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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

Acts 15:36-41

36 And after some days Paul said to Barnabas, “Let us return and visit the brothers in every city where we proclaimed the word of the Lord, and see how they are.” 37 Now Barnabas wanted to take with them John called Mark. 38 But Paul thought best not to take with them one who had withdrawn from them in Pamphylia and had not gone with them to the work. 39 And there arose a sharp disagreement, so that they separated from each other. Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed away to Cyprus, 40 but Paul chose Silas and departed, having been commended by the brothers to the grace of the Lord. 41 And he went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches.

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Last week’s entry discussed the encouraging letter to the Gentiles in the church of Antioch (Syria) from the church in Jerusalem, the product of the Jerusalem Council.

The Jerusalem Council was now over. Paul, Barnabas and Silas, from Jerusalem, stayed on a while in Antioch to continue to nurture the church there. Recall that Barnabas started the church in that great trading city and called for Paul (Saul, at that time) to come and help him minister to the ever increasing numbers of converts there.

After theologically reasurring the Gentiles, they were ready to leave. Paul suggested to Barnabas that they go to the churches in other areas which they founded (verse 36). Paul felt a spiritual obligation to return to build up their faith. He also had much love for his congregations.

Barnabas agreed but wanted to take John Mark, his relative (verse 37). Matthew Henry says John Mark was Barnabas’s nephew. John MacArthur says he was Barnabas’s cousin. Either way, they had a blood relationship.

Those who have been following this series recognise John Mark’s name from Acts 12 and Acts 13 (here and here). The second Acts 13 link explains why John Mark possibly did not want to be in that part of Asia Minor. It was dangerous with the Taurus Mountains and bandits. Another possible factor was that, Paul effectively became head of the Antioch church. John Mark might not have liked that his relative Barnabas was no longer the spiritual leader. In any event, John Mark returned to Jerusalem.

Paul certainly had not forgotten. St Luke, the author of Acts, saw fit to mention that John Mark had bailed out at Pamphylia (verse 38). Consider Paul’s personality based on the information Luke gave us in Acts. Paul was strong-willed and on fire for Christ. John Mark had a track record with him that was not very good. He probably did not want to make the same mistake again.

MacArthur explains:

Well, Paul was a strong guy and there’s one thing that’s hard for strong people to tolerate – weakness. Paul was courageous and there’s one thing hard for courageous people to tolerate, that’s cowardice.

Then, in contrast to all the Spirit-led behaviour we have read previously, Paul and Barnabas had a ‘sharp disagreement’ such that they went their separate ways (verse 39).

Matthew Henry’s commentary warns those of us — myself included — who feel empathy for the two men in their strongly felt passions:

We must own it was their infirmity, and is recorded for our admonition; not that we must make use of it to excuse our own intemperate heats and passions, or to rebate the edge of our sorrow and shame for them; we must not say, “What if I was in a passion, were not Paul and Barnabas so?” No; but it must check our censures of others, and moderate them.

MacArthur says (emphases mine):

Verse 39, “The contention was so sharp” paroxysm, a sharp contention, “between them that they departed asunder.” It doesn’t say that they shook hands, put their arms around each other and said, “Well bless you, brother but we’re going to part.” You know what the word is for departed asunder? It’s only used one other time in the New Testament and that’s Revelations 6:14 when an apocalyptic disaster, the Heavens departed. So when they departed, they departed. There wasn’t a lot of love there.

It is pretty amazing that they didn’t call a time out and reconcile the next day through prayer and apologies.

That said, God works everything to His plan. This split also produced good for the Church.

Barnabas and ‘Mark’ (note the name change) went to Cyprus (verse 40).

