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The Second Sunday in Lent is March 13, 2022.

Readings for Year C can be found here.

The Gospel reading is as follows (emphases mine):

Luke 13:31-35

13:31 At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to him, “Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.”

13:32 He said to them, “Go and tell that fox for me, ‘Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work.

13:33 Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way, because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed outside of Jerusalem.’

13:34 Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!

13:35 See, your house is left to you. And I tell you, you will not see me until the time comes when you say, ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.’”

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Jesus was preaching and healing in Peraea at this time. It would have been the final winter of His ministry. The following Spring, He returned to Jerusalem, where He met His excruciating death on the Cross.

A group of Pharisees told Jesus that He should leave, because Herod wanted to kill Him (verse 31).

A casual reading might give the impression that those Pharisees had our Lord’s interests at heart, but John MacArthur says that they wanted to intimidate Him because they wanted Him to leave Peraea and return to Judea:

I suppose you could say there were a few good Pharisees around, but I don’t think that’s the point here.  I think they warned Him because they wanted to intimidate Him They wanted to silence Him It’s another way of saying if you don’t stop this you’re going to get killed.  They brought the threat to bear on Jesus to silence Him or to perhaps to force Him back into Judea, out of Peraea, where the Sanhedrin had its authority over Him And the Sanhedrin were already plotting His death As I said, Luke is a little vague on geography because His readers were not necessarily familiar with Israel, but this is the time, according to Matthew, Mark, and John that Jesus went into Peraea and He’s in the territory of Herod.

And with impure motives the Pharisees say you better get out of here.  You better go away and depart from here or you’re going to get killed and Herod’s going to do it.  Herod was the big stick So right after Jesus’ very strong words on the Jews being banned from salvation, the Jews being banned from the kingdom because they will not subdue their pride and their self-righteousness because they will not repent because they have no sense of urgency because they have no reasonable fear of eternal punishment, because they believed they’re already fit for the kingdom they do not need to repent After all of those powerful words, they certainly would be even more offended They want to silence Jesus.  And the way they choose is to threaten Him or intimidate Him with the biggest stick that exists in the area He’s in and that that’s Herod.

I have quoted MacArthur on several other occasions on the history of the Herods.

Last week I received a comment about the Herods being Jews.

Here is MacArthur’s history of the Herods, whom the Jews loathed because the Idumeans, of which the Herods were a part, were not God’s chosen people:

This is, by the way, Herod Antipas, the son of Herod the Great Herod the Great, as I said, is dead.  This is his son, but his hatred for the man Jesus was equal to the hatred of his father for the infant Jesus.  He saw Jesus also as a threat, just as his father had.

Everybody, as I said, seems to have wanted to kill Jesus.  And Herod is among them.  And the Pharisees came up and said to Him, “Go away and depart from here for Herod wants to kill you.”  This indicates that Jesus is in Herod’s territory Get out here.  This is where he has jurisdiction and He wants to kill, apoktein, to annihilate, to destroy, to murder.

Now let me tell you the scenario.  Herod the Great died and he died and left a will, and when Herod the Great died, in his will he wanted the kingdom of Israel divided among his sons Archelaus was one son. He ruled Judea, Samaria and Idumea That would be Judea in the middle, Samaria at the north, and Idumea was at the south.  He had that section. He had another son named Philip.  Philip ruled the northeast if you went above Galilee to the north and east The capital city of that area, Caesarea Philippi, and in the modern day will be up on the Lebanese border.  And then there was Herod and Herod is called the Tetrarch of Galilee He was given the Galilee area around the Sea of Galilee and Peraea Peraea was east of the Jordan River, east of Judea, so we had Galilee and east, Judea and east.  He ruled there for a long time.  He ruled there for about forty years until about 39 A.D. after the death of our Lord.

His real name was Herod Antipas, not to be confused with Herod the Great, his fatherThe Jews despised the man They hated all these rulers because they were all Idumeans, non-Jews, who had power over them and over their land They hated the Romans for that They hated the Idumeans for that as well But they hated Herod Antipas for a lot of reasons One of them was he brought idols in everywhere and they hated idols, of course.  But also he built his capital city, Tiberius.  Tiberius, if you ever go to Israel today, is a flourishing city on the west coast of the Sea of Galilee, been there many times.  It’s a beautiful place.  But he built the capital city of Tiberius on a Jewish cemetery and he put idols in the city, etc., etc.  Interesting thing about the ministry of Jesus, Jesus ministered around Galilee for over a year and then during His Judean ministry might have made some little trips into Galilee even from Judea.  Never is there any record in all the four gospels that He ever went near the city of Tiberius.

This was the man the Jews hated.  He was a puppet of Rome, a puppet ruler.  He had murdered John the Baptist … so this is Herod Antipas, murderous man who led John the Baptist into being beheaded because of his own lustful desire.

Now the word comes to Jesus that this man wants Him dead.  Now this indicates that Jesus has slipped into the Peraea area Probably not all the way up to Galilee, but He’s across the Jordan.  And some of the towns and villages mentioned in verse 22 would have been Peraea.  If you compare this with some of the other gospels, Matthew 19:1, Mark 10:1, and John 10:40, Jesus does have a portion of His ministry in PeraeaSo He’s in the area of Peraea and He’s apparently going to be there for some months ministering

It’s also reasonable to know that since [Herod] was Rome’s lackey, since he was beholden to Rome for everything he had, he was only a puppet king, he didn’t want any trouble from the Jews that would cause Rome to get upset at his inability to keep the peace and he knew Jesus had massive crowds following after Him everywhere He went He feared that He might lead a rebellion, that he himself might become a problem for Rome.  He also, like his father, must have feared that this potentially could be a rival to my throne.  For all those reasons he wants Him dead.

Someday, not too long after this, for the first time he saw Jesus In Luke 23 and verse 8, Pilate doesn’t want to make the decision by himself as to the execution of Jesus.  And so he wants somebody else to weigh in on it. So in Luke 23:8, he sends Jesus to Herod, who happens to be in Jerusalem at that time Now Herod was very glad, Luke 23:8, when he saw Jesus for he had wanted to see Him for a long time, because he’d been hearing about Him and hoping to see some sign performed by Him.

See, he knew of the miracle power of Jesus, and he knew that miracle power could be used for vengeance He knew that miracle power could be used for a revolution.  He knew that miracle power could be used to bring a disturbance that would call Rome down on His own head For all those reasons he…he had wanted to kill Jesus

Now Herod and Pilate became friends with one another that very day, for before they had been at enmity with each other Sure, because they were competing authorities.  Pilate actually represented Rome.  Herod was a petty, puppet king.  They hated each other, competing rulers But they could agree on one thing They wanted Jesus dead, because Jesus potentiated a revolution Jesus could be a rival to their power and Jesus had miraculous power as well.

It’s interesting to me that in all the interrogations of Jesus, by Annas, Caiaphas, Pilate, in all the interrogations of Jesus only one person to whom Jesus did not speak and that’s Herod That is a severe judgment on the state of that man He didn’t say one word to him He had nothing to say to him.  The door really in his case was shut Herod was happy to join with Pilate because they both had the same thing at stake, their power, their position.  He was happy to play a role in the murder of Jesus and to join the fun, the mockery, the contempt.

Unusually, Jesus referred to someone as an animal, in this case, calling Herod ‘a fox’; essentially, He said that the Pharisees should tell Herod that He was too busy performing healing miracles, then included a reference to His death and resurrection with ‘on the third day I finish my work’ (verse 32).

Matthew Henry’s commentary says:

In calling him a fox, he gives him his true character; for he was subtle as a fox, noted for his craft, and treachery, and baseness, and preying (as they say of a fox) furthest from his own den. And, though it is a black and ugly character, yet it did not ill become Christ to give it to him, nor was it in him a violation of that law, Thou shalt not speak evil of the ruler of thy people. For Christ was a prophet, and prophets always had a liberty of speech in reproving princes and great men. Nay, Christ was more than a prophet, he was a king, he was King of kings, and the greatest of men were accountable to him, and therefore it became him to call this proud king by his own name; but it is not to be drawn into an example by us. “Go, and tell that fox, yea, and this fox too” (for so it is in the original, te alopeki taute); “that Pharisee, whoever he is, that whispers this in my ear, let him know that I do not fear him, nor regard his menaces … “I know that death will be not only no prejudice to me, but that it will be my preferment; and therefore tell him I do not fear him; when I die, I shall be perfected. I shall then have finished the hardest part of my undertaking; I shall have completed my business;” teleioumaiI shall be consecrated. When Christ dies, he is said to have sanctified himself; he consecrated himself to his priestly office with his own blood.

Then Jesus makes a scriptural reference by saying that it is impossible for a prophet to be killed outside of Jerusalem (verse 33). Being omniscient, Jesus knew that He would die there.

Henry gives us a brief historical insight, borne out by the prophets’ deaths in the Old Testament:

“I know that Herod can do me no harm, not only because my time is not yet come, but because the place appointed for my death is Jerusalem, which is not within his jurisdiction: It cannot be that a prophet perish out of Jerusalem,” that is, “any where but at Jerusalem.” If a true prophet was put to death, he was prosecuted as a false prophet. Now none undertook to try prophets, and to judge concerning them, but the great sanhedrim, which always sat at Jerusalem; it was a cause which the inferior courts did not take cognizance of, and therefore, if a prophet be put to death, it must be at Jerusalem.

MacArthur points out the bitter irony of prophets being put to death in Jerusalem, supposedly, the holy city:

Now Jerusalem was the city of God Jerusalem was the place of the temple.  But it wasn’t…you know, the interesting thing, it wasn’t the enemies of Israel that killed their prophets No, it wasn’t the…the pagan nations around them that murdered their prophets.  It was them, they killed their own prophets It’s like the parable Jesus told in Matthew 21 and Luke 20, God has a vineyard, the vineyard is Israel and God comes to an accounting for Israel with regard to the blessing and opportunity they’ve had.  He wants that accounting.  He sends His servants, they kill the servants That’s the prophetsHe sends His Son, they kill His Son. That’s Christ

They weren’t killed by the enemies, they weren’t killed by the pagans, they were killed by the people themselves.  So often that it became proverbial the prophet should…it cannot be that a prophet should perish outside Jerusalem, almost a…almost a sort of sarcasm, an ironyThe capital of Israel, the center of worship, the city of God was where they killed the spokesmen for God Bitter irony here really you know.

Jesus lamented the spiritual state of Jerusalem, which God had sent Him to save, along with the rest of His Chosen.

Jesus expressed His deep sorrow by recalling the many prophets, God’s messengers, who met their death there; Jesus said that He had wanted so much to gather Jerusalem’s children up under His wing, as a hen would with her little ones, but they were unwilling (verse 34).

Henry has an excellent interpretation of that verse:

Those that enjoy great plenty of the means of grace, if they are not profited by them, are often prejudiced against them. They that would not hearken to the prophets, nor welcome those whom God had sent to them, killed them, and stoned them. If men’s corruptions are not conquered, they are provoked The reason why sinners are not protected and provided for by the Lord Jesus, as the chickens are by the hen, is because they will not: I would, I often would, and ye would not. Christ’s willingness aggravates sinners’ unwillingness, and leaves their blood upon their own heads.

Jesus concluded by saying that their house — the temple — is left to them, meaning that He has no use for it; He says that they will not see Him again until they say, ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord’ (verse 35).

In the first part of that verse, Jesus was speaking about the destruction of the temple in AD 70.

MacArthur describes it:

The Lord understands that He came unto His own and His own received Him not.  And the judgment is rendered in verse 35.  “Behold your house is left to you.”  And the translators add, borrowing from Matthew 23, “desolate.”  The history of the Jewish people since the time of Jesus Christ is a long, excruciating desolation.  And it really all began to unfold about thirty years after Jesus.  In fact, it is a period of time that Jesus Himself called, in Luke 21:22, the days of vengeance.  And they began to unfold really in the year 66 A.D., as I said, about thirty years after the death of Jesus.  It was May of the year 66 when the Jewish revolution against Rome broke out. Having taken about as much as they could tolerate of Roman oppression, Roman injustice, pagan idolatry, the Jews turned against their occupying rulers, largely driven by a particular group of Jews called Zealots, the party of radical nationalism, known for their guerrilla tactics and terrorist strikes. Many Jews took up whatever arms they could find and joined in the rebellion.  Rome struck back with devastating force.

