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File:Himmelfahrt Christi.jpgThe feast day of the Ascension of the Lord is Thursday, May 13, 2021.

The painting at left is German, Himmelfahrt Christi (The Ascension of Christ), by Mattheis Störbel. It was painted between 1515 and 1519 and is in the Deutsche Museum Nürnberg. This is likely to be the only depiction of the Ascension showing our Lord’s feet alone. (Image credit: Wikipedia)

Relevant posts follow, including the readings:

Readings for Ascension Day (same regardless of Lectionary year)

Ascension Day 2016 (John MacArthur on Acts 1-11)

A Reformed view of the Ascension (Christ as prophet, priest and king)

Acts 1:9-11 on the Ascension (addresses errors of preterism)

The Gospel reading is as follows (emphases mine):

Acts 1:1-11

1:1 In the first book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus did and taught from the beginning

1:2 until the day when he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen.

1:3 After his suffering he presented himself alive to them by many convincing proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God.

1:4 While staying with them, he ordered them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait there for the promise of the Father. “This,” he said, “is what you have heard from me;

1:5 for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Commentary is from John MacArthur.

The first verse should be no mystery, although I hope that celebrants everywhere explain to their congregations that Luke is the author of the Book of Acts, or Acts of the Apostles.

John MacArthur gives us the details:

Luke is the author of Acts. And Luke was closely associated with the apostles from about the time of Jesus’ death, around 30 A.D. to about 60 or 63 A.D. when evidently he penned this book; and in those intervening 30‑plus years, as Luke travelled in the companionship of the apostles, he penned what was going on …

Now, there are many reasons that Luke wanted to write this, and we could, perhaps, pull out as many reasons as there are truths in the book. It’s important, because it gives us the pattern of the church. It’s important, because it shows us the pattern of world evangelism. It’s important, because there are principles of discipleship. It’s important for a multiplicity of reasons. But in Luke’s own mind, as he is writing, he is directing this book to a particular Roman high official whose name we shall see in a moment; and in writing to this man, he is evidently – as one of his purposes – attempting to commend Christianity to the Roman world.

MacArthur tells us about Theophilus:

Now, if you go back to the beginning of Luke and look at chapter 1, verse 3, Luke addresses this gospel to Theophilus. He says, “To write unto thee in order, most excellent Theophilus, that thou mightest know the certainty of those things wherein thou hast been instructed.” Luke wrote Luke, the gospel of Luke, to Theophilus, and we know that. Now, here in chapter 1 of Acts, verse 1, he says, “The former treatise have I made, O Theophilus,” so we know it’s the same writer

Now, picking just a moment, some thoughts from the name Theophilus, which is a combination of two words meaning beloved of God, or friend of God, or lover of God. Theophilus we know little or nothing about except historically. In the second century, his name appears, and is some indication in the second century sources that he was an influential wealthy official in Antioch. There’s also some indication that Luke was originally from Antioch, and therefore Luke had a knowledge of this man; and perhaps because he was a well‑known physician had some connection with Theophilus.

Undoubtedly, Theophilus had become a believer; and consequently Luke had addressed these particular volumes to Theophilus to give him information, as he states in Luke, concerning Jesus Christ that he might well understand the things in which he had been instructed. So evidently he had come to Christ, and now he needed detail; and perhaps Theophilus was a man who demanded detail. Also the fact that he commends Christianity to the Romans would be in back of his mind as he writes to a Roman like Theophilus.

Now, we may also assume from Luke chapter 1, where he calls him “excellent Theophilus,” that he was a high-ranking Roman official, for the term “excellent” also appears in connection with Festus and Felix who were governors. So it is very likely that this man Theophilus was a very high-ranking Roman official who had come to Christ; and it is this one to whom Luke pens this two-volume set on the work of Jesus Christ, His work on earth and His work through His church, Volume 2. And you’ll notice that this is indicated very simply in verse 1. It says this: “I’m writing to you about all that Jesus” – what’s the next word? – “began, began to do and to teach.” In other words, “I only got it started.” Jesus on earth in the gospel accounts only began to do the work.

Luke writes that his first book — the Gospel — was about the ministry of Jesus up to His ascension to heaven, having given Spirit-inspired instructions to the Apostles, whom He had chosen (verse 2).