Acts 13 describes the founding of the church in Cyprus: here and here. At the instruction of the Holy Spirit (see Acts 13:1-3, which represents the narrative shifting from Jerusalem to a Gentile Church), Barnabas, Saul and John Mark (author of the Gospel of Mark) set sail from Seleucia for Cyprus to preach the Good News in synagogues from east to west on the island. They began at Salamis on the east coast and travelled to the west coast. Their final destination was Paphos, off the coast of which the goddess Venus was said to have been born. The sorcerer (‘magician’) Bar-Jesus — also known as Elymas — was Satan’s instrument to disrupt their ministry. Sergius Paulus was a learned man who was the island’s Roman governor. He summoned Barnabas and Saul to hear about the Word of God.

The second link (previous paragraph) has the story of Paul’s confrontation with the sorcerer Elymas. Through the power of the Holy Spirit Paul struck Elymas — Bar-Jesus — blind for his attempt to subvert Paulus Sergius’s conversion. Elymas needed friends to guide him around.

Both Henry and MacArthur mention that Cyprus was Barnabas’s homeland, so the many churches he had helped to establish there on a coast-to-coast journey with Paul and Mark, were especially important to him.

Paul and Silas went in another direction, with the blessing of the church in Antioch (verse 40). That is of note. Antioch did not give a recommendation to either Barnabas or Mark. Henry explains that those in Antioch thought that Barnabas should have accepted Paul’s — the leader’s — decision and not argue about it:

They thought he was in the right in refusing to make use of John Mark, and could not but blame Barnabas for insisting upon it, though he was one who had deserved well of the church (Acts 11:22) before they knew Paul; and therefore they prayed publicly for Paul, and for the success of his ministry, encouraged him to go on in his work, and, though they could do nothing themselves to further him, they transferred the matter to the grace of God, leaving it to that grace both to work upon him and to work with him.

MacArthur arrives at the same assessment but thinks Barnabas and Mark hurried to Cyprus as a result of a lack of commendation:

One, Paul really was an apostolic authority over Barnabas and I feel that if Barnabas was truly the man that he should’ve been at that moment he would’ve submitted to Paul’s apostolic authority. This is an issue I think is important. Paul was in terms of Christ the one who stood in rank next to Christ, and had Barnabas been what he should’ve been there would’ve been some submission.

Second reason. The Lord in the end – and since I believe in the sovereignty of God this is important – the Lord in the end did not have Mark go with Paul, did he? And it seems to me that that then was the plan of God that Mark not go originally. Now God of course had all of this within the framework of His plan but God did not plan for Mark to go and so it seems perhaps then that Barnabas was truly out of line in bringing Mark along or desiring to.

Third reason, verse 40. “Paul chose Silas and departed being commended by the brethren under the grace of God.” The church definitely recognized the duo of Paul and Silas and perhaps they had the mind of the Spirit on that and so they commended them. There is no such commendation of Barnabas and Mark. In fact you get the idea a little bit in verse 39 that they kind of hustled to Cyprus.

Fourthly, I feel in my own mind that it was a lot better for Mark to go with Barnabas than it would’ve been for him to go along with him anyway. I think it would’ve been awfully tough on Mark to go along with Paul when he knew all the time that Paul didn’t trust him, so I think the Spirit worked it out beautifully. That’s just my opinion for what it’s worth and you can deal with it in your own mind. Anyway, they took off, but I want you to remember this.

Later on, as Timothy’s ministry developed, Paul recommended Mark to him. Paul also recommended him to the Colossians. Henry states:

… Paul afterwards seems to have had, though not upon second thoughts, yet upon further trial, a better opinion of John Mark than now he had; for he writes to Timothy (2 Timothy 4:11), Take Mark and bring him with thee, for he is profitable to me for the ministry; and he writes to the Colossians concerning Marcus, sister’s son to Barnabas, that if he came to them they should receive him, bid him welcome, and employ him (Colossians 4:10) …

The lesson here being that we should not be too harsh in judgement (‘great deal of temper’ below means ‘restraint’):

(1.) That even those whom we justly condemn we should condemn moderately, and with a great deal of temper, because we know not but afterwards we may see cause to think better of them, and both to make use of them and make friendship with them, and we should so regulate our resentments that if it should prove so we may not afterwards be ashamed of them. (2.) That even those whom we have justly condemned, if afterwards they prove more faithful, we should cheerfully receive, forgive and forget, and put a confidence in, and, as there is occasion, give a good word to.

