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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

Acts 9:32-35

The Healing of Aeneas

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

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

Last week’s reading ended with this verse:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Note what Peter said to him (verse 34):

Jesus Christ heals you;

and:

rise and make your bed.

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

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

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

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

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

Henry reminds us of the spiritual element in every miracle:

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

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

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

MacArthur adds historical and geographical information about Lydda and Sharon:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next time — Acts 9:36-43

In order to better understand and appreciate St Paul’s ministry, it is helpful to read the first half of Acts 9 carefully.

My past two posts — here and here — went through the background and conversion of Saul of Tarsus in detail.

The painting at left depicts his dramatic Damascene conversion according to St Luke’s account in Acts.

Today’s post looks at what happened after he was blinded and the men around him led him by the hand into Damascus.

The passage below is from the English Standard Version of the Bible. Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Acts 9:10-19

10 Now there was a disciple at Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias.” And he said, “Here I am, Lord.” 11 And the Lord said to him, “Rise and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul, for behold, he is praying, 12 and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight.” 13 But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints at Jerusalem. 14 And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on your name.” 15 But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. 16 For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” 17 So Ananias departed and entered the house. And laying his hands on him he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on the road by which you came has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” 18 And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and he regained his sight. Then he rose and was baptized; 19 and taking food, he was strengthened.

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My previous posts discussed how Saul of Tarsus, a Pharisee, devised a grand plan of travelling to Damascus to persecute Christians, only to find himself blinded by the light of Christ and toppled from his horse.

He travelled with a number of men in pursuit of converts whom Saul wanted transported back to Jerusalem for religious trial on charges of heresy. So much for that plan. Our Lord had other ideas, but, first, Saul had to be taught a lesson about his persecution of our Saviour.

Before being struck down, Saul of Tarsus was a nasty little piece of work. (Yes, he was of short stature. His Roman name Paul means ‘little’.) He went around persecuting Christians in Jerusalem. Man or woman, it did not matter. He was involved with the martyrdom of Stephen, after which the disciples (but not the Apostles) fled Jerusalem. Philip the Evangelist went to Samaria and made many converts there. Damascus was also a destination for evangelism, hence why Saul wanted to go there.

Saul and his companions found a place to stay in Damascus. Saul immediately spent three days contemplating his grave sins against Christ to the extent that he could not eat or drink. Physically, he was as helpless as a baby. Spiritually, he was growing: engaging in heartfelt prayer and increasing in divine grace. He was leaving his Pharisaical heritage behind and becoming a Christian.

Verse 10 tells us that the Lord appeared in a vision to a convert named Ananias. Matthew Henry tells us that Ananias was a native of Damascus, not a convert who fled Jerusalem, and that he had occasional visions from the Lord (emphases mine below):

it is said (Acts 22:12) that he had a good report of all the Jews who dwelt there, as a devout man according to the law; he had lately embraced the gospel, and given up his name to Christ, and, as it should seem, officiated as a minister, at least pro hac vice–on this occasion, though it does not appear that he was apostolically ordained

It is probable it was not the first time that he had heard the words of God, and seen the visions of the Almighty; for, without terror or confusion, he readily answers

The Lord told Ananias to go to a street called Straight and to the house of Judas (not Iscariot) where a certain Saul of Tarsus was praying (verse 11). John MacArthur says that Straight is the main avenue in Damascus:

It had a street that ran right straight through the middle of it from the eastern gate to the western gate, straight about three miles long. It’s still existing today. The street’s called Straight there, it’s called Darbal Mospakeem, different name of course. But it’s still there and the street called Straight, at one end of it was the house of Judas. Today some people say that there’s a spot where that house was and supposedly a closet where Saul was praying for those three days, but that’s conjecture.

One might wonder why the Lord did not send one of the Apostles to travel from Jerusalem to minister to Paul. It was no doubt more expedient to employ a local believer and that would also help the Church grow there. Furthermore, as Henry points out:

Surely, because Christ would employ variety of hands in eminent services, that the honours might not be monopolized nor engrossed by a few–because he would put work into the hands, and thereby put honour upon the heads, of those that were mean and obscure, to encourage them–and because he would direct us to make much of the ministers that are where our lot is cast, if they have ordained mercy to be faithful, though they are not of the most eminent.

As we discover in verse 12, the Lord had already given Saul a vision of a man named Ananias who would go to visit him and restore his sight. Saul’s expectations must have been high.

Ananias hesitated, telling the Lord that Saul was notorious for ‘evil’ — persecuting converts in Jerusalem (verse 13). Furthermore, he said that Saul was in Damascus to persecute Christ’s followers (verse 14). So, word had already reached the converts that Saul was going there under the authority of the chief priests in Jerusalem. Jerusalem was the religious centre for Jewish authority, regardless of where Jews lived.

The Lord replied that He intended to use Saul as ‘a chosen instrument’ to minister to Gentile and Jew alike (verse 15). He added that Saul would suffer in His name (verse 16), which he did. He, the one who sought to imprison Christians, would himself be no stranger to confinement. He was instrumental in Stephen’s martyrdom in Jerusalem and would also die a martyr, along with the Apostle Peter, in Rome.

Ananias obeyed the Lord and spoke a precise message, identifying himself, describing Saul’s being struck down and announcing that he would regain his sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit (verse 17).

Note that Ananias laid hands on him (verse 17) — healing hands on someone who had been a believer’s worst enemy. Ananias also addressed the man he was fearing as ‘brother’. What an experience that must have been for both men.

Then, a supernatural event took place: ‘something like scales’ fell from Saul’s eyes and he could see once more (verse 18). This has a double meaning, one that is physical and one that is spiritual.

Did a scale-like substance really fall from Saul’s eyes? MacArthur says no:

Now this is Luke. Luke is a physician and so naturally he chooses a little metaphor that would be medical. He didn’t really have scales as it were as jose in the Greek, not to be confused with the Spanish jose. But it means as if. It was as if he had some medical problem and scales dropped of his eyes. 

Henry takes the verse literally:

Saul is delivered from the spirit of bondage by receiving sight (Acts 9:18), which was signified by the falling of scales from his eyes; and this immediately, and forthwith: the cure was sudden, to show that it was miraculous.

You’re welcome to interpret that as you like. Personally, I would like to think that there was a physical manifestation of a scale-like substance as God’s way of demonstrating to Saul how spiritually blind he had been for the following reason. Recall that Saul was born and raised a Pharisee. Recall how often Jesus told the Pharisees of their blindness — spiritual blindness. I think this was a physical manifestation, a divine way of driving home a point to Saul.

Henry offers this analysis:

This signified the recovering of him, [1.] From the darkness of his unconverted state. When he persecuted the church of God, and walked in the spirit and way of the Pharisees, he was blind; he saw not the meaning either of the law or of the gospel, Romans 7:9. Christ often told the Pharisees that they were blind, and could not make them sensible of it; they said, We see, John 9:41. Saul is saved from his Pharisaical blindness, by being made sensible of it. Note, Converting grace opens the eyes of the soul, and makes the scales to fall from them (Acts 26:18), to open men’s eyes, and turn them from darkness to light: this was what Saul was sent among the Gentiles to do, by the preaching of the gospel, and therefore must first experience it in himself.

The removal of scales would also signify that Saul’s time in judgement and terror had ended:

[2.] From the darkness of his present terrors, under the apprehension of guilt upon his conscience, and the wrath of God against him. This filled him with confusion, during those three days he sat in darkness, like Jonah for three days in the belly of hell; but now the scales fell from his eyes, the cloud was scattered, and the Sun of righteousness rose upon his soul, with healing under his wings.

Ananias then baptised Paul. Baptism is very important. I have read notional Christian websites that say it isn’t, but the New Testament has several mentions of baptism, beginning with Jesus in the Gospels and continuing in Acts. If it were unimportant, these mentions would not exist.

Henry tells us:

He was baptized, and thereby submitted to the government of Christ, and cast himself upon the grace of Christ. Thus he was entered into Christ’s school, hired into his family, enlisted under his banner, and joined himself to him for better for worse. The point was gained: it is settled; Saul is now a disciple of Christ, not only ceases to oppose him, but devotes himself entirely to his service and honour.

MacArthur says:

Baptism is so important people. If you haven’t gotten that message through the book of Acts you haven’t been listening. See? Baptism is critically important. Why? Because it’s a public confession of your identification with the body of believers.

I knew a lady who had strayed from the Church for many years. She married an unbeliever. She never had her daughter baptised. By the time I met her, she had returned to the Church and her daughter was an adult. This lady regretted never having had her daughter baptised as an infant because, later on, it was too late! She broached the subject with her daughter, but the young woman replied, ‘Why? I don’t even believe!’ Baptism confers grace. The lady knew it and regretted depriving her daughter of that grace, thinking it would persuade her to become a believer. But I digress.

