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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 have omitted — 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 20:7-12

Eutychus Raised from the Dead

7 On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul talked with them, intending to depart on the next day, and he prolonged his speech until midnight. There were many lamps in the upper room where we were gathered. And a young man named Eutychus, sitting at the window, sank into a deep sleep as Paul talked still longer. And being overcome by sleep, he fell down from the third story and was taken up dead. 10 But Paul went down and bent over him, and taking him in his arms, said, “Do not be alarmed, for his life is in him.” 11 And when Paul had gone up and had broken bread and eaten, he conversed with them a long while, until daybreak, and so departed. 12 And they took the youth away alive, and were not a little comforted.

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Last week’s entry discussed how Paul and a select number of men from various churches he had planted met up in Troas.

St Luke, the author of Acts, was among that number and personally travelled with Paul from Philippi to Troas.

They stayed in Troas seven days and left on a Monday.

On the first day of the week — Sunday, the Lord’s Day — they met to worship, commemorate the Last Supper and share dinner together (verse 7).

Even though Paul got up early the next day, he preached until midnight. One of the reasons was that he did not know if he would ever return, so he wanted to give the congregation final encouragement and instruction.

Interestingly, no one minded the length of Paul’s speech. In our world, we are clock watchers wondering how long a church service will last.

We know from Acts that Paul was a persuasive teacher who appealed to logic and reason rather than emotion and feelings — something today’s clergy would do well to practise.

John MacArthur tells us (emphases mine):

The problem in the Early Church wasn’t how do you get the people to come. It was how do you get them to go home? And let me tell you something, friends. This has been the characteristic of every period of reformation and revival in the history of the Church. You know that John Calvin preached every day for hours, day after day after day, year after year after year, and so did Martin Luther? And it was out of that the great days of the Reformation revival was spawned. That’s been the history of the Church. Great men of God preach day after day after day after day in certain cities, and great revivals broke out. And people came, and they learned.

Matthew Henry’s commentary posits that Paul might have preached that morning, too:

It is probable he had preached to them in the morning, and yet thus lengthened out his evening sermon even till midnight; we wish we had the heads of this long sermon, but we may suppose it was for substance the same with his epistles.

Henry offers an explanation for the night time worship:

… perhaps they met in the evening for privacy, or in conformity to the example of the disciples who came together on the first Christian sabbath in the evening.

The room they met in was on the upper floor of someone’s home. There were many lights (verse 8). MacArthur says this was because pagans accused Christians of clandestine activities:

You say, “Why does it tell us there were lights there?” Well, I think there’s two reasons. Number one, the pagans used to slander Christians and say that Christians were immoral and they met together for clandestine purposes, and they got in their little cubbyholes in the dark and committed all sorts of abominations. And so some commentators feel that the Spirit puts the little note, “there were many lights,” in there, just to let us know that the Christians in Troas had lit the place up like a Christmas tree so nobody in town could criticize them for meeting in the dark.

A young man, Eutychus, was sitting on the window ledge, nodded off and fell to his death (verse 9). Windows at that time had no glass, so were open spaces save for a shutter of some sort.

Henry says the young man’s fall was divine judgement because he fell asleep during Paul’s speech, for which he should have stayed awake:

Now this youth was to be blamed, (1.) That he presumptuously sat in the window, unglazed perhaps, and so exposed himself; whereas, if he could have been content to sit on the floor, he had been safe. Boys that love to climb, or otherwise endanger themselves, to the grief of their parents, consider not how much it is also an offence to God. (2.) That he slept, nay, he fell into a deep sleep when Paul was preaching, which was a sign he did not duly attend to the things that Paul spoke of, though they were weighty things. The particular notice taken of his sleeping makes us willing to hope none of the rest slept, though it was sleeping time and after supper; but this youth fell fast asleep, he was carried away with it (so the word is), which intimates that he strove against it, but was overpowered by it, and at last sunk down with sleep.

2. The calamity with which he was seized herein: He fell down from the third loft, and was taken up dead. Some think that the hand of Satan was in it, by the divine permission, and that he designed it for a disturbance to this assembly and a reproach to Paul and it. Others think that God designed it for a warning to all people to take heed of sleeping when they are hearing the word preached; and certainly we are to make this use of it. We must look upon it as an evil thing, as a bad sign of our low esteem of the word of God, and a great hindrance to our profiting by it. We must be afraid of it, do what we can to prevent our being sleepy, not compose ourselves to sleep, but get our hearts affected with the word we hear to such a degree as may drive sleep far enough. Let us watch and pray, that we enter not into this temptation, and by it into worse. Let the punishment of Eutychus strike an awe upon us, and show us how jealous God is in the matters of his worship; Be not deceived, God is not mocked. See how severely God visited an iniquity that seemed little, and but in a youth, and say, Who is able to stand before this holy Lord God? Apply to this story that lamentation (Jeremiah 9:20,21), Hear the word of the Lord, for death is come up into our windows, to cut off the children from without and the young men from the streets.

MacArthur, on the other hand, is understanding of Eutychus‘s plight, explaining that the fuel from the lamps made the boy — possibly an adolescent — drowsy. However, he, too, says that his death was a judgement:

all those lights in there were oil-burning lamps, and they would have created a tremendous stuffy atmosphere. All the fumes and the little smoke that would come off of that oil, and the place was really filling up. And apparently, an upper chamber would maybe hold 30, 40 people in a good-sized home, and they’d be crammed in. And if there were 50 or 60 there, they would be just like sardines, and all that smoke coming off of there, and that may have created the problem. The burning oil, the stuffy atmosphere, and that part of the world at that time, perhaps that evening, deterioration of the atmosphere.

Verse 9. “And there sat in a window -” Fortunate young man that he could find air, and so he got by a window and sat on the windowsill. The windows of course were lattices or wooden windows that opened. They didn’t have any glass. “And his name was Eutychus, and being fallen into a deep sleep,” and the verb there in the Greek is a present participle, which means he was progressively falling asleep while he was trying to fight it. Just so – you know how it is. You’ve done it. Your head goes, and then _______ …

Well, that’s Eutychus. He’d bob his head down, and he’d pull it up again and blink around. But he was fighting. And finally the _____ overcame him, “And he being fallen into a deep sleep, and as Paul was long preaching, he sank down with sleep.” He was out. And then of course we know how serious it is to fall asleep during a sermon, because immediately the Lord dealt with him. He fell from the third loft and was taken up dead. So think about that, folks.

Not surprisingly, Paul paused his sermon to go downstairs to determine the young man’s condition. Instead of judging him, Paul had compassion for Eutychus and took him in his arms, announcing that was alive (verse 10).

Henry said that Paul probably prayed earnestly for the boy’s life at that moment:

his falling on him and embracing him were in imitation of Elijah (1 Kings 17:21), and Elisha (2 Kings 4:34), in order to the raising of him to life again; not that this could as a means contribute any thing to it, but as a sign it represented the descent of that divine power upon the dead body, for the putting of life into it again, which at the same time he inwardly, earnestly, and in faith prayed for.

MacArthur also says this was a miracle, taking issue with those who say that Eutychus was still alive, just in a deep slumber. Recall that Luke was a physician; he would have known the difference:

He fell down, and he was taken up dead. That’s the quote of Luke, incidentally, who wrote the passage here, under the inspiration of the Spirit, but Luke’s comment is that he was dead. Now I’ve heard all kinds of commentators and all kinds of people say he wasn’t dead. He just appeared to be dead, and he just was taken up as if he were dead. It doesn’t say that. It says he was taken up dead. He was dead. Three story fall.

Well, look what happens. That would kind of tend to break the meeting up, and it did. Verse 10, “And Paul went down and fell on him.” And of course, the idea of fell there is to place himself on him. Not just to collapse on him, which wouldn’t have helped him at all. Paul went down and just placed himself on him. And it says, “He embracing him,” and the idea of that – it’s a double compound Greek verb, and it means he just wrapped himself around him. You say, “Why did he do that?” Well, maybe he remembered Elijah and Elisha. 1 Kings 17, 2 Kings 4. Remember, both of them embraced and put themselves all the way around a man and raised him from the dead, which it was a child in that case.

And so he just places himself around Eutychus, who is a young man. Perhaps a teenager. And I love this. He says, “Trouble not yourselves, for his life is in him.” One liberal commentator said, when he put himself around him, he could hear his heart ticking, and he said, “Oh, he’s all right,” and got up. No. He was dead. What happened was a resurrection miracle.

You know, Paul had a great prayer that he prayed in Philippians 3:10. He said, “I pray that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection.” And boy, he did know it, didn’t he? He knew resurrection power. He wrapped himself around. In a minute, a miracle happened. All of the broken bones and all of the injuries of his body that had caused the death reversed themselves and he was alive.

Paul went back upstairs to eat with those assembled and to converse with them — until daybreak (verse 11). How selfless was he? Most of us turn in early the night before a journey, but Paul, whose love for Jesus, God and people was so overwhelming that he pulled an all-nighter.

The supper Paul shared with the Christians was what was traditionally known as a ‘love feast’, one of agape and fellowship. Today, we call that a potluck, where everyone brings a plate of food to share with everyone else, especially the poor among them.

Henry describes the setting:

He came up again to the meeting, they broke bread together in a love-feast, which usually attended the eucharist, in token of their communion with each other, and for the confirmation of friendship among them; and they talked a long while, even till break of day. Paul did not now go on in a continued discourse, as before, but he and his friends fell into a free conversation, the subject of which, no doubt, was good, and to the use of edifying. Christian conference is an excellent means of promoting holiness, comfort, and Christian love. They knew not when they should have Paul’s company again, and therefore made the best use they could of it when they had it, and reckoned a night’s sleep well lost for that purpose.

MacArthur tells us:

So they met in an upper chamber. They broke bread. Now what do you mean by that? Well, of course, that’s the reference to the ancient Palestinian custom. The meal was officially begun when the host broke bread, literally. And the breaking of bread came to refer to the Christians coming together, and they did two things. They had the love feast … And communion, or the Lord’s Table.

