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The Fourteenth Sunday after Trinity — Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost — is September 5, 2021.

Readings for Year B can be found here.

The Gospel reading is as follows (emphases mine):

Mark 7:24-37

7:24 From there he set out and went away to the region of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know he was there. Yet he could not escape notice,

7:25 but a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit immediately heard about him, and she came and bowed down at his feet.

7:26 Now the woman was a Gentile, of Syrophoenician origin. She begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter.

7:27 He said to her, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.”

7:28 But she answered him, “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”

7:29 Then he said to her, “For saying that, you may go–the demon has left your daughter.”

7:30 So she went home, found the child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.

7:31 Then he returned from the region of Tyre, and went by way of Sidon towards the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis.

7:32 They brought to him a deaf man who had an impediment in his speech; and they begged him to lay his hand on him.

7:33 He took him aside in private, away from the crowd, and put his fingers into his ears, and he spat and touched his tongue.

7:34 Then looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.”

7:35 And immediately his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly.

7:36 Then Jesus ordered them to tell no one; but the more he ordered them, the more zealously they proclaimed it.

7:37 They were astounded beyond measure, saying, “He has done everything well; he even makes the deaf to hear and the mute to speak.”

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

The Lectionary continues with Mark 7, where we left off last week.

John MacArthur provides context for today’s readings. Jesus is now far away from Capernaum and is in Gentile territory. MacArthur also gives us an insight into the audience for Mark’s Gospel:

Now remember that Mark is in Rome when he writes this Gospel. Mark is writing from Rome, and he’s writing an account of the life and death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ for Gentile readers, primarily. Obviously it extended to everyone, but his primary goal is to write for the Gentile world. It is then important to Mark that he communicates in his Gospel that salvation extends to the whole world. You wouldn’t get that message if you just talked to the Jews of New Testament times. They viewed Gentiles as outcasts

But that was not the attitude of our Lord and nor was that what the Old Testament promised. For example, in the book of Isaiah it comes very clear to us that there is only one God for the whole world – only one God for the entire world. Isaiah 42 says, “Thus says God the LORD, who created the heavens and stretched them out, who spread out the earth and its offspring, who gives breath to the people on it and spirit to those who walk in it.” This is God, the only God …

In Isaiah 45 verse 5, “I am the LORD; there is no other. Besides Me there is no God.” There is only one God – only one God, no other gods, all the idols of the world are not gods …

Salvation has always intended to be to the world. If you ask the question, “Then why in John 4 did Jesus say, ‘Salvation is of the Jews?’” Why in Matthew 10 verses 5 and 6 did Jesus say, “I have not come but for the lost sheep of the house of Israel?” The answer is that Israel was never intended to be the end of God’s saving purpose but the means to the end. The reason our Lord came to Israel was to bring salvation to Israel so that Israel could be the means to Gentile salvation. And while the nation rejected, there were enough who believed – the Twelve, the 120, the 500 in Galilee – who then took the gospel on the heels of the Great Commission to the ends of the earth. We’re a part of the fruit of that. Aren’t we? We’re the Gentiles who make up the church, along with those Jews who have come to embrace their Messiah. We’re the fruit of that early generation of believers who were the means. And the first evangelists were Jewish. The early church was Jewish, three thousand converted on the Day of Pentecost, thousands more as the weeks rolled on, who began to extend the gospel and fulfill the Great Commission

We get a glimpse of that here in the story in Mark 7 verses 24 to 30. Here Jesus leaves Israel and He goes on a very long foray deep into Gentile territory. He’s into the last year of His ministry. The gospel ministry in Galilee has been going on for over a year. There are not a lot of believers. Most have rejected, the Pharisees and Sadducees hate Him. They’re looking to kill Him. There will be a national rejection and a cry for His death soon to come. But there will be enough Jews in the kingdom to carry the message to the world.

Jesus — and the Twelve — went to the region of Tyre, where He entered a house and wanted to go in without anyone noticing, yet He could not escape being seen (verse 24).

MacArthur tells us about Tyre:

The region of Tyre would be in the country known as Phoenicia. Phoenicia has two famous cities, Tyre and Sidon. This account of Mark is paralleled in Matthew 15 verses 21 to 28, and Matthew says, “Tyre and Sidon.” They’re two coastal cities, twenty miles apart – famous, famous cities, famous in history, famous in the Old Testament, as I told you, quoted in Psalm 87, famous because of the conquering of Alexander the Great. They are the main cities in Gentile country, Phoenicia, north and west of Galilee, pressing against the Mediterranean coast.

This was not a day trip:

He went to Tyre and He was there a while. We don’t know how long. And then He went 20 miles and Tyre was 50 miles away from Capernaum, Galilee – Sea of Galilee area. Then He went 20 miles north and He went through Sidon, the sister city. We don’t know how long He was there. And then He followed the highway east back across the mountains of Lebanon, a very circuitous route, even going further north than Sidon, and going through the mountains and then down to the south, east of the Sea of Galilee and then back toward the Sea of Galilee in the middle of Decapolis which didn’t begin until the southern part of the Sea of Galilee, was a Gentile area called Decapolis, a Greek word for ten cities. This is a very long trip. He would have walked at least – if He just took a direct route – 120 to 150 miles. It took weeks, maybe months.

There are no great teaching events in Tyre. There are no great teaching events in Sidon. In all the weeks that He was trekking through the challenging trails of the mountains of Lebanon, there is no indication that anything happened. He had with Him His Twelve Apostles. The assumption is, the rejection of Galilee is fixed, now it’s time to turn to these men and train them. He’s already reached the point where He only explains the parables to them, not the crowds. Now it’s time to intensify their training.

A woman whose daughter had an unclean spirit — a demon — heard He was there, so she sought Him and bowed down at his feet (verse 25).

She humbled herself before Him, as we all should.

Matthew Henry’s commentary says:

Note, Those that would obtain mercy from Christ, must throw themselves at his feet; must refer themselves to him, humble themselves before him, and give up themselves to be ruled by him. Christ never put any from him, that fell at his feet

She was a Syrophonecian, a Gentile, and begged Him to cast the demon out of her daughter (verse 26).

In using an analogy of feeding children first, then dogs, Jesus replied that He came to save the children of Israel first (verse 27).

Henry said that He replied in such a way in order to test her faith:

Where Christ knows the faith of poor supplicants to be strong, he sometimes delights to try it, and put it to the stretch.

Yet, He knew that He would be going into Gentile areas after His own rejected Him:

Let the children first be filled, intimates that there was mercy in reserve for the Gentiles, and not far off; for the Jews began already to be surfeited with the gospel of Christ, and some of them had desired him to depart out of their coasts. The children begin to play with their meat, and their leavings, their loathings, would be a feast for the Gentiles. The apostles went by this rule, Let the children first be filled, let the Jews have the first offer; and if their full souls loathe this honeycomb, Lo, we turn to the Gentiles!

The woman pointed out that even dogs ate the crumbs that fell from the dining table (verse 28).

She meant that she did not require a full loaf, just one crumb — one healing — from Him would suffice for her.

Henry offers this analysis, positing that she might have heard of the miracle of the Feeding of the Five Thousand, which had happened not long before:

This she speaks, not as undervaluing the mercy, or making light of it in itself, but magnifying the abundance or miraculous cures with which she heard the Jews were feasted, in comparison with which a single cure was but as a crumb. Gentiles do not come in crowds, as the Jews do; I come alone. Perhaps she had heard of Christ’s feeding five thousand lately at once, after which, even when they had gathered up the fragments, there could not but be some crumbs left for the dogs.

MacArthur thinks that the woman might even had seen Jesus in Galilee. This would be feasible, as there was a lot of travel and mixing between Jew and Gentile, although not in a deep sense of friendship and marriage. They knew of each other’s religions and customs:

She’s certainly very familiar with Jesus. She not only knows what He’s capable of doing, she even knows who He is. My guess is that she had been there in Galilee, probably for a long enough time to really be sure about this person Jesus. She had been there, in those crowds.

You remember that it tells us in the New Testament that if the miracles that were done in Capernaum had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented. Well this is one of the ladies that would have repented because she did repent. Not because of what she saw in Tyre and Sidon, but because of what she must have seen in Capernaum. So Jesus goes into Gentile territory. This is a preview of what is to come when the gospel goes to the ends of the earth. This is a personal affirmation from Jesus that salvation belongs outside Israel.

This woman understood her place — as a dog — in the eyes of the Jews:

Matthew says she was a Canaanite. Bad enough to be a Gentile, worse to be a Canaanite, because the Canaanites were cursed by God and they were supposed to be exterminated. There shouldn’t be any Canaanites left. So she’s vestiges of a cursed race and a Syrophoenician. Humm, what does that mean?