In verse 19, St Luke tells us that Paul ate and was strengthened. MacArthur thinks it was a large Christian meal. He says in jest:

And if you know anything about how Christians feed, you can imagine the poor guy was almost sick when it was over.

Quite possibly!

Saul being Saul, he wasted no time in going out into Damascus to preach in Jesus’s name. Christ’s divine intervention transformed the zeal he had in persecuting converts to passionately preaching in His name.

More on that when Forbidden Bible Verses returns at the weekend.

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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

Acts 8:4-8

Philip Proclaims Christ in Samaria

Now those who were scattered went about preaching the word. Philip went down to the city[a] of Samaria and proclaimed to them the Christ. And the crowds with one accord paid attention to what was being said by Philip, when they heard him and saw the signs that he did. For unclean spirits, crying out with a loud voice, came out of many who had them, and many who were paralyzed or lame were healed. So there was much joy in that city.

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My previous entry discussed the first three verses of Acts 8.

In summary, Stephen’s brutal martyrdom — aided and abetted by Paul (verses 1 and 3) — caused the disciples to scatter. The Apostles remained in Jerusalem to minister to the converts there.

Despite Stephen’s martyrdom in Jerusalem, which everyone would have been aware of, those who scattered continued to preach the word (verse 4).

Matthew Henry makes this point about the persecutors (emphases mine below):

The persecution that was designed to extirpate the church was by the overruling providence of God made an occasion of the enlargement of it. Christ had said, I am come to send fire on the earth; and they thought, by scattering those who were kindled with that fire, to have put it out, but instead of this they did but help to spread it.

As for the disciples:

They did not go to hide themselves for fear of suffering, no, nor to show themselves as proud of their sufferings; but they went up and down to scatter the knowledge of Christ in every place where they were scattered. They went every where, into the way of the Gentiles, and the cities of the Samaritans, which before they were forbidden to go into, Matthew 10:5. They did not keep together in a body, though this might have been a strength to them; but they scattered into all parts, not to take their ease, but to find out work. They went evangelizing the world, preaching the word of the gospel; it was this which filled them, and which they endeavoured to fill the country with, those of them that were preachers in their preaching, and others in their common converse.

They knew Samaria and the Samaritans knew about Christ:

They were now in a country where they were no strangers, for Christ and his disciples had conversed much in the regions of Judea; so that they had a foundation laid there for them to build upon; and it would be requisite to let the people there know what that doctrine which Jesus had preached there some time ago was come to, and that it was not lost and forgotten, as perhaps they were made to believe.

This was thanks to the exchange Jesus had with the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4:

25 The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ). When he comes, he will tell us all things.” 26 Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am he.”

27 Just then his disciples came back. They marveled that he was talking with a woman, but no one said, “What do you seek?” or, “Why are you talking with her?” 28 So the woman left her water jar and went away into town and said to the people, 29 “Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?” 30 They went out of the town and were coming to him.

39 Many Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me all that I ever did.” 40 So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them, and he stayed there two days. 41 And many more believed because of his word. 42 They said to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Savior of the world.”

John MacArthur picks up on the words ‘went about’ in verse 4:

It literally means, “They went through countries and districts.” And it’s used of missionary extensions, and here you have the first missionary effort of the church.

Verse 5 brings us to Philip, the subject of much of Acts 8. Like Stephen, he was one of the first deacons, as Acts 6:5 tells us:

And what they said pleased the whole gathering, and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolaus, a proselyte of Antioch.

He, again like Stephen, was a Hellenic (Greek) Jew who converted to Christianity.

The Apostles instituted the office of deacon to ensure that food and charity were fairly distributed in the Church in Jerusalem. Acts 6:1 says:

Now in these days when the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint by the Hellenists[a] arose against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution.

Incidentally, Philip the Deacon — or Evangelist — is different to Philip the Apostle. Philip the Evangelist might have been the founder of the church in Tralles in Anatolia. He also had four daughters who followed him into prophesying (Acts 21:9).

In a third similarity to Stephen, God gave Philip remarkable powers. Acts 6:8 states:

And Stephen, full of grace and power, was doing great wonders and signs among the people.

Acts 8:6-8 describes Philip as being able to accomplish God-given signs and the ability to drive out demons as well as restore the paralysed and lame to full health, all of which brought much happiness to the people of Samaria.

MacArthur describes the history of the uneasy relationship between the Jews and the Samaritans. First, there is the statement in verse 5 that Philip ‘went down’ to Samaria:

Now when it says he went down to Samaria, everybody always thinks, “Well, my map, Samaria is up.” But if you were in Jerusalem, everything is down because Jerusalem is way up on a high plateau and you go down to go to Samaria, down to go to Jericho, down to go to anywhere. And so he went down and north to Samaria. Samaria was an area, and it was also the name of the city, the ancient capital of that whole area, the Northern Kingdom, was Samaria. And so he went to this place.

Now into the history:

In the 8th Century B.C., you remember before that had been split into the Northern Kingdom and Southern Kingdom of Israel. After Solomon, Solomon messed everything up so much that Solomon had brought about a fracture in the kingdom and, of course, following Solomon, the kingdom was split: Jeroboam and Rehoboam in the north and the south. Ten tribes went north, two tribes went south: Judah and Benjamin. The Northern Kingdom, by the 8th Century, was carried off into captivity by the Assyrians. And at that time, there were some Jews left in the lands. Most of them were carried off; some were left. They then moved strangers into the land, and the Jews, not being really committed to their Judaism, intermarried with the strangers that the Assyrians put in the land. Consequently, it became a mongrel race.

In the 5th Century B.C., the Jews who had been carried into Babylonian captivity, the South Kingdom, was Judah, Benjamin. They’d been carried off. After 70 years, Cyrus gave a decree they could come back. Now remember they came back under Ezra and Nehemiah to build the temple again, and the walls. So they all marched back and started their building. Well, all the guys in the North who were now half-breeds came down and said, “We want to help.” They were contemptuously rejected. Remember the story? They didn’t want a thing from those half-breeds who had desecrated their Judaism by intermarrying with Gentiles. And that began the rift, and it’s continued even until the book of Acts, and often times even until today.

MacArthur says that Philip was the first to bridge the gap between evangelist and teaching pastor. Verse 5 tells us that Philip ‘proclaimed’ Christ to the people. In some translations, the word is ‘preached’:

Now this is an interesting thing because the word “preached” in 5 is different than the word “preaching.” One is euaggelizo, one is kerusso. Philip – kerusso; that means he “proclaimed”. He was a public herald. There is a difference between an individual presenting the gospel, and somebody who is a preacher, a herald, a public speaker. Philip was a public speaker and he presented, in preaching – look at it – Christ, unto them.

The people of Samaria understood and appreciated Philip’s public proclamations because they already knew something about Christ:

So, when Philip went there, he presented to them that Christ is Messiah. It was a simple message, and they were ready for it. Now, hang on to this point. You see, they had the background to understand that announcement.

Because of this, they ‘paid attention’ to what he said and did (verse 6):

In verse 6, bang, they responded right off. And these people, the word is “multitudes,” with one accord, they had a wholesale spiritual awakening; gave heed unto those things which Philip spoke.

Furthermore, the miracles proved the truth of Philip’s words:

God confirmed the preaching with miracles, so they would know it was from God.

MacArthur points out that these abilities ended with the Apostolic Age:

We don’t have that power today. Jesus had the power to cast them out with a word. His apostles and these two [Stephen and Philip], whom He gave the gift of miracles, had the power to do it. But today, we are the same level as we are when we come to the sick. We have to pray for their healing. And so with demon possessed people. We can’t walk around saying “Alright all you demons. In the name of Christ, get out.” And I think a lot of people today are frustrated because they try it and it doesn’t work. You know, people say to me “Well, I tired to cast these demons out. It didn’t go.” Well, I’ve done the same thing and I’ve tried and it didn’t go either.

There’s a question of the ability to do miracles here that does not belong to us and we have to pray for these people even as we do sick people, because we can’t just walk up and say, “Be healed.” That gift belonged to this age.

He says that there was only one time when he was sure he had met someone — a woman — possessed by two demons, who came out only when she confessed serious sins from her past to him and another minister with him at the time:

we found that we had to pray, and it all boiled down to her confession of sin before those demons ever left. Because I had worked for two hours and so had Jerry, trying to get rid of this one demon, called Decito. And nothing ever happened until she finally was willing to confess some really filthy things in her life for which she needed relief, the relief that comes in confession, and the cleansing. And then it was gone, no problem.

