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Bible penngrovechurchofchristorgThe 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 (here, here and here).

Acts 13:13-14a

Paul and Barnabas at Antioch in Pisidia

13 Now Paul and his companions set sail from Paphos and came to Perga in Pamphylia. And John left them and returned to Jerusalem, 14 but they went on from Perga and came to Antioch in Pisidia.

Acts 13:40-43

40 Beware, therefore, lest what is said in the Prophets should come about:

41 “‘Look, you scoffers,
    be astounded and perish;
for I am doing a work in your days,
    a work that you will not believe, even if one tells it to you.’”

42 As they went out, the people begged that these things might be told them the next Sabbath. 43 And after the meeting of the synagogue broke up, many Jews and devout converts to Judaism followed Paul and Barnabas, who, as they spoke with them, urged them to continue in the grace of God.

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Last week’s post discussed Paul’s blinding of Elymas the sorcerer for trying to prevent Sergius Paulus from converting. Paul accomplished this via divine grace as the Holy Spirit welled up in him.

That happened in Paphos, on the island of Cyprus.

Verse 13 tells us that Paul and his companions — including Barnabas — left Cyprus. they sailed from Cyprus to Perga in Pamphylia then onto Antioch in Pisidia (not Syria). John (John Mark, Mark of the Gospel) returned to Jerusalem (verse 14).

John MacArthur explains what probably happened (emphases mine below):

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

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

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

MacArthur tells us that Antioch in Pisidia is in the region known as Galatia in Asia Minor.

In Antioch in Pisidia, Paul and his companions attended synagogue on the Sabbath. The leader asked them for a ‘word of encouragement to the people’ (verse 15). Paul rose to preach a message tailored for a Jewish audience.

MacArthur describes the themes Paul used:

First of all, the Jewish mind was dominated by the fact that God was active in the history of Israel. They exalted in the fact that they were God’s chosen people; that they were the ones that God had called out, set apart, through whom He gave the blessings, the covenants, the promises and so forth. The Jew was absorbed joyously in the concept that God was his God and so the concept of God’s involvement in Israel’s history was one of the general themes that dominated their minds.

The second general theme that dominated their minds was God’s future plans for them through Messiah. The Jew exalted in his nationalism. He exalted in his Jewishness but he also exalted in the future hope of Israel. They dreamed, they hoped, they lived for the day that Messiah would come. It was said that the Jewish mothers used to wish that their son would be the Messiah. This was the dream of every true Jew.

The third thought that dominated their minds was God’s attitude in dealing with sin. The Jew never forgot his identity. The Jew never forgot his hope and the Jew never forgot his sin. Those three things absolutely saturated and dominated the life of a Jew and it is to those three things that Paul directs his message, answering to the three great themes of Judaism. Every Jew saw God in control of his destiny. Every Jew saw God’s promise of a Messiah as his hope and every Jew was careful to follow the sacrifices set down to deal with sin.

When Paul mentioned King David, he said:

23 Of this man’s offspring God has brought to Israel a Savior, Jesus, as he promised.

Paul then discussed Jesus’s ministry, His death and Resurrection, explaining that these events were all prophesied — the holy and certain blessings of David. Corruption (below) refers to sin, by the way:

34 And as for the fact that he raised him from the dead, no more to return to corruption, he has spoken in this way,

“‘I will give you the holy and sure blessings of David.’

Paul went on to say that only these blessings could save the Jewish people, adding that the law of Moses could not (verse 39).

This brings us to the second set of verses, where Paul warns that his audience must believe that Jesus is the Messiah, otherwise another prophecy will come true (verse 40).

The prophecy, to which Paul refers (verse 41) is in Habakkuk 1:5 and Isaiah 29:14, the latter cited below as it explains the penalty for unbelief:

therefore, behold, I will again
do wonderful things with this people,
with wonder upon wonder;
and the wisdom of their wise men shall perish,
and the discernment of their discerning men shall be hidden.”

The Jews knew how God had severely punished their ancestors for disobedience. Paul’s audience thought back to the events in Habakkuk.

MacArthur gives us the history:

In Habakkuk’s day, Israel was a mess and God said, “Habakkuk, you better tell the people that I’m going to do a work that they’re not even going to believe even though you tell them,” and the work is the work of judgment, incidentally here. The passage warns against the unbelief of Israel. If Israel rejects as continually as they have the message of God, they’re going to get it.

Do you remember what God did to them in Habakkuk? Sent the Chaldeans, sacked Jerusalem, hauled them off to Babylon, wiped out the whole country and Paul says, “You remember what the prophets said God was going to do to Israel of old? Listen,” he says to that congregation in Antioch, “You better beware lest what God did then happens to you, when God will work a work of judgment.” Notice a couple of notes and it’s so powerful. “I’ll work a work in your days which you shall in no way believe even though somebody tells it to you.”

Paul’s review of Jewish history and his conclusion with Habakkuk got the people in the synagogue thinking deeply. Instead of being angry, they begged Paul to return the following Sabbath to preach again (verse 42).

Verse 43 says that those who heard Paul began following him and Barnabas, who urged them to continue in the grace of God.

That verse mentions Gentiles — ‘devout converts to Judaism’. Therefore, Jew and Gentile received the message and acted upon it.

Interestingly, Matthew Henry’s commentary says that verse 42 is not as positive as it looks. Some Jews actually were incensed at Paul’s words. There were Gentile pagans who also heard them and longed to be included in the divine promise. This perspective makes the rest of Acts 13 more understandable. First, Henry’s explanation:

I. There were some of the Jews that were so incensed against the preaching of the gospel, not to the Gentiles, but to themselves, that they would not bear to hear it, but went out of the synagogue while Paul was preaching (Acts 13:42), in contempt of him and his doctrine, and to the disturbance of the congregation. It is probable they whispered among themselves, exciting one another to it, and did it by consent …

II. The Gentiles were as willing to hear the gospel as those rude and ill-conditioned Jews were to get out of the hearing of it: They besought that these words, or words to this effect, might be preached to them the next sabbath; in the week between, so some take it; on the second and fifth days of the week, which in some synagogues were their lecture days. But it appears (Acts 13:44) that it was the next sabbath day that they came together. They begged, 1. That the same offer might be made to them that was made to the Jews. Paul in this sermon had brought the word of salvation to the Jews and proselytes, but had taken no notice of the Gentiles; and therefore they begged that forgiveness of sins through Christ might be preached to them, as it was to the Jews …

III. There were some, nay, there were many, both of Jews and proselytes, that were wrought upon by the preaching of the gospel

Now on to what happened: practically all of Antioch (Pisidia) gathered to hear Paul and Barnabas preach at the next Sabbath. However, the Jews who were angry with Paul began contradicting him. Paul and Barnabas then stated they would stop preaching to the Jews and focus instead on the Gentiles:

46 And Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly, saying, “It was necessary that the word of God be spoken first to you. Since you thrust it aside and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold, we are turning to the Gentiles. 47 For so the Lord has commanded us, saying,

“‘I have made you a light for the Gentiles,
that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.’”

That citation is from Isaiah 49:6:

he says:
“It is too light a thing that you should be my servant
to raise up the tribes of Jacob
and to bring back the preserved of Israel;
I will make you as a light for the nations,
that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”

How appropriate that we are reading this during Advent!

The Gentiles rejoiced and glorified the word of the Lord. They believed in Christ Jesus. The Gospel message — and, no doubt, conversions — spread throughout Pisidia (verse 49). The most influential Jews banded together to persecute Paul and Barnabas, driving them out of the region (verse 50). MacArthur says:

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

Paul, Barnabas and their companions ‘shook the dust from their feet’ and went onward to Iconium (verse 51). The disciples were ‘filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit’ (verse 52).