Well Phoenicia was the name of the country, but under a Roman general, Ptolemy, who ruled there for a while, he had annexed Phoenicia to Syria. So Syria and Phoenicia became one, and she was a Syrophoenician. Her influences were all to be rejected by the Jews. First of all, she was a woman, that was bad enough. And then she was a Canaanite, the general category of Gentile, of course. But being a Syrophoenician identified her, of course, with the Romans. She was therefore as a Canaanite corrupted by Baal worship and as somebody in a Romans-influenced culture, corrupted doubly by the gods of the Romans. And in the city of Tyre, of course, that’s where Jezebel lived, and that’s where Baal worship originated. But they also had the Roman gods and there’s some evidence that they worshiped a god named Astarte. Astarte was the goddess of beauty and the moon goddess, and Astarte is a Greek name for Ashtoreth. And you will remember that Baal and Ashtoreth were worshiped by Israel of old. So they made a transition from Baal and Ashtoreth to the Astarte version, so they were just engulfed in idolatry. The Jews had been cleansed of idolatry when they came back from the Babylonian captivity.

Jesus acknowledged the woman’s faith by healing her daughter (verse 29).

The woman returned home to find her little girl lying on the bed, the demon gone (verse 30).

MacArthur says that the girl was probably somewhere between the ages of seven and ten and that the demon caused her to act in immoral ways:

This is a little girl. This is a young girl, an unmarried girl under the age of twelve, thirteen, when people got married. Who knows? Eight, nine, ten, seven – who knows? A demon-possessed child. Horrific experience for a mother. I think much more common in the world today than we understand or that demons want us to understand …

The unclean aspect would probably mean that the demon was manifesting itself in some kind of immoral conduct in a child. Horrible, horrible situation, and her heart is grieved and broken, and she has nowhere to turn. Do you think she had gone through whatever ceremonies her idol gods required? Probably. Do you think she had tried to appeal to whatever deities she had been taught existed? Sure. Whatever she had done in the past, she had lost all confidence in them. She is now doing what 1 Thessalonians 1:9 says the Thessalonians did, “They turned from idols to the living God.” Whenever you talk about idols and the living God, it’s because there’s a contrast between a living God and dead idols. Read Isaiah 44 and watch how foolish it is to make a god out of a piece of wood.

Or today’s trendy crystals, for that matter …

Our Lord’s ministry took Him and the Twelve from the region of Tyre to that of Sidon, the other principal city, which was towards the Sea of Galilee in the region of the Decapolis — ‘ten cities’ (verse 31).

MacArthur describes the journey:

He’s now moving directly north. Sidon is twenty miles north of Tyre, straight up the coast. There is no record that He taught there. There’s no record that He healed anybody there. There’s no record that He had any public presence there. It’s possible, because in John 21:25 it says that if all the things He did were written down, the books of the world couldn’t contain them. We can assume that He had a divine purpose in going from Tyre to Sidon. We just don’t have a record of what that was. But again, John says more is left out of the record even with four Gospels than is included. This again is important for Him because after going to Tyre, it says that He moves from there, according to verse 31, through Sidon to the Sea of Galilee within the region of Decapolis.

Now Decapolis is on the east of the Sea of Galilee and the south end. It’s called Decapolis because it is a region with ten cities, Hellenized, Greek-influenced cities, pagan cities, heathen cities, non-Jewish cities, but it is from the lower part of the eastern side of the Sea of Galilee and south from there. So He’s all the way to the northwest and He ends up all the way in the southeast of Galilee. And He takes that complete circuitous trip going way further north than one would need to go to get to the area of Decapolis for the purpose of extending the time in order that He might teach the Twelve personally. He visits on His journey outlying areas of Galilee, Bethsaida, Caesarea Philippi, way, way up on the north border between Israel and Lebanon, twenty-five miles north of the lake.

There the people brought before Him a man who had a speech impediment and asked Him to heal him by laying a hand on him (verse 32).

MacArthur explains the importance of this request and says that this story appears in Mark’s Gospel alone:

Believe me, they had never seen anything like this from any or all of their deities combined. They recognize that the God of Israel is a God of a completely different nature than theirs. Now it is in that context that we come to Mark 7, because it is in that context that this miracle takes place. This is one of those who was thrown at His feet by friends and family, a deaf mute. And again, this is one of three accounts in Mark’s Gospel that appear nowhere else in the other three Gospels.

In both Gentile and Jewish cultures, life was very difficult for the deaf because they could not make themselves understood. Blind people could at least speak but the deaf were often considered insane because of their indistinct verbal communication:

Even in Israel – and this is a sad reality – but even in Israel, deaf mutes were categorized with the insane because the rabbis said, we have no way of knowing what they understand. They were not granted normal human rights. And in the Gentile world, it was worse. Who knows what life was like for this man or for all the others. The Jews would also heap on the person the fact that if they had that kind of malady they were under the curse of God and the judgment of God, and it would be viewed by the Pharisees and Sadducees as unclean because they were under divine judgment. We don’t know what perspective all the Gentiles had, depending on what deities they worshiped, but these would be people who in any culture were outcasts, treated with disdain. Because it was virtually impossible to communicate with them, it was assumed that they had these limiting capacities mentally.

Jesus took the man away from the crowd and did four things He normally did not do when performing a healing miracle.

He put His fingers into the man’s ears, He spat, He touched his tongue (verse 33) and, looking up to heaven, He sighed on him, saying, ‘Ephphatha’ — ‘Be opened’ (verse 34).

Immediately, the man could hear, his tongue functioned normally and he could speak clearly (verse 35).

Henry gives us a lengthy analysis of these actions, all meant to convey divine healing power:

2. He used more significant actions, in the doing of this cure, than usual. (1.) He put his fingers into his ears, as if he would syringe them, and fetch out that which stopped them up. (2.) He spit upon his own finger, and then touched his tongue, as if he would moisten his mouth, and so loosen that with which his tongue was tied; these were no causes that could in the least contribute to his cure, but only signs of the exerting of that power which Christ had in himself to cure him, for the encouraging of his faith, and theirs that brought him. The application was all from himself, it was his own fingers that he put into his ears, and his own spittle that he put upon his tongue; for he alone heals.

3. He looked up to heaven, to give his Father the praise of what he did; for he sought his praise, and did his will, and, as Mediator, acted in dependence on him, and with an eye to him. Thus he signified that it was by a divine power, a power he had as the Lord from heaven, and brought with him thence, that he did this; for the hearing ear and the seeing eye the Lord has made, and can remake even both of them. He also hereby directed his patient who could see, though he could not hear, to look up to heaven for relief. Moses with his stammering tongue is directed to look that way (Exodus 4:11); Who hath made man’s mouth? Or who maketh the dumb or deaf, or the seeing or the blind? Have not I the Lord?

4. He sighed; not as if he found any difficulty in working this miracle, or obtaining power to do it from his father; but thus he expressed his pity for the miseries of human life, and his sympathy with the afflicted in their afflictions, as one that was himself touched with the feeling of their infirmities. And as to this man, he sighed, not because he was loth to do him this kindness, or did it with reluctancy; but because of the many temptations which he would be exposed to, and the sins he would be in danger of, the tongue-sins, after the restoring of his speech to him, which before he was free from. He had better be tongue-tied still, unless he have grace to keep his mouth as with a bridle,Psalms 39:1.

5. He said, Ephphatha; that is, Be opened. This was nothing that looked like spell or charm, such as they used, who had familiar spirits, who peeped and muttered,Isaiah 8:19. Christ speaks as one having authority, and power went along with the word. Be opened, served both parts of the cure; “Let the ears be opened, let the lips be opened, let him hear and speak freely, and let the restraint be taken off;” and the effect was answerable (Mark 7:35; Mark 7:35); Straightway his ears were opened, and the string of his tongue was loosed, and all was well: and happy he who, as soon as he had his hearing and speech, had the blessed Jesus so near him to converse with.

MacArthur looks at the command ‘Ephphatha’ and the fact that the man could speak when he never before heard any language:

Verse 34, “He said to him, ‘Ephphatha,’ that is ‘be opened.’” That’s probably an Aramaic statement – verb. Some think it might be a Hebrew, but the weight of evidence is on Aramaic, which would have been the language Jesus spoke every day. Ephphatha – be opened.” The response was instant, absolutely instant. With a word out of His mouth, one verb, ephphatha, the power came. Verse 35 says, “His ears were opened and the impediment” – the bond, the desmos, it’s the word for chains that chain a prisoner, the chain of his tongue – “was broken and he began speaking plainly.” In an instant he could hear perfectly and he could speak plainly.

Do you understand the extent of this? To hear is one thing. To be able to know that what you’re hearing is language when you’ve never heard language is another miracle. Right? There’s no speech therapy here. He doesn’t have to go to language class to learn Aramaic or Greek. He has full facility in the language that he’s never heard. To hear it and understand it and speak it plainly. The word plainly in the Greek is orthōs from which we get orthopedics. It means to straighten things out. Correctly would be the right translation, to put something back to the correct alignment. He heard and spoke perfectly. No therapy, no learning curve, nobody had to teach him how to form the letters, form the words, nobody had to teach him what the words were. He received an instant facility in the language to hear it and speak it implanted in his brain. It’s really stunning. No recovery period, but then there never is in Jesus’ miracles. There’s no progression here. He couldn’t hear; now he hears. He couldn’t speak, and now he speaks. And he hears perfectly and he speaks perfectly. This is staggering. The man unable to speak is now enabled to speak.

