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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 have omitted — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

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

Acts 19:35-41

35 And when the town clerk had quieted the crowd, he said, “Men of Ephesus, who is there who does not know that the city of the Ephesians is temple keeper of the great Artemis, and of the sacred stone that fell from the sky?[a] 36 Seeing then that these things cannot be denied, you ought to be quiet and do nothing rash. 37 For you have brought these men here who are neither sacrilegious nor blasphemers of our goddess. 38 If therefore Demetrius and the craftsmen with him have a complaint against anyone, the courts are open, and there are proconsuls. Let them bring charges against one another. 39 But if you seek anything further,[b] it shall be settled in the regular assembly. 40 For we really are in danger of being charged with rioting today, since there is no cause that we can give to justify this commotion.” 41 And when he had said these things, he dismissed the assembly.

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Last week’s entry was about the riot in Ephesus, brought about by the distraught silversmith Demetrius who was upset that fewer people were buying his little shrines of the goddess Artemis — Diana.

The town clerk managed to quieten the mob and asked who did not know that a) Ephesus was the centre of Artemis worship and b) that the goddess — great stone — had fallen from the sky to earth (verse 35).

‘Town clerk’ is a bit of a misnomer, because both Matthew Henry and John MacArthur say that he was a very important person in Ephesus.

Henry’s commentary tells us (emphases mine):

he is called, grammateus–the scribe, or secretary, or recorder; “the register of their games,” the Olympic games (so others), whose business it was to preserve the names of the victors and the prizes they won.

MacArthur says that he was akin to a mayor:

he was the chief citizen of the town, he was the chairman of the town assembly, the town council, he was the secretary of the town council. He was the guy who called the convening of the town meetings which occurred three times a month. He was the very important citizen. He finally quieted the people after two hours of standing in the middle of that place screaming their heads off.

He appealed to the Ephesians’ common sense: ‘Everyone knows that our city has the great temple to Artemis, who came to us from the sky in the form of a stone. Therefore, why are we getting into such a lather over a universally known fact?’ For them, Artemis was fact, not fiction.

MacArthur explains the stone:

this big, black, ugly image of Diana that they assumed had fallen from Jupiter; it probably was some sort of a meteorite. But nevertheless, the tradition had said it came down from Jupiter.

The town clerk then cautioned the mob against any rash violence (verse 36). This was because he would have to give an account to the Romans as to why he could not control the city over which he presided. That could have had serious consequences, as MacArthur says:

Now he’s smart man. He knows that the Romans are going to hold him responsible for all the trouble. Because he’s in charge of the town. He’s like the mayor. And he knows that the Romans could impose a fine on that city or the Romans could take away their right to free government because they were a free city like Athens was. And they could really be in trouble. So he jumps up and he says, “don’t you all know that this city is the worshipper” literally in the Greek, the temple warden of the great goddess Artemis.

Rationally, the town clerk continued his short discourse. He pointed out that the men the mob were angry with had not blasphemed the goddess or done anything destructive towards her (verse 37). MacArthur interprets his words as follows:

Why, nothing can affect our great goddess, a whole lot of these little preachers roaming around and be like shooting a peashooter at the Empire State Building. This is big time stuff. They’re not going to affect us. So he fires out a whole lot of nice glossy platitudes about the greatness of their god. And that nothing could ever change that.

The goddess power was undeniable and secure. Relax, he says, calm down. Verse 37. “For you have brought here these men who are neither robbers of temples, they have implundered the shrine of Diana, or Artemis.” And they’re not blasphemers of your goddess. They haven’t blasphemed your goddess.

Henry’s commentary says that the town clerk implied there was no way Artemis could be man made, as Paul said, because she fell from the heavens:

The temple of Diana at Ephesus was a very rich and sumptuous structure, but, it should seem, the image of Diana in the temple, because they thought it sanctified the temple, was had in greater veneration than the temple, for they persuaded the people that it fell down from Jupiter, and therefore was none of the gods that were made with men’s hands … Some take it thus: “Seeing the image of Diana fell down from Jupiter, as we all believe, then what is said against gods made with hands does not at all affect us.”

Both commentators indirectly refer to the theological concept of common grace, which asserts that Providence and/or the Holy Spirit maintains order in the world, even via unbelievers — in this case, the town clerk.

Henry has this observation:

See here, [1.] How the overruling providence of God preserves the public peace, by an unaccountable power over the spirits of men. Thus the world is kept in some order, and men are restrained from being as the fishes of the sea, where the greater devour the less. Considering what an impetuous furious thing, what an ungovernable untameable wild beast the mob is, when it is up, we shall see reason to acknowledge God’s goodness that we are not always under the tyranny of it. He stills the noise of the sea, noise of her waves, and (which is no less an instance of his almighty power) the tumult of the people, Psalms 65:7. [2.] See how many ways God has of protecting his people. Perhaps this town-clerk was no friend at all to Paul, nor to the gospel he preached, yet his human prudence is made to serve the divine purpose. Many are the troubles of the righteous, but the Lord delivereth them out of them all.

MacArthur points out:

You know the Holy Spirit put this whole story in here for no other reason than just to have a pagan say verse 37.

The town clerk further called the mob to reason by saying that if Demetrius and his fellow silversmiths have legitimate grievances, they can follow the proper channels via the local courts and the proconsuls (verse 38). Anything else can be dealt with in the regular assembly (verse 39).

He closed by alluding to Roman authority: the riot could attract the government’s attention and the Ephesians would not be able to justify it (verse 40).

At that point, he dismissed the Ephesians (verse 41).

MacArthur says that the town clerk indirectly helped the church in Ephesus:

He took Christianity under his patronage. He said, they haven’t done anything. What have they done against us? Let’s let them be.

However, MacArthur surmises that the church in Ephesus became too comfortable without struggle. He says that Paul and Timothy were their first and last great pastors.

Recall the angel’s — messenger’s — warning to the church in Ephesus in my post on Revelation 2:1-7:

3You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary. 4Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love. 5Remember the height from which you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place.

St John (the Apostle and Gospel author) wrote Revelation around 95 AD. As I wrote in my post:

You may wonder what happened to the city of Ephesus. Sadly, it no longer exists. That great, bustling metropolis of the early world has disappeared. Over time, silt from the River Cayster accumulated to such an extent that it ruined the city and its harbour. It is now desolate. Would this have happened if the Ephesians heeded this letter?

John MacArthur says that only a little village nearby exists:

that doesn’t name one single Christian in its population.

One can tour the ruins in Ephesus. The following quote is from one tour company’s description. Note that Mary was believed to have spent her final days there:

You will firstly visit the Temple of Artemis which was once one of the Seven Wonders of the ancient world. Our next stop will be Ephesus ancient city. You are going to visit the world famous ancient Greco-Roman City of Ephesus, the most well-preserved example in the world. After visiting this impressive site, we are going to have a break for lunch. After the lunch, you are going to visit the House of Virgin Mary, where it is believed she spent her last days. That is a holy place for both Christians and Muslims. Afterward, you are going to visit the Isabey Mosque.

And that is the story of Ephesus.

People say that God does not bring judgement anymore, that it stopped with the Bible. Looking at this history, we can see that He surely has brought judgement to the Church. A salutary lesson.

Next time — Acts 20:1-6

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My apologies for not posting Forbidden Bible Verses today.

I intend to schedule it for tomorrow.

Unfortunately, I had something to do this afternoon which took much longer than expected and had to be done within a particular deadline. It’s finished now and I can truly agree, once again, that there is a wideness in God’s mercy.

There’s a wideness in God’s mercy is a hymn that Dr Frederick William Faber, a clergyman with a Doctor of Divinity degree, wrote in 1862 to the melody of WELLESLEY (Tourjee).

Since then, Dr Faber’s lyrics have been adapted to other melodies, such as Corvedale by Maurice Bevan (b. 1921), sung below by the Choir of St Paul’s Cathedral, London:

The hymn is widely sung across many denominations and appears in 785 hymnals.

Hymnary.org has the lyrics to Faber’s hymn:

1 There’s a wideness in God’s mercy,
like the wideness of the sea.
There’s a kindness in God’s justice,
which is more than liberty.
There is no place where earth’s sorrows
are more felt than up in heaven.
There is no place where earth’s failings
have such kindly judgment given.

2 For the love of God is broader
than the measures of the mind.
And the heart of the Eternal
is most wonderfully kind.
If our love were but more faithful,
we would gladly trust God’s Word,
and our lives reflect thanksgiving
for the goodness of our Lord.

