fond of quoting Thomas Jefferson and have adopted him as their secular hero. However, three days after Jefferson wrote his ‘separation between church and state’ letter to the Danbury Baptists (italicised emphasis in the original here, purple emphases mine):
he attended church in the largest congregation in North America at the time. This church held its weekly worship services on government property, in the House Chambers of the U.S. Capitol Building. The wall of separation applies everywhere in the country even on government property , without government interference. This is how it is written in the Constitution, this is how Thomas Jefferson understood it from his letter and actions, and this is how the men who wrote the Constitution practiced it.
Worship in the Capitol ended only after the Civil War. Therefore, it lasted for five decades.
Conservapedia provides more examples of Jefferson’s support of Christianity in government:
David Barton, Founder and President of WallBuilders, states that Jefferson voted that the Capitol building would also serve as a church building, praised the use of a local courthouse as a meeting place for Christian services, urged local governments to make land available specifically for Christian purposes, set aside government lands for the sole use of religious groups, assured a Christian religious school that it would receive “the patronage of the government”, proposed that the Great Seal of the United States depict a story from the Bible and include the word “God” in its motto, and agreed to provide money for a church building and support of clergy. And that like support of religion by the federal government militates against the extreme separatist position.
The Bible and American government
Conservapedia tells us that God is mentioned in all 50 state constitutions.
Until the 1960s, the Bible had a pre-eminent place:
Every new president has made a religious reference in his inaugural address. Dwight D Eisenhower wrote his own prayer. Dr Jerry Newcombe compiled a list of all of these references for the Christian Post just before Donald Trump’s inauguration. (He, too, mentioned God — more than once.) Here are a few:
1. George Washington said, “It would be peculiarly improper to omit, in this first official act, my fervent supplications to that Almighty Being who rules over the universe….”
3. Thomas Jefferson prayed to “that Infinite Power which rules the destinies of the universe.”
6. John Quincy Adams quoted Scripture: “Except the Lord keep the city, the watchman waketh in Vain.”
7. Andrew Jackson referred to “the goodness of that Power whose providence mercifully protected our national infancy.”
16. Abraham Lincoln stated, “Intelligence, patriotism, Christianity, and a firm reliance on Him who has never yet forsaken this favored land, are still competent to adjust in the best way all our present difficulty.”
24. William McKinley declared, ” Our faith teaches that there is no safer reliance than upon the God of our fathers.”
25. Theodore Roosevelt thanked “the Giver of Good who has blessed us.”
32. Harry S. Truman referenced “that all men are created equal because they are created in the image of God.”
Dr Newcombe rightly concludes:
The atheists are the Johnny-come-latelies. Demands to ban God and the Bible from the Inauguration should be denied.
It is not surprising that many Americans and other people around the world now think that Christians in the United States are being unreasonable when they lament that the Ten Commandments have been removed from county courthouses along with Christmas crèches on government property.
I grew up with these displays. No one ever had a problem with them, other than the occasional crank.
However, all that changed in the 1960s. In addition to Madalyn Murray O’Hair‘s successful case against school prayer which effectively banned it — along with Bible readings — in state schools, the Supreme Court under Earl Warren dramatically changed the way all of us view the First Amendment (emphases in the original here):
Jefferson simply quotes the First Amendment then uses a metaphor, the “wall”, to separate the government from interfering with religious practice. Notice that the First Amendment puts Restrictions only on the Government, not the People! The Warren Court re-interpreted the First Amendment thus putting the restrictions on the People! Today the government can stop you from Praying in school, reading the Bible in school, showing the Ten Commandments in school, or have religious displays at Christmas. This is quite different from the wall Jefferson envisioned, protecting the people from government interference with Religious practice.
Therefore, one could make the case that over the past 50 years, America has been drifting in practice towards a Soviet-style restriction on Christian displays, the Bible and prayer outside the home on government property.
If you think I am exaggerating, stories have been appearing in local newspapers and conservative websites over the past 12 years about teachers who have taken Bibles away from children silently reading them during lunch hour. There was an instance in Texas in 2003 I remember where the teacher took a child’s New Testament away at lunch hour and threw it in the wastebasket. He was not allowed to retrieve it.
In June 2016, WND published an article about a school in Palmdale, California, where a seven-year-old got his classmates interested in the Bible verses and stories his mother gave him every morning. The mother intended for her son to have religious encouragement during the day. She was not attempting to proselytise. However, the child was so thrilled by these verses that he couldn’t help but share them with others at lunchtime. It wasn’t long before his friends asked him for copies of the verses and stories. One girl who received a story showed it to the teacher, commenting on its beauty:
Then, however, C [the boy] was reprimanded by his teacher in front of the whole class, twice, and told to stop talking about religion or sharing his mother’s notes, and he went home in tears, Liberty Counsel said.
Even as the crowd of students asking for the after-school Bible notes grew, on May 9, Principal Melanie Pagliaro approached Zavala [the mother] and demanded that the notes only be handed out somewhere beyond school property.
With the school not satisfied with only the banishment, Liberty Counsel said, “a Los Angeles deputy sheriff knocked at the door of C’s home, demanding that C’s note-sharing cease altogether because ‘someone might be offended.’” …
The letter to the district said Liberty Counsel, “having reviewed the above facts, district policies, and applicable law, it is clear that the actions of the district staff in this instance, in prohibiting voluntary student religious expression during non-instructional time; then completely banning such student expression from school property entirely, and finally calling the police to report the same are simply unconstitutional.”
“These actions must be disavowed and reversed, to avoid liability for civil rights violations,” the letter said.
It gave the district a deadline for responding of June 1, which was ignored.
I think this will change — somewhat — over the next four years. While the Ten Commandments might not make a comeback in courthouses, Christmas crèches are likely to reappear. And teachers might start to lay off students sharing the Bible at lunchtime.
Tomorrow: Religious persecution and state churches in American colonies
The three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.
Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.
My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.
Ananias and Sapphira
5 But a man named Ananias, with his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property, 2 and with his wife’s knowledge he kept back for himself some of the proceeds and brought only a part of it and laid it at the apostles’ feet. 3 But Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back for yourself part of the proceeds of the land? 4 While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not at your disposal? Why is it that you have contrived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to man but to God.” 5 When Ananias heard these words, he fell down and breathed his last. And great fear came upon all who heard of it. 6 The young men rose and wrapped him up and carried him out and buried him.
The story of Ananias and Sapphira is one of the most dramatic and instructive in the New Testament with regard to Christian living.
In last week’s post, I cited the final verses of Acts 4, which concluded a description of the generous spirit of giving among the new Christians, filled with the Holy Spirit on and after the first Pentecost. No one was in need or want.
Those who could do so volunteered to sell property and give the proceeds to the disciples to be used for the benefit of the quickly growing community of converts, which, thanks to Peter’s bold evangelism, probably exceeded 20,000 at this point. Scripture gives us the numbers of men. John MacArthur asks us to add on extra for women and children.
Acts 4 ends with this:
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.
Of this gentleman, MacArthur says (emphases mine):
Now Joseph was, verse 36, by the apostles nicknamed or surnamed Barnabas. Now Barnabas means the son of consolation, encouragement or exhortation. Apparently Barnabas or Joseph had the gift of exhortation, so they just called him, son of exhortation. And he plays an important part. You remember Barnabas was the man who accompanied the apostle Paul later on in his first missionary journey. Barnabas in chapter 11 verses 22 and following is giving a little counsel, and it’s kinda a beautiful thing to see. Apparently a beloved fellow, you remember he and Paul had a little falling out over John Mark and they parted ways, ’cause Barnabas was such a loving soul, he just couldn’t give up on John Mark. So apparently he was a very dear, a very precious man, and so here he is, his name is Barnabas and he was a Levite and that’s interesting because the Levites were the priestly family, they couldn’t own any property. You say, well how did he get this property? Well, I think it’s another indication that the Old Covenant had passed away. The Old Covenant passing away, then freed the Levites from the bondage of the old law, and he had the right then to own property. And so apparently he’s purchased this, now if he was a Levite he wouldn’t be very wealthy ’cause a priest didn’t make any money, they pretty much lived off of what other people supplied them. And so this was a big thing to him and perhaps he had saved and scrimped and all the way along to be able to have this. He was from the country of Cyprus. Well it says in 37, “Having land, he sold it, and he brought the money, and laid it at the apostles’ feet.” Isn’t that interesting? That was something that probably was his whole lifetime investment, if any history of the Levites is any indication. And he sold it and just said here, you do with what you want.