The first strike fell on Jews in northern Galilee when the Romans soldiers came and slaughtered thousands of themEventually Titus himself, Titus Vespasian, the Roman ruler, came down to Jerusalem with an army in excess of 80,000 men, more than twice the size of the population.  After stationing his army in and around the city he demanded the full surrender of the JewsThey replied with mocking laughter according to some historians and the attack was unleashed.  And before it was done, Jews were massacred everywhereThe massacre also went all the way to the destruction of the city of Jerusalem and the demolishing of the templeAnd about the same time the Gentile inhabitants in Damascus, which is north and east of Israel are said to have caught the spirit of the Romans and in their own hatred for the Jews slit the throats of some 10,000 Jews living in and around the area of Damascus.

The persecution of Jews continues around the world two millennia on.

However, in the second part of verse 35, Jesus said that there will be a massive Jewish evangelisation one day.

God made a promise to the Jews and He will fulfil it. St Paul discussed this in Romans 11:25-28. Sadly, those verses are not in the Lectionary! You can read more about them below:

Romans 11:25-28 – God’s purpose, judgement, Israel, mystery of salvation

Paul writes that God will lift His the judgement against Israel’s unbelief. Gentiles should not necessarily feel proud or secure. Churches will fall into apostasy. The Church was intended for the Jews first, not Gentiles, who were grafted in only because of the Jews’ unbelief.

This is also a warning against anti-Semitism.

MacArthur elaborates on what St Paul wrote:

… notice please verse 25 toward the end, a partial hardening has happened to Israel, a partial hardening, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in Whenever God is finished gathering His Gentile church, verse 26, and “thus all Israel will be saved.”  Just as it is written in Isaiah 59 again, “The Deliverer will come from Zion.  He will remove ungodliness from Jacob and this is My covenant with them when I take away their sins.”  God binds Himself to His personal covenant, My covenant.  Not the covenant, not a covenant, My promise, My promise.

This can’t change, verse 29, “the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.”  Yes, individual Jews come to Christ. Yes, there’s always a collective remnant, but more than that, the time will come after the fullness of the Gentiles has come in.  That’s a term to describe the church when Gentiles are all gathered in.  When that is over, then all Israel will be saved.  That is yet to come.  There will come a time then, back to our text of Luke 13:35, “when you see me and you will say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.’”

That finally you will recognize your Messiah And let me just support this and then we’ll conclude.  1 Samuel 12:22, “The Lord will not abandon His people on account of His great name.”  There is the bottom line, dear friends.  The Lord will not abandon His people on account of His great name.  His name is who He is.  And who He is, is faithful. And if He says it, He will do it.  And He cannot break His promise without destroying His name.

MacArthur has more on Jesus’s closing words in verse 35:

Does God speak the truth or does He not? Does He promise and fulfill or does He promise and renege? Does He keep His covenants? Is He faithful or unfaithful? The implications of that obviously are massive

What our Lord says is, “You will not see until the time comes when you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.’” He didn’t say I’m so sad that you’ll never say it. He said the time will come when you do say it. And it’s emphatic. “I say to you.” That’s emphatic. “Hear me, hear me,” he says. “You shall not see me.” What does He mean? Physically? No. You’ll never really recognize me. You’ll never really know who I am until sometime in the future and then you will say, “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.”

He’s not talking about seeing Jesus necessarily in a physical sense, although certainly, the glorified Christ will be revealed to all those who believe in Him in the end. He’s talking here not so much about physical recognition. He’s talking about spiritual recognition.

Part of the reason this has not happened yet is because the Jewish view of the kingdom is a literal interpretation.

MacArthur explains:

The Jews have always understood Old Testament promises to Abraham as literal. They always have understood Old Testament promises to David as literal. David understood them that way. I read you what David’s interpretation was in 2 Samuel 7. You can actually go to 1 Chronicles chapter 6 and read Solomon’s interpretation of the Davidic covenant and you’ll find out he understood it as literal as well. They always understood it that way. They believed in a real restoration, a real kingdom. They even believed it when the Messiah came. And the disciples believed it just before the ascension, when they said to Him “Will you at this time bring the kingdom?”

However, the time will come when they understand the spiritual significance of their promised kingdom.

For at least ten years the Christians living in the Holy Land have been persecuted.

Over Christmas 2021, articles and interviews surfaced about their plight. Sadly, this is not new, but it does show how impossible a resolution to this situation seems.

In July 2011, The Sunday Times reported that the then-Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams was launching an appeal for Christians suffering in the Holy Land (emphases mine below):

The Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams yesterday launched an appeal for “suffering” Christians in the Holy Land, calling for Anglicans to do more to help with community projects and job creation.

Dr Rowan Williams told the General Synod in York: “I returned from a visit to the Holy Land last year with a very, very strong sense that we had to do more to express our solidarity with the Christian communities there …

He said he hoped that Anglicans and others would give generously to help build a fund for projects that would contribute to the sustainability of the most vulnerable Christian communities, especially on the West Bank

He launched the appeal prior to a joint conference on Christians in the Holy Land with England’s Catholic Archbishop — now Cardinal — Vincent Nichols :

Dr Williams’ appeal came ahead of a conference on Christians in the Holy Land which he and the Archbishop of Westminster Vincent Nichols are jointly hosting at Lambeth Palace in London next week.

In a video presentation to explain his appeal Dr Williams warns that the rate of Christian emigration from the Holy Land had reached the point of “haemorrhage”

Archbishop Vincent Nichols says: “People are leaving, Christians are leaving, and we want to say the Christian presence in the Holy Land is important to its balance, to its — not just its historical reality but to its presence and future viability.”

In January 2018, Patriarch Theophilos III, the Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem, wrote an article for The Guardian, ‘Christians are at risk of being driven out of the Holy Land’.

The Patriarch is from the Holy Land and says that socio-political tension has been part of the problem:

Much attention has been paid recently to political decisions recognising Jerusalem in one light or another. The media attention highlights the seemingly intractable political struggle here. But as well as the threat to the political status quo, there is a threat also to the religious status quo, a threat instigated by radical settlers in and around Jerusalem, the heart of Christianity. And one group that has always been a pillar of society in the Holy Land – Christians – seems to have been rendered invisible in this standoff

Now various sides want to claim the Holy Land, including Jerusalem, as the exclusive possession of only one people. This treats with contempt the mechanism that has maintained peace and our multi-religious landscape for generations.

A delegation of Christians had travelled to the UK only a short time before to discuss the seriousness of their plight:

Recently Christian communities from the Holy Land came to the UK to seek support for our plight in the face of legal and land threats to the Christian church in the Holy Land. We were moved that church leaders from across the UK came to our support. In meetings with Prince Charles and government ministers, as well as with church leaders, we highlighted a proposed “church lands” bill signed by 40 members of Israel’s Knesset that would restrict the rights of churches to deal independently with their own land. We also discussed threats to church land around the Jaffa gate of the Old City of Jerusalem.

Cardinal Nichols was also there:

The UK’s Catholic Cardinal Vincent Nichols summed up the view of many when he told us that the proposed bill represented “an intolerable infringement of the status quo and the legitimate rights of the churches, and should be recognised for what it is: an attack on the property rights of the Christian community”.

‘Radical settlers’ added to the tension:

In addition to the church lands bill, one of the foremost threats to Christians in the Holy Land is the unacceptable activities of radical settler groups, which are attempting to establish control over properties around the Jaffa gate. The properties in question are in the heart of Jerusalem’s Christian quarter, the seat of all the patriarchates and headquarters of the churches, and less than 500m from the Church of the Holy Sepulchre

If the settler groups were to gain control of the properties, they would be able to pursue their aggressive campaign of removing non-Jews from the City and from these strategic centres at the heart of the Christian quarter, threatening the very presence of Christians in the Holy Land.

The Patriarch explains that the holy places are sacred because holiness is a divine characteristic, not a human one:

The Christian understanding of holy places is that all people have claims to the sanctity of their holy places, because holiness is a divine characteristic, not a human one. No party should ever be able to make an exclusive claim over a holy place – in this case, over the holy city of Jerusalem.

We shall continue the fight for this cause because it is right and because it is our basic pastoral duty.

Incidentally, in neighbouring Syria, in 2019, the Jerusalem Post featured a contrasting news story and a podcast: ‘Muslims convert to Christianity in Syrian town once besieged by ISIS’.

This took place in the town of Kobani:

A community of Syrians who converted to Christianity from Islam is growing in Kobani, a town besieged by Islamic State for months, and where the tide turned against the militants four years ago.

The converts say the experience of war and the onslaught of a group claiming to fight for Islam pushed them towards their new faith. After a number of families converted, the Syrian-Turkish border town’s first evangelical church opened last year.

Islamic State militants were beaten back by U.S. air strikes and Kurdish fighters at Kobani in early 2015, in a reversal of fortune after taking over swaths of Iraq and Syria. After years of fighting, U.S.-backed forces fully ended the group’s control over populated territory last month …

Christianity is one of the region’s minority faiths that was persecuted by Islamic State.

Critics view the new converts with suspicion, accusing them of seeking personal gain such as financial help from Christian organizations working in the region, jobs and enhanced prospects of emigration to European countries.

The newly-converted Christians of Kobani deny those accusations. They say their conversion was a matter of faith.

“After the war with Islamic State people were looking for the right path, and distancing themselves from Islam,” said Omar Firas, the founder of Kobani’s evangelical church. “People were scared and felt lost.”

Firas works for a Christian aid group at a nearby camp for displaced people that helped set up the church …

The church’s current pastor, Zani Bakr, 34, arrived last year from Afrin, a town in northern Syria. He converted in 2007.

That is a most positive step for the Good News.

Returning to Jerusalem, on Sunday, December 19, 2021, the current Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, and Hosam Naoum, the Anglican Archbishop in Jerusalem, co-authored an article for The Sunday Times: ‘Let us pray for the Christians being driven from the Holy Land’.

The two men say that the radical settlers have increased their persecution of Christians in the Holy Land:

Last week church leaders in Jerusalem raised an unprecedented and urgent alarm call. In a joint statement they said Christians throughout the Holy Land had become the target of frequent and sustained attacks by fringe radical groups.

They described “countless incidents” of physical and verbal assaults against priests and other clergy, and attacks on Christian churches. They spoke of holy sites being regularly vandalised and desecrated, and the ongoing intimidation of local Christians as they go about their worship and daily lives.

The Romanian Orthodox monastery in Jerusalem was vandalised during Lent in March this year, the fourth attack in a month. During Advent last December, someone lit a fire in the Church of All Nations in the Garden of Gethsemane, the place where Jesus prayed the night before he was crucified. It is usually a place of pilgrimage for Christians from around the world, and the vandals are thought to have taken advantage of the lack of visitors due to the pandemic.

These tactics are being used by such radical groups “in a systematic attempt to drive the Christian community out of Jerusalem and other parts of the Holy Land”, the Jerusalem church leaders said in their statement.

That is why, when you speak to Palestinian Christians in Jerusalem today, you will often hear this cry: “In 15 years’ time, there’ll be none of us left!”

This crisis takes place against a century-long decline in the Christian population in the Holy Land. In 1922, at the end of the Ottoman era, the number of Christians in the Holy Land was estimated at 73,000; about 10 per cent of the population. In 2019, Christians constituted less than 2 per cent of the population of the Holy Land: a massive drop in less than 100 years.

Elsewhere, in Jaffa, for example, there is good news, but not in Jerusalem:

In Israel, the overall number of Christians has risen. The imminent reopening of St Peter’s Anglican Church in Jaffa, which has been closed for more than 70 years, is encouraging. But in east Jerusalem, the central place for pilgrimage and the site of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre — where Christ is believed to have been crucified — there is a steady decline. Church leaders believe that there are now fewer than 2,000 Christians left in the Old City of Jerusalem

Christians in Israel enjoy democratic and religious freedoms that are a beacon in the region. But the escalation of physical and verbal abuse of Christian clergy, and the vandalism of holy sites by fringe radical groups, are a concerted attempt to intimidate and drive them away. Meanwhile, the growth of settler communities and travel restrictions brought about by the West Bank separation wall have deepened the isolation of Christian villages and curtailed economic and social possibilities.