This was a beautiful thing. You say, “What was the love feast?” Well, the love feast was like a potluck meal, and it was for the purpose of sharing. You had – one of the very basic things of the Christian Church is fellowship, isn’t it? And love. And so the poor people would come, and they couldn’t bring anything, and the people who could would bring enough for the poor people, and they would all share as an expression of love. It was a beautiful sharing. The common meal. And it was followed immediately by the breaking of bread and the celebration of the Lord’s Day. This was the breaking of bread for the Early Church. The agape love feast and communion.

At daybreak, the congregation dispersed taking Eutychus — very much alive and well — with them (verse 12). They were elated that he was living. Such miracles — visible signs from God — allowed the growth of the Church in those early days as to the veracity of the Good News.

Next time — Acts 20:13-16

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Bible treehuggercomThe 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 have omitted — 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 19:11-16

The Sons of Sceva

11 And God was doing extraordinary miracles by the hands of Paul, 12 so that even handkerchiefs or aprons that had touched his skin were carried away to the sick, and their diseases left them and the evil spirits came out of them. 13 Then some of the itinerant Jewish exorcists undertook to invoke the name of the Lord Jesus over those who had evil spirits, saying, “I adjure you by the Jesus whom Paul proclaims.” 14 Seven sons of a Jewish high priest named Sceva were doing this. 15 But the evil spirit answered them, “Jesus I know, and Paul I recognize, but who are you?” 16 And the man in whom was the evil spirit leaped on them, mastered all[a] of them and overpowered them, so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded.

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Those who are familiar with the Book of Acts, which St Luke wrote, know that sorcery was not unknown as an attack on the earliest churches:

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

Acts 13:4-7 – Barnabas, Saul of Tarsus, John Mark, Cyprus, Sergius Paulus, Bar-Jesus, Elymas

Acts 13:8-12 — Paul, Elymas, magician, sorcerer, Paulus Sergius, conversion, blindness, miracle, doctrine, Cyprus

Acts 16:16-18 — Paul and the fortune-telling slave girl in Philippi; he drove an evil spirit out of her

In last week’s entry about Paul’s ministry in Ephesus, the Apostle had to withdraw from the synagogue because of all the evil Jewish resistors spoke against the truth about Christ Jesus.

This week’s passage, which immediately follows in Acts 19, reveals that the spiritual situation grew worse in Ephesus. This is not the whole story, which will conclude in next week’s post.

We see here that a great spiritual tension was building between good and evil.

On the good side, God worked through Paul to work ‘extraordinary miracles’ (verse 11).

Was this the first time or were these particular healing miracles? Matthew Henry’s commentary has this analysis (emphases mine below):

I wonder we have not read of any miracle wrought by Paul since the casting of the evil spirit out of the damsel at Philippi; why did he not work miracles at Thessalonica, Berea, and Athens? Or, if he did, why are they not recorded? Was the success of the gospel, without miracles in the kingdom of nature, itself such a miracle in the kingdom of grace, and the divine power which went along with it such a proof of its divine original, that there needed no other? It is certain that at Corinth he wrought many miracles, though Luke has recorded none, for he tells them (2 Corinthians 12:12) that the signs of his apostleship were among them, in wonders and mighty deeds. But here at Ephesus we have a general account of the proofs of this kind which he gave his divine mission. 1. They were special miracles–Dynameis ou tychousas. God exerted powers that were not according to the common course of nature: Virtutes non vulgares. Things were done which could by no means be ascribed either to chance or second causes. Or, they were not only (as all miracles are) out of the common road, but they were even uncommon miracles, such miracles as had not been wrought by the hands of any other of the apostles. The opposers of the gospel were so prejudiced that any miracles would not serve their turn; therefore God wrought virtutes non quaslibet (so they render it), something above the common road of miracles. 2. It was not Paul that wrought them (What is Paul, and what is Apollos?) but it was God that wrought them by the hand of Paul. He was but the instrument, God was the principal agent.

These miracles were so extraordinary that when people touched Paul’s skin with garments and took them home to their loved ones afflicted by illness or demons, those ailing were also cured (verse 12). That was truly extraordinary.

Thinking back to Christ’s ministry, the lady with the 12-year haemorrhage was cured when she touched His garment. If there were other instances, the Gospel writers did not record them.

Returning to Paul as a conduit for God’s healing power, John MacArthur says that the people pressing garments against him did not understand that God was working through the Apostle. They thought he had some sort of personal power, similar to that of a magician or sorcerer:

The people in Ephesus were very, very superstitious. And when they saw these miracles going on, coming out of Paul, they assumed the power was Paul’s.

MacArthur says that people picked up handkerchiefs which Paul used to wipe his brow while making tents:

the word “handkerchief” means “sweat cloth.” Those people who work, artisans or anybody in the crafts or anybody who did manual labor in those days, carried about these cloths with which they would wipe their brow and sometimes tie around their head. Well, they got Paul’s old, dirty, crummy sweat cloths! And they attached so much healing power to Paul, they figured if they get ahold of those sweat cloths, that that could work the same thing for them. And you know what? In spite of their superstition, God went ahead and did His miracles! Because God was in the business of confirming the Word, and He never let their superstitions violate what He was gonna do.

Seeing this, some Jewish exorcists who travelled from town to town to perform notional exorcisms for money, thought they could replicate divine healing miracles by invoking Jesus’s name (verse 13). These were not converts. They were just going to use what they thought was a magic incantation. Henry describes their appeal in that era. They were around in Jesus’s time, too:

They strolled about to tell people their fortunes, and pretended by spells and charms to cure diseases, and bring people to themselves that were melancholy or distracted. They called themselves exorcists, because in doing their tricks they used forms of adjuration, by such and such commanding names. The superstitious Jews, to put a reputation upon these magic arts, wickedly attributed the invention of them to Solomon. So Josephus (Antiq. 8. 45-46) says that Solomon composed charms by which diseases were cured, and devils driven out so as never to return; and that these operations continued common among the Jews to his time. And Christ seems to refer to this (Matthew 12:27), By whom do your children cast them out?

MacArthur gives us the origin for the historian Josephus’s claim:

in the Book of Tobit, the heart and liver of a miraculously caught fish are burned in the ashes of incense, and the resulting smell and smoke are supposed to drive away the demons. Josephus, who was a very intelligent person, a noted Jewish historian, told of a cure in which a demon was drawn through the nostrils of a demoniac by the use of magic root supposedly prescribed by Solomon. And there are other rabbinical writers who reflect the same fanciful magic superstitions.

Now, it may have been true that in the Old Testament time, demons were expelled through prayer, fasting, if Matthew 17:21 is true and if it is belonging in the manuscript. It may be true, and I’m sure God did answer prayer and demons were cast out in the Old Testament.

The men trying this incantation in Ephesus were the seven sons of a Jewish high priest, Sceva (verse 14). It did not work for them, because a) they had no belief in Jesus and b) were preying on the vulnerable in their trade. Henry explains:

They said, We adjure you by Jesus whom Paul preaches; not, “whom we believe in, or depend upon, or have any authority from,” but whom Paul preaches; as if they had said, “We will try what that name will do.”

However, the evil spirit answered them, saying that it knew Jesus and recognised Paul, but asked who they were (verse 15).

Worse came when the man with the evil spirit leapt up and overpowered the phony exorcists. The evil spirit worked through the afflicted man to the extent that the charlatans were injured and left his house naked (verse 16).

MacArthur says that not all seven sons of Sceva were in the house when the incident happened:

the old manuscript also includes the word “both” here, which indicates there were probably only two of the seven there. “And overcame them both and prevailed against them.” The demon was powerful, strong. And they fled out of the house naked and bleeding. Wounded.

MacArthur says that Satan played a violent trick on them, even though they were his servants. That incident further demonstrates that Satan is no friend of humankind.

Matthew Henry concludes with this:

This is written for a warning to all those who name the name of Christ, but do not depart from iniquity. The same enemy that overcomes them with his temptations will overcome them with his terrors; and their adjuring him in Christ’s name to let them alone will be no security to them.

Both commentators say that there is only one way to overcome Satan — lively faith and true repentance.

Henry has the short version:

If we resist the devil by a true and lively faith in Christ, he will flee from us; but if we think to resist him by the bare using of Christ’s name, or any part of his word, as a spell or charm, he will prevail against us.

MacArthur’s version is longer, based on personal experience:

We had this illustrated to us when we were working with this one girl who had all these devils that were speaking, and all this thing was going on, and the phenomenon was very unusual; and I tried to cast those demons out. “Get out!” You know? “Name of the Word!” They didn’t go. Some of the other guys on the staff tried, and they couldn’t do it either, which made me feel better. But none of us could get ’em out.

Let me give you a simple statement. All of the efforts to cast out demons are useless if that person doesn’t confess and repent of sin. Okay? Listen to this, then. If the person confesses and repents of sin, all of the efforts to cast out demons are unnecessary. So if you want to be real clear about it, it’s never a question of casting out the demons. It’s a question of repenting of the sins. If the person involved repents of the sin that allowed Satan to get a grip on them, then you don’t need somebody there doing all this other stuff. If they won’t repent of the sin, then it doesn’t matter what you do! You stand there ’til you’re blue in the face trying to cast out demons; but if that person’s harboring prolonged sin in their life, those demons have a place. Well, that’s all we’re trying to say.

Today, many Christians have become so preoccupied with Satan and so preoccupied with demons, and now Christians are having these new deliverance ministries that are growing up where you can go and get delivered. One guy had to pay $3,500.00 to get delivered. Found out he didn’t get delivered at all; he got bilked

And you say, “Well, you mean that we should never have Christians come around and pray?” Yeah, well, maybe that’s all right, but maybe they ought to be really talking about sin, not demons. Maybe we need to rebuking sin; maybe we need to be getting people to deal with sin.

I think so many times this whole thing of demons is a big copout. “Well, the demon made me do it, the demon made me do it.” Satan. You’re not dealing with your own sin. You’re not dealing with the issue of your nature. Your old sin nature. Confession, repentance, submission to the Word, submission to the Spirit removes the power of Satan.