Remember the meaning of shaking the dust from one’s feet in the Gospels. MacArthur reminds us:

Jesus had said in Luke 10, when you go to evangelize, sent out His disciples, when they don’t hear your message and they don’t believe the Messiah, you shake the dust off your feet and leave that town. What He meant was this: No Jew would ever bring Gentile dirt into Israel because the Jews believed that Gentile soil was defiled and so when a Jew arrived at the border of Israel, he would shake the dust off his feet because they didn’t want even Gentile dirt in Israel. They thought it was soiled and Jesus accommodated Himself to that particular view and when He said, “Shake the dust off your feet,” He meant treat those Jews like they were Gentiles. You don’t want a thing to do with them. They’re just as if they were pagan and when Paul and Barnabas shook the dust off their feet in the face of the Jews of Antioch, they were saying in effect, “We consider you heathen.” That in itself was the greatest disclaimer, the most volatile rebuke that anyone could ever give to a Jew was to assign him a place with pagans and they did it to them. From now on, God looks at you like heathen. That was the result. They were lost, doomed, because they rejected their Messiah, Jesus Christ.

Paul and Barnabas left town, took off for Iconium. They left two different groups. God saw some as pagans. God filled the others with His Holy Spirit. Let me say this in closing. Listen. You either live life separated from God, a heathen without God, without the knowledge of God, or you live your life with God’s Holy Spirit inside. There’s no middle ground. You either take Jesus or reject Him. He said, “He that is not with Me is against Me.”

MacArthur says that judgement is always in effect. He warns us:

You know it is hard…the hardest thing for me to understand and inevitably, the hardest thing for people to believe is that God is a God of judgment.

It’s unbelievable because we have a misconstrued idea of the character of God to begin with. We think God is a namby-pamby, senile Santa Claus who pats everybody on the head and says, “Oh, I don’t care what you do. You’re nice,” that kind of thing. It’s not so. God is dealing with sin. You read the Old Testament and you get His attitude toward sin. God deals with sin seriously and we know that it’s difficult to believe. Someone even in our church called the other day and was very, very upset. They went to a class and they heard about hell and they said, “Oh, I can’t believe it. It can’t be. It’s not so,” and so forth and so on. It’s hard to believe that. Even for us who believe it in our hearts, our emotions are hard pressed to handle it, right?

There is a hell and there is a hell where the worm dies not and the fire is not quenched, where there is weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth and there’s going to be a day of judgment and it’s going to come and men don’t believe it but that doesn’t mean it isn’t going to happen. God knew they wouldn’t believe it. He said that right here. You won’t believe it even though somebody tells you and so the warning closes out Paul’s sermon. He says, “I’m giving you an invitation. For all who believe, all things are forgiven and you’re justified. But beware, if you don’t believe it, God’s going to work a work of judgment which you won’t believe.” So you either believe in Jesus Christ or you don’t believe what’s going to happen in result…in response. Well, God is a God of grace but Paul closes with a serious warning. A man is a fool who rejects Jesus Christ.

To anyone reading this and thinking Christmas is purely a time for secular pleasures, please think again. Begin reading the New Testament. Pray for faith. Pray for grace. Pray that Christmas finally has true meaning.

Next time — Acts 14:1-7

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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 13:4-7

Barnabas and Saul on Cyprus

So, being sent out by the Holy Spirit, they went down to Seleucia, and from there they sailed to Cyprus. When they arrived at Salamis, they proclaimed the word of God in the synagogues of the Jews. And they had John to assist them. When they had gone through the whole island as far as Paphos, they came upon a certain magician, a Jewish false prophet named Bar-Jesus. He was with the proconsul, Sergius Paulus, a man of intelligence, who summoned Barnabas and Saul and sought to hear the word of God.

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Last week’s entry discussed the verses following Herod’s death by worms. First, the number of new Christians increased — the death was so slow, so public and gruesome it could only have been seen as a divine judgement. Secondly, Barnabas and Saul brought John Mark (St Mark of the Gospel) into their ministry.

Yesterday’s post explained the first three verses of Acts 13. If you haven’t yet read it, doing so will help clarify the shift out of Jerusalem and Judea to distant lands to spread the Word.

In summary, the church in Antioch was becoming well established to the point that two of the ministers could go and establish another church elsewhere. The five teachers in Antioch were Barnabas (the eldest), Simeon Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen and Saul. The Holy Spirit directed the five to send Barnabas and Saul away for a new ministry.

Those who know the Bible well and those have been following my series on Acts, recognise Barnabas, the Levite from Cyprus who converted. He first appears at the end of Acts 4. I wrote about him in last week’s Forbidden Bible Verses instalment about Acts 12:24-25.

Note that St Luke, the author of Acts, again impresses upon us that the Holy Spirit sent forth Barnabas and Saul, who went to the port of Seleucia and sailed to Cyprus (verse 4). It is possible that Barnabas wanted to evangelise his homeland.

If not, Cyprus was still an easy first destination. MacArthur says that arriving at Seleucia from Antioch was a 16-mile journey via the Euphrates River. From Seleucia:

you could look out a few miles, you could see Cyprus, a little island out there. They got a ship and took off …

MacArthur describes Cyprus (emphases mine below):

That little island of Cyprus, 30 to 50 miles wide, 110 miles long, two important cities, one in the southeast corner, one in the northwest corner Salamis and Paphos and the land in-between was going to be conquered for Christ. That’s the first new adventure for the Gentile church. What an exciting thing.

They first arrived at Salamis on the south-east coast, where they began preaching and teaching in the synagogues with John (Mark, of the Gospel) to help them (verse 5).

Saul of Tarsus preached in the synagogues of Damascus (Acts 9:20), so it seemed logical to do the same on Cyprus. MacArthur explains:

Now there were a lot of Jews in that city, many thousands, enough to keep several synagogues operating. And as Paul’s custom was soon to be, he went into the synagogues and there he used the place as a platform. It was a public place where many could gather and it was a great place for preaching and he’d go there and begin to preach. And since he was a Jew he would inevitably have access and as a former member of the Sanhedrin and so forth and so on they would be receiving him.

John Mark’s role was of a preacher-in-training. Matthew Henry’s commentary tells us:

They had John for their minister; not their servant in common things, but their assistant in the things of God, either to prepare their way in places where they designed to come or to carry on their work in places where they had begun it, or to converse familiarly with those to whom they preached publicly, and explain things to them; and such a one might be many ways of use to them, especially in a strange country.

The three men travelled from east to west, a journey of 110 miles, no doubt stopping in many places along the way to preach and teach. Luke did not tell us how long this journey with frequent stops took, but it must have been some time.

Their final destination was Paphos on the north-west coast (verse 6). Paphos was the seat of the Roman government on the island and was well-known for the Paphian Venus, as there was a widespread and deep cult surrounding the goddess of love there. MacArthur explains:

Venus was supposedly, according to their tradition, to have been born in the foam of the sea off the shore of Paphos having been born then come to live in Paphos and she was worshipped with the wildest kind of sexual orgies, as were so many of the gods and goddesses of that time. One writer said the city was a pit of sin where people wallowed in moral filth. So here comes two guys and a helper. They are going to conquer Paphos. Here they come, but the Spirit of God is with them.

It could only be expected that Satan would be there to try and frustrate their holy work. The three men met a Jewish sorcerer by the name of Bar-Jesus (verse 6), which means ‘son of salvation’ or ‘son of Joshua’. Henry says that the name carried an alternative — darker — meaning:

the Syriac calls him, Bar-shoma–the son of pride; filius inflationis–the son of inflation.