So again, we cannot go about casting out demons, but we can certainly pray for people. And we can certainly confront them with the need for confession and cleansing that there might be no place for demons to occupy.

Next week’s post will feature more about Philip’s ministry.

Next time: Acts 8:9-13

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 5:17-21

The Apostles Arrested and Freed

17 But the high priest rose up, and all who were with him (that is, the party of the Sadducees), and filled with jealousy 18 they arrested the apostles and put them in the public prison. 19 But during the night an angel of the Lord opened the prison doors and brought them out, and said, 20 “Go and stand in the temple and speak to the people all the words of this Life.” 21 And when they heard this, they entered the temple at daybreak and began to teach.

Now when the high priest came, and those who were with him, they called together the council, all the senate of the people of Israel, and sent to the prison to have them brought.

——————————————————————————————-

Last week, we read about the very early Church in Jerusalem restored to purity after the deaths of the duplicitous Ananias and Sapphira.

The Apostles, led by Peter, preached in Solomon’s Portico at the temple. Peter, in particular, healed many sick people. With his powerful preaching immediately following on the first Pentecost, he converted thousands of men and more — uncounted — women and children, according to John MacArthur. So many had converted by now, they were impossible to count (Acts 5:14):

14 And more than ever believers were added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women …

And these believers had pure hearts and minds, because everyone by then knew about Ananias and Sapphira. If you were dishonest, God took your life.

The high priest saw all this activity. So did the men around him, the Sadducees. All were deeply jealous of the Apostles (verse 17). It seems an odd reaction, until we consider Matthew Henry’s explanation. They:

saw their wealth and dignity, their power and tyranny, that is, their all, at stake, and inevitably lost, if the spiritual and heavenly doctrine of Christ should get ground and prevail among the people.

The Sadducees — rationalists to the core — despised the divine supernatural, most of all Christ’s Resurrection. They were also the elite who brokered agreements with the Romans so the Jews could live in peace. Therefore, they thought they had Jesus crucified and buried once and for all. To now see daily crowds in Solomon’s Portico hearing about the Resurrection of Christ and seeing healing miracles was too much for them. They were not about to succumb to the Apostles. They were going to put a stop to their ministry. Henry tells us (emphases mine):

When they heard and saw what flocking there was to the apostles, and how considerable they were become, they rose up in a passion, as men that could no longer bear it, and were resolved to make head against it, being filled with indignation at the apostles for preaching the doctrine of Christ, and curing the sick,–at the people for hearing them, and bringing the sick to them to be cured,–and at themselves and their own party for suffering this matter to go so far, and not knocking it on the head at first. Thus are the enemies of Christ and his gospel a torment to themselves. Envy slays the silly one.

The high priest — Annas or Caiphas — arrested the Apostles and imprisoned them among base criminals (verse 18).

So we see here that the message of Christ offends, deeply.

MacArthur says:

If you’re going to live for God in this world, a godly life, a pure life, you’re going to be bumping into the system, and you’re going to irritate the system, and you’re going to get persecuted

The only thing that Jesus is talking about when he’s talking about suffering and bearing His reproach is confronting the world so much and with such effect that the system reacts violently and you get some flack back. And that’s exciting. And you ought to be happy about that.

Then a wondrous, supernatural thing happened. An angel of the Lord opened the prison doors and freed the Twelve (verse 19).

This is the first of the miraculous prison stories of Acts. An angel freed Peter again in Acts 12. An earthquake freed Paul and Silas from prison in Acts 16. God wanted the Church to expand. Prison was not going to stop the divine plan.

Matthew Henry says there was spiritual symbolism in this act:

This discharge of the apostles out of prison by an angel was a resemblance of Christ’s resurrection, and his discharge out of the prison of the grave, and would help to confirm the apostles’ preaching of it.

Returning to today’s passage (verse 20), the angel told the Apostles to go back to the temple and

speak to the people all the words of this Life.

The angel did not say to lie low or to leave Jerusalem. No.

They were to return to Solomon’s Portico, stand resolutely and speak boldly — to the people. To the people, not to the hierarchy to try and convince them of the reality of Christ.

From this, we can see why and how the elites are so far above themselves that the vast majority of humankind does not concern them in the slightest.

Henry elaborates:

To whom they must preach: “Speak to the people; not to the princes and rulers, for they will not hearken; but to the people, who are willing and desirous to be taught, and whose souls are as precious to Christ, and ought to be so to you, as the souls of the greatest. Speak to the people, to all in general, for all are concerned.”

Also note that the angel said to speak ‘all the words’ — not just the comfortable, convenient ones.

Which brings us to the angel’s word ‘Life’. What did it mean in that context? What does it mean today?

Ultimately, it refers to the Resurrection of Christ which brings us eternal life.

Henry explains what it meant for the Apostles:

This life which you have been speaking of among yourselves, referring perhaps to the conferences concerning heaven which they had among themselves for their own and one another’s encouragement in prison: “Go, and preach the same to the world, that others may be comforted with the same comforts with which you yourselves are comforted of God.” Or, “of this life which the Sadducees deny, and therefore persecute you; preach this, though you know it is this that they have indignation at.” Or, “of this life emphatically; this heavenly, divine life, in comparison with which the present earthly life does not deserve the name.” Or, “these words of life, the very same you have preached, these words which the Holy Ghost puts into your mouth.” Note, The words of the gospel are the words of life, quickening words; they are spirit, and they are life; words whereby we may be saved–that is the same with this here, Acts 11:14. The gospel is the word of this life, for it secures to us the privileges of our way as well as those of our home, and the promises of the life that now is as well as of that to come. And yet even spiritual and eternal life are brought so much to light in the gospel that they may be called this life; for the word is nigh thee.

MacArthur says:

Men are dead. And they’re groping in this kind of deadness to find reality and it isn’t there and the only thing they really need is life and there’s only one who can give life and that’s Jesus, who said, “I am the way, the truth and,” what? “The life.” Of whom John said, “He that hath the Son,” what? “Hath life.” And to come alive is what it is to be saved. All of a sudden you sense God and you’re alive to His world and you’re a part of what He is and what He’s doing. And this is life. And it doesn’t say tell the people all the words that add to their life. Christianity is not a part of life, it is life and apart from it you’re dead.

Encouraged, the Apostles returned at dawn to the temple to teach (verse 21). The temple opened at daybreak, so the Twelve went in as soon as they could.

While the Apostles continued their marvellous ministry, the high priest convened with his council before calling the Twelve from the cells. He was unaware that his prisoners had resumed their holy work.

MacArthur tells us:

you can see the austerity of this occasion. They’re getting ready now to deal with these upstarts. “The high priest came, and they that were with him,” he had this little gang that trailed around, that were kind of attached to him theologically, “And they called the council together,” that’s the Sanhedrin, the ruling elders of Israel, and then they got in addition to that, which is the senate,” which is grusia, which has to do probably with all of the elder, older Jews, the wise older men who in years past had served in many capacities and they called together this kind of a Senate of wise men made up of many Pharisees.

So they had all of the brain trust of Israel meeting together to dispense with these guys and then they sent to the prison to have them brought. You go and you bring the prisoners. We’ll deal with them.

Henry gives us the numbers:

they called together, pasan ten gerousianall the eldership, that is (says Dr. Lightfoot), all the three courts or benches of judges in Jerusalem, not only the great sanhedrim, consisting of seventy elders, but the other two judicatories that were erected one in the outer-court gate of the temple, the other in the inner or beautiful gate, consisting of twenty-three judges each; so that, if there was a full appearance, here were one hundred and sixteen judges. Thus God ordered it, that the confusion of the enemies, and the apostles’ testimony against them, might be more public, and that those might hear the gospel who would not hear it otherwise than from the bar. Howbeit, the high priest meant not so, neither did his heart think so; but it was in his heart to rally all his forces against the apostles, and by a universal consent to cut them all off at once.

The story continues next week.

Next time: Acts 5:22-26

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.

Matthew 21:14-17

14 And the blind and the lame came to him in the temple, and he healed them. 15 But when the chief priests and the scribes saw the wonderful things that he did, and the children crying out in the temple, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” they were indignant, 16 and they said to him, “Do you hear what these are saying?” And Jesus said to them, “Yes; have you never read,

“‘Out of the mouth of infants and nursing babies
    you have prepared praise’?”

17 And leaving them, he went out of the city to Bethany and lodged there.

——————————————————————————————-

Last week’s entry — ‘Jesus cleanses the temple’ — discussed how He restored His Father’s house to its rightful place of honour and worship by purging it of sin, specifically deception and greed.