Readers of the New Testament know that the Apostles, especially Peter, did not understand the purpose of His ministry very well. Jesus knew that He needed to send them the gifts of the Holy Spirit, otherwise they would not be able to expand the Church.

MacArthur explains Luke’s use of ‘taken up to heaven’, repeated in verses 9 and 11:

Verse 9 emphasized it. It say He was taken up, verse 11 says He was taken up, and verse 22 says He was taken up. And the Holy Spirit is trying to tell us something: He was taken up. Physically in His glorified body, Jesus went up into heaven.

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

When He comes back He’ll be the very same that He was when He left. That’s why we can have confidence in what the writer of Hebrews says that we have not a high priest that cannot be touched with the feelings of our infirmities. He knows how we feel, because He’s there even now in a glorified body.

After His resurrection, Jesus continued appearing to the Apostles — eleven in number — teaching them about the kingdom of God (verse 3).

Jesus no longer appeared to everyone, as He had done before He was crucified. He appeared only to His disciples.

Luke says that Jesus told His disciples not to leave Jerusalem but to wait until God fulfilled His promise (verse 4): a baptism not of water, as in John the Baptist’s time, but of the Holy Spirit (verse 5).

That baptism of the Spirit would be a first. MacArthur explains how the Holy Spirit operated through prophets previously:

in the old economy, the Spirit would come and go according to the need. If you’re going to do a special work, the Spirit would come in, and then when the work was done He would depart.

The Old Testament says the Spirit of God descended upon Elijah then the Spirit of God departed. This is how the Spirit of God worked, never indwelling, but just moving in-and-out for a specific purpose. But the promise now is that the Spirit will come and be in you. That’s John 14:17, one of the really key verses in all the Word of God.

Note that when they gathered around Jesus before His return to the Father, the Apostles asked if He was going to restore Israel’s kingdom (verse 6). They were still thinking temporally, not spiritually.

Jesus deflects that by saying that only God the Father knows when He will accomplish His purpose according to His timeline (verse 7).

He then returns to discussing the imminent arrival, ten days hence, of the Holy Spirit which will enable the Apostles to be Christ’s witnesses, not only in the lands nearest to Jerusalem but also ‘to the ends of the earth’ (verse 8).

MacArthur paraphrases that verse:

“Don’t concentrate on when I’m coming; you concentrate on doing the job until I get there.”

He discusses the word ‘witness’ in Greek, from which we get the word ‘martyr’, and applies it to Westerners’ practice of Christianity today:

It’s interesting; the word “witness” here is martures. “Witnesses unto me” is mou martures, “My martyrs, My martyrs.” For some of you maybe it’ll be that. So many Christians died that the word “witness” finally came to mean martyr. So many of them died. Are you willing?

It’s sad; not only are we not willing to die for Jesus, most of us aren’t even willing to live for Him. We haven’t even learned not only what it is to be a dead sacrifice, but we haven’t learned what it is to be a living sacrifice.

Do you know what it is to be a living sacrifice? I think maybe Hosea knew a little bit about it when he said, “I’ll offer God the calves of my lips,” – in other words – “the real me.” I think Abraham knew what it was about when he went to sacrifice Isaac. Isaac would have been a dead sacrifice; Abraham would have been a living one. He was sacrificing all of his dreams, and promises, and everything God had ever given him when he slew that son. But he was willing to do it for God’s sake.

And that’s what a living witness is all about; that’s what a martyr is all about. God doesn’t necessarily want you to die for Him, but He wants you to live for Him as if you couldn’t care less about anything, sacrificing everything you have for His glory: a living witness, a living martyr, a living sacrifice.

As soon as Jesus had spoken about the Apostles’ upcoming mission, He was ‘lifted up’ and a cloud took Him out of their sight (verse 9).

As He ascended — returning home — the Apostles looked upward, when, suddenly, two men in white robes appeared beside them (verse 10).

The two men ask why the Apostles were looking heavenward, then say that Jesus will return to us in the same way that He left (verse 11). What a glorious day that will be.

The rapid growth of the Church was the result of the Holy Spirit entering into the Apostles, then those to whom they preached, not just for a time, but throughout their lives, just as we do:

The early church did it right. They did it from the day of Pentecost for thirty years. And you can follow the church by the blaze of their witness: super-charged with divine power. Witnessing fearlessly to the world, they turned the currents of civilization, they changed the face of the ages for God; and they had no more equipment than you have – none at all.