‘Inflation’ there means being puffed up with pride.

Bar-Jesus’s other name was Elymas, which we will see next week (Acts 13:8).

Bar-Jesus was not a magician who does card tricks or pulls rabbits out of hats. He was a practitioner of the dark arts.

If you think this scene with a magician sounds familiar, you remember the story of Simon Magus from Acts 8 (here and here), when he was baptised thanks to Philip the Evangelist then asked the Apostles to sell him power from the Holy Spirit. Clearly, the man never understood and Peter rebuked him severely. Simon Magus and Bar-Jesus shared similar characteristics.

John MacArthur expands on this:

Both were demon-possessed mediums. You know what a medium is? It’s a contact. Men contact this medium who is infested with demons and thus they contacted the demonic world.

The title sorcerer, let me take a footnote on that. The title sorcerer comes from the Greek word magos, from which we get magic. Now watch very carefully. The word initially doesn’t have to mean anything evil in its full sense. The word magos is the very word translated in Matthew 2 for wise men magi. It’s the same word. In reference to them, remember they came bearing gifts for the Christ child, but in reference to them it has kind of a good sense for they were good men, they were astronomers from Persia and magi became the title of Persian astronomers, Persian scientists.

But some of that Persian science had degenerated into the occult. Astronomy became what? Astrology. And so there were two kinds of Persian scientists. There were magi who were in a rather good sense somewhat scientific and there were magi who were correctly to be translated sorcerers. And though they were Zoroastrian priests to begin with, they rather divided into two kinds, those who were really plugged into Satan and those who were somewhat pseudoscientific. And so the word itself can go either way. But magic really was the art practiced by Persian priests in connection with astronomy. It deteriorated into astrology and now it comes down to what we know today.

And so every kind of fraud and deception and every form of the occult and so forth and so on was going on in the name of magic. And this guy was into it. He was a magician. He was a sorcerer. Now I’m not talking about magic. I’m not talking about pulling rabbits out of hats. That’s inconsequential. That’s immaterial. That may even prove to illustrate some good principles. We’re talking about demonic magic.

All right, they found a certain sorcerer, a false prophet. Now notice this: mediums are very often false prophets. Demon possessed people very often fain to be prophets of God.

Bar-Jesus was with the Roman pro-consul, Sergius Paulus, at the time he summoned Barnabas and Saul to hear the Word (verse 7). We are told that Sergius Paulus is ‘a man of intelligence’.

Given that information, did Sergius Paulus invite Bar-Jesus to be an adviser of some sort? MacArthur thinks so:

Sergius Paulus then dabbled in the occult and he had this man with him. And it’s interesting the emperor Tiberius, at this particular time in the world, had a whole flock of these occult medium demon-possessed people around him giving him information. Is it any wonder the Roman Empire went out of existence? All the information was coming from the pit.

Henry’s commentary proffers another perspective:

He was hanging on at court, was with the deputy of the country. It does not appear that the deputy called for him, as he did for Barnabas and Saul; but he thrust himself upon him, aiming, no doubt, to make a hand of him, and get money by him.

The story continues next week.

However, in closing, MacArthur gave this sermon in 1973. It begins with the deterioration of the Spirit-driven Church in favour of something secular:

I hope that several things are happening as we’re studying the book of Acts. One of those is I hope that it’s iconoclastic in a sense. That is I hope that it smashes some idols about the church, because I think that for many years through the filtering in and out of church history and culture and so forth the church has very often substituted its form for its real life. It has substituted its ritual for its reality. It has become an institution instead of life. It has become a business instead of a body. It has become a kind of professional pulpitism sponsored by lay spectators rather than a ministering organism and I hope that somehow as we study the book of Acts, even as we did when we studied the book of Ephesians, we are smashing some old idols about the church and that we can kind of get down to the basis of what the New Testament church is to be …

There are two extremes of the church that I see. There is the religious machine type church, which is big business. The church becomes an end in itself. It just exists to exist. It is not a means to anything. It is just an end. It doesn’t have as its primary goal, at least in a working sense, teaching and winning and discipling and reproducing. Its success is measured by the number of people that are there, the number of bodies that are briefed, baptized, blessed, and given tithing envelopes, and that’s about it. And if you have more bodies in your building than the guy down the street you’re successful and he’s not.

And so you have the big business idea of the church, which, of course, is totally foreign to the concept of an organism and a body that operates in simplicity through the gifts of the Spirit and the responsibilities of fellowship.

On the other hand, you have the other extreme, which is the social reform view of the church. That the church isn’t really to preach the Word of God, the church is to preach economics, politics, it is involved in civil and social and environmental struggles and truly the pastors and leaders are as lost as the heathen, only they are more damned the Bible says, because they sin willfully against light and their false prophets. Their concern is a preoccupation with civil issues. If there is no reality to their theology, if they can’t believe the Word of God, if they can’t really nail down who Jesus is and they can’t be firm on fact on who God is, the only thing left to do is fool around with man. And so that’s what happens.

U. S. and News and World Report recently did some surveys of young pastors and young ministers and these men says the article, “Are calling on our churches to save the individual.” Sounds good. It goes on, “By saving or reforming society dealing with the ills of urbanization technology and discrimination.” Only that approach they feel will make religion relevant.

Beloved, that approach will make religion obsolete. That is not what we’re to do. Oh ultimately we are to minister to the total man in every way, but the church preoccupied with social ills is a church that is had the gospel vacuumed and sucked right out of it. And I reject the idea that the church is a reformed institution for the world. I think the church is a reformed institution for one man at a time on the basis of the gospel of Jesus Christ and changed individuals will change the world. You’ll never change society any other way than to change men through the preaching of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

That approach severely weakened Christianity, starting in the 1980s and continuing on through the present day.

The terrible truth is that no clergyperson will admit this grave error, indeed, a grave sin against Christ.

Next time — Acts 13:8-12

Bible read me 2Up through Chapter 12, the Book of Acts, which St Luke wrote, is mostly about the disciples’ preaching to the Jewish people.

Chapter 13 shows the shift to a Gentile Church. Commentary cited below comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

These first three verses are in the three-year Lectionary used in public worship:

Barnabas and Saul Sent Off

13 Now there were in the church at Antioch prophets and teachers, Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger,[a] Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen a lifelong friend of Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off.

I wrote about the church in Antioch a few weeks ago to better appreciate Acts 13. Acts 11:19-30 is also in the three-year Lectionary. This is an important reading, especially these verses (emphases mine below):

25 So Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, 26 and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. For a whole year they met with the church and taught a great many people. And in Antioch the disciples were first called Christians.

As my post explains, ‘Christians’ was a derogatory term used by the pagans to mean cultish followers of Christ. In Greek, ‘iani’ means ‘the party of’. The pagans in Antioch meant it as an insult.

The Christians in Antioch were devout and sent donations to the church in Judea:

27 Now in these days prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. 28 And one of them named Agabus stood up and foretold by the Spirit that there would be a great famine over all the world (this took place in the days of Claudius). 29 So the disciples determined, every one according to his ability, to send relief to the brothers[d] living in Judea. 30 And they did so, sending it to the elders by the hand of Barnabas and Saul.

In Acts 13, we discover that Barnabas and Saul left Antioch to continue their ministry elsewhere, which will be the subject of the next Forbidden Bible Verses post.

In the first verse, St Luke wrote that there were prophets and teachers in the church in Antioch. Agabus was a prophet, as he revealed the Holy Spirit’s message that a famine would occur. The teachers revealed the truth of Jesus Christ as instructed by the Spirit.