There is a place for a consecrated building to be designated as God’s house. Whilst we are God’s people because we love and worship His Son Jesus Christ, let no one convince us that there is no place for a church building. Over the past decade, if not longer, increasing numbers of clergy have been saying that a structure is unimportant. In the short term, where there is a new church plant, it’s understandable. Looking towards the long term, however, a congregation should be saving money and raising funds for a church building.

If a building dedicated to worship were that negligible, Jesus never would have bothered to cleanse the temple. He could have simply said that the temple was man-made and flawed by definition, therefore, it had nothing to do with Him or God. As it was, He reminded the swindlers that God called the temple ‘My house’.

Today’s verses complete the story. What is particularly striking is that no sooner did Jesus purge the temple of sin than He went on to glorify God through healing the blind and the lame, restoring them to full health immediately (verse 14).

He would be hanging agonisingly on a cross within a few days, yet He reached out to the infirm for one last time. His compassion and love know no bounds.

Matthew Henry has a beautiful analysis, wherein he says that Jesus also granted them spiritual health. How much more proof of His divinity could He give? Emphases mine below:

When he had driven the buyers and sellers out of the temple, he invited the blind and lame into it for he fills the hungry with good things, but the rich he sends empty away. Christ, in the temple, by his word there preached, and in answer to the prayers there made, heals those that are spiritually blind and lame. It is good coming to the temple, when Christ is there, who, as he shows himself jealous for the honour of his temple, in expelling those who profane it, so he shows himself gracious to those who humbly seek him. The blind and the lame were debarred David’s palace (2 Samuel 5:8), but were admitted into God’s house for the state and honour of his temple lie not in those things wherein the magnificence of princes’ palaces is supposed to consist from them blind and lame must keep their distance, but from God’s temple only the wicked and profane. The temple was profane and abused when it was made a market-place, but it was graced and honoured when it was made an hospital to be doing good in God’s, is more honourable, and better becomes it, than to be getting money there. Christ’s healing was a real answer to that question, Who is this? His works testified of him more than the hosannas and his healing in the temple was the fulfilling of the promise, that the glory of the latter house should be greater than the glory of the former.

While the children nearby rejoiced in the most glorifying of ways, the chief priests and scribes became angry (verse 15). Of these men, Henry observes:

Proud men cannot bear that honour should be done to any but to themselves, and are uneasy at nothing more than at the just praises of deserving men … When Christ is most honoured, his enemies are most displeased.

He explains their indignation:

They were inwardly vexed at the wonderful things that he did[;] they could not deny them to be true miracles, and therefore were cut to the heart with indignation at them, as Acts 4:16,5:33. The works that Christ did, recommended themselves to every man’s conscience. If they had any sense, they could not but own the miracle of them and if any good nature, could not but be in love with the mercy of them: yet, because they were resolved to oppose him, for these they envied him, and bore him a grudge.

We might well wonder if the children fully understood why they sang hosannas and referred to Jesus as the Son of David.

John MacArthur reminds us that this event came shortly after His triumphal entry into Jerusalem, so the children might have been repeating what they had heard then or afterwards:

… we don’t know really how perceptive they were. I’m sure they were perceptive enough to see that He had healed people and that’s pretty overwhelming. You say, “Well, where did they get the idea that He was the Son of David?” Hey, what had been going on all day the day before? And kids learn from their parents, they were just echoing what they heard the day before only it was no problem for them, boy, it seemed really clear now. Mom and dad yesterday had been shouting hosanna to the Son of David, the one coming in the name of the Lord, hosanna in the highest. They had been praising Him as the King. And as far as these kids could see, it was pretty clear that that’s who He was.

Henry is of the same perspective and adds this practical application by way of warning:

Little children say and do as they hear others say, and see others do so easily do they imitate and therefore great care must be taken to set them good examples, and no bad ones. Maxima debetur puero reverentia–Our intercourse with the young should be conducted with the most scrupulous care. Children will learn of those that are with them, either to curse and swear, or to pray and praise.

Henry goes a step further than MacArthur in saying that the children were divinely inspired:

The Jews did betimes teach their children to carry branches at the feast of tabernacles, and to cry Hosanna but God taught them here to apply it to Christ.

That’s a beautiful thought.

Furious, the chief priests and scribes asked Jesus if He had heard what they were saying? In response, Jesus simply cited Psalm 8:2, the source of the centuries-old saying, ‘Out of the mouths of babes’, indicating profound truth emanating from a blameless innocent who does not understand what he is saying:

Out of the mouth of babies and infants,
you have established strength because of your foes,
    to still the enemy and the avenger.

What a perfect response to the imperfect souls of the hierarchy!

MacArthur says that the idea here was that God would elicit praise for His Son, and if adults wouldn’t justly do it, children would:

God is going to get His praise to His Son, even if the stones have to cry out, as Luke 19:40 said. Like the stones, Christ is to be praised. Like the children, Christ is to be praised. Like people, they are to praise Him as well. He will get the praise either from mature people or infants or rocks if need be. He just alludes to that Psalm as an illustration of what is happening. And I say that so that you’ll understand it isn’t to say that these were zero to three-year-old babies all chanting together, “Hosanna to the Son of David.” But rather an allusion to that principle there.

With that citation, Jesus left the heartless hierarchy standing there. It is also possible that He did not wish to be in their presence lest they seize Him before time. He made His way towards Bethany (verse 18), which, as Henry says, was but a short distance away:

He left them, in prudence, lest they should now have seized him before his hour was come in justice, because they had forfeited the favour of his presence. By repining at Christ’s praises we drive him from us. He left them as incorrigible, and he went out of the city to Bethany, which was a more quiet retired place not so much that he might sleep undisturbed as that he might pray undisturbed. Bethany was but two little miles from Jerusalem thither he went on foot, to show that, when he rode, it was only to fulfil the scripture. He was not lifted up with the hosannas of the people but, as having forgot them, soon returned to his mean and toilsome way of travelling.

Jesus’s good friends Mary, Martha and Lazarus — whom He had recently resurrected — lived in Bethany. Scripture does not tell us, but their house might have been a haven of peace and prayer for Him. They would have rejoiced at having Him as a houseguest.

Next time: Matthew 21:18-22

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.

Matthew 20:29-34

Jesus Heals Two Blind Men

29 And as they went out of Jericho, a great crowd followed him. 30 And behold, there were two blind men sitting by the roadside, and when they heard that Jesus was passing by, they cried out, “Lord,[a] have mercy on us, Son of David!” 31 The crowd rebuked them, telling them to be silent, but they cried out all the more, “Lord, have mercy on us, Son of David!” 32 And stopping, Jesus called them and said, “What do you want me to do for you?” 33 They said to him, “Lord, let our eyes be opened.” 34 And Jesus in pity touched their eyes, and immediately they recovered their sight and followed him.

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The New Testament has two other versions of this healing miracle.

I wrote about Luke’s account — Luke 18:35-43 — in 2014. Luke wrote about one blind man. Mark’s version — Mark 10:46-52 — also features one blind man and names him as Bartimaeus (‘bar’, son, of Timaeus). Mark’s version is in the three-year Lectionary, possibly because it is the most descriptive account. I have highlighted the differences between his and Matthew’s account below:

Jesus Heals Blind Bartimaeus

46 And they came to Jericho. And as he was leaving Jericho with his disciples and a great crowd, Bartimaeus, a blind beggar, the son of Timaeus, was sitting by the roadside. 47 And when he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” 48 And many rebuked him, telling him to be silent. But he cried out all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” 49 And Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.” And they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take heart. Get up; he is calling you.” 50 And throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. 51 And Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” And the blind man said to him, “Rabbi, let me recover my sight.” 52 And Jesus said to him, “Go your way; your faith has made you well.” And immediately he recovered his sight and followed him on the way.

Should we be concerned that Matthew mentions two blind men and the other accounts only two? John MacArthur explains that people of the time would have known Bartimaeus (emphases mine):

Luke only discusses one of the two, the more prominent one. But never says there was only one. And Mark goes a step further, he only discusses one of the two and he gives us his name. His name is Bartimaeus, son of Timaeus. Now I suppose we could wonder why he bothers to name him. Matthew just wants us to see the majesty of Christ. Luke emphasizes the same, but Mark touches the real human cord by naming this man. And I think it perhaps is because he was well-known. Oh, not then but later. So that when Mark pens the gospel and the letters are written to the church to read about the account of the life of our Lord, when they can sit down and read this, they’ll have there the story of the conversion of one who by now they greatly love. It’s as if Mark is saying, “And you know who one of those guys was? It was none other than your friend, Bartimaeus.” And so he picks up a little of history…of the history of one of the beloved brothers in the church by the time the gospel would be read by some.