And then we come to a third point. He is unable not to speak. Now that he can speak, he can’t hold it back.

Jesus told the crowd not to tell anyone of the miracle, but they could not contain themselves, even when He repeatedly ordered them to again (verse 36).

MacArthur says that this is because Jesus did not want to be known solely as a miracle worker but as our Redeemer. His authorship of our redemption — crucifixion and resurrection — had not yet been accomplished but was to come. At this point, His ministry could be at risk of spinning out of control, so He had to rein the crowd in:

Don’t spread the message that I’m a healer and a miracle worker. That’s not the whole story. It would be like you having one part of the gospel story that Jesus was born of a virgin, came into the world, did miracles and healed people, and preached the kingdom of God, and that’s the story. That’s not the story, because it doesn’t include – what? – the cross, and it doesn’t include the resurrection. That’s the full story. So He says this again.

This was not the case earlier in Gerasa, where the Gadarene swine miracle took place. The man whom Jesus rid of demons was the first missionary to Decapolis. Jesus wanted him to tell the people who He was:

… back in chapter 5 when Jesus was in Gadara, Gerasa which is also in Gentile territory over in the same area, and He healed the man who had the legion of demons, He said to him, “Go home to your people and report to them what great things the Lord has done for you and how He had mercy on you. And the man went away and began to proclaim in Decapolis what great things Jesus had done for him and everyone was amazed.” He tells that man to tell everybody. He tells this man to tell nobody. What’s the difference here? How do we explain that?

We explain that because the maniac was the first missionary to Decapolis. There had never been anybody to talk about Jesus there before. And it needed to be established who He was and what He could do and His power. But now it’s reached epic proportions, massive crowds.

The crowd’s astonishment knew no bounds and they marvelled at His perfection in healing the deaf and the mute (verse 37).

Henry explains their sense of astonishment:

… they that told it, and they that heard it, were beyond measure astonished, hyperperissos–more than above measure; they were exceedingly affected with it, and this was said by every body, it was the common verdict, He hath done all things well (Mark 7:37; Mark 7:37); whereas there were those that hated and persecuted him as an evil-doer, they are ready to witness for him, not only that he has done no evil, but that he has done a great deal of good, and has done it well, modestly and humbly, and very devoutly, and all gratis, without money and without price, which added much to the lustre of his good works. He maketh both the deaf to hear, and the dumb to speak; and that is well, it is well for them, it is well for their relations, to whom they had been a burthen; and therefore they are inexcusable who speak ill of him.

MacArthur says that the only time ‘hyperperissos’ is used is in the New Testament:

The word for utterly astonished, one word in Greek, huperperissōs – huperperissōs. It’s used only here in the New Testament. It is a compound word, very, very strong. It means above all measure, over the top, superabundantly amazed and astonished. They had their minds blown in the vernacular. They’re just completely amazed. They can’t contain it. They cannot keep this in. So they spread it everywhere.

I hope there will be good sermons on this reading on Sunday. Henry and MacArthur’s respective commentaries have made me see these two miracles in a new light.

The Eighth Sunday after Trinity — Ninth Sunday after Pentecost — is July 25, 2021.

Readings for Year B can be found here.

The Gospel reading is as follows (emphases mine):

John 6:1-21

6:1 After this Jesus went to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, also called the Sea of Tiberias.

6:2 A large crowd kept following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing for the sick.

6:3 Jesus went up the mountain and sat down there with his disciples.

6:4 Now the Passover, the festival of the Jews, was near.

6:5 When he looked up and saw a large crowd coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?”

6:6 He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he was going to do.

6:7 Philip answered him, “Six months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.”

6:8 One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him,

6:9 “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?”

6:10 Jesus said, “Make the people sit down.” Now there was a great deal of grass in the place; so they sat down, about five thousand in all.

6:11 Then Jesus took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated; so also the fish, as much as they wanted.

6:12 When they were satisfied, he told his disciples, “Gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost.”

6:13 So they gathered them up, and from the fragments of the five barley loaves, left by those who had eaten, they filled twelve baskets.

6:14 When the people saw the sign that he had done, they began to say, “This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world.”

6:15 When Jesus realized that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain by himself.

6:16 When evening came, his disciples went down to the sea,

6:17 got into a boat, and started across the sea to Capernaum. It was now dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them.

6:18 The sea became rough because a strong wind was blowing.

6:19 When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the sea and coming near the boat, and they were terrified.

6:20 But he said to them, “It is I; do not be afraid.”

6:21 Then they wanted to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the land toward which they were going.

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Although this reading is from John’s Gospel, it fits into last week’s, which was from Mark.

Last week’s reading described what happened before the Feeding of the Five Thousand and told us what happened afterwards in the other places where Jesus went to heal and preach.

Other than the Resurrection, this is the only creative miracle common to all four Gospels. John wrote about other miracles that the synoptic Gospels — those of Matthew, Mark and Luke — do not cover.

It should be noted that Jesus fed more than five thousand people. The five thousand is men alone. There would have been women and children there, too, making it four to five times that number.

John MacArthur explains:

Of all the miracles that Jesus ever did, this is the most massive miracle in sheer number.  When you add up everybody, five thousand men, plus women and children, Matthew adds, you’ve got between twenty and twenty-five thousand people and He creates a meal for them. And they’re not really spectators of the miracle, they’re participants in the miracle because they eat the meal. So this is a very intimate experience. There’s no other miracle that Jesus did that involves so many people.  The closest one would be a subsequent feeding of four thousand which He did a little later in the area of Decapolis on the east side also of the Sea of Galilee.  But the massive nature of this miracle makes it remarkable and that’s why all four gospels included It’s the only miracle other than his own resurrection recorded in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

It is also worth noting that this is a truly supernatural miracle. This is not about sharing, contrary to what we hear preached in our time.

MacArthur says:

It really never has been denied until more modern times when critics have decided that it really wasn’t a miracle at all, what really happened was a little boy gave up his lunch and everybody said, “Wow, let’s all share.”  And so everybody reached into their knapsack and pulled out whatever they had. And you had this great spiritual experience of sharing.  We’re going to see that that’s an absolute utter impossibility and would only come up in the minds of unbelievers and skeptics who were trying to discredit the Bible and deny the deity of Jesus Christ

… the Holy Spirit is narrating this to us in a way that just continues to repeat the impossibility of the situation. There’s no human explanation for this…none. It’s not a lesson in sharing cause they couldn’t find anything. Five crackers and two pickled fish, but what are these among so many people?

By the time John wrote his Gospel, the Sea of Galilee was known as the Sea of Tiberias, named after a Roman emperor (verse 1). Jesus went to the other side because He wanted to hear the Apostles’ accounts of their time preaching and healing. Jesus had given them these temporary powers because they could further His work.

Jesus had compassion for the people, as we read last week (Mark 6:34):

6:34 As he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things.

Matthew Henry’s commentary says:

He went over the sea of Galilee, called elsewhere the lake of Gennesareth, here the sea of Tiberias, from a city adjoining, which Herod had lately enlarged and beautified, and called so in honour of Tiberius the emperor, and probably had made his metropolis.

A large crowd followed Jesus because they knew about His healing miracles (verse 2).

MacArthur emphasises that most of these people did not want the preaching, only the healing:

They came for temporal miracles, not the eternal words. When He started to speak eternal words by the end of chapter 6, they’re running.  Even those who were His followers, many of His disciples walked no more with Him, verse 66. They just bailed out

This is very important again to remind you, what drew them was not the Kingdom, was not salvation, it was not repentance, it was not sound doctrine, it was not a true understanding of sin, was not a longing for forgiveness, was not the hope of escaping judgment, or escaping hell. What drew them was they saw the healings.  Any faithful preacher and any faithful evangelist has to know that that’s the default position of all sinners, give me what I want now the way that I want it.  Give me the life I now want.

Jesus and the Apostles went up the mountain (verse 3) and, there, no doubt, He heard of the Apostles’ experiences, the debriefing He intended to have.

John tells us that Passover was near (verse 4).

Henry says that the crowd probably wanted to see Jesus before He went to Jerusalem for that feast:

… perhaps, the approach of the passover, when every one knew Christ would go up to Jerusalem, and be absent for some time, made the multitude flock the more after him and attend the more diligently on him.

When Jesus saw the multitude, He asked Philip where they could buy enough bread for the people to eat (verse 5). The question was a test of Philip’s faith, because Jesus already knew what He would do (verse 6).