Matthew Henry explains:

… those here mentioned were at times divinely inspired, and had instructions immediately from heaven upon special occasions, which gave them the title of prophets; and withal they were stated teachers of the church in their religious assemblies, expounded the scriptures, and opened the doctrine of Christ with suitable applications. These were the prophets, and scribes, or teachers, which Christ promised to send (Matthew 23:34), such as were every way qualified for the service of the Christian church. Antioch was a great city, and the Christians there were many, so that they could not all meet in one place; it was therefore requisite they should have many teachers, to preside in their respective assemblies, and to deliver God’s mind to them.

St Luke named five men ministering to the church in Antioch.

Those who know the Bible well and those have been following my series on Acts, recognise Barnabas, the Levite who converted. He first appears at the end of Acts 4. I wrote about him in my last Forbidden Bible Verses instalment about Acts 12:24-25.

Simeon — Simon — Niger, Henry’s commentary says, was so called for his jet black hair. John MacArthur believes Simeon was black. Either way, he was notable for his hair or skin colour. Regardless, the early Christians were colour-blind, and Simeon was a leader of the church in Antioch.

Questions also arise about the identity of Lucius of Cyrene. Cyrene — in present-day Libya — was known as the Athens of Africa. Was St Luke identifying himself? Again, we do not know. As with Simeon Niger, we do not have enough information to say either way. Henry wrote that a prominent Bible scholar of his day, Dr Lightfoot, thought Lucius of Cyrene was Luke, positing that Luke received the Gospel when he left Cyrene for Jerusalem. Lightfoot probably read Origen to come to that conclusion. MacArthur, on the other hand, makes no such connection. Whatever the case, Lucius of Cyrene was one of the founders of the church in Antioch and could have been one of the converts to flee Jerusalem after Stephen’s martyrdom (Acts 7:55-58).

Manaen had grown up with one of the Herods and gave up a privileged life to preach about Jesus Christ.

Finally, there was Saul of Tarsus — St Paul. Acts 13 is the first time we see ‘Paul’ instead of Saul. That passage will also be the subject of another Forbidden Bible Verses post.

Henry’s commentary tells us that Barnabas was named first as he was the eldest. Note that Saul was named last, possibly, as Henry says, because he was the youngest. That said, Saul’s ministry would become pre-eminent and feature largely in the New Testament.

Before going on to the next verse, it is important to understand the importance of the first verse. MacArthur explains the growth of the Church at this time:

Now the pattern for the church is very clear again here in Antioch as it was in Jerusalem. Before the church has much effect on the world it must be strong in itself. And so there is a very careful delineating even back in Chapter 11 … of the fact that this church in Antioch was founded in teaching. It had a solid basis, and then from that solid basis it began to move out into the world. You know that was the pattern in Jerusalem. Jerusalem grew up first of all in itself. Then, as best as we can tell, it was seven years after the founding of the Jerusalem church that people were first sent out from there, first sent out toward Antioch. That church grew strong and then established a beachhead in the world. And that beachhead in the pagan world was Antioch.

There’s been time for Antioch to get strong, and as Antioch has become solid and strong it’s ready to move out and establish new beachheads elsewhere in the pagan [world]. And that’s the way the church is to work. The church is to grow strong. It is to grow virile in the Word of God. It is to grow solid and then when it grows solid then it can have an effect on its world and it moves out from there sending out equipped and trained men to establish new beachheads. That’s the plan of the church.

It is exciting to contemplate this, particularly in our era, when the Church appears faithless. The faith of these leaders and their focus on teaching was what made the difference. How many clergy are teaching the Gospel today? Not very many. They prefer to expound on politics and social justice. Wrong!

By contrast, these five men in Antioch worshipped the Lord and fasted (verse 2). Henry points out that fasting took root among believers after Jesus ascended to Heaven:

Though it was not so much practised by the disciples of Christ, while the bridegroom was with them, as it was by the disciples of John [the Baptist] and of the Pharisees; yet, after the bridegroom was taken away, they abounded in it, as those that had well learned to deny themselves and to endure hardness.

Such was their devotion that the Holy Spirit spoke to them — either literally or figuratively (giving the men the same thought) — with a request that Barnabas and Saul go to minister elsewhere.

After their fasting and praying was complete, Simeon, Lucius and Manaen laid hands on Barnabas and Saul, who then left Antioch.

Henry’s commentary tells us:

They implored a blessing upon them in their present undertaking, begged that God would be with them, and give them success; and, in order to this, that they might be filled with the Holy Ghost in their work. This very thing is explained Acts 14:26, where it is said, concerning Paul and Barnabas, that from Antioch they had been recommended to the grace of God for the work which they fulfilled. As it was an instance of the humility of Barnabas and Saul that they submitted to the imposition of the hands of those that were their equals, or rather their inferiors; so it was of the good disposition of the other teachers that they did not envy Barnabas and Saul the honour to which they were preferred, but cheerfully committed it to them, with hearty prayers for them; and they sent them away with all expedition, out of a concern for those countries where they were to break up fallow ground.

MacArthur tells us what the lesson of these verses is:

A church that is not under the control of the Holy Spirit is not going to have an effective ministry. Now that is so basic it almost beggars the terms to even talk about it or the concept. Now let me show you what I mean by that.

Now go to I Corinthians 12:7-13. I Corinthians 12, and I want you to just catalog in your mind generally the idea of the importance of the Spirit in the life of the church as you listen to me read these verses. Just key in on the word Spirit, referring to the Holy Spirit. “But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit. For to one is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom; to another the word of knowledge by the same Spirit; to another faith by the same Spirit; to another the gifts of healing by the same Spirit.” Verse 11, “But all these worketh that one and very same Spirit.” Verse 13, “For by one Spirit were we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Greeks, bond or free, we’ve all been made to drink into one Spirit.”

Now here you have some interesting things, watch. You have the giving of spiritual gifts done by whom? Well the agent is the Spirit. You have the manifestation of the Spirit given to every man. You have the Spirit energizing all the gifts in verse 11. You have the Spirit baptizing everybody into the body in verse 13 and the Spirit indwelling everybody. Do you know what the life of the church depends on? It depends on what? The Holy Spirit! It’s an absolute contradiction to assume that a church can function unless it is under the very direct control of the Holy Spirit. You got it? A church cannot function apart from that. Why? Because all the church is, is the combination of the ministries of the gifts of the Spirit. Right? All it is, is the interaction of the Holy Spirit through human vessels. That’s all it is. If you suck that out of the church you have nothing but carnal clanging going on.

And that describes what is happening in the majority of our churches today — ‘carnal clanging going on’. Pray fervently and frequently for the state of the Church. And, churchgoers or not, let us also pray with all our hearts that we stay — or become — righteous in God’s sight. Studying the Bible is essential in this process.

Forbidden Bible Verses continues tomorrow.

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 12:24-25

24 But the word of God increased and multiplied.

25 And Barnabas and Saul returned from[a] Jerusalem when they had completed their service, bringing with them John, whose other name was Mark.

——————————————————————————————–

Last week’s post was about the dramatic death of Herod Antipas. It was a just judgement on an evil ruler who beheaded St James the Great and wanted to murder Peter publicly.

As a result of Herod’s death, the early Church continued to grow and grow (verse 24). Matthew Henry explains:

When such a persecutor was taken off by a dreadful judgment, many were thereby convinced that the cause of Christianity was doubtless the cause of Christ, and therefore embraced it.

God’s purposes will not be foiled. John MacArthur says (emphases mine):

You know men have tried to destroy God, they have tried to burn Bibles, they’ve tried to wreck the church, they’ve tried everything and you know what, God’s work just keeps going on. Look at verse 24, just love it. After all of this the word of God did what? Grew and did what? Multiplied. Isn’t that terrific? For a man to think he’s going to stop the purpose of God is like taking a whiskbroom down to the beach and telling somebody you’re going to sweep back the tide. Doesn’t work. Can’t be done.