All of these factors have contributed to a steady stream of Palestinian Christians leaving the Holy Land to seek lives and livelihoods elsewhere — a historic tragedy unfolding in real time.

What can be done?

This trend can be reversed — but action must be taken fast. We encourage governments and authorities in the region to listen to church leaders in their midst: to engage in the practical conversations that will lead to vital Christian culture and heritage being guarded and sustained. The time for action is now.

On Christmas Eve, Tom Harwood of GB News interviewed His Grace Bishop Dr Munib Younan from the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Palestine and Jordan:

He pleaded for the radicals to ‘be brought to justice’ and asked what Jerusalem would be like without its Christian community. He says that the city belongs to three faiths: Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

He said that love is at the heart of the Christian message and that those who are persecuted should pray for their attackers. He added that Christ died on the Cross to give us life and life abundantly.

He ended by saying that everyone has to work together to resolve this ongoing and desperate situation.

On Wednesday, 29 December, Janine di Giovanni, a journalist and Senior Fellow at Yale University’s Jackson Institute for Global Affairs, wrote about this subject in a broader sense for The Telegraph: ‘We need to talk about the persecution of Christians in the Middle East’.

She has reported from the Middle East for three decades and says:

I can tell you first hand, as a human rights reporter who spent three decades working in the Middle East, the situation there is urgent and it threatens to disrupt the entire demographic of the area. I made it my mission to work with embattled Christians, aiding them in their plight and trying to get the message out to the wider world: they are in peril. And so, I began in-depth field work on the most vulnerable Christian communities. I focused on four areas where I felt the risk was most prominent: Iraq, Syria, Egypt, and the minute group of Christians in the Gaza Strip. Their numbers are dwindling rapidly.

Social scientists estimate that some of them – such as the Iraqi Christians whose populations have plummeted from close to 1.5 million to an estimated 100,000 in 40 years – are in danger of extinction. It is unthinkable to me that Christianity in its birthplace, the land of the prophets where St. Thomas or Jonah had wandered, might disappear. Everywhere I went as a war reporter in my long career – Africa, Asia, the Balkans, Afghanistan – I always found a church. No matter where I was, these visits drew me back into a safe place where I found solace and freedom from gripping fear.

Even Kabul had a tiny Catholic chapel, Our Lady of Divine Providence, at the Italian Embassy, opened in 2002 after the fall of the Taliban. But unlike the Christians in the Middle East – whose ancestry can stretch back to the prophets two millenn[ia] ago – the tiny population of Afghan Christians were nearly all converts. Nonetheless, this month, Father Giovanni Scalese, the leader of that community, who has since fled, issued a plea that Christians need no “obstacles to religious freedom.” Their situation is bad in Afghanistan, but even worse in the Middle East.

During lockdown, she began writing a book — The Vanishing: The Twilight of Christianity in the Middle East — based on journals of interviews that she has kept since the 1990s. Her article recounts some of what Christians are experiencing in that part of the world. It’s a harrowing read.

However, one place stood out for her:

it was the 800 Christian inhabitants of Gaza who perhaps touched me the most. Gaza was mostly Christian until the fourth Century. Today, the mainly Greek Orthodox Christians – but also Catholics, Lutherans Baptists – are sandwiched between Hamas, which is at war with the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah, and also with the Israelis.

The lives of these Christians (as all civilians in Gaza) are perhaps the most hellish on a day-to-day basis: the lack of electricity, fresh water and health services, the fear of more bombing and their inability to visit family in Bethlehem and Jerusalem during the holidays. They are isolated and abandoned. Last summer, I returned, my first trip since Covid – and the situation was the worst I had seen in 30 years.

Nonetheless, faith and love characterise the persecuted:

But faith somehow continues, even in these embattled communities. Throughout the hundreds of interviews I did for The Vanishing, there was one theme that was consistent: love. Whether it was Father Mario da Silva, an inspirational Portuguese priest who had left a comfortable posting in The Vatican to work in Gaza, or a family celebrating its existence after encountering Isil on a mountaintop near Mosul. These people continued to pray, to believe, to gain inner strength from something they could not see or even at times understand: their profound belief in God.

Their faith, in many ways, was more powerful than any of the forces that tried to destroy them.

Christians know that persecution is to be expected, but we can pray that God relieves believers in the Middle East of this daily scourge, a seemingly intractable — and tragic — situation.

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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

Acts 25:1-5

Paul Appeals to Caesar

25 Now three days after Festus had arrived in the province, he went up to Jerusalem from Caesarea. And the chief priests and the principal men of the Jews laid out their case against Paul, and they urged him, asking as a favor against Paul[a] that he summon him to Jerusalem—because they were planning an ambush to kill him on the way. Festus replied that Paul was being kept at Caesarea and that he himself intended to go there shortly. “So,” said he, “let the men of authority among you go down with me, and if there is anything wrong about the man, let them bring charges against him.”

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Last week’s post concluded Acts 24 and recounted what happened to Felix at the instigation of the Jews.

Now Porcius Festus is in place in Judea. This is two years after Paul was imprisoned under Felix in a pleasant apartment at the Roman governor’s praetorium, formerly Herod’s palace.

Three days after his arrival, Festus travelled from Caesarea up to Jerusalem (verse 1). He was entering a hate-filled atmosphere, which Felix had exacerbated. Festus wanted to meet the Jews and see if he could calm down the situation he had inherited. John MacArthur explains (emphases mine):

Now, we have to feel a little badly for Festus because his predecessor’s incompetency left him a legacy of profound hate, and he had to suffer from the tremendous hatred that the Romans felt coming from the Jews. They hated any of their oppressors, and so the Romans got it. And then the incompetency of all the governors didn’t help it at all. So, Festus was definitely in a hot spot. Show you how he responds to his situation; begin in verse 1. “Now when Festus was come into the province” – that is, Judea was considered a Roman province – “after three days he ascended from Caesarea to Jerusalem.”

Now, Festus arrives on the scene in Caesarea, which of course was the Roman headquarters. They had taken over the palace of Herod and turned it into the Roman praetori[um], where the governor lived, and from where he ruled and operated. He spends three days there getting everything organized, and whatever he had to do – pushing the parchments around his desk and finding out who was doing what, whatever orientation he needed. But after a brief three days in Caesarea, he recognizes the need to go to Jerusalem.

So, he ascends – and that’s, as I say, always you’re going up to Jerusalem, since it’s elevation was so great. He ascends from Caesarea to Jerusalem, and he does this because he recognizes that the first thing he has to do in office is to conciliate the Jewish population. The animosity toward Felix, the animosity toward the Romans, was extensive, it was great, it was hot; there was hostility. He recognizes that he must go to Jerusalem, the national center of Israel. He must acquaint himself with the high priest, with the Jewish council, the Sanhedrin.

He must become well aware of the customs and the politics as it exists in the situation in which he has been thrust. He knows these contacts are important. He must establish a warm working relationship between the high priest and the Sanhedrin. Now, you see, the Romans were a little bit afraid of the Jews. You know, the previous Roman governors had been really cornered by the Jews. They were masters at blackmail; they had blackmailed Pilate into crucifying Jesus Christ.

The Sanhedrin laid out their case against Paul to Festus (verse 2). The favour they asked against Paul was to ask Festus to send him to Jerusalem so that they could ambush him and kill him along the way (verse 3). That is why I highlighted the words ‘two years’ above, to emphasise how hate festers. This is why the Bible tells us not to hate. It ends up like a festering wound to the soul.

Both John MacArthur and Matthew Henry point out the danger of religious hate, probably the worst type of hate mankind has ever known throughout history.

Henry’s commentary gives us the short version:

These inhuman hellish methods, which all the world profess at least to abhor, have these persecutors recourse to, to gratify their malice against the gospel of Christ, and this too under colour of zeal for Moses. Tantum religio potuit suadere malorum–Such was their dire religious zeal.

MacArthur has a lot more. Suffice it to say that religious conflicts, including this one, are the work of Satan. Atheists say religious conflicts have to do with religion, therefore, abolish religion. No, it is Satan inserting himself into men’s minds, filling them with malevolence and evil:

And here, folks, is the principle that I told you we’d arrive at: the hatred of religious people. Isn’t it amazing? They claimed to love God, and God is love, and they have murder on their minds. Oh, it’s amazing how ethical religion is until it comes into conflict with another system: the truth. Isn’t it amazing that the real struggle isn’t between all the false systems; have you ever noticed how wonderfully they get along? But it’s always that the false systems are fighting the truth. And so, here they come, and their only desire is a favor, not justice.

They wanted that new governor’s inexperience and desire to gain their favor to play to their benefit in the execution of Paul. Now, friends, any time you see hatred like this, it smacks of Satanic origin. The reason religious people hate the truth is because religious people are in Satan’s system, and Satan’s system is against Christ’s system. And they despised Paul, not because Paul was that kind of a person; no, he’d lived his whole life as a Jew before his conversion, and they had loved him, right?

In fact, he was chosen for their court. In fact, he was the leader of all the persecution. He was a friend of everybody, a student of Gamaliel; he was one of their top boys. But immediately when he became identified with Jesus Christ, they immediately hated him; not for his sake, but for Christ’s sake – The hatred of religionists toward the truth. That’s right. You read in the New Testament, and you’re going to find out that the greatest persecution that comes toward the truth comes from false doctrine, false teachers, who slander us so that the truth is evil spoken of, right? Paul said it to Timothy.

Satan’s hate goes on. Let me take you to a passage to illustrate it – John 15, our Lord speaking to his disciples. I want to show you several verses, so turn to it – John 15. Now, if you were to give me – and I’m not going to ask you to do it out loud. But if you were to give me a definition of the world – when I say the term world, which is the Greek word kosmos in the Bible, what do you think of? You think immediately, don’t you, of Satan’s evil system? But then I add this, folks – I hasten to add it.

When you think of the world as Satan’s evil system, don’t just think of bars, and crime, and prostitution, and immorality, and whatever else you think of – war, and anything else. When you think of the world, think primarily of religion. Because that is the pinnacle of the development of Satan’s system, for he is an angel of light, and his ministers are angels of light, 2 Corinthians tells us. So, when you think of the world, don’t necessarily think only of the immoral system, but of the “ethical religionists’” system.

Now you notice verse 18. “If the world” – or the system – “hates you, you know that it hated Me.” Listen, most of the hatred toward Jesus Christ did not come from atheism, it came from Judaism, right? Yes. “If the world hates you, you know it hated me.” What part of the world hated Him? Was it the prostitutes that hated Jesus? Was it the criminals that hated Jesus? You don’t read any of that; it was the religionists that hated Him, because Satan is behind all false systems. “If the world hate you, you know it hated Me. If you were of the world, the world would love its own.”

Festus told the Sanhedrin that Paul was in Caesarea and that he would go there shortly (verse 4). He was pouring cold water on their plot. Now, whether he said that because Paul was a Roman citizen or there was paperwork saying he was innocent of crimes against Rome, we do not know. In any event, Festus had an objective view of Paul’s case, and the Sanhedrin were not going to change his mind.

Both Henry and MacArthur say that God continued to work through the Romans to preserve Paul’s life.

Henry says:

whatever was his reason for refusing it, God made use of it as a means of preserving Paul out of the hands of his enemies … God does not, as then, bring it to light, yet he finds another way, as effectual, to bring it to nought, by inclining the heart of the governor, for some other reasons, not to remove Paul to Jerusalem. God is not tied to one method, in working out salvation for his people. He can suffer the designs against them to be concealed, and yet not suffer them to be accomplished; and can make even the carnal policies of great men to serve his gracious purposes.