Admittedly, the Apostles did have particular Spirit-led gifts, such as healing. These were only for the Apostolic Era in order to spread the growth of the Church.

MacArthur’s sermon ends with this:

My grandfather had a poem written in his Bible, and I memorized it; and it goes like this: “When I stand at the judgment seat of Christ and He shows me His plan for me, the plan of my life as it might have been, and I see how I blocked Him here and checked Him there and would not yield my will; will there be grief in my Savior’s eyes, grief though He loves me still? He would have me rich, but I stand there poor, stripped of all but His grace, while memory runs like a haunted thing down a path I can’t retrace. Then my desolate heart will well nigh break with tears I cannot shed. I’ll cover my face with my empty hands, I’ll bow my uncrowned head.” Then this prayer: “O Lord, of the years that are left to me, I give them to Thy hand. Take me, break me, mold me to the pattern that Thou hast planned.”

I don’t know how much time we have, but I know whatever you do for Christ needs to be done today, because Jesus is coming. Christian, do you see it? Chapter 1, verse 1 to 11. You’ve got it all, you’ve got it all. It’s only a question of your will.

There is much for us to contemplate between Ascension Day and Pentecost Sunday — the Church’s birthday — in ten days’ time.

December 13 is the feast day of St Lucy, virgin and martyr:

St Lucy led a short but courageous life. The story of her martrydom in the fourth century spread quickly throughout Europe, from her native Italy to England and Sweden.

Sweden still has the best commemorations and celebrations of this young martyr’s feast day. Before the Gregorian calendar was established, December 13 was the shortest day of the year. As the name Lucy comes from the Latin lux, or light, a young Swedish woman represents the saint and her symbolism by wearing a wreath of lit candles on her head:

This year, December 13 also happens to be Gaudete Sunday, the Advent Sunday of rejoicing at the prospect of Christ’s birth:

St Lucy’s story appears in the fifth century book, Acts of the Martyrs.

Lucy was born to nobility in 283 in Syracuse, Sicily. She died in 304.

Her father, a Roman, died when she was five years old. Her mother, Eutychia, was likely to have been Greek, given her name.

Eutychia never remarried after her husband died. She was also in poor health, suffering from a bleeding disorder.

Lucy devoted herself to the Lord and made a silent vow of chastity. Eutychia was unaware of this and, for her daughter’s future security, arranged for her to marry a pagan nobleman.

Meanwhile, Eutychia was urged to seek a cure at the shrine of St Agatha, who had been martyred five decades before. Her shrine was in Catania, 50 miles from Syracuse. Mother and daughter made the pilgrimage together.

While there, it is said that St Agatha appeared to Lucy in a dream. St Agatha told the young woman that her mother would be cured and that Lucy would be the glory of not only Syracuse but also Catania.

Once Eutychia was cured, Lucy encouraged her to give their wealth and possessions to the poor.

When Lucy’s betrothed discovered the news, he was furious. He went to Paschasius, the Governor of Syracuse, and denounced her.

Paschasius ordered Lucy to burn a sacrifice to the emperor’s image, but she refused.

Paschasius then ordered her to be defiled in a brothel.

When the guards came to take Lucy away, her body had miraculously become too heavy to move. The guards tried to burn her body by heaping wood on her and setting it alight. However, the wood would not ignite.

Lucy died only when a guard thrust a sword into her throat.

Lucy is often seen holding her eyes or with her eyes on a salver. This part of her story did not enter her biographical details until the 15th century. There are two versions of what happened to Lucy’s eyes. One says that she made various predictions to Paschasius about the Roman emperors that angered him such that he ordered that her eyes be gouged out. The other version says that Lucy gouged out her own eyes in order to discourage a persistent suitor who admired them.

Whether the story about the eyes is true, St Lucy is the patron saint of those suffering from eye disorders, especially the blind.

Her relics were sent throughout Europe and are resident in a few important churches. Most of these churches are in Italy, but others are in France, Germany and Sweden.

St Lucy is also the patron saint of Syracuse, of those with bleeding disorders or throat infections as well as of authors, cutlers, glaziers, laborers, martyrs, peasants, saddlers, salesmen, stained glass workers, and of Perugia, Italy.

Her feast day is commemorated not only in the Roman Catholic Church but also in the Anglican and Lutheran Churches.