Faber was part of the Oxford Movement — members of the Church of England who moved to High Church (traditional Roman Catholic-style) liturgy — in the 19th century. The movement later became known as Anglo-Catholicism and exists today.

John Henry Newman was one of the Oxford Movement adherents. He eventually became not only a Roman Catholic but also a Cardinal.

Faber also ‘crossed the Tiber’ and became a Roman Catholic in 1846. Hymnary.org tells us that he was the son of a Church of England clergyman, Mr T H Faber, and:

was born at Calverley Vicarage, Yorkshire, June 28, 1814, and educated at Balliol College, Oxford, graduating B.A. in 1836. He was for some time a Fellow of University College, in the same University. Taking Holy Orders in 1837, he became Rector of Elton, Huntingdonshire, in 1843, but in 1846 he seceded to the Church of Rome. After residing for some time at St. Wilfrid’s, Staffordshire, he went to London in 1849, and established the London “Oratorians,” or, “Priests of the Congregation of St. Philip Neri,” in King William Street, Strand. In 1854 the Oratory was removed to Brompton. Dr. Faber died Sept. 26, 1863.

Balliol College is one of the foremost Oxford colleges. It is interesting that Faber served a parish in Huntingdonshire, part of Cambridgeshire, which was known for its Low Church adherence. During Cromwell’s time, two centuries earlier, Cambridgeshire was Calvinistic in belief, the very antithesis of High Church beliefs and worship.

Anyone who knows London will also know that the London Oratory is one of the centres of the capital’s Roman Catholic worship. The Oratory also has a famous boys’ school, which is over-subscribed year on year.

What follows are the readings for the Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost, August 12, 2018.

These are for Year B in the three-year Lectionary cycle.

There are two sets of first readings, each with an accompanying Psalm from which the celebrant can choose. I have given the second selection blue subheadings below. Emphases mine throughout.

First reading

Readings from 2 Samuel continue. To bring those of us less learned in the Old Testament up to date in the story of David (see last week’s reading), the child that David had sired when he lay with Bathsheba when she was still married to Uriah the Hittite died after seven days. The two had married after Uriah’s engineered death on the battlefield. She became pregnant again and gave birth to one of the most famous men in biblical history, Solomon (2 Samuel 12).

David had older children, among them two sons — Ammon (his firstborn) and Absalom — and a daughter, Tamar. Ammon committed incest with Tamar, taking her by force, despite her attempting to resist his advances (2 Samuel 13). Absalom took the distraught Tamar into his house. Whilst David, when he found out, was furious with Ammon, he did nothing to punish him. Absalom, meanwhile, loathed his brother for what he had done to their sister.

To avenge his sister’s rape, Absalom arranged for his servants to get Ammon drunk and then murder him. Jonadab, David’s nephew, explained to him (David) the reason for the murder. While David was finding out from Jonadab what had happened, Absalom left to go into exile for three years. David, no longer having Ammon, missed Absalom terribly.

David asked Joab, whom he deeply trusted, to bring Absalom back home, out of exile (2 Samuel 14). However, David told Joab to instruct Absalom not to come in contact with him (David). Consequently, Absalom did not see his father in Jerusalem for two years. He was a very handsome young man, with a head full of abundant hair. During his time away from his father, Absalom had three sons and a daughter, whom he named after his sister Tamar.

One day, Absalom sent for Joab, as he wanted to see his father David. However, Joab ignored Absalom’s two requests. To get his attention, Absalom told his (Absalom’s) two servants to set Joab’s field of barley on fire. The field was next to one of Absalom’s. Joab finally agreed to take the request to David. David summoned Absalom and forgave him for setting up the murder of Ammon.

Absalom then assumed the role of being guardian and gatekeeper for (law)suits that David was supposed to judge (2 Samuel 15). He sent everyone home as they approached the city gates, saying that no one was available to hear their cases. As such, he became a hero to the Israelites.

Four years later, Absalom asked David’s permission to visit Hebron, as he said he wanted to fulfil an obligation he had made to the Lord. David duly granted his permission, and Absalom left. However, Absalom’s goal was to make himself king of Hebron, effectively usurping his father. David left in pursuit, accompanied by his officials, the people of the city and most of his household (some had to stay behind).

David, through careful plotting, managed to foil Absalom’s coup via one of the co-conspirators, Ahithophel (2 Samuel 16 and 17). A battle later resulted in the forest of Ephraim and Absalom died. Now on to this Sunday’s reading:

2 Samuel 18:5-9, 15, 31-33

18:5 The king ordered Joab and Abishai and Ittai, saying, “Deal gently for my sake with the young man Absalom.” And all the people heard when the king gave orders to all the commanders concerning Absalom.

18:6 So the army went out into the field against Israel; and the battle was fought in the forest of Ephraim.

18:7 The men of Israel were defeated there by the servants of David, and the slaughter there was great on that day, twenty thousand men.

18:8 The battle spread over the face of all the country; and the forest claimed more victims that day than the sword.

18:9 Absalom happened to meet the servants of David. Absalom was riding on his mule, and the mule went under the thick branches of a great oak. His head caught fast in the oak, and he was left hanging between heaven and earth, while the mule that was under him went on.

18:15 And ten young men, Joab’s armor-bearers, surrounded Absalom and struck him, and killed him.

18:31 Then the Cushite came; and the Cushite said, “Good tidings for my lord the king! For the LORD has vindicated you this day, delivering you from the power of all who rose up against you.”

18:32 The king said to the Cushite, “Is it well with the young man Absalom?” The Cushite answered, “May the enemies of my lord the king, and all who rise up to do you harm, be like that young man.”

18:33 The king was deeply moved, and went up to the chamber over the gate, and wept; and as he went, he said, “O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! Would I had died instead of you, O Absalom, my son, my son!”

Psalm

The Psalm reflects hope in the Lord during times of desolation:

Psalm 130

130:1 Out of the depths I cry to you, O LORD.

130:2 Lord, hear my voice! Let your ears be attentive to the voice of my supplications!

130:3 If you, O LORD, should mark iniquities, Lord, who could stand?

130:4 But there is forgiveness with you, so that you may be revered.

130:5 I wait for the LORD, my soul waits, and in his word I hope;

130:6 my soul waits for the Lord more than those who watch for the morning, more than those who watch for the morning.

130:7 O Israel, hope in the LORD! For with the LORD there is steadfast love, and with him is great power to redeem.

130:8 It is he who will redeem Israel from all its iniquities.

First reading

These second choices of first readings are from various books in the Old Testament. In this passage, the prophet Elijah is distraught, having been forced into the wilderness by the unrepentant among God’s chosen people who refused to listen to him. Yet, the Lord was with Elijah:

1 Kings 19:4-8

19:4 But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a solitary broom tree. He asked that he might die: “It is enough; now, O LORD, take away my life, for I am no better than my ancestors.”

19:5 Then he lay down under the broom tree and fell asleep. Suddenly an angel touched him and said to him, “Get up and eat.”

19:6 He looked, and there at his head was a cake baked on hot stones, and a jar of water. He ate and drank, and lay down again.

19:7 The angel of the LORD came a second time, touched him, and said, “Get up and eat, otherwise the journey will be too much for you.”

19:8 He got up, and ate and drank; then he went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb the mount of God.

Psalm

The Psalm reflects the gratitude we feel when God is with us and delivers us from trying, isolating circumstances:

Psalm 34:1-8

34:1 I will bless the LORD at all times; his praise shall continually be in my mouth.

34:2 My soul makes its boast in the LORD; let the humble hear and be glad.

34:3 O magnify the LORD with me, and let us exalt his name together.

34:4 I sought the LORD, and he answered me, and delivered me from all my fears.

34:5 Look to him, and be radiant; so your faces shall never be ashamed.

34:6 This poor soul cried, and was heard by the LORD, and was saved from every trouble.

34:7 The angel of the LORD encamps around those who fear him, and delivers them.

34:8 O taste and see that the LORD is good; happy are those who take refuge in him.

Epistle

The reading from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians concerns Christian behaviour, focussing on showing brotherly love and pursuing truth:

Ephesians 4:25-5:2

4:25 So then, putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another.

4:26 Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger,

4:27 and do not make room for the devil.

4:28 Thieves must give up stealing; rather let them labor and work honestly with their own hands, so as to have something to share with the needy.

4:29 Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear.

4:30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which you were marked with a seal for the day of redemption.

4:31 Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice,

4:32 and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.

5:1 Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children,

5:2 and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

Gospel

The Gospel reading continues with Jesus’s words in Capernaum, the day after the Feeding of the Five Thousand:

John 6:35, 41-51

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.