That brings us to today’s verses. Note that verse 1 begins with ‘but’. Think in terms of ‘however’, signifying something of an opposite nature to come. Matthew Henry explains:
The chapter begins with a melancholy but, which puts a stop to the pleasant and agreeable prospect of things which we had in the foregoing chapters; as every man, so every church, in its best state has its but.
We discover that Ananias and his wife Sapphira sold a piece of property. Furthermore, both husband and wife knew that Ananias was going to withhold some of the proceeds for themselves (verse 2).
When Ananias brought the portion of the proceeds for the apostles to do with as they saw fit, Peter asked why he lied to the Holy Spirit because his heart was now filled with Satan (verse 3).
Both MacArthur and Henry say that the couple wanted to appear to be as good as Barnabas. It seemed they thought they were on to a win-win situation — a deceptive one. They pledged to the apostles they would donate all the proceeds but knew from the start they would hold some back for themselves. No one would ever know, right?
Henry contrasts the rich young man who encountered Jesus and this couple:
It was commendable, and so far it was right, in that rich young man, that he would not pretend to follow Christ, when, if it should come to a pinch, he knew he could not come up to his terms, but he went away sorrowful. Ananias and Sapphira pretended they could come up to the terms, that they might have the credit of being disciples, when really they could not, and so were a discredit to discipleship.
MacArthur describes what probably happened before the sale:
You see, they had vowed to the Holy Spirit and publicly in front of the congregation that they were going to sell this thing and give it all to the Lord. That was the physical action; it was a lie, they lied to God and to men, and ah, that’s really what Peter says at the end of verse 4, is that you didn’t only lie to men, but you lied to God. So they just put a big lie on. That was really the physical act sin, but behind every physical act sin, watch this, is a mental attitude sin, and the mental attitude sin was, was the secret sin, you know like Lewis Sperry Chafer says, secret sin on earth is open scandal in heaven. They thought they were sneaky. And the mental attitude sin was this, hypocrisy based on a desire for spiritual status. I’ll say it again, hypocrisy based on a desire for spiritual status. You see they wanted to be elevated in the minds of everybody else, spiritually, they wanted everybody to think they were super spiritual. And they believed that they would be applauded for sacrifice and they could save a little cash at the same time.
By the way, Ananias is alone before Peter. (We’ll get to Sapphira next week.)
Peter asked Ananias why he contrived in his heart to lie — not to man but to God (verse 4). Henry says that the Holy Spirit drove Peter to this truth and to say it aloud:
The Spirit of God in Peter not only discovered the fact without any information (when perhaps no man in the world knew it but the man and his wife themselves), but likewise discerned the principle of reigning infidelity in the heart of Ananias, which was at the bottom of it, and therefore proceeded against him so suddenly.
Some may ask if Ananias changed his mind after making the sale. Henry surmised that if such were the case:
Peter would have taken Ananias aside, and have bidden him go home, and fetch the rest of the money, and repent of his folly in attempting to put this cheat upon them …
he knew that his heart was fully set in him to do this evil, and therefore allowed him not space to repent.
Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, could discern that Satan had entered Ananias and could corrupt the new, fledgling set of Christians. MacArthur explains:
Hypocrisy was the dirty sin, hypocrisy was the mental attitude sin, the core sin, creating the impression they were giving all, and they were really pious, and they were really spiritual. And dear ones, this is Satan’s initial move to the inside, to corrupt the church, the sin of hypocrisy among Christians.
Peter’s words were true, because when Ananias heard them, he dropped dead (verse 5). Furthermore, those who heard of what happened were struck with ‘great fear’.
Peter convicted Ananias of lying to the Holy Spirit (verse 3) and of lying to God (verse 4).
Ananias received divine judgement — death sentence — for his grave sins.
You say, how did he die? I’ll tell ya how he died. He died by judicial act of God’s judgement. You say, well what were the physical causes? I think the shock of the whole thing just stopped his heart, right then. I think his conscience was so struck with the horror of what Peter had just said that he just stopped living.
Had Ananias received the Holy Spirit previously? Henry thought it possible:
1. … Some think that Ananias was one of those that had received the Holy Ghost, and was filled with his gifts, but, having provoked the Spirit to withdraw from him, now Satan filled his heart; as, when the Spirit of the Lord departed from Saul, an evil spirit from God troubled him. Satan is a lying spirit; he was so in the mouth of Ahab’s prophets, and so he was in the mouth of Ananias, and by this made it appear that he filled his heart.
2. The sin itself: He lied to the Holy Ghost; a sin of such a heinous nature that he could not have been guilty of it if Satan had not filled his heart.
Some will wonder if this really took place. MacArthur gives us an example from English history:
English history records for us the account of the Dean of Saint Paul’s who went in to see Edward [I], and Edward [I] was so mad, he looked at him with a glare that struck him so hard that he fell over dead. Now if Edward [I] can do that, I think God can do it.
… I think God just brought to the attention of Ananias such a flagrant, blatant act of sin at such a shocking moment of time and he was so discovered, that instead of having to go out and kill himself, he just stopped his heart, dead. In sheer fear and terror.
MacArthur cites other examples in the New Testament whereby God takes people out when they are sinning against Him egregiously. I have broken these up into separate paragraphs so that we all can read them more easily:
Does God actually kill Christians? Yes, He does. Not always though, but He does. You say, you mean that God would actually take the life of a Christian? Yes. You say, What gives you belief in that? I’ll tell you, it’s simple; it’s right in the Word of God. And if the Bible says it, I believe it, and as somebody said, that settles it. [I] Corinthians 11, and you listen well, talking about communion, the Lord’s Table, “He that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh judgement to himself.” You come to the table of the Lord as a Christian and your heart’s not pure, you’re coming and you’re going to eat and you’re going to do it unworthily, unless your heart is clean and there’s no open sin in your life. Listen, he says some of you are doing this and, “For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep.” … actually taken the lives of some of you Corinthians because of the way you come to the Lord’s Table.
Let me give you another one. It’s [I] John 5:16 says this, “If any man sees his brother (Christian) sin a sin which is not unto death, he shall ask, and he shall give him life for them that sin not unto death. There is a sin unto death; I do not say that he shall pray for it.” You say, what is the sin unto death? It’s that last sin that a sinning believer commits when God says, that’s it, I’ve had it, you’re comin’ home. It’s the straw that broke the camel’s back, and sometimes a Christian lives in sin, and God finally just says, I’m sorry, that’s all, and takes him outta the world. That’s ultimate discipline.
Let me show you one other passage, maybe you never thought of it in this light, but I read it to you in this light. James 1:18, “Of His own will begot He us (he says) with the word of truth, that we should be a kind of first fruits of His creatures.” God begot us, to be a living example to the world of what His creatures oughta be, you see? We’re to be examples, that’s why He saved us and left us here, now watch, verse 21, well verse 19, let’s go right through it, “Wherefore, my beloved brethren, (now to whom is he speaking when he uses those words, Christians or non-Christians? Christians, he says my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, and slow to speak, and slow to wrath; For the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God. (listen) Wherefore, (here you are beloved brethren, God has called you to be examples, so do this) put away filthiness overflowing of wickedness, and receive with meekness the engrafted word, which is able to save your souls.” Do Christians need to do something to have their souls saved? No, that’s a problem isn’t it? It’s not a problem if you understand the Greek word for “souls” is also the word for lives. You know what he’s saying? Put the wickedness out of your life, put the filthiness out of your life, receive the Word, or you’ll die. That’s what he’s saying. That’s how strong God spoke in the early church. If you want to save your lives, ya better get into the Word and put away the filthiness. Now that’s serious stuff.
God will not be mocked.
Atheists do not have a get-out clause by saying, ‘Well, I don’t believe in God. I’m okay.’ No, they are not ‘okay’. Divine judgement concerns everyone.
Verse 6 tells us that Ananias’s corpse was wrapped up and the young men removed it from the congregation to bury it.
MacArthur says they took him out of the city for burial.
To be continued next week.
This really should be in the three-year Lectionary. Can’t you just imagine theologians and clergy saying, ‘Well, we don’t want to scare anyone off’?
Christians have it too easy these days. We ignore or rationalise the hard truths of Holy Scripture because ‘they’re not nice’.
I would suggest that if clergy actually preached from the Bible as John MacArthur does, our mainline denomination churches would have the attendance they did in the 20th century. It sounds paradoxical, but MacArthur proves my case with his huge congregation. No church growth malarkey for him, just the word of God.
Next time: Acts 5:7-11
The three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.
Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.
My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.
12 And all were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” 13 But others mocking said, “They are filled with new wine.”
This is the first set of verses in Acts which have been omitted from three-year Lectionary.