Just another thought on this. Of all of the ministries of the body, of all of the responsibilities that we have toward one another, there is no statement or command to go around and cast demons out of each other! It says love one another, teach one another, edify one another, admonish one another, nurture one another, comfort one another, build up one another, reprove one another, rebuke one another, and so forth and so forth and so forth; but it doesn’t say cast demons out of one another.

That’s – beloved, I can comfort you and so forth and so on, but you don’t need me to take care of Satan in your life. I can’t do that, ’cause I can’t be holy for you. You got it? That’s your problem! Now, I can rebuke your sin, and I can give you wise counsel about your sin, and I can admonish you about your sin, but I can’t be holy for you. And if you’re gonna deal with Satan, that’s yours to do! And if I do all the exorcism in the world in the Name of Jesus Christ and there’s still harbored in your life, it’s unnecessary – I mean, it’s ineffective – and if there’s no sin in your life, then it’s unnecessary. If you have confessed and repented and submitted to the Truth of God, you’re clean.

Oh, you don’t have anything to fear. No. You have all victory over Satan

I don’t need to worry – I can’t do much about demons in you, but every man can about himself. That’s the issue. The apostolic day was confirming the Word; that was different. Today, every Christian has the resources to take care of his own problem. But I don’t think we can walk up to unbelievers and cast demons out. If an unbeliever comes to Jesus Christ, He alone can cleanse. By faith.

I hope this gives people a nugget of truth about overcoming serious sin and Satan.

What happened afterwards in Ephesus will be the subject of next week’s post.

Next time — Acts 19:17-20

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 have omitted — 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 16:35-40

35 But when it was day, the magistrates sent the police, saying, “Let those men go.” 36 And the jailer reported these words to Paul, saying, “The magistrates have sent to let you go. Therefore come out now and go in peace.” 37 But Paul said to them, “They have beaten us publicly, uncondemned, men who are Roman citizens, and have thrown us into prison; and do they now throw us out secretly? No! Let them come themselves and take us out.” 38 The police reported these words to the magistrates, and they were afraid when they heard that they were Roman citizens. 39 So they came and apologized to them. And they took them out and asked them to leave the city. 40 So they went out of the prison and visited Lydia. And when they had seen the brothers, they encouraged them and departed.

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My last post was about the conversion and baptism of the purple goods seller Lydia and her household in Philippi. Lydia ‘opened her heart’ to Paul’s words. Lydia was the start of the church in Philippi, and that was the church Paul addressed in his letters to the Philippians.

Acts 16:16-34 is the Year C reading for the Seventh Sunday after Easter. A summary follows, because it provides the context for today’s verses. The four men — Paul, Silas, Timothy and Luke (the author of Acts) — were on their way to pray when a slave girl with divination powers approached them. Her owners made a lot of money from her divination:

17 She followed Paul and us, crying out, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to you the way of salvation.” 18 And this she kept doing for many days. Paul, having become greatly annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, “I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.” And it came out that very hour.

Paul was angry, because she had an evil spirit within her. John MacArthur explains (emphases mine):

a “spirit of divination.” The literal Greek…I want you to get this, a most fascinating thing…the literal Greek is, she had a spirit, a python. That’s the same as a python snake, the same term…a spirit, a python, or a python spirit. You say, well, what is a python spirit? Well, in Greek mythology…and this is all mythology…in Greek mythology, there’s a place called Pytho, and Pytho was at the foot of Mount Parnassus. Now, at Pytho, there was a dragon. The dragon guarded Pytho…that area…and the dragon’s name was Python. Stay with me. This dragon guarded the oracles of Delphi. Now you may have heard of that. Delphi was a place where oracles were given. Now, you say, what’s an oracle? I’ll give you the definition. The term “oracle,” which is an occult term, means either a place where mediums consult demons or it means the revelation the demons give themselves. So it can refer to the place or the demonic revelation. The oracles at Delphi…Delphi was a place that was a monstrous temple and in this temple were all these medium priestesses and these priestesses were conjuring up demons and giving out information. Now, you say, what about the dragon? Well, supposedly, long ago in Greek mythology, this dragon guarded these oracles. Apollo, who was the third son of Jupiter in mythology, came down and slew the dragon. All of the oracle power of the dragon was then transferred to Apollo and he took on the name Pythias. And so the python idea ties in with Apollo who received the dragon’s power and was able, then, to contact these demon spirits at Delphi. Now, let me say this just so you’ll understand. They believed, the people in this world believed, in that world of that day, they believed that the gods were alive. They believed in Apollo and Jupiter and Venus and Mars and all those people, Cupid and everybody else. Now, they believed that Apollo…that Apollo spoke through the oracles at Delphi. And so the term python means any kind of medium contact with the god Apollo. This girl, then, was one of the thousands of priestesses from Delphi who were called pythons because they were plugged into Apollo whose other name was Pythias. Now, if you’re confused, don’t feel bad; I am, too (laughter). But, nevertheless, people would consult this girl, or these priestesses…and they had temples all over the place. In fact, it got to be a universal kind of worship. They would consult these priestesses and they would then think that Apollo, the god, was giving them the information. Now, we know who it really was, right?…Satan and his demons. Let me give you another footnote that’s just absolutely fascinating. The term “python” then became synonymous with ventriloquist and is used as such. Ventriloquists were called pythons. You say, why. Do you know what a demon-possessed medium is? He is a dummy for a demon ventriloquist. She was nothing but a demonic Charlie McCarthy (laughter)…essentially the same thing…nothing but a mouth through which a demon spoke…and this is the word ventriloquist. In Isaiah 8:19, the Bible says that the people were to watch out for mediums that peep and mutter and the word in the Greek…it’s in Hebrew in the Old Testament, but the Greek translation, they use the word [engastrímythos]which means ventriloquist. They were to watch out for ventriloquist demons who used the voice of humans. You say, then that girl was a dummy and demons talked through her.

When her owners found out Paul had, via divine means, driven the demon out of her, they were furious. They had lost a steady stream of income. So, they dragged Paul and Silas into the marketplace in Philippi and denounced them. The crowd turned into a mob and magistrates joined in:

22 The crowd joined in attacking them, and the magistrates tore the garments off them and gave orders to beat them with rods.

MacArthur says this was no ordinary beating:

Now, the magistrates had a group of guys that were local police. They were called lictors … and they were a kind of policeman. They carried around, for the purpose of punishment in these places where Greek people live, like, a pile of rods wrapped together. They were like birch rods, very hard. And they would wrap them all together. And in the middle they would insert an axe. And the axe was for the purpose of capital punishment when it was needed. On the spot, they could execute. When they didn’t need the axe, they laid the axe aside, take the bundle of rods and just flail people with them. Well, that’s what they decided to do. This was a Roman punishment. Incidentally, Paul got it three times. “Thrice was I beaten with rods,” II Corinthians 11:25…three times. It’s a fantastic thing to even conceive of this kind of a beating. And Paul says in II Corinthians 11:23, he says “in stripes above measure.” There were so many wounds inflicted by this mass of sticks flailing away that you couldn’t count them. No trial, no nothing!

Paul and Silas were then thrown in the inner prison and put in the stocks under constant guard.

Around midnight, the prisoners listened to Paul and Silas sing hymns and pray when a mighty earthquake shook the foundations of the prison. The doors opened and the shackles unfastened. The guard was terrified, because if any prisoner escaped, he would be executed. He considered killing himself before that happened:

28 But Paul cried with a loud voice, “Do not harm yourself, for we are all here.”

Once the cell was lit again, the guard trembled with fear and fell down in front of Paul and Silas, asking what he must do to be saved:

31 And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.”

During the earthquake, the guard had been asleep at home, which MacArthur says would have been next to the prison. He was beside himself in rushing to the prison only to find it in such a state. Then, of course, there were the consequences he would face from the Roman governor if anyone had escaped. The guard had those uncontrollable shakes from extreme fear that take time to dissipate.

Paul and Silas spoke ‘the word of the Lord’ to the guard and his household. The guard washed their wounds — no doubt many — after which, Paul and Silas baptised him and his household:

34 Then he brought them up into his house and set food before them. And he rejoiced along with his entire household that he had believed in God.

What an amazing story.

At that point, the church in Philippi had two groups that could then meet: Lydia and her household and the guard and his. God had a plan.

Now on to today’s verses.

When daylight broke, the magistrates sent the police to the jailer saying that Paul and Silas could walk free (verse 35). The jailer relayed the news to Paul (verse 36).

Paul expressed his indignation at the treatment that he and Silas — both Roman citizens — received. That beating was meant for Greeks, non-Romans under Roman rule. Paul stood on principle and told the guard that the police could release him and Silas themselves (verse 37).

MacArthur tells us more:

You see, it was forbidden under Roman law to ever corporeally inflict a wound on a Roman citizen. That was against the law. All a Roman had to do was say, I am a Roman citizen and they couldn’t put one wound on his body. That was the right of Roman citizenship. You know what happened? They had violated Roman law. You say, well, why didn’t Paul say it earlier? God didn’t want him to, because if they hadn’t got beaten, they wouldn’t have got to jail. If they hadn’t got to jail, this whole family wouldn’t have gotten saved. But here, Paul now says, I am a Roman. Now, he says, they threw us in prison, now are they gonna thrust us out so quietly and privately? “Nay, verily”…well, he is really in control…he says, “let them come themselves and fetch us out.” He says, you go tell those boys I got something to say to them.

This is why the magistrates were afraid when the police reported back to them (verse 38). They could have lost their jobs or worse. So, ‘they’ in verse 38 refers to the magistrates, who personally apologised to Paul and Silas before escorting them away with a request to leave Philippi (verse 39).

Before they left the city, they stopped by to meet with Lydia and her fellow converts to encourage them in the faith (verse 40).

MacArthur makes interesting points about this story. One is that Timothy and Luke were not jailed because they fit a Gentile profile. Another is that, when Paul returned to Philippi, the authorities never bothered him again. Another interesting point is this:

Isn’t that beautiful to see Paul care for his flock? And incidentally, he left Luke there to care for them, too.