6:41 Then the Jews began to complain about him because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.”

6:42 They were saying, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?”

6:43 Jesus answered them, “Do not complain among yourselves.

6:44 No one can come to me unless drawn by the Father who sent me; and I will raise that person up on the last day.

6:45 It is written in the prophets, ‘And they shall all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me.

6:46 Not that anyone has seen the Father except the one who is from God; he has seen the Father.

6:47 Very truly, I tell you, whoever believes has eternal life.

6:48 I am the bread of life.

6:49 Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died.

6:50 This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die.

6:51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”

These words lost Jesus many disciples (John 6:66). Later, in private with His Apostles, He also said that one of the Twelve would betray Him (John 6:70-71).

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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

Acts 19:28-34

28 When they heard this they were enraged and were crying out, “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!” 29 So the city was filled with the confusion, and they rushed together into the theater, dragging with them Gaius and Aristarchus, Macedonians who were Paul’s companions in travel. 30 But when Paul wished to go in among the crowd, the disciples would not let him. 31 And even some of the Asiarchs,[a] who were friends of his, sent to him and were urging him not to venture into the theater. 32 Now some cried out one thing, some another, for the assembly was in confusion, and most of them did not know why they had come together. 33 Some of the crowd prompted Alexander, whom the Jews had put forward. And Alexander, motioning with his hand, wanted to make a defense to the crowd. 34 But when they recognized that he was a Jew, for about two hours they all cried out with one voice, “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!”

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Last week’s entry discussed the circumstances behind the riot in Ephesus, which was the centre of worship of Artemis, or Diana. Demetrius, a silversmith, got his fellow craftsmen together to say that Christianity, because of Paul’s preaching, was putting a dent in the money they made out of creating silver shrines to their goddess.

This enraged them to cry out in defence of Artemis (verse 28). Word quickly spread through the city and people went on the attack.

John MacArthur discusses the unhinged nature of attacks against Christianity, which often offends. This is going on around the world today, especially in Western nations:

And the world gets mad. Gets angry with Christianity. Sometimes people say[, ‘]I was so worried because I shared Christ and they got upset[‘]. Good. It’s very good. As long as they got upset about Christ and not about you …

Then he describes the atmosphere at that point in Ephesus:

These people just lost their cool, they were in a frenzy screaming, rioting, yelling the name of their goddess. You know that’s what happened, that kind of anger is what happened at the death of Christ. That the people were so infuriated because they started screaming and yelling. “Crucify Him; crucify Him, away with Him, away with Him.” And they turned into the frenzied mob. And the truth only angered them. Paul had tried every way that he could to get the truth across or at least allow them to concede something.

… So the first characteristic of a mob is anger. The second one is confusion. And I want you to see this. This is interesting. Verse 29. So there they all are screaming their heads off, “Great Artemis of the Ephesians.” And the whole city was filled with confusion. That’s the second characteristic of a mob. They don’t know what to do. Melee, chaos, disorder.

Verse 29 mentions a theatre, where everyone ran into, dragging with them Paul’s companions Gaius and Aristarchus, who were Macedonians.

Matthew Henry’s commentary says that the theatre in Ephesus was the place where men would wrestle with dangerous animals. The plan was either to get the two Macedonians to wrestle with animals or to suffer abuse from the angry mob (emphases mine below):

some think with design there to make them fight with beasts, as Paul had sometimes done; or perhaps they intended only to abuse them, and to make them a spectacle to the crowd.

It made no logical sense to drag Gaius and Aristarchus into the theatre, but, as Henry tells us:

this was their only crime, that they were Paul’s companions in travel, both in services and sufferings.

MacArthur tells us more about the two men, although I do not understand how Gaius of Derbe could be Macedonian when Derbe is nowhere near there:

We don’t know much about Gaius, he could be the same, well he is the same one mentioned in chapter 20, verse 4. Gaius of Derbe. We don’t know because there are several of that name in Scripture. We don’t know which ones they are. So we don’t know whether we know much about him or not. But Aristarcus … was a man of Macedonia …

Since Gaius has said in chapter 20, verse 4 to be from Derbe and Derbe was where? In Galatia. So Macedonia would be the assignment given to Aristarchus. He was a native of Thessalonica, he was a converted Jew. And he shared many things with Paul. In fact he was in prison in Rome with Paul. So he was really a beloved companion. So they grabbed these two guys, soon ___ fellow travelers, fellow companions and they haul them off into the theater.

Naturally, Paul wanted to be amongst the mob (verse 30), no doubt to speak reason to them. However, the disciples in Ephesus would not let him follow. Even the Asiarchs — Roman officials — who knew him would not allow him to enter the theatre (verse 31).

MacArthur tells us more about the Asiarchs and their possible relationship with Paul:

Certain of the chief[s] of Asia, Asiarcs they were called who were his friends. Apparently Paul had made some friends of the Asiarcs and that would be because he was a Roman citizen. Sent unto him besieging him that he would not venture into the theaters. So here came these political wheels, the Asiarcs, just a word about them.

Each province had assigned guys from the Roman government. In other words, the province was the Roman province and so the Romans would send in some guys to kind of run the province. They had really two responsibilities. They were to promote the worship of Rome or allegiance to Rome and the worship of the emperor. They were Roman PR men. They were to get those people to subscribe to Rome and worship the emperor. Now they were named by whatever province they were in. If they were in Galatia, they were called Galatarcs. If they were in Syria, they were called Syriarcs. If they were in Macedonia, they were called Macedoniarcs. If they were in Asia, they were called Asiarcs. And so that’s what it says there when it says Chief of Asia.

They were the Asiarcs. These were guys that were assigned to Asia Minor to keep the peace to make sure the people kept their allegiance to Rome and worshipped the emperor. Now emperor worship was a very broad and general thing. These guys also presided over the games. And that’s one of the reasons we believe that this was the month of May and the Artemisian games were going on because they were all there in Ephesus.

And they would normally probably be stationed all around Asia Minor. They were all there. And they knew that this was a possible volatile situation. And in order to keep the peace and keep everything calm and intact, they said, Paul don’t go in there. And apparently they had had some dealings with Paul before. They were his friend[s]. That doesn’t mean they were bosom buddies, but they were acquaintances. They knew Paul personally. And so because Paul was a Roman citizen, they desired to protect him.

He was a Roman citizen and this was basically a kind of a pagan area though it was now ruled by Rome. And so they were protecting Paul on the basis probably of his Roman citizenship. And they sure didn’t want more trouble. They saw what was going on with the mob and they just wanted to let it all die down. And if Paul went in there, they’d really have something going.

The mob was confused. Most did not even know why they were there (verse 32), but, as so often happens with human nature, people rush after the crowd, lemming-like. As Henry puts it:

upon such occasions, the greatest part come only to enquire what the matter is: they follow the cry, follow the crowd, increase like a snow-ball, and where there are many there will be more.

Then some in the crowd called for a man named Alexander to speak against Paul, and he agreed to do so, by making a hand gesture (verse 33).

Henry explains that the Jews there intended to confirm that Paul was their enemy and, consequently, put themselves in the good books of the pagans:

They drew Alexander out of the multitude, called him out to speak on the behalf of the Jews against Paul and his companions: “You have heard what Demetrius and the silversmiths have to say against them, as enemies to their religion; give us leave now to tell you what we have to say against him as an enemy to our religion.” The Jews put him forward to do this, encouraged him, and told him they would stand by him and second him; and this they looked upon as necessary in their own defence, and therefore what he designed to say is called his apologizing to the people, not for himself in particular, but for the Jews in general, whom the worshippers of Diana looked upon to be as much their enemies as Paul was. Now they would have them know that they were as much Paul’s enemies as they were; and those who are thus careful to distinguish themselves from the servants of Christ now, and are afraid of being taken for them, shall have their doom accordingly in the great day. Alexander beckoned with the hand, desiring to be heard against Paul; for it had been strange if a persecution had been carried on against the Christians and there were not Jews at one end or the other of it: if they could not begin the mischief, they would help it forward, and so make themselves partakers of other men’s sins. Some think this Alexander had been a Christian, but had apostatized to Judaism, and therefore was drawn out as a proper person to accuse Paul; and that he was the Alexander the coppersmith that did Paul so much evil (2 Timothy 4:14), and whom he had delivered unto Satan, 1 Timothy 1:20.