On Henry’s first point, I know someone who really disliked a then-new business associate of his to the point that they had harsh words for each other during a meeting with several other participants. It turned out, some weeks later at a subsequent meeting, that each had misunderstood what the other was saying. They were aiming for the same solution via different routes. Fortunately, the two became friends, worked closely together for several years and met each other socially for dinner.

Paul and Silas went through Syria and then on to Cicilia (verse 41). No doubt Paul was delighted not only to visit the churches outside of Antioch, as Henry puts it, but to also introduce Silas to them. Afterwards, Paul was probably also pleased to return to preach in his homeland, Cicilia, in Asia Minor. Together, the two strengthened the churches.

In conclusion, existing churches were strengthened by return visits from two teams of preachers and teachers. The lead men — Paul and Barnabas — also had with them new assistants, as it were, who would have their own ministries. Silas might have been further along his spiritual journey than Mark, because he was a ‘prophet’ (Acts 15:32). The Holy Spirit was working through the four marvellously.

In closing, a word about John Mark being Mark of the Gospel. Henry doubted it, but MacArthur is quite sure of this. We can also be confident that Paul and Barnabas reconciled:

Barnabas later was commended by Paul, 1 Corinthians 9:6, Paul mentions him there. He held no continuing animosity, not Paul, not at all, and Mark, I mean Paul absolutely loved Mark but Paul was in Rome in jail and he wrote to Timothy and he says, “Timothy, come and be with me. Demas has forsaken me having loved the present world. Luke alone is with me, and by the way when you come would you bring Mark, for he is profitable to me?” Now that’s restoration, isn’t it? That’s the loving heart of Paul so Barnabas did a good job on Mark, really shaped him up, and Paul loved him. Mark wrote the Gospel of Mark and Mark was a companion of Peter, 1 Peter 5:13. In fact many scholars say that the information in the Gospel of Mark comes from Peter and perhaps Peter was instrumental in working with Mark as the Holy Spirit used him to write.

Next time, we read more about Timothy, who was from the area surrounding Derbe and Lystra. Paul and Barnabas had established churches there (Acts 14, also see here).

Next time — Acts 16:1-5

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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 15:30-35

30 So when they were sent off, they went down to Antioch, and having gathered the congregation together, they delivered the letter. 31 And when they had read it, they rejoiced because of its encouragement. 32 And Judas and Silas, who were themselves prophets, encouraged and strengthened the brothers with many words. 33 And after they had spent some time, they were sent off in peace by the brothers to those who had sent them.[a] 35 But Paul and Barnabas remained in Antioch, teaching and preaching the word of the Lord, with many others also.

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Last week’s post discussed the letter to the Gentiles from the church in Jerusalem, which made it clear that Gentiles, like Jewish converts, were saved by faith through grace. Therefore, there was — and is — no scriptural requirement to obey Mosaic law as the false teachers from Judea had said.

The crux of the letter is this:

28 For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay on you no greater burden than these requirements: 29 that you abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols, and from blood, and from what has been strangled, and from sexual immorality. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well. Farewell.”

The church in Jerusalem sent Judas Barsabbas and Silas to accompany Paul and Barnabas to the church in Antioch (Syria). When the congregation in that city was assembled, the four emissaries from Jerusalem delivered the letter (verse 30).

Matthew Henry’s commentary explains:

But this was not all; it was that they might know that no more than this was forbidden them, that it was no longer a sin to eat swine’s flesh, no longer a pollution to touch a grave or a dead body.