St Luke, the author of Acts, gives us verse 25 as the transition into Acts 13, which is about the ministries in Antioch and Cyprus.

Barnabas and Saul of Tarsus spent time in Antioch, preaching and teaching the people there.

Barnabas was the Levite in Acts 4:36-37 who gave all of his assets to the church in Jerusalem. In Acts 9, he convinced the disciples in Jerusalem that they should accept the converted Saul of Tarsus, their greatest persecutor — later Paul — into their church.

John Mark wrote the Gospel of Mark. We will read more about him and Barnabas in Acts. They were cousins who spread the Gospel message together. Barnabas also worked with Paul. These are the references to John Mark and Barnabas.

Barnabas and Saul were in Jerusalem for a brief spell. Henry tells us that they no doubt brought donations from the converts in Antioch to the church in Jerusalem. During their stay, it is possible that they lodged at Mary’s house, which Peter visited briefly after the angel released him from prison.

Then, they returned to Antioch, taking with them John Mark, Mary’s son. Henry explains:

It is probable that Barnabas lodged there [at Mary’s house], and perhaps Paul with him, while they were at Jerusalem, and it was that that occasioned the meeting there at that time (for wherever Paul was he would have some good work doing), and their intimacy in that family while they were at Jerusalem occasioned their taking a son of that family with them when they returned, to be trained up under them, and employed by them, in the service of the gospel. Educating young men for the ministry, and entering them into it, is a very good work for elder ministers to take care of, and of good service to the rising generation.

Those were three powerful ministers of the word of God, going out and increasing the numbers in the Church.

MacArthur reminds us:

Listen to what Jesus said: Jesus said, “I will build my church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.” When God sets His purpose in motion you can’t frustrate His purpose. It can’t be done. Oh in Psalms listen to these verses: Here’s a classic definition of all these kings we’ve talked about. “The kings of the earth set themselves and the rulers take counsel together against the Lord.” And you know what the Lord’s response is? Verse 4, “He who sits in the heavens shall laugh.” It’s stupid to fight God. Doesn’t make sense. Isaiah said this: “Woe unto him that strives with his Maker,” Isaiah 49:5. Man’s a fool to fight God.

MacArthur then has a word for unbelievers, who always say that they are not subject to God’s will:

And I say to you this morning if you’ve never come to Jesus Christ and accepted Him as Savior you’re fighting God’s only provision for your salvation and forgiveness of sin. If you’ve never come to Jesus Christ you’re not giving God the glory, and if you’re not giving God the glory then you’re fighting against His glory. And if you’ve not become a part of His church, a part of His body, you’re fighting against His purpose and all three are losers. You say, well I’m not fighting God. Jesus said, “He that is not with me is what? Against me.” You say, “Well I’d like to get on God’s side. How do I do it?” Jesus said, “No man come unto the Father but by Me.” You come to Christ, receive Him by faith and you’re on God’s side. You cease being an enemy. Are you ready for this? And you become a son, a son of God on whom He pours out all His love.

We are quickly approaching Advent and preparing for Christmas. In the coming weeks, let us pray that more people accept Christ as Saviour, so that Christmas becomes for them a time of holy awe and an increase in faith.

Next time — Acts 13:4-7

Hand of God leedsacukBefore I get to my next Forbidden Bible Verses instalment, coming tomorrow, it is important to mention that the word ‘Christian’ appears in the Bible, specifically Acts 11:26.

I wrote about the first half of Acts 11 last week. The second half of Acts 11 is in the three-year Lectionary for public worship (emphases mine below):

The Church in Antioch

19 Now those who were scattered because of the persecution that arose over Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia and Cyprus and Antioch, speaking the word to no one except Jews. 20 But there were some of them, men of Cyprus and Cyrene, who on coming to Antioch spoke to the Hellenists[c] also, preaching the Lord Jesus. 21 And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number who believed turned to the Lord. 22 The report of this came to the ears of the church in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. 23 When he came and saw the grace of God, he was glad, and he exhorted them all to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast purpose, 24 for he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And a great many people were added to the Lord. 25 So Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, 26 and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. For a whole year they met with the church and taught a great many people. And in Antioch the disciples were first called Christians.

27 Now in these days prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. 28 And one of them named Agabus stood up and foretold by the Spirit that there would be a great famine over all the world (this took place in the days of Claudius). 29 So the disciples determined, every one according to his ability, to send relief to the brothers[d] living in Judea. 30 And they did so, sending it to the elders by the hand of Barnabas and Saul.

This reading is not only interesting but also important to the development of the early Church. Before discussing it in full, I will go into the use of the word Christian in Antioch. The city was pagan, and those who did not convert used ‘Christian’ as a derogatory term. John MacArthur explains:

That’s a new name and it was a term of derision, iani, i-a-n-i had to do with the party of. A Caesariani would have to do with Caesar. Christiani would be of the party of Christ, and this was a derisive mocking term. Oh he’s a Christian. He’s one of those Christ-party ones. The fact that Agrippa said, “… persuadeth thou me to become a Christian. And Peter says in I Peter 4, “If any of you suffer for being a Christian don’t be ashamed.” That was a term of derision. Those blessed people turned it into something courageous or something lovely, didn’t they? And you know something people, you and I bear the name that they died to preserve in purity. You know so many people call themselves Christians so glibly. Listen, if you’re a Christian, my friend, wear it well. It was given to the finest.

It is not so different today, particularly in parts of Europe where Christians are derided every day. It’s one of the reasons why I very much enjoy the opportunity to bring Christianity as a topic into a dinner party conversation.

The first part of Acts 11 records Peter’s account of the Holy Spirit descending on the Gentiles — namely Cornelius and his household — which was followed by baptism. Peter had to justify this to the Jewish converts in Jerusalem, because they were angry with him for teaching and associating with Gentiles. These were hardliners, known as the circumcision party, who believed that one could only believe in Jesus by becoming a Jew first, including the rite of circumcision. Once Peter explained everything, they not only calmed down, they also praised God.

The second part of Acts 11 records the expansion of the Church further into Gentile territory. We also see the re-emergence of Barnabas. St Luke, the author of Acts, was truly divinely inspired to write such a fascinating account of the Apostles’ and the disciples’ work.

Verse 19 reminds us that after Stephen was made the first martyr for Christ in Jerusalem (Acts 7), which Saul of Tarsus (later Paul) was involved in (Acts 8), many of the Jews who converted there left the city. The original Apostles remained for those who stayed. Among those who left were Hellenist (Greek) Jews. The scattered converts went near and far to convert more Jews. They would have long been out of Jerusalem by the time Peter returned to the city after his visit with Cornelius. They probably would have been out for six or seven years at that time.

MacArthur explains their various journeys in light of verse 19:

Now Phoenicia is the coastal plain of Palestine right along the Mediterranean Sea. Two famous cities there: Tyre and Sidon. And from either of those port cities you could catch a ship and go west and you’d come to the island of Cyprus. So that’s what they did. They went up to Phoenicia, Tyre, and Sidon and some of them got on a ship and west to Cyprus.

Some of them didn’t go west they just kept going north. If you keep going north on the coast you come to Antioch. Antioch became the capital of Syria and Antioch was then a strategic place and some folks came there. But notice this: that they were preaching to Jews only. Why? Because they still believe that salvation was for the Jews and they were still hung up on a nationalistic view of salvation. But God was about to bust them out of the shell.