Acts 17 returns to the third person, meaning that Luke was no longer with Paul, Silas and Timothy.

The establishment of the church in Philippi followed the same fascinating pattern as many of the churches featured in Acts: emotionally moving conversions, demons (although not always), persecution and strengthened faith.

In closing, this is what Matthew Henry had to say about Philippi, with words of encouragement for present-day clergy:

Though the beginnings here were small, the latter end greatly increased; now they laid the foundation of a church at Philippi, which became very eminent, had its bishops and deacons, and people that were more generous to Paul than any other church, as appears by his epistle to the PhilippiansLet not ministers be discouraged, though they see not the fruit of their labours presently; the seed sown seems to be lost under the clods, but it shall come up again in a plentiful harvest in due time.

Next time — Acts 17:16-21

Bible and crossThe 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 have omitted — 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 14:19-23

Paul Stoned at Lystra

19 But Jews came from Antioch and Iconium, and having persuaded the crowds, they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing that he was dead. 20 But when the disciples gathered about him, he rose up and entered the city, and on the next day he went on with Barnabas to Derbe. 21 When they had preached the gospel to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch, 22 strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God. 23 And when they had appointed elders for them in every church, with prayer and fasting they committed them to the Lord in whom they had believed.

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My last post on Acts, three weeks ago, was about Paul and Barnabas’s ministry in Iconium, which turned divisive, with the Jews trying to poison the Gentiles’ minds against the two preachers. Once they learned of a plot to assault and stone them, Paul and Barnabas left for Lystra.

In Lystra, also discussed in my post, the crowd listening to them nearly worshipped them as gods — Zeus (Paul) and Hermes (Barnabas) — and nearly offered them sacrifices. Paul and Barnabas had a most difficult time trying to convince the people that their blessings came from God, not false deities.

However, the Jews in Iconium were still furious with Paul and Barnabas. Jews from Antioch in Pisidia were equally enraged. Groups from both places — in Asia Minor (Anatolia), by the way — went to Lystra to stir the crowd up against the two men. They stoned Paul, because Barnabas was less of a threat, and ‘supposing’ he was dead, dragged him out of the city (verse 19).

John MacArthur tells us a bit about the author of Acts — St Luke’s — use of the Greek word for ‘supposing’ (emphases mine):

Now the word “supposing” is the word “namidsoe”. Now this word is an interesting word. It has two meanings. The first meaning is to have a custom, like it was a custom to do this or it was a custom to do that, but the second meaning is to suppose something. It is very obvious when it is used to mean accustom and when it is used to mean supposing. It is obvious from the context of any passage where it appears. Now it is used to mean supposing many times in the New Testament. Far and away the vast majority of those times – get this – it means to suppose something that is not true. Got that one? That’s the key to the interpretation. Far and away, in fact I think only two or three times, it is used otherwise. It is used far and away to mean to suppose wrongly and that is its use in the Book of Acts.

What happened to Paul in Lystra is interesting for two reasons.

First, it partially parallels what happened to Stephen, the first martyr, at the end of Acts 7. The Jews were so outraged at his apologetic for Jesus that they stoned him. They took him out of the city first, whereas they stoned Paul within the city limits then removed him.

Secondly, who was behind Stephen’s stoning? Saul of Tarsus — this same Paul who was stoned. Then, Saul had his Damascene conversion (Acts 9), discussed here, here and here. After Saul had been blind for three days, the Lord appeared to someone who did not know him, a Christian Damascene by the name of Ananias. The Lord told Ananias where to find Saul and to lay hands on him so that he would regain his sight. Ananias knew that Saul was a chief persecutor of Christians and he told the Lord of Saul’s fearsome reputation:

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.”

Now Paul had experienced what Stephen went through, albeit not fatally.

Another aspect of this stoning shows how fickle people can be. A short time before, they called Paul Zeus and wanted to worship him. Matthew Henry’s commentary puts it this way:

they were irritated to such a degree that the mob rose and stoned Paul, not by a judicial sentence, but in a popular tumult; they threw stones at him, with which they knocked him down, and then drew him out of the city, as one not fit to live in it, or drew him out upon a sledge or in a cart, to bury him, supposing he had been dead. So strong is the bias of the corrupt and carnal heart to that which is evil, even in contrary extremes, that, as it is with great difficulty that men are restrained from evil on one side, so it is with great ease that they are persuaded to evil on the other side. See how fickle and mutable the minds of carnal worldly people are, that do not know and consider things. Those that but the other day would have treated the apostles as more than men now treat them as worse than brutes, as the worst of men, as the worst of male-factors. To-day Hosanna, to-morrow Crucify; to-day sacrificed to, to-morrow sacrificed … Popular breath turns like the wind. If Paul would have been Mercury, he might have been enthroned, nay, he might have been enshrined; but, if he will be a faithful minister of Christ, he shall be stoned, and thrown out of the city. Thus those who easily submit to strong delusions hate to receive the truth in the love of it.

Some disciples — converts — followed the men taking Paul out of the city. Paul stood up (verse 20). They all re-entered Lystra. The next day, he and Barnabas went on to the nearby town of Derbe.

That Paul stood up and continued as normal demonstrates that a restorative — healing — miracle had taken place. Henry tells us (addition of a definition mine):

Though he was not dead, yet he was ill crushed and bruised, no doubt, and fainted away; he was in a deliquium, so that it was not without a miracle that he came so soon to himself, and was so well as to be able to go into the city. Note, God’s faithful servants, though they may be brought within a step of death, and may be looked upon as dead both by friends and enemies, shall not die as long as he has work for them to do. They are cast down, but not destroyed, 2 Corinthians 4:9.

MacArthur says that we can be sure that Paul had not died, that he was instead, as Henry describes, seriously injured:

the Holy Spirit is not in the business of minimizing resurrections. If this was a resurrection of the Apostle Paul I think you would have a lot more said about it that is said there, especially in the Book of Acts. The Book of Acts is dominated by a careful explanation of miracle after miracle after miracle. For the Holy Spirit to do a miracle like that and not make it clear means that the very purpose of the miracle is disallowed. What is a miracle for? A sign that points to the truth, but the sign there is so small you can’t even read it, and the Holy Spirit is in the business of making billboards. If this was a resurrection of Paul you’d have a lot more information about it than just there, and Luke is in the business of making clear cut, precise statements about miracles.

Derbe appears to be a footnote. Luke did not write much about it other than to say that Paul and Barnabas preached the Good News and made many disciples (verse 21). Paul did not write about Derbe, either.

Henry has an interesting detail about Derbe:

And it should seem that Timothy was of that city, and was one of the disciples that now attended Paul, had met him at Antioch and accompanied him in all this circuit; for, with reference to this story, Paul tells him how fully he had known the afflictions he endured at Antioch, Iconium, and Lystra, 2 Timothy 3:10,11. Nothing is recorded that happened at Derbe.

Derbe was also their final destination. After facing all the physical and mental persecution, they retraced their steps back to Lystra, Iconium and Antioch!

How dangerous was that? Most people would have said, ‘We don’t want to get killed. We went, we made disciples. They’ll be okay.’

MacArthur explains the determination of these men:

They went all the way back. Why? Because the Great Commission is not to make people Christians, it’s to make them what? Disciples. So it was dangerous to return. I mean they’d been kicked out of every town they’ve been in and it was taking their life in their hands but they believed so much in follow-up that they took their life in their hands.

They went back to the town where they’d been stoned, they went back to the towns where they’d been thrown out and their lives had been threatened. They went back fearlessly because they believed in follow-up. Sure it was dangerous. It was dangerous to go back but it was more dangerous for those new babes not to have meat and milk so they went back. I love that verse 21 ’cause that teaches follow-up. Don’t ever lead anybody to Jesus Christ that you’re not willing to nurture.

Verse 22 lists what follow-up entails: strengthening the disciples, encouraging their faith and telling them of the trials and tribulations of believing in Jesus Christ. (There is one final step in verse 23: organisation of the local church.)

The Cross offends. Even Baby Jesus offends! Everything about Christ offends those hostile to His everlasting Light.

Taking the follow-up steps one-by-one, strengthening — in some translations, ‘confirming’. MacArthur explains the Greek word for ‘confirming’:

Now the word “confirming” comes from a Greek word that really is made up of two wordsIt’s made of “epi” which means a pawn and “sterics” which means a prop or a support, and when they went back they went back to prop up the disciples.

You know a new babe can’t stand up, right? It’s like a new little baby. They just flop and lie there, and when you start to teach them to walk you’ve got to lift them and prop them up and hold their little arms and wiggle them around and get them to kind of get the feel of what it’s all about and away it goes after a while but that’s exactly the way it is as a Christian. You’ve got a baby and the baby is gonna have to be propped up. This word … is used four times in the Book of Acts to talk about propping up new believers. Acts 15:32, 15:41 and 18:23 in here, and it talks about each case of propping up the new believers. So they went back to prop them up. Literally it means to strengthen them, to help them to stand on their own, to be strong, and that’s the goal for every Christian minister, isn’t it?

The props — support — entailed:

Teaching doctrine, teaching principles, giving them props. That’s basic.

The next step is to encourage the new disciples in their faith. This is where exhortation — encouragement (not criticism) — comes in:

Now you can give them the doctrine but you don’t stop there, right? You don’t say, “Well we’ve had our doctrine for this morning. Goodbye.” You say, “What are you going to do about it?” And then you whammo and you get in there with the charge and all that, and that’s what’s in verse 22, “Confirming the souls of the disciples and then exhorting them.”

You know what exhorting means? It means to push a person toward a certain kind of conduct. It means to say, “Now here are the facts. Now go do it!”