John MacArthur emphasises the message of grace:

Can you imagine hanging around waiting to hear if your salvation’s any good? And so they arrived back there, “and when they had gathered the multitude,” and unfortunately the word multitude in English does not translate to Greek, the Greek word is, the fullness of the whole, w-h-o-l-e. What it means is everybody was there. This was a hot item, the whole church together, they delivered “When they gathered the fullness of the delivered the epistle.” And can you imagine when they read this? We are going to lay no burden on you, your grace is valid, and, and they said, is this for sure, for sure? And Paul and Barnabas, for sure, for sure, Judas and Silas, this is it, this is it. Only thing…a few things you’ve got to remember, don’t do these few things because you will offend the Jews. Oh, terrific, terrific, great thing.

Upon reading the letter from Jerusalem, the church of Antioch rejoiced (verse 31). The Gentile men did not have to be circumcised. No one had to obey Mosaic law.

Henry elaborates (emphases mine):

They rejoiced for the consolation; and a great consolation it was to the multitude, (1.) That they were confirmed in their freedom from the yoke of the ceremonial law, and were not burdened with that, as those upstart teachers would have had them to be. It was a comfort to them to hear that the carnal ordinances were no longer imposed on them, which perplexed the conscience, but could not purify nor pacify it. (2.) That those who troubled their minds with an attempt to force circumcision upon them were hereby for the present silenced and put to confusion, the fraud of their pretensions to an apostolical warrant being now discovered. (3.) That the Gentiles were hereby encouraged to receive the gospel, and those that had received it to adhere to it. (4.) That the peace of the church was hereby restored, and that removed which threatened a division. All this was consolation which they rejoiced in, and blessed God for.

The King James Version of verse 31 is as follows:

31 Which when they had read, they rejoiced for the consolation.

MacArthur discusses the Greek word for ‘consolation’, also used as a name for the Holy Spirit — Paraclete:

Verse 31, “When they read, they rejoiced for the consolation.” You know what the word means in Greek? Comfort, its paraklet, comforter. They, you know grace is comforting, isn’t it? How would you like to have to keep your salvation by works? Would you be comforted in that? I don’t think so. You couldn’t be comforted. Grace is comforting, there’s no comfort in legalism just guilt, fear, threat, look at the Old Testament, they never, ever knew the comfort of the peace of conscience. Remember in Hebrews, they never had that purged conscience, never had comfort. Grace alone brings comfort.

Judas and Silas, referred to as ‘prophets’, encouraged and strengthened the congregation in Antioch (verse 33).

MacArthur tells us:

these prophets were ranked next to Apostles in the church in terms of importance, they spoke directly from God.

Henry has more:

They comforted the brethren (so it may be rendered), and this would contribute to the confirming of them; for the joy of the Lord will be our strength. They exhorted them with many words; they used a very great copiousness and variety of expression. One word would affect one, and another another; and therefore, though what they had to say might have been summed up in a few words, yet it was for the edification of the church that they used many words, dia logou pollou–with much speech, much reasoning; precept must be upon precept.

Judas and Silas spent considerable time in Antioch before returning to Jerusalem (verse 33).

This brings us to the contentious verse 34, which is in the King James Version and some other translations:

34 Notwithstanding it pleased Silas to abide there still.

Henry’s commentary accepts the verse as valid:

Silas, when it came to the setting to, would not go back with Judas to Jerusalem, but let him go home by himself, and chose rather to abide still at Antioch, Acts 15:34. And we have no reason at all to blame him for it, though we know not the reason that moved him to it. I am apt to think the congregations at Antioch were both more large and more lively than those at Jerusalem, and that this tempted him to stay there, and he did well: so did Judas, who, notwithstanding this, returned to his post of service at Jerusalem.

MacArthur, on the other hand, does not think verse 34 is authentic:

Look at verse 35, verse 34 isn’t in the manuscripts. Apparently a scribe put it there, it says, it says it pleased Silas to abide there. Some scribe stuck that in because Silas is back in Antioch in Verse 40, and this scribe figured that if he left there, he’d have trouble getting him back in those verses in-between. But all you’ve got to do is leave a little time gap, no problem.