MacArthur’s take on Alexander is less severe:

Now we don’t know who Alexander was. He may have been a Christian Jew. And the Jews may have shoved him forward. See the Jews knew they were under pressure. Because everybody assumed that Christianity was a sect of Judaism, right? And so they were afraid. So maybe they shoved this Christian Jew Alexander up there so they were going to lay the blame on this Christian Jew and try to say it isn’t Jews, it’s Christian Jews that are messing up the place.

Or maybe he was a Jew. Not a Christian. Who just was pushed up there to tell everybody that the Jews had nothing to do with this. We don’t know whether he was a Christian Jew or a non-Christian Jew he was apparently put up there by the Jews to defend them somehow.

No one listened, because they said that Alexander was a Jew. Instead, the crowd shouted out in favour of their goddess for two hours (verse 34). They specifically called her ‘Artemis of the Ephesians’. Henry explains what they were thinking:

“Great is Diana of the Ephesians; whoever runs her down, be he Jew or Christian, we are resolved to cry her up. She is Diana of the Ephesians, our Diana; and it is our honour and happiness to have her temple with us; and she is great, a famous goddess, and universally adored. There are other Dianas, but Diana of the Ephesians is beyond them all, because her temple is more rich and magnificent than any of theirs.”

And that is what it all boiled down to — materialism, commerce and money:

Diana made the Ephesians great, for the town was enriched by the vast concourse of people from all parts to Diana’s temple there, and therefore they are concerned by all means possible to keep up her sinking reputation with, Great is Diana of the Ephesians.

How pathetic. Yet, that is what sinful man values.

The story continues next week.

Next time — Acts 19:35-41

What follows are the readings for the Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost, August 5, 2018.

These are for Year B in the three-year Lectionary cycle.

There are two sets of first readings, each with an accompanying Psalm from which the celebrant can choose. I have given the second selection blue subheadings below. Emphases mine throughout.

First reading

Readings from 2 Samuel continue. The story of David and Bathsheba progresses. David had her husband Uriah the Hittite killed in battle, so that he could take Bathsheba, who was carrying his child, for a wife. Through the words of the Lord, the prophet Nathan told David how seriously he had sinned.

2 Samuel 11:26 – 12:13a

11:26 When the wife of Uriah heard that her husband was dead, she made lamentation for him.

11:27 When the mourning was over, David sent and brought her to his house, and she became his wife, and bore him a son. But the thing that David had done displeased the LORD,

12:1 and the LORD sent Nathan to David. He came to him, and said to him, “There were two men in a certain city, the one rich and the other poor.

12:2 The rich man had very many flocks and herds;

12:3 but the poor man had nothing but one little ewe lamb, which he had bought. He brought it up, and it grew up with him and with his children; it used to eat of his meager fare, and drink from his cup, and lie in his bosom, and it was like a daughter to him.

12:4 Now there came a traveler to the rich man, and he was loath to take one of his own flock or herd to prepare for the wayfarer who had come to him, but he took the poor man’s lamb, and prepared that for the guest who had come to him.”

12:5 Then David’s anger was greatly kindled against the man. He said to Nathan, “As the LORD lives, the man who has done this deserves to die;

12:6 he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity.”

12:7 Nathan said to David, “You are the man! Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel: I anointed you king over Israel, and I rescued you from the hand of Saul;

12:8 I gave you your master’s house, and your master’s wives into your bosom, and gave you the house of Israel and of Judah; and if that had been too little, I would have added as much more.

12:9 Why have you despised the word of the LORD, to do what is evil in his sight? You have struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword, and have taken his wife to be your wife, and have killed him with the sword of the Ammonites.

12:10 Now therefore the sword shall never depart from your house, for you have despised me, and have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife.

12:11 Thus says the LORD: I will raise up trouble against you from within your own house; and I will take your wives before your eyes, and give them to your neighbor, and he shall lie with your wives in the sight of this very sun.

12:12 For you did it secretly; but I will do this thing before all Israel, and before the sun.”

12:13a David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the LORD.”

Psalm

The Psalm will be familiar to many, with the sinner’s prayerful request to be purged and cleansed of all sin. Note the reference to Original Sin in verse 5: we are all born with sin.

Psalm 51:1-12

51:1 Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions.

51:2 Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin.

51:3 For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me.

51:4 Against you, you alone, have I sinned, and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are justified in your sentence and blameless when you pass judgment.

51:5 Indeed, I was born guilty, a sinner when my mother conceived me.

51:6 You desire truth in the inward being; therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart.

51:7 Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.

51:8 Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that you have crushed rejoice.

51:9 Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities.

51:10 Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me.

51:11 Do not cast me away from your presence, and do not take your holy spirit from me.

51:12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and sustain in me a willing spirit.

First reading

The second choice of first readings go to various books in the Old Testament. Today’s is the well-known story of the Lord’s provision of manna from Heaven for the complaining Israelites. This ties in well with today’s Gospel.

Exodus 16:2-4, 9-15

16:2 The whole congregation of the Israelites complained against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness.

16:3 The Israelites said to them, “If only we had died by the hand of the LORD in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots and ate our fill of bread; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.”

16:4 Then the LORD said to Moses, “I am going to rain bread from heaven for you, and each day the people shall go out and gather enough for that day. In that way I will test them, whether they will follow my instruction or not.

16:9 Then Moses said to Aaron, “Say to the whole congregation of the Israelites, ‘Draw near to the LORD, for he has heard your complaining.'”

16:10 And as Aaron spoke to the whole congregation of the Israelites, they looked toward the wilderness, and the glory of the LORD appeared in the cloud.

16:11 The LORD spoke to Moses and said,

16:12 “I have heard the complaining of the Israelites; say to them, ‘At twilight you shall eat meat, and in the morning you shall have your fill of bread; then you shall know that I am the LORD your God.'”

16:13 In the evening quails came up and covered the camp; and in the morning there was a layer of dew around the camp.

16:14 When the layer of dew lifted, there on the surface of the wilderness was a fine flaky substance, as fine as frost on the ground.

16:15 When the Israelites saw it, they said to one another, “What is it?” For they did not know what it was. Moses said to them, “It is the bread that the LORD has given you to eat.

Psalm

The Psalm recalls the Lord’s merciful provision of manna for His people in the desert.

Psalm 78:23-29

78:23 Yet he commanded the skies above, and opened the doors of heaven;

78:24 he rained down on them manna to eat, and gave them the grain of heaven.

78:25 Mortals ate of the bread of angels; he sent them food in abundance.

78:26 He caused the east wind to blow in the heavens, and by his power he led out the south wind;

78:27 he rained flesh upon them like dust, winged birds like the sand of the seas;

78:28 he let them fall within their camp, all around their dwellings.

78:29 And they ate and were well filled, for he gave them what they craved.

Epistle

Readings from Paul’s letters to the Ephesians continue. The following verses, especially 4 through 6, will be most familiar. This is Christianity, concisely expressed and writ large.

Ephesians 4:1-16

4:1 I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called,

4:2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love,

4:3 making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

4:4 There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling,

4:5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism,

4:6 one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.

4:7 But each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift.

4:8 Therefore it is said, “When he ascended on high he made captivity itself a captive; he gave gifts to his people.”

4:9 (When it says, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower parts of the earth?

4:10 He who descended is the same one who ascended far above all the heavens, so that he might fill all things.)

4:11 The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers,

4:12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ,

4:13 until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ.

4:14 We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming.

4:15 But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ,

4:16 from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.

Gospel

This ties in well with the aforementioned account from Exodus about manna. Jesus had fed the Five Thousand hours earlier. This is a continuation in Capernaum the next day. Note His rebuke to the people in verses 26 and 27. He also brings up the manna God provided the Israelites and says that He is the ‘bread of life’. This lost him many disciples (John 6:66) and also mentioned that one of the Twelve would betray Him (John 6:70-71).

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.

I jolly well hope that excellent sermons will enlighten churchgoers around the world on this particular Sunday. These are highly important readings upon which to reflect. John 6 is one of my favourite chapters in the New Testament. Jesus spoke many ‘home truths’ that day.

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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

Acts 19:23-27

23 About that time there arose no little disturbance concerning the Way. 24 For a man named Demetrius, a silversmith, who made silver shrines of Artemis, brought no little business to the craftsmen. 25 These he gathered together, with the workmen in similar trades, and said, “Men, you know that from this business we have our wealth. 26 And you see and hear that not only in Ephesus but in almost all of Asia this Paul has persuaded and turned away a great many people, saying that gods made with hands are not gods. 27 And there is danger not only that this trade of ours may come into disrepute but also that the temple of the great goddess Artemis may be counted as nothing, and that she may even be deposed from her magnificence, she whom all Asia and the world worship.”