That sounds a bit abrupt, but MacArthur reminds us that Paul was kind and patient:

Listen to what Paul says, 1 Thessalonians 2, “We were gentle among you.” That’s a good thing to remember in your exhortation. You don’t want to be like a bull in a china closet. “Gentle as a nursing mother and we being affectionately desirous of you we were willing to impart unto you not the Gospel of God only but our own souls.” We just gave ourselves. That’s part of it, isn’t it? Follow-up, giving yourself. Verse 9 he says, “We labored and travailed, laboring night and day” and the idea here is a painful work, just excruciating, agonizing in follow-up, and verse 11, “As you know how we exhorted and encouraged and charged every one of you as a father does his children that you should walk worthy.” That’s not teaching; that’s exhortation. Exhortation is teaching’s companion. Here’s the doctrine, now go do it! That’s exhortation. Exhortation is important, isn’t it?

The final point is setting the expectation for trial and tribulation. Think of what happened to the preachers in Acts. When they did not die or were stoned and otherwise persecuted, Satan was there with sorcerers to fill in the gaps. Imagine these converts witnessing the events that took place in their respective towns and cities. They must have been verbally and physically abused, too. Belief in Christ is costly.

MacArthur says:

In fact, Jude said, “You’re really gonna have to earnestly contend for the faith. Fight for it.” New babes, Satan tries to rip it away. The second thing he says, not only exhorting them but continue in the faith, this is beautiful, “We must through much tribulation enter the Kingdom of God.” A guy is going along in a pretty happy go lucky life, just winging it. All of a sudden he gets saved and he realizes he’s in a war. He’s saved, he’s come to Christ, there’s peace and joy, blessedness, and the guy gets saved and wham, smash, bam. I mean Satan belts him from every angle and problems that he can’t even believe and all kinds of things begin to trouble him and the guy doesn’t know what’s going on so immediately when dealing with a new Christian you must exhort him to anticipate … tribulation, trouble.

Get ready, my friend. You got saved, Satan’s coming, and he’s gonna unload, and I don’t think we’re fair with a new believer unless we tell him that. They need to be exhorted about the fact that tribulation is part of it. All that live Godly are gonna be suffering persecution and you’re gonna contend for the faith. You’re gonna fight for it

The whole system is against the Kingdom of God and when you enter the Kingdom you are one of the enemy of Satan and his hosts, and so people need to be exhorted to hang on and continue in the faith. From God’s standpoint salvation is secured eternally by sovereignty. From the human’s viewpoint it is secured visibly by continuance and so he says, “Get ready for trouble. It’s gonna come.” But I’ll tell you something, and I’ve said it before, if you don’t have trouble you don’t have victory, right? And who wants to live a life where there’s no victory? What a dull life. You say, “Yeah but there’s no battles.” That’s dull. I mean everybody wants to win. There’s got to be a contest if there’s gonna be a winner.

After the completion of these three steps — strengthening, encouragement and setting expectations for trouble — one more remains: organising the local church (verse 23). Paul and Barnabas appointed elders — senior leaders. MacArthur explains:

Organization. Now notice the interesting thing here, the ordained elders. Now elders are to rule in the church. Often the question is, “What kind of church government do you believe in? I believe in the kind of church government where the elders rule the church. You say, “Well does that mean that they just dictate?” No it doesn’t. It means they’re sensitive to the people and answerable to God.

Other translations of ‘appointed’ include ‘ordained’, which is a more straightforward verb. Paul and Barnabas ordained the elders. MacArthur gives us the ancient Greek ritual of ordination, which involved a consensus of raised hands among the congregation:

“ordained”, very interesting word in the Greek.

The term originally meant, “to select by a vote of raised hands.” Now people have always said, well, should a church vote on its leaders? The word progressed from that meaning and by the time Paul wrote this it meant simply to appoint or choose but it had a lingering significance of the raised hand idea, and incidentally it is used one other place in 2 Corinthians 8:19 and there it definitely does mean the idea of a congregation selecting. So the word means “to choose then with approval of the people by raised hands.” You know that’s probably how they did it.

It is likely that Paul and Barnabas chose the nominees, and the congregation voted with raised hands.

The second part of verse 23 is profound. Paul and Barnabas prayed and fasted after ordaining the elders. Henry says:

It is good to join fasting with prayer, in token of our humiliation for sin, and in order to add vigour to our prayers.

MacArthur says:

Boy, that’s a serious business, you know? Remember what Josiah said? “Like people, like priest. Nobody ever goes higher than its leadership” so they prayed with fasting, concentrated prayer, and I think people when you talk about fasting that’s where fasting really becomes what I think God intended it to be when you’re so lost in prayer over some spiritual battle or some spiritual issue that food becomes insignificant, and they poured out their hearts before God in prayer because they knew they had a critical decision in every town they went to. If they chose wrong leadership Satan could destroy what they had begun. Prayer and fasting.

Finally, Paul and Barnabas committed the elders to the Lord. Henry has a succinct, beautiful explanation of this:

When we are parting with our friends, the best farewell is to commend them to the Lord, and to leave them with him.

MacArthur tells us that Paul and Barnabas had done all they could humanly do:

You know I’ve spent myself on some people and I get down to the last and I say, “God, I’ve done everything I can do.” I’m giving this one over to the head of the church, Jesus Himself. You have to do that, don’t you? … I’m glad that that’s the final knot on the string of follow-up, aren’t you, that it’s God’s?

He tells us what Paul and Barnabas did next:

You say boy, they must’ve been tired. Tired? How about bruised? How about weary? How about overdone physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually? How about wiped out? I mean they had had it. It’s just unbelievable what they had gone through, and this had been going on for at least a year and a half untiringly. Now they’re going back home. They finished. They’re going home. Gonna have to cross the Taurus Mountains again with all the robbers and all that stuff and fast rivers. Oh, brother.

Their story continues next week.

Next time — Acts 14:24-28

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 have omitted — 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 14:1-7

Paul and Barnabas at Iconium

14 Now at Iconium they entered together into the Jewish synagogue and spoke in such a way that a great number of both Jews and Greeks believed. 2 But the unbelieving Jews stirred up the Gentiles and poisoned their minds against the brothers.[a] So they remained for a long time, speaking boldly for the Lord, who bore witness to the word of his grace, granting signs and wonders to be done by their hands. But the people of the city were divided; some sided with the Jews and some with the apostles. When an attempt was made by both Gentiles and Jews, with their rulers, to mistreat them and to stone them, they learned of it and fled to Lystra and Derbe, cities of Lycaonia, and to the surrounding country, and there they continued to preach the gospel.

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Last week’s entry discussed Paul and Barnabas’s joint ministry in Antioch in Pisidia, part of Galatia.

Acts 13 ends with these verses:

50 But the Jews incited the devout women of high standing and the leading men of the city, stirred up persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and drove them out of their district. 51 But they shook off the dust from their feet against them and went to Iconium. 52 And the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.

My post cites a John MacArthur sermon on the nature of this persecution (emphases mine):

Now we don’t know the exact nature of it but in 2 Timothy 3:11, Paul talks about his persecution in Antioch and in 2 Corinthians 11, he says he was beaten with rods and with whips and that’s probably what happened there. They really let them have it and then they “expelled them from their borders.”

Students of Acts know that Paul often went to evangelise large cities instead of towns and villages. MacArthur explains why:

He left the evangelization of the village to the people that got saved in the city. I think it would be good if some missions realized that this is the pattern of the New Testament. Now times were that he did go to small towns but usually large cities and then when they got saved, they would go to the villages.

Iconium was one of those exceptions:

Now this little old frontier town, which was officially a Roman colony since Emperor Hadrian, was little out in the boondocks a hundred miles from Antioch. Its population was the usual conglomeration of ex-soldiers, expatriates, Jews, Romans, Greeks, Syrian merchants and some half-civilized natives who inhabited the area and it was a typical kind of frontier dusty, dirty place, not much bigger than a village, though it was a fair sized city

Paul and Barnabas entered the synagogue together to preach powerfully — ‘in such a way’ — that many Jews and Gentiles believed (verse 1).

MacArthur says that they preached in synagogues because a) they wanted to reach the Jewish population first, b) the converted Jews could help convert Gentiles and c) if they had approached the Gentiles first, the Jews would have had nothing to do with them.

On St Luke’s mention of Jew and Gentile, Matthew Henry makes a good scriptural point:

Observe here, 1. That the gospel was now preached to Jews and Gentiles together, and those of each denomination that believed came together into the church. In the close of the foregoing chapter it was preached first to the Jews, and some of them believed, and then to the Gentiles, and some of them believed; but here they are put together, being put upon the same level. The Jews have not so lost their preference as to be thrown behind, only the Gentiles are brought to stand upon even terms with them; both are reconciled to God in one body (Ephesians 2:16), and both together admitted into the church without distinction.

However, the Jews who did not believe Paul and Barnabas’s message started agitating Gentiles against them (verse 2). ‘Brothers’ in that sentence refers to our two preachers — and the converts.

Henry says the Jews were envious that the Gentiles took easily to a belief in Jesus:

Unbelieving Jews were the first spring of their trouble here, as elsewhere (Acts 14:2): they stirred up the Gentiles. The influence which the gospel had upon many of the Gentiles, and their embracing it, as it provoked some of the Jews to a holy jealousy and stirred them up to receive the gospel too (Romans 11:14), so it provoked others of them to a wicked jealousy, and exasperated them against the gospel … The Jews, by false suggestions, which they were continually buzzing in the ears of the Gentiles, made their minds evil affected against the brethren, whom of themselves they were inclined to think favourably of … Thus they soured and embittered their spirits against both the converters and the converted. The old serpent did, by their poisonous tongues, infuse his venom against the seed of the woman into the minds of these Gentiles, and this was a root of bitterness in them, bearing gall and wormwood. It is no wonder if those who are ill affected towards good people wish ill to them, speak ill of them, and contrive ill against them; it is all owing to ill will. Ekakosan, they molested and vexed the minds of the Gentiles (so some of the critics take it); they were continually teasing them with their impertinent solicitations. The tools of persecutors have a dog’s life, set on continually.

Yet, Paul and Barnabas stayed in Iconium ‘a long time’ (verse 3). MacArthur says, in Greek, that is a vague turn of phrase:

Now that phrase, “a long time,” in the Greek is used elsewhere to speak of time as much as three years and as little as a month, so somewhere between a month and three years, likely several months, they remained in that city and they continued to preach and they continued to teach, speaking boldly in the Lord.