Henry gives us the answer that Jesus expected from Philip:

The question put Philip to a nonplus, yet Christ proposed it, to try whether he would say, “Lord, if thou wilt exert thy power for them, we need not buy bread.”

Instead, Philip responded by saying that they did not have money enough — six month’s wages — to buy all the necessary bread (verse 7).

MacArthur points out that this was an impossible situation in temporal terms and that Jesus was articulating it as such:

This is the introduction of Jesus articulating an impossible situation He wants to verbalize an impossible situation.  He wants to make it clear for this narrative for all time that this was an impossible situation.  There were no resources This is a desolate place, there’s nowhere to go to buy bread for this many people. That’s absolutely not possible …

Philip’s answer showed that He failed the test They’re some sarcasm in this answer, two hundred denarii, denarii…a denarius was a one-day’s wage for a Roman soldier or a worker, so that’s what?  …  That’s a lot of money…that kind of money, if we had that much worth of bread, it wouldn’t be sufficient for them for everyone to receive a little.  You know, if we had the money and we could take the money and buy the bread, we don’t have the money and there’s nowhere to get the bread, and even if we had the money, and got the bread, everybody would get a small bite That’s not going to do it.  These people have been exercising all day, milling around in a crowd, they’ve got to walk back home, that doesn’t make sense.  So now we know this is an impossible situation. They’re in an impossible place.  They don’t have the money.  They don’t have the available bread. 

Peter’s brother, Andrew, said (verse 8) that there was a little boy with five barley loaves and two fish but asked how that could be sufficient for feeding the crowd (verse 9).

Henry reminds us about the calling of Andrew and Peter into apostleship:

It was Andrew, here said to be Simon Peter’s brother;instrumental to bring Peter to Christ

Henry tells us a bit about the little boy and says that the barley loaves would have been very humble fare indeed for people used to eating wheat bread:

There is a lad here, paidariona little lad, probably one that used to follow this company, as settlers do the camp, with provisions to sell, and the disciples had bespoken what he had for themselves; and it was five barley-loaves, and two small fishes. Here, [1.] The provision was coarse and ordinary; they were barley loaves. Canaan was a land of wheat (Deuteronomy 8:8); its inhabitants were commonly fed with the finest wheat (Psalms 81:16), the kidneys of wheat (Deuteronomy 32:14); yet Christ and his disciples were glad of barley-bread. It does not follow hence that we should tie ourselves to such coarse fare, and place religion in it (when God brings that which is finer to our hands, let us receive it, and be thankful); but it does follow that therefore we must not be desirous of dainties (Psalms 23:3); nor murmur if we be reduced to coarse fare, but be content and thankful, and well reconciled to it; barley-bread is what Christ had, and better than we deserve.

The barley loaves were likely to have been a hard cracker, possibly like hardtack, eaten on land and sea because it lasted a long time, even though it was hard on the teeth.

Henry describes the two small fish, likely to have been pickled in the absence of fire for cooking:

There were but two fishes, and those small ones (dyo opsaria), so small that one of them was but a morsel, pisciculi assati. I take the fish to have been pickled, or soused, for they had not fire to dress them with.

Jesus told the Apostles to make the people sit down on the grass, which was plentiful (verse 10).

Then came the miracle, whereby Jesus took the loaves and the fish, giving thanks to God before distributing them to the multitude, who ate to their fill (verse 11).

MacArthur says that this would have been the finest meal anyone could have ever eaten because Jesus created the bread and the fish, perfectly:

And then with no fanfare, no voice from heaven, no lightning, no thunder, He distributed to those who were seated.  He just kept passing out crackers and fish.  He was creating it These were crackers that never came from grain, that never grew, that never were in the dirt Those were fish that never swam He created them, those are the best crackers anybody ever ate, those were unfallen crackers Those are uncursed crackers.  Look, I like cursed crackers actually, so I don’t know what uncursed crackers would be like.  Maybe this is like manna, right?  Came from heaven And this is fish with no mama fish, this is…what kind of fish would God create if He created a perfect fish, never touched by the fallen world This would tend to cause everyone to overeat, right?  If not to be stuffing things in the folds of their clothes.

Consequently, He distributed to all that were seated and they were able to take as much as they wanted That can’t be a lesson in sharing If some people have and some people don’t, and you share…everybody gets less than what they want He could divide it again, the emphasis here is this…there’s no explanation for this. And you’ve got too many eyewitnesses to tamper with it. They all had all they wanted, and they were filled I love that word “filled,” it’s a word used in animal husbandry, they were foddered up.  They stuffed themselves on these crackers and fish.  That’s not a delicacy, it’s not like a hummingbird’s tongue like Caesar would be nibbling on.  But this is…this is…this is food from heaven, food from the Creator And you can remember back to perhaps a meal that you had sometime, that you couldn’t forget, probably didn’t come close to this one How many of them told the story to their children about the greatest meal they ever ate?  They were filled.  As much as they wanted, foddered up like an animal that’s had enough and turns away from the trough.

Afterwards, Jesus told the disciples to gather up the leftovers, so that nothing went to waste (verse 12). The disciples filled 12 baskets, one for each Apostle, most probably:

And then there was more.  It not only was a complete meal and a full meal, it was a precise meal They gathered up everything that was left, verse 13 says, and it filled twelve baskets with fragments from the crackers left over by those who had eaten.  That would be enough for whom?  For the disciples, for the twelve.  This is a powerful creative miracle, but it’s also a precise creative miracle. That’s exactly what everybody wanted and exactly what the Apostles required as well. The precision of this miracle is stunning, it’s as stunning as the power of this miracle.

The people, having been part of this miracle, were certain that this prophet, Jesus, is the Messiah (verse 14). When Jesus realised they wanted to seize Him and make him a temporal king, He fled to the mountain to withdraw Himself (verse 15).

Henry points out the inconsistency of the crowd’s carnal behaviour and their lack of interest in the spiritual:

Such a wretched incoherence and inconsistency there is between the faculties of the corrupt unsanctified soul, that it is possible for men to acknowledge that Christ is that prophet, and yet to turn a deaf ear to him.

When evening came, the disciples went down to the sea (verse 16) and got in the boat to go to Capernaum in the dark without Jesus, who had not yet come to join them (verse 17).

A storm brewed on the sea (verse 18), making it difficult for the boat to go anywhere except far from the shoreline.

MacArthur gives us Matthew’s account:

… just to give you the familiar things that John doesn’t record, just quickly, Matthew14Matthew 14, verse 24“But the boat was already a long distance from the land.”  It had gotten pushed out into the middle of the lake.  When they would normally have wanted probably to stay pretty close to the shore.  Battered by the waves, the wind was contrary and the fourth watch of the night, that’s 3 to 6 A. M.

Then they saw Jesus walking on the water, approaching the boat, and they were terrified (verse 19).

Henry posits that they thought Jesus was a ghost or even that a demon had started the storm and now they were face to face with it:

They were afraid, more afraid of an apparition (for so they supposed him to be) than of the winds and waves. It is more terrible to wrestle with the rulers of the darkness of this world than with a tempestuous sea. When they thought a demon haunted them, and perhaps was instrumental to raise the storm, they were more terrified than they had been while they saw nothing in it but what was natural.

However, Jesus said, ‘It is I; do not be afraid’ (verse 20).

They welcomed Jesus into the boat and ‘immediately’ reached their destination (verse 21), yet another miracle.

Henry makes a practical application for us when we forget we need the Lord’s help at all times:

The disciples had rowed hard, but could not make their point till they had got Christ in the ship, and then the work was done suddenly. If we have received Christ Jesus the Lord, have received him willingly, though the night be dark and the wind high, yet we may comfort ourselves with this, that we shall be at shore shortly, and are nearer to it than we think we are. Many a doubting soul is fetched to heaven by a pleasing surprise, or ever it is aware.

Afterwards, the crowds continued to follow Jesus.

MacArthur reminds us of John 6:26:

In chapter 6 verse 26 Jesus said, “You seek Me because you ate the loaves and were filled.”  This is all temporal, physical food, it’s personal well-being, personal fulfillment, personal satisfaction, personal ease …

Drawn by His miracles and sent away by His words You know, they were wanting physical wellness, physical fulfillment, physical satisfaction.  You could put it simply this way, they wanted what all unregenerate people want. These weren’t noble aspirations, they wanted what their lusts demanded

Jesus does not acquiesce to whims and fancies He comes to no man on that man’s terms People can’t manipulate Him for their own selfish ends, He doesn’t promise unregenerate people what unregenerate people want.  Jesus will not be a quick fix for felt needs.  He will not be the one who just gives you temporal satisfaction. And if you market Him that way, you’re on your own because He’s not there.  People do not come to Christ for what they want.  They come to Christ for what He demands.  He calls on sinners to mourn for their sin, to be broken, penitent, acknowledge Him as sovereign Lord, be obedient to Him, live for Him, maybe die for Him, serve Him as His slave and suffer for Him and be persecuted for Him.  And when He gave that message in the rest of the chapter, whist…they were gone…they were gone Jesus always drives the superficial crowd away with the hard demands of the gospel

Living a Christlike life is hard work at times. Yet, His yoke is much lighter and easier than living a worldly life as a slave to sin.