MacArthur tells us:

Who is running the show? Festus? God. Now, I’m going to tell you something exciting. Did you know that God ordains the attitudes and actions of men to bring about His own ends?

Festus concluded his meeting with the Sanhedrin by inviting ‘the men of authority’ to go down from Jerusalem with him and to levy charges against Paul, should that be warranted (verse 5).

Interestingly, the King James Version words verse 5 as follows:

Let them therefore, said he, which among you are able, go down with me, and accuse this man, if there be any wickedness in him.

Our commentators provide two nuanced interpretations.

Henry says:

“Let those among you who are able, able in body and purse for such a journey, or able in mind and tongue to manage the prosecution–let those among you who are fit to be managers, go down with me, and accuse this man; or, those who are competent witnesses, who are able to prove any thing criminal upon him, let them go and give in their evidence, if there be any such wickedness in him as you charge upon him.”

MacArthur has this:

“Let them, therefore, who are among you who are able” – notice the phrase who are able, you who are able. That has reference to those who are powerful; the word is dunatoi. It means you who are powerful ones, or influential ones,” or position. “Now, Youwho are the chief ones, you come on down with me to Caesarea and accuse him there, if there be any wickedness in him.”

The story continues next week, with Paul going on trial yet once more.

The question arises why the Holy Spirit would have inspired St Luke to write about these ordeals, one after another. First, Paul was unable to evangelise on a broad scale, so this is what he logically would have documented. Secondly, these latter chapters of Acts show Paul’s consistency in defending the faith. He came up with the same truthful answer time and time again. Thirdly, perhaps most importantly, Paul did not grow impatient with the Lord or his circumstances. He faced his imprisonment rationally, yet prayerfully, always considering himself a prisoner of the Lord Jesus Christ.

His fortitude really does bring home the truth of his words to Timothy (2 Timothy 4:7-8):

7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.

These are verses worth contemplating with regard to our own Christian journeys.

Next time — Acts 25:6-12

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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

Acts 23:16-22

16 Now the son of Paul’s sister heard of their ambush, so he went and entered the barracks and told Paul. 17 Paul called one of the centurions and said, “Take this young man to the tribune, for he has something to tell him.” 18 So he took him and brought him to the tribune and said, “Paul the prisoner called me and asked me to bring this young man to you, as he has something to say to you.” 19 The tribune took him by the hand, and going aside asked him privately, “What is it that you have to tell me?” 20 And he said, “The Jews have agreed to ask you to bring Paul down to the council tomorrow, as though they were going to inquire somewhat more closely about him. 21 But do not be persuaded by them, for more than forty of their men are lying in ambush for him, who have bound themselves by an oath neither to eat nor drink till they have killed him. And now they are ready, waiting for your consent.” 22 So the tribune dismissed the young man, charging him, “Tell no one that you have informed me of these things.”

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Paul’s status at this point in Acts is ‘Paul the prisoner’, which is ongoing throughout the rest of the book.

In my last post before Christmas, I wrote about the Sanhedrin’s plot to kill Paul.

Paul’s nephew — his sister’s son — found out about this cold-blooded conspiracy, went to the barracks and told him (verse 16).

Information about Paul’s family is scant. John MacArthur gives us a few possibilities about this lad and his parents. Also note the providential aspect to this (emphases mine):

Do you realize that the Bible says nothing about Paul’s family at all? All we know is his father was a Pharisee because he made that statement earlier. We don’t know anything else. We do know that in Philippians 3:8 he said that because of his faith in Christ, he had suffered, “The loss of all things.” And, most Bible teachers assume that “the loss of all things” included being disinherited from his Jewish family because from then on, you hear nothing at all about his family, nothing at all.

How, then, all of a sudden does Paul’s sister’s son come to Paul’s rescue? What is he doing in Jerusalem? Did he live there? Was he there studying to be a rabbi, as Paul had been when he was a boy? Was Paul’s sister really one who cared about Paul even though he had been disinherited? Had Paul’s sister become a believer? Interesting to think about. I can’t imagine the apostle Paul not trying to convert his family, can you? I’m sure he gave it everything he had.

An interesting thing pops up in verse 16, “When Paul’s sister’s son heard of the ambush” – the verb “he went and entered the barracks,” that aorist participle there could be translated “having been present,” and it is possible that the boy was present when the plot took place. It is possible it means he was present at the prison. It is possible that it means he was present at the plot. It seems sensible to say he was present at the plot or he wouldn’t have known the plot. Can you imagine how God worked the circumstances to have that little boy hanging around the conspirators and to get the right message, and then to have the presence of mind to go warn his uncle?

But, that is what happened. You can see that this is no less supernatural than if God had reached a big sky-hook out of Heaven and pulled Paul right up.

I think it’s interesting to add a point, and I’ll take a minute to do that. There is a word in Romans 16 that is translated in the English Authorized Version “kinsman.” Sometimes it means countryman; sometimes it means relative. It is an interesting thought, if you look at Romans 16 in verse 7, “Greet Andronicus and Junias, my kinsmen, who are in Christ before me.” That’s interesting. The possibility is there.

Then he says, in verse 11, “Greet Herodion, my kinsman who are in the Lord,” with another individual. Verse 21, “Timothy my fellow worker” – or work fellow – “and Lucius, and Jason, and Sosipater, my kinsmen.” Now, it may have been that Paul did have some fruit in his own family. We don’t know, but it’s interesting to think about.

Well, so the boy heard about the plot and he came to the barracks and told Paul. Now, maybe the family was high, kind of high class. You know, Paul had been a member of the Sanhedrin and his father a Pharisee and a Roman citizen, and the whole ball of wax, zealous for the law. It could have been that his father was kind of a sharp guy, up there, and we don’t know – it’s possible – that he may have been even in the leadership of Israel. But whatever, the boy heard it, went, and told Paul about it. How exciting!

Matthew Henry’s commentary simply says:

… some how or other, we are not told how, he heard of their lying in wait, either overheard them talking of it among themselves, or got intelligence from some that were in the ploy: and he went into the castle, probably, as he used to do, to attend on his uncle, and bring him what he wanted, which gave him a free access to him and he told Paul what he heard.

I particularly liked this, which points out that God had a plan for Paul:

Note, God has many ways of bringing to light the hidden works of darkness; though the contrivers of them dig deep to hide them from the Lord, he can made a bird of the air to carry the voice (Ecclesiastes 10:20), or the conspirators’ own tongues to betray them.

To understand Paul’s relationship with the centurion — commander of 100 soldiers — who did his bidding (verse 17), it is worth noting that a) Paul informed the tribune that he was a Roman citizen from birth and b) the tribune and his centurions thought the Apostle was someone pretty important if the whole city of Jerusalem wanted to kill him. Because no one, including the Sanhedrin, enlightened the Romans about their hatred of Paul, they had to work on assumptions.

Also, Paul, having been not only well educated but also doing the Lord’s work, was a model prisoner, thereby earning the centurion’s respect. So, when Paul asked him to take the lad to the tribune, Claudius Lysias, there was no objection. (St Luke, the author of Acts, never mentions the tribune by name.)

The centurion duly took the boy to Claudius Lysias, explaining that he had something to tell him (verse 18).

Henry offers this analysis, which further indicates that divine providence was at work:

The centurion very readily gratified him, Acts 23:18. He did not send a common soldier with him, but went himself to keep the young man in countenance, to recommend his errand to the chief captain, and to show his respect to Paul: “Paul the prisoner (this was his title now) called me to him, and prayed me to bring this young man to thee; what his business is I know not, but he has something to say to thee.” Note, It is true charity to poor prisoners to act for them as well as to give to them. “I was sick and in prison, and you went on an errand for me,” will pass as well in the account as, “I was sick and in prison, and you came unto me, to visit me, or sent me a token.” Those that have acquaintance and interest should be ready to use them for the assistance of those that are in distress. This centurion helped to save Paul’s life by this piece of civility, which should engage us to be ready to do the like when there is occasion. Open thy mouth for the dumb, Proverbs 31:8. Those that cannot give a good gift to God’s prisoners may yet speak a good word for them.

Paul’s nephew must have been young, because the tribune took him by the hand to ask him about his news privately (verse 19). The boy was probably nervous and, by holding his hand, the tribune reassured him. Henry says that, too, was significant, reminding us that the tribune acted illegally in having a fellow Roman citizen — Paul — bound for scourging. That carried a huge penalty, if his superior had found out. Recall, too, that the tribune bought his Roman citizenship, whereas Paul was a natural born Roman. Claudius Lysias was obliged to be nice to Paul, even indirectly:

The chief captain received the information with a great deal of condescension and tenderness, Acts 23:19. He took the young man by the hand, as a friend or father, to encourage him, that he might not be put out of countenance, but might be assured of a favourable audience. The notice that is taken of this circumstance should encourage great men to take themselves easy of access to the meanest, upon any errand which may give them an opportunity of doing good–to condescend to those of low estate. This familiarity to which this Roman tribune or colonel admitted Paul’s nephew is here upon record to his honour. Let no man think he disparages himself by his humility or charity. He went with him aside privately, that none might hear his business, and asked him, “What is it that thou hast to tell me? Tell me wherein I can be serviceable to Paul.” It is probable that the chief captain was the more obliging in this case because he was sensible he had run himself into a premunire in binding Paul, against his privilege as a Roman citizen, which he was willing now to atone for.

Paul’s nephew told the tribune that the Jews planned on obtaining the tribune’s consent to see Paul in the council on the pretext that they had more questions for him (verse 20), when, in fact, they, having taken an oath, were going to murder him in cold blood (verse 21). The boy said:

do not be persuaded by them

The tribune asked the boy not to say anything about their private exchange, and dismissed him (verse 22).

Consider the Lord’s work here. A subject of the Romans — a boy, at that — tells the Roman tribune what to do. MacArthur says:

Now, here is a little kid commanding the Roman commander. Now, you can see how God is superintending this thing. “Do not thou yield to him, for there lie in wait for him.” There is an ambush of more than 40 men who have anathematized themselves with an anathema. In other words, they have devoted themselves to destruction. They will neither eat nor drink until they have killed him, and they are now ready, and “The whole thing depends upon the promise from you to deliver the prisoner.”

Henry points out that the boy never mentioned which of ‘the Jews’ were plotting against Paul:

he does not say who, lest he should invidiously reflect upon the chief priests and the elders; and his business was to save his uncle’s life, not to accuse his enemies

As for telling the boy to say nothing to anyone, Claudius Lysias knew that if this conspiracy against Paul did not work, the Sanhedrin would come up with another. Even worse, if the Sanhedrin knew the Romans had actively prevented their plot from going ahead, there could have been a huge revolt in Jerusalem. John MacArthur explains:

I don’t think that that commander wanted an argument with those Jews, and I don’t think that he wanted them to know that he knew their plot, because if they knew he knew their plot, and he wouldn’t let it come off, then you would begin to see potential revolution and sedition.

And Jerusalem and Judea w[ere] volatile. It was only a few years after this that the whole place exploded in a revolution. And, he knew the past history of what other commanders had run into in that place, and he did not want to butt heads with them.

John MacArthur laid out four themes for Acts 23: the confrontation, the conflict, the conquest and the consolation.

Today’s passage shows the beginning of the conquest, with God working through Paul’s nephew and the Romans to defeat the Sanhedrin’s evil, murderous conspiracy.

Next time — Acts 23:23-30

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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

Acts 23:12-15

A Plot to Kill Paul

12 When it was day, the Jews made a plot and bound themselves by an oath neither to eat nor drink till they had killed Paul. 13 There were more than forty who made this conspiracy. 14 They went to the chief priests and elders and said, “We have strictly bound ourselves by an oath to taste no food till we have killed Paul. 15 Now therefore you, along with the council, give notice to the tribune to bring him down to you, as though you were going to determine his case more exactly. And we are ready to kill him before he comes near.”

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Last week’s entry was about the heated row the Pharisees and the Sadducees had over their faith beliefs, which Paul had purposely triggered.

The next day, however, the Sanhedrin’s focus returned to Paul. More than 40 plotted to kill him and went on a hunger strike until they accomplished their mission (verses 12, 13).

