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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy 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.

1 Corinthians 16:19-24

Greetings

19 The churches of Asia send you greetings. Aquila and Prisca, together with the church in their house, send you hearty greetings in the Lord. 20 All the brothers send you greetings. Greet one another with a holy kiss.

21 I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand. 22 If anyone has no love for the Lord, let him be accursed. Our Lord, come![a] 23 The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you. 24 My love be with you all in Christ Jesus. Amen.

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Last week’s post was about Paul’s commendation of Apollos, Stephanas and Fortunatus and Achaicus in their work for the church.

Paul concludes 1 Corinthians with greetings from the churches of Asia Minor, including those from Aquila and his wife Prisca (Priscilla) from Ephesus, where the church was in their house (verse 19). Paul was in Ephesus when he wrote 1 Corinthians.

John MacArthur tells us how Paul met the couple in the Corinthian synagogue, where people were seated by occupation. They then moved to Ephesus (emphases mine):

Aquila was a man from the south coast of the Black Sea, Pontus, who eventually came to Rome and married Priscilla and they lived in Rome until Claudius the Emperor band all Jews from the city of Rome and they scooted off to Corinth. And they were working in Corinth in their trade, and they were going to the synagogue there. One day a man named Paul arrived there and he sat with them, and the reason he sat with them is because they did the same thing he did. They were leather workers. The Greek word means more than tentmaker, it means leather workers. Paul worked with leather and so did Aquila and Priscilla, and they used to sit in the synagogue according to their trade. Men on one side, women on the other side, but the people were all seated according to trade. Here were all the leather workers, then the carpenters, then the masons, then everybody else. So you knew right [away] where everybody was. There was a comradeship there and so he sat down with Aquila and Priscilla, they became good friends. He stayed with them. He may have stayed with them 18 months while he was there.

Paul adds that all the brothers send their greetings and encourages the Corinthians to greet each other with a holy kiss (verse 20).

Henry explains that those two statements are linked. If strangers who are brothers in Christ send the Corinthians their best wishes, then the Corinthians, amongst themselves, should greet each other even more warmly:

When the churches of Asia, and the Christian brethren so remote, did so heartily salute them in the Lord, and own and love them as brethren, and expressed so much good-will to them, it would be a shame for them not to own and love one another as brethren. Note, The love of the brethren should be a powerful incentive to mutual love. When the other churches of Christ love us all, we are very culpable if we do not love one another.

MacArthur tells us what a holy kiss involves:

early in the Christian church, the kiss on the cheek or even just placing cheek to cheek was basic to a sign of affection.

Paul says that he wrote the greeting with his own hand (verse 22). Paul is said to have had eye problems, therefore, he would have dictated the letter for someone else to write down. However, he wanted it to be known that he wrote the greeting himself.

Henry says Paul wrote that to prove its authenticity:

… at the close it was fit that himself should sign it, that they might know it to be genuine; and therefore it is added (2 Thessalonians 3:17), Which is my token in every epistle, the mark of its being genuine; so he wrote in every epistle which he did not wholly pen, as he did that to the Galatians, Galatians 6:11. Note, Those churches to whom apostolical letters were sent were duly certified of their being authentic and divine. Nor would Paul be behind the rest of the brethren in respect to the Corinthians; and therefore, after he has given their salutations, he adds his own.

Paul’s next statement is a warning to the Corinthians (verse 23). So perverse they were in their practice that Paul says anyone who has no love should be accursed, or anathema. He adds ‘Maranatha’ as a call for the Lord’s judgement upon such people.

MacArthur points out that, in Greek, Paul used ‘philo’ instead of ‘agape’. The distinction is important:

He uses for the word love, not the word agapaō, which is the strong word of love, the divine love. He uses for the only time in the entire New Testament the word phileō to speak of love for Christ. It’s the only time Paul’s ever used it. Phileō, which simply means a strong affection for. It’s second class love

And Paul is saying here, listen, “Not only not agapaō, but if you don’t even have a strong affection for Jesus, you’re cursed.” You can’t even get into the love fellowship. He’ll accept you even at that level of love, even second class. But if you don’t even have that, you’re anathema. The word means devoted to destruction, damned, doomed, cursed. And then he says, “Marantha.” I believe that’s an imperative. It’s three words in the Aramaic, marana tha. “Our Lord come.” And what he’s saying is come in judgment. He’s saying, “Look, there are tears in the church. That’s part of the problem.” And he’s saying, “Look, I want the church to be full of love, but if you don’t even have a strong affection for Jesus Christ, you are cursed. God come and remove them.” That’s what he’s saying. Get them out.

Henry has more on Paul’s warning:

It stands here as a warning to the Corinthians and a rebuke of their criminal behaviour. It is an admonition to them not to be led away from the simplicity of the gospel, or those principles of it which were the great motives to purity of life, by pretenders to science, by the wisdom of the world, which would call their religion folly, and its most important doctrines absurd and ridiculous. Those men had a spite at Christ; and, if the Corinthians give ear to their seducing speeches, they were in danger of apostatizing from him. Against this he gives them here a very solemn caution. “Do not give into such conduct, if you would escape the severest vengeance.” Note, Professed Christians will, by contempt of Christ, and revolt from him, bring upon themselves the most dreadful destruction.

Paul prays that the grace of the Lord Jesus be with the Corinthians (verse 23). He has just issued a rebuke but, in Christian love, sends them the best spiritual wishes.

Henry explains:

As much as if he had said, “Though I warn you against falling under his displeasure, I heartily wish you an interest in his dearest love and his eternal favour.” The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ comprehends in it all that is good, for time or eternity. To wish our friends may have this grace with them is wishing them the utmost good. And this we should wish all our friends and brethren in Christ. We can wish them nothing more, and we should wish them nothing less. We should heartily pray that they may value, and seek, and obtain, and secure, the grace and good-will of their Lord and Judge.

In closing, Paul expresses his heartfelt desire that their love be in Christ Jesus as much as his is (verse 24).

Henry interprets Paul’s sentiment:

His heart would be with them, and he would bear them dear affection as long as their hearts were with Christ, and they bore true affection to his cause and interest. Note, We should be cordial lovers of all who are in Christ, and who love him in sincerity. Not but we should love all men, and wish them well, and do them what good is in our power; but those must have our dearest affection who are dear to Christ, and lovers of him.

Next week’s post begins an exploration of 2 Corinthians.

Next time — 2 Corinthians 1:1-7

The Ninth Sunday after Trinity — Tenth Sunday after Pentecost — is August 1, 2021.

Readings for Year B can be found here.

The Gospel reading is as follows (emphases mine):

John 6:24-35

6:24 So when the crowd saw that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they themselves got into the boats and went to Capernaum looking for Jesus.

6:25 When they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you come here?”

6:26 Jesus answered them, “Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves.

6:27 Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For it is on him that God the Father has set his seal.”

6:28 Then they said to him, “What must we do to perform the works of God?”

6:29 Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.”

6:30 So they said to him, “What sign are you going to give us then, so that we may see it and believe you? What work are you performing?

6:31 Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.'”

6:32 Then Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven.

6:33 For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”

6:34 They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.”

6:35 Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

We pick up where we left off last week with the Feeding of the Five Thousand.

Over the next few weeks, the Lectionary readings will feature the rest of John 6, one of the most powerful chapters in the New Testament, because we see how many of our Lord’s notional followers rejected Him when He taught about eternal life.

John MacArthur describes them, saying that they had:

carnal enthusiasm for worldly things, they wanted freedom and fulfillment and satisfaction on an earthly level.  The shallow follower has no interest in the eternal, no interest in the heavenly, no interest in the spiritual, no interest in the theological, not interested in matters of sin and righteousness and repentance and holiness and true love of God

There’s no adoring reverence. There’s no holy awe. They come for the external They come for the show They come for the promise, the hope of some temporal fulfillment There’s no real obedience. There’s no longing for the glory and honor of God and the exaltation of Christ. So that’s where we drew it to a close last time.  False disciples are drawn by the crowd, fascinated by the promise of a spiritual experience, desires of earthly satisfaction, and void of any interest in real worship. They’ll watch a show and listen to music, but that’s a far cry from real worship.

On another level, they were pursuing Jesus (verse 24) because they still wanted to make Him their king from the miracle of the loaves and the fishes the previous day.

Matthew Henry’s commentary says:

their hearts being set upon making him a king, they way-laid his return, and the day following, the hot fit of their zeal still continuing

It is not much different from the social justice warrior notions that some Christians have about Jesus. Such people downplay matters spiritual and look for the temporal.

The crowd asked when Jesus arrived in Capernaum (verse 25). They addressed him as ‘rabbi’, or teacher.

Henry explains that they found Him in the synagogue there and that ‘when’ was more ‘how’:

It should seem by John 6:59; John 6:59 that they found him in the synagogue. They knew this was the likeliest place to seek Christ in, for it was his custom to attend public assemblies for religious worship, Luke 4:16. Note, Christ must be sought, and will be found, in the congregations of his people and in the administration of his ordinances; public worship is what Christ chooses to own and grace with his presence and the manifestations of himself. There they found him, and all they had to say to him was, Rabbi, when camest thou hither? They saw he would not be made a king, and therefore say no more of this, but call him Rabbi, their teacher. Their enquiry refers not only to the time, but to the manner, of his conveying himself thither; not only When, but, “How, camest thou thither?” for there was no boat for him to come in. They were curious in asking concerning Christ’s motions, but not solicitous to observe their own.

Jesus reproved them by saying they came only because they had eaten their fill the day before and wanted more (verse 26).

MacArthur says:

In verse 24, “When the crowd saw that Jesus wasn’t there, nor His disciples“, they knew they were in the wrong place Jesus isn’t there. We’re not getting any food.

Jesus went further, telling them that they should not be preoccupied with bodily food but spiritual food for eternal life, which He will provide with the authority — ‘seal’ — that He has from God the Father (verse 27).

Henry tells us:

What authority he has to give it; for him has God the Father sealed, touton gar ho Pater esphragisen, ho Theosfor him the Father has sealed (proved and evidenced) to be God; so some read it; he has declared him to be the Son of God with power. He has sealed him, that is, has given him full authority to deal between God and man, as God’s ambassador to man and man’s intercessor with God, and has proved his commission by miracles. Having given him authority, he has given us assurance of it; having entrusted him with unlimited powers, he has satisfied us with undoubted proofs of them; so that as he might go on with confidence in his undertaking for us, so may we in our resignations to him. God the Father scaled him with the Spirit that rested on him, by the voice from heaven, by the testimony he bore to him in signs and wonders. Divine revelation is perfected in him, in him the vision and prophecy is sealed up (Daniel 9:24), to him all believers seal that he is true (John 3:33; John 3:33), and in him they are all sealed, 2 Corinthians 1:22.

They asked what they needed to do to ‘perform the works of God’ (verse 28).

MacArthur posits that they are not asking about works salvation as much as obtaining the same miraculous power that Jesus has:

I don’t think they’re asking Jesus, “What works do we need to do that we aren’t doing?” although that could be a possibility I think it’s a more remote possibility.  I think in the context and getting into the minds of these people, they are simply saying, “We want the power that You’ve got”

They see His power.  There’s never been anything like it.  And I think what they’re saying is, “We want that power.  We want that power.” 

They’re asking not for information about works they can do to please God That is pretty well cast in concrete in their minds.  They have a system that’s highly developed.  They want Jesus to transfer His ability to them You hear this all the time in the health, wealth environment.  “You are little gods.  You have all divine power.  You can do what Jesus did.  You can create your own world the way you want it.”  They’re not asking what spiritual works, what righteous deeds they can do.  They want power. 

Jesus tells them that the ‘work of God’ for them is to believe that He is the Son of God (verse 29). In other words, they are to have faith that He is the Redeemer.