Source: Wikipedia

Forbidden Bible Verses will appear tomorrow.

John F MacArthurAt the beginning of August 2017, John MacArthur posted a few articles on his Grace To You website about St Peter.

As I have been posting on the Book of Acts and am currently studying more of St Peter‘s ministry, this is serendipitous.

MacArthur says that the post-Pentecost Peter was a very different man from the one in the Gospels.

In ‘Peter: The Servant Leader’, MacArthur says:

Restraint, humility, and servanthood aren’t obvious leadership qualities in the corporate world. Nor are they character traits that readily spring to mind for modern churches focused on growth and vision. But Christ prioritized those three qualities as he cultivated future leaders of the Christian church, most notably Peter.

MacArthur surmises that Peter — before and after he received the Holy Spirit — had the driven personality of a CEO (emphases mine):

Most people with strong leadership abilities don’t naturally excel when it comes to exercising restraint. Self-control, discipline, and moderation aren’t common qualities among those who live life at the head of the pack. That is why so many leaders have problems with anger and out-of-control passions. Anger-management seminars have become the latest fad for CEOs and people in high positions of leadership in American business. It is clear that anger is a common and serious problem among people who rise to such a high level of leadership.

Peter had similar tendencies. Hotheadedness goes naturally with the sort of active, decisive, initiative-taking personality that made him a leader in the first place. Such a man easily grows impatient with people who lack vision or underperform. He can be quickly irritated by those who throw up obstacles to success. Therefore he must learn restraint in order to be a good leader.

Therefore, during His time on Earth:

The Lord more or less put a bit in Peter’s mouth and taught him restraint. That is one of the main reasons Peter bore the brunt of so many rebukes when he spoke too soon or acted too hastily. The Lord was constantly teaching him restraint.

Jesus also taught Peter about humility, especially when the Apostle found that he had denied Him three times, as foretold:

Of course, as usual, Peter was wrong and Jesus was right. Peter did deny Christ not once, but multiple times, just as Jesus had warned. Peter’s shame and disgrace at having dishonored Christ so flagrantly were only magnified by the fact he had boasted so stubbornly about being impervious to such sins!

However, the Spirit-filled Peter went on to become a great preacher and, as we know from Acts, a great healer. Peter also wrote epistles to his flock:

… when Peter wrote his first epistle, he said:

Clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, for “God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time. (1 Peter 5:5–6)

He specifically told church leaders, “[Don’t lord] it over those allotted to your charge, but proving to be examples to the flock” (1 Peter 5:3). Humility became one of the virtues that characterized Peter’s life, his message, and his leadership style.

MacArthur goes on to say that Peter learned about servanthood and love from Jesus, particularly during the footwashing at the Last Supper:

Love became one of the hallmarks of his teaching. In 1 Peter 4:8 he wrote, “Above all, keep fervent in your love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins.” The Greek word translated “fervent” in that verse is ektenes, literally meaning “stretched to the limit.” Peter was urging us to love to the maximum of our capacity. The love he spoke of is not about a feeling. It’s not about how we respond to people who are naturally lovable. It’s about a love that covers and compensates for others’ failures and weaknesses: “Love covers a multitude of sins.” This is the sort of love that washes a brother’s dirty feet. And Peter himself had learned that lesson from Christ’s example.

In ‘Peter: The Compassionate and Courageous Leader’, MacArthur traces the Apostle’s transformation.

In the Gospels:

The apostle Peter was not an obvious candidate for leading the early church. He was impulsive, reckless, and vacillated between chest-beating bravado and cowardly retreat—not exactly the kind of guy you’d want to have responsible for your own well-being.

MacArthur enumerates more lessons that Jesus taught Peter. Returning to the denial in the early morning hours of Good Friday, Peter was remorseful, to say the least:

His ego was deflated. His self-confidence was annihilated. His pride suffered greatly. But his faith never failed.

What was this all about? Jesus was equipping Peter to strengthen the brethren. People with natural leadership abilities often tend to be short on compassion, lousy comforters, and impatient with others. They don’t stop very long to care for the wounded as they pursue their goals. Peter needed to learn compassion through his own ordeal, so that when it was over, he could strengthen others in theirs.

This shows in his epistles:

In 1 Peter 5:8–10, he wrote,

Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. But resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same experiences of suffering are being accomplished by your brethren who are in the world. After you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen and establish you.