It’s not unusual, by the way, for one gospel writer to mention two and the others to focus on one. You’ll find the same thing in the maniac across the Sea of Galilee at Gerasa [Gadarene Swine] where some writers note two and some concentrate on the healing of one.

Something else we need to keep in mind is that two things happened — one before and one after — this miracle took place.

Beforehand, Jesus made a brief trip to Bethany to resurrect Mary and Martha’s brother Lazarus from the dead. John’s Gospel is the only one with that account: John 11:38-44. That took place shortly before His triumphal entry into Jerusalem, which we remember on Palm Sunday. The Greek Orthodox celebrate it as a feast, Lazarus Saturday.

After raising Lazarus from the dead, the Jewish leaders were so incensed that they decided that Jesus must die (John 11:45-53). Meanwhile, people ran hither and yon from Bethany, Lazarus’s town, to spread the word far and wide about his resurrection.

Jesus left Lazarus and his sisters to put time and space between Him and the Jewish leaders. He came to the place where the blind beggars were. MacArthur surmises that word of Lazarus had already reached the people there:

Bethany was the town between Jericho and Jerusalem, just up the hill … They would have known who they were. And, of course, the whole city was in an uproar when He raised him from the dead. And His enemies pursued Him that He had to go back on the other side of the Jordan for a while for safety’s sake. At least He had to retreat away. And so they knew. He had practically banished disease from Palestine and so everybody knew who He was. They were all there.

The second event followed the healing of the blind men. Afterwards, Jesus continued on His way with another stop in Jericho. MacArthur explains the different Jerichos:

… in Jesus’ time, there was the Old Testament Jericho which was ruins. And then a little south of that, right against it really, was the New Testament Jericho that flourished at this time. And it was a beautiful place, still is. It has its own unique beauty.

It was in the New Testament Jericho that the much despised and physically short Zacchaeus encountered Jesus. He could not see Him, so, in order to do so, clambered up a tree. Luke 19:1-9 has the only mention of this man. What a moving account Luke gives us:

19 He entered Jericho and was passing through. And behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus. He was a chief tax collector and was rich. And he was seeking to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was small in stature. So he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see him, for he was about to pass that way. And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today.” So he hurried and came down and received him joyfully. And when they saw it, they all grumbled, “He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.” And Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.” And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”

I have always loved that story — since I was six years old, in fact. It just shows Jesus’s generous love and merciful way of looking at people. He did not judge, as our fellow men and women do — as those who knew Zacchaeus did. Jesus came to save, not to condemn, if He could help it.

Now onto today’s reading from Matthew. In verse 29, Jesus was passing from old Jericho — remember the walls of Jericho falling down with Rahab‘s help? Matthew 1 lists Rahab — the woman of ill repute — as one of Jesus’s ancestors. Self-righteous churchgoers should recall Matthew 1:5:

and Salmon the father of Boaz by Rahab, and Boaz the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse,

For this reason, MacArthur says that Jericho:

was also a place that must have literally exploded on the minds of Jesus…on the mind of Jesus with memory because He would no doubt remember a very special woman from that city by the name of Rahab who was a prostitute but who hid the spies, you remember, who came to spy out the land. And as a result in the grace of God she was given a place in Messianic genealogy and you find her listed as an ancestor of the Messiah Himself in Matthew chapter 1.

MacArthur also tells us that Jericho was a warm, fertile place when the surrounding area was wintry. Herod had a home there, where he retreated in cold weather:

It was known as the city of palms. And if you want to understand the geography of the land of Palestine, you’ll be interested to note that it is almost an absolute identical copy of southern California, both in terms of geography and climate. For it has a seacoast, a beautiful gorgeous beach on the Mediterranean. And then there is a lovely valley known as the Sharon Valley. And then the mountains rise up, we know them as the Carmel Mountain Range. And at the southern end is this massive plateau of Jerusalem. And from there descends straight down to the desert. It’s almost a parallel. The only difference would be that where as Los Angeles is in a basin, Jerusalem is on a plateau. But it’s much like our area. From the seacoast it rises to the mountains and then descends to the desert.

And Jericho was a lovely place in the winter, even in the spring. Because the crops all came in early in Jericho. Mark tells us it was not yet fig picking time in Jerusalem, but it would have been in Jericho because of the warmth. There were citrus trees everywhere because, you see, Jericho is endlessly fed by some beautiful springs, one of which I have myself had a drink out of, lovely water, pure and clear and that water was channeled by irrigation all through that area around Jericho so that it flourished. And there were palm trees everywhere and citrus trees and then this balsam bush which had some multiple uses that was growing there. And so it would have been a very lovely place.

Because of Lazarus’s resurrection, a great crowd was following Jesus to Jericho. However, they were not disciples or about to become believers. Matthew Henry reminds us that very few loved our Lord:

This multitude that followed him for loaves, and some for love, some for curiosity, and some in expectation of his temporal reign …

The two blind men could discern that Jesus was about to pass by (verse 30). They sat by the roadside, away from the city gates, which was — and remains — the traditional place for beggars and the infirm to place themselves during the day.

They cried out to him, addressing him as ‘Lord’ and ‘Son of David’. MacArthur tells us:

The word “cry” here is krazo, it means to scream. It’s used in the New Testament of the screechings and screamings of demon possessed people, Mark 5 … And the idea of the form of the text here is there was a constant screaming. I mean, they were yelling at the top of their voice, “Have mercy on us,” a cry of anguish and a cry of desperation, cry of pain. I mean, they know that if Jesus gets out of the hearing of their voices, that they’re doomed to blindness the rest of their life. They know this is the only one who can do this. And the desperation is powerful, the drama. You can imagine the shrieking and screaming of two men who know they’ve got one moment in time or the rest of their life they are to be blind stones. And they scream in almost a frenzy. And they say, “Have mercy on us.”

Of course, the crowd — much like supercilious and self-righteous people today — told them to be quiet (verse 31). The unspoken subtext here is that the Master could not be bothered with the likes of lowly, infirm nothings like them.

Fortunately, the men continued crying out, once again calling ‘Lord’ and ‘Son of David’. Henry explains that the Holy Spirit was working through them:

Surely it was by the Holy Ghost that they called Christ Lord, 1 Corinthians 12:3.

Jesus stopped and called to them, asking what they wanted (verse 32). He knew what they wanted, but Henry gives us this analysis:

Note, It is the will of God that we should in every thing make our requests known to him by prayer and supplication not to inform or move him, but to qualify ourselves for the mercy. The waterman in the boat, who with his hook takes hold of the shore, does not thereby pull the shore to the boat, but the boat to the shore. So in prayer we do not draw the mercy to ourselves, but ourselves to the mercy.

They asked Him to open their eyes (verse 33). It is an interesting use of words which implies not only physical sight but, whether they realised it or not, spiritual sight.

In ‘pity’, in mercy, Jesus touched their eyes (verse 34). They were able to see ‘immediately’. Just as important, and moreso for the sake of their souls, they ‘followed him’ and became disciples.

Therefore, Jesus gave them not only their physical sight but their spiritual sight.

MacArthur says that Jericho attracted many blind people from other regions because the balsam bush that grew so abundantly there was said to have balm beneficial to eyesight. Some people’s eyesight improved when applying it.

There were many blind people in that era. Sand blinded some, resulting in scratched corneas. Others were unable to eat a healthy diet because of poverty. Others were born blind, sometimes because their mothers had gonorrhoea, which was prevalent.

In this case, MacArthur tells us:

Interesting that the Greek verb here is anablepo, blepo, to see, ana, to see again which is to say that perhaps their blindness had occurred in life, not in birth. And so they were made to see again. And I’ve always felt that those who have lost their sight have a greater pain to bear than those who were born blind and do not know what they’ve missed. And so He restores to them their sight again out of compassion, touching and speaking.

Of their becoming disciples, Henry explains:

Note, None follow Christ blindfold. He first by his grace opens men’s eyes, and so draws their hearts after him. They followed Christ, as his disciples, to learn of him, and as his witnesses, eye-witnesses, to bear their testimony to him and to his power and goodness. The best evidence of spiritual illumination is a constant inseparable adherence to Jesus Christ as our Lord and Leader.

We can better understand now why Mark referred to ‘blind Bartimaeus’, who, by then was well known. His must have been a powerful testimony for those alive at the time. It should be equally so for us today.

Jesus went on to Jerusalem immediately afterwards for His triumphal entry, which is where Matthew 21 begins.

Next time: Matthew 21:12-13

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.