Henry says:

That faith is the work of God which closes with Christ, and relies upon him. It is to believe on him as one whom God hath sent, as God’s commissioner in the great affair of peace between God and man, and as such to rest upon him, and resign ourselves to him. See ; John 14:1.

Incredibly, they ask Him for a sign, as if their magnificent, perfect, miraculous feast the day before had not been enough of a sign (verse 30).

They go further, however, minimising the Feeding of the Five Thousand. They counter Jesus by saying that Moses gave their ancestors heavenly manna in the desert for many years (verse 31).

Jesus corrects them by saying that Moses did not provide the manna, God did. Furthermore, God will provide the true bread from heaven, meaning Jesus Himself (verse 32). Furthermore, the bread of God which comes down from heaven gives life to the world (verse 33).

Henry has a marvellous discourse on bread from the Bible. As Jesus came to save the Jews first, it is no wonder that He refers to himself as ‘the true bread from heaven’:

Observe, [1.] That Christ is bread is that to the soul which bread is to the body, nourishes and supports the spiritual life (is the staff of it) as bread does the bodily life; it is the staff of life. The doctrines of the gospel concerning Christ—that he is the mediator between God and man, that he is our peace, our righteousness, our Redeemer; by these things do men live. Our bodies could better live without food than our souls without Christ. Bread-corn is bruised (Isaiah 28:28), so was Christ; he was born at Bethlehem, the house of bread, and typified by the show-bread. [2.] That he is the bread of God (John 6:33), divine bread; it is he that is of God (; John 6:46), bread which my Father gives (John 6:32), which he has made to be the food of our souls; the bread of God’s family, his children’s bread. The Levitical sacrifices are called the bread of God (Leviticus 21:21-22), and Christ is the great sacrifice; Christ, in his word and ordinances, the feast upon the sacrifice. [3.] That he is the bread of life (John 6:35, and again, John 6:48), that bread of life, alluding to the tree of life in the midst of the garden of Eden, which was to Adam the seal of that part of the covenant, Do this and live, of which he might eat and live. Christ is the bread of life, for he is the fruit of the tree of life. First, He is the living bread (so he explains himself, ; John 6:51): I am the living bread. Bread is itself a dead thing, and nourishes not but by the help of the faculties of a living body; but Christ is himself living bread, and nourishes by his own power. Manna was a dead thing; if kept but one night, it putrefied and bred worms; but Christ is ever living, everlasting bread, that never moulds, nor waxes old. The doctrine of Christ crucified is now as strengthening and comforting to a believer as ever it was, and his mediation still of as much value and efficacy as ever. Secondly, He gives life unto the world (John 6:33), spiritual and eternal life; the life of the soul in union and communion with God here, and in the vision and fruition of him hereafter; a life that includes in it all happiness. The manna did only reserve and support life, did not preserve and perpetuate life, much less restore it; but Christ gives life to those that were dead in sin. The manna was ordained only for the life of the Israelites, but Christ is given for the life of the world; none are excluded from the benefit of this bread, but such as exclude themselves. Christ came to put life into the minds of men, principles productive of acceptable performances. [4.] That he is the bread which came down from heaven; this is often repeated here; John 6:33, John 6:50-51, John 6:58. This denotes, First, The divinity of Christ’s person. As God, he had a being in heaven, whence he came to take our nature upon him: I came down from heaven, whence we may infer his antiquity, he was in the beginning with God; his ability, for heaven is the firmament of power; and his authority, he came with a divine commission. Secondly, The divine original of all that good which flows to us through him. He comes, not only katabasthat came down (; John 6:51), but katabainoithat comes down; he is descending, denoting a constant communication of light, life, and love, from God to believers through Christ, as the manna descended daily; see Ephesians 1:3. Omnia desuper—All things from above. [5.] That he is that bread of which the manna was a type and figure (John 6:58), that bread, the true bread, John 6:32. As the rock that they drank of was Christ, so was the manna they ate of spiritual bread, ; 1 Corinthians 10:3-4. Manna was given to Israel; so Christ to the spiritual Israel. There was manna enough for them all; so in Christ a fulness of grace for all believers; he that gathers much of this manna will have none to spare when he comes to use it; and he that gathers little, when his grace comes to be perfected in glory, shall find that he has no lack. Manna was to be gathered in the morning; and those that would find Christ must seek him early. Manna was sweet, and, as the author of the Wisdom of Solomon tells us (Wisd. xvi. 20), was agreeable to every palate; and to those that believe Christ is precious. Israel lived upon manna till they came to Canaan; and Christ is our life. There was a memorial of the manna preserved in the ark; so of Christ in the Lord’s supper, as the food of souls.

The multitude asked Him to give them this bread ‘always’ (verse 34). 

That statement sounds as if they understand what they are saying, but MacArthur says that they are trying to make a bargain with Jesus: ‘If you won’t give us the power, at least keep us in temporal bread’:

You won’t give us the power to feed ourselves all the time? Give us the bread all the time We always want the bread.  Here, again, we see the superficiality and the shallowness of false followers, the curious self-centered who continue to tell the Lord what they want and when they want it and how they want it And either they want the power to do it themselves or they want the Lord to deliver.  If they’re going to believe in Him, He’s going to have to operate on their command.

Jesus pressed on with teaching them that He is the bread of life, that whoever comes to Him will never be hungry and that those who believe in Him will never thirst (verse 35).

MacArthur adds a thought to that verse, one that Jesus might well have been thinking:

False disciples do not find their satisfaction in the person of Jesus Christ And this is going to be our subject next Sunday, but let me introduce it to you.  Verse 35, Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me will not hunger, and he who believes in Me will never thirst But I said to you that you have seen Me, and yet do not believe.”

How terrible.

The story continues next Sunday.

Bible read me 1The 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.

1 Corinthians 16:12-18

Final Instructions

12 Now concerning our brother Apollos, I strongly urged him to visit you with the other brothers, but it was not at all his will[a] to come now. He will come when he has opportunity.

13 Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. 14 Let all that you do be done in love.

15 Now I urge you, brothers[b]—you know that the household[c] of Stephanas were the first converts in Achaia, and that they have devoted themselves to the service of the saints— 16 be subject to such as these, and to every fellow worker and laborer. 17 I rejoice at the coming of Stephanas and Fortunatus and Achaicus, because they have made up for your absence, 18 for they refreshed my spirit as well as yours. Give recognition to such people.

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Last week’s post was about Paul’s instructions to the Corinthians about the good treatment of Timothy, who was going to minister to them, young though he was.

Paul mentions Apollos, whom he urged to visit Corinth, then says that he did not wish to go at that time (verse 12).

Apollos is mentioned in Acts 18:24-28:

24 Now a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, came to Ephesus. He was an eloquent man, competent in the Scriptures. 25 He had been instructed in the way of the Lord. And being fervent in spirit,[a] he spoke and taught accurately the things concerning Jesus, though he knew only the baptism of John. 26 He began to speak boldly in the synagogue, but when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately. 27 And when he wished to cross to Achaia, the brothers encouraged him and wrote to the disciples to welcome him. When he arrived, he greatly helped those who through grace had believed, 28 for he powerfully refuted the Jews in public, showing by the Scriptures that the Christ was Jesus.

My post on Acts 18:24-28 has much more about this Jewish convert who went to the southern part of Greece — Achaia — and ended up at the church in Corinth for a time. He was a highly eloquent speaker and some members of the congregation put more weight on his teachings than they did Paul’s.

In 1 Corinthians 4:6, Paul exhorted the Corinthians to view all good preachers in unity. One should not be favoured over the other:

I have applied all these things to myself and Apollos for your benefit, brothers,[a] that you may learn by us not to go beyond what is written, that none of you may be puffed up in favor of one against another.

Matthew Henry explains that Paul really wanted Apollos to return to the Corinthians (emphases mine):

Paul did not hinder Apollos from going to Corinth in his own absence, nay, he pressed him to go thither. He had no suspicions of Apollos, as if he would lessen Paul’s interest and respect among them, to the advancement of his own. Note, Faithful ministers are not apt to entertain jealousies of each other, nor suspect of such selfish designs. True charity and brotherly love think no evil. And where should these reign, if not in the breasts of the ministers of Christ? 2. Apollos could not be prevailed on for the present to come, but would at a more convenient season. Perhaps their feuds and factions might render the present season improper. He would not go to be set at the head of a party and countenance the dividing and contentious humour. When this had subsided, through Paul’s epistle to them and Timothy’s ministry among them, he might conclude a visit would be more proper. Apostles did not vie with each other, but consulted each other’s comfort and usefulness. Paul intimates his great regard to the church of Corinth, when they had used him ill, by entreating Apollos to go to them; and Apollos shows his respect to Paul, and his concern to keep up his character and authority, by declining the journey till the Corinthians were in better temper. Note, It is very becoming the ministers of the gospel to have and manifest a concern for each other’s reputation and usefulness.

In the end, Apollos did return to Corinth and became an elder in their church. Some Bible scholars believe that Apollos wrote the Book of Hebrews. He is recognised as a saint in the Orthodox churches, the Catholic Church, the Anglican Communion and the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod.

Paul then gives the Corinthians two instructions. The first is to stand firm in the faith with maturity (verse 13). The second is to do everything in love (verse 14).

John MacArthur has a whole sermon on these two verses.

Henry has a more succinct analysis:

The Corinthians were in manifest danger upon many accounts: their feuds ran high, the irregularities among them were very great, there were deceivers got among them, who endeavoured to corrupt their faith in the most important articles, those without which the practice of virtue and piety could never subsist. And surely in such dangerous circumstances it was their concern to watch. Note, If a Christian would be secure, he must be on his guard; and the more his danger the greater vigilance is needful for his security. 2. He advises them to stand fast in the faith, to keep their ground, adhere to the revelation of God, and not give it up for the wisdom of the world, nor suffer it to be corrupted by it–stand for the faith of the gospel, and maintain it even to death; and stand in it, so as to abide in the profession of it, and feel and yield to its influence. Note, A Christian should be fixed in the faith of the gospel, and never desert nor renounce it. It is by this faith alone that he will be able to keep his ground in an hour of temptation; it is by faith that we stand (2 Corinthians 1:24); it is by this that we must overcome the world (1 John 5:4), both when it fawns and when it frowns, when it tempts and when it terrifies. We must stand therefore in the faith of the gospel, if we would maintain our integrity. 3. He advises them to act like men, and be strong: “Act the manly, firm, and resolved part: behave strenuously, in opposition to the bad men who would divide and corrupt you, those who would split you into factions or seduce you from the faith: be not terrified nor inveigled by them; but show yourselves men in Christ, by your steadiness, by your sound judgment and firm resolution.” Note, Christians should be manly and firm in all their contests with their enemies, in defending their faith, and maintaining their integrity. They should, in an especial manner, be so in those points of faith that lie at the foundation of sound and practical religion, such as were attacked among the Corinthians: these must be maintained with solid judgment and strong resolution.

That said, we should act in love and charity:

We may defend our faith, but we must, at the same time, maintain our innocence, and not devour and destroy, and think with ourselves that the wrath of man will work the righteousness of God, James 1:24. Note, Christians should be careful that charity not only reign in their hearts, but shine out in their lives, nay, in their most manly defences of the faith of the gospel. There is a great difference between constancy and cruelty, between Christian firmness and feverish wrath and transport. Christianity never appears to so much advantage as when the charity of Christians is most conspicuous when they can bear with their mistaken brethren, and oppose the open enemies of their holy faith in love, when every thing is done in charity, when they behave towards one another, and towards all men, with a spirit of meekness and good will.