Note that the Lord ‘bore witness to the word of his grace’ by giving the two men the divine power to work ‘signs and wonders’:

The whole gospel is grace, isn’t it? And you say, “Well, how is the Lord giving testimony?” By those miracles. They’d preach and the Lord would give them the power to do miracles and people would believe and so the Lord was giving testimony by granting signs…semeion; sign points to something. It pointed to the power of God and wonders. It created wonder in their minds. It was done by the Apostles. This was the gift of miracles as the Lord confirmed the Word of grace.

Many of us, myself included, wish those powers were still granted, but MacArthur says they were specifically for the Apostolic Era, because the books of the New Testament had not been written at the time:

there were special gifts just for the Apostles which we don’t have today. In 2 Corinthians 12:12, just a brief review, “Truly the signs of an apostle…says Paul; and there he says there are some signs that belong to Apostles…were wrought among you…and here they are…signs, wonders and mighty deeds.” Now Paul says that Apostles were given the ability to perform signs which created wonder and they had the ability to perform mighty deeds. This is the gift of miracles. It is a temporary gift given to them to confirm their preaching. If a preacher comes to town and preaches, how are you going to know he’s telling you the truth? If you got three guys giving you three messages, you believe the one who raises the dead, right? You believe the one who has the wonders accompanying him because it shows that God is attaching to his ministry supernatural evidence and so God attached to the Apostles supernatural evidence. You say, “Don’t we need that today?” No, because anybody, any place, can determine whether we speak the truth by comparing us with the Scripture and so the Scripture becomes the confirmation today, whereas miracles were the confirmation in the day before the Scripture was completed.

Also, some people needed a tangible reason to believe:

It was confirmed to us by them with signs, wonders, mighty deeds and diverse gifts of the Holy Spirit, so when the gospel was preached in the early days, there were certain special gifts given to these men in order that they might confirm their message and that the message might be believable as it was accommodated by supernatural miracle. So in the apostolic day, they not only had these permanent kinds of gifts, these edifying, body-building gifts, but they had the gifts geared to convince unbelievers. Miracles is one that they had, obviously, from verse 3.

Note that St Luke, the author of Acts, was inspired to impress upon us that Paul and Barnabas spoke ‘boldly for the Lord’.

As we have seen, Acts is all about boldness — boldness even in the face of persecution:

Somebody told me…I forget who it was…recently that the thing they had learned most out of the Book of Acts and appreciated most and had made the most difference in their life as a Christian was the concept of boldness. Now for us who have been studying the Book of Acts for any time, it’s a review, isn’t it, because we’ve seen so much boldness in the Book of Acts, we’re almost overwhelmed by it but here it is again and the reason the Spirit repeats it so often is because it’s truly a part of the early church and it’s also because we need to know about it. We need to be reminded that boldness is a basic ingredient to the Christian experience

While all the conversions were taking place, the residents of Iconium became increasingly divided (verse 4). No one was lukewarm about Paul, Barnabas or their message. They either loved them or loathed them.

Note the use of ‘apostles’ in that verse. While the Church considers Paul an Apostle because he encountered Christ during his Damascene conversion, there is no scriptural record of Barnabas having had a similar experience. Note also that ‘apostles’ is in lower-case, although in some translations it has an upper-case ‘A’. Regardless, MacArthur says the word in that context means ‘messengers’:

The word apostolos, which is translated Apostle here, I feel, perhaps would be better translated “messenger.” It is so translated, for example, in Philippians 2:25. The word does mean messenger. For example, you have a word diakonia in the New Testament or diakonos which means servant. Sometimes it’s used just to speak of servant. Other times, diakonos is transliterated “deacon” when it’s speaking of the office. Every Christian is a servant but not all Christians fit the qualifications of a deacon and so the same word is used in some senses for the title; in other senses, in a general sense. The word apostolos is sometimes also used as an official title. In other senses, it is used to speak of a messenger from apostello, one who is sent, and so apparently, Barnabas is simply included as a messenger and we might even conclude that in a secondary sense, he is an Apostle as an early church sent one. Some commentators say he’s called an Apostle because he’s sort of sliding in on the apostolic coattails of Paul, but it’s best to see it in its widest possible meaning as a messenger from God rather than in the narrow significance capital A, the official Apostle.

Henry has a shorter explanation, meaning that Barnabas was designated by the Holy Spirit:

Barnabas is here reckoned an apostle, though not one of the twelve, nor called in the extra-ordinary manner that Paul was, because set apart by special designation of the Holy Ghost to the service of the Gentiles.

With regard to the severely divided city, Henry posits:

We may here see the meaning of Christ’s prediction that he came not to send peace upon earth, but rather division, Luke 12:51-53.

Some might think that Paul and Barnabas should never have gone there, however:

Yet the apostles must not be blamed for coming to Iconium, although before they came the city was united, and now it was divided; for it is better that part of the city go to heaven than all to hell.

Henry has this lesson for us:

We may here take the measures of our expectations; let us not think it strange if the preaching of the gospel occasion division, nor be offended at it; it is better to be reproached and persecuted as dividers for swimming against the stream than yield ourselves to be carried down the stream that leads to destruction. Let us hold with the apostles, and not fear those that hold with the Jews.

Iconium’s people had stirred themselves into a violent frenzy against Paul and Barnabas, whom they wanted to rough up then stone to death (verse 5).

MacArthur describes the atmosphere:

They just rushed on them. It was a furious mob. This was nothing but a lynching only without a rope, with rocks instead. The whole mad mob just lost its cool, reached the end of its tether. The polarization had finally just kind of maximized to the place where tolerance was no longer possible and they just flew in a rage after Paul and Barnabas and it says, in the classic understatement characteristic of the King James, they wanted “…to use them despitefully,” which being interpreted means they wanted to blast them out of existence. They wanted to bring upon them contempt, injury and death and they were going to stone them, verse 5 says.

MacArthur says that stoning was a Jewish punishment, one that Gentiles did not practice:

This was a Jewish form of execution and it was a Jewish form of execution in connection with blasphemy, so the Jews had perhaps convinced the Gentiles first of all that these guys were guilty of blasphemy against God and also perhaps convinced the Gentiles of the terrible thing they were doing to the town by splitting it up and creating problems, so the Gentiles joined in and the whole big mob came to kill Paul and Barnabas.

Paul and Barnabas were aware of the threat to their lives, so they fled to Lystra and Derbe in Lycaonia (verse 6), to preach the Gospel (verse 7).

They were bold men, however, they were also sensible men who wanted to stay alive and preach the Good News. If Iconium would no longer have them, then other places would.

MacArthur gives this analysis:

Well, boldness is one thing; stupidity is another. There’s obviously the time when the Spirit of God says, “Now it would be wise, men, to go to Lystra.” I mean it’s fine to be bold but God wants living, bold servants and it’s apparent that it came to the place now where they would not really have any necessity to stay. Their ministry had been completed there…it’s obvious. Everything had polarized. The thing was done …

Also:

You say, “Well, they shouldn’t have chickened out.” Listen, Matthew 10:23, Jesus gave explicit orders. He said this: “When they persecute you in this city, flee unto another.” Remember that…Matthew 10:23? He said, “Even shake the dust off the feet. Get out.” Well, the persecution only resulted in more evangelism.

The next ten verses are in the Lectionary, however, Lystra, which is just under 20 miles from Iconium is where the two men went next. It, too, was a town in the back of beyond. This region was like the Wild West — full of violence, corruption and lawlessness.

Lystra, MacArthur tells us:

was a Roman colony, also, founded by Augustus. It was a part of the region there called Lycaonia and again all of this is in the area known as Galatia. Now there’s no mention of a synagogue there, none at all. Now there may have been a synagogue, we don’t know, but it’s not mentioned.

We’ll continue in Lystra when I resume this column in the New Year.

However, it is worth pointing out that Paul performed a miracle there, healing in the manner of Jesus — immediately and completely. A man with a congenital disability preventing him from walking or standing sat and listened to Paul preach:

He listened to Paul speaking. And Paul, looking intently at him and seeing that he had faith to be made well,[b] 10 said in a loud voice, “Stand upright on your feet.” And he sprang up and began walking.

The Gentile crowd was amazed, to put it mildly:

11 And when the crowds saw what Paul had done, they lifted up their voices, saying in Lycaonian, “The gods have come down to us in the likeness of men!” 12 Barnabas they called Zeus, and Paul, Hermes, because he was the chief speaker.

The pagan priest from the temple of Zeus wanted to offer sacrifices to them, as did the crowd. Paul and Barnabas rushed out into the crowd to prevent this from happening, saying that they were but men and explaining that the miracle was from God:

18 Even with these words they scarcely restrained the people from offering sacrifice to them.

Ending with the healing miracle, note that verse 9 says that Paul saw the man had:

faith to be made well

‘Made well’ means not only physically but also spiritually.

Forbidden Bible Verses returns in January 2018.

Next time — Acts 14:19-23

Bible ancient-futurenetThe 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 have omitted — 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 13:8-12

But Elymas the magician (for that is the meaning of his name) opposed them, seeking to turn the proconsul away from the faith. But Saul, who was also called Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked intently at him 10 and said, “You son of the devil, you enemy of all righteousness, full of all deceit and villainy, will you not stop making crooked the straight paths of the Lord? 11 And now, behold, the hand of the Lord is upon you, and you will be blind and unable to see the sun for a time.” Immediately mist and darkness fell upon him, and he went about seeking people to lead him by the hand. 12 Then the proconsul believed, when he saw what had occurred, for he was astonished at the teaching of the Lord.

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Last week’s post introduced this dramatic scene. Barnabas, Saul and John Mark (Mark of the Gospel) sailed from the port of Seleucia, not far from Antioch where they had been teaching, and sailed to Cyprus, a short distance away. They ministered from Salamis on the east coast across the island to Paphos, the port on the west coast and the seat of Roman government. The wise proconsul Sergius Paulus wanted to hear what Barnabas and Saul had to say.