May everyone reading this have a blessed Sunday.

The Fourth Sunday after Trinity — Fifth Sunday after Pentecost — is June 27, 2021.

Readings for Year B can be found here.

The Gospel is as follows (emphases mine):

Mark 5:21-43

5:21 When Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side, a great crowd gathered around him; and he was by the sea.

5:22 Then one of the leaders of the synagogue named Jairus came and, when he saw him, fell at his feet

5:23 and begged him repeatedly, “My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well, and live.”

5:24 So he went with him. And a large crowd followed him and pressed in on him.

5:25 Now there was a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years.

5:26 She had endured much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had; and she was no better, but rather grew worse.

5:27 She had heard about Jesus, and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak,

5:28 for she said, “If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well.”

5:29 Immediately her hemorrhage stopped; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease.

5:30 Immediately aware that power had gone forth from him, Jesus turned about in the crowd and said, “Who touched my clothes?”

5:31 And his disciples said to him, “You see the crowd pressing in on you; how can you say, ‘Who touched me?'”

5:32 He looked all around to see who had done it.

5:33 But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling, fell down before him, and told him the whole truth.

5:34 He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”

5:35 While he was still speaking, some people came from the leader’s house to say, “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the teacher any further?”

5:36 But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the leader of the synagogue, “Do not fear, only believe.”

5:37 He allowed no one to follow him except Peter, James, and John, the brother of James.

5:38 When they came to the house of the leader of the synagogue, he saw a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly.

5:39 When he had entered, he said to them, “Why do you make a commotion and weep? The child is not dead but sleeping.”

5:40 And they laughed at him. Then he put them all outside, and took the child’s father and mother and those who were with him, and went in where the child was.

5:41 He took her by the hand and said to her, “Talitha cum,” which means, “Little girl, get up!”

5:42 And immediately the girl got up and began to walk about (she was twelve years of age). At this they were overcome with amazement.

5:43 He strictly ordered them that no one should know this, and told them to give her something to eat.

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

This is one of my favourite Gospel readings involving the woman suffering from a haemorrhage and Jairus’s daughter.

John MacArthur puts it into context for us:

… in the midst of that selfish, self-righteous, fickle crowd, there were two people who stand out. Their story is a great benediction to us; and it shows us that there were those people who did have true faith in Jesus. I think these two were likely part of the 500 believers gathered after the resurrection who saw the risen Christ in Galilee.

They’re an interesting duo. They have no relationship to each other. There’s no reason they would even know each other. But they’re brought together in the text of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. They’re two, a man and a woman; one rich, one poor; one respected, one rejected; one honored, one ashamed; one leading the synagogue, the other excommunicated from the synagogue; one with a twelve-year-old daughter dying, and one with a twelve-year-old disease suffering. They remind us of what Mary had said in her Magnificat in Luke 1:52 when she said, “God was a Savior who brought down rulers and exalted those who were humble.” Here is a perfect illustration of that.

The man is the ruler, the woman is humble. He is brought low, and she is lifted high: the ruler and the outcast. And so the scene is set, verse 22, for the accessibility of Jesus. “One of the synagogue officials named Jairus came up, and seeing Him, fell at His feet.” Jesus was immediately accessible. There were no intermediaries. Did He have disciples? Yes. Did He have identified apostles? Absolutely. We know that already. But they didn’t screen Him. He was accessible.

Jesus had returned from putting two men’s demons (Mark says one man’s) in the Gadarene Swine, a flock of pigs which ran off a cliff. The Gadarenes, who were Gentiles, were furious and told Him to leave because He caused their livestock to die.

Upon his return to the Capernaum area, a crowd awaited Him by the sea (verse 21).

Jairus, a leader of the synagogue, fell at His feet (verse 22), begging Him to lay His healing hands on his daughter, who was dying (verse 23).

MacArthur explains Jairus’s position in the synagogue at Capernaum:

He is a synagogue official. What does that mean? Well, it means that in each synagogue there was a man or a group of men who acted as the caretakers, or the overseers, or the administrators of synagogue life. They weren’t necessarily the teachers; they, however, were the ones who cared for the scrolls, and cared for the facility, and administrated the facility, and organized the synagogue school. They had oversight responsibility: supervising activities, appointing readers, prayers, teachers, et cetera.

The man who received this honor would be a man who was respected: a religious man, a man of devotion, a man of mature leadership; a non-clerical, local official in the synagogue in Capernaum, selected by all the people to be a part of a group of elders, usually from three to seven, who would give leadership. He was the epitome of the Capernaum religious establishment.

That Jairus would fall at the feet of Jesus was unusual:

That is clearly out of character for a synagogue leader, especially when he’s falling down before someone that the religious establishment wants dead because they believe Him to be a heretic. He fell at His feet. Matthew records it in chapter 9. You’ll read in there “worshiped.” The verb can mean that; it can mean that …

I mention this because I want to emphasize the fact that this man’s faith was in Jesus Christ.

Jesus agreed to go to Jairus’s house, and the crowd followed, pressing in on Him (verse 24).

Matthew Henry’s commentary has this beautiful description:

The case is this, He has a little daughter, about twelve years old, the darling of the family, and she lies a dying; but he believes that if Christ will but come, and lay his hands upon her, she will return even from the gates of the grave. He said, at first, when he came, She lies a dying (so Mark); but afterward, upon fresh information sent him, he saith, She is even now dead (so Matthew); but he still prosecutes his suit; see Luke 8:42-49. Christ readily agreed, and went with him, Mark 5:24; Mark 5:24.

MacArthur explains the significance of Jairus’s daughter’s age:

He had a daughter who was nearly dead. And she was twelve-years-old, as we find out later in verse 42, which means she had reached the wonderful age where she was eligible for marriage, ready to be an adult, ready to begin her life as a wife and a mother. And this was the most anticipated time in a girl’s life, and should have been filled with joy and hope, anticipation. But she is very, very ill. She is, he says, “At the point of death.” Luke says she was dying, she was dying. And later on, the message comes in verse 35, “Your daughter has died.”

As they were walking, a woman suffering from a haemorrhage for 12 years, was among those in the crowd (verse 24).

She had been bleeding all of that time and had spent all of her money on physicians; her condition worsened (verse 25).

Because she was bleeding, she had to sequester herself from her friends and family, according to Mosaic law. She could not associate with anyone. That included attending religious services at her synagogue.

Jairus’s daughter was 12 years old. This lady had been suffering her scourge for 12 years.

MacArthur considers the time period and the woman’s lonely, debilitating plight:

To simplify it, she is a female who has a bleeding problem, and she has had this bleeding problem for as long as Jairus’ daughter has been alive. She’s had this bleeding problem since Jesus was about twenty years old.

Now we don’t know what caused it, Scripture doesn’t tell us this. Lots of possibilities. She was having a constant loss of blood, hemorrhaging. That would involve a loss of strength. A female kind of problem like that would certainly cause embarrassment, the danger of death, severe physical effects.

There was more than that; that alone would have been enough. But on top of that, there was an Old Testament law to consider. According to the twelfth chapter of Leviticus, verses 3 through 8, and the fifteenth chapter of Leviticus, verses 19 to 27, a woman was unclean for seven days after such an experience. Here was a woman who was unclean for twelve years. She could never be clean, never.

What did that mean? An unclean, defiled woman couldn’t go to the synagogue, couldn’t go to the temple. She was an outcast for twelve years. If she touched her husband, he was unclean. If she touched her children, they were unclean. If she touched her friends, they were unclean. If she touched a stranger, he was unclean. What was life like for her? There was no way to become ceremonial[ly] clean.

By the way, that law of seven days of cleansing ritual was designed by God to be an illustration of what sin does. There were lots of symbols in the Old Testament, in the ABCs of God’s disclosed revelation, and one of them was that the laws of clean and unclean were symbolic ways to demonstrate how sin soils, defiles, and corrupts. It was just a constant, constant, constant reminder. This woman never was able to rise beyond that; constantly, ritually defiled, unable to touch anyone without passing on that defilement, according to the Old Testament. Sad, sad lady.

In addition, medical treatments at that time would have been extremely primitive and useless, involving things we would consider to be based on superstition:

The prescription for a woman who had this problem, according to the Talmud, was to carry the ashes of an ostrich egg in a linen bag in the summer, and to carry the ashes of an ostrich egg in a cotton bag in the winter. Or carry a barley corn found in donkey dung, or drink wine with alum and crocuses, or wine with onions. Not very helpful. No wonder she couldn’t get any help. 

The woman had faith that Jesus could heal her, even if she was able to only touch His garment (verse 28), which she duly did (verse 27).