However, some spoke to the Gentiles — Hellenists — in Antioch of Jesus (verse 20).

MacArthur describes Antioch, a largely pagan city full of commerce, culture and depravity:

Now Antioch is a very interesting city, 15 miles or so from the mouth of the Euphrates River, founded in about 300 B.C., later was made a free city. And when it was made a free city under the Roman government in 64 A. D. it has its own self-government. It became the capital of the Province of Syria. It became very famous, grew like crazy. It was the third largest city in the world. First was Rome, then was Alexandria, then was Antioch, had 600,000 people at least. It was famous for culture, it was famous for business. It was just a very very very large city. The network of Roman roads crisscrossed Antioch so it was a place where the all the caravans of the East unloaded their wares and all the wharves and warehouses of Antioch. Cicero said it was a land of most learned men in liberal studies. But with all this good thing it was basically known as an evil city. In fact, Juvenal, a Roman writer said that the Euphrates River spilled its garbage into the Tiber, and what he meant was that Antioch corrupted Rome.

Now if Rome was rotten you can get an idea about how rotten that which corrupted Rome must have been. Antioch was gross to put it mildly. The people lived for their pleasures. One writer said that life there was a perpetual festival of vice revolving around the baths, brothels, the amphitheatre and the circus. And so it was an evil place.

There was a goddess by the name Daphne, who was supposed to be the lover of Apollo and they built a garden that was so big it was 10 miles in circumference and it was populated by prostitutes and you went in and indulged yourself in the garden and the prostitute activity and all kinds of sick immoralities. That was worship in the city of Antioch. When they wanted to expand their religious opportunities they hired magicians, sorcerers, charlatans and Babylonian astrologers made a fortune off the people of Antioch. So it was a vile place.

Converts preached to the pagans in the city and ‘the hand of the Lord was with them’ (verse 21). Many pagans — Gentiles — converted. MacArthur reminds us of the significance of ‘the hand of the Lord’ in Scripture:

It means two things: first of all it means power. The hand of the Lord means power. In Exodus 14:31, the Bible says, “And Israel saw that great work, which the Lord had done.” And the word work is the word hand. It expresses power and the Egyptians were shocked at what God had done. They said, “Look it is the finger of God.” His hand extended means power. But it always means power with blessing. There may be something happening in it, but ultimately He’s blessing. It may be something of an evil nature initially, but blessing is the end of it. And it’s more qualified in Ezra. Ezra 7:9, Ezra 8:18, Nehemiah 2: 2,8, 18. All of that in there you can read sometime not now. But in that passage you have the statement, “The good hand of the Lord.” And it’s repeated at least four or five times. The hand of the Lord then means blessing.

So the hand of the Lord is power for blessing. And so the hand of the Lord moved into Antioch with power that resulted in salvation, power with blessing. And look at the harvest. A great number believed.

News of these great conversions in Antioch reached Jerusalem. The church there sent Barnabas to join the disciples in Antioch.

Barnabas appeared early in Acts, specifically Acts 4:36-37:

36 Thus Joseph, who was also called by the apostles Barnabas (which means son of encouragement), a Levite, a native of Cyprus, 37 sold a field that belonged to him and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet.

Barnabas was one of the Hellenist Jews who converted in Jerusalem. There is a further explanation on him by John MacArthur in this post. In short, he was a kind, generous, devout man.

He also lacked prejudice. In my post on Acts 9:26-31, when Saul of Tarsus — the fiercest persecutor of the Church in Jerusalem — returned a convert and attempted to join the disciples, only Barnabas came to his defence. It was thanks to Barnabas’s efforts that they accepted Saul:

27 But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles and declared to them how on the road he had seen the Lord, who spoke to him, and how at Damascus he had preached boldly in the name of Jesus. 28 So he went in and out among them at Jerusalem, preaching boldly in the name of the Lord.

That passage states that Saul had to leave Jerusalem, because the Jews wanted to kill him. So, he went back to his native Tarsus for a few years.

When Barnabas arrived in Antioch, he was delighted to see such a manifestation of God’s grace, but some of the converts were discouraged — no doubt ridiculed, perhaps harmed. Barnabas encouraged — ‘exhorted’ — them to keep the faith (verse 23).

Here’s a note from MacArthur on the meaning of ‘exhortation’:

Positive encouragement. It’s not the idea of browbeating. There are some people who think they’re exhorting when all they’re doing is browbeating, crushing people. This is positive encouragement.

Through Barnabas’s exhortations, many more souls in Antioch were added to the Lord (verse 24).

There were so many converts now that Barnabas needed help from another powerful teacher. So, he left for Tarsus in search of Saul (verse 25). Barnabas also did not want to lose any of the converts. They had a hard time living in a depraved metropolis — not so different to big cities today:

First thing, he exhorted them to cling to the Lord. That’s the first thing necessary, I think, in dealing with a new Christian. You’ve led somebody to Christ, what’s the thing that concerns you the most? That they hold on to Christ, right? That their faith be real. You say, “I hope you mean this.” And then you begin to think, “Oh I hope they read the Word, right? and I hope they pray, and I hope it’s real.” Isn’t that what you think, always? Sure. That’s your first reaction when you lead somebody to Christ. I hope it’s real. I hope they hang onto to Christ and that they secure that faith by, that they secure that salvation by real faith …

Number two, if you are real, stay close to Jesus Christ. Practice His presence. You know the greatest joy for me when I lead somebody to Jesus Christ to see that person really getting involved with Jesus Christ. Isn’t that your joy? How many times have you led somebody to Christ and you can’t find them? Just discourages and breaks your heart. They’ve wandered off somewhere and you don’t know where they are. You try to track them down, it’s a sad thing. And so the first thing He does is come on, “Continue, continue,” He says. “Hold on to the Lord with all your strength.”

Once Barnabas found Saul, he brought him to Antioch. MacArthur says that Saul was preaching and teaching in and around Tarsus. He was not popular with many and got into a lot of trouble for his faith:

He went all over Cilicia starting churches. Well, in the meantime according to II Corinthians 11 says, he was being beaten up mercilessly and all the things that he suffered in II Corinthians 11, probably many of them or most of them even occurred in these years we don’t know about, the quiet years of Paul.

During that time he had really been working for the Lord and he was not easy to find. The word seek in the English doesn’t help you at all. What it means in the Greek is to search for something with difficulty. He couldn’t find him. Why? He probably long ago had been kicked out of Tarsus, and long ago kicked out of every other town that he traced him to. He finally caught up with him. He was so busy preaching. He might have been glad to get out of there by now and the Lord knew that and the timing was right.

This marks the beginning of the preaching duo of Saul and Barnabas. The two stayed with the expanding church in Antioch for a year (verse 26). We will read more about their ministry elsewhere in Acts.

The final verses of Acts 11 point to famine, backed up by historians of the day, and distant relief efforts made by the early Church, which created a framework so characteristic of Christianity: charitable giving to those far away who need help.

Prophets travelled from Jerusalem to Antioch (verse 27). One of them, Agabus, foretold a great famine that would overtake much of that part of the world during the reign of Claudius (verse 28).

MacArthur tells us more:

The Jerusalem church sent up some prophets. There were prophets in the New Testament. They were foundational like apostles Ephesians 2:20 tells us. And they spoke for God, and they preached, and their preaching is described in I Corinthians 14, if you want to check it out. But they preached and also spoke and sometimes predicted the future for God. They have ceased as an office.