——————————————————————————————————————————

Last week’s entry was about Paul’s future travel plans to extend Christianity.

The passage is where the story of the riot in Ephesus begins. Today, we discover the background to the riot.

Interestingly, St Luke — the author of Acts — once again wrote of ‘the Way’, which was the ancient term for Christ and Christianity. A previous use of ‘the Way’ was earlier in Acts 19, when some of the Ephesian Jews spoke vilely of it.

In today’s reading, the pagan silversmith Demetrius, along with others, was consterned about the increase of Christians in Ephesus. This was brought about by the failed exorcism of two of the Sons of Sceva which brought out converts who voluntarily confessed to practising the dark arts, which resulted in an equally voluntary ‘book’ (scroll) burning. The name of Jesus was glorified. The church in the port city grew and grew.

Ephesus had a huge following of the goddess Diana — Artemis — the huntress. Demetrius, along with other silversmiths, made silver shrines of her, which was a lucrative trade in the city for reasons which John MacArthur explains (emphases mine):

The temple of Diana was big business, a monstrous place, 420 feet by 250 feet. A huge place. And hundreds of people preached to eunuchs, temple worshippers, priestesses, prostitutes, the whole thing, all worshipping up there. And this temple also was a treasure house for gold and silver. So it was a very, very, very, wealthy place. A very famous place, people from all over the world came there. In fact there were a whole multiple of pillars. And these pillars were donated by princes and rulers from all over the world.

So it was a very, very famous place. And periodically during the year it had a string of pilgrims making an influx into the city. So tourist traffic in the worship of Artemis was really big business. And the silversmiths made their living by selling these little shrines to the tourists. And to the people making pilgrimages to the city of Ephesus to worship at the shrine of Artemis. Now the best we can tell was that these were little models of the temple or else little statues of Artemis. Now this was an interesting thing.

It is thought that these were small ‘shrines’ that one could carry in one’s pocket or put in one’s home. As such, they were easy to transport, so that a pilgrim could take a few home to give to family and friends.

Demetrius and his fellow craftsmen made a comfortable and reliable living fashioning these shrines (verse 24). We do not know if Demetrius was the leader of the local silversmith’s guild or if he was a prominent member who took it upon himself to speak in a position of leadership.

Whatever the case, he gathered together these craftsmen and those in related trades to say that they had all made a lot of money by producing these Artemis-themed things (verse 25) and that Paul’s preaching against man-made gods was ruining their livelihood — not just in Ephesus but across Asia Minor (verse 26).

MacArthur surmises that Demetrius might have sounded the alarm during a high period of pilgrimage and found that his business was in a slump:

… this was probably according to some chronologists, the month of May and it was a big time and this was really the place that was filled with worshippers and this was the time of making big money. And what happened was the gospel had hit him right in the money bag. The gospel was fouling up their business. Because people were accepting the truth of Christ and turning from idols. Bad business.

Demetrius then said that they should all be very worried about the possible end results: a) that they personally could fall into disrepute and b) they might be put out of business if more people turn away from Artemis towards Jesus Christ (verse 27). Note that he took special pains to mention that the Artemis cult was worshipped not only in Asia Minor but everywhere else, too.

Matthew Henry’s commentary says that Demetrius was warning them that their persons could be in danger in addition to their livelihoods. There was an undercurrent in Demetrius’s thinking that Paul have must been wrong because everyone had worshipped Artemis for a very long time:

He reminds them of the danger which their trade was in of going to decay. Whatever touches this touches them in a sensible tender part: “If this doctrine gains credit, we are all undone, and may even shut up shop; this our craft will be set at nought, will be convicted, and put into an ill name as superstition, and a cheat upon the world, and every body will run it down. This our part” (so the word is), “our interest or share of trade and commerce,” kindyneuei hemin to meros, “will not only come into danger of being lost, but it will bring us into danger, and we shall become not only beggars, but malefactors.” [4.] He pretends a mighty zeal for Diana, and a jealousy for her honour: Not only this our craft is in danger; if that were all, he would not have you think that he would have spoken with so much warmth, but all his care is lest the temple of the great goddess Diana should be despised, and her magnificence should be destroyed; and he would not, for all the world, see the diminution of the honour of that goddess, whom all Asia and the world worship. See what the worship of Diana had to plead for itself, and what was the utmost which the most zealous bigots for it had to say in its behalf. First, That it had pomp on its side; the magnificence of the temple was the thing that charmed them, the thing that chained them; they could not bear the thoughts of any thing that tended to the diminution, much less to the destruction, of that. Secondly, That it had numbers on its side; All Asia and the world worship it; and therefore it must needs be the right way of worship, let Paul say what he will to the contrary.

And this is the lesson for us, that mankind inherently seeks sin and the world rather than the light of Christ:

Thus, because all the world wonders after the beast, therefore the dragon, the devil, the god of this world, gives him his power, and his seat, and great authority, Revelation 13:2,3.

Acts 19 moves from the Jews denouncing the Way to pagans denouncing it. MacArthur points out:

Why does God take up all this 20 verses to tell us about a riot? One of the reasons is because it’s exciting to see the successes of Christianity put in the mouths of the pagans, do you see? It isn’t just us that’s claiming God’s power. The pagans are admitting it. Do you see how important that kind of apologetic is? It’s one reason why it’s here. And another thing, the reason the spirit puts it here is because the rioters are so frustrated because there’s nothing they can really do because there’s no-one to blame and there’s nothing evil that Christians have done.

So again, God lets the pagans state the case that Christianity is successful, God is turning people from idols and secondly there’s nothing you can criticize him for. That’s why the whole account’s here. And as you’ll see in a minute, they all get together and riot like crazy, but they don’t know what to do.

And who is responsible for this incredible transformation, with God working through him? Paul. Paul — and the purified church in Ephesus. The Holy Spirit was also working through them:

What brought the success first of all was one man totally committed to Jesus Christ. Do you believe that one man totally committed to Jesus Christ can make a difference in a province? In a state, in a country?

This man did. Paul. One man committed to Jesus Christ came into one city and turned a province on its ear. One man. But you know what that one man spent his time doing? Night and day, praying and teaching with tears the Word of God. And what an effect he had. So it was first of all the success that came by the presence of one man dedicated. But secondly it was the success that came by the presence of a purified church. You know when those people who believe, Verses 17 to 19 of chapter 19. “When they believe, they who believe” verse 18 says, “confessed and showed their deed or revealed their secrets and burned their magic books.” And so forth and so on. And when the church got purified, man things began to happen

The account of the riot continues next week.

For now, the important message is that the Lord bestoed massive blessings on Paul from his many heartfelt prayers, enabling him to present the Gospel story in a true doctrinal way which, in turn, brought about a purified church in Ephesus as more people converted and those who had sinned in private voluntarily admitted it and repented. As such, the church increased dramatically afterwards to the extent that even unbelievers noticed it.

Next time — Acts 19:28-34

What follows are the readings for the Tenth Sunday after Pentecost, July 29, 2018.

These are for Year B in the three-year Lectionary cycle.

There are two sets of first readings, each with an accompanying Psalm from which the celebrant can choose. I have given the second selection blue subheadings below. Emphases mine throughout.

First reading

While David sent his troops out to battle against the Ammonites, he remained in Jerusalem in the lap of luxury. This idleness brought him into serious sin through sleeping with Uriah the Hittite’s wife Bathsheba. She became pregnant. Uriah returned at David’s request. David encouraged Uriah to go home to Bathsheba, so that it would appear that he had impregnated her. Uriah, being loyal to God and to his mission, refused to go. David got Uriah drunk, but, still, he refused to go home. David sent Uriah to deliver a letter to Joab, leading the battle against the Ammonites, to put Uriah in the front line so that he would be killed. Otherwise, in time, Uriah would have figured out the David was the father of Bathsheba’s child. Uriah’s death is recorded later in the chapter.

Adultery is dangerous business.

2 Samuel 11:1-15

11:1 In the spring of the year, the time when kings go out to battle, David sent Joab with his officers and all Israel with him; they ravaged the Ammonites, and besieged Rabbah. But David remained at Jerusalem.

11:2 It happened, late one afternoon, when David rose from his couch and was walking about on the roof of the king’s house, that he saw from the roof a woman bathing; the woman was very beautiful.

11:3 David sent someone to inquire about the woman. It was reported, “This is Bathsheba daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite.”

11:4 So David sent messengers to get her, and she came to him, and he lay with her. (Now she was purifying herself after her period.) Then she returned to her house.