Paul then mentions Stephanas and his household, the first converts in Achaia (verse 15), the part of Greece in which Corinth was located, and tells the Corinthians to be subject to them as well as every other fellow worker and labourer in the church (verse 16).

MacArthur gives us some background on the earliest years of Paul’s ministry in Achaia:

The south part is the ancient Achaia – he preached Christ. In fact in the seventeenth chapter of Acts it tells us that he preached at Athens and some believed including Dionysius the Areopagite and another person as well believed, and then he went from there on – and probably some others in addition to those two – then he went on into Corinth and there he preached and there were many who believed. There was Crispus who was the leader of the synagogue. There was Gaius who probably, according to Romans 16:23, was Paul’s host while he was there in Corinth. And there was this household of Stephanas, and there was the household of one named Chloe, and there were many others who believed. Now watch. What he’s really saying here is that God was going to grow a church in Achaia. That was His plan. And as a guarantee that God was going to grow a church, God gave some first fruits

Further, there may have been other individuals saved before him and perhaps he was the first household and that’s why he’s designated as first fruits. But either he’s included in the first fruits or he’s the first household saved in Corinth. The point simply being that he was the guarantee. By the Spirit of God giving this family and this household, God was in effect saying there’s going to be a full harvest in the city of Corinth. And there was, there was a great church built there, a wonderful church to which Paul ministered for one and a half years teaching the Word of God. And this group was the beginning of that church.

Henry says that Stephanas would have been a man of high social rank, yet, once converted, he and his household devoted themselves to serving the church in Corinth:

They have disposed and devoted themselvesetaxan heautous, to serve the saints, to do service to the saints. It is not meant of the ministry of the word properly, but of serving them in other respects, supplying their wants, helping and assisting them upon all occasions, both in their temporal and spiritual concerns. The family of Stephanas seems to have been a family of rank and importance in those parts, and yet they willingly offered themselves to this service. Note, It is an honour to persons of the highest rank to devote themselves to the service of the saints. I do not mean to change ranks, and become proper servants to the inferiors, but freely and voluntarily to help them, and do good to them in all their concerns.

Both commentators use the word ‘addicted’ in describing the service of Stephanas and his household, because that is what the word ‘devoted’ means in Greek.

Henry says:

they had moreover addicted themselves to the ministry of the saints, to serve the saints.

MacArthur explains:

Now let me go back to the word devoted. It’s the word tassō. Moffett and Morris, in his commentary, say that the root meaning of this word is addicted. Did you get that? Addicted. What a great thought? They have addicted themselves to the service of the saints. Isn’t that great? They have addicted themselves to it. Now you say well, what is the service of the saints? Well, the word service or ministry, and your Bible may say ministry, is diakonia, from which we get deacon. Now diakonia originally meant a table waiter, and it came to mean anybody who serves somebody else in the church out of love. Any loving service is diakonia.

Now the New Testament describes all kinds of diakonia. For example, it talks about the diakonia of spiritual gifts in 1 Corinthians 12:5. It says, “there are many services,” and then it goes on to describe the spiritual gifts. So spiritual gifts is one kind of diakonia. If we’re addicted to serving the saints, it means we’re addicted to using our spiritual gifts. Another one, in Acts 11:29 and 2 Corinthians 8:4, it speaks of the diakonia of giving. So that when we give our money that is serving the saints. Not as many of us are addicted to giving as perhaps we ought to be. So being addicted to the serving of the saints means we serve the saints through our spiritual gifts. We serve the saints through giving.

Stephanas, along with Fortunatus and Achaicus, went to stay with Paul in Ephesus; Paul says they have made up for the absence of the rest of the Corinthians (verse 17), which is a wonderful thing to say to such a wayward congregation. Paul loves them all, the good and the not so good.

Paul says that the three men’s presence has refreshed his spirit as well as the Corinthians’, therefore, the congregation should give them recognition, or respect, for that (verse 18).

Henry’s commentary says that the men gave Paul more details about what was going on in the Corinthian church, possibly allaying his worst fears:

They gave him a more perfect account of the state of the church by word of mouth than he could acquire by their letter, and by that means much quieted his mind, and upon their return from him would quiet the minds of the Corinthians. Report had made their cause much worse than it was in fact, and their letters had not explained it sufficiently to give the apostle satisfaction; but he had been made more easy by converse with them. It was a very good office they did, by truly stating facts, and removing the ill opinion Paul had received by common fame. They came to him with a truly Christian intention, to set the apostle right, and give him as favourable sentiments of the church as they could, as peace-makers. Note, It is a great refreshment to the spirit of a faithful minister to hear better of a people by wise and good men of their own body than by common report, to find himself misinformed concerning them, that matters are not so bad as they had been represented. It is a grief to him to hear ill of those he loves; it gladdens his heart to hear the report thereof is false. And the greater value he has for those who give him this information, and the more he can depend upon their veracity, the greater is his joy.

In closing, MacArthur gives us this insight on 1 and 2 Corinthians:

No other church is so rebuked as this.

On the other hand that is an evidence of love, because love is something that admonishes and rebukes when sin is visible. In fact I just would call your attention to the fact that if you take the 16 chapters of 1 Corinthians and you take the 13 chapters of 2 Corinthians that totals 29 chapters written to straighten out one church. Now in terms of chapters that makes it the longest book in the New Testament. There’s no other book that has 29 chapters. The closest is Matthew and Acts but this one had 29 chapters, because there was so much to say, because there was such a mess in Corinth. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather not have 29 chapters written about me to try to straighten me out, but that’s what happened in Corinth. The book is loaded with rebuke but it is also loaded with love, because you see, it’s love that calls to righteousness. Isn’t it? It is love that rebukes always. It’s love that says, “Here is the way; walk ye in it.”

My next post on 1 Corinthians 16 concludes the book. After that, it is on to 2 Corinthians.

Next time — 1 Corinthians 16:19-24

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.

On Friday, I wrote about Sheffield’s Nine O’Clock Service, a cause célèbre in 1995, adherents of which are now seeking financial compensation for the psychological abuse they endured.

I cited two articles from The Times as sources.

However, I have older Nine O’Clock Service (NOS) sources which present more nuanced information about the group which had between 300 and 500 members.

The first is an article in The Independent. It is dated 2011, however, the wording in it — e.g. ‘last year’ — indicates that it is from 1996.

The article contradicts some of what The Times alleged last week.

Brain’s resignation

For a start, The Independent reported that the then-Bishop of Sheffield, the Right Revd David Lunn, wanted Chris Brain to stand down as vicar immediately when the scandal broke in August 1995 and that the Archbishop of York had already banned him from carrying out priestly duties (emphases mine):

The Bishop of Sheffield, the Rt Rev David Lunn, demanded Mr Brain resign after he confessed to having sexual relationships with young women in the congregation.

He quit last November after initially refusing to bow to the criticism heaped on him when the scandal broke.

The Archbishop of York had already banned Mr Brain from acting as an ordained priest.

Brain was quite fragile at the time and sought treatment:

Within days of the revelations Mr Brain checked himself into a psychiatric ward of Cheadle Royal Psychiatric Hospital, Cheshire.

Meanwhile, the women who were his victims could ring a telephone hotline:

Women who were manipulated by him and called a telephone hotline were told the matter would almost certainly be dealt with within the church and only be passed on to the police if there was an allegation of rape.

The Wikipedia entry for the NOS says that the Diocese of Sheffield tried to help the members — and Brain — to recover:

The Diocese of Sheffield, through a seconded pastoral team led by Rachel Ross, the Reverend Andrew Teal and the Reverend Peter Craig-Wild, attempted to manage the pastoral care both of Brain and members of the community wounded by the scandal.

Brain was originally a musician who played in night clubs. He then got involved with St Thomas’s Church in Sheffield and was ordained for his success in leading NOS.

By early 1996, he was ready to re-establish his previous career:

In February, Mr Brain’s solicitor announced the disgraced clergyman had left Britain for America, where he was hoping to make a comeback in music and the media.

NOS resurrected on Easter Day 1996

The Independent‘s article reported that the NOS held a service on Easter in 1996.

Members of the NOS were still getting together, even after the scandal broke.

The service was held in a chapel in Sheffield:

The Easter service was moved from the city’s Ponds Forge complex, where priest Chris Brain once orchestrated rock concert-style gatherings in a basement room.

It was staged instead in a simple chapel in the city, without the lasers and rave music popularised by Mr Brain. The Archdeacon of Sheffield, the Ven Stephen Lowe, conducted a “meditative service”.

There were doubts about restarting the group eight months after the Church of England was rocked by scandal when Mr Brain was accused of sexually abusing more than 20 women members.

Yesterday’s congregation was drawn from remnants of the Nine O’Clock Service which broke up after women complained about being assaulted by Brain.

Diocesan communications officer Canon Roy Arnold said: “I can confirm that former members of the Nine O’Clock Service met together in a Sheffield church for a celebration of the Holy Communion. It was a quiet, meditative service.

Since the activities of the Nine O’Clock Service came to an end last August following the disclosures about their leader Chris Brain, a number of members have continued to meet together for worship and other matters.

They now have an elected church council and the Diocese of Sheffield is at present in the process of appointing a chaplain for the group,” he said.

There were hopes at the time that the NOS could return to its original style of service without the psychological trauma:

Mr Arnold did not rule out the possibility that the rock-style services could be re-introduced. “The scandal was about Chris Brain and not about reaching out in a new and exciting way to a generation lost to the church,” he said. Members of the Nine O’Clock Service have vowed to distance themselves from the controversy last year and have devised a new service.

Last month, alleged victims of Mr Brain held a bonfire ritual to help them overcome the trauma. They lit a fire in the middle of a church hall and set off fireworks in a “releasing ritual”.

An advert in the Church Times for a chaplain for the group has drawn applications from all over the country. But according to churchwarden Alan Gibson, Mr Brain’s successor would not be allowed the same powers he had enjoyed.

“We are not looking for a leader, we are not looking for a guru. We are looking for a facilitator who will tie us more closely with the Church of England,” Mr Gibson said.

Wikipedia says:

A remnant of the community continued to meet, under different leadership, for some years afterwards in Sheffield.

The evolution of the NOS

Sometime in the 1980s, a group of 10 people from St Thomas’s Church began organising NOS services. From there, it grew enormously.

Young, unchurched origins

Wikipedia states:

Beginning as a simple alternative format service under the leadership of Chris Brain, the group responsible for it developed a leadership structure that was endorsed by the leadership of St Thomas’ Church. The average age of the members was 24 for much of NOS’s life. The membership was significantly from non-church backgrounds.

Starting with about 10 people who worked on designing and creating the services, the congregation grew to almost 600 members while resident at St Thomas’ Church. Main themes included care for the planet and concern about its abuse, simple lifestyle and development of relationships with non-churched people.

By 1988, Bishop Lunn authorised the group’s move to Sheffield’s Ponds Forge Rotunda, a sports complex that can accommodate 2,600 people.

The Planetary Mass

One of their big services at Ponds Forge was The Planetary Mass, also known as the Rave Mass:

The Planetary Mass at Pond’s Forge was marked by both bold liturgical experimentation and naive hopefulness.

An unorthodox Dominican-turned-Episcopal priest, Matthew Fox, found out about the service and was eager to bring a form of it to San Francisco.

Matthew Fox also had his problems with the Church. He had been a professor at several Catholic colleges in the United States. When Pope Benedict was still Cardinal Ratzinger and head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, he began delving into Fox’s writings and asked the Dominicans to investigate. The Dominicans found nothing objectionable, even though Fox was not propagating Catholic teaching. However, because Fox did not believe in Original Sin, Ratzinger forbade him from teaching for a year. By 1993, the Dominicans changed their minds about Fox and dismissed him from the order for ‘disobedience’. He became an Episcopal priest in 1994 and still practises in the Episcopal Diocese of California. He developed the Techno Cosmic Mass — now the Cosmic Mass — which made its debut in San Francisco and has since been performed 100 times since.