Matthew 17:24-27

The Temple Tax

24 When they came to Capernaum, the collectors of the two-drachma tax went up to Peter and said, “Does your teacher not pay the tax?” 25 He said, “Yes.” And when he came into the house, Jesus spoke to him first, saying, “What do you think, Simon? From whom do kings of the earth take toll or tax? From their sons or from others?” 26 And when he said, “From others,” Jesus said to him, “Then the sons are free. 27 However, not to give offense to them, go to the sea and cast a hook and take the first fish that comes up, and when you open its mouth you will find a shekel.[a] Take that and give it to them for me and for yourself.”

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This scene no doubt took place at Peter’s house, where Jesus stayed when He was in Capernaum.

The temple tax was a religious tax and not a Roman one.

John MacArthur says it was first recorded in the Book of Exodus (emphases mine):

In Exodus chapter 30 when the tabernacle was established and it was carried from there to the temple, God gave a law through Moses. And the Lord spoke unto Moses,” Exodus 30:11, “When thou takest the sum of the children of Israel after their number, then shall they give every man a ransom for his soul unto the Lord.” How much, verse 13 says, “Half a shekel after the shekel of the sanctuary.” A half shekel shall be the offering to the Lord. Verse 15 says, “They shall not give more if they’re rich, they shall not give less if they’re poor when they make an offering to the Lord, half shekel for the service of the tabernacle of the congregation that it may be a memorial to the children of Israel before the Lord to make atonement for your souls.” Half shekel.

Now Nehemiah reduced it to a third shekel when they came back from captivity because they were so poor. But the half shekel had been reinstituted and in this particular temple in Jerusalem, there was a half shekel temple tax that had to be paid by every Jewish male and had to be paid annually. And, by the way, if you didn’t pay it, they took compensation out of your personal belongings.

As for the word ‘two-drachma’, or ‘didrachma’ in some translations, and Jewish term ‘stater’, meaning ‘half a shekel’, he explains:

Now the term used here is didrachma. And basically a half a shekel, that’s a Jewish concept, was equal to two Greek drachmas, d-r-a-c-h-m-a-e, two Greek drachmas. And the tax then became known as the double drachma, or the didrachma, that’s the Greek term. And that is the one…it basically represents two days wages. That is the tax they were after. The half-shekel which equals the didrachma in Greek coinage.

And so, they came to collect that. Now commonly speaking, it was customary because there was no double didrachma in Greek coinage, they had the term but the economy had inflated to the point where they didn’t have didrachma. So what they used was a stater. And the stater was equal to two didrachma, or four drachma. Are you with me? So people would normally go together and pay one stater, and that would cover their temple tax.

However, Matthew Henry says that this tax was not insisted upon so much in Galilee. Therefore, when the temple tax collectors asked Peter whether Jesus paid the tax (verse 24), it was not meant as an attack but as a genuine, respectful enquiry — so much so that they did not want to bother Him, so they asked Peter. The tax collectors knew of Jesus, possibly witnessed His teachings and miracles, and thought He might be exempt from paying the tax:

The demand was very modest[;] the collectors stood in such awe of Christ, because of his mighty works, that they durst not speak to him about it, but applied themselves to Peter, whose house was in Capernaum, and probably in his house Christ lodged he therefore was fittest to be spoken to as the housekeeper, and they presumed he knew his Master’s mind …

they asked this with respect, intimating, that if he had any privilege to exempt him from this payment, they would not insist upon it.

Peter answered ‘Yes’, meaning that Jesus paid His taxes (verse 25). MacArthur reminds us that His is our example to follow:

There are people who are Christian people who don’t pay taxes. They don’t think they have any reason to pay taxes, they don’t like what’s done with their money and so forth and so they don’t pay. And some of them get away with it because the government knows that to prosecute and track them all down and go through the fight would be to lose more money than you would gain. But Jesus, does He pay taxes? Verse 25, “Peter said yes…yes, Jesus always pays His didrachma.” And you can imply from that that He always paid His taxes…always. Jesus is not a tax evader. He’s not a tax dodger.

Peter went indoors and Jesus asked him if kings taxed their own sons or other people. He was asking whether God would tax His Son. Peter replied that taxes came from other people, and Jesus affirmed that kings’ sons do not pay it (verse 26). The implication is that He is actually exempt from paying temple tax.

However, in order ‘not to give offence’ (verse 27), Jesus told Peter to go to the Sea of Galilee, take the first fish he caught and give the coin in its mouth to the tax collectors. The shekel would cover both Jesus’s and Peter’s temple tax.

Henry explains the possible offence given and why Jesus paid the tax:

Few knew, as Peter did, that he was the Son of God and it would have been a diminution to the honour of that great truth, which was yet a secret, to advance it now, to serve such a purpose as this. Therefore Christ drops that argument, and considers, that if he should refuse this payment, it would increase people’s prejudice against him and his doctrine, and alienate their affections from him, and therefore he resolves to pay it.

He makes this point:

Note, Christian prudence and humility teach us, in many cases, to recede from our right, rather than give offence by insisting upon it

Henry also observes that a humble fish had the coin which would go to pay for the maintenance of the temple and provide the spiritual sustenance for God’s people:

when he could have taken it out of an angel’s hand.

That Peter had to go angling in order to catch the fish signifies that:

Peter has something to do, and it is in the way of his own calling too to teach us diligence in the employment we are called to, and called in. Do we expect that Christ should give to us? Let us be ready to work for him

Peter was made a fisher of men, and those that he caught thus, came up where the heart is opened to entertain Christ’s word, the hand is open to encourage his ministers.

Finally, Jesus allowed Peter to benefit from his obedience and endeavour:

Peter fished for this money, and therefore part of it went for his use. Those that are workers together with Christ in winning souls shall shine with him. Give it for thee and me. What Christ paid for himself was looked upon as a debt what he paid for Peter was a courtesy to him. Note, it is a desirable thing, if God so please, to have wherewithal of this world’s goods, not only to be just, but to be kind not only to be charitable to the poor, but obliging to our friends. What is a great estate good for, but that it enables a man to do so much the more good?

Next time: Matthew 18:1-4

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.

Matthew 17:14-20

Jesus Heals a Boy with a Demon

14 And when they came to the crowd, a man came up to him and, kneeling before him, 15 said, “Lord, have mercy on my son, for he is an epileptic and he suffers terribly. For often he falls into the fire, and often into the water. 16 And I brought him to your disciples, and they could not heal him.” 17 And Jesus answered, “O faithless and twisted generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you? Bring him here to me.” 18 And Jesus rebuked the demon,[a] and it[b] came out of him, and the boy was healed instantly.[c] 19 Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said, “Why could we not cast it out?” 20 He said to them, “Because of your little faith. For truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.”[d]

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Each of the synoptic gospels — Matthew, Mark and Luke — record this great healing miracle.

I wrote about Luke’s version (Luke 9:37-43) in 2014. That post addresses the variations in the three accounts. Mark’s, the most detailed, is included in the three-year Lectionary used in public worship.

It is worth recalling that Matthew 10:5-15 records that Jesus had already invested in the twelve apostles the gift of healing, the ability to perform creative miracles with the same power as His own.

The events in this passage took place shortly after Jesus, Peter, James and John descended from the mountain following the Transfiguration.

Here was a desperate man who knelt before Jesus, addressing Him as Lord, asking for His mercy towards his epileptic son (verses 14, 15). Not only was the boy epileptic but he also had a demon which prevented him from controlling his seizures and instead sent him into fire or water, causing him to risk injury or death.

The father was understandably aggrieved, all the more so because this was happening to his son, his heir. Luke’s version further clarifies the boy’s status as ‘only child’, making his state of mind and body even more desperate. Mark’s version adds that the boy is mute, so he had no way of communicating verbally.

The father’s despair is heightened because the disciples could not heal the lad (verse 16). Nine apostles would have been at the scene until Jesus and the other three arrived. Note that a large crowd was watching. Mark’s version says they were arguing. John MacArthur explains:

The other gospel writers tell us more about this crowd. Mark tells us it included scribes, Jewish legal experts, just the normal run-of-the-mill gang of people that populated the northern Galilee area. And also the nine other disciples who weren’t there at the Mount of Transfiguration. So you have the disciples, the scribes and the multitude of people. And they’re there to wait and to meet Jesus and the three who come down from the mountain.

The highly charged atmosphere brought a rebuke from Jesus (verse 17). Our two commentators differ on to whom he addressed his remark about a ‘faithless and twisted generation’. MacArthur says it was to the disciples in whom He had invested powerful healing gifts that they could not execute:

The whole generation was faithless and perverse, but He generalizes off of the specific and who were the specific ones who weren’t exercising faith? The disciples. It was the particular inability of the disciples from which He generalizes to the whole inability of the generation in which they lived, because the scribes standing there, they didn’t believe either. And the other nine disciples, they couldn’t pull it off. And the father himself was weak in faith.