The magician — sorcerer — who inserted himself in Sergius Paulus’s court was named Bar-Jesus. He was anything but a ‘son of salvation’ but, in fact, a son of Satan. In verse 8, we see that Bar-Jesus was also known as Elymas, which means magician — sorcerer — an accurate name for this evildoer.

John MacArthur explains that Elymas is an Arabic name of two words:

One of them means wise and one of them means powerful and perhaps he was both.

Elymas actively tried to dissuade Sergius Paulus from the faith (verse 8).

Matthew Henry’s commentary explains how he might have done that (emphases mine below):

He set up himself to be a messenger from heaven, and denied that they were. And thus he sought to turn away the deputy from the faith (Acts 13:8), to keep him from receiving the gospel, which he saw him inclined to do. Note, Satan is in a special manner busy with great men and men of power, to keep them from being religious; because he knows that their example, whether good or bad, will have an influence upon many. And those who are in any way instrumental to prejudice people against the truths and ways of Christ are doing the devil’s work.

MacArthur refers to II Timothy 3, particularly verse 13, which talks about ‘seducers’ — sorcerers, nothing to do with carnal knowledge:

Now goes to verse 13 and I’ll really show you something. “But evil men and seducers shall become worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived.” I want you to look at the word seducers, goates in the Greek, from the Greek verb goaol. You know what that verb means? It means to utter low mystical tones. You say, “What is that?” It was a word used of a class of magicians who chanted magical formulas in guttural languages.

The clearest English translation of goates [–] seducers [–] is sorcerers. That’s the best translation.

Sorcerers feature in the Bible, unsuccessfully trying to stop God’s will:

“Now as Jannes and Jambres withstood Moses.” … The two magicians of Pharaoh who tried to stop the progress of God with Israel. Remember what happened? They were demon-possessed mediums in Pharaoh’s court and when Moses came in and wanted to do what God wanted they withstood him. They were just what Simon [Magus, from Acts 8 (here and here)], the sorcerer was; they were just exactly what Bar-Jesus was … They were demon-possessed people to withstand the purposes of God. But you know who won that contest? Moses.

St Luke, the author of Acts, referred to Saul as Paul for the first time in verse 9.

A few theories abound about this name change. Henry presents two of them. This is the first, which we know better:

Saul was his name as he was a Hebrew, and of the tribe of Benjamin; Paul was his name as he was a citizen of Rome. Hitherto we have had him mostly conversant among the Jews, and therefore called by his Jewish name; but now, when he is sent forth among the Gentiles, he is called by his Roman name, to put somewhat of a reputation upon him in the Roman cities, Paulus being a very common name among them.

Here is the second, which is rather interesting:

But some think he was never called Paul till now that he was instrumental in the conversion of Sergius Paulus to the faith of Christ, and that he took the name Paulus as a memorial of this victory obtained by the gospel of Christ, as among the Romans he that had conquered a country took his denomination from it, as Germanicus, Britannicus, Africanus; or rather, Sergius Paulus himself gave him the name Paulus in token of his favour and respect to him, as Vespasian gave his name Flavius to Josephus the Jew.

Josephus the Jew was the learned historian whose works corroborate the timeline of events in the New Testament.

MacArthur tells us:

He was probably called Paul from his birth, a Gentile name meaning little. You start studying Paul and he doesn’t come out very handsome. He’s little and sort of blind. One historian says, short, fat and bald. I don’t know whether that’s true, but nevertheless perhaps if you can think of him in that term you can get a little visual picture. But anyway, Saul called Paul, that means little, and it was his Gentile name. It says he was now beginning his ministry as apostle to the Gentiles. He’d begun to be called Paul from now on. So this is a transition and we’ll know him as Paul.

Verse 9 says that Paul looked at Elymas ‘intently’, from which we can infer eye-to-eye, eyes being the window to the soul. The Holy Spirit was welling up in Paul. Henry describes what was happening at that moment:

[1.] That he was filled with the Holy Ghost upon this occasion, filled with a holy zeal against a professed enemy of Christ, which was one of the graces of the Holy Ghosta spirit of burning; filled with power to denounce the wrath of God against him, which was one of the gifts of the Holy Ghost–a spirit of judgment. He felt a more than ordinary fervour in his mind, as the prophet did when he was full of power by the Spirit of the Lord (Micah 3:8), and another prophet when his face was made harder than flint (Ezekiel 3:9), and another when his mouth was made like a sharp sword, Isaiah 49:2. What Paul said did not come from any personal resentment, but from the strong impressions which the Holy Ghost made upon his spirit.

[2.] He set his eyes upon him, to face him down, and to show a holy boldness, in opposition to his wicked impudence. He set his eyes upon him, as an indication that the eye of the heart-searching God was upon him, and saw through and through him; nay, that the face of the Lord was against him, Psalms 34:16. He fixed his eyes upon him, to see if he could discern in his countenance any marks of remorse for what he had done; for, if he could have discerned the least sign of this, it would have prevented the ensuing doom.

Then, Paul referred to Elymas as ‘son of the devil’, ‘enemy of all righteousness’, filled with ‘all deceit and villainy’. He asked the sorcerer if he would stop what he was doing:

will you not stop making crooked the straight paths of the Lord?

MacArthur draws us back to the name Bar-Jesus:

His name was son of salvation. He says, “You’re no son of salvation, you’re son of the devil Bar-Jesus, Bar-Satan, bar meaning son. Then he calls him an enemy of all righteousness. He feigned that he was righteous, prophet, Jew, all that. He says, “You’re an enemy of all righteousness. You’re an enemy of God. Everybody in that stuff is an enemy of God. You get that? They’re deceitful, they’re wicked and you and I have nothing to do with them whatever. “Will you,” he says, “Will you not cease to pervert the right ways of the Lord?” Apparently this guy had twisted the truth about God around for satanic purposes. And that’s exactly what false prophets always do.

But there was no sign of remorse from Elymas, Bar-Jesus — in reality, not wise at all nor son of salvation, but rather the spawn of Satan.

So the Holy Spirit worked through Paul to blind the sorcerer, but only for a certain amount of time (verse 11). Paul told Elymas that the hand of the Lord was upon the sorcerer, therefore, this was a divine judgement.

Elymas could have been struck dead, but Henry posits that the blindness might have been a way of bringing Elymas to repentance:

if he will repent, and give glory to God, by making confession, his sight shall be restored; nay, it should seem, though he do not, yet his sight shall be restored, to try if he will be led to repentance either by the judgments of God or by his mercies.

MacArthur compared this blindness to Saul’s three-day blindness of his conversion and thinks it might have worked similarly on the magician:

I don’t know this and I don’t have much information other than just that little statement, “for a season,” but I wouldn’t be a bit surprised when I get to heaven to find Bar-Jesus up there because this was not a permanent judgment. But it was for the moment victory. Do you know something? Do you know the demons can’t handle you in the power of the Spirit? They cannot handle you at all. Mastery!

The seemingly invincible sorcerer was helpless with the ‘mist and darkness’ upon him. Everyone who was there saw what had happened to him. He had to reach out for people to lead him by the hand.

Henry has this analysis:

This silenced him presently, filled him with confusion, and was an effectual confutation of all he said against the doctrine of Christ. Let not him any more pretend to be a guide to the deputy’s conscience who is himself struck blind. It was also an earnest to him of a much sorer punishment if he repent not; for he is one of those wandering stars to whom is reserved the blackness of darkness for ever, Jude 1:13. Elymas did himself proclaim the truth of the miracle, when he went about seeking some to lead him by the hand; and where now is all his skill in sorcery, upon which he had so much valued himself, when he can neither find his way nor find a friend that will be so kind as to lead him!

One wonders how many people witnessing that believed. Whatever the case, Sergius Paulus, as a witness to that miracle, believed and was ‘astonished at the teaching of the Lord’ (verse 12).

Both our commentators put the emphasis on doctrine first, then the miracle, in converting the proconsul. Possibly, in his wisdom, Sergius Paulus wanted to understand the doctrine and saw it, rightly, as being primary.

What happened to him afterwards we are not told, however, Henry’s commentary says:

When he became a Christian, he neither laid down his government, nor was turned out of it, but we may suppose, as a Christian magistrate, by his influence helped very much to propagate Christianity in that island.

MacArthur says likewise:

Satan lost the battle, and now the whole of the island of Cyprus is going to come under the control of the Holy Spirit. What a victory. Then the deputy, when he saw what was done, what’s the next word, believed! You say oh it doesn’t say he was saved. You can believe and not be saved. That’s right. You could. But it doesn’t say he believed and wasn’t saved either. So how are you going to qualify the word believe?

Well, look at the next statement. “Being astonished at the doctrine of the Lord.” … It wasn’t the miracle that got to Sergius Paulus; it was the doctrine of the Lord. How is a man saved? If he confesses with his mouth that Jesus is Lord and believes. I believe that he was astonished at the doctrine. How would they know that unless he verbalized that, which means he believed and confessed with his mouth the doctrine of the Lordship of Christ? I believe he was saved. In fact there may be a wonderful companionship in heaven between Bar-Jesus and Sergius Paulus on a whole different basis going on right now. I hope I find them both there. That’s somewhat speculative, but that’s my opinion.

To wrap up on Sergius Paulus, during the Middle Ages, the Gauls (Gaul — present-day France) circulated legends to tie their cities to the Apostles. One legend posits that Sergius Paulus became the Bishop of Narbonne — Paul of Narbonne. However, that is unlikely because Sergius Paulus lived in the 1st century AD and served under the Emperor Claudius. Paul of Narbonne lived during the 3rd century.

Wikipedia states that Sergius Paulus probably fulfilled his three-year assignment in Cyprus then returned to Rome:

where he was appointed curator.[2] As he is not greeted in Paul’s Epistle to the Romans, it is possible he died before it was written.[3]

The rest of Acts 13 discusses Paul’s and Barnabas’s ongoing ministry. Verse 13 tells us that they sailed from Cyprus to Perga in Pamphylia then onto Antioch in Pisidia (not Syria). From Cyprus, John Mark returned to Jerusalem.