Before creating the Techno Cosmic Mass, Fox scheduled a performance of The Planetary Mass in 1994 in San Francisco.

The Christian Research Institute has an article about it. Fox invited 35 members of the NOS to fly in and participate.

The format is environmentalist and pagan:

Inside, at the center of the room was placed an oversized circular altar and a smaller crescent table. Surrounding the tables were a series of concentric circles, tracks marked off in tape, around which the Rave Mass team would walk and dance. Atop the eclipse altar sat a chalice, protected by a clear Plexiglas pyramid.

Above the eclipse altar was an impressive screen — a large sphere of white cloth onto which the organizers projected images of revolving planets, decaying forests, human pulses, and faces.

Several young people emerged from the shadows carrying small flames.

“These people are not pyromaniacs,” said Matthew Wright, 31, who served as a liturgical emcee. “As you can see, they’re using the flames to pray and invite the Spirit into this place.”

Wright encouraged people to approach the flamebearers and use the flames to pray. The flamebearers held the flames inches from people’s faces, slowly lowered the flames to foot level, then slowly raised the flames back to eye level. Some people gently waved their arms at waist level, almost like charismatic Christians. Others stretched their arms high above their heads, then bowed fully before the small flames.

A scantily-clad Briton led a dance piece:

The music cranked up to a pulsating dance beat. The 35 young Brits — including one young woman in a short skirt and a negligee top — led the room in energetic dancing to this bouncy anthem:

Now we feel your lifeforce rising

Raise the passion 10 by 10

Now we breathe you, Christ, inside us

Feel the freedom pushing on!

Chris Brain was also in attendance to celebrate the service. This would have been before the scandal broke in Sheffield:

A young woman read an unspecified passage of Scripture, listing some of the evils that will exclude people from the kingdom of God, including adultery, uncleanness, lust, and sorcery.

Then a video set the Scripture reading in a corporate context. For adultery, the video portrayed the contrast between Third World debt and Third World aid. For lust, it showed images of pollution. For sorcery, it showed the creature almost everybody loves to hate: a TV preacher begging for donations.

The organizers also adapted a reading from chapter 1 of the Gospel of John through the Cosmic Christ filter. The reading repeatedly referred to “the Word” as “it” rather than “he.”

“This is the Word of Christ,” Rev. Brain said.

“Thank you, Eternal Voice,” the congregation responded.

This was how the Communion part of the service went:

After Fox’s homily, Brain celebrated communion — of a sort. Women dancers in four corners of the room turned in circles repeatedly throughout the prayers and communion. Assistants presented fire, water, and soil. Brain immersed his hands in the soil, saying he was washing them. He thanked Mother God for the gift of air.

Brain repeated Jesus’ words about partaking of communion in his memory. Otherwise, Brain spoke no words of consecration, which may not matter to those Protestants who believe the Lord’s Supper is a memorial service, but matters immensely to Anglicans, who affirm what is called consubstantiation. Most Anglicans do not believe the bread and wine literally become the flesh and blood of Christ, but they do believe in a “real presence” of Christ in the elements of the sacrament.

There’s supposed to be a “real presence” in the Rave Mass, too, but it’s the presence of the Cosmic Christ as lifeforce, not the personal historical figure who died on a cross and rose again.

Bishop Swing from San Francisco’s Grace Cathedral attended. By then, one Planetary Mass had already been performed inside the cathedral:

At a news conference, Swing described the service as “the church singing a new song.”

Enough said. How I wish we had St Paul with us today. He would have read them the riot act, straight out of 1 Corinthians.

How the NOS was organised weekly

In Sheffield, organising the weekly NOS began early in the morning and ended late at night.

The University of Huddersfield Repository has a link to an abstract called ‘The Nine O’Clock Service: Mixing Club Culture And Postmodern Christianity’.

Rupert Till’s abstract presents the difficulty in using St Thomas’s Church and explains how the group had to use Ponds Forge:

8. The church service before NOS would end at about 8.15pm, giving NOS about half an hour to clear the church, remove seats, set up equipment, and prepare. They would rehearse services in the afternoon, take everything down and then set it up in the gap between services. Although St Thomas church were regarded as generous in giving NOS time on a Sunday, NOS had to work within heavy constraints, and eventually moved to their own building where they would meet at 8:00 p.m.

 9. As were all of the band for most of the time, carefully situated as they were in dark lighting in the right-hand corner of the church.

11. Members of NOS would record television shows that might have interesting video images. Useful clips would be transferred to new tapes and looped so that a short clip of clouds passing would become a five-minute tape of clouds passing. NOS had a large room with walls covered in shelves full of these tapes of deconstructed decontextualised video images with loop tapes, source tapes, documentaries, and recordings of services. The sampling of secular music and images was a key feature of NOS arts, a deliberate process of reclaiming secular developments in the arts for sacred purposes.

12. A typical NOS Sunday began at five in the morning. A trucking team moved 10 tons of equipment to the church from storage to the empty sports hall. A crew of about 30 would appear by seven to set up the equipment. Late in the morning, some of the artistic team would appear to begin preparing for rehearsals. The ‘performers’ would arrive later to rehearse. After the service, perhaps 10.30 p.m., a team would begin to take down equipment, which would be returned to storage by 3:00 a.m. Unseen would be the hours of rehearsal and preparation midweek, with the highest of standards maintained.

Rupert Till says that the congregation varied in age but were solidly middle class:

17. Despite trying to project an image of authentic, underground, club culture-influenced young people, NOS members were largely aged 18–40, white, middle-class and well educated, and many were generation X Christians dissatisfied with conventional church. DJs and club kids were supported by barristers, theologians, teachers, doctors, and social workers.

The 1995 scandal, he says, involved a subgroup of the NOS:

16. It is perhaps no accident that sex was the organisation’s downfall, choosing as they did to investigate postmodern sexuality in a secretive subgroup, knowing that this was one area that the Christian church would not allow them to explore openly.

I hope this type of church service is dead and buried in the Church of England.

However, I fear it will make a comeback, especially as senior Anglican clergy seek to revamp their denomination post-pandemic. That’s a whole other topic for another time.

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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

1 Corinthians 16:10-11

10 When Timothy comes, see that you put him at ease among you, for he is doing the work of the Lord, as I am. 11 So let no one despise him. Help him on his way in peace, that he may return to me, for I am expecting him with the brothers.

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Last week’s entry was about Paul’s travel plans: staying in Ephesus until Pentecost, then going to Macedonia and, if the Lord willed it, a considerable stay in Corinth afterwards.

Paul was sending Timothy to Corinth to do the Lord’s work; Paul instructed the congregation to put Timothy at ease (verse 10).

Timothy was young and fresh faced. Paul wanted him to be his emissary, giving hard truths to the Corinthians, who were likely to be a tough audience as they were already divided by various teachers, some of whom were false.

Matthew Henry’s commentary lays out what Timothy faced (emphases mine):

Timothy was sent by the apostle to correct the abuses which had crept in among them; and not only to direct, but to blame, and censure, and reprove, those who were culpable. They were all in factions, and no doubt the mutual strife and hatred ran very high among them. There were some very rich, as it is probable; and many very proud, upon account both of their outward wealth and spiritual gifts. Proud spirits cannot easily bear reproof. It was reasonable therefore to think young Timothy might be roughly used; hence the apostle warns them against using him ill. Not but that he was prepared for the worst; but, whatever his firmness and prudence might be, it was their duty to behave themselves well towards him, and not discourage and dishearten him in his Lord’s work. They should not fly out into resentment at his reproof. Note, Christians should bear faithful reproofs from their ministers, and not terrify and discourage them from doing their duty.

Paul entreats the Corinthians not to despise Timothy but to ‘help him on his way in peace’, because Paul is expecting his return as were others (verse 11).

Henry says that Paul wants to point out that, even though Timothy is junior in rank to him, he was invested with the same authority to do the same work of the Lord:

He did not come on Paul’s errand among them, nor to do his work, but the work of the Lord. Though he was not an apostle, he was assistant to one, and was sent upon this very business by a divine commission. And therefore to vex his spirit would be to grieve the Holy Spirit; to despise him would be to despise him that sent him, not Paul, but Paul’s Lord and theirs. Note, Those who work the work of the Lord should be neither terrified nor despised, but treated with all tenderness and respect. Such are all the faithful ministers of the word, though not all in the same rank and degree. Pastors and teachers, as well as apostles and evangelists, while they are doing their duty, are to be treated with honour and respect.

Henry says that Paul was expecting a full account of the Corinthians from Timothy upon his return:

Conduct him forth in peace, that he may come to me, for I look for him with the brethren (1 Corinthians 16:11; 1 Corinthians 16:11); or I with the brethren look for him (the original will bear either), ekdechomai gar auton meta ton adelphon“I am expecting his return, and his report concerning you; and shall judge by your conduct towards him what your regard and respect for me will be. Look to it that you send him back with no evil report.” Paul might expect from the Corinthians, that a messenger from him, upon such an errand, should be regarded, and well treated. His services and success among them, his authority with them as an apostle, would challenge this at their hands. They would hardly dare to send back Timothy with a report that would grieve or provoke the apostle. “I and the brethren expect his return, wait for the report he is to make; and therefore do not use him ill, but respect him, regard his message, and let him return in peace.”

John MacArthur’s sermon has another British missionary story from the 19th century. It is about a Scot, John Gibson Paton (1824-1907), a devout Reformed Presbyterian (Covenanter) who ministered to the cannibals of the New Hebrides:

Paton was a Bible student – a Bible college student in London. God called him to go to the New Hebrides Islands where there were man-eating cannibals. You know, that would be a hard thing for a young Bible college student to say yes to, wouldn’t it? I know what I’d have said. I would have said, “Lord, you’ve got the wrong guy. Are you sure my gifts are fit for that?” Or I would have said, “Look, I graduated Lord. I can make it in the ministry. No sense in me being somebody’s lunch. All this effort?” I would have said, “Look, Lord, I’ve got a great idea. I know a Bible college dropout who’ll never make it in the ministry. Send him there; they’ll eat him, and who will know.” The guy will be a hero. Right? Leave me alone will you? I can cut it.

But John Paton didn’t argue with God. The Lord said go, so he went. Took his little wife, a ship let them off, they paddled to shore in a little rowboat. They were there on an island inhabited by man-eating cannibals whose language they did not speak. And they had no way to contact them. They set up a little hut at the beach and the Lord marvelously preserved them. Later on when the chief of the tribe in that area was converted to Christ, he asked John who that army was that surrounded his hut every night. God’s holy angels protected him. After a matter of weeks there, his wife gave birth to a baby, and the baby and the wife both died. He was all alone and he says in his biography that he slept on the graves to keep the natives from digging up the bodies and eating them. And he decided he’d stay.

The challenge was great, the adversaries were many and that was where God wanted him, so he stayed. How do you do that by yourself? You do that by being totally depending on God. Accept the challenge, because it’s in the challenge where your resources run out and you depend on God and it’s where you depend on God that His power flows to victories that you never dreamed possible. It’s to the one who really labors for the Lord and does the Lord’s work in the Lord’s way, has a vision for the future, a sense of flexibility, a thoroughness, not superficial, has a commitment to present service, and accepts opposition as an opportunity or a challenge.

Paton’s Wikipedia entry has more.

The inhabitants of Tanna, where the Patons had settled in 1858, were fierce. Yet, Paton survived many attacks on his life. There was one time when he was in a near-death situation, but, providentially, a ship arrived at the island just in time to rescue him and, from the other side of Tanna, two other missionaries, Mr and Mrs Mathieson. The ship took them to another island in the New Hebrides, Aneityum.