More’s the pity. In the Gospels, there are two mentions of people accusing Jesus of being a drunkard. Neither of them is in the Lectionary, either.
In 2015, I wrote about Matthew 11:16-19 which ends with this observation from Jesus about His critics (emphases mine):
19 The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is justified by her deeds.”[a]
In 2013, I wrote about the parallel passage, Luke 7:31-35:
34The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ 35Yet wisdom is justified by all her children.”
Remember that last sentences in each, as they also relate to the Holy Spirit’s purpose in the account of the first Pentecost in Acts 2.
Matthew Henry points out:
if they called the Master of the house a wine-bibber, no marvel if they so call those of his household.
Before we go further, let’s look at the authorship of Acts and why it was written. St Luke wrote it, addressing it to his friend Theophilus, a benefactor of his but, as this book was dedicated to him, also a pupil (Acts 1:1):
In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach,
3it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, 4that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught.
Note that Luke addresses him as ‘most excellent’ in the Gospel but only as ‘O’ in Acts. Henry offers the following possibilities to explain the differences:
not that he had lost his excellency, nor that it was diminished and become less illustrious; but perhaps he had now quitted his place, whatever it was, for the sake of which that title was given him,–or he was now grown into years, and despised such titles of respect more than he had done,–or Luke was grown more intimate with him, and therefore could address him with the more freedom.
In any event, the dedication of important books to individuals was normal, however, their content is just as pertinent to us when it comes to Scripture:
It was usual with the ancients, both Christian and heathen writers, thus to inscribe their writings to some particular persons. But the directing some of the books of the scripture so is an intimation to each of us to receive them as if directed to us in particular, to us by name; for whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning.
As for Luke, you can find out more about him here. In that post, I cited John MacArthur who says that Luke was not only a physician, but also a historian, a theologian and a pastor.
In his introduction to Acts, MacArthur tells us:
Luke is the author of Acts. And Luke was closely associated with the Apostles from about the time of Jesus’ death, around 30 A.D., to about 60 or 63 A.D. where evidently he penned this book. And in those intervening 30‑plus years, as Luke travelled in the companionship of the Apostles, he penned what was going on. And the story of the book of Acts is the beginning of the church at Jerusalem and its explosion until it reaches the capital of the world, one of those uttermost parts of the earth, the city of Rome. And in a thirty‑ year period, under the tremendous power of the Spirit of God, the church exploded around that area of the world and reached the capital of the world in the form of the Apostle Paul in his arrival in the city of Rome. And in those 30 years, Luke presents to us how it was that the Spirit of God superintended, controlled and empowered the expansion of the church.
Luke wanted to communicate to Theophilus how and why the Church developed so that the Roman would realise that Christianity represented truth and that Christians were good people, not rebels who wanted to overturn civil and political order:
in writing to this man, he is evidently‑‑as one of his purposes‑‑attempting to commend Christianity to the Roman world. The Romans had a rather exclusive view of religion, you worship the emperor. And they had some other gods that were involved, but emperor worship was the key thing. They were somewhat tolerant although their tolerance ran a little thin and they became great persecutors of Christianity. And in this particular book, Luke directs the attention of the Romans from time to time to the character of Christians, that is that they are not bad citizens but rather they are very loyal and they are very law abiding. He also directs the Romans’ attention to the fact that many other Roman officials have treated the Christians with great care and have even given good testimonies about Christians. So it has kind of as a background thought the commending of Christianity to the Roman world, lest the Romans be threatened that all of these people were rebels who were going to overthrow the pax Romana or the Roman peace.
However, Luke also meant his writings for the Jews, who felt the Church was exclusive to them. Luke wanted to prove to them that it was also meant for the Gentiles:
… there was this kind of latent problem with the new‑born church as it was to unfold and that is that the Jews would think that it belonged primarily to them and the Gentiles were second‑class citizens. Particularly might this have happened in view of what happened when the church began at Jerusalem as the Spirit of God came in cloven tongues of fire and came upon them, they were baptized in the Holy Spirit, they began to speak in different languages. Now then this gave them a certain exclusive kind of feeling and that’s why when Peter came to the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15, he was so shocked when he announced to the Jerusalem council, “Guys, you’ll never believe it, the same thing happened to the Gentiles that happened to us, can you believe that?” In other words, the point is that God wanted them to make sure the Gentiles and the Jews were on an equal basis in the church.
the main purpose of Acts is stated as such in Acts 1 verse 8. And if you’ll look at that for a moment you’ll see the main character summarized very clearly. Verse 8, “But ye shall receive power after the Holy Spirit has come upon you,” and here’s really the purpose, “ye shall be witnesses unto Me both in Jerusalem, in all Judea and in Samaria and in the utter most part of the earth.” Now there you have the outline of the book of Acts. The book of Acts begins when the Spirit came. They received power. Immediately they became…witnesses declaring the wonderful works of God. They began where? In Jerusalem. Then the book of Acts moves and they went to Judea. Then they went to Samaria, finally they went to the world. They wound up in the capital city of Rome and that’s exactly the outline of the book of Acts given in the eighth verse. It begins right there and it sweeps clear through to the end of the book.
The purpose then of the book as Luke states it there is to show the story of the spread of Christianity empowered and energized by the Holy Spirit throughout the world.
For those unfamiliar with Acts, Luke begins with Jesus’s Ascension on Mount Olivet (Acts 1). Then, Peter discussed Judas’s death, where Luke inserted a parenthetical explanation:
18 (Now this man acquired a field with the reward of his wickedness, and falling headlong[d] he burst open in the middle and all his bowels gushed out. 19 And it became known to all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so that the field was called in their own language Akeldama, that is, Field of Blood.)
Peter, speaking before the Apostles, the women closest to Jesus as well as Jesus’s mother and brothers, cited Psalm 109:8 in justifying a replacement for Judas. The group nominated Barsabbas (Justus) and Matthias. After praying for guidance and casting lots, they chose Matthias to replace Judas.
Most of Acts 2 describes the first Pentecost. The 70 followers of Jesus were together in one house. These verses help to shed light on today’s verses, 12 and 13:
2 And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3 And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested[a] on each one of them. 4 And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.
5 Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven. 6 And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language.
Note that the tongues were real languages, not random babbling. And, using those divinely given languages, the 70 spoke about the wondrous works of Almighty God — i.e. in a Jewish scriptural context — and were understood by those present who spoke those respective foreign tongues.
I can’t emphasise that enough.
I always wondered how there was a crowd of Jews nearby at the time. John MacArthur says that even the date of Pentecost was divinely ordained. It happened 50 days after Passover, which was the Feast of Harvest of the first fruits of the season. God commanded this feast to Moses in Leviticus 23. MacArthur explains:
by divine timing, the fact of the birth of the church and the baptism of the Holy Spirit occurring on Pentecost fulfills the prophecy of Leviticus 23 in which we see the Feast of Harvest as a preview or a type of the church and the baptism of the Spirit … As Christ, for example, fulfilled the Passover feast by dying on the Passover, as He fulfilled the First Fruits feast by rising on the First Fruits feast day, so the Spirit and the birth of the church occurs on Pentecost to fulfill the meaning of that feast from Leviticus 23. You see, these three feasts are types or pictures prophetically of what is to come. And Jesus died on the right day, He rose on the right day and the church was born on the right day because Leviticus 23 outlined it in the pictures of the feasts, which we went into last time. So when it says that “when the day of Pentecost was fully come,” that is the key to interpreting the passage. In other words, this has a very basic direct significance for a special day in the calendar of Israel.
He goes on to say that this was part of God’s divine plan and has nothing to do with us today other than to know why Pentecost occurred when it did:
for people to come along and say that the Spirit of God comes upon an individual as in Acts when the preparation is right and when the individual does the right things is to misinterpret the passage. The Spirit came on a specific day designed by God, the day of Pentecost. It had absolutely nothing to do with the believers there, nothing to do with them meeting any qualifications or any requirements. They were there and it happened because God sovereignly designed it to happen.
Because of the importance of this feast, devout Jews living in other lands went up to Jerusalem to worship and offer the requisite sacrifices.
When they heard the disciples speak in their own languages, they were confused but amazed (verse 12). They marvelled. Remember that everyone considered Galileans to be uneducated, uncultured bumpkins with a particular accent. Matthew 26:73 says that in Peter’s last denial of Jesus, people identified him by his speech:
73 After a little while the bystanders came up and said to Peter, “Certainly you too are one of them, for your accent betrays you.”