MacArthur explains what probably happened:

And here’s the sad note. “And John departing from them returned to Jerusalem. You say, “What’s so sad about that?” Paul was very upset about that, very very upset. S[o] why did John Mark leave? There’s several possibilities. Some say that he had resentment over Paul becoming the leader over Barnabas. Some say Mark was more attached to Barnabas and Paul, by his very nature, became the leader he was angry with Paul and didn’t want to work under him. Others say he was afraid because they were having to go over the Taurus mountains and the Taurus mountains were noted for being perilous. They were terribly fast torrents that was spanned by very weak bridges, and there were also robbers that lurked and the Roman government had tried to get the robbers out of the Taurus mountains but there was so many cracks and crevices and caves they couldn’t get them, and so it was a terribly perilous thing to even be in the Taurus mountains. It’s interesting, too, that in II Corinthians Paul says, “In my life I’ve been in the peril of robbers and in the peril of rivers,” and it may have been just that when he was talking about when he went to the Taurus mountains on his way.

And so perhaps Mark had a little chicken in him. There’s a third possibility and that is that the romance of mission work had worn off. Like so many missionaries who go out the first time around, the romance is going and they come back and that’s it. But whatever it was Paul was upset and it caused friction. Over in Chapter 15, verse 38, it had a terrible effect. They were going to go on a second missionary journey Paul and Barnabas, and this is, we’ll get to this and ooh you’ll learn some things there. Look at the difference between this and verse 36, “Let us go again.” Um Paul you’re running ahead, right? The last time the Spirit of God said, “Separate Me Paul and Barnabas.” Paul said, “Let us go.” You know what happened? They didn’t go. Paul wound up taking Silas and Barnabas wound up going somewhere else.

But you know what happened? Barnabas determined to take John, verse 37, “But Paul thought it not good to take him with them, who departed from them from Pamphylia and went not with him to the work and so the contention was so sharp that they departed asunder one from the other.” You know that leaving of John Mark actually fractured the relationship between Paul and Barnabas? There’s a beautiful ending to the story II Timothy 4:11, Paul is closing out his life and he writes and he says, “Only Luke is here. Could you send Mark? He could be profitable to me.” Somewhere in the years he and Mark got back together.

It is good to know they put their differences behind them — a good example to follow.

Next time — Acts 13:40-43

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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy have omitted — 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 12:6-11

Peter Is Rescued

Now when Herod was about to bring him out, on that very night, Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains, and sentries before the door were guarding the prison. And behold, an angel of the Lord stood next to him, and a light shone in the cell. He struck Peter on the side and woke him, saying, “Get up quickly.” And the chains fell off his hands. And the angel said to him, “Dress yourself and put on your sandals.” And he did so. And he said to him, “Wrap your cloak around you and follow me.” And he went out and followed him. He did not know that what was being done by the angel was real, but thought he was seeing a vision. 10 When they had passed the first and the second guard, they came to the iron gate leading into the city. It opened for them of its own accord, and they went out and went along one street, and immediately the angel left him. 11 When Peter came to himself, he said, “Now I am sure that the Lord has sent his angel and rescued me from the hand of Herod and from all that the Jewish people were expecting.”

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Last week’s entry discussed St Luke’s — the author of Acts — account of Herod Agrippa’s beheading of James, the brother of John (the sons of Zebedee). Herod then went after Peter during Passover in order to please the Jews. He had Peter imprisoned and watched by 16 guards. Meanwhile, the church in Jerusalem prayed earnestly for his safety and that God would somehow release him.

John MacArthur preached that such prayer was an extreme spiritual effort. The Greek word used is ektenoce, which he explained is a medical term used when describing muscles stretched to their limit.

Matthew Henry believed that there was a rotating prayer vigil by the people for Peter (emphases mine):

It was an extended prayer; they prayed for his release in their public assemblies (private ones, perhaps, for fear of the Jews); then they went home, and prayed for it in their families; then retired into their closets, and prayed for it there; so they prayed without ceasing: or first one knot of them, and then another, and then a third, kept a day of prayer, or rather a night of prayer, for him, Acts 12:12. Note, Times of public distress and danger should be praying times with the church; we must pray always, but then especially.

It was nearing the time for Herod to release Peter for a show trial then sentence him to death (verse 6). That night, Peter was sleeping between two of the soldiers, chained to each of them. Sentries were outside guarding the prison.

An angel of the Lord appeared in Peter’s cell, a divine light brightening the area (verse 7). The angel gave him a sharp blow to awaken him immediately — and enough to function. When Peter stood, he found his chains broke and fell to the ground.

Herod thought his scheme was literally iron-clad, but God always has the upper hand on His creation, especially evildoers who think they are more powerful than He.

Furthermore, God does not forget His own. We see that clearly illustrated in this event. Henry tells us:

He seemed as one abandoned by men, yet not forgotten of his God; The Lord thinketh upon him. Gates and guards kept all his friends from him, but could not keep the angels of God from him: and they invisibly encamp round about those that fear God, to deliver them (Psalms 34:7), and therefore they need not fear, though a host of enemies encamp against them, Psalms 27:3. Wherever the people of God are, and however surrounded, they have a way open heavenward, nor can any thing intercept their intercourse with God.

The angel told Peter to put on his clothes and sandals and to wrap a cloak around himself. The King James Version is more specific:

And the angel said unto him, Gird thyself, and bind on thy sandals. And so he did. And he saith unto him, Cast thy garment about thee, and follow me.

Readers might recall Jeremiah 1:17-19 in the KJV:

17 Thou therefore gird up thy loins, and arise, and speak unto them all that I command thee: be not dismayed at their faces, lest I confound thee before them.

18 For, behold, I have made thee this day a defenced city, and an iron pillar, and brasen walls against the whole land, against the kings of Judah, against the princes thereof, against the priests thereof, and against the people of the land.

19 And they shall fight against thee; but they shall not prevail against thee; for I am with thee, saith the Lord, to deliver thee.

John MacArthur describes girding of the loins:

they used to wear an inner garment that hung very loosely and in the daytime they’d cinch it up with a belt. At night they’d loosen the belt and let it hang loose.

There is also a connotation of preparing to act. The Free Dictionary provides this definition:

gird (up) (one’s) loins
To summon up one’s inner resources in preparation for action.

Once Peter was dressed, he followed the angel but thought he was receiving a vision (verse 9). One can imagine he had probably dreamt of being released, and, in a possibly groggy state, believed this was too good to be true.

Henry reminds us of Psalm 126:1. I included the next two verses as this was probably how Peter felt later when he realised what had happened:

126 When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion,
    we were like those who dream.
Then our mouth was filled with laughter,
    and our tongue with shouts of joy;
then they said among the nations,
    “The Lord has done great things for them.”
The Lord has done great things for us;
    we are glad.

Verse 10 tells us that they passed the first, then the second, guard. The iron gate opened by itself. As they went along one street, the angel suddenly left Peter. That was because Peter was now free and knew his surroundings.

Henry discusses the gate:

And probably the iron gate shut again of itself, that none of the guards might pursue Peter. Note, When God will work salvation for his people, no difficulties in their way are insuperable; but even gates of iron are made to open of their own accord. This iron gate led him into the city out of the castle or tower; whether within the gates of the city or without is not certain, so that, when they were through this, they were got into the street.

This is more than history. Henry gives us much to consider:

This deliverance of Peter represents to us our redemption by Christ, which is often spoken of as the setting of prisoners free, not only the proclaiming of liberty to the captives, but the bringing of them out of the prison-house. The application of the redemption in the conversion of souls is the sending forth of the prisoners, by the blood of the covenant, out of the pit wherein is no water, Zechariah 9:11. The grace of God, like this angel of the Lord, brings light first into the prison, by the opening of the understanding, smites the sleeping sinner on the side by the awakening of the conscience, causes the chains to fall off from the hands by the renewing of the will, and then gives the word of command, Gird thyself, and follow me. Difficulties are to be passed through, and the opposition of Satan and his instruments, a first and second ward, an untoward generation, from which we are concerned to save ourselves; and we shall be saved by the grace of God, if we put ourselves under the divine conduct. And at length the iron gate shall be opened to us, to enter into the New Jerusalem, where we shall be perfectly freed from all the marks of our captivity, and brought into the glorious liberty of the children of God.

The broken chains remained in the cell:

Tradition makes a mighty rout about these chains, and tells a formal story that one of the soldiers kept them for a sacred relic, and they were long after presented to Eudoxia the empress

When Peter was fully alert, he then realised that he had experienced a miracle that delivered him from Herod and the Jewish people who wanted the Apostle dead (verse 11).

This is the KJV:

11 And when Peter was come to himself, he said, Now I know of a surety, that the Lord hath sent his angel, and hath delivered me out of the hand of Herod, and from all the expectation of the people of the Jews.

The Bible MacArthur used for his sermon has the word ‘considered’. He provides this interpretation:

“And when he had considered,” I love that word considered soonhedon, soon means together and hedon means to see. To consider means to see together. It means to take all the parts of something and see it together in perspective.

Now we can see that Peter might have been thinking along the lines of Jeremiah 1:19 above.

The story continues next week.

Next time — Acts 12:12-17

Bible read me 2The three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

Acts 9:36-43

Dorcas Restored to Life

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

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

Peter had a dramatic ministry:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

John MacArthur on Peter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MacArthur goes on to say:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MacArthur explains:

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

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

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

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

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

Next time: Acts 10:1-8

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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

Acts 9:32-35

The Healing of Aeneas

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

———————————————————————————————

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

Last week’s reading ended with this verse:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Note what Peter said to him (verse 34):

Jesus Christ heals you;

and:

rise and make your bed.

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

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

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

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

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

Henry reminds us of the spiritual element in every miracle:

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

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

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

MacArthur adds historical and geographical information about Lydda and Sharon:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next time — Acts 9:36-43

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.

————————————————————————————————

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.

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