MacArthur says that Jesus also prepared Peter to be courageous in the best sense of the word, because he was going to suffer in his ministry:

Christ told him,

Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were younger, you used to gird yourself and walk wherever you wished; but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands and someone else will gird you, and bring you where you do not wish to go. (John 21:18)

What did that mean? The apostle John gives a clear answer: “Now this He said, signifying by what kind of death [Peter] would glorify God” (John 21:19).

The price of preaching would be death for Peter. Persecution. Oppression. Trouble. Torture. Ultimately, martyrdom. Peter would need rock-solid courage to persevere.

The first Pentecost transformed Peter dramatically. He was no longer foolhardy but openly resolute in his faith:

Acts 4 describes how Peter and John were brought before the Sanhedrin, the Jewish ruling counsel. They were solemnly instructed “not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus” (Acts 4:18).

Peter and John boldly replied, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you rather than to God, you be the judge; for we cannot stop speaking about what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:19–20). Soon they were brought back before the Sanhedrin for continuing to preach. Again they told them the same thing: “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit and driven by the knowledge that Christ had risen from the dead, had acquired an unshakable, rock-solid courage.

That divinely-given courageous faith sustained him throughout his ministry:

Peter was secure in Christ, and he knew it. He had seen the risen Christ, so he knew Christ had conquered death. He knew that whatever earthly trials came his way, they were merely temporary. The trials, though often painful and always distasteful, were nothing compared to the hope of eternal glory (cf. Romans 8:18). The genuineness of true faith, he knew, was infinitely more precious than any perishing earthly riches, because his faith would redound to the praise and glory of Christ at His appearing. That hope is what gave Peter such courage.

Peter said and did many wonderful things in the name of our Lord. He also converted thousands of people in Jerusalem alone. These are what I have covered in my study of Acts to date:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Acts 9:32-35 — Simon, Aeneas, healing miracles, paralysis

Repentance of St Peter, Jose de Ribera, 17th cThere was only one time in his ministry when he briefly backtracked:

In Galatians 2 the apostle Paul relates an incident in which Peter compromised the gospel of grace due to intimidation by influential heretics. We see a brief flash of the old Simon. Paul rebuked Peter in the presence of everyone (Galatians 2:14).

To Peter’s credit, he responded to Paul’s correction. And when the error of the heretics was finally confronted at a full council of church leaders and apostles in Jerusalem, it was Peter who spoke up first in defense of the gospel of divine grace. He introduced the argument that won the day (Acts 15:7–14). He was in effect defending the apostle Paul’s ministry. The whole episode shows how Simon Peter remained teachable, humble, and sensitive to the Holy Spirit’s conviction and correction.

(Image credit: Art Hermitage)

Peter and Paul were martyred together in Rome. This is why they are so often associated together and are both the patron saints of that great city.

MacArthur tells us about Peter’s martyrdom — and that of his wife. She was put to death before he was. He witnessed it. How horrible:

We know that Jesus told Peter he would die as a martyr (John 21:18–19). But Scripture doesn’t record the death of Peter. All the records of early church history indicate that Peter was crucified. Eusebius cites the testimony of Clement, who says that before Peter was crucified he was forced to watch the crucifixion of his own wife. As he watched her being led to her death, Clement says, Peter called to her by name, saying, “Remember the Lord.” When it was Peter’s turn to die, he pleaded to be crucified upside down because he wasn’t worthy to die as his Lord had died. And thus he was nailed to a cross head-downward.

MacArthur concludes:

Peter’s life could be summed up in the final words of his second epistle: “Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18). That is exactly what Simon Peter did, and that is why he became Rock—the great leader of the early church.

It is important to remember the Peter that arose following the first Pentecost. Too many of us — Protestants, in particular — think only of the Peter of the Gospels, but he became a great, Spirit-filled Apostle who lived and died for Christ.

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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

Acts 7:44-50

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

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

————————————————————————————————

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There was the Ark of the Covenant:

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

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

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

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

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

Finally, there was the elaborate Golden Lampstand.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What follows are verses of interest about the Promised Land.

Joshua 3:10:

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

Joshua 23:9:

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

2 Chronicles 20:7:

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

Acts 13:19:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That was the final straw:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next time — Acts 8:1-3

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