MacArthur explains the divine plan:
First of all, the Spirit sent a sound like a wind just to make sure they got gathered together. He got them all together, then they had this marvelous miracle of speaking in languages just to make sure He really messed up their minds. And, you see, when they then began to speak the wonderful works of God, then the Jews only had two choices. Either this was a miracle of the devil, or it’s a miracle of God. But when they started praising God, that eliminated one of those choices. And so what the Spirit was doing was narrowing the whole thing down to the admission that this is of God.
Matthew Henry tells us that the derisive accusation of drunkenness (verse 13) probably came from the Jewish hierarchy who knew Jesus, because the foreigners present marvelled at people who had never travelled outside their own region, yet could speak their language fluently.
The Jewish hierarchy didn’t understand those languages to begin with and put it down to heavy drinking during the daytime:
As when they resolved not to believe the finger of the Spirit in Christ’s miracles, they turned it off with this, “He casteth out devils by compact with the prince of the devils;” so, when they resolved not to believe the voice of the Spirit in the apostles’ preaching, they turned it off with this, These men are full of new wine.
A simple rationalisation for them. See how their hard-heartedness continued even after Jesus rose from the dead.
Isn’t it interesting how with all the proof in the world some people still aren’t convinced? You know, I’ve made up my mind; don’t confuse me with facts (laughter). Isn’t it amazing how you can give them all the evidence there is and if they don’t want to believe it, they won’t believe it. That’s why we say salvation not an issue of dialogue; it’s an issue of sovereignty. It has not to do with how well we argue; it has to do with how the Spirit draws and breaks down the barriers. And so here are some who have seen all of this and they’re not about to give in and say it’s God, not any way. They just block their minds out, which are blinded by Satan.
That’s why we can say only so much to atheists. As MacArthur points out, good argumentation has nothing to do with conversion. Conversion is the work of the Holy Spirit. That’s why the best thing we can do for atheists is to pray for divine intervention leading to faith through grace.
Continuing on with Acts 2, Peter no sooner heard the remark about drunkenness than he stood up to preach the Gospel.
The first conversion story after the first Pentecost continues in the New Year.
Next time: Acts 2:33-35
Stand Firm is a traditional Episcopalian/Anglican site with excellent articles not only on the Episcopal Church but also on American politics.
A S Haley is a regular contributor to Stand Firm and wrote a great column which I recommend to all my readers. Excerpts and a summary of ‘The Professor Is Right Again’ follow.
This is why so many American voters are happy (emphases mine):
Professor Helmuth Norpoth of Stony Brook University on Long Island correctly called this election for Donald Trump back in February, when everyone—and I mean everyone—was confident that Trump would lose by a big margin. Later in the season, he was joined by a different professor using a different model, but who went contrary to the popular trends and predicted the same result.
The biggest loser in this election was not Hillary Clinton. She lost, and lost decisively, to be sure—but the professors’ models predicted she would lose, and they’ve been infallible in past elections for decades.
No, the biggest loser—actually, losers (to use a term beloved of our President-elect)—are (1) the Beltway elite; and (2) the mainstream media—who gave it everything they had, and still fell way short.
Haley posted his article on November 9 and prepared his readers for what we see now: the narratives that Trump will be harmful to America.
He then reminded us of what we can look forward to:
the mainstream media will lose ever more and more of their readers and listeners, to the point where they, too, will have to look around for other lines of work.
And last but not least, James Comey’s stalwart agents in the field may finally be able to investigate some people worthy of their attention: start with Comey’s former boss, Loretta Lynch, and her attempts to squelch the ongoing investigations into Hillary’s violations of our secrecy laws; move on to Patrick Kennedy and the whole corrupt bunch at the State Department who lied about Benghazi and then have been enabling and hiding Hillary’s outrageous and dangerous disregard for our security; then to the IRS and its illegal targeting of conservative non-profit groups; then to Eric Holder and his scheme of gun-running, while also letting others get away with voter intimidation; and … oh, yes—did I mention a certain former Secretary of State? And her husband? Who together enriched themselves by selling access and favoritism at this country’s expense? And broke all the laws about charitable organizations in the process?
Who knows where all this is going to lead, indeed? Certainly not the entrenched elite, nor their lapdogs, the mainstream media.
That said, whilst Trump’s victory is a blessing despite his imperfections:
And no one can assure us that a shakeup of this magnitude will be totally beneficial in all ways—some things that are truly good may perish along with so much else that is so bad, and deserves to come to an end. As I have maintained throughout this campaign, America is under God’s judgment—which is why we were presented with the Hobson’s choice we had. We are not out from under that judgment yet, because America has not yet turned back from its ways, and repented of its manifold sins and wickedness. Whether it will do so under its new government remains to be seen.
So fasten your seatbelts. It’s going to be a riveting ride.
It will indeed be a riveting ride. I, for one, can hardly wait.
I predict with confidence based on what I have been reading outside Big Media that 2017 will be the year of evil exposed in the United States and beyond. Good people, especially devout Christians, will find these exposés unbelievable because they will be so utterly disturbing in content.
(Image credit: God and Science)
Past posts on this important feast in the Church are as follows:
The Gospel reading for Year C of the three-year Lectionary used in public worship is John 16:12-15:
16:12 “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.
16:13 When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.
16:14 He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you.
16:15 All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.
Jesus spoke these words just after the Last Supper. It was His final teaching session with the Twelve. John documents the entire lesson: John 13, 14, 15, 16 and 17. Those are, in my opinion, the most beautiful chapters of the New Testament.
In this reading, we discover that Jesus had much more to say, however, He knew that the Apostles could not fully understand it (verse 12). Matthew Henry explains:
it would have confounded and stumbled them, rather than have given them any satisfaction.
Hence the sending of the Holy Spirit to them and the disciples on the first Pentecost, so that the Spirit would lead them into ‘all the truth’ as He hears it (verse 13). The Spirit also told them of what was to come, a primary example of which is St John’s Book of Revelation.
The dramatic Book of Acts describes how the Holy Spirit guided the disciples to do great things in the name of Christ Jesus. John MacArthur tells us (emphases mine):
The very first day the Spirit of God came He began to show things to come. And you could just go right through the Bible and you’ll find out He continued to show things to come.
In Acts chapter 11 He showed some more things to come. In Acts chapter 20 He showed some more things to come. In Acts chapter 21 He showed some more things to come. In the early days of the Spirit’s coming He began to show prophecy that would come to pass, things to come, directed by the Holy Spirit. Listen to Revelation 1:1, “The revelation of Jesus Christ which God gave unto Him to show unto His servants things which must shortly come to pass.” Things to come, I believe there, refers to everything from the church age on but has great reference to the prophetic truth …
It’s replete with truth. The whole book of Revelation is loaded with things to come. So there’s the pattern of the Spirit. He not only speaks from God but He speaks of things to come through the church age and out through eternity.
Henry points out:
What are the four gospels? Who’s the main person in the four gospels? Jesus Christ. Who’s the main person in the book of Acts preaching the gospel by the apostles to establish the church and becomes the head of the church? Christ. Who’s the main person in all the Epistles that explain the meaning of the gospel? Christ. Who’s the main person in Revelation? Christ.
He is not everywhere in the Old Testament, He is many places: Psalm 22, Isaiah 53, many others. But He is everywhere in the New Testament. The writers of the New Testament write to explain either the history of His life, the significance of the gospel as He builds His church, or an explanation of the theology of the gospel and the Epistles, or the glory of the revelation. “These are written about Christ that you might believe – ” as John says, “ – and believing in Him, have life in His name.”
The gospels record His birth, His life, His ministry, His death, His ascension. The Acts record the preaching about His death and resurrection, suffering, and glory, and establishment of His church, which He is the head. The Epistles explain the doctrinal significance and application of His life and work. Revelation presents Him as the coming Judge who will set up His kingdom on earth and rule forever in eternity.
The New Testament is about Him. “The Spirit will come take of Mine and show it to you.” So we preach the New Testament; it’s about Christ. And then we go back and we compare it with the Old Testament; and that’s what we should be doing.
In Acts 18, there was a preacher by the name of Apollos, and he gives us a kind of a good model, Apollos. It says in Acts 18:28, “He powerfully refuted the Jews in public, demonstrating by the Scriptures that Jesus was the Christ.”
Henry’s commentary offers this analysis of being guided ‘into all the truth’:
… it is to be intimately and experimentally acquainted with it to be piously and strongly affected with it not only to have the notion of it in our heads, but the relish and savour and power of it in our hearts[;] it denotes a gradual discovery of truth shining more and more: “He shall lead you by those truths that are plain and easy to those that are more difficult.” But how into all truth?
First, Into the whole truth relating to their embassy whatever was needful or useful for them to know, in order to the due discharge of their office, they should be fully instructed in it what truths they were to teach others the Spirit would teach them, would give them the understanding of, and enable them both to explain and to defend.