John MacArthur’s four themes for Acts 23: the confrontation, the conflict, the conquest and the consolation. Last week’s verses showed the conflict. However, Paul saw some of the consolation, as our Lord stood beside him in prison (emphases mine):

11 The following night the Lord stood by him and said, “Take courage, for as you have testified to the facts about me in Jerusalem, so you must testify also in Rome.”

The conflict continues this week with these plotters. Both our commentators say that Satan was working through them. Here is Matthew Henry’s analysis. Older translations use ‘curse’ instead of ‘oath’ in verse 12, which adds to the gravity of the sitaution:

(1.) They bound themselves to it. To incline to do evil, and intend to do it, is bad; but to engage to do it is much worse. This is entering into covenant with the devil; it is swearing allegiance to the prince of darkness; it is leaving no room for repentance; nay, it is bidding defiance to it. (2.) They bound one another to it, and did all they could, not only to secure the damnation of their own souls, but of theirs whom they drew into the association. (3.) They showed a great contempt of the providence of God, and a presumption upon it, in that they bound themselves to do such a thing within so short a time as they could continue fasting, without any proviso or reserve for the disposal of an overruling Providence. When we say, To-morrow we will do this or that, be it ever so lawful and good, forasmuch as we know not what shall be on the morrow, we must add, If the Lord will. But with what face could they insert a proviso for the permission of God’s providence when they knew that what they were about was directly against the prohibitions of God’s work? (4.) They showed a great contempt of their own souls and bodies; of their own souls in imprecating a curse upon them if they did not proceed in this desperate enterprise (what a woeful dilemma did they throw themselves upon! God certainly meets them with his curse if they do go on in it, and they desire he would if they do not!)–and of their own bodies too (for wilful sinners are the destroyers of both) in tying themselves out from the necessary supports of life till they had accomplished a thing which they could never lawfully do, and perhaps not possibly do. Such language of hell those speak that wish God to damn them, and the devil to take them, if they do not do so and so. As they love cursing, so shall it come unto them. Some think the meaning of this curse was, they would either kill Paul, as an Achan, an accursed thing, a troubler of the camp; or, if they did not do it, they would make themselves accursed before God in his stead. (5.) They showed a most eager desire to compass this matter, and an impatience till was done: not only like David’s enemies, that were mad against him, and sworn against him (Psalms 102:8), but like the servants of Job against his enemy: O that we had of this flesh! we cannot be satisfied, Job 31:31. Persecutors are said to eat up God’s people as they eat bread; it is as much a gratification to them as meat to one that is hungry, Psalms 14:4.

John MacArthur’s Bible also says ‘curse’. He explains:

They were serious about it as indicated by the fact that it says, “They bound themselves under a curse.”

The Greek is “they anathematized themselves with an anathema.” They devoted themselves to destruction. This was not an uncommon thing. They placed themselves under a divine judgment, as it were. They invoked the vengeance of God. It would go something like this: if any of the other Jewish vows would be similar to this, this would be a typical one, “So may God do to us and more, if we eat or drink anything until Paul is dead.”

Now, they were serious. They wanted this man dead, and the most stringent way they knew was to take this kind of a vow which sort of bound them and sort of told everybody the seriousness of it. And, they invoked the vengeance of God if they didn’t accomplish it. Of course, that’s dumb, because God may or may not be involved in it. That’s why Jesus said, “Swear not at all, don’t do that. Don’t say, ‘God, strike me dead if I don’t do this,’ or, ‘God do this if I don’t do that’.” Let your conversation be “yes and no” and forget that.”

Jesus said, “Swear not at all neither by Heaven or Earth.” But they were doing that, and they wanted to drag God into it and appear very holy. See? “We’ll kill him or God strike us dead,” feeling they were really going to defend God. They wanted God in on the murder plot …

You say, “Well, why would they react to such a man like this? Why not just say, ‘Oh, well. Let him go.’ Why so hostile? Why so violent?” Because of this, folks: to simplify it, they were the dupes of Satan, and that is the simplest way to look at it. They had been so subjected to the power of Satan by this time, existing so long in a false system of religion based on ego and hypocrisy, that they were Satan’s tools. And Satan wanted Jesus and the Gospel done away.

MacArthur tells us why 40+ were involved:

Well, apparently, they felt that the Romans would not bring about Paul’s death; they couldn’t procure the death at the hands of Rome. And, they realized that they didn’t want Paul in front of the people making another speech, or he might wind up persuading too many of them.

And so they saw they had to get rid of him, but they didn’t want any one individual to bear the brunt. So they realized if they had 40 or more (and that’s maybe an arbitrary figure; they may have called together all those who were interested), but if they had enough, no one person could be blamed for it. Plus, that many could accomplish it without Paul escaping. So they bound themselves by a blood oath, swearing to God that they would assassinate Paul, or they would be willing to take the vengeance of God, knowing all the time that they could get out of it.

They then went to the chief priests and elders stating that they had made this oath (verse 14), and what they expected Ananias and the elders to do: pretend they wanted to interview Paul further, and the conspirators would murder Paul when he approached (verse 15).

It is difficult imagining that going on in a religious setting, but MacArthur gives us the background to the Sanhedrin:

Now, the chief priests of the Sanhedrin were the Sadducees. The Sadducees party was the most antagonistic to Paul. Do you remember for what reason? Because Paul taught the resurrection and they were anti-resurrectionists. And so, these conspirators went to the leaders of the Sanhedrin, the top guys, and they said, “Look, we have bound ourselves under a great curse that we will not eat anything until we have slain Paul.”

Now, why would they bother to tell the Sadducees? Because they could get a hearing. They’d get somebody to listen to them who would agree, and they wanted to enlist the support of the Council.

It’s interesting, I think, to just note the fact that the conspirators, the 40-plus, knew that the leadership of Israel was so morally rotten that they were willing to advertise a murder. Can you imagine going and taking a group of murderers up to the Supreme Court and telling them that you’d like their cooperation in a murder?

Well, that’s part of it. But, they were not only the judicial heads of the country; they were the spiritual leaders, so corrupted that justice was corrupted, and spiritual truth was corrupted to the place where they could be enlisted in a murderous assassination. And they knew they’d get a hearing, and had no fears that they would be prosecuted for such a thing as attempted murder – or whatever.

Even knowing that, the plotters were bold as brass dictating to their superiors. What a den of vipers the Sanhedrin was.

Forbidden Bible Verses continues in the New Year.

Next time — Acts 23:16-22

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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

Acts 23:6-11

Now when Paul perceived that one part were Sadducees and the other Pharisees, he cried out in the council, “Brothers, I am a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees. It is with respect to the hope and the resurrection of the dead that I am on trial.” And when he had said this, a dissension arose between the Pharisees and the Sadducees, and the assembly was divided. For the Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, nor angel, nor spirit, but the Pharisees acknowledge them all. Then a great clamor arose, and some of the scribes of the Pharisees’ party stood up and contended sharply, “We find nothing wrong in this man. What if a spirit or an angel spoke to him?” 10 And when the dissension became violent, the tribune, afraid that Paul would be torn to pieces by them, commanded the soldiers to go down and take him away from among them by force and bring him into the barracks.

11 The following night the Lord stood by him and said, “Take courage, for as you have testified to the facts about me in Jerusalem, so you must testify also in Rome.”

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Poor Paul. In last week’s entry Ananias the high priest illegally ordered him struck on the mouth — a painful punch or blow with a club or rod — for saying that he had lived his life in good conscience before God. The Sanhedrin then accused Paul of showing disrespect to Ananias, whom he said he did not recognise as the high priest. This was because they were hastily called to Fort Antonia and were not in their usual ceremonial robes. It could also be that Paul did not wish to recognise a scoundrel of a high priest and/or he was affected by bad eyesight, a real possibility.

Under Mosaic law, Paul was wrong and Ananias was wrong in equal measure. Both had violated the law of Jewish conduct.

I cited John MacArthur’s four themes for Acts 23: the confrontation, the conflict, the conquest and the consolation. Last week’s verses showed the confrontation.

Today’s verses show the conflict as the tension briefly moves away from Paul to a dispute between the Pharisees, of which Paul was one, and the Sadducees, who were not at all spiritual in their theological outlook.

Matthew Henry summarises this beautifully (emphases mine):

Many are the troubles of the righteous, but some way or other the Lord delivereth them out of them all. Paul owned he had experienced the truth of this in the persecutions he had undergone among the Gentiles (see 2 Timothy 3:11): Out of them all the Lord delivered me. And now he finds that he who has delivered does and will deliver. He that delivered him in the foregoing chapter from the tumult of the people here delivers him from that of the elders.

Did Paul deliberately cause the division when he announced that he was a Pharisee to take the heat off himself (verse 6)? Matthew Henry answers in the affirmative:

The great council was made up of Sadducees and Pharisees, and Paul perceived it. He knew the characters of many of them ever since he lived among them, and saw those among them whom he knew to be Sadducees, and others whom he knew to be Pharisees …

So does John MacArthur:

So you know what Paul did? He just turned the whole Sanhedrin on itself. Revolution. Civil war. He just calmly stood there while they started the fight. You see, the real issue at stake was Paul had given his testimony, and Paul declared in his testimony that he was going down the Damascus Road and who spoke to him? Jesus of Nazareth. Well, if Jesus of Nazareth spoke to him, that meant Jesus of Nazareth was alive, right? So what was that saying? Resurrection.

Paul further triggered the Sadducees by mentioning that he believed in the resurrection of the dead, which the Pharisees did. With that, the quarrelling between the two religious groups began (verse 7).

Luke, the author of Acts, summarised the theological differences concisely (verse 8), so that the reader would understand.

The dissension escalated when some of the scribes — who were Pharisees — posited that Paul might have received a message from an angel or a spirit (verse 9). Hearing that enraged the Sadducees, who believed in neither. This does not mean that the scribes became Paul’s defenders after this: far from it, as we see in Acts 24. Despite this, Henry thinks that some of the Pharisees seriously thought about Paul’s defence of his faith:

We will hope that some of them at least did henceforward conceive a better opinion of Paul than they had had, and were favourable to him, having had such a satisfactory account both of his conversation in all good conscience and of his faith touching another world …

The arguments between the Sadducees and the Pharisees became so violent that the Roman tribune — commander — was concerned for Paul’s life, so he had his soldiers remove Paul by force and return him to the barracks (verse 10).

MacArthur sees this as providential:

The Romans to the rescue; the second time in two chapters. Amazing, God has superintended them. The whole of the nation of Israel is thrown into confusion, and he’s got the whole Roman army on the side of Paul.

As Henry points out, Paul was truly alone during this prolonged ordeal, with none of his Christian convert friends coming to his aid. Perhaps they were too afraid or perhaps they tried, but were not allowed admittance to see him:

The chief captain had rescued him out of the hands of cruel men, but still he had him in custody, and what might be the issue he could not tell. The castle was indeed a protection to him, but withal it was a confinement; and, as it was now his preservation from so great a death, it might be his reservation for a greater. We do not find that any of the apostles or elders at Jerusalem came to him; either they had not courage or they had not admission.

None of that mattered, because the Lord was with Paul. The next night He stood beside Paul and said that his work in Jerusalem was complete. Rome was to be the Apostle’s next destination in His Holy Name (verse 11): ‘Take courage’.

Henry provides this useful analysis:

Christ bids him have a good heart upon it: “Be of good cheer, Paul; be not discouraged; let not what has happened sadden thee, nor let what may yet be before thee frighten thee.” Note, It is the will of Christ that his servants who are faithful should be always cheerful. Perhaps Paul, in the reflection, began to be jealous of himself whether he had done well in what he said to the council the day before; but Christ, by his word, satisfies him that God approved of his conduct. Or, perhaps, it troubled him that his friends did not come to him; but Christ’s visit did itself speak, though he had not said, Be of good cheer, Paul.

In closing, MacArthur reminds us that our Lord revealed Himself to Paul five times in total. His awe-inspiring appearance to Paul on the road to Damascus was the first. This passage mentions another one of the five:

Always at times of crisis, the Lord stood by him. He was alone in the cell. Maybe he was saying, “Carest Thou not that I perish?” Maybe he was saying, “Lord, seems as though You’ve been all gone a while. Lord, have You forgotten me?” You know, you can have those kind of moods when you’ve been through something like that easily.