From Aneityum, Paton went to Australia then returned to Scotland to recruit new missionaries and to raise funds for evangelising in the New Hebrides. Some of the money went towards building a ship. Later on, he was able to have a steamship built for the missionaries.

In 1864, while he was in Scotland, he remarried. Margaret (Maggie) Whitecross accompanied her husband to the New Hebrides. They settled on Aniwa, the island closest to Tanna. Paton wrote that the inhabitants were just as cruel as those on Tanna.

Incredibly, Maggie bore ten children, four of whom died at very young ages. One of their sons became a missionary in the New Hebrides.

John Paton learned the language of Aniwa and put it into writing, enabling him to translate the New Testament for the islanders. It was printed in 1899. By then, he had enabled the establishment of missionaries on 25 of the 30 islands in the New Hebrides.

Maggie taught the women and girls to weave hats and sew. She also taught them the tenets of Christianity.

As Paton had some medical training, he and his wife were able to minister to the sick, dispensing medicines daily.

Paton held a service every Sunday. He also taught the men how to use modern tools.

By the end of his ministry on Aniwa, he and his wife had trained local teachers to preach the Gospel. By the time they left for Australia, the whole island professed the Christian faith.

The Patons retired in Victoria State, where Melbourne is located. Maggie died in Kew in 1905 at the age of 64. John died in Canterbury in 1907. He was 82, which is an amazing age, considering he had ministered to cannibals and had to contend with all sorts of tropical diseases.

The Patons’ ministry was a Pauline one involving a deep, guiding faith as well as perseverance against all adversity. It is an amazing story.

Returning to today’s reading, next week’s post details Paul’s final instructions to the Corinthians. As ever in his closing chapters, the Apostle names several people doing the Lord’s work and his satisfaction with them.

Next time — 1 Corinthians 16:12-18

The Seventh Sunday after Trinity — Eighth Sunday after Pentecost — is July 18, 2021.

Readings for Year B can be found here.

The Gospel reading is as follows (emphases mine):

Mark 6:30-34, 53-56

6:30 The apostles gathered around Jesus, and told him all that they had done and taught.

6:31 He said to them, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat.

6:32 And they went away in the boat to a deserted place by themselves.

6:33 Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they hurried there on foot from all the towns and arrived ahead of them.

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.

6:53 When they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret and moored the boat.

6:54 When they got out of the boat, people at once recognized him,

6:55 and rushed about that whole region and began to bring the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was.

6:56 And wherever he went, into villages or cities or farms, they laid the sick in the marketplaces, and begged him that they might touch even the fringe of his cloak; and all who touched it were healed.

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

This reading follows on from last week’s. The Apostles had returned from their tours of ministry, as described in the reading for the Fifth Sunday after Trinity, and told Jesus what they had done and taught (verse 30).

John MacArthur says the Apostles’ brief ministry was ‘a blitz’. Jesus had invested His powers in them, meaning that they could heal people via miracles:

We don’t have specifics about that journey, about the impact, but it was a blitz on that small region of Galilee by men that were known to the Galileans because they were, eleven out of twelve of them, all but Judas Iscariot, were from that very area

This lasted weeks, probably maybe just a few months. They come back. They gather with Jesus. This is reporting time, debriefing.

He tells us where Jesus was in His ministry at this point:

Jesus has been circulating through Galilee now for well over a year, and there are only a few months left in His ministry there.

He’s going to finalize His ministry there. This [the Feeding of the Five Thousand] is kind of the capstone miracle of His work there, at least in the public sense. After this miracle, He will go toward Tyre and Sidon, He will have a ministry there, which is on the northeast coast, and then He will come back across Galilee one more time and begin His journey down through Decapolis, which is east of Galilee, headed toward Judea, spend the last months of His life in Judea, and ultimately in Jerusalem where He will die and rise from the dead and then ascend back into glory.

So we’re coming to the end of His Galilean ministry, and His Galilean ministry has been marked by several trips through that region. We would say that this is the third and sort of final canvassing of Galilee. And remember now, as we came in to chapter 6, Jesus delegated His power, power to conquer disease, death and demons to the twelve, which multiplied Himself twelve times, and told them to go preach repentance in the Kingdom of God the way He had done for all of the months up to that point. He had done it alone, now He spreads the power. They went out, they preached in His name, they healed in His name, they cast out demons in His name, they raised the dead in His name.

By this time, the Apostles would have been exhausted, and Jesus knew that, so He invited them to a deserted place where they could recoup their energy and have something to eat (verse 31).

However, our commentators agree that this respite was not a lengthy one.

Matthew Henry’s commentary says:

He calls them only to rest awhile; they must not expect to rest long, only to get breath, and then to go to work again. There is no remaining rest for the people of God till they come to heaven.

MacArthur says:

The Lord knew this was going to be very brief – very, very brief – in fact, almost nonexistent.

They went away on the boat to a deserted place (verse 32):

The only rest they got was on the boat. They probably were able to eat while they were trudging across the north end of the Sea of Galilee, about four miles if you go from Capernaum to the point on the northeast shore where this village is believed to have been. It was eight miles if you went around by foot. The crowds were aggressive. The crowds were huge. They numbered in the multiples of thousands. Hard to get away from them.

The Apostles and Jesus went near a village called Bethsaida, which is in Luke’s account:

In Luke 9:10, it says He was taking them with Him. He was taking them with Him. He was the leader who was leading them to the place of rest. And then it says, “He took them to a city called Bethsaida” – to a city called Bethsaida. That’s what Luke tells us. Mark doesn’t tell us where they went, but Luke fills that in.

This city is very likely Bethsaida Julias, a fishing village on the northeast shore of the Sea of Galilee. We don’t know exactly the precise location of it. It was a small enough village that it didn’t leave any lasting ruins.

They went near Bethsaida because the village itself could not accommodate the tens of thousands of people who would soon arrive.

Along with Capernaum, Bethsaida is the other place upon which Jesus passed judgement later on:

Now, Bethsaida is an important village in the New Testament because it is the village where Peter and Andrew and Philip and Nathaniel, four of the apostles, the first four called to the Lord – John 1:43 and 44grew up. It was their town. It was where they learned their fishing trade. Everybody in town knew them, and everybody in that little village who knew them perhaps had just recently experienced their return …

There’s little doubt that Jesus Himself had been there. He had literally traversed Galilee twice over the more than a year that He had already ministered there in Galilee.

So that little village had high exposure to the Lord Jesus, but nothing like they were going to have on this day – on this day – because it was near that little village that our Lord arrives on this day, heals many people … and then does this massive miracle. One would expect that whatever the population of that little village, a few hundred, most of that village was there that day and was fed along with the rest of the crowd, as it tells us, who had come from cities and areas all over that part of Galilee. So they had a very intimate experience with the power of Christ.

Now, why is that important? It is important because of the words of our Lord in Luke 10 and also in Matthew 11:21, the same thing. But I’ll have you look at Luke 10. Luke 10:13, our Lord pronounces a judgment on Bethsaida. “Woe to you, Bethsaida.” Damnation, cursing, condemnation, judgment pronounced on you. “Woe” is actually an onomatopoetic word. An onomatopoeia is a word that sounds like its meaning. “Ouai,” that’s the Greek. “Ouai,” that’s a woe to you, Bethsaida, for if the miracles had been performed in Tyre and Sidon which occurred in you, they would have repented long ago, sitting in sackcloth and ashes. It’ll be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon in the judgment than for you.

However, the crowds spotted Jesus and the Apostles and hurried on foot to arrive ahead of them (verse 33).

When Jesus saw the massive crowd, He had compassion for them, recognising that they were sheep without a shepherd, meaning bereft of spiritual leadership from the Jewish hierarchy, and He began to teach them many things (verse 34).

Essentially, they were helpless, as MacArthur explains:

sheep without a shepherd will die. They can’t feed themselves. They can’t protect themselves. If they get on their backs, they can’t even put themselves back on their feet. Somebody has to clean them. Somebody has to feed them. Somebody has to peck out of their lanolin-filled wool the bugs and the thorns that bother them and irritate them. Someone has to care for them, lead them to a safe place. Someone has to provide the place for them to drink. All of that.

The missing verses include the Feeding of the Five Thousand and Jesus walking on water afterwards in the early hours of the following morning. He calmed adverse winds which prevented the Apostles from reaching their next destination, Genneseret.

They moored the boat at Genneseret (verse 53) and got out, at which point the townspeople recognised Jesus immediately (verse 54).

From Genneseret, Jesus and the Apostles walked to Capernaum, where He lost a lot of His disciples, as John 6 recounts.

MacArthur tells us:

Well, He took the little bit of time it would take, once they moored the boat, to walk to Capernaum, and John tells us He was in the synagogue at Capernaum when He preached the Sermon on the Bread of Life, the sermon they didn’t want to hear and didn’t want to believe. By the way, in that sermon He said something very important. Not only did He say that the Father had given Him some whom He received and would keep and raise, but He said this, verse 51 of that sermon in John 6, “I am the living bread that came down out of heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever and the bread also which I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” And He promised His death. His death.

It was a great sermon. It even incorporated His death. And, of course, it unmasked all the superficial people, and it allowed for the open confession to be repeated again that day, that morning. “To whom shall we go? You and you alone have the words of eternal life. And we believe and know that you are the Son of God.”

The people rushed around the area to bring the sick to Jesus for healing in Capernaum (verse 55). 

Wherever He went, people brought those who were sick to Him and begged to touch the fringe of His cloak (as the woman with the blood issue did); all who touched the fringe were healed (verse 56).

Henry points out that they were more concerned about their bodies than their souls:

We do not find that they were desirous to be taught by him, only to be healed. If ministers could but cure people’s bodily diseases, what multitudes would attend them! But it is sad to think how much more concerned the most of men are about their bodies than about their souls.

MacArthur asks us:

do you want from Jesus what He really comes to bring, and that is eternal life? Do you want Him as the bread of life which upon eating you never hunger? The water of life which upon drinking you never ever thirst?

Jesus did not come to establish a temporal kingdom, to settle social issues or to bring about prosperity. It is no surprise that He lost disciples in Capernaum. One wonders what would happen if He gave that sermon today. Then as now, many would walk away, disillusioned, to die an eternal death.

In 1995, a Church of England scandal made national news.

Reading an update on it this week reminded me of the Corinthians, whom St Paul reproved for becoming debauched. Their carnal attitude permeated their church services: babbling nonsense ecstatically ‘in tongues’, which was part of pagan worship, and drunken Communion services.

During the 1980s and early 1990s, something similar happened to a church in Sheffield. Unfortunately, there were no senior Church of England clergy to censure the vicar. As it happened, they encouraged a programme about which they knew little.

This week, The Times recapped what happened at St Thomas’s Church in Sheffield at what was called the Nine O’Clock Service, or NOS.

The NOS was held every Sunday.

A young Christian rock musician — and ex-nightclubber — Chris Brain, led the NOS, which The Times describes as:

a radical mix of rave culture, social and environmental campaigning and religion that drew queues of black-clad young followers for its weekly gatherings.

Instead of reminding Chris Brain of pertinent chapters of 1 Corinthians, the clergy wanted to extend the NOS throughout the United Kingdom (emphases mine):

The hierarchy was buzzing at the prospect of a vibrant model of service that might be copied around the country to attract new congregations.

Chris Brain, the charismatic young Christian rock musician who had emerged as leader of the NOS, met Dr George Carey, who was soon to be the Archbishop of Canterbury, and later recalled: “He said to me, ‘I’d be very happy to see an NOS in every town and city in the UK’.”