The gift of prophecy still goes on, which is preaching. But the office of a prophet is ceased. But then it happened so some prophets came to Antioch and they stood up one of them come to speak for God and tell the church at Antioch some things they needed to know and his name was Agabus and he signified by the Spirit that there should be great famine throughout all the world, which came to pass in the days of Claudius Caesar. Incidentally, history says Claudius ruled from 41 to 54 and during the year 45 and 46 there were great famines in Israel. No crops came through, they all failed. Terrible famines are recorded by Chassidus, Josephus, Yesevias, Cassius, and there were times of famine.

The church in Antioch decided to give whatever they could to the church in Judea, sending it via Barnabas and Saul (verses 29, 30). Those who could give more generously did so. Those who gave what little they had out of necessity received no criticism.

In closing, I wanted to return to MacArthur’s recipe for church growth: doctrine and Scripture, about which I wrote the other day.

He is quite certain that is how Barnabas and Saul were able to increase the church in Antioch so dramatically:

Let’s see what they do? What kind of program they had? Boy I want to know because I got a church too. I want to find out what kind of program you need to get that thing going. And it came to pass for a whole year they assembled themselves together with the church, and had a lot of soup suppers, and had several contests, and lots of musical extravaganzas. That what it says? You say, that doesn’t say that. No, no. It says some of them together for one year and together they did what? Taught! You want to know what the church is for? It’s for teaching. If you never learn anything else about the church you learn that you’ve learned enough. The church is for teaching.

And I want to give you another salient point that I think you need to understand. When it came to pass that for a whole year they assembled themselves with the church. The word with is in, in the Greek it’s in. They assembled in the church. Apparently they had a large place where they all came together. The word assemble means they were all brought together. This idea that you can only teach in little groups isn’t so. Here in Antioch they had a big mass meeting where Paul and Barnabas taught them all the time for a year, that was their minister. You say well I’ll never forget one guy said one time he says, “What makes your church grow?” I said, “It’s just the teaching.” He says, “Oh that’ll never do it. I tried that. You got to do more than just teaching.” Well they spent a year teaching and the results are still going on. That’s my whole commitment. I don’t think the church really needs to set itself to do much else but teach. Teach. Teach. Teach. At every level, in every way, through every avenue, teach the Word of God.

The apostles said in Acts 6, “We will give ourselves continually to the ministry of the Word and prayer.” Teach. Teach. Teach. For one year they just taught and the fruit of their teaching, oh beloved fruit.

I really do wish today’s clergy realised this: preach the Word and they will come! No gimmicks necessary!

Forbidden Bible Verses continues tomorrow.

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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

Acts 9:26-31

Saul in Jerusalem

26 And when he had come to Jerusalem, he attempted to join the disciples. And they were all afraid of him, for they did not believe that he was a disciple. 27 But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles and declared to them how on the road he had seen the Lord, who spoke to him, and how at Damascus he had preached boldly in the name of Jesus. 28 So he went in and out among them at Jerusalem, preaching boldly in the name of the Lord. 29 And he spoke and disputed against the Hellenists.[a] But they were seeking to kill him. 30 And when the brothers learned this, they brought him down to Caesarea and sent him off to Tarsus.

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

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Last week’s post discussed the ministry of Saul of Tarsus — St Paul — in Damascus after his conversion.

That entry says that after his Damascene conversion, Paul immediately went out to preach in Damascus, then he went to nearby Arabia for a few years prior to returning to Damascus. By then, the Jewish leaders there — possibly in Arabia, too — were out to kill him. Fellow converts managed to get Saul safely outside of the city by lowering him in a basket through a hole in the wall surrounding Damascus. Saul was small, by the way. His Roman name, Paul, means ‘little’.

Fleeing Damascus, Saul went to Jerusalem. Matthew Henry posits that a case could be made for the possibility that Saul made another trip there, although we cannot know for certain (emphases mine):

This is thought to be that journey to Jerusalem of which he himself speaks (Galatians 1:18): After three years I went up to Jerusalem, saith he, to see Peter, and abode with him fifteen days. But I rather incline to think that this was a journey before that, because his coming in and going out, his preaching and disputing (Acts 9:28,29), seem to be more than would consist with his fifteen days’ stay (for that was no more) and to require a longer time; and, besides, now he came a stranger, but then he came, historesai Petron–to confer with Peter, as one he was intimate with; however, it might possibly be the same.

In Jerusalem, Saul attempted to join the disciples, but the converts feared him (verse 26). It is no wonder, considering that Saul viciously terrorised converts and was involved in the stoning of Stephen, the first martyr (read here and here). He was on his way to Damascus to round up converts to bring back to the temple in Jerusalem for trial on heresy charges. That was his idea, by the way, not something that came from the Jewish leaders, although they gladly went along with his plan.

So, Saul, a Pharisee, was a particularly bad hombre, which explains why his Damascene conversion was such a brutal one. It had to be:

Part 1 of Acts 9:1-9: Saul’s — St Paul’s — conversion

Part 2 of Acts 9:1-9: Saul’s — St Paul’s — conversion (includes interesting info from John MacArthur on his own conversion)

Acts 9:10-19 — when scales fell from the eyes of Saul of Tarsus (final part of St Paul’s conversion story)

Matthew Henry thought that the disciples in Jerusalem should have been kinder to him, but I am on their side. Paul had form. This is Henry’s argument:

They knew what a bitter persecutor he had been, with what fury he went to Damascus some time ago; they had heard nothing of him since, and therefore thought he was but a wolf in sheep’s clothing. The disciples of Christ had need to be cautious whom they admit into communion with them. Believe not every spirit. There is need of the wisdom of the serpent, to keep the mean between the extremes of suspicion on the one hand and credulity on the other; yet methinks it is safer to err on the charitable side, because it is an adjudged case that it is better the tares should be found among the wheat than that the wheat should any of it be rooted up and thrown out of the field.

Saul found a sponsor in Barnabas, who introduced him to the Apostles and explained his conversion story to them (verse 27).

John MacArthur did not have much to say about this passage, but Henry gives us possible reasons why Barnabas was convinced Saul was a legitimate convert:

How Barnabas came to know this, more than the rest of them, we are not told; whether he had himself been at Damascus, or had had letters thence, or discoursed with some of that city, by which he came to the knowledge of this; or whether he had formerly been acquainted with Paul in the Grecian synagogues, or at the feet of Gamaliel, and had such an account of his conversion from himself as he saw cause enough to give credit to: but so it was that, being satisfied himself, he gave satisfaction to the apostles concerning him, he having brought no testimonials from the disciples at Damascus, thinking he needed not, as some others, epistles of commendation, 2 Corinthians 3:1.

Henry’s conclusion is worth noting:

Note, The introducing of a young convert into the communion of the faithful is a very good work, and one which, as we have opportunity, we should be ready to do.

The life of St Barnabas is interesting. He was born a Levite, a priestly class from the Old Testament. In order to be a Levite, one’s mother has to be Jewish and one’s father must be a Levite.

Barnabas was born in Cyprus. Saul came from Tarsus, in modern-day Turkey. The Jews from that part of the world were called Hellenists. (Hellas is the Greek name for Greece.)

Barnabas was born Joseph. When he converted, he gave his worldly goods to the church in Jerusalem and the Apostles gave him his new name, which means ‘son of the prophet/consolation/encouragement’. He first appears in Acts 4:36-37:

36 Thus Joseph, who was also called by the apostles Barnabas (which means son of encouragement), a Levite, a native of Cyprus, 37 sold a field that belonged to him and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet.

It is possible that both he and Saul studied together under Gamaliel in Jerusalem.

Acts 11 describes his ministry in Antioch. Before his arrival, Antioch already had so many converts that the Apostles despatched Barnabas to oversee the church there. Barnabas was gratified by the number of new converts, but as he added even more souls, he realised he needed help and called on Saul, who stayed there for a year to minister with him.