It wasn’t enough for the Lord to just remind him of a few principles. Jesus came to him. Jesus came and stood by him and He gave him three little words: consolation; commendation; and, confidence.”

Knowing this, we can better understand why Paul was so optimistic in his letters to the faithful. He understood that the Lord does not forsake His people. Even if we cannot physically see Him, our Redeemer does not forsake us, either.

As MacArthur says:

Do you think God cares for you? God came to Paul and He gave him thanks for the past; comfort for the present; assurance for the future. He’s the God of all comfort. I’ve seen Him comfort many people. I’ve seen Him comfort in my own life and give consolation. I know you have. In the midst of any trial, He cares. Cast your care on Him.

Paul’s ordeal continued with yet another murder attempt against him.

Next time — Acts 23:12-15

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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

Acts 23:1-5

23 And looking intently at the council, Paul said, “Brothers, I have lived my life before God in all good conscience up to this day.” And the high priest Ananias commanded those who stood by him to strike him on the mouth. Then Paul said to him, “God is going to strike you, you whitewashed wall! Are you sitting to judge me according to the law, and yet contrary to the law you order me to be struck?” Those who stood by said, “Would you revile God’s high priest?” And Paul said, “I did not know, brothers, that he was the high priest, for it is written, ‘You shall not speak evil of a ruler of your people.’”

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Last week’s entry concluded with the Roman tribune putting Paul before the Jewish hierarchy so that he might know the real reason the Jews in Jerusalem were so angry at him.

John MacArthur sets the scene well (emphases mine below):

the apostle Paul is drawn before the Sanhedrin. They have hastily convened in Fort Antonia, called into session by Claudius Lysias – who is the commander-in-chief of the Roman forces – and they have been called in order to try to ascertain what this man has done. The Romans saw the riot. They saw the crowd trying to murder Paul; and, they didn’t really know what the accusation was. They’ve tried several ways to find out, without success; and so now Claudius Lysias figures, “If I can get the Sanhedrin together, they can judge the case. They can hear the evidence. They can come up with a crime for which he can be sent to Caesarea and tried.” He assumed there must be a crime, or they wouldn’t have been trying to kill him in the temple court.

So, as we approach verse 30, the session of the Sanhedrin is called together. As we come to verse 1, we see four major points in this flow of text: the confrontation; the conflict; the conquest; and, the consolation.

We will be looking at the confrontation today.

Paul, bloody and achy, stood before the Sanhedrin, addressing them as ‘brothers’ and saying that he had lived before God with a clean conscience up to that day (verse 1).

This was bound to raise hackles immediately, because there was a formal greeting to be said to the Sanhedrin, and ‘brothers’ was not it. MacArthur explains:

The proper way was Acts 4:8, “Then Peter filled with the Holy Spirit said to them, ‘Ye rulers of the people and elders of Israel’.” Now, you see, the formal title “You rulers of the people and elders of Israel,” gave them their dignity; it put them up where they belonged, and so you were supposed to acquiesce to that.

However, recall that, as a young man, Paul, a Pharisee, had studied under Gamaliel in Jerusalem and was also the chief persecutor of the first Christians in the city, so he would have known these men:

Some of them were the students of Gamaliel, who had studied with him when he was younger. Many of them were Pharisees, and the camaraderie and esprit de corps of the Pharisees was really amazing; and they were buddies. They all knew who he was.

In fact, he had been the arch persecutor of the church and had worked in association with those people in that Sanhedrin.

They were also rankled because Paul had converted to Christianity:

And now they thought he was a traitor; they thought he was an apostate; they thought he was a blasphemer.

They were angry that he rightly claimed to have lived his life ‘before God’ but left the Jewish faith.

MacArthur says that Paul stared at them ‘intently’. MacArthur tells us this is because Paul knew he was innocent:

It’s a very strong word. Atenizō means to stare at, to gaze at, to fix your eyes on. I mean, you could imagine him sort of twiddling his thumbs behind his back and rocking from foot to foot with his head down saying “Uh, er, I, well, I don’t know how I got into this mess, uh, er.” That isn’t him …

He stood up; looked them eyeball-to-eyeball. You might be able to call this kind of thing the look of conscious integrity. You see, he knew he was innocent, and he knew God was with him, and so he was completely confident.

MacArthur and Matthew Henry differ in their interpretation of what ‘up to this day’ means. Matthew Henry’s commentary says that Paul was speaking of the time from his conversion to that point:

He seems rather to speak of the time since his conversion, since he left the service of the high priest, and fell under their displeasure for so doing; he does not say, From my beginning until this day; but, “All the time in which you have looked upon me as a deserter, an apostate, and an enemy to your church, even to this day, I have lived in all good conscience before God; whatever you may think of me, I have in every thing approved myself to God, and lived honestly,” Hebrews 13:18.

MacArthur, on the other hand, thinks that Paul meant his entire life, which then put the onus on the council:

He says to them, “I have lived in all good conscience before God until this day.” That is bold. He says “You know, all through my life, until now, I have done what my conscience has told me God wanted me to do.” Now, you see what that does to them? Now, they’re not judging Paul; they’re judging whom? God, you see. So he really puts them in a corner. “Now, my conscience is clear,” he says.

The high priest Ananias was furious and ordered those nearby to strike Paul on the mouth (verse 2). I’ll get to Ananias’s life story in a moment, but, first, there was no reason for him to order Paul to be struck on the mouth. Both commentators agree that this was either a fist punch or that some instrument was used, such as a club (MacArthur) or a rod (Henry).

Mosaic law put restrictions on a Jew smiting a fellow Jew. MacArthur tells us:

Jewish law said, “He who strikes the cheek of an Israelite, strikes, as it were, the glory of God.” That’s Jewish law. Jewish law said, “He who strikes an Israelite strikes the Holy One.” The Jewish law safeguarded the rights of a man, and he was innocent until proven guilty. And Ananias had no business touching him by way of the Jewish law; he had no business touching him by way of criminal punishment, either. He wasn’t even accused of anything, let alone judged of it to be guilty.

Although St Luke, the author of Acts, does not say that one of the men struck Paul, both MacArthur and Henry say that Paul did indeed receive a blow to the mouth.

Paul, full of righteous indignation, compared Ananias to a whitewashed wall, warning the high priest that God would strike him and pointing out that he had also broken the law (verse 3).

One can imagine the tense atmosphere. It would only get worse.

Now to Ananias. He was not a good man. In fact, the ordinary Jews did not like him at all. Many thought he was a usurper of the high priest position. They also thought he cosied up to the Romans too much. Hence, Paul’s use of the term ‘whitewashed wall’, not dissimilar to Jesus’s use of the words ‘whited sepulchre’.

Matthew Henry tells us what happened to Ananias afterwards:

Paul did not speak this in any sinful heat or passion, but in a holy zeal against the high priest’s abuse of his power, and with something of a prophetic spirit, not at all with a spirit of revenge. 1. He gives him his due character: Thou whited wall; that is, thou hypocrite–a mud-wall, trash and dirt and rubbish underneath, but plastered over, or white-washed. It is the same comparison in effect with that of Christ, when he compares the Pharisees to whited sepulchres, Matthew 23:7. Those that daubed with untempered mortar failed not to daub themselves over with something that made them look not only clean, but gay. 2. He reads him his just doom: “God shall smite thee, shall bring upon thee his sore judgments, especially spiritual judgments.” Grotius thinks this was fulfilled soon after, in his removal from the office of the high priest, either by death or deprivation, for he finds another in that office a little while after this; probably he was smitten by some sudden stroke of divine vengeance.

MacArthur relates a worse history:

in verse 2, “And the high priest Ananias” – not to be confused with Ananias and Sapphira, and not to be confused with Annas, who was the former high priest at the time of Jesus’ trial; this is a new one, the son of Nedebeus who started in 47 AD and went about 11 or 12 years after that, and then was assassinated.

But, anyway, “The high priest Ananias commanded them that stood by him to smite him on the mouth.” Boy, the high priest lost his cool. Now, this Ananias was really just a profane, foul, filthy character; one of the most disgraceful and foul profaners of the office of high priest. The historians, the ancient historians, have all bad to say about him.

Josephus says “he took all the tithes that were to be distributed for the living of the common priests and stole all of it.” He kept it for himself. He assassinated anybody and everybody who got in his way. He lined his own pockets every way possible. In fact, he started a war; at least was in on the beginning perpetration of a war, and Rome got upset with him; and so Rome hauled him over to bring him to trial, and they couldn’t get anything against him. He was clever, and they had to let him go, and that was five years before this account. He came back, and he was still ruling – very, very evil, tyrannical man.

He became very pro-Roman, however, and really bowed and scraped to Rome, so much so that his own people began to hate him. Imagine a Jewish high priest who is pro-Roman. They hated him. And finally, when in 66 AD – four years before the destruction of Jerusalem – a group of Jewish insurrectionists started a war against Rome, one of the people they wanted to get was Ananias. They found him hiding in an aqueduct, dragged him out, and murdered him and his brother. So he had a rather hasty demise.

Wow.

The council — the Sanhedrin — was the elite of the Jewish religious class. They were not going to tolerate disrespect from anyone, especially Paul. So, those standing nearby asked Paul if he would verbally abuse — revile — the high priest (verse 4). Mosaic law laid out protocol for addressing people in authority, be they religious or secular.

MacArthur tells us how it worked:

When God set up His economy, His theocracy – you can go back to Deuteronomy chapter 17; … “God ordained authority in Israel.” There has to be authority. You know, that even a bad government is better than no government? The worst government is better than no government.

God has leaders. A bad leader is worse than no leader? No. No leader is worse than a bad leader. God ordains authority and submission, and God knows that there are going to be bad leaders, and bad governments and bad high priests, bad judges, and God still said to Israel, “You submit,” because submission is the principle that keeps the thing together. And that judge, or that priest, or that leader, will pay for his own failure. He is accountable to God. You’re accountable to be submissive to him – unless, of course, he makes you do something in direct violation to God.

But here, interesting thing; in Deuteronomy 17:8, God first gave the pattern, “If there arise a matter too hard for thee in judgment, then come to this place which I will choose.” Now verse 9, “And come to the priests, the Levites, and the judge who shall be in those days, and inquire; and they shall show thee the sentence of judgment.” God set up a court, a law where they could go and resolve the problems they couldn’t resolve among themselves. “And thou shalt do according the sentence, which they of that place which the Lord shall choose shall show thee; thou shalt observe to do according to all that they inform thee.” Obey them. “According to the sentence of the law which they shall teach thee, according to the judgment which they shall tell thee, thou shalt do. Thou shalt not decline from the sentence which they shall show thee to the right hand or the left. And the man who will do presumptuously, and not hearken to the priest who stands to minister there before the Lord thy God, or unto the judge, even that man shall die; and you shall put that evil away from Israel.”

You can stone the man if he disobeys the decision of the court. You don’t speak a word, and you don’t disobey the one God has set up to be judge or priest. Both judge and priest came together in the high priest, who was the ruling man in the Sanhedrin. He was both judge and high priest.

Paul was in the wrong:

So, when Paul spoke that way to the high priest, he did stand in violation. The high priest had no right to inflict punishment on him, but he had no right to react the way he did because he was taking an action that violated the principle that God had ordained, the principle that goes with that office. You say, “But the man was a crumb. The guy was no good. He was a terrible person.” That’s not the point. The office was God-ordained.

I think you’d find it interesting sometime if you’ll look up Exodus 21:6, Exodus 22:8 and 9, and Psalm 82:1. You’ll find that name of God, Elohim, is also the title of the judges in those passages. God actually called certain judges in His land gods, because they stood as His place of authority and representation of the law; and in that sense, represented Him.

So, a man who held a sacred position was not to be desecrated or slandered or cursed. But a man was to submit to that, because it was a God-ordained place, even though the man was satanic.