Carey, who met Brain in 1990, was interested in getting more converts, and rightly so. As the Archbishop of Canterbury, he declared the 1990s to be the Decade of Evangelism. He is best remembered for propagating the Alpha Course nationwide. Alpha started at Holy Trinity Brompton Church in London. It has been an international phenomenon for many years.

Returning to the NOS, in 1989, the Bishop of Sheffield, the Right Rev David Lunn, had confirmed 100 people — nearly all NOS attendees — at St Thomas’s. That is an extraordinary number of confirmands for any church at any one time:

It was a moment of great excitement for the church hierarchy because they were almost all young people, usually thought of as being out of reach.

As a result, Brain became a diocesan star of sorts, seen as being ideal for the priesthood:

Brain was fast-tracked for ordination and invited to contribute to the archbishop’s collection of essays on evangelism. Lunn told the BBC that the NOS had a “permanent significance” and was a “new development in the way we understand the Christian religion”.

The church authorities were either unaware of, or happy to turn a blind eye to some more disturbing aspects of the movement.

Brain’s ordination in 1992 was rather extraordinary:

When Brain was ordained in 1992, the NOS borrowed at considerable expense the robes worn by Robert de Niro in the film The Mission for the service.

He became St Thomas’s vicar.

Behind the scenes, however, carnality prevailed with Brain and some NOS adherents, particularly women. It was turning into a cult:

There were allegations of controlling behaviour and followers handing over thousands of pounds while cutting themselves off from their friends and families. Young women were enlisted as “postmodern nuns” in Brain’s Homebase Team. Some allegedly gave massages and engaged in sexual activity when putting him to bed.

Brain rationalised their behaviour, as one woman later recalled:

One member of the group, interviewed by the BBC, said: “He would talk about how we were discovering a postmodern definition of sexuality in the church. It’s just language — language covering up the fact of what was really going on: one bloke getting his rocks off.”

Things started getting out of hand in 1992:

There had been consternation in 1992 when an NOS service at a Christian festival included a troupe of dancers in black Lycra bikinis cavorting in front of 15,000 people.

A few laypersons and clergy complained to church authorities, but nothing was done until 1995:

Church leaders finally listened in August 1995 after disclosures by three whistleblowers:

One woman claimed that there was bullying and people were “blurring boundaries sexually”. She worried about how money was spent. The NOS charity, the Nine O’Clock Trust, recorded an income of £272,000 in 1994.

That amount of money is something an average Anglican church can only dream of.

Church authorities suspended Brain’s ministry. A month later, he tried to downplay the extracurricular activities of the NOS:

In a September 1995 interview with a Sunday newspaper he said that the sexual contact he had with women followers was “heavy petting” but “non-penetrative”. The Homebase Team had been created to help his wife at home because he was so busy with his work. “It was like any other vicarage, you always get ladies helping the vicar’s wife. They set up a rota but the idea of handmaidens is ridiculous,” he said.

Brain added: “These were relationships which began 10 or 12 years ago when I was part of the nightclub scene. When I became a priest, I should have done something about them . . . I didn’t and that was wrong.”

He said that his ordination never should have happened:

He claimed that it was “utterly ridiculous that I was made a priest . . . I was the breakthrough for the church but it changed everything for me. Everyone became dependent on me.”

Yes, congregants depend a great deal on their vicars. They expect spiritual leadership and guidance. He is their shepherd.

The Times is revisiting this story because, after 25 years, former NOS members are now seeking compensation:

Former members of the Nine O’Clock Service, which was known as the NOS and drew hundreds of young people to nightclub-style evangelical services in Sheffield in the 1980s and 1990s, have approached the church alleging that they endured abuse and exploitation.

The current Bishop of Sheffield, the Right Rev Pete Wilcox, said that:

the survivors had given “harrowing testimonies” about their experiences, and their concerns were being taken “very seriously”.

More ex-members could be coming forward:

to allege sexual exploitation and psychological abuse.

One member explained that the reason for waiting a quarter of a century to come forward was because the Church of England advised them to stay silent:

One former member of the group said: “People have been silent for a long time and it has caused them huge distress and trauma. The church told them at the time that they should keep silent, don’t talk about it, the press will destroy you. I think after the MeToo movement people felt ‘enough is enough’ and they made a decision to come forward.”

Some of those seeking help are considering legal action for damages because church leaders had overtly supported the NOS, believing that it would attract younger congregations.

The article says that the hierarchy even gave the NOS financial backing.

The ‘postmodern nuns’ wore unusual habits and had unorthodox duties:

Brain resigned his ministry in 1995 as the scandal unfolded. It emerged that his entourage included a group of “postmodern nuns” who wore black miniskirts and whose tasks ranged from housekeeping duties to “putting him to bed” at night.

He told a BBC documentary in 1995 that he had been “involved in improper sexual conduct with a number of women”.

Fast forwarding to the present, Brain is now 63. The article says that he has changed his first name from Chris to James. He is currently:

co-director of a “transformation design” consultancy based in Manchester.

The Times reported that he did not respond to their attempts to contact him.

The NOS, The Times says, had between 300 to 500 members. A number of them forsook family and friends for the movement, filling its coffers with large sums of money.

At the time the scandal broke, the then-Bishop of Sheffield, Bishop Lunn, said that:

the hierarchy was not responsible for any wrongdoing.

The current incumbent, Bishop Wilcox, is taking a much different stance:

Wilcox said: “We can confirm a group of survivors of the appalling conduct at the Nine O’Clock Service in the Diocese of Sheffield, which originally surfaced in the 1990s, have contacted the Church of England. Their concerns and harrowing testimonies are being taken very seriously. Support is being offered and the church is working closely with the statutory authorities.”

A large law firm, Slater & Gordon, is representing the former members. One of their solicitors (attorneys), Richard Scorer, said:

The Church of England has a moral and legal responsibility to those harmed by abuse in the Nine O’Clock Service and it must honour that and ensure that the appalling harm suffered by victims is properly acknowledged.

I remember when the story broke. It was in the papers for several weeks. Even the atheists I knew at the time expressed their shock and said that priests should not act like that.

The Times has done an admirable job of returning this harrowing story to the spotlight.

I hope that settlements can be reached and that the Church of England learns an important lesson from this.

However, I have a few old bookmarks on the Nine O’Clock Service, which say that Chris Brain’s departure did not end the movement. Furthermore, The Independent reported at the time that Bishop Lunn was quick to demand that Brain resign as vicar and that the Archbishop of York had already banned him from performing priestly duties.

More to come on Monday.

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.

1 Corinthians 16:5-9

Plans for Travel

5 I will visit you after passing through Macedonia, for I intend to pass through Macedonia, and perhaps I will stay with you or even spend the winter, so that you may help me on my journey, wherever I go. For I do not want to see you now just in passing. I hope to spend some time with you, if the Lord permits. But I will stay in Ephesus until Pentecost, for a wide door for effective work has opened to me, and there are many adversaries.

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Last week’s entry discussed Paul’s appeal to the Corinthians to contribute generously to the fund he was collecting for the poverty-stricken church in Jerusalem.

1 Corinthians 16 is the closing chapter to his first letter to the church in Corinth. As such, Paul wraps up with practical details.

Today’s passage could be subtitled: ‘Doing the Lord’s work in the Lord’s way’.

When I studied the Book of Acts, one of the memorable chapters was Acts 16, specifically Acts 16:6-10, when Paul received two divine messages telling him he had to leave Asia Minor and travel westward to Macedonia (emphases mine):

The Macedonian Call

And they went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia. And when they had come up to Mysia, they attempted to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them. So, passing by Mysia, they went down to Troas. And a vision appeared to Paul in the night: a man of Macedonia was standing there, urging him and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” 10 And when Paul[a] had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go on into Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.

Paul prayed often to do the Lord’s bidding in His way. He made plans but changed them when necessary.

Interestingly, we have a mention of Macedonia in today’s verses. Paul says that he will visit Corinth after his intended trip there (verse 5).

John MacArthur explains that Paul was in Ephesus at this time:

First Corinthians was written by Paul at the end of a three year stay in the city of Ephesus. Paul took 1 Corinthians after he’d written it, handed it to Timothy, and sent Timothy with it. Now, originally, according to 2 Corinthians chapter 1 verses 15 and 16, originally Paul had planned to follow Timothy – just a little while after Timothy left, Paul was going to leave and he was going to come along right to Corinth, then to Macedonia, then back to Corinth. He had a plan.

But now as he writes here – of course in 2 Corinthians, he’s reflecting way back to his original plan – and here he says, I’ve changed my plan. “I will come to you when I have passed through Macedonia.” So instead of Corinth, Macedonia, Corinth; it’s going to be straight to Macedonia then to Corinth, and then I’m going to go back to Jerusalem. So, he had this plan working out. And it had to change now and then, but basically he had made a plan for the future.

Paul says that he would like an extended stay with the Corinthians, perhaps through the winter, so that they can help him on his journey (verse 6).

Matthew Henry’s commentary says that the help Paul desires is practical and moral support:

It is plain that he hoped for some good effect, because he says he intended to stay, that they might bring him on his journey whithersoever he went (1 Corinthians 16:6; 1 Corinthians 16:6); not that they might accompany him a little way on the road, but expedite and furnish him for his journey, help and encourage him to it, and provide him for it.

Paul reiterates his hope of an extended stay in Corinth rather than a brief visit, ‘if the Lord permits’ (verse 7). He was ever conscious of the Lord’s will in his ministry.

Anyone who is a student of 1 Corinthians or has read my series on the book knows that they were in a bad way with some of their habits and conduct. MacArthur reminds us:

the Corinthian church is in a hot spot of paganism. The Corinthian church has got problems all over the place. The Corinthian church is in a desperate situation. And Paul says, look, I’ve got to come to be with you. And I’m going to have to do that in the future and I’m even planning – look at verse 6 – to spend the winter with you and have you give me some supplies so that wherever I go from there my needs will be met. I’m going to stay. You’ve got some needs.

For the time being, Paul is staying in Ephesus until Pentecost (verse 8). The city is providing a productive ministry for him — ‘a wide door for effective work’ — even amidst his adversaries (verse 9).

Henry offers this analysis:

A great door and effectual was opened to him; many were prepared to receive the gospel at Ephesus, and God gave him great success among them; he had brought over many to Christ, and he had great hope of bringing over many more. For this reason he determined to stay awhile at Ephesus. Note, Success, and a fair prospect of more, was a just reason to determine an apostle to stay and labour in a particular place. And there were many adversaries, because a great door, and an effectual, was opened. Note, Great success in the work of the gospel commonly creates many enemies. The devil opposes those most, and makes them most trouble, who most heartily and successfully set themselves to destroy his kingdom. There were many adversaries; and therefore the apostle determined to stay.

Henry offers a note from the Roman world on Paul’s use of ‘wide door’, relating it to his adversaries:

Some think he alludes in this passage to the custom of the Roman Circus, and the doors of it, at which the charioteers were to enter, as their antagonists did at the opposite doors. True courage is whetted by opposition; and it is no wonder that the Christian courage of the apostle should be animated by the zeal of his adversaries. They were bent to ruin him, and prevent the effect of his ministry at Ephesus; and should he at this time desert his station, and disgrace his character and doctrine? No, the opposition of adversaries only animated his zeal.

MacArthur’s sermon, which he preached in 1977, has fascinating anecdotes pertaining to seminary, pastoral work and missionary dreams.