Secondly, Into nothing but the truth …
Jesus said that the Holy Spirit would reveal the divine truth to the disciples which would glorify Him as Christ our Lord (verse 14). The New Testament is the fullest source of that truth, which is why it is so important to read and understand it. Furthermore, the more we read it, the greater our understanding.
I despair when people say, ‘I read the New Testament in school. I don’t need to look at it anymore’. How wrong they are. We can read it 100 times and still see something new or be reminded of something we forgot. The Holy Spirit works through us as we read Scripture.
Jesus’s words describe how the Holy Trinity — Father, Son and Holy Spirit — work for our benefit (verse 15). What is the Father’s is the Son’s and is declared to us via the Spirit, who, as Henry observes:
came not to erect a new kingdom, but to advance and establish the same kingdom that Christ had erected, to maintain the same interest and pursue the same design those therefore that pretend to the Spirit, and vilify Christ, give themselves the lie, for he came to glorify Christ. Secondly, That herein the things of God should be communicated to us. Lest any should think that the receiving of this would not make them much the richer, he adds, All things that the Father hath are mine. As God, all that self-existent light and self-sufficient happiness which the Father has, he has as Mediator, all things are delivered to him of the Father (Matthew 11:27) all that grace and truth which God designed to show us he lodged in the hands of the Lord Jesus, Colossians 1:19.
Henry has a closing thought on this passage, which also serves as a perfect summation of Trinity Sunday:
Spiritual blessings in heavenly things are given by the Father to the Son for us, and the Son entrusts the Spirit to convey them to us.
This is what we remember with thanksgiving on this day, which marks the last great feast in the Church calendar until we celebrate Christmas again.
The Gospel readings for the 2016 Season after Pentecost — sometimes ‘after Trinity’ or ‘Ordinary Time’ — are from St Luke and detail Christ’s ministry of teaching and healing. The liturgical colour is green during this season.
Forbidden Bible Verses resumes next week.
On May 15, 2016, Christians celebrate the Feast of Pentecost, which is the Church’s birthday.
We call it the Church’s birthday because on the first Pentecost, the Holy Spirit descended upon the disciples and enabled them to spread the Good News from Jerusalem to Samaria. St Paul, who was not among the original number because he had not yet been converted, later called people to Christ in Asia Minor and Rome. These conversions, accompanied by miracles, are in Acts. Other apostles, such as Sts John and Peter, wrote letters to their converts. St John also wrote Revelation. Christ’s chosen spread the Gospel message far and wide throughout the known world at that time. Not all of it is included in Scripture.
Past posts on Pentecost are as follows:
This year we are in Year C of the three-year Lectionary used in public worship. The Epistle for Pentecost in 2016 is Romans 8:14-17:
8:14 For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God.
8:15 For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, “Abba! Father!”
8:16 it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God,
8:17 and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ–if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.
The Holy Spirit takes us all the way to glory … He does it by freeing us from sin and death. We saw that in verses 2 and 3. He does that by freeing us from sin and death through the wonderful work of…imputation, whereby our sins are imputed to Christ, and Christ’s righteousness is imputed to us. He has delivered us from the law of sin of death, because Christ has paid the penalty.
With the Spirit’s guidance, we turn from what is worldly to what is holy (verses 5 – 8). The Holy Spirit must dwell in us in order for us to belong to Christ (verse 9). Even though we have fallen short through sin:
the Holy Spirit maintains our no-condemnation status by empowering us in that new nature for victory. It is according to the Spirit, verse 13, that we are able to put to death the deeds of the body and, thus, to live.
This brings us to today’s Epistle which describes our adoption into God’s family through the Holy Spirit. MacArthur has a lot to say about the meaning of adoption, especially in the ancient world during Paul’s time. Paul’s message must have been exciting news to the Romans, as we will see.
All who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God (verse 14). This explains the importance of receiving the Holy Spirit. The oldest Christian denominations have the ordinance — for Catholics, the Sacrament — of Confirmation. Receiving the Holy Spirit and reaffirming our faith takes us to the point in our spiritual life whereby we recognise He guides us to do what is right and good.
More importantly, however, receiving the Holy Spirit makes us adopted members of God’s family. We can now, with confidence, call Him ‘Dad’ — Abba (verse 15). We recognise Him not as a fearsome Father but as a truly loving one.
When we think of adoption over the past few centuries, it appears to us as a mixed blessing. Orphanages have been and continue to be, in some cases, depressing and brutal places where children wait for parents to come rescue them. Over the past 40 years, psychotherapy has, perhaps mistakenly, encouraged adopted children to talk and write about finding their natural mothers and disparage their adopted families. There is often a tinge of sadness when we discuss adoption.
By contrast, in the ancient world, adoption was a tremendous, positive step for both the adopter and the adopted. It really did mean a new life not only in a family sense but also a legal one.
In ancient Greece, a man who had no sons would seek out a well-bred young man to adopt. The young man would then inherit his adoptive father’s estate and business concerns.
The same custom existed in Rome. A man who had no sons — or sons whom he thought were unsuitable to inherit his estate — went out in search of a young man whom he could adopt. The adopted son had a higher status than the natural sons did.
It was a tremendous privilege to be adopted during that era.
In Rome, fathers had power over their children throughout their lifetimes. They could even kill their sons or daughters. It was legal. Children were under their father’s control — patria potestas — until he died.
MacArthur describes how Roman adoption worked, given patria potestas (emphases mine):
Now obviously this…made adoption into another family very difficult and very serious unless the person was … an illegitimate child or an orphan. And if a man saw a son that he wanted and that son belonged to another father he had to go through a very formidable operation to get that person to pass out from under patria potestas into his own control. There were two steps. The first one was called mancipatio from which we get the word emancipation. And mancipatio was carried out about a symbolic sort of sale. If the father would agree to let this son be adopted by another man there was this symbolic sale they went to; they had some scales and some copper and they used this symbolism to carry out sort of a transaction like I’m selling this young man to you. They did it three times. Twice the father symbolically sold the son and twice he bought him back and then the third time he didn’t buy him back and the patria potestas was broken.
After the sale there was ceremony called vindicatio and the adopting father went to the Roman magistrate and presented a legal case for the actual legal transference of the person to be adopted into his own patria potestas. And when all this was complete the adoption was done.
Adoption in the Roman world signified four things. We can reflect on them the way the Romans who heard Paul’s letter did and relate them to adoption by God the Father through the Holy Spirit. MacArthur says:
First thing that happened was the adopted person lost all relationship to his old family. Everything was gone and he gained all rights to the new family. It’s a beautiful picture of salvation, isn’t it?
Second thing, it followed that he became heir to all the father’s, the new father’s estate. And even if the other children were blood born, it did not affect his rights. He was inalienably the co-heir with them and perhaps even exceeding above them, if that was in the prerogative of the father.
The third thing that happened, according to Roman law, was that the former life of the adopted person was completely wiped out. All his legal debts were cancelled. They were wiped out as if he had never existed. And the adopted person was given a new name and it was as if he had just been born. Sound familiar? When you came to Jesus Christ and were adopted into the family of God, all your past debts were what? Cancelled, and you became a co-heir of all that the born son, the Lord Jesus Christ, possesses.
The fourth thing was in the eyes of the law the adopted person was literally and absolutely the son of his new father. And so, when we were adopted, all these things, no doubt, are in the mind of the apostle and the Spirit, and we know they took place in our adoption. We have cut the cord with the past. We have become co-heirs to God’s kingdom. All the old debts are wiped out and we are absolutely and legally and forever the son of God.
Verse 16 refers to regeneration via the Holy Spirit. MacArthur explains:
Adoption gives us the title to the inheritance. Regeneration gives us the nature of sons and gives us the fitness for that inheritance. Both are important.
This regeneration starts our path of sanctification as the Holy Spirit guides us to do what God wants us to do. We turn away from sin towards accomplishing His will and purpose for us.
Knowing we are full members of God’s family through adoption gives us assurance that we are heirs with Christ, our heavenly Brother. As marvellous as that is, with the promise of eternal life with Him, it also means that we may suffer in this transitory life. We may be called to suffer as He was called to suffer (verse 17). MacArthur tells us:
Suffering is a necessary part of the preparation for glory.
For some Christians this might mean physical persecution or, in the case of death for the faith, martyrdom. For most of us, however, it might mean losing family members or longtime friends. We might find it difficult keeping or finding a job if our managers are set against Christians.
Ultimately, however, we will be glorified as Christ was glorified because we are heirs to the kingdom of God. And the Holy Spirit is with us from now through to life eternal.