A John Mark — who might or might not be St Mark, the Gospel author — is thought to have been related to Barnabas either as a cousin or a nephew. Wikipedia describes his involvement, Barnabas and Paul’s work and how Acts refers to them:

The successful preaching of Christianity at Antioch to non-Jews led the church at Jerusalem to send Barnabas there to oversee the movement (Acts 11:20–22). He found the work so extensive and weighty that he went to Tarsus in search of Paul (still referred to as Saul), “an admirable colleague”, to assist him.[10] Paul returned with him to Antioch and labored with him for a whole year (Acts 11:25–26). At the end of this period, the two were sent up to Jerusalem (AD 44) with contributions from the church at Antioch for the relief of the poorer Christians in Judea.

They returned to Antioch taking John Mark with them, the cousin or nephew of Barnabas.[11] Later, they went to Cyprus and some of the principal cities of Pamphylia, Pisidia, and Lycaonia (Acts 13:14). After recounting that the governor of Cyprus Sergius Paulus believed, the Acts of the Apostles 13:9 speaks of Barnabas’s companion no longer as Saul, but as Paul, his Roman name, and generally refers to the two no longer as “Barnabas and Saul” as heretofore (11:30; 12:25; 13:2, 7), but as “Paul and Barnabas” (13:43, 46, 50; 14:20; 15:2, 22, 35). Only in 14:14 and 15:12, 25 does Barnabas again occupy the first place, in the first passage with recollection of 14:12, in the last two, because Barnabas stood in closer relation to the Jerusalem church than Paul. Paul appears as the more eloquent missionary (13:16; 14:8-9, 19-20), whence the Lystrans regarded him as Hermes, Barnabas as Zeus[12] (14:12).

There is more at the link, however, this is to give you some insight as to how important these ministries were. St Barnabas is considered to be the founder of the Cypriot Orthodox Church and the patron saint of Cyprus. His feast day is June 11. He was martyred on that day in 61 AD in Salamis, Cyprus — the city of his birth. The Jews there were furious with his preaching:

Church tradition developed outside of the canon of the New Testament describes the martyrdom of many saints, including the legend of the martyrdom of Barnabas.[3] It relates that certain Jews coming to Syria and Salamis, where Barnabas was then preaching the gospel, being highly exasperated at his extraordinary success, fell upon him as he was disputing in the synagogue, dragged him out, and, after the most inhumane tortures, stoned him to death. His kinsman, John Mark, who was a spectator of this barbarous action, privately interred his body.[16]

Wikipedia also puts forth the case for Barnabas and John Mark having been among the original 70 disciples:

Although many assume that the biblical Mark the Cousin of Barnabas (Colossians 4:10) is the same as John Mark (Acts 12:12, 25; 13:5, 13; 15: 37) and Mark the Evangelist, the traditionally believed author of the Gospel of Mark, according to Hippolytus of Rome,[19] the three “Mark”s are distinct persons. They were all members of the Seventy Apostles of Christ, including Barnabas himself. There are two people named Barnabas among Hippolytus’ list of Seventy Disciples, one (#13) became the bishop of Milan, the other (#25) the bishop of Heraclea. Most likely one of these two is the biblical Barnabas; the first one is more likely, because the numbering by Hippolytus seems to indicate a level of significance. Clement of Alexandria (Stromata, ii, 20) also makes Barnabas one of the Seventy Disciples that are mentioned in the Gospel of Luke 10:1ff.

Back to today’s reading. With Barnabas’s introduction, Saul preached boldly for Christ in Jerusalem (verse 28). Not surprisingly, this angered the Jews, particularly the Hellenist Jews, the group from which Saul came. He was able to scripturally out-debate them which led them to become so hate-filled that they wanted to kill him (verse 29).

John MacArthur reminds us:

The Hellenist Jews. He was one of them. And you know who was the last guy to preach to them? Stephen. He picked up the mantle of Stephen and took off right at the point Stephen quit. He went right back to the Hellenist Jews. Went right back to their synagogues and started debating with them again. Boy just having gotten over the shock of Stephen, it must have been something to try to handle this guy.

Recall that the Lord told Ananias in Damascus, whom He sent to baptise Saul:

16 For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.”

This happened in Damascus — and possibly in Arabia — and, now, once again, in Jerusalem. Saul, the persecutor, was becoming by divine intent, Saul the persecuted.

When his brothers in Christ heard of this plot by the Hellenists to kill him, they got Saul out of the city, took him to Caesarea — a port on the Mediterranean Sea — and shipped him back home to Tarsus (verse 30).

Matthew Henry examines the reasons why:

They remembered how the putting of Stephen to death, upon his disputing with the Grecians, had been the beginning of a sore persecution; and therefore were afraid of having such a vein opened again, and hastened Paul out of the way. He that flies may fight again. He that fled from Jerusalem might do service at Tarsus, the place of his nativity; and thither they desired him by all means to go, hoping he might there go on in his work with more safety than at Jerusalem. Yet it was also by direction from heaven that he left Jerusalem at this time, as he tells us himself (Acts 22:17), that Christ now appeared to him, and ordered him to go quickly out of Jerusalem, for he must be sent to the Gentiles, Acts 9:15. Those by whom God has work to do shall be protected from all the designs of their enemies against them till it be done. Christ’s witnesses cannot be slain till they have finished their testimony.

Verse 31 has several nuances. The Church was once more at peace. Saul, the chief persecutor, had been converted. He, the powerful persecutor turned convincing convert, had also fled the Hellenists in Jerusalem. The Hellenists were not interested in anyone else. Preaching continued and more Jews converted. Because all were walking in the way of the Lord and filled with the Holy Spirit, the Church grew and grew.

MacArthur adds a historical note about what was going on in Rome at this time and an instructive principle of the growth of Christianity, then and now:

… at this point in history a very interesting footnote comes out that you must understand. At this point, the emperor of Rome was Caligula. And Caligula attempted to set up idols in Jerusalem. And this got the Jews so angry that the Jews concentrated their fight against Caligula and consequently left the Christians alone for a period of time. That occurred at the same time. So Paul’s leaving and the Jews preoccupation with Caligula’s efforts to set up idols gave the church rest and as a result of the rest of the church it says “the church was edified and walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit it was,” what, “multiplied.”

First it was edified and then it was multiplied. You want to know the pattern for church growth? People say to me, how do you build a church? You don’t build a church, you build a believer and the church will build itself. There it is, first edify, what kind of growth is that? Spiritual. Then multiply, what kind of growth is that? Numerical. You people who are here today aren’t here because we had a contest to get you here. You’re here in most cases, in fact, if not in all cases, because some Christians’ lives were changed and they touched your life. That’s the only way God ever intended the church to grow. And it grew.

MacArthur also tells us what Paul did next:

They put him on a boat and Galatians 1:21, he says, “Afterwards, I came into the regions of Syria and Cilicia.” Tarsus was in Cilicia. What do you think he did there? It’s terrific. The indication of what he did is in Chapter 15:23 of Acts

It says, “The apostles and elders and brethren send greeting,” … “unto the brethren who are of the Gentiles in Syria and Cilicia.” Guess what he did? He went all over the place founding churches. He was absolutely inexhaustible. There was no stopping the man. He was a human preaching machine. You couldn’t stop him. He got to Syria and Cilicia and even in Antioch and he took off preaching Jesus. Over in verse 41, he went through Syria and Cilicia later on confirming the churches that he had established. Fantastic. And he didn’t worry about anything. He was fearless. It didn’t matter what was going on. If they tried to kill him or not try to kill him, he was so bold.

The story continues next week.

Next time: Acts 9:32-35

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