MacArthur describes what Jesus wore:

According to Numbers chapter 15 verses 37 and following, the Jews were to put tassels on the bottom of their cloaks, to mark them as those who belong to God. And you remember the Pharisees, wanting to parade their supposed devotion to God, enlarged their tassels, according to Matthew 23, and verse 5 – a part of their hypocritical ostentation. But Jesus wore the traditional robe with the traditional tassels on the bottom.

As soon as she touched his garment, her body was restored to health ‘immediately’ (verse 29).

As if to emphasise the miracle, verse 30 also begins with ‘immediately’. Having felt power drained out of Him at that point, Jesus turned around and asked who touched Him.

That is one of my favourite verses in the New Testament. As MacArthur says:

It’s an amazing revelation, absolutely amazing. Immediately she was healed, and immediately Jesus felt the power go out of Him. That’s a stunning reality, an amazing revelation.

Listen, His power is personal. I think we can think of God as some kind of massive, cosmic force. We can maybe overextend the notion of His impassability. To say that God is impassable means that He is not affected by what men do or do not do. But that does not mean that He does not feel every expression of power, whether it’s power expressed in grace, or power expressed in wrath, whether it’s sanctifying power, glorifying power, justifying grace, He feels the power. Luke 8:46 says, “I was aware that power had gone out of Me.” The expulsion of divine power that comes from Him into the life of that woman, Jesus actually experienced. He experienced the power flow that created the woman’s body new; it replaced the old with a brand new organ system

The work of the living Lord on behalf of sinners is personal. He felt the power flow out of Him when He healed that woman. He felt the power flow out of Him when He saved you. He feels the flow of power into your life as He sanctifies you. And He’ll feel the power that takes you into glory. This is intimate, personal involvement with every one of us. And He feels the power of His judgment that falls on the ungodly.

His disciples thought it was preposterous to even pose the question in such an immense crowd (verse 31), but Jesus turned around to see who it was (verse 32).

The woman, afraid, approached Him and fell before His feet, telling Him the ‘whole truth’ (verse 33).

Hers was a holy fear, the same that the Apostles experienced in last week’s Gospel reading from Mark when Jesus calmed the tempest on the Sea of Galilee.

MacArthur explains that she knew she was in the presence of the Son of God:

She’s not afraid because of her offense, she is afraid because she’s aware of what has happened to her. And what has happened to her is she has just been healed in a split second, and she knows it, and she therefore knows what Jesus had been saying all along, and what Mark is trying to let us know, that this is Jesus Christ, the Son of God. She is in the presence of divinity or deity. This is not human embarrassment, she got past that. This is holy fear

And that becomes more evident in what she does. “She came and fell down before Him.” Everybody knew what that meant. You didn’t do that unless you were bowing to someone greater than yourself. Jews didn’t bow to anybody. They didn’t bow to anybody. They didn’t have a king. They bowed only to God.

With that holy fear comes an awareness of personal sins.

MacArthur tells us about what her very public ‘whole truth’ in verse 33 might have entailed:

She collapses, fully aware of the terror of being a sinner in the presence of the Lord, a posture that begs for mercy for her sin. And then she has the opportunity to make a public confession. In verse 33, she told Him the whole truth. Told her whole story: the confession of her sickness, the confession of her faith, the confession of her healing, the confession of her need for mercy.

In fact, Luke says, “She declared it in the presence of all the people.” So everybody around heard about her story. This is an open public confession, isn’t it? She’s confessing Him before men, and to be confessed before His Father in heaven.

Jesus recognised the woman’s faith, calling her ‘daughter’, saying that it had made her well and that she could go in peace, being healed of her disease (verse 34).

What a life-changing moment that must have been for her.

MacArthur points out the significance of ‘daughter’ emanating from the lips of Jesus:

… the capstone comes in verse 34 in His response: “And He said to her, ‘Daughter.’” Hmm, daughter? There’s a word to dispel fear, isn’t it? This is the only time in the New Testament that a woman is so addressed by Jesus: “Daughter. Daughter.”

Matthew chapter 9 says He added, “Be of good comfort, relax, rest.” “How can You call her Your daughter? Is she a child of God? A daughter of God?” “Yes, your faith has made you well,” says the text. The Greek verb is sōzō, “to save.” It’s the word used in the Scripture for salvation. “Your faith literally has saved you.”

While Jesus spoke those words, members of Jairus’s household came to tell him that his daughter had died and asked why he wanted to bother Jesus by asking Him to see her (verse 35).

However, Jesus told Jairus not to fear, only believe (verse 36).

At that point, Jesus said that only his closest Apostles — Peter and the two brothers, James and John — could walk with him and Jairus (verse 37).

Henry explains why:

his three bosom-disciples, Peter, and James, and John; a competent number to be witnesses of the miracle, but not such a number as that his taking them with him might look like vainglory.

MacArthur has more:

This is the first time in the ministry of our Lord that He isolates these three; this is the first time. And get used to it, right? The inner circle: Peter, James, and John. They were three of the first four apostles that He called. James and John were brothers, and Peter and Andrew were brothers. Peter becomes the leader. James and John, the other two intimates. And Andrew is a sometime inclusion in the inner circle. This is the first occasion where He separates them out: Peter the leader, John the lover, and James the first martyr.

It isn’t that they were to be given special treatment, is it rather that they were to become the channel of intimate experiences, personal teaching back to the rest. They were not the end, they were not the cul-de-sac, they were not the dead end; they were merely the conduit. Jesus could only give Himself intimately to a few; and this must be the perfect number for Him to work with intimately; and through these three disseminated the experiences and the instruction back to the rest. Important for leaders to understand that, I think.

So Jesus says, “Only you can come.” For the first time they’re looking at each other and saying, “Wow,” because this is their first time as His intimate triumvirate.

When they arrived at Jairus’s house, people were weeping and wailing loudly in mourning, as was the custom (verse 38).

MacArthur explains the Jewish mourning rituals in that era, which were quite noisy:

Jewish funerals had three elements that would be a little bit unique for us. One, you came and you expressed your grief loudly. You shriek and howl; and everybody does that. And it is required that you tear your clothes. Okay. So when you go to a funeral in our environment, we find good clothes. When you went to a funeral then and you knew you were going to have to rip it up, you found something you didn’t mind ripping up.

This became so involved that Jewish tradition came up with thirty-nine regulations on how to tear your clothes. So I suppose you had people talking to each other about the regulations to make sure they didn’t leave anything out. Tearing was to be done, for example, while you’re standing up. If you were related to the dead person, you had to tear your garment directly over the heart. If you weren’t related to the person, you could tear your garment somewhere else near the heart.

And by the way, the tear was to be there, and the garment was to be worn over a thirty-day period so that you continue to show your attitude of mourning. You could sew it up for obvious reasons, but originally it had to be torn big enough to put your fist through. Modest people would tear their undergarments, or wear the torn garment backwards. The tradition developed that you could sew it up loosely, but it had to be evident that it had been torn. So you have people there who are shrieking, and howling, and wailing, and weeping, and ripping their clothes.

Now the second element of a funeral was you brought in the professional wailers who had developed the art of howling and shrieking. They wailed, sort of priming the pump, you might say, to get everybody else wailing. Agony was magnified, not shrouded in silence.

And then the third thing they had was the playing of flutes. That was the most common instrument. And lots of folks could play flutes; and they all showed up with their flutes and played dissonant notes, a cacophony of things that didn’t go together. So if you ever walked into an event like that, you wouldn’t even believe it was a funeral; you would think it was a contemporary musical event. Yeah.

The very poorest of the Israelites had to have at least two flutes and one wailing woman.

A noisy mourning was also true for Gentiles:

In fact, this was part of the Ancient World. Seneca, the Roman statesman, reported there was so much screaming and wailing at the death of Emperor Claudius that he felt Claudius heard it from the grave. And that’s what was going on, just chaos.

Jesus asked the mourners why they mourned, saying that Jairus’s daughter was not dead but only sleeping (verse 39).

But they laughed at Him. He put them outside and taking His three Apostles along with Jairus and his wife, went to see the girl (verse 40).

Henry says that the mourners’ mocking laughter was proof that she had actually died:

it was evident beyond dispute, that the child was really and truly dead. Their laughing Christ to scorn, for saying, She is not dead, but sleepeth, though highly reprehensible, serves for the proof of this.

He took the girl by the hand and told her to get up (verse 41).

MacArthur explains the wording. ‘Talitha’ means ‘youth’ and is also an affectionate use of ‘lamb’ in Aramaic:

So He comes into the room, and again you see this tenderness, taking the child by the hand. Here again this very personal touch, this very tender sensitivity, “And He said to her,” – and by the way, only Mark gives us the original Aramaic. Jesus’ daily language was Aramaic. That was the language they spoke in Israel, the New Testament being written in Greek. The other writers give us the Greek translation. “Little girl, arise.” Mark gives us the very words of Jesus in Aramaic, “Talitha kum!” – which translated means – “Little girl, I say to you, get up!”