Matthew Henry, on the other hand, surmises that Jesus was not addressing the disciples here but the crowd (emphases mine):

This is not spoken to the disciples, but to the people, and perhaps especially to the scribes, who are mentioned in Mark 9:14, and who, as it should seem, insulted over the disciples, because they had now met with a case that was too hard for them. Christ himself could not do many mighty works among a people in whom unbelief reigned. It was here owing to the faithlessness of this generation, that they could not obtain those blessings from God, which otherwise they might have had as it was owing to the weakness of the disciples’ faith, that they could not do those works for God, which otherwise they might have done. They were faithless and perverse. Note, Those that are faithless will be perverse and perverseness is sin in its worst colours. Faith is compliance with God, unbelief is opposition and contradiction to God. Israel of old was perverse, because faithless (Psalm 95:9), forward, for in them is no faith, Deuteronomy 32:20.

Then He asked, ‘How long am I to be with you?’ Henry explains:

Two things he upbraids them with. (1.) His presence with them so long “How long shall I be with you? Will you always need my bodily presence, and never come to such maturity as to be fit to be left, the people to the conduct of the disciples, and the disciples to the conduct of the Spirit and of their commission? Must the child be always carried, and will it never learn to go alone?” (2.) His patience with them so long How long shall I suffer you? Note, [1.] The faithlessness and perverseness of those who enjoy the means of grace are a great grief to the Lord Jesus. Thus did he suffer the manners of Israel of old, Acts 13:18. [2.] The longer Christ has borne with a perverse and faithless people, the more he is displeased with their perverseness and unbelief and he is God, and not man, else he would not suffer so long, nor bear so much, as he doth.

MacArthur adds that Jesus was looking forward to returning to God the Father:

You can see Him starting to get anxious to go back to the Father, can’t you? He sort of senses the end, how long do I have to endure this? You see, His contemporaries were disastrous failures and even His own disciples were continually having to learn the same lessons over and over and over and over. I mean, just look at the crowd. The crowd is thrill-seeking, they don’t really believe fully. The scribes, they’re gloating. Oh, you can know it, they’re gloating over the inability of the nine disciples to heal this young boy. I mean, they’re really happy they can’t do it. And the father is struggling with faith. And the disciples had failed to exercise the faith they needed to heal the young boy, even though they had the promise and the power. And so, to some degree, the whole bunch of them were faithless and twisted and diverted from trust in God. And Jesus says, thirty-three years is about all of this I can take.

Despite all of this, Jesus displayed His infinite mercy and instructed that the boy be brought to Him. His enduring compassion once again outweighed His frustration with sinful man. He rebuked the demon which immediately left the boy. Jesus instantly healed him (verse 18). He fully healed him at that moment.

The disciples approached Jesus privately to ask why they could not do the same thing (verse 19). He replied that it was because of their little faith (verse 20).

Then He employed two literary devices well known to the ancient Jews about faith: ‘like a grain of mustard seed’ and moving mountains. MacArthur explains both:

Most people misinterpret that mustard seed. The principle of the mustard seed is not that it’s little, no. The principle of the mustard seed is that it is little and it does what? It grows. You remember that principle? It’s in Matthew 13, sure you remember it. Verse 31, another parable He put forth unto them saying, “The Kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed which a man took and sowed in his field which indeed is the least of all seeds, but when it is grown it is the greatest among herbs and becomes a tree so the birds of air come and lodge in the branches of it.” And what you’ve got in the mustard seed is something that starts very, very small and grows very large

Please, it is not saying that if you have little tiny faith the size of a grain of mustard seed that you could say mountain be removed. It’s not talking about literal mountains. It’s talking about mountains of difficulty. It’s figurative. In fact, when the Jews…by the way, this was a rather common Jewish phrasewhen the Jews talked about removing mountains, they used it in reference to the ability to get past difficulties, or to remove difficulties. One writer says, “A great teacher who could really expound and interpret Scripture and who could explain and resolve difficulties was known as an uprooter or a pulverizer of mountains. To tear up, to uproot, to pulverize mountains were all regular phrases for removing difficulties. Jesus never meant this to be taken physically and literally. After all, the ordinary man seldom finds any necessity to remove a mountain. What He meant was, if you have faith enough, all difficulties can be solved and even the hardest task can be accomplished.”

So, what do we do? MacArthur tells us:

I believe there are many things that God desires for you to experience in your life that God desires to accomplish in your life that are available to you through the exercise of His divine power. But that power will never be tapped until you have the faith that starts small. And when it meets with resistance and when you don’t see it happen, the faith doesn’t die small, it gets larger and larger and larger. And you continue persistently in prayer …

He wants you to persist in prayer because that’s the extension of your faith. You see, if you just said, “God, I want this…” (snap) you’ve got it…you’d never learn the strength in your faith. You’d never be ready for the trial, would you? And so the Lord asks us to persist and persist

And listen to me very carefully then, the antidote to little faith is what? Prayer…persistent prayer. Listen, James says it, the effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man…what?…availeth much. Effectual dedicated fervent passionate continuous persistent prayer gets results. You may never know the full promise of God. You may never know the full blessedness of God. You may never know the full rewards that…of all that God wants to bestow upon you until you learn persistent prayer.

Some undergoing constant or continuing personal trials might scoff. However, if they pray the way MacArthur advises while they are waiting for resolution or relief, God will grant the wherewithal and comfort to withstand despair.

I know a few people in the offline world who have undergone a lot during their lives. One woman in particular has experienced the deaths of three close family members: her only sibling — a brother — in her childhood, later her husband and, two years later, a beloved son. However, through it all, her faith has grown and grown to the size of a mustard tree.

Bottom line: let’s stop moaning. Let’s start praying.

In closing, some manuscripts have a verse 21, wherein Jesus says that this particular demon could only be got rid of through fasting and praying. MacArthur says:

The terms “and fasting” are not there in the original text. Someone added them. Matthew 2:19 says this is not a time for fasting when the bridegroom is present. And verse 21 isn’t even in the best manuscripts of Matthew, it’s borrowed from Mark’s account but it is at the end of Mark’s account. The story does end with this statement. So somebody, some scribe thought it capped off Matthew’s account so he pulled it over and put it here. And that’s fine in a sense because it is the ending of the story in Mark 9:29 and what the Lord says in the end is this kind goes not out except by prayer.

Henry’s commentary says that fasting sharpens prayer:

Fasting and prayer are proper means for the bringing down of Satan’s power against us, and the fetching in of divine power to our assistance. Fasting is of use to put an edge upon prayer it is an evidence and instance of humiliation which is necessary in prayer, and is a means of mortifying some corrupt habits, and of disposing the body to serve the soul in prayer. When the devil’s interest in the soul is confirmed by the temper and constitution of the body, fasting must be joined with prayer, to keep under the body.

Next time: Matthew 17:22-23

Martin Luther chaosandoldnightwordpresscomAs my post yesterday concerned Jesus’s healing and feeding of the Four Thousand (and more) Gentiles, it seemed apposite to find a post at Steadfast Lutherans about His feeding the Five Thousand (and more).

The Feeding of the Five Thousand is the traditional (pre-Lectionary) Laetare Sunday gospel reading. (Laetare Sunday is today, March 6, 2016.)

Pastor Joseph Abrahamson shared Martin Luther’s reflections on this marvellous creative miracle, excerpts of which follow. Here Luther wrote about John 6:1-15.

May we not be discouraged, as Philip and Andrew were at finding we haven’t enough (emphases mine):

We see that Philip is not deficient in arithmetic. We also can count up very well what we shall need and must have for our household. But as soon as we see that provision is wanting, we become discouraged. This was the case also with Andrew …

The Evangelist [John] did not wish this to be left unnoticed, in order that we may learn by the example of the disciples, that such calculations are entirely useless; if, indeed, we are Christians and have Christ with us.

What of poverty opposing riches?

Nothing in the world hinders faith as much as riches on the one side and poverty on the other. Against these two things which hinder on both sides, Christ speaks here, and teaches the middle state; namely, to be neither too rich nor too poor, but learn to trust God, that he will sustain us, and be content with what God daily gives us.