MacArthur leaves us with this reflection on the Holy Spirit as Romans 8 describes:
The Holy Spirit frees us from sin and death. We looked at that in verses 2 and 3. The Holy Spirit enables us to fulfill the law, verse 4. The Holy Spirit changes our nature, verses 5 to 11. The Holy Spirit empowers us for victory over sin, verses 12 and 13. And then last time, the Holy Spirit adopts us into God’s family as sons, verses 14 through 16. All of this is the ministry of the Holy Spirit for which we give Him praise and thanks.
Now we come to the final point: The Holy Spirit secures our eternal glory.
In the second half of Romans 8, Paul describes how the Holy Spirit accomplishes His work in us then tells us of God’s everlasting love. These verses are familiar ones:
31 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be[i] against us?
33 Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies.
38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
May we reflect on these realities and powers of the Holy Spirit and give thanks, not only at Pentecost but every day.
Let us also remember to pray to the Holy Spirit for daily guidance. He will help us in all that we do.
In reading the latest news and opinions on Brexit at PoliticalBetting.com — a fine resource for my fellow Britons, particularly the readers’ comments* — I ran across an interesting comment from a man who works for his family’s firm.
Recently, he was going through some old paperwork and discovered a note one of his cousins had penned in the 1930s:
God has been very good to our family. We have been asked to play a role in which we can serve the public, in a manner that is pleasant, and is not unrewarded in worldly terms.
Interestingly, the cousin started with a statement of thanksgiving, perhaps as a reminder to other family members. Then, he went on to describe their company as playing a pre-ordained role, as if God put them in that business for a particular reason. Judging by the last clause, they were very successful and, no doubt, continue to be so today.
It is a thoughtful, considered way to think of one’s family business.
* Read comments bottom to top.
This week’s posts have centred on the Parable of the Prodigal Son.
Monday’s looked at the elder brother. Tuesday’s addressed misapplications of the parable to public policy and the church environment. Wednesday’s entry addressed the way Jesus’s audience would have understood the story. Thursday’s discussed the parable in light of the examples of conflict, forgiveness and blessing in the Book of Genesis among brothers.
Today’s post posits that this parable’s overall theme is Jesus’s ministry to reconcile the lost tribes of Israel to God, uniting them with Judah.
This is not to say that Christians should disregard the message of forgiveness in the parable. The examples from Genesis on brotherly forgiveness and paternal — God’s — blessings — as well as those throughout Scripture — indicate that we are to copy their example in our own lives.
However, Jesus coming as the Shepherd to find lost sheep of Israel is foretold in Hosea and Ezekiel.
The Twelve Tribes of Israel
Yesterday’s post outlined the story of Jacob in the Book of Genesis. The high point in his life occurred when God wrestled with him one night and had to stop the struggle at dawn the following day by dislocating his hip joint. Afterwards, God gave Jacob a new name: Israel. This was because he prevailed over both God and man.
Israel’s twelve sons each presided over large families, or tribes. Hence, the Twelve Tribes of Israel.
The Book of Exodus begins with all the tribes living in Egypt. Joseph, who managed grain stores and advised Pharaoh, had been there for years. Pharaoh invited Joseph to reunite his brothers, their families and patriarch Israel and gave them the finest land, which was in Goshen.
Genesis 50 records the death of Joseph. He had two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh. Even though he died, there were still twelve tribes, to be explained below.
These are the first seven verses of Exodus wherein all of Israel’s — Jacob’s — sons are named:
Israel Increases Greatly in Egypt
1 These are the names of the sons of Israel who came to Egypt with Jacob, each with his household: 2 Reuben, Simeon, Levi, and Judah, 3 Issachar, Zebulun, and Benjamin, 4 Dan and Naphtali, Gad and Asher. 5 All the descendants of Jacob were seventy persons; Joseph was already in Egypt. 6 Then Joseph died, and all his brothers and all that generation. 7 But the people of Israel were fruitful and increased greatly; they multiplied and grew exceedingly strong, so that the land was filled with them.
Exodus 1 explains that a new Pharaoh came to power, one who had not known Joseph. He feared that the Israelites would have so many more children that they would outnumber the Egyptians and possibly go to war with them. Therefore, to prevent this from happening, Pharaoh enslaved the Israelites.
Jewish Virtual Library’s useful entry on the Twelve Tribes of Israel also has a map of each of the tribes’ territories once they reached the Promised Land. A summary and excerpts follow. Emphases mine below.
First, despite Joseph’s death and subsequent merging or absorption of other tribes, the number twelve remained constant:
The number twelve is neither fictitious nor the result of an actual genealogical development in patriarchal history. It is an institutionalized and conventionalized figure which is found among other tribes as well, such as the sons of Ishmael, of Nahor, of Joktan, and Esau. Similar organizational patterns built about groups of twelve, or even six, tribes, are known from Asia Minor, Greece and Italy.
there can be little doubt that this pattern of twelve attributed to the Hebrew tribes is very real and historically rooted. Thus, if one tribe were to withdraw from the union or to be absorbed into another, the number twelve would be preserved, either by splitting one of the remaining tribes into two or by accepting a new tribe into the union. For example, when the tribe of Levi is considered among the twelve tribes, the Joseph tribes are counted as one. However, when Levi is not mentioned, the Joseph tribes are counted separately as Manasseh and Ephraim. For the same duodecimal considerations, Simeon is counted as a tribe even after having been absorbed into Judah, and Manasseh even after having split in two, is considered one.
Secondly, once in the Promised Land, each tribe had its own territory and was self-governing, although they shared several common holy places, such as the Ark of the Covenant and Penuel (where God wrestled with Jacob and renamed him Israel).
The Old Testament recounts the stories of the twelve tribes which, many generations after Israel’s sons died, were often in conflict or refused to support each other. Jacob foretold what would happen to his sons in Genesis 49. Some tribes fared better than others. Ultimately:
It was only toward the end of the period of the Judges when the Philistine pressure on the Israelite tribes increased in the west and that of the Transjordanian peoples in the east, that the religionational tribal confederation assumed political and military dimensions. The Israelite tribes then consolidated as a crystallized national-territorial entity within the framework of a monarchical regime. David, Solomon, and afterward the kings of Israel and Judah tended to weaken tribal consciousness in favor of the territorial and monarchical organization. It is apparent, however, from Ezekiel’s eschatological [end times] vision that the awareness of Israel as a people composed of twelve tribes had not, even then, become effaced.
This brings us to the prophecies of Ezekiel, Hosea and onward to the main objective of Jesus’s ministry.
The Bible and the lost tribes of Israel
The other day I excerpted a sermon (or essay) by Pastor David B Curtis from the Berean Bible Church in Chesapeake, Virginia. It is called ‘The Father’s Two Sons’ and puts forward the case that the larger meaning is Jesus’s attempt to find the lost sheep of Israel and bring them back into the fold.
In this context, Pastor Curtis says the Prodigal Son represents the lost tribes, those who were cut off from the rest through sin and disobedience.
The tribes aligned as follows:
There were the 12 tribes, and they previously split into two separate nations. The two tribes of Judah and Benjamin were considered the Southern Kingdom, and together they were referred to as Judah.
The other ten tribes made up the Northern Kingdom, and they were designated by the name Israel.
This was Israel’s status:
These ten northern tribes were:
1. In a covenant relationship with the Father – just as the younger son was
2. Cut off from the Father – just as the younger son was
3. Considered dead to the Father – just as the younger son was
4. Intermingled with the pagan nations – just as the younger son was
5. Being restored to the Father through the Messiah – just as the younger son was
6. Causing the existing tribes to recoil and rebel against the Messiah
Hosea 1 recounts the Lord’s instructions that Hosea should take ‘a wife of whoredom’ and have ‘children of whoredom’ because they disobeyed Him. The three children were a son named Jezreel (‘sowing of seeds’), a daughter called No Mercy (God’s absence of mercy towards Israel) and another son named Not My People (God had left them to their own devices).
However, the end of the chapter foretells that Israel would one day return to the Lord. Furthermore (Hosea 1:11):
And the children of Judah and the children of Israel shall be gathered together, and they shall appoint for themselves one head. And they shall go up from the land, for great shall be the day of Jezreel.
That head is the Messiah — Jesus Christ.
Curtis then takes us to Ezekiel 37, the ‘dry bones’ chapter:
The prophet is taken to a valley, shown old dry bones, and they are given flesh and brought back to life with the Spirit of God. This is understood as resurrection imagery looking to the day when the people are restored to life in the land of promise.