Talitha means a youth or a lamb. It’s as if He said, “Little lamb.” We use those kind of endearing terms, don’t we? …

Now this one was still a lamb in the eyes of Jesus, and she was twelve, she was twelve. And she was a lamb to that family. That was a term of endearment. “Kum, get up. Little lamb, I say to you, get up!”

Mark tells us that ‘immediately’ she got up and began to walk around (verse 42). He tells us that she was 12 years old and that those with Jesus — the three Apostles and her parents — were ‘overcome with amazement’.

MacArthur tells us about the Greek word for ‘walk’:

it’s not just walk, it’s peripateō. We say somebody is peripatetic, we mean they never sit down, they just walk around all the time. And that’s exactly what it is, it’s the verb pateō, “to walk,” and peripateō, “walk around everywhere.” She just got up and walked around everywhere. There was no need for rehabilitation.

Jesus told them not to reveal the miracle to anyone but to give the girl something to eat (verse 43).

Henry says that Jesus did not want the miracle to be made public because of His resurrection:

It was sufficiently known to a competent number, but he would not have it as yet proclaimed any further; because his own resurrection was to be the great instance of his power over death, and therefore the divulging of other instances must be reserved till that great proof was given: let one part of the evidence be kept private, till the other part, on which the main stress lies, be made ready.

MacArthur thinks that Jesus did not want the house to be bombarded by visitors but also be bothered by people with Messianic fervour or the increased hate of the Jewish hierarchy:

Number one, He could have said it to avoid a stampeded on the house, to give the family time to feed the girl, and to celebrate and rejoice, and give Him more time to instruct and teach. If they went right out of the house, as you might be prone to do, and spread this everywhere, there would be a kind of a sensational response; and curiosity would drive the crowd to the house and debilitate Jesus from doing what He wanted to do, and rob away that precious time for the family and that reunion. Is that possibly behind the statement that, “You need to get her something to eat; that’s the first thing you need to do is take care of her before you draw a crowd”? Was that in His mind?

It is also possible that Jesus said this because He knew the crowds had these messianic expectations, right? Now the Jews were looking for a Messiah. They wanted the Messiah who would come demonstrate massive, divine power, and use that power to overthrow Rome, and use that power to provide everything they needed and everything that had been promised to them in the Abrahamic and Davidic covenants. Jesus was believed to be that Messiah; and if it ran rampant and it got carried away, the crowds could get very aggressive and try to force Him into a role that was never His intended role. Read John 6:15 where it says, “After He fed them all, they tried to force Him to be a king.” Was He trying to keep the flame of messianic expectation low, and not throw gas on it by a report of a resurrection?

Or, thirdly, was it perhaps that He was motivated not to escalate the fear and the hatred of the scribes and Pharisees who were His enemies? If the crowd got excited, then Jesus becomes a bigger threat. Then they escalate their animosity, and they have to do something to stop that threat; and in premature action against Him, they might come after Him to kill Him. That had already been tried, right? Up in Nazareth in His own hometown they tried to throw Him off a cliff.

He didn’t want wrong messianic expectations escalated, that’s true. He wasn’t going to be killed on their timetable, but on God’s timetable, at God’s time, in God’s place, and in God’s manner. And those, I think, are valid ways to understand that.

MacArthur is certain that Jairus was a man of faith:

Certainly Jairus’ faith was confirmed, wouldn’t you think, vindicated? And, folks, you’ve got to understand too, there was conversation going on in that house with Jairus and Jesus and the family; we just don’t have the record of it. But Jairus had his faith confirmed. I think we’ll meet Jairus in heaven, very likely that little girl too.

I do hope so.

May all reading this have a blessed Sunday.

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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

Acts 28:7-10

Now in the neighborhood of that place were lands belonging to the chief man of the island, named Publius, who received us and entertained us hospitably for three days. It happened that the father of Publius lay sick with fever and dysentery. And Paul visited him and prayed, and putting his hands on him, healed him. And when this had taken place, the rest of the people on the island who had diseases also came and were cured. 10 They also honored us greatly,[a] and when we were about to sail, they put on board whatever we needed.

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Last week’s entry discussed the welcome by the Maltese of Paul and the 275 other passengers who providentially survived the shipwreck.

They called Paul a ‘god’ when he shook off a poisonous viper off his hand and was unharmed.

John MacArthur says this, which relates to today’s Lectionary Gospel passage from Luke 10 (emphases mine):

Go back in your Bible to Luke 10. I’ll show you 2 passages. When the Lord first sent out the 70 to talk about the kingdom, they must have had a lot of snakes in those days. But when they sent them out he told them this promise, verse 19. Well, he gave them a lot of things. I like this. We’ll go back to verse 17. “And the 70 returned with joy saying, ‘Lord, even the demons are subject to us through your name.’” Horrific. “And he said unto them, ‘I beheld Satan as lightening fall from Heaven.’” Sure, he’s subject to my name, I remember when he fell.

Listen, “Behold I give unto you power to tread on serpents and scorpions and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall, by any means, hurt you.” Now he says don’t rejoice in the spiritual subject to you, rejoice that your names are written in Heaven. That’s a positive there. So he says I give you the power to tread on serpents. He sent them out with the ability to do that.

Now I want you to look at Mark 16:18. Now here he says to his disciples, now you’re going to in the world and many signs are going to accompany your ministry. You’re going to cast out demons. You’re going to speak with new languages. Verse 18, Mark 16. “They shall take up serpents and if they drink any deadly thing it shall not hurt them.” Now you see it’s fulfilled, isn’t it?

Now remember this, folks, that is not for today. You drink a bottle of poison you have no guarantees except that you’ll be dead. And if you play with poisonous snakes you cannot claim Mark 16:18. It’s interesting that the same people who want to claim that the speaking with new language was just for the apostles aren’t anxious to claim the drinking of poison or the playing with poisonous snakes.

This was purely for the apostolic era and an important thing but here’s the fulfillment of it. He just flicks off a poisonous snake. You say, well why this? I mean what a silly thing to happen. You know why God let that happen? Can you imagine the reaction of the people? God used miracles to confirm his apostles and to confirm their divine source and to confirm their word.

Incidentally, I can’t help when he flicked that snake off but think about the fact that ultimately, the ultimate snake is going to be flicked off – Satan himself. Romans 16:20, “I’ll shortly put Satan under your feet.” I like to think about that.

Luke, the author of Acts, does not tell us that Paul disabused them of the notion that he was a god, but we can be pretty sure that he did, because he shared the Good News wherever he went. Also recall that, at other times in Acts, Paul was quick to point out that he was a human being, not a deity:

Remember back in the 14th chapter he was there in the area of Galatia and there was this guy crippled from his birth, in verse 8, and Paul was preaching and he looked out and there was this guy and he says stand on your feet, fellow! The guy leaps up and jumps around. The people saw what he did. They lifted up their voices saying in the speech of Laconia, “The gods are come down to us in the likeness of men. And they called Barnabas Jupiter and Paul Mercury.”

And they brought out a bunch of animals to sacrifice to Jupiter and Mercury, and Paul and Barnabas tore their clothes and ran crying, “Sirs, why are you doing these things? We are men of like passions with you. We preach unto you that you should turn from these vanities unto the living God.” See, he didn’t want to be a part of that proliferation of deities, that polytheism that they were involved in. They wanted to the representatives of the true God, not a god.

The chief of the island, Publius, put all 276 survivors up for three days, showing them much hospitality (verse 7).

Matthew Henry says that the three days allowed Publius to make arrangements for their long term stay, which was three months:

he had a considerable estate in the island, and some think was governor, and he received them and lodged them three days very courteously, that they might have time to furnish themselves in other places at the best hand. It is happy when God gives a large heart to those to whom he has given a large estate. It became him, who was the chief man of the island, to be most hospitable and generous,–who was the richest man, to be rich in good works.

Even though he was materially well off, Publius could not prevent illness in his family. His father had been suffering from dysentery, so Paul visited the man, prayed and laid hands on him. He was duly healed (verse 8).

The King James Version uses the term ‘bloody flux’ for ‘dysentery’, because that is what it was called at the time.

MacArthur explains:

Now 1611 medicine leaves a lot to be desired and the King James was written in 1611 and bloody flux just doesn’t seem to make it. Fever I understand. The word for fever in the Greek is the word puretos and it means a gastric fever. The fact that it is in the plural, fevers, indicates that it was a recurring gastric fever.

Now the bloody flux is the Greek word dusentaria from which we get the word dysentery which is an intestinal disease. Now what he really had here was some sort of recurrent dysentery and a gastric fever accompanying it. Some historians record that this was a common problem in Malta because they have a certain kind of microbe in their goat’s milk. And so here Publius’ father who has this gastric problem, dysentery, to whom Paul entered in, prayed, laid his hands on him and healed him.

After this miraculous healing, others with diseases went to Paul to be healed (verse 9).