How is it that we remember this miraculous multiplication of loaves and fishes but tend to dismiss the annual growing of grain, fruit, vegetables and other foodstuffs? Is one not as miraculous as the other? Luther reproves us for a lack of faith:

Who clothes the trees, which are bare in the winter, but as soon as the summer begins are loaded with leaves and fruits? Who causes the corn to grow so abundantly? Do not I, (as the Lord means to teach by this miracle, ) who herewith have fed 5000 people with two fishes and five loaves? But here reason says: Yes, as regards the trees and the corn and other things, that occurs every year; therefore it is not extraordinary and miraculous; but this feeding of 5000 people with two fishes and five loaves occurred only once; therefore it is extraordinary and miraculous. Answer: What is the reason that this appears to you extraordinary and miraculous, and that the former case, when out of single grains innumerable ones grow, is not miraculous to you? That is not the fault of God or his works, but it is the fault of your unbelief, that you are so blind and hardened, and can not know God’s wonders.

From this, we can apply our Lord’s generosity, mercy and compassion to our own personal situations:

He gave not as much as there was on hand, but “as much as they would.” Here we must not think that he did this only at that time and does not wish to continue to do so, also, among his Christians. For we see examples of this blessing every day; not only as regards food, but also as regards all other kinds of want, for which he wonderfully and unexpectedly devises ways and means.

Finally, with what is left over, Luther tells us that we must be prudent with what we have whilst sharing with others, otherwise God may withdraw His blessings:

We must diligently preserve God’s blessings and not squander them away, but save them for future needs. But when this is not done, and God’s blessings are so sinfully and shame fully abused. God is driven by such vices to withhold, and where there has been one year of abundant harvests, there will follow two or three years of failure.

By commanding his disciples to gather up the fragments that were left over, the Lord does not wish to be understood that we should be covetous, but that you might be able to serve your neighbor in times of need.

Such an exposition transforms the historic miracle of the Feeding the Five Thousand to a meaningful lesson on God’s merciful daily and annual bounty for Christians throughout the ages. How blessed we are in His grace and compassion.

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.

Matthew 15:32-39

Jesus Feeds the Four Thousand

32 Then Jesus called his disciples to him and said, “I have compassion on the crowd because they have been with me now three days and have nothing to eat. And I am unwilling to send them away hungry, lest they faint on the way.” 33 And the disciples said to him, “Where are we to get enough bread in such a desolate place to feed so great a crowd?” 34 And Jesus said to them, “How many loaves do you have?” They said, “Seven, and a few small fish.” 35 And directing the crowd to sit down on the ground, 36 he took the seven loaves and the fish, and having given thanks he broke them and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. 37 And they all ate and were satisfied. And they took up seven baskets full of the broken pieces left over. 38 Those who ate were four thousand men, besides women and children. 39 And after sending away the crowds, he got into the boat and went to the region of Magadan.

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In last week’s reading, we read how Jesus healed many Gentiles who then worshipped the God of Israel, the God they had not known until then. These people — from the Greek-administered Decapolis — had been worshipping Greek gods. This period of divine, miraculous healing took three days.

The parallel passage for today’s reading is Mark 8:1-10, about which I wrote in 2012.

Neither of these readings is in the three-year Lectionary which many Catholic and Protestant churches use. If one’s only Bible study relies on this Lectionary (there is also a two-year one), one is missing out on quite a lot. One would not know that Jesus took care of the Gentiles in the same merciful, miraculous way He did the Jews.

By the end of those three marvellous days, the Gentiles needed to eat. Jesus, in His compassion and omniscience, was fully aware of that and, in order to prevent them fainting on the way home, would not send them away without a goodly amount of sustenance (verse 32).

Matthew Henry explains that hunger could have not only had physical consequences but also spiritual ones:

The weakness of the flesh is a great grievance to the willingness of the spirit.

The disciples recognised they were in the same predicament as they were in the feeding of the 5,000  (Matthew 14:13-21). Of verse 33, John MacArthur tells us that their reaction to feeding the 4,000 is has changed (emphases mine):

Before when they said, “What are we gonna do? We don’t even have enough to give everybody a little tiny morsel.” Now, from that experience, they know that when the Lord feeds, He fills everybody; so they say, “If you’re looking at us again, we’re in the same boat we were in last time You asked us that. We don’t have anything to fill this crowd.” The point being, in a wilderness area, and this is a desert area, away from these towns, there was no resource. This crowd could only have been serviced in proximity to a large city where the food could’ve gathered. There was no such proximity, and so I think the emphasis is not here on their unbelief, but on their recognition of their lack of resources. And they’re simply saying, “Here we go again, Lord. We have nothing to offer You.”

They have faith that Jesus will provide for the crowd. They are also fully aware that only He can do it.

Jesus asked what food was available and the disciples replied that they had seven loaves and a few small fish (verse 34). Henry’s commentary says:

The provision that was at hand seven loaves, and a few fishes: the fish not proportionable to the bread, for bread is the staff of life. It is probable that the fish was such as they had themselves taken for they were fishers, and were now near the sea.

Jesus instructed the crowd to sit while He took the loaves and fishes, gave thanks and asked the disciples to distribute the food (verses 35, 36). Of the thanks Jesus gave to God the Father, Henry explains that we, too, should follow His example:

He first gave thankseucharistesas. The word used in the former miracle was eulogesehe blessed. It comes all to one giving thanks to God is a proper way of craving a blessing from God. And when we come to ask and receive further mercy, we ought to give thanks for the mercies we have received.

MacArthur tells us how the miracle might well have transpired to feed 4,000 men as well as thousands of women and children (verse 38) to ensure that food was leftover for Jesus and the disciples (verse 37):

This is just thrilling. They come with these baskets, and He keeps filling the baskets, and they keep delivering. And they come back, and He keeps filling ’em again, and they deliver it; and He’s just creating it right out of His own hands. And again and again He continues to fill the baskets, and they continue to pass among the people who are no doubt seated in groups of 50 or 100 or whatever….and then verse 37 says, “They did all eat, and they were filled.” Again, the Lord never leaves them half full. “Took up the broken pieces, remnants left, seven baskets full. And they that did eat were 4,000 men, besides women and children.” Satisfied everybody, and they got seven baskets full.

Those who read the Bible regularly know that after feeding the 5,000 Jews (and thousands more women and children), that 12 baskets were left over. With the 4,000 Gentiles, seven baskets remained.

MacArthur describes the nature of the baskets. In short, Jewish baskets were smaller than Gentile ones:

This is kind of important. The first feeding had how many baskets? Twelve, one for each disciple, right? Here you have seven…Why the difference? Very, very interesting. The word in chapter 14 verse 20 is kofanass. That’s a little basket. And, by the way, that was a Jewish basket. That was a basket used by the Jews. It normally was a little round thing. It had a little sort of a spout on one end you could stick things in; and the Jew carried this around with him when he traveled for several reasons. It was easy, because there was sometimes no way to get access to a place to provide food, and so you carried it with yourself. And, also, the Jew is really fearful of getting any food that had been touched by Gentile hands; and so they tended to take their own, which had been, you know, treated and…and done their own way.

And so the Jews carried the little kofanass, this little basket with one meal in it. But the word used here is not kofanass. It’s spurdiss, and that is a Gentile basket. It’s a hamper. It’s a big basket; and the interesting thing is that every time the New Testament talks about the feeding of the 5,000, whatever Gospel account it’s in, it always uses kofanass, and every time it refers to the 4,000, it always uses spurdiss.

When He was feeding the Jews, the Jews had Jewish baskets. When He was feeding the Gentiles, the Gentiles had Gentile baskets; and the Gentile basket was big. You say, “How big was it?” I’ll you how big it was. Acts 9 tells us it was the same basket, spurdiss, with which the Apostle Paul was lowered over the wall in Damascus. It was big enough to put a whole person in. So it’s a big basket.

So the Lord then gave the food into these big baskets; and they took them and distributed them; and then in collecting they took all that they needed back in seven big baskets. And they may have needed more than they did the first time, because they hadn’t eaten this time for three days, not just one day. So the Lord provided for the crowd.

Verse 39 tells us that after the crowd had eaten and were full, Jesus dismissed them and went by boat to Magadan.

My discussion of Mark 8:1-10 describes Magadan — or Dalmanutha, as he called it — in much more detail. Despite the two different names, they are the same region. MacArthur says that Mary Magdalen came from there. It was in Galilee, near Gennesaret.

If Gennesaret rings a bell, Matthew 14:34-36 describes Jesus’s second ministry there. The first was when He healed the woman of her 12-year blood flow after she grabbed the hem of His garment (Matthew 9:18-26). Neither account of her miracle is in the three-year Lectionary. More’s the pity.

Henry concludes this compassionate, merciful period of creative miracles for the Gentiles as follows:

He sent away the people. Though he had fed them twice, they must not expect miracles to be their daily bread. Let them now go home to their callings, and to their own tables. And he himself departed by ship to another place for, being the Light of the world, he must be still in motion, and go about to do good.

Next time — Matthew 16:1-4

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