The next instruction from the Lord to Ezekiel involved two sticks, representing Israel and Judah (Ezekiel 37:18-19, 22-24):
18 And when your people say to you, ‘Will you not tell us what you mean by these?’ 19 say to them, Thus says the Lord God: Behold, I am about to take the stick of Joseph (that is in the hand of Ephraim) and the tribes of Israel associated with him. And I will join with it the stick of Judah,[e] and make them one stick, that they may be one in my hand.
22 And I will make them one nation in the land, on the mountains of Israel. And one king shall be king over them all, and they shall be no longer two nations, and no longer divided into two kingdoms. 23 They shall not defile themselves anymore with their idols and their detestable things, or with any of their transgressions. But I will save them from all the backslidings[f] in which they have sinned, and will cleanse them; and they shall be my people, and I will be their God.
24 “My servant David shall be king over them, and they shall all have one shepherd. They shall walk in my rules and be careful to obey my statutes.
David also refers to Jesus, David’s descendant.
As we read the New Testament we also see a narrative of Jesus as the Shepherd who came to find His lost sheep.
In the gospels, John 10:16 mentions ‘one flock, one shepherd’. In Matthew 10:5-6, Jesus instructed the disciples to go only to ‘the lost sheep of Israel’. In Matthew 15:24, Jesus said He was sent ‘only’ to the ‘lost sheep of Israel’. His primary purpose was to unite the tribes and reconcile them to God. After their rejection, He turned to the Gentiles.
The letters of 1 Peter are addressed to former Jews in the diaspora of Asia Minor. 1 Peter 1 and 2 have several references to straying sheep, a Shepherd as well as the reminder that they were not always one people but are once again ‘a chosen race, a royal priesthood’ because they believed that Christ Jesus is their promised Messiah.
Another word often used in the New Testament, particularly the gospels, is ‘children’, meaning the lost tribes. Luke 1:1 speaks of John the Baptist turning ‘many of the children of Israel’ to ‘the Lord their God’. Matthew 15:26 and Mark 7:27 record Jesus’s words of ‘children’s bread’ (His ministry to Israel).
The Parable of the Prodigal Son and the Jewish leaders
Once we take all of these biblical references into account, we come to a clearer understanding of the primary lesson of the Parable of the Prodigal Son: restoring Israel to sonship with God the Father and brotherly relationship with Judah.
Recall that in the first two verses of Luke 15, the Pharisees and scribes were grumbling about Jesus’s associating and eating with sinners.
As I wrote the other day, His response to them is contained in three parables: the Lost Sheep (Israel), the Lost Coin and the Prodigal Son (Israel).
When we view the Prodigal Son as the lost tribes of Israel, it is easy to see that the father in the story is God the Father, who wants to welcome them back into His family.
Curtis tells us:
The two sons represent the two houses, Israel and Judah. Israel, the youngest son, starts in covenant, but is broken off, dispersed among the pagan nations, and then later, as a lost sheep, some are brought back in love and mercy from the Father.
Curtis explains the parable’s open ending in this context:
For some reason, the current religious regime was not seeing that as the plan and were not accepting it, and that is why the story has an open ending – because they were being told what was happening, and were to decide their response.
As we know, the Jewish leaders — the elder brother — were unswayed by Jesus’s appeal. They were angry with Him from the beginning.
In light of the Old Testament prophecies, Curtis’s interpretation of the Prodigal Son makes more sense than the ones we usually hear or read. His advice to us when reading the New Testament is:
knowing his main task is to the lost house of Israel, and we understand that in Hosea they will be restored and called “Children of the Living God”[,] we should start picking up on that language coming about in his work …
And of course, to make sure you do not misunderstand this as to say only those of the houses of Israel and Judah would be called children of God, we know from the opening remarks in John, that after [Jesus] came to his own, and was rejected in the end, that this grace was granted to others.
I hope this interpretation enriches your understanding of the Parable of the Prodigal Son. It has added a profound and new dimension to my appreciation of it.
End of series
This week’s posts have centred on the Parable of the Prodigal Son.
Today’s takes us back to Jesus’s time and to how inheritance issues and father-son relationships were handled. Much of what follows is not mentioned in most sermons on the subject, which focus on the need for forgiveness and lack of selfishness.
The Parable of the Prodigal Son is found only in the Gospel according to St Luke (Luke 15:11-32):
The Parable of the Prodigal Son
11 And he said, “There was a man who had two sons. 12 And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of property that is coming to me.’ And he divided his property between them. 13 Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took a journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in reckless living. 14 And when he had spent everything, a severe famine arose in that country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to[a] one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs. 16 And he was longing to be fed with the pods that the pigs ate, and no one gave him anything.
17 “But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger! 18 I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.”’ 20 And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. 21 And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’[b] 22 But the father said to his servants,[c] ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. 23 And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. 24 For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate.
25 “Now his older son was in the field, and as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 And he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant. 27 And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf, because he has received him back safe and sound.’ 28 But he was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him, 29 but he answered his father, ‘Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!’ 31 And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. 32 It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.’”
In Jesus’s era …
One of the best expositions from a Jewish perspective comes from Berean Bible Church in Chesapeake, Virginia. The essay (or sermon) was published in 2013. Excerpts and summaries follow, emphases mine. Whilst it seems that this church is Hebraic, given their use of Yeshua and Yahweh, the traditions explained add new insight to this powerful parable.
Imagine that we listened to this when Jesus told it. In response to the complaint from Pharisees and scribes that He associated with sinners (Luke 15:1-2), He related three parables about finding what had been lost and rejoicing over it, i.e. He came to save the lost. To this end, He gave us the Parable of the Lost Sheep, then the Parable of the Lost Coin before concluding with the Parable of the Prodigal Son.
The Prodigal — Wasteful — Son had the audacity to ask his father for his share of the property (verse 12). This was highly uncommon in those days. In fact, the younger brother might as well have said, ‘Father, I wish you were dead’, because an inheritance of this nature was distributed only upon death.
For whatever reason, the father agreed with his younger son. How much did he give him?
… according to the laws in Deuteronomy, the first born would receive a double portion, and so therefore, in this case, the younger son’s portion would only have been a third.
In verse 13, we read that ‘the son gathered all he had’. The verb had a deeper meaning then than it does today. It meant more than ‘picking up’ or ‘putting together’:
according to some scholars, the original language that is translated as “gathered all” literally means he “turned everything into cash.”
This makes more sense in the story, as it would be difficult for the son to have packed up all of the physical possessions and property that would have been bestowed to him. Plus, the verse goes on to say that he spent everything, implying that what he had was in the form of money.
Imagine the father and elder son’s grief as they saw heirlooms and, even more importantly, portions of their land sold so thoughtlessly:
he most likely would have sold things at a low price in order to liquidate them as quickly as he wanted in order to leave.
This would take a big toll on the family overall too, because now, a big chunk of what was family property, and was most likely tied to the family income, was gone.
Not only would the family have suffered financially due to this, but the father’s reputation would surely have been in question. Living in community like they did at the time, the news of something like this would have quickly spread. Everyone would have heard what was going on, especially as the father or son was going around liquidating things.
So for the father, he was not only losing out financially, but the destructive relationship would have brought about public humiliation in town and to the father’s name in general.
The son frittered away every last coin on reckless living when a famine hit (verse 14). Because he was penniless, he had no means of feeding himself. He was so desperate that he did what no self-respecting Jew would do: hired himself to a Gentile pig farmer (verse 15). There, he fed the pigs but received no food himself (verse 16):
Chances are the speech and dress of the son would have given him away as being a Hebrew, and in an effort to rid himself of this man, the person assigns him a job he suspects will cause the man to leave. It can be hard for us to fully grasp how this is would be for someone from a culture that loathes pigs …
Some say that the pods spoken of here were not something that could even be digested by humans, and thus he was unable to even eat them, but truly and strongly desired to be able to.
He couldn’t eat what the pigs were eating, and asking others was not working, as no one gave him anything. He was finally at the end of his rope, unable to provide anything for himself.
Why had he not returned home earlier? Why had he stooped to such depths?
… something we may miss here is that according to Jewish custom, he was almost unable to go home. There was the ceremony known as the Kezazah – which means literally – “the cutting off.”
If a Jewish boy lost his family inheritance among the Gentiles and sought to return home, the community would perform the ceremony by breaking a large pot in front of him and declare – “so-in-so is cut off from his people.” Once performed, he would be an outcast and no one would have anything to do with him. So going home would not be putting himself in a very favorable situation anyway.