He speaks of his own ministry at Grace Church and watching the building work expand. He relates this to doing things properly, according to plans and the right codes:

Now I remember when all the buildings around Grace Church were going up. When I first came here, was that one little education building and the chapel. And since then all these other buildings have gone up. And I’ve learned a lot about building – I didn’t know anything about it – but just by watching. And I learned at least some basic things, and this was the key thing in relation to what I want to say to you this morning. That you have to build according to plans, according to code, and you’ve got to pass the inspection. In other words, you’ve got some plans; it’s got to be like that. And then, it’s got to be like the code that city requires and then the inspector’s got to make sure it’s all right. And you know something, when you’re doing the work of the Lord, you’ve got to do it according to the plan that the Spirit of God lays out, according to the code of service which God has established, and you’ve got allow it to be exposed to the divine inspector who’ll tell you whether it does any good or not.

He says that some seminarians expect the perfect job to fall into their laps after graduation. That is not the way the ministry works. A seminarian needs to have a vision of and a plan for ministry:

I’m afraid that there are some people even in seminary, some young people in seminary, they’re just going through the motions of seminary trying to get the grades done. They’re not involved in an effective dynamic ministry now, so they’re not proving themselves faithful for a future one. And they’re not strategizing for anything in the future and then when they come out of school, they really don’t have anything to, because they haven’t prepared themselves to do anything by the route of faithfulness, and they haven’t planned to do anything by virtue of evaluating the need and setting a strategy. You’ve got to be ready. You think God’s going to buy a pig in a poke and throw you out and hold His fingers? No. When God wants somebody to do a job, God wants somebody to do it who’s ready to do it, proven ready, and has a plan to do it.

You know all the time I was working for Talbot Seminary – just to give you a personal illustration – all the time that I was involved in preaching all over the country, I was planning how I would pastor a church when God gave me the opportunity. So that by the time the Lord opened the opportunity at Grace, I knew just exactly what God wanted me to do here. Now there’s been some changes and some growing and development, but those were the years that I was framing the thing that I was going to do, so that when the door opened I was ready to do it. You see, training for service is not just a matter of learning some Bible facts and hanging around waiting for God to drop you like a big guru from heaven into the perfect situation and say, “Go.” See? It’s a matter of you being faithful in the present, of you working hard in the present, of you being involved in the Lord’s work in the present, and of you laying out a plan so that when the day comes and the door opens you are ready to go …

Let’s look at the second point. The one who does the Lord’s work in the Lord’s way not only has a vision for the future – I love this – he has a sense of flexibility. You know what? The future may not all come together like you thought it would. So you’ve got to be flexible. This is so good. You get some people that say, well, I know exactly what God wants me to do. I have the gift of A, and I have the so forth of B, and I obviously have the talents of C. Therefore, that equals that I do this. And until that comes along, I’m certainly not going to go over to that place and do that. That’s just not exactly what fits me. Oh, boo on that. That’s bad. See? Well you get yourself all convinced in your own mind that you will do this. You’ve just eliminated one very great element of Christian service: Doing the Lord’s work in the Lord’s way demands a sense of flexibility.

He tells stories of two British missionaries, who, against all the odds, ending up in faraway foreign lands winning souls for the Lord.

One was William Carey (1761-1834) from England, a Particular (Calvinist) Baptist, the father of modern missions:

William Carey, the great pioneer of modern missions, cobbled shoes in England. But you know what he did while he cobbled shoes? Right in front of his face, every day, was a map of the world. And he wept over it, and he prayed over it, and he planned over it, and he strategized over it. And one day God hit the launch button and said you’re gone from the shoe business, William Carey. And he landed in India, and he opened India to the gospel for every missionary who’s gone there since. And God used a man who was a faithful man in the present who proved himself a capable man, and it was a man who had a vision for the future. And he planned and when the time came, he was ready – vital.

The second was David Livingstone (1813-1873), a Scottish physician and Congregationalist, best known in popular culture for meeting Henry Stanley in Africa. Stanley famously asked, ‘Dr Livingstone, I presume?’

Of him, MacArthur says:

Did you know that all his life David Livingstone had his heart set on going as a missionary to China? Did you know that? David Livingstone all his life wanted to go to China. David Livingstone was disappointed all his life because he never got there, but one day God punched the button on his life and he wound up where? In Africa. And David Livingstone did for Africa what William Carey did f[or] India. He opened it to the missionaries who’ve been there ever since. Flexibility. You see the need and the door is open and you’re a prepared heart and you’ve got a plan, God may launch you in an area you never dreamed possible.

According to Wikipedia, Livingstone’s primary goal was to eradicate the slave trade in Africa:

Livingstone advocated the establishment of trade and religious missions in central Africa, but abolition of the African slave trade, as carried out by the Portuguese of Tete and the Arab Swahili of Kilwa, became his primary goal. His motto—now inscribed on his statue at Victoria Falls—was “Christianity, Commerce and Civilization“, a combination that he hoped would form an alternative to the slave trade, and impart dignity to the Africans in the eyes of Europeans.[17] He believed that the key to achieving these goals was the navigation of the Zambezi River as a Christian commercial highway into the interior.[18] He returned to Britain to garner support for his ideas, and to publish a book on his travels which brought him fame as one of the leading explorers of the age.

Livingstone believed that he had a spiritual calling for exploration to find routes for commercial trade which would displace slave trade routes, rather than for preaching. He was encouraged by the response in Britain to his discoveries and support for future expeditions, so he resigned from the London Missionary Society in 1857.

Livingstone left a convert of his to evangelise in southern Africa, Sechele, who was the chief of the Kwena people in Botswana:

After Livingstone left the Kwena tribe, Sechele remained faithful to Christianity and led missionaries to surrounding tribes as well as converting nearly his entire Kwena people. In the estimation of Neil Parsons of the University of Botswana, Sechele “did more to propagate Christianity in 19th-century southern Africa than virtually any single European missionary”.

Livingstone left a good name for himself in Africa, according to Alvyn Austin, who wrote an article about the explorer in 1997:

at a time when countries are being renamed and statues are being toppled, Livingstone has not fallen. Despite modern Africans’ animosity toward other Europeans, such as Cecil Rhodes, Livingstone endures as a heroic legend. Rhodesia has long since purged its name, but the cities of Livingstone (Zambia) and Livingstonia (Malawi) keep the explorer’s appellation with pride.

But I digress.

In closing, MacArthur advises us to plan, do the Lord’s work and be ready for the future:

… if you’re going to do the Lord’s work in the Lord’s way, that means you’re going to have a vision for the future. You’re going to have a sense of flexibility. You’re going to have a work that’s not superficial, and you’re going to have a commitment to a present service, a present ministry that’s fruitful and effective. And then, when the time comes for God to punch your launch button into that future, you’re going to be ready, you’re going to be proven, and you’ll have worked through the principles that’ll work in that new dimension of ministry. People, let’s us be always abounding in the work of the Lord, and let’s do it so it’s not in vain but so it’s to His glory. That means every one of us, whatever our gifts and abilities and callings are.

Next week, Paul gives the Corinthians advice on how to treat Timothy.

Next time — 1 Corinthians 16:10-11

The Sixth Sunday after Trinity — Seventh Sunday after Pentecost — is July 11, 2021.

Readings for Year B can be found here.

The Gospel reading is as follows (emphases mine):

Mark 6:14-29

6:14 King Herod heard of it, for Jesus’ name had become known. Some were saying, “John the baptizer has been raised from the dead; and for this reason these powers are at work in him.”

6:15 But others said, “It is Elijah.” And others said, “It is a prophet, like one of the prophets of old.”

6:16 But when Herod heard of it, he said, “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised.”

6:17 For Herod himself had sent men who arrested John, bound him, and put him in prison on account of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, because Herod had married her.

6:18 For John had been telling Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.”

6:19 And Herodias had a grudge against him, and wanted to kill him. But she could not,

6:20 for Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he protected him. When he heard him, he was greatly perplexed; and yet he liked to listen to him.

6:21 But an opportunity came when Herod on his birthday gave a banquet for his courtiers and officers and for the leaders of Galilee.

6:22 When his daughter Herodias came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his guests; and the king said to the girl, “Ask me for whatever you wish, and I will give it.”

6:23 And he solemnly swore to her, “Whatever you ask me, I will give you, even half of my kingdom.”

6:24 She went out and said to her mother, “What should I ask for?” She replied, “The head of John the baptizer.”

6:25 Immediately she rushed back to the king and requested, “I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter.”

6:26 The king was deeply grieved; yet out of regard for his oaths and for the guests, he did not want to refuse her.

6:27 Immediately the king sent a soldier of the guard with orders to bring John’s head. He went and beheaded him in the prison,

6:28 brought his head on a platter, and gave it to the girl. Then the girl gave it to her mother.

6:29 When his disciples heard about it, they came and took his body, and laid it in a tomb.

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

This account of John the Baptist’s death immediately follows last week’s Gospel reading, which recounted the last time Jesus visited Nazareth and His sending out the Apostles to preach and heal.

No doubt the Apostles gave credit to Jesus for the healing powers He had invested them with for this short time of ministry, so that they could understand what they were to do later on when the Holy Spirit descended upon them at the first Pentecost.

John MacArthur says:

I think the twelve made it crystal clear that the power was not theirs. After all, everybody in Galilee would have been familiar with these men and their families. They had lived their whole lives there.

It was a small area. They had never had this kind of power before – even when they were with Jesus, they hadn’t had it before. They made sure that everyone knew this was a delegated power and it came from Christ and what they did they did in His name.

News travelled quickly about Jesus, and it was the same with the Apostles’ mighty works during this time.

MacArthur describes it:

it was a blitz. It set loose a greater influence for the gospel of Jesus Christ than had occurred prior in the ministry of our Lord, when He was doing it all Himself. Miracles were happening everywhere they went, dead people coming back to life, people with diseases being healed, demons being cast out, and the gospel being preached. There’s never been anything like this explosion of miracles, the explosion of gospel preaching, and it led to an expanded buzz all through Galilee.

Herod heard of it along with the speculation that John the Baptist had been resurrected and responsible for these mighty works (verse 14).

Others believed it was Elijah, while another group of people thought Jesus was a new prophet in the traditional mould of prophets (verse 15).

Herod then decided that this prophet must be John the Baptist whom he had beheaded (verse 16).

Matthew Henry’s commentary exposes the irony — and foolishness — in such thought, which is brought about by unbelief. They thought John the Baptist had been resurrected, but when Jesus was resurrected, they did not want to believe it:

Note, 1. Where there is an idle faith, there is commonly a working fancy. The people said, It is a prophet risen from the dead; Herod said, It is John Baptist risen from the dead. It seems by this, that the rising of a prophet from the dead, to do mighty works, was a thing expected, and was thought neither impossible nor improbable, and it was now readily suspected when it was not true; but afterward, when it was true concerning Christ, and a truth undeniably evidenced, yet then it was obstinately gainsaid and denied. Those who most wilfully disbelieve the truth, are commonly most credulous of errors and fancies.

However, there is another aspect to this, which Herod must have found troubling. What might a resurrected John the Baptist do to him? His conscience would have been disturbed. He might have also feared a physical retribution.

Henry says:

A guilty conscience needs no accuser or tormentor but itself. Herod charges himself with the murder of John, which perhaps no one else dare charge him with; I beheaded him; and the terror of it made him imagine that Christ was John risen. He feared John while he lived, and now, when he thought he had got clear of him, fears him ten times worse when he is dead. One might as well be haunted with ghosts and furies, as with the horrors of an accusing conscience; those therefore who would keep an undisturbed peace, must keep an undefiled conscience, Acts 24:16.

Mark goes on to give us a flashback into John the Baptist’s death. John the Baptist was the son of Elizabeth, Mary’s cousin, thereby making him the cousin of Jesus.