MacArthur is certain that Paul preached as he healed:

What Paul was doing by praying and laying hands on was identifying God’s power and the fact that he was God’s agent.

Now there is something that isn’t said here but it needs to be added to the text in this sense. I am totally convinced that what Paul also did here is to preach. And I think the reason it doesn’t say that is because it’s so obvious. The Lord Jesus Christ did not perform miracles without speaking to point out the fact that these miracles were to corroborate the testimony of the gospel. Peter, when he performed miracles, earlier in Acts, preached Christ. Paul, when he did miracles, preached Christ, having established the conformation of divine agency he then proclaimed the divine message.

So if Paul healed, believe it, Paul preached. And tradition tells us that he founded in these days the church at Malta.

I am glad that MacArthur mentioned the tradition about Publius. Of course, we read no more of him in the Bible, but it is believed that he was the first Bishop of Malta:

And tradition also tells us that the first pastor of the Maltese Christians was Publius. And very likely, if he had a house that could handle 276 guests, that’s probably where the church began too. And so we can be, even though it doesn’t say, confidently, the church was founded then and agreeing with tradition that Publius may well have been the first pastor and the church could have possibly even have met in his house. Someday, just to be sure, we’ll check out the Lamb’s Book of Life when we get there and we’ll well see a list of Maltese names and at the top will be Publius, and maybe following it will be names like Julius, a Roman Centurion and a few other people from a certain ship that had a wreck on the Coast of Malta.

Saint Publius is venerated in the Catholic and the Eastern Orthodox churches. Like the Apostle Paul, Publius also died as a martyr, but later, around 125 AD. Hadrian was emperor at the time.

The Maltese are friendly, open people, so it is not surprising to read Luke’s comment that they honoured all the shipwreck survivors greatly and, when it came time to leave, loaded their ship with everything necessary (verse 10).

I’ll have more about Paul’s journey to Rome next week.

Next time — Acts 28:11-16

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 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 28:1-6

Paul on Malta

28 After we were brought safely through, we then learned that the island was called Malta. 2 The native people[a] showed us unusual kindness, for they kindled a fire and welcomed us all, because it had begun to rain and was cold. When Paul had gathered a bundle of sticks and put them on the fire, a viper came out because of the heat and fastened on his hand. When the native people saw the creature hanging from his hand, they said to one another, “No doubt this man is a murderer. Though he has escaped from the sea, Justice[b] has not allowed him to live.” He, however, shook off the creature into the fire and suffered no harm. They were waiting for him to swell up or suddenly fall down dead. But when they had waited a long time and saw no misfortune come to him, they changed their minds and said that he was a god.

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We are now in the final chapter of Acts.

Last week’s post discussed the providential safety of all 276 persons who were on the ship which ran aground in Malta during the raging storm.

Luke, the author of Acts, was there, hence the first-person narrative (verse 1). He noted that they learned they were on Malta, which was part of the Roman Empire at that time.

The reason that no one knew where they had landed was probably because the shipwreck took place on a part of the island that was unfamiliar to them.

John MacArthur explains (emphases mine):

The reason they didn’t recognize it when they arrived was because they came by way of a little bay now known as St. Paul’s Bay which was not the normal port. The normal port was a place called Valletta … and this was not Valletta. The sailors and the soldiers probably had been to Malta before but wouldn’t have recognized this part of the island. It wouldn’t have taken them very long, however, since it was a mile only 17 miles and 10 miles wide.

Valletta is the capital of Malta and some distance from St Paul’s Bay.

Interestingly, the place where they landed — St Paul’s Bay — is now the largest town in Malta, as the city’s Bay radio station reported in 2018:

St Paul’s Bay is officially the biggest town in Malta.

The popular seaside resort, which includes Bugibba, Qawra, Xemxija, Burmarrad and Wardija, has seen its population soar in recent years to 23, 112.

St Paul’s Bay has overtaken Birkirkara as the largest town in Malta, according to official figures from the National Statistics Office.

Birkirkara is now in second place with 23,034 residents, with Mosta third and Sliema in fourth place.

Mdina has the smallest population in Malta with 235 residents, followed by Għasri in Gozo with 421 people.

The figures show that Malta’s population now stands at 460,297 – and almost one in eight residents are aged over 65.

The Maltese were very kind to Luke, Paul and the other shipwreck victims. They lit a huge bonfire in order that they might warm themselves (verse 2).

In older versions of the Bible, ‘barbarous’ is used instead of the word ‘native’. That was not an insult, but, Luke, as a Greek speaker, used the word to denote any non-Greek speaking people: barbaroi. From this, we got the word ‘barbarian’ and ‘barbarous’.

They were pagans at the time, but as the Bible shows us, unbelievers were sometimes kinder to those in need than God’s own people. The Samaritans are a case in point.

Matthew Henry’s commentary expands on this:

So far were they from making a prey of this shipwreck, as many, I fear, who are called Christian people, would have done, that they laid hold of it as an opportunity of showing mercy. The Samaritan is a better neighbour to the poor wounded man than the priest or Levite. And verily we have not found greater humanity among Greeks, or Romans, or Christians, than among these barbarous people; and it is written for our imitation, that we may hence learn to be compassionate to those that are in distress and misery, and to relieve and succour them to the utmost of our ability, as those that know we ourselves are also in the body. We should be ready to entertain strangers, as Abraham, who sat at his tent door to invite passengers in (Hebrews 13:2), but especially strangers in distress, as these were. Honour all men. If Providence hath so appointed the bounds of our habitation as to give us an opportunity of being frequently serviceable to persons at a loss, we should not place it among the inconveniences of our lot, but the advantages of it; because it is more blessed to give than to receive. Who knows but these barbarous people had their lot cast in this island for such a time as this!

Paul, as ever, made himself useful by gathering sticks — brushwood — to keep the fire going, when he was bitten by a viper (verse 3).

Paul loved to serve people and, in doing so, imitated Christ. MacArthur points out:

Jesus said, “For the Son of Man came not to be ministered unto” – but what – “to minister and to give his life a ransom for many.” This is always a quality of true leadership. So we ought to add it to our study … True leadership includes the mentality of a servant; the eagerness to do the humble task as well as the exalted one.

Humility is absolute to true spiritual leadership. Look at Jesus in John 13, washing the disciples’ feet and he says then to those 11 leaders, or Judas, of course, would not be included in the ultimate fulfillment but he says to them, “You do what I have done to you.” In other words, you lead with a servant mentality. You stoop to meet the needs of each other. If you’re too important to get dirty, you’re too important to wash feet, if you’re too important to pick up sticks you’re not as important as you think you are.

The presence of the viper is still a subject of lively debate unto this day. Malta is not known to have poisonous snakes, yet these people recognised that this beast was venomous. In 2014, the Times of Malta published an article by an expert in local flora and fauna who says that Luke was wrong; they all landed on neighbouring Melita, which does have venomous snakes. However, it is also possible that, as a Maltese historian posits, humans introduced venomous snakes, which died out over time.

Luke’s words — ‘fastened on his hand’ — meant that the snake injected venom into it.

The Maltese watched what was happening and believed that Justice — a goddess of theirs — would not allow Paul to live. They wrongly assumed he was a murderer who must die for his deeds as punishment (verse 4).

However, Paul shook off the snake, which landed in the fire (verse 5).

Henry says:

It was well they did not knock him down themselves, when they saw he did not swell and fall down; but so considerate they are as to let Providence work, and to attend the motions of it.

After the Maltese saw that Paul was unharmed by the snakebite, they revered him as a god (verse 6).

Henry says that we can view Paul’s shaking off the snake as an allegory about resisting temptation:

He carelessly shook off the viper into the fire, without any difficulty, calling for help, or any means used to loosen its hold; and it is probable that it was consumed in the fire. Thus, in the strength of the grace of Christ, believers shake off the temptations of Satan, with a holy resolution, saying, as Christ did, Get thee behind me, Satan; The Lord rebuke thee; and thus they keep themselves, that the wicked one toucheth them not, so as to fasten upon them, 1 John 5:18. When we despise the censures and reproaches of men, and look upon them with a holy contempt, having the testimony of conscience for us, then we do, as Paul here, shake off the viper into the fire. It does us no harm, except we fret at it, or be deterred by it from our duty, or be provoked to render railing for railing.

Both commentators point out the fickle nature of mankind, as the Maltese onlookers displayed in this narrative. Within minutes they changed their mind about Paul, who went from murderer to god in their estimation.

Henry makes this observation and reminds us of another time in Acts when something similar happened:

See the uncertainty of popular opinion, how it turns with the wind, and how apt it is to run into extremes both ways; from sacrificing to Paul and Barnabas to stoning them; and here, from condemning him as a murderer to idolizing him as a god.

Of course, Paul would have disabused them of such a notion.

However, the purpose of this miracle was to ready the Maltese for the Gospel — and more miracles among them.

Next time — Acts 28:7-10

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

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.

————————————————————————————————-

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

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