11:5 The woman conceived; and she sent and told David, “I am pregnant.”

11:6 So David sent word to Joab, “Send me Uriah the Hittite.” And Joab sent Uriah to David.

11:7 When Uriah came to him, David asked how Joab and the people fared, and how the war was going.

11:8 Then David said to Uriah, “Go down to your house, and wash your feet.” Uriah went out of the king’s house, and there followed him a present from the king.

11:9 But Uriah slept at the entrance of the king’s house with all the servants of his lord, and did not go down to his house.

11:10 When they told David, “Uriah did not go down to his house,” David said to Uriah, “You have just come from a journey. Why did you not go down to your house?”

11:11 Uriah said to David, “The ark and Israel and Judah remain in booths; and my lord Joab and the servants of my lord are camping in the open field; shall I then go to my house, to eat and to drink, and to lie with my wife? As you live, and as your soul lives, I will not do such a thing.”

11:12 Then David said to Uriah, “Remain here today also, and tomorrow I will send you back.” So Uriah remained in Jerusalem that day. On the next day,

11:13 David invited him to eat and drink in his presence and made him drunk; and in the evening he went out to lie on his couch with the servants of his lord, but he did not go down to his house.

11:14 In the morning David wrote a letter to Joab, and sent it by the hand of Uriah.

11:15 In the letter he wrote, “Set Uriah in the forefront of the hardest fighting, and then draw back from him, so that he may be struck down and die.”

Psalm

The Psalm warns against foolishness in denying God and also warns against sin. However, God will deliver the righteous.

Psalm 14

14:1 Fools say in their hearts, “There is no God.” They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds; there is no one who does good.

14:2 The LORD looks down from heaven on humankind to see if there are any who are wise, who seek after God.

14:3 They have all gone astray, they are all alike perverse; there is no one who does good, no, not one.

14:4 Have they no knowledge, all the evildoers who eat up my people as they eat bread, and do not call upon the LORD?

14:5 There they shall be in great terror, for God is with the company of the righteous.

14:6 You would confound the plans of the poor, but the LORD is their refuge.

14:7 O that deliverance for Israel would come from Zion! When the LORD restores the fortunes of his people, Jacob will rejoice; Israel will be glad.

First reading

This reading goes well with today’s Gospel account of the Feeding of the Five Thousand.

Elisha had served three kings and done the Lord’s work during a time of divine judgement through famine. The Lord worked through Elisha to keep the people fed during this time. The verses preceding the passage below describe how the prophet made contaminated food clean by adding grain. Today’s passage describes how he was able to feed 100 people on small amounts of food — the first fruits of the harvest, meant for the ritual offering — with the result that all felt they had consumed an entire meal, even though there were leftovers, as the Lord had ordained.

This is analogous to Christ’s miracle of multiplying loaves and fishes. It also presages the spiritual nourishment we have through Christ Jesus.

2 Kings 4:42-44

4:42 A man came from Baal-shalishah, bringing food from the first fruits to the man of God: twenty loaves of barley and fresh ears of grain in his sack. Elisha said, “Give it to the people and let them eat.”

4:43 But his servant said, “How can I set this before a hundred people?” So he repeated, “Give it to the people and let them eat, for thus says the LORD, ‘They shall eat and have some left.'”

4:44 He set it before them, they ate, and had some left, according to the word of the LORD.

Psalm

The accompanying Psalm points to God satisfying the needs of His creation through His infinite mercy.

Psalm 145:10-18

145:10 All your works shall give thanks to you, O LORD, and all your faithful shall bless you.

145:11 They shall speak of the glory of your kingdom, and tell of your power,

145:12 to make known to all people your mighty deeds, and the glorious splendor of your kingdom.

145:13 Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and your dominion endures throughout all generations. The LORD is faithful in all his words, and gracious in all his deeds.

145:14 The LORD upholds all who are falling, and raises up all who are bowed down.

145:15 The eyes of all look to you, and you give them their food in due season.

145:16 You open your hand, satisfying the desire of every living thing.

145:17 The LORD is just in all his ways, and kind in all his doings.

145:18 The LORD is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth.

Epistle

Readings continue from Paul’s letters to the Ephesians. Here, Paul ends with a prayer to God to keep the Christians in Ephesus strong in their faith in His Son Jesus Christ.

Older translations of verse 14 make this relationship clear, which would have been Paul’s objective for the Ephesians:

14 For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,

Ephesians 3:14-21

3:14 For this reason I bow my knees before the Father,

3:15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name.

3:16 I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit,

3:17 and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love.

3:18 I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth,

3:19 and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

3:20 Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine,

3:21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

Gospel

The Gospel readings switch from Mark to John. This is John’s account of the Feeding of the Five Thousand, which is Christ’s miraculous fulfilment of what God demonstrated through Elisha in the reading from 2 Kings above and the aforementioned verses from Psalm 145.

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.

This is what happened next, but not many Christians know how Jesus rebuked the people who had followed Him to Capernaum for wanting another miraculous meal.

Instead, He referred to Himself as ‘living bread’, which will be in next week’s Gospel.

He lost many disciples that day (John 6:66) and also mentioned that one of the Twelve would betray Him (John 6:70-71).

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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

Acts 19:21-22

A Riot at Ephesus

21 Now after these events Paul resolved in the Spirit to pass through Macedonia and Achaia and go to Jerusalem, saying, “After I have been there, I must also see Rome.” 22 And having sent into Macedonia two of his helpers, Timothy and Erastus, he himself stayed in Asia for a while.

——————————————————————————————————————–

Last week’s entry discussed the deep faith and further conversions that came about after two of the Sons of Sceva saw their fake exorcism foiled by the demon in the man they were hoping to notionally heal. The incident left the converts of Ephesus in awe. They extolled the name of the Lord Jesus, and those who were still practising the dark arts voluntarily came out in public to burn their rare and esoteric books, which were very expensive.

The principal verse in that reading is verse 20:

20 So the word of the Lord continued to increase and prevail mightily.

I will come back to that at the end of the post.

For now, Luke — the author of Acts — took pains to tell us that Paul was planning another visit to places where he had established churches and then journey southward once more to the poor church in Jerusalem, after which he wanted to go to Rome (verse 21).

There are several points to make about verse 21.

First, Luke wrote: ‘Paul resolved in the Spirit’. Students of Acts will remember that the Holy Spirit did not allow him, Silas and Timothy to travel eastwards in Asia Minor (Luke 16:6-10). They went westward instead and ended up in Troas where they met Luke for the first time. Luke was with them for a short time, as they all went to establish the church in Philippi, where Lydia, the purple goods seller, was their initial point of contact and first convert on European soil (Luke 16:11-15).

Secondly, Achaia was the province where Corinth was located, so Paul would have wanted to visit the church he had established there. Corinth was where he met his friends and fellow tent makers, Priscilla and Aquila.

Thirdly, after visiting the Christians in Jerusalem, he wanted to go northwest to Rome. Recall that Priscilla and Aquila — along with other Jews and Jews who became Christian — had been exiled from the city by edict. Matthew Henry’s commentary says that, by the time Paul was thinking of visiting:

it was upon the death of the emperor Claudius, who died the second year of Paul’s being at Ephesus … because while he lived the Jews were forbidden Rome, Acts 18:2.

Therefore, it was finally safe for Paul to visit the heart of the Roman Empire.

Verse 22 tells us that, for the meantime, Paul remained in Ephesus while he sent the aforementioned Timothy and Erastus, about whom we know little other than it was a common name in that era, to go to Macedonia. Our commentators say that he wanted them to go to Macedonia in order to collect money for the church in Jerusalem, which can be cross-referenced in his letters to the Corinthians. While the men were in Macedonia, Paul stayed in Ephesus to preach and teach not only there but in the area surrounding the city.

Henry’s commentary tells us:

He sent Timothy and Erastus into Macedonia, to give them notice of the visit he intended them, and to get their collection ready for the poor saints at Jerusalem. Soon after he wrote the first epistle to the Corinthians, designing to follow it himself, as appears 1 Corinthians 4:17,19, I have sent to you Timotheus; but I will myself come to you shortly, if the Lord will. For the present, he staid in Asia, in the country about Ephesus, founding churches.

MacArthur says:

The church of Jerusalem was very poor. And Paul wanted to take a love offering from his churches as a gift to the church at Jerusalem. The reason he wanted to go to Macedonia and Achaia was to collect his offering. And I think that’s kind of an exciting reason, really if you want to know. In several places in Corinthians he alludes to this offering just to maybe I can point out one or two of them. Chapter 9, verse 1 “is touching the administering to the saints that is superfluous for me to write you for I know the readiness of your mind for which I boast of you to them of Macedonia and Achaia.”