Paul knew that because he cited that divinely-ordained rule and said he was unaware that Ananias was the high priest (verse 5).

It seems to be a bit strange to read that Paul said he did not know who the high priest was, but MacArthur gives two reasons why. First, the council had been hastily convened and, secondly, Paul had poor eyesight.

Let’s look at the first reason:

Now, it’s interesting I think to see that Paul said, “I didn’t know he was the high priest.” You say, “Well, how ignorant can a guy be? What do you mean you don’t know it’s the high priest?” I told you last week that I thought it was important that they convened the session in Fort Antonia, and I don’t think that Claudius Lysias wanted to turn Paul over to the Jews and have them take him over to where they usually met because it could start another riot. So, he wanted to keep custody, so he brought the Sanhedrin to Fort Antonia

And so here they wouldn’t be in their normal configuration. They wouldn’t be seated with the high priest in his special seat. They would just be together in a mass milling around. And since it was an informally-called session, the high priest wouldn’t have his special robes on. So it is very likely that, because of that, he was unrecognizable, and that the voice just came out of the mass of 71 people there.

Now to the second factor, Paul’s eyesight:

In addition to that, it is very possible that Paul had poor eyesight, isn’t it? You remember in Galatians, he writes about how large a letter I have written unto you, and the Greek is with what “large letters”? One of the possibilities of that is that it could refer to poor eyesight, among others.

But he says in Galatians 4:15; he says, “You and I had such a good relationship that you would’ve plucked out your eyes and given them to me.” That may be an indication that he had a eye problem, and had there been transplants possible, they would’ve afforded him the eyes. So it may have been that he had an eye problem. He just couldn’t see that well. I think it’s probably best to assume that that’s possible, but that likely they were mixed together. Without their formal robes on, he wouldn’t have been able to tell who it was.

Despite this tense situation, Paul hadn’t finished stating his case. Next week, we’ll look at what happened.

Next time — Acts 23:6-11

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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

Acts 22:22-30

Paul and the Roman Tribune

22 Up to this word they listened to him. Then they raised their voices and said, “Away with such a fellow from the earth! For he should not be allowed to live.” 23 And as they were shouting and throwing off their cloaks and flinging dust into the air, 24 the tribune ordered him to be brought into the barracks, saying that he should be examined by flogging, to find out why they were shouting against him like this. 25 But when they had stretched him out for the whips,[a] Paul said to the centurion who was standing by, “Is it lawful for you to flog a man who is a Roman citizen and uncondemned?” 26 When the centurion heard this, he went to the tribune and said to him, “What are you about to do? For this man is a Roman citizen.” 27 So the tribune came and said to him, “Tell me, are you a Roman citizen?” And he said, “Yes.” 28 The tribune answered, “I bought this citizenship for a large sum.” Paul said, “But I am a citizen by birth.” 29 So those who were about to examine him withdrew from him immediately, and the tribune also was afraid, for he realized that Paul was a Roman citizen and that he had bound him.

Paul Before the Council

30 But on the next day, desiring to know the real reason why he was being accused by the Jews, he unbound him and commanded the chief priests and all the council to meet, and he brought Paul down and set him before them.

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Last week’s entry was about the testimony — apologia — that Paul gave to the mob in Jerusalem, who had calmed down long enough to hear him until he said:

21 And he said to me, ‘Go, for I will send you far away to the Gentiles.’

At the mention of the Gentiles, the mob went mad again, clamouring for his death (verse 22), not unlike the mob clamouring for Jesus’s death two decades earlier.

The crowd shouted, took off their garments and threw dirt at Paul (verse 23).

Matthew Henry’s commentary states they acted out — much like today’s leftists do — in order to persuade the Roman tribune (commander, chiliarch) to accede to their demands. Might makes right, in other words. So wrong:

All they intended was to make the chief captain sensible how much they were enraged and exasperated at Paul, so that he could not do any thing to gratify them more than to let them have their will against him.

These people had taken leave of their senses (emphases mine):

They went stark mad against Paul, and against the chief captain for not killing him immediately at their request, or throwing him as a pry into their teeth, that they might devour him (Acts 22:23); as men whose reason was quite lost in passion, they cried out like roaring lions or raging bears, and howled like the evening wolves; they cast off their clothes with fury and violence, as much as to say that thus they would tear him if they could but come at him.

They threw dirt at Paul, signifying it was blasphemy to link Jews with Gentiles. The removal of garments meant that they could get a better handful of dirt to throw at him and/or to stone him, were they able to do so:

rather, they thus showed how ready they were to stone him; those that stoned Stephen threw off their clothesOr, they rent their clothes, as if he had spoken blasphemy; and threw dust into the air, in detestation of it; or signifying how ready they were to throw stones at Paul, if the chief captain would have permitted them.

So the tribune ordered that Paul be brought into the barracks and be tortured — examined — by scourging so that he would confess his crime (verse 24).

There was one problem with that. The tribune assumed that Paul did not have Roman citizenship, even though Paul had already told him he had been born in Tarsus, Roman territory (Acts 21:39):

39 Paul replied, “I am a Jew, from Tarsus in Cilicia, a citizen of no obscure city. I beg you, permit me to speak to the people.”

Paul waited to say something until after he had been bound up for scourging. Binding was more than just securing a person to a whipping post. The Romans stretched the skin to the point that the scourge — best depicted in Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ (watch it and don’t look away) — which was a cat o’ nine tails with sharp and irregularly sized stone bits on the ends to gouge the skin from first contact.

John MacArthur explains:

Verse 25: “And as they bound him with thongs,” – and the word “bound” has the implication of stretching. That’s what they did. They would stretch the man’s body to all extreme, so that his body would be drawn to attention, and so that all the lashes would cause the skin to separate immediately, and cut right into the flesh and the muscle and tissue… 

Now the scourge, if it didn’t kill him would cripple him for life.

Bound yet calm, Paul asked the centurion supervising this if it was lawful for a Roman citizen to be flogged, especially uncondemned (verse 25).

That question was a game-changer, because, if the Romans tortured Paul, they could be in serious trouble, even subject to the death penalty. MacArthur tells us:

… it was a crime to scourge a Roman. The Portion law and the Valerian law forbid any Roman from ever going through punishment by flagellum.

To add to that, Suetonius the lawyer said, “Any Roman who violates or any man who violates the rights of a Roman citizen will be executed of Esquiline Hill in Rome.” So when Paul said, “Is it lawful to do this to a Roman, uncondemned?” panic struck.

The centurion immediately went back to the tribune to ask what to do (verse 26).

The tribune approached Paul and asked him if he had Roman citizenship. Paul answered in the affirmative (verse 27).

The tribune said he had purchased his Roman citizenship. Paul replied that he was a free-born Roman (verse 28), one better.

Hearing that, the tribune and his men were afraid. Their having bound Paul was illegal. They were at risk of punishment, possibly losing their commissions. Roman law was not to be trifled with, especially with regard to citizenship.

Still wanting to get to the bottom of the matter, the tribune decided to turn him over to the Jewish court (verse 30).

MacArthur has information about the tribune:

Verse 26: “When the centurion” – that’s the captain of a hundred men – “heard that, he went and told the chief captain” – that’s the captain of a thousand men, the chief commander, Claudius Lysias – “he said, ‘Take heed what you do. This man is a Roman.’” Boy, when the news got there, panic.

“The chief captain came and said unto him, ‘Tell me, are you a Roman?’ He said, ‘Yes.’” Do you see how God had equipped Paul for every trial?

You know, that reminds me of 1 Corinthians 10. When Paul said it, he knew what he was talking about: “God will never allow you to suffer above that you are able, but will, with every trial or temptation, make a way of escape that you may be able to bear it.” God fits every man for everything He takes him through.

“He said, ‘Yes,’ and the chief captain answered, ‘Oh, with a great sum obtained I this freedom.’ He said, ‘Man, I bought my Roman citizenship. It means a lot to me. You realize what I almost did? Almost lost my citizenship or my life.’”

Paul quietly says, it’s interesting, “I was free born,” which just drives the nails in a little deeper. He wasn’t a second-class citizen, he was a first-class citizen. And here was a second-class citizen going to flagellate a first-class citizen. Bad news. The first guy was on thin ice anyway.

You say, “How did he get his citizenship?” He bought it. You say, “Who’d he buy it from?” Probably under the rule of Emperor Claudius, because his name is Lysias, a Greek name, he’s a Greek guy. Where did he get the Roman name Claudius? Well, people used to take the name of the emperor, so he probably took Claudius’ name, because during the reign of Claudius, Claudius had a wife named Messalina, and Messalina had a bunch of court favorites that hung around her, and they all thought they’d line their own pockets, so they started selling Roman citizenships for exorbitant prices; and what happened was Claudius Lysias bought one of them, took the name of Claudius.

So he was a purchased citizen in that sense; Paul was born a citizen. You say, “That’s interesting. How did Paul’s father become a citizen?” We don’t know, but God made sure it happened.

Well, “Then immediately” – verse 29 – “they departed from him who should have examined him.” Everybody left. “The chief captain was afraid after he knew that he was a Roman, because he had bound him.” He was scared. Chief captain said, “Everybody out; it’s all over with. And the next day, they turned him over to the Jews for due process.”

As to how Paul’s family had free-born status, Henry has this explanation:

Some think he became entitled to this freedom by the place of his birth, as a native of Tarsus, a city privileged by the emperor with the same privileges that Rome itself enjoyed; others rather think it was by his father or grandfather having served in the war between Cæsar and Antony, or some other of the civil wars of Rome, and being for some signal piece of service rewarded with a freedom of the city, and so Paul came to be free-born …

This could explain Paul’s exhortations to obey secular law, as it did not preclude being devoted to God.

In closing, note that the tribune took a different tack to Gallio in Corinth, when Paul appeared before him (Acts 18:12-17). Gallio told the Jews that their argument was a religious one and that he would not permit it in a Roman tribunal. Then, again, as my post explains, Gallio, being son of Seneca the Younger and grandson of Seneca the Elder, was a far wiser man than Claudius Lysias.

Next time — Acts 23:1-5

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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

Acts 22:2-21

And when they heard that he was addressing them in the Hebrew language,[a] they became even more quiet. And he said:

3 “I am a Jew, born in Tarsus in Cilicia, but brought up in this city, educated at the feet of Gamaliel[b] according to the strict manner of the law of our fathers, being zealous for God as all of you are this day. 4 I persecuted this Way to the death, binding and delivering to prison both men and women, as the high priest and the whole council of elders can bear me witness. From them I received letters to the brothers, and I journeyed toward Damascus to take those also who were there and bring them in bonds to Jerusalem to be punished.

6 “As I was on my way and drew near to Damascus, about noon a great light from heaven suddenly shone around me. And I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?’ And I answered, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ And he said to me, ‘I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom you are persecuting.’ 9 Now those who were with me saw the light but did not understand[c] the voice of the one who was speaking to me. 10 And I said, ‘What shall I do, Lord?’ And the Lord said to me, ‘Rise, and go into Damascus, and there you will be told all that is appointed for you to do.’ 11 And since I could not see because of the brightness of that light, I was led by the hand by those who were with me, and came into Damascus.

12 “And one Ananias, a devout man according to the law, well spoken of by all the Jews who lived there, 13 came to me, and standing by me said to me, ‘Brother Saul, receive your sight.’ And at that very hour I received my sight and saw him. 14 And he said, ‘The God of our fathers appointed you to know his will, to see the Righteous One and to hear a voice from his mouth; 15 for you will be a witness for him to everyone of what you have seen and heard. 16 And now why do you wait? Rise and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on his name.’

17 “When I had returned to Jerusalem and was praying in the temple, I fell into a trance 18 and saw him saying to me, ‘Make haste and get out of Jerusalem quickly, because they will not accept your testimony about me.’ 19 And I said, ‘Lord, they themselves know that in one synagogue after another I imprisoned and beat those who believed in you. 20 And when the blood of Stephen your witness was being shed, I myself was standing by and approving and watching over the garments of those who killed him.’ 21 And he said to me, ‘Go, for I will send you far away to the Gentiles.’