MacArthur says that his death and the crucifixion of Jesus are the two most horrific deaths in the New Testament:

The Jews rejected Jesus, we know that, and eventually, of course, they cried for His blood and said, “Crucify Him, crucify Him, we’d rather have Barabbas released to us,” a common criminal. They rejected Jesus, but they also rejected John the Baptist. In fact, that’s a package deal. If you reject Jesus, then it’s clear that you have rejected John because John the Baptist was the prophet who pointed to Jesus and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”

It was John the Baptist who said, “I must decrease and He must increase.” It was John the Baptist who said, “He is far greater than I, I’m not even worthy to loose the strings on His sandals.” So if you reject Jesus, you have rejected John. If you reject John, you’ve rejected Jesus. If they had received John the Baptist as a true prophet, if they had received his message as God’s true Word, of necessity they would have had to receive Jesus Christ of whom John spoke. You receive them both, or you reject them both.

Well, they rejected them both and both were murdered. Before us in the text in Mark 6 is a monumental account of the murder of John the Baptist. It is a preview of the murder of Jesus Christ. And though the Jews didn’t actually kill John the Baptist with their own hands, Herod did. And though the Jews didn’t actually kill Jesus with their own hands, the Romans did. Still, the Jews stood by while the murders occurred. The story of John the Baptist’s murder is drama. It is as dramatic as any story in the New Testament, perhaps only exceeded by the story of the crucifixion of our Lord Himself.

Herod had John arrested and imprisoned because he did not like John’s condemnation of his sham marriage to his sister-in-law Herodias, who was his brother Philip’s wife (verse 17). John told him that their marriage was unlawful (verse 18).

This Herod was Herod Antipas, a son of Herod the Great, as MacArthur explains:

The father of this Herod, who really is known as Herod Antipas, the father of this Herod, and there are many Herods in the scriptures, the father is Herod the Great. Herod the Great compounded your difficulty and understanding what Herod you’re talking about in the New Testament because he had ten wives. So there were a lot of little Herods running all over the place who ended up in all kinds of situations.

Herod the Great was an evil man, including in his own family life, with all sorts of incest taking place.

Herod Antipas ruled under Tiberius Caesar, who succeeded Caesar Augustus. Tiberius Caesar was also a wicked man:

Tiberius was a pedophile of the rankest kind. To describe his life would be a wrong thing to do. Just the discussion itself would be sinful.

Well, Herod Antipas was put under Tiberius in this position, and while the others didn’t last very long, he lasted 42 years – 42 years, through the entire life of our Lord Jesus. This man was the petty ruler for Rome over the realm of Galilee. He is the one, then, who has the most to lose if a power movement starts, if a populist movement rises. And like the rest of the Herods, they’re all paranoid about their power. And if indeed this is John the Baptist risen from the dead and he has the power to conquer death, then Herod is in some serious trouble – serious trouble. And that’s what he is convinced has happened.

As for the sham marriage to his sister-in-law Herodias, MacArthur tells us:

Now we’re into the soap opera. And if you can follow this the first time, you’re better than most. It is so convoluted. Please notice: Herodias is not called his wife but called the wife of his brother Philip. He married her, but the technicality is it was an illegitimate marriage because she should have remained the wife of his brother Philip.

He literally seduced and stole her from his brother. She is not, then, designated as his wife, though they were married. She is legitimately still the wife of his brother, Philip. Scripture in that sense doesn’t recognize her marriage to Herod because of its evil nature.

In other words, Herodias is a bigamist, as is Herod, because his wife is also alive.

There is more to the story:

Herod was already married, and he was married to a very prominent girl whose father was the king of Nabatean Arabia, another area to the east. His name was Aretas. And the kings made these alliances, these marriages. You’re well aware of that even from any form of ancient history. So Herod was married to the daughter of the king of Nabatean Arabia, a man named Aretas.

Herod had a brother, one of the many sons born of the ten wives of Herod the Great. This was a brother also named Philip but a different Philip than the one who had been given a portion of Israel to rule over. This Herod Philip lived in Rome. He stayed in Rome as a private citizen. He was disinherited. We don’t know all of the story behind the story, but anyway, he had been disinherited by the Herod family, so he stayed in Rome as a private citizen and lived without the benefits of whatever the royal line would have brought to him.

He had a wife and her name was Herodias. She was the daughter of another son of Herod the Great. He was a son of Herod the Great, she was a daughter of one of his half-brothers. So she married her uncle, her father’s half-brother. Philip, then, is in an incestuous relationship with her. Philip is one generation from the loins of Herod the Great; she is two generations from the loins of Herod the great. Her brother, by the way, was Herod Agrippa, the one who was eaten by worms. The whole family is caught up in incest.

So Herod goes to Rome, Herod Antipas, and he’s going to visit his brother. He visits his brother and he is attracted, or she seduces him, and so they plan to divorce their spouses. She will divorce his brother, Philip. Herod will divorce his wife, the daughter of the King Aretas, and they will get together. This doesn’t sit well with Aretas, it happens. They did it. Aretas gets mad, amasses an army, and comes and wins a great victory over Herod, who also has an army, and Herod is only saved when the Roman army comes to his rescue. So blood is shed, lots of blood is shed over this marriage.

Because John the Baptist told Herod that his marriage was unlawful, Herodias was dead set against him. She wanted to kill John the Baptist (verse 19) but could not, because Herod protected him. He feared him. He liked what John the Baptist had to say, even though he found it perplexing (verse 20).

Henry explains this contradiction:

Observe, [1.] John was a just man, and a holy [one]; to make a complete good man, both justice and holiness are necessary; holiness toward God, and justice toward men. John was mortified to this world, and so was a good friend both to justice and holiness. [2.] Herod knew this, not only by common fame, but by personal acquaintance with him. Those that have but little justice and holiness themselves, may yet discern it with respect in others. And, [3.] He therefore feared him, he honoured him. Holiness and justice command veneration, and many that are not good themselves, have respect for those that are

He heard him gladly. He did not hear him with terror as Felix heard Paul, but heard him with pleasure. There is a flashy joy, which a hypocrite may have in hearing the word; Ezekiel was to his hearers as a lovely song (Ezekiel 33:32); and the stony ground received the word with joy, Luke 8:13.

However, Herod’s birthday, with the notional great and the good present, was an opportunity for these evil people to do away with John the Baptist (verse 21).

Henry says that Herod was just biding his time, waiting for the right moment:

I am apt to think that Herod was himself in the plot, notwithstanding his pretences to be displeased and surprised, and that the thing was concerted between him and Herodias; for it is said to be when a convenient day was come (Mark 6:21; Mark 6:21), fit for such a purpose.

These birthday parties of Herod’s were so debauched that most Jews disapproved of them, except for those who wanted to curry favour with him.

It was an all-male event. Military officers also attended, as did civilian power brokers affiliated with Rome.

MacArthur says that the party likely took place in Herod’s complex, which included his palace and the prison where John the Baptist was prisoner:

Since John the Baptist was in prison in Machaerus, that must be where the party was held.

After everyone was well fed and watered, so to speak, Herodias’s daughter, also bearing the same name, came in and danced for them, prompting Herod to grant her whatever she wanted (verse 22). He even offered her half his kingdom (verse 23).

MacArthur says that the daughter was not Herod’s child but Philip’s:

As the adoptive father of this, his niece, the daughter of his brother Philip, he had no desire to protect her in any sense. For a young girl aged 15 or 16, as she probably was, to dance like this was a shame, for a princess to dance like this was a double shame, for a mother to let her daughter dance like this is a triple shame.

But “shame” doesn’t exist in the vocabulary of the family of Herod. So she comes in to dance her evil dance when the leering men have reached the right proportion of satiation both with food and alcoholic drink. In she comes, immoral, suggestive, shameless, dancing. That’s what happens. And she pleased Herod in the basest way and his dinner guests. And so he’s going to throw his braggadocio around a little bit. He’s looped, as you would say. He’s inebriated. He’s feeling his petty power. And being excited by this girl’s dance, he says, “Ask me for whatever you want and I’ll give it to you.”

She left the room to ask her mother, who said that she should ask for the head of John the Baptist (verse 24), which she did ‘immediately’, requesting the prophet’s head on a platter (verse 25).

Unbelievable. Words fail me, even though I know this story well.

Mark says that Herod was ‘deeply grieved’ to have to fulfil her request (verse 26), but Henry doubts that he was that upset, although he probably had a pang of conscience:

I can scarcely think he would have made such an unlimited promise, but that he knew what she would ask … 

The king was exceeding sorry, that is, he seemed to be so, he said he was so, he looked as if he had been so; but it was all sham and grimace, he was really pleased that he had found a pretence to get John out of the way. Qui nescit dissimulare, nescit regnareThe man who cannot dissemble, knows not how to reign. And yet he was not without sorrow for it; he could not do it but with great regret and reluctancy; natural conscience will not suffer men to sin easily; the very commission of it is vexatious; what then will the reflection upon it be?

‘Immediately’, Herod ordered that John the Baptist be beheaded, and the deed was done in the prison (verse 27).

The soldier of the guard returned with the prophet’s head on a platter and gave it to the girl, who, in turn, gave it to her mother (verse 28).

MacArthur gives us quotes from ancient historians about this horrifying spectacle, not unknown in the Roman world:

Broadus writes, “When the dish was brought with the bleeding head on it, no doubt she took it daintily in her hands, lest a drop of blood should stain her gala dress, and tripped away to mother, as if bearing her some choice dish of food from the king’s table. It was not uncommon to bring the head of one who had been slain to the person who ordered it as a sure proof that the command had been obeyed. For example, when the head of Cicero was brought to Fulvia, the wife of Mark Antony, she spat on it, and drawing out the tongue that had so eloquently opposed and condemned Antony, she pierced it with her hairpin with bitter ridicule.”

Jerome refers to this incident and says that Herodias did likewise with the head of John. We know not his authority for this assertion, but the desire of the Herod family seems to have been to ape the worst follies and cruelties of the Roman nobility.

When John’s disciples learned of his death, they took his body and buried it (verse 29).

MacArthur says:

Must have been a sad day for them. Must have been a day when they began to wonder because he had been telling them, “Messiah is coming, the Kingdom is coming.” It all seemed to come to a screeching halt. The prophet is beheaded.

John the Baptist had a lot of followers in distant lands, as we know from the Book of Acts. They had to be told about Jesus, whom they believed in.

MacArthur sums up the last of the Old Testament prophets preaching the arrival of the Messiah:

So after imprisonment over a year, John is dead. His work is done. And the one of whom it is said, “There has not risen a greater than John the Baptist,” went into his glorious eternal home, received his full reward for faithful, uncompromising service to his blessed God. And the Jews who were at the party never protested at all. John was incidental to them. John was nothing to them. They had rejected the Messiah. The Herodian party had already been in commiseration with the Pharisees to kill Jesus, reject Jesus. John doesn’t matter. Anything for entertainment.

And so they killed the last of the prophets and the best of the prophets.

MacArthur tells us how the story of Herod Antipas and Herodias ended:

When Caligula came to the throne in Rome as the Caesar, the Philip who had been tetrarch over Trachonitis and Ituraea had died, and Caligula gave it to another Herod, Herod Agrippa, whom we mentioned. Herodias was angry about this. She thought it should have been added to the territory of her husband, Herod. So she forced Herod to go to Rome and to seek the title, to have a bigger kingdom so she could be a bigger queen. He didn’t want to do it, but he had long since lost the battle to her. So he set sail for Rome.

Agrippa beat him to Caligula, and when Agrippa got to Caligula, in order to seal the deal for him to get the kingdom, he bad-mouthed Herod. And by the time Herod arrived, starting to make his case, Caligula had been convinced that he was a treacherous and dangerous man to Caligula’s power, and so both he and Herodias were exiled and died in exile. It was a bad day when Herod met Herodias – a bad day.

What an ending for two wicked people.

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