The riot in Ephesus to which the title of today’s passage refers starts in my next entry. For now, MacArthur has a great explanation of Acts 19:20, which I cited above and how important the church in Ephesus was to Asia Minor.

At this point, we are reading about Paul’s ministry in the port city after he had been there for around two-and-a-half years. MacArthur says (emphases mine):

He has been there for nearly three years teaching. He knows they know enough. There are elders there of quality enough to lead the church. The Christians are grown up, they’re mature. The work has matured.

There are churches elsewhere in Asia Minor. Also of note is this:

… we think that at least all seven churches [in] the book of Revelation possibly could have been founded during this three year period while Paul was in Ephesus.

MacArthur tells us that Paul had a grand plan, in accordance with the Lord:

Now just keep this in mind. Paul was a strategist and he wanted to reach as far as he could reach with the gospel. And Paul’s plan was this. To plant the gospel in key cities on a line from Antioch to Rome.

By the way, there already was a church in Rome, possibly started by Jews — later converts — who had been in Jerusalem to witness the first Pentecost, but it was not very well organised at the time.

MacArthur continues:

And if you follow the ministry of Paul, he just stops all the way along at key points on the great road from Antioch to Rome. And he’s planting the churches in the key centers. And from there they spread to the province. If Paul could knock off the capital of the province, he felt he had a running start on the province. And so he wants to go one step further to reach Rome. And incidentally that wasn’t the end of it either as you’ll see in a minute. Now after he had planted the church in Ephesus, he realized that the line of witness would then begin to spread from Ephesus. And so he would go to Rome, plant the witness there, there was already a church there, but perhaps he could enhance the witness. And then it would begin to spread.

And then as all these centers began to spread, they would sort of cross-pollinate and the whole area would be saturated with the Gospel. And he believed in the process of reproduction of evangelism by reproduction. Where you would win some people to Christ, establish a church, that church would grow, send out others to establish other churches and by multiplication you would conquer an area. Not by the superficial sweep and so this was his plan. Now when he got to Rome, that was only a step on the way to somewhere else.

Paul’s intention was to keep travelling west to what is now Spain. That would have been one amazing journey. MacArthur says:

So he could go all the way from Jerusalem, Antioch and straight out as far as he could go to reach Spain with the Gospel. This was in his mind to do. He was a strategist planning his conquests. He writes to the Romans in chapter 1 verse 13 of Romans. “I would not have you ignorant brother in the off times I purpose to come unto you but was prevented thus far that I might have some fruit among you even as among other Gentiles. I am better to the Greeks, to the Barbarians, to the wise, to the unwise so much as in me as I am ready to preach the Gospel to you that are at Rome also.”

From this point on, even though Paul doesn’t attain his objective until the end of Acts — chapters 27 and 28 — his goal is Rome:

But he doesn’t get there in the way that he thought he would get there. But he gets there. From here on out, his sights are set on Rome. And he’s going to make it. And man is it an exciting trip getting there.

Next week the story of the riot in Ephesus begins. The Artemis-worshipping craftsmen felt deeply threatened by Christianity, as it was diminishing their trade.

Next time — Acts 19:23-27

What follows are the readings for the Ninth Sunday after Pentecost, July 22, 2018.

These are for Year B in the three-year Lectionary cycle.

There are two sets of first readings, each with an accompanying Psalm from which the celebrant can choose. I have given the second selection blue subheadings below. Emphases mine throughout.

First reading

Passages from 2 Samuel continue, documenting David’s kingship. Here, David, now at peace since the Ark of the Covenant is with him, wishes to build a house for God. God, however, has other plans and sends the prophet Nathan to deliver His message to David. David will not be the one to build a house for Him. This alludes in context to both Solomon (the temple) and to Jesus (the Church).

2 Samuel 7:1-14a

7:1 Now when the king was settled in his house, and the LORD had given him rest from all his enemies around him,

7:2 the king said to the prophet Nathan, “See now, I am living in a house of cedar, but the ark of God stays in a tent.”

7:3 Nathan said to the king, “Go, do all that you have in mind; for the LORD is with you.”

7:4 But that same night the word of the LORD came to Nathan:

7:5 Go and tell my servant David: Thus says the LORD: Are you the one to build me a house to live in?

7:6 I have not lived in a house since the day I brought up the people of Israel from Egypt to this day, but I have been moving about in a tent and a tabernacle.

7:7 Wherever I have moved about among all the people of Israel, did I ever speak a word with any of the tribal leaders of Israel, whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel, saying, “Why have you not built me a house of cedar?”

7:8 Now therefore thus you shall say to my servant David: Thus says the LORD of hosts: I took you from the pasture, from following the sheep to be prince over my people Israel;

7:9 and I have been with you wherever you went, and have cut off all your enemies from before you; and I will make for you a great name, like the name of the great ones of the earth.

7:10 And I will appoint a place for my people Israel and will plant them, so that they may live in their own place, and be disturbed no more; and evildoers shall afflict them no more, as formerly,

7:11 from the time that I appointed judges over my people Israel; and I will give you rest from all your enemies. Moreover the LORD declares to you that the LORD will make you a house.

7:12 When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come forth from your body, and I will establish his kingdom.

7:13 He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.

7:14a I will be a father to him, and he shall be a son to me.

Psalm

The Psalm evokes the blessings God will give to David.

Psalm 89:20-37

89:20 I have found my servant David; with my holy oil I have anointed him;

89:21 my hand shall always remain with him; my arm also shall strengthen him.

89:22 The enemy shall not outwit him, the wicked shall not humble him.

89:23 I will crush his foes before him and strike down those who hate him.

89:24 My faithfulness and steadfast love shall be with him; and in my name his horn shall be exalted.

89:25 I will set his hand on the sea and his right hand on the rivers.

89:26 He shall cry to me, ‘You are my Father, my God, and the Rock of my salvation!’

89:27 I will make him the firstborn, the highest of the kings of the earth.

89:28 Forever I will keep my steadfast love for him, and my covenant with him will stand firm.

89:29 I will establish his line forever, and his throne as long as the heavens endure.

89:30 If his children forsake my law and do not walk according to my ordinances,

89:31 if they violate my statutes and do not keep my commandments,

89:32 then I will punish their transgression with the rod and their iniquity with scourges;

89:33 but I will not remove from him my steadfast love, or be false to my faithfulness.

89:34 I will not violate my covenant, or alter the word that went forth from my lips.

89:35 Once and for all I have sworn by my holiness; I will not lie to David.

89:36 His line shall continue forever, and his throne endure before me like the sun.

89:37 It shall be established forever like the moon, an enduring witness in the skies.” Selah

First reading

This reading from Jeremiah foretells the coming of Christ, the Good Shepherd, who will gather up His flock away from bad shepherds — negligent religious leaders.

Jeremiah 23:1-6

23:1 Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture! says the LORD.

23:2 Therefore thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, concerning the shepherds who shepherd my people: It is you who have scattered my flock, and have driven them away, and you have not attended to them. So I will attend to you for your evil doings, says the LORD.

23:3 Then I myself will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the lands where I have driven them, and I will bring them back to their fold, and they shall be fruitful and multiply.

23:4 I will raise up shepherds over them who will shepherd them, and they shall not fear any longer, or be dismayed, nor shall any be missing, says the LORD.

23:5 The days are surely coming, says the LORD, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.

23:6 In his days Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety. And this is the name by which he will be called: “The LORD is our righteousness.”

Psalm

The Psalm will be familiar to most people, even the unchurched.

Psalm 23

23:1 The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want.

23:2 He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters;

23:3 he restores my soul. He leads me in right paths for his name’s sake.

23:4 Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff– they comfort me.

23:5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.

23:6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD my whole life long.

Epistle

Readings continue from Ephesians. Paul tells the Christians from Ephesus that there is no longer a need for blood sacrifice via circumcision because Jesus Christ is the propitiation for our sins because of His death on the Cross. Furthermore, they are no longer ‘Gentiles’ or ‘strangers’, but citizens with the saints and members of the household of God.

Ephesians 2:11-22

2:11 So then, remember that at one time you Gentiles by birth, called “the uncircumcision” by those who are called “the circumcision” –a physical circumcision made in the flesh by human hands–

2:12 remember that you were at that time without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.

2:13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.

2:14 For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us.