————————————————————————————————————————

Last week’s passage discussed the aftermath of the riot in Jerusalem, centred around lies Jews from Ephesus told about Paul. The Roman tribune’s (commander’s) men had to carry Paul away from the crowd. They then bound him, as Agabus had prophesied only days before. Paul then asked the tribune in Greek if he could address the mob. The tribune, surprised and impressed that Paul knew Greek, allowed him to do so.

Paul presented his bona fides in an address — actually, an apologia (defence) of his journey in faith — to the Jews in Jerusalem. Not only did Paul speak Greek, but he also spoke Aramaic, their Hebrew dialect. Consequently, they were quiet (verse 2).

Verse 3 is the beginning of his testimony, where he mentioned his place of birth, Tarsus, home to a notable university at the time, and adding that he came to Jerusalem to study at the feet of Gamaliel, one of Judaism’s greatest teachers, who had also warned the Jewish hierarchy against persecuting Christians in case they (the hierarchy) were opposing God.

Paul was also careful to say that he was as ‘zealous for God’ as they were. How gracious of him, considering that this was the same mob that had bloodied him a short while before.

He went on to say that, at an earlier time, he persecuted followers of the Way — Christians — unto death (verse 4). The Way was a commonly used term for Christianity mentioned in other parts of Acts and New Testament letters. The term comes from Jesus (John 14:6), emphases mine below:

Jesus said to him,“I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

One of those who met his death at Paul’s instigation was Stephen, one of the first deacons (see here and here). Near the end of his apologia, he admitted his guilt by mentioning Stephen by name (verse 20).

Paul said these things to show that he really had been steeped in the Jewish faith. However, if that weren’t enough for some in the crowd, he indirectly invited them to check with the high priest and the elders (verse 5), as he was on his way to do their bidding in bringing back Jewish converts from Damascus to Jerusalem for punishment.

He then went on to describe what happened just outside of Damascus (verses 6-13), which I wrote about at length in the following posts:

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

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

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

Note the emphasis that Paul puts on God in quoting the words of Ananias (verse 14). ‘The God of our Fathers’ had appointed Paul to know His will, to have a blinding (literally) encounter with His Son and to be His witness (verse 15). Paul concluded his conversion experience by telling the crowd how Ananias urged him to rise (since his sight had been restored) and be baptised so that his sins could be washed away, calling on His name (verse 16).

Then, Paul discussed his return to Jerusalem. St Luke, the author of Acts, wrote about what happened to Paul after his conversion. Paul stayed in Damascus to preach, then continued his ministry for three years in Arabia, after which time he returned to Jerusalem. At that point, he was praying in the temple when he fell into a trance (verse 17). He had a vision of Christ telling him to leave the city post haste (verse 18). That exit is in Acts 9:26-31; Paul went home to Tarsus for a time.

Matthew Henry’s commentary has more on Paul’s vision and our Lord’s message:

In this trance he saw Jesus Christ, not with the eyes of his body, as at his conversion, but represented to the eye of his mind (Acts 22:18): I saw him saying unto me … Before Christ gave him a commission to go to the Gentiles, he told him it was to no purpose for him to think of doing any good at Jerusalem; so that they must not blame him, but themselves, if he be sent to the Gentiles. Paul came to Jerusalem full of hopes that, by the grace of God, he might be instrumental to bring those to the faith of Christ who had stood it out against the ministry of the other apostles; and perhaps this was what he was now praying for, that he, having had his education at Jerusalem and being well known there, might be employed in gathering the children of Jerusalem to Christ that were not yet gathered, which he thought he had particular advantages for doing of. But Christ crosses the measures he had laid: “Make haste,” says he, “and get thee quickly out of Jerusalem;” for, though thou thinkest thyself more likely to work upon them than others, thou wilt find they are more prejudiced against thee than against any other, and therefore “will not receive thy testimony concerning me.” As God knows before who will receive the gospel, so he knows who will reject it.

Paul says he responded to Jesus by saying that the Jews in Jerusalem knew his past of persecution (verse 19), especially with regard to Stephen (verse 20).

Paul ended his apologia by saying that our Lord told him to go far away from Jerusalem and take his ministry to the Gentiles (verse 21).

As Henry says, God answers our prayers according to His will, not ours:

So Paul here prays that he may be an instrument of converting souls at Jerusalem: “No,” says Christ, “but thou shalt be employed among the Gentiles, and more shall be the children of the desolate than those of the married wife.” It is God that appoints his labourers both their day and their place, and it is fit they should acquiesce in his appointment, though it may cross their own inclinations. Paul hankers after Jerusalem: to be a preacher there was the summit of his ambition; but Christ designs him greater preferment. He shall not enter into other men’s labours (as the other apostles did, John 4:38), but shall break up new ground, and preach the gospel where Christ was not named, Romans 15:20. So often does Providence contrive better for us than we for ourselves; to the guidance of that we must therefore refer ourselves. He shall choose our inheritance for us. Observe, Paul shall not go to preach among the Gentiles without a commission: I will send thee. And, if Christ send him, his Spirit will go along with him, he will stand by him, will carry him on, and bear him out, and give him to see the fruit of his labours. Let not Paul set his heart upon Jerusalem, for he must be sent far hence; his call must be quite another way, and his work of another kind. And it might be a mitigation of the offence of this to the Jews that he did not set up a Gentile church in the neighbouring nations; others did this in their immediate vicinity; he was sent to places at a distance, a vast way off, where what he did could not be thought an annoyance to them.

Here Paul was in a precarious situation, not only with the Jews but also the Romans. Yet, he boldly gave this dramatic testimony, all of which points to God working through him. John MacArthur has more:

Look at Paul’s greeting, in verse 1 of 22: “Men and brethren and fathers.” Look in verse 3 how he maximizes similarities. He maximizes the way they are the same, then he says, “I understand your motives. Boy, I understand how you feel, I used to be exactly like that”

The next point in giving a positive testimony is to tell what God did when He invaded your life. “And then you know what happened? I was going about doing what I was doing. All of a sudden, God began to move in my life.” See?

So, number one, accept the situation is from God. Number two, create an opportunity. Number three, when you get that opportunity, be loving and conciliatory, and do everything to win their confidence. And number four, when you begin to talk about the transformation, talk about it from God’s side. “Here is what God did.” Well, may the Lord give us opportunity for that.

Unfortunately, as we shall see next week, the word ‘Gentiles’ triggered the crowd, which, once again, turned into a mob.

Next time — Acts 22:22-30

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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

Acts 21:37-40 and 22:1

Paul Speaks to the People

37 As Paul was about to be brought into the barracks, he said to the tribune, “May I say something to you?” And he said, “Do you know Greek? 38 Are you not the Egyptian, then, who recently stirred up a revolt and led the four thousand men of the Assassins out into the wilderness?” 39 Paul replied, “I am a Jew, from Tarsus in Cilicia, a citizen of no obscure city. I beg you, permit me to speak to the people.” 40 And when he had given him permission, Paul, standing on the steps, motioned with his hand to the people. And when there was a great hush, he addressed them in the Hebrew language,[a] saying:

22 “Brothers and fathers, hear the defense that I now make before you.”

—————————————————————————————————————

Last week’s post was about the riot that took place in Jerusalem, instigated and agitated by Ephesian Jews who had spread lies about Paul’s preaching.

The Roman chiliarch — tribune, garrison commander — could make no sense out of the mob’s shouts, so he had Paul arrested.

Paul humbly asked the tribune if he could say something to him (verse 37). The tribune was astonished that Paul could speak Greek. Matthew Henry’s commentary expresses it another way:

I am surprised to hear thee speak a learned language …

John MacArthur has more (emphases mine):

Greek was the language of the culture. Greek was the language of the educator. Greek was the language of those who had been outside Jerusalem and educated elsewhere. He was surprised. You say, “Why?” Because in his mind, he thought Paul was nothing but a common r[abble] rouser. He even had an idea who he was. He had no concept at all that this man was an intelligent, cultured, educated man with Greek upbringing.

The tribune revealed why he was so surprised. He thought that Paul was the Egyptian who had instigated a violent insurrection and had never been caught (verse 38). The insurrection had taken place around that time. Two historians, Josephus and Eusebius, wrote about it. Henry explains:

Josephus mentions this story, that “an Egyptian raised a seditious party, promised to show them the fall of the walls of Jerusalem from the mount of Olives, and that they should enter the city upon the ruins.” The captain here says that he led out into the wilderness four thousand men that were murderers–desperadoes, banditti, raparees, cut-throats. What a degeneracy was there in the Jewish nation, when there were found there so many that had such a character, and could be drawn into such an attempt upon the public peace! But Josephus says that “Felix the Roman president went out against them, killed four hundred, and took two hundred prisoners, and the rest were dispersed.”–Antiq. 20. 171; Wars 2. 263. And Eusebius speaks of it, Hist. 2. 20. It happened in the thirteenth year of Claudius, a little before those days, about three years ago. The ringleader of this rebellion, it seems, had made his escape, and the chief captain concluded that one who lay under so great an odium as Paul seemed to lie under, and against whom there was so great an outcry, could not be a criminal of less figure than this Egyptian. See how good men are exposed to ill-will by mistake.

MacArthur’s take is somewhat different: that the Egyptian and his men killed people in the crowd, then vanished. As the Egyptian’s intent was to kill Jews, he waited for major feast days when maximum numbers would gather in Jerusalem:

And of course, his [inten]t, this Egyptian, was to murder Jews. He was anti-Jewish. And what’s interesting about it is that … they captured and killed a total of 600. And when they had done that, the rest escaped, including this leader. And what is fascinating is the whole thing went underground. And this Egyptian continued to lead a band of assassins, who appeared in Jerusalem at feast times, mingled among the crowds carrying daggers, and assassinating people, and then fading into the crowd. Then killing somebody else, and then fading into the crowd.

And always when the feast days occurred, there was the threat of the assassins moving among the people to slaughter the Jews one at a time. Now, when this soldier saw them grabbing Paul, his first assumption was they’ve caught one of those assassins that mingles in the crowd, maybe that Egyptian himself. Well, that’s the conclusion, but of course when Paul said to him in Greek, “Can I speak to the people?” he was shocked because he knew that such an Egyptian r[abble] rouser would not be cultured enough to speak Greek.

Paul explained his origins, stating that he was a Jew and that he came from part of the Roman Empire, Tarsus in Cilicia, mentioning that Tarsus was no obscure city (verse 39). Tarsus had a university. MacArthur tells us:

In fact, Tarsus was ranked anciently with Athens and Alexandria as a city of culture, art and education.

Paul politely asked for permission to address the mob, whom he graciously referred to as ‘the people’.

The tribune duly granted permission, so Paul — a man of short stature — stood on the steps to be better seen by all and made a hand gesture to get their attention (verse 40). Imagine how he must have looked at that point: bloody and dishevelled. When they quietened down, he spoke to them in Aramaic (their Hebrew dialect). He knew the language because he had studied in Jerusalem.

MacArthur discusses how Paul viewed that moment as a grand opportunity, despite the circumstances:

Paul got into this situation, didn’t try to run from it, he accepted it. Why? It was a God-ordained situation. You say, “You mean God let this happen?” No, God made this happen. God put Paul in this place, because it was a positive testimony that He wanted in a negative situation. You see, a positive testimony in a negative situation means there’s potential for change; and so that’s what God wanted. So, number one, if you’re ever going to do anything in a negative situation, if you’re going to do anything confronting the system at all, you’ve got to accept that as a God-allowed or God-ordained opportunity.

The second principle was turn it into an opportunity. Accept it as a God-ordained situation; turn it into an opportunity. Paul did that. He didn’t say, “Oh, I hope something happens so I can talk. Lord, I’ve opened the door.” You know, some people are sitting around waiting for the Lord to do something. They’re going to be sitting around a long time.

As bad as Paul must have looked, he must have felt even worse. Yet, he felt motivated to speak to hundreds of people in Christ’s service.

He addressed them charitably — ‘brothers and fathers’ — and urged them to hear his defence (Acts 22:1).

Next time — Acts 22:2-21

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