One of the Dead Sea Scrolls gives this example of a fatherly warning that relates here:
And now, my sons, be watchful of your inheritance that has been bequeathed to you, which your fathers gave you. Do not give your inheritance to the Gentiles…lest you be humiliated in their eyes and foolish, and they trample upon you…and become your masters.
This is what the son has done; he has squandered his inheritance among the Gentiles. So, he was now literally a man without a home, and had no way to return to his family or any of the rights he previously held as a member of his community. When it says in the verse that he took a journey, the Greek word used only here by Luke literally means that he “traveled away from his own people.”
So, he has left his people, cut all ties and rights to them, took everything he owned and lived recklessly and lost everything. He had nothing left, nowhere to go and of course could not simply call his parents to come and pick him up.
He knows going home would mean dealing with the ridicule of the rest of the village, as well as that of his brother who now has the rights of the rest of the father’s possessions.
In his brokenness, the younger son decided he had no option but to return home and face the consequences from his family and the village. In his desperation, humility struck. He was satisfied to be a servant as he had relinquished his status as son (verse 19).
The father saw him coming from a long distance (verse 20). Is that not what a parent does when a missing child returns? He or she instinctively knows his own children from afar.
The father could hardly wait to embrace his son and ran to meet him. I have an image of a long, dusty road leading to the family estate, with the father near the house and his son at the end of the road in the distance. Without reading too much into what Jesus left unstated, I do wonder whether the father might have been doing paperwork and had a strange premonition which caused him to leave the house and look down the road.
The father’s running would have been deeply undignified. A Jewish man did not show his legs in public. He would have had to gather up his robe and expose them in order to run, lest he stumble. Even worse, he was running towards a son who brought him grave dishonour:
The Jews considered this highly undignified in their culture. The patriarch never ran or never made the first move in such a situation.
Not only did the man hug and kiss his son, welcoming him back into the fold but, equally crucially, he probably did not want the son going into the village where angry people might have performed the aforementioned Kezazah ceremony on him.
Interestingly, the Berean Bible Church exposition doubts whether the son is actually repentant, which goes against most interpretations of this parable. The son only wanted to eat to survive:
One thing we should notice here is that the son was not repentant. Many over the years have understood that when it says “he came to himself” that it implies a repentant attitude, but others point out that there is nothing in the language to really reveal that at all. He does not mention being sorry for anything he had done, he simply realizes that he was truly starving and decided enough is enough. He reasons that even his father’s servants have food, and that is what he desires to have so he won’t perish.
He will acknowledge his sin against the father, but only because it is a means to an end – he desires to eat, even if it is as a servant.
What the Prodigal Son said is close to what Pharoah said to Moses (Bible verse emphasis in the original):
The words he chooses to say to his father may have some significance too …
When the son says “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you,” The words used here are a paraphrased version of the words of Pharaoh to Moses after the plagues. Pharaoh says:
I have sinned against the LORD your God, and against you. (Exodus 10:16 ESV)
Some commentators say that the Aramaic version of this verse is worded even more closely to the way it is stated in our text in Luke. If that is indeed a legitimate link, we all know Pharaoh was not repentant. He simply wanted to manipulate Moses and get away from the bad situation, and that seems a similar attitude that the son in our story has.
Note that what the son says (verse 21) to his father differs somewhat from what he planned to say originally (verses 18, 19). He might have had second thoughts when he saw his father running towards him. Was it in anger? He didn’t know, but it is a good assumption. The father could have given him a good beating, not unknown in those times. According to the mores of the day, the son would also have thought that he deserved it.
Instead, before the son can say anything, the father restores him to his former status with an embrace and a kiss (verse 20).
As the lost was now found (verse 24), the father set out to treat him like a prince with the best robe a ring and sandals (verses 22, 23). The fatted calf was very much a part of this reconciliation.
An exposition on HubPages explains the significance of the father’s actions (bold emphases in the original, those in purple mine):
Custom #4 The father kisses his son on the neck as a custom of greeting and an expression of forgiveness.
Custom #5 The father gives the younger son the best robe, a ring and sandals. These gifts are public indications that this son was no longer a servant but a son who has been welcomed back into his house.
Collectively, the items represented the father’s best for his son. The ROBE belonged to his father, so this was symbolic of the father honoring the son and treating him like royalty and giving him the clothes off his own back.
The RING represents the father’s authority and a symbol of reinstatement to sonship.
The SHOES or SANDALS illustrate that the son is not considered a slave or a servant any longer. Slaves and servants didn’t wear shoes but would go barefooted. The prodigal son returned home as a slave.
Slaves carried and tied their masters’ sandals. (Remember John the Baptist said he wasn’t worthy to tie Jesus’ shoes). The father was indicating to his son that he was receiving him back not as a servant but as a beloved son.
Custom #6 A fatted calf was killed to celebrate. Meat was not a part of the daily diet. It was normally reserved for special celebrations.
Overall meaning of the parable
The message is that God the Father forgives sinners their sins, no matter how atrocious, for which Jesus suffered and died on the cross.
The elder brother embodies the self-righteousness of the Pharisees, scribes and others in the Jewish hierarchy who did not deign to associate with little people and sinners, whom the younger brother represents. The religious elite were far too holy. Sounds a bit like some high-ranking clergy today cloistered within their walls except for the scheduled church service, television programme or photo op.
Jesus also intended for this parable to signal the end of works righteousness. He, the Messiah, was now among them ushering in the New Covenant. From that point, the Jews could continue to adhere to the Law of the Old Testament (older brother), but it would not bring them salvation. As What Christians Want to Know explains:
The religious leaders saw their rewards due for their works. They didn’t understand that they can bring nothing to the plan of salvation and if they try to earn it, they do not understand how God saves and that it is Jesus’ righteousness alone that accounts them worthy. No human works can ever earn salvation. The youngest son had nothing to bring, no good works, and came back with barely the shabby clothes on his back. This may be why the father provided a robe for him and sandals for his feet.
The father’s pursuit of his son parallels Our Father’s pursuit of sinners to bring them back to Him:
it is with great intensity that God the Father seeks those to whom will be His children for now and for eternity. And God never gives up this pursuit. The Bible emphasizes:
- there is no one who seeks God (Romans 3:11);
- that our “Salvation does not, therefore, depend on man’s desire or effort, but on God’s mercy” (Romans 9:16);
- that Jesus tells them plainly that, “My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of My Father’s hand.” (John 10:29); and
- as stated by Paul that, “… he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will— to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves.” (Ephesians 1:4-6)
A note for those evangelising
These days it is highly likely that those clergy and laypeople engaging in local mission or evangelism work will encounter Muslims. The Berean Bible Church exposition says that many Muslims believe the Parable of the Prodigal Son means that anyone can be forgiven without repentance and belief in Jesus Christ.
It is hard to understand their reasoning. Perhaps they are reading the story too literally: loving human father forgives desperate human son. The End.
In such a case, the mission worker must explain that this parable (among others) is an allegory. It is a story that explains the great divine truth, namely:
the Father in heaven, sending the son, who is God incarnate, who assumes the humiliating position as a human in order to passionately go out and seek and save those who were lost, and bring them into reconciliation and sonship once again.
The Koran is more history and instruction rather than genre. Today, much of Islam involves the book’s literal interpretation. Reading philosophy and literature from the ancient Muslim world has been discouraged in recent decades, and, with it, the ability to think critically and abstractly. In Europe, at any rate, there are very few Muslim philosophers. Many Muslim secondary students here are dissuaded at home or by imams from studying philosophy or literature.
In any event, the conclusion about the Prodigal Son remains the same. What Christians Want to Know puts it like this:
Perhaps He is pursuing you now. If you are reading this, He has either sought you and bought you or He is seeking you now, you who are lost. It is time to come to the Father through Jesus Christ today, as John 14:6 says, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Will you come today?
Let us pray the answer is yes.
Tomorrow: the Prodigal Son and the lost tribes of Israel
The New Year is undoubtedly the most popular time of the year to take stock of the present and view of anticipate the future.
Millions of people around the world make resolutions concerning their habits and behaviour. We want to improve. Whether this happens in reality is another story.
Whilst the New Year fills some with hope, for others, it is dread. Worries about employment, money and housing predominate. Relationships with family and friends may change and not always for the better. Loss of a loved one may be a real possibility for some of us.
We do not know what this year will bring. We may fail dismally in our resolutions. We might experience an unfortunate event. Let us pray for each other that these things do not happen, or, if they do, that their effect is mitigated.
One door closes. Another door opens. May God sustain us with His grace in whatever this year brings. May we always remember that Christ Jesus is present in our lives. Whatever happens, let us turn to Him for comfort.
Finally, may we be thankful for our blessings where and when we find them. Things could always be much worse.