2:15 He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace,

2:16 and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it.

2:17 So he came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near;

2:18 for through him both of us have access in one Spirit to the Father.

2:19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God,

2:20 built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone.

2:21 In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord;

2:22 in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God.

Gospel

Readings from Mark continue in chronological order. The Apostles had returned from a short time preaching and healing. Jesus tells them to rest. However, the crowds continued to follow them. The first few verses precede the Feeding of the Five Thousand and the last set are about what happened afterwards, with the crowds still following Jesus.

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.

The Epistle presents a gold mine for a sermon from any clergyman who loves the Good News. I have never heard anyone discuss that passage from Ephesians before in church. I hope that at least a few clergy preach about it on Sunday.

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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

Acts 19:17-20

17 And this became known to all the residents of Ephesus, both Jews and Greeks. And fear fell upon them all, and the name of the Lord Jesus was extolled. 18 Also many of those who were now believers came, confessing and divulging their practices. 19 And a number of those who had practiced magic arts brought their books together and burned them in the sight of all. And they counted the value of them and found it came to fifty thousand pieces of silver. 20 So the word of the Lord continued to increase and prevail mightily.

——————————————————————————————————————————

Last week’s entry discussed the seven sons of Sceva, who travelled in and around Ephesus earning money by performing exorcisms. Sceva was a Jewish high priest, so it is bemusing to read that his sons engaged in such activity, as these were not true exorcisms. Two of the sons had the wits scared out of them when attempting to perform an exorcism on a man with a demon. The evil spirit — which said it knew Jesus and recognised Paul but not them — worked through the man to overpower the two sons, driving them out of the house naked and bloody.

The moral of that episode shows Satan is no friend of humankind. He has no use for man other than to sin, and, as that reading shows, he can turn on mankind immediately.

The Ephesians — Jews and Gentiles alike — were shocked by what happened (verse 17). ‘All’ were afraid. Luke, the author of Acts, says that they extolled the name of the Lord Jesus.

Interestingly, a number of new Christians publicly confessed their magic practices (verse 18). They were not forced to do so, but they were so overcome by what had happened that they wanted to make a clean break of their sin of casting magic spells.

Matthew Henry’s commentary says that these new Christians were not as discerning as other converts (emphases mine):

Many that had believed and were baptized, but had not then been so particular as they might have been in the confession of their sins, were so terrified with these instances of the magnifying of the name of Jesus Christ that they came to Paul, or some of the other ministers that were with him, and confessed what evil lives they had led, and what a great deal of secret wickedness their own consciences charged them with, which the world knew not of–secret frauds and secret filthiness; they showed their deeds, took shame to themselves and gave glory to God and warning to others. These confessions were not extorted from them, but were voluntary, for the ease of their consciences, upon which the late miracles had struck a terror.

This is important:

Note, Where there is true contrition for sin there will be an ingenuous confession of sin to God in every prayer, and to man whom we have offended when the case requires it.

John MacArthur raises an important point about magic spells and divulging magic practices. This isn’t about card tricks or rabbits in hats, but more along the lines of ‘magick’. He thinks that among the converted Christians were people who converted after the sons of Sceva incident:

It’s a perfect participle, the word “believed,” and it could mean those who had already believed and had already been Christians but had never given up their magic, or it could mean those who were then saved and then came and confessed. Either possibility. But anyway, these people who believed came, confessed, and showed their deeds. A most interesting phrase. “Showed their deeds” means they came and revealed their spells. According to magic theory, the only good spell is the one that’s secret, and once you divulge the secret, the spell’s no good. So everybody came and told all the secrets. They were giving up all their magic. Giving it up. The whole satanic game was over. They saw the truth of the power of Jesus; and they saw that magic didn’t work, and in comparison to His name it was absolutely impotentThe Name of the Lord Jesus was magnified, and when the Name of the Lord Jesus is magnified, people will believe. You hear that? It’s right. His Name was magnified in verse 17, and people believed and confessed, and their lives were transformed.

Verse 19 relates their edifying method of repentance. They gathered together and burnt their magic books — scrolls. Although the books were worth 50,000 pieces of silver — tens of thousands of pounds/dollars/euros in today’s money — they didn’t sell the books and give the proceeds to the church or to the poor. No. They destroyed them so a) they would not be tempted to look at them again and b) to prevent others from delving inside.

Henry has a good analysis:

It is taken for granted that they were convinced of the evil of these curious arts, and resolved to deal in them no longer; but they did not think this enough unless they burnt their books. (1.) Thus they showed a holy indignation at the sins they had been guilty of; as the idolaters, when they were brought to repentance, said to their idols, Get you hence (Isaiah 30:22), and cast even those of silver and gold to the moles and to the bats, Isaiah 2:20. They thus took a pious revenge on those things that had been the instruments of sin to them, and proclaimed the force of their convictions of the evil of it, and that those very things were now detectable to them, as much as ever they had been delectable. (2.) Thus they showed their resolution never to return to the use of those arts, and the books which related to them, again. They were so fully convinced of the evil and danger of them that they would not throw the books by, within reach of a recall, upon supposition that it was possible they might change their mind; but, being stedfastly resolved never to make use of them, they burnt them. (3.) Thus they put away a temptation to return to them again. Had they kept the books by them, there was danger lest, when the heat of the present conviction was over, they should have the curiosity to look into them, and so be in danger of liking them and loving them again, and therefore they burnt them. Note, Those that truly repent of sin will keep themselves as far as possible from the occasions of it. (4.) Thus they prevented their doing mischief to others. If Judas had been by he would have said, “Sell them, and give the money to the poor;” or, “Buy Bibles and good books with it.” But then who could tell into whose hands these dangerous books might fall, and what mischief might be done by them? it was therefore the safest course to commit them all to the flames. Those that are recovered from sin themselves will do all they can to keep others from falling into it, and will be much more afraid of laying an occasion of sin in the way of others. (5.) Thus they showed a contempt of the wealth of this world; for the price of the books was cast up, probably by those that persuaded them not to burn them, and it was found to be fifty thousand pieces of silver, which some compute to be fifteen hundred pounds of our money. It is probable that the books were scarce, perhaps prohibited, and therefore dear. Probably they had cost them so much; yet, being the devil’s books, though they had been so foolish as to buy them, they did not think this would justify them in being so wicked as to sell them again. (6.) Thus they publicly testified their joy for their conversion from these wicked practices, as Matthew did by the great feast he made when Christ had called him from the receipt of custom. These converts joined together in making this bonfire, and made it before all men. They might have burnt the books privately, every one in his own house, but they chose to do it together, by consent, and to do it at the high cross (as we say), that Christ and his grace in them might be the more magnified, and all about them the more edified.

MacArthur says the bonfire lasted for a long time:

… the interesting thing, the word “burned” is imperfect. They kept on burning. I don’t know how long the bonfire lasted. But they kept burning.

The result was that the Gospel story not only circulated — but also prevailed — all the more, in fact, ‘mightily’ (verse 20).

There is a lesson here for today’s Christians — especially clergy. By erring in making the Gospel about social justice and identity politics whilst excusing every sin in the book, we are doing our fellow man a disservice in denying him the eternal truth of Jesus Christ.

Our two commentators were/are tied to the truth of the Gospel.

Do we see that today? Not often enough.

MacArthur is one of the rare exceptions. His church, Grace Church in southern California, is packed on Sundays. People hunger for the truth, not a sermon akin to a newspaper editorial! Of verse 20, he says:

In your life, where the Word of God dominates, there’s victory. You know that in this church, as long as the Word of God dominates, there’ll be victory. That’s the pattern. That’s the pattern. The church established with the Word, the individual established with the Word is clean and victorious over the enemy.

Henry tells us:

It is a blessed sight to see the word of God growing and prevailing mightily, as it did here. 1. To see it grow extensively, by the addition of many to the church. When still more and more are wrought upon by the gospel, and wrought up into a conformity to it, then it grows; when those that were least likely to yield to it, and that had been most stiff in their opposition to it, are captivated and brought into obedience to it, then it may be said to grow mightily. 2. To see it prevail extensively, by the advancement in knowledge and grace of those that are added to the church; when strong corruptions are mortified, vicious habits changed, evil customs of long standing broken off, and pleasant, gainful, fashionable sins are abandoned, then it prevails mightily; and Christ in it goes on conquering and to conquer.

I pray that our clergy turn from their theological error — likely learned at seminary — and preach the truth of Jesus Christ as Saviour and Redeemer. Only then will the Church prevail once more.

Next time — Acts 19:21-22

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