Paul and Barnabas stayed on in Antioch to teach and preach along with many others (verse 35). Henry says that as Antioch was the main city in Syria, it was a crossroads for people from other lands, therefore, getting the Good News out, especially in different languages and means of expression was essential. Also, as we will find out next week, Paul and Barnabas continued travelling and preaching after their stay in the city:

Antioch, being the chief city of Syria, it is probable there was a great resort of Gentiles thither from all parts upon one account or other, as there was of Jews to Jerusalem; so that in preaching there they did in effect preach to many nations, for they preached to those who would carry the report of what they preached to many nations, and thereby prepare them for the apostles’ coming in person to preach to them.

What an exciting time that must have been for the early Church. The enthusiasm must have been tremendous.

Next time — Acts 15:36-41

bible-wornThe 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 15:22-29

The Council’s Letter to Gentile Believers

22 Then it seemed good to the apostles and the elders, with the whole church, to choose men from among them and send them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas. They sent Judas called Barsabbas, and Silas, leading men among the brothers, 23 with the following letter: “The brothers, both the apostles and the elders, to the brothers[a] who are of the Gentiles in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia, greetings. 24 Since we have heard that some persons have gone out from us and troubled you[b] with words, unsettling your minds, although we gave them no instructions, 25 it has seemed good to us, having come to one accord, to choose men and send them to you with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, 26 men who have risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. 27 We have therefore sent Judas and Silas, who themselves will tell you the same things by word of mouth. 28 For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay on you no greater burden than these requirements: 29 that you abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols, and from blood, and from what has been strangled, and from sexual immorality. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well. Farewell.”

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Last week’s post discussed James’s remarks to the Jerusalem Council. James spoke after Peter did, referring to him as Simeon. James’s opinion was that the church in Jerusalem should write to the Gentile churches stating the few restrictions by which they should abide:

19 Therefore my judgment is that we should not trouble those of the Gentiles who turn to God, 20 but should write to them to abstain from the things polluted by idols, and from sexual immorality, and from what has been strangled, and from blood.

Recall that the Judaisers — the circumcision party — wanted Gentile converts to abide by Mosaic law, especially circumcision. Paul, Barnabas, Peter and James were among those who said that was not what God intended for the Church.

The reference to blood had to do with the Gentile custom of drinking blood in pagan ceremonies.

The ‘what has been strangled’ part eventually went by the wayside, but while Gentile converts were living side by side with Jewish converts and Jewish people, it was deemed prudent that Gentiles not give offence to those who had grown up in a different tradition.

Matthew Henry’s commentary gives this explanation. ‘Shambles’ below was an ancient name for the street where butchers traded. York still has The Shambles, where butchers were located for centuries. Emphases mine below:

(1.) The matter of the injunction, which is according to the advice given by James, that, to avoid giving offence to the Jews, [1.] They should never eat any thing that they knew had been offered in sacrifice to an idol, but look upon it as, though clean in itself, yet thereby polluted to them. This prohibition was afterwards in part taken off, for they were allowed to eat whatever was sold in the shambles, or set before them at their friend’s table, though it had been offered to idols, except when there was danger of giving offence by it, that is, of giving occasion either to a weak Christian to think the worse of our Christianity, or to a wicked heathen to think the better of his idolatry; and in these cases it is good to forbear, 1 Corinthians 10:25, &c. This to us is an antiquated case. [2.] That they should not eat blood, nor drink it; but avoid every thing that looked cruel and barbarous in that ceremony which had been of so long standing. [3.] That they should not eat any thing that was strangled, or died of itself, or had not the blood let out … the apostles required no more of them than what was required of the proselytes of the gate, which was to observe the seven precepts of the sons of Noah

The Apostles, the elders — and, amazingly, the whole church — agreed to send carefully chosen men from the congregation to Antioch (Syria) to accompany Paul and Barnabas with the gist of James’s message (verse 22).

John MacArthur picks up on the unanimity among the Christians in Jerusalem:

They were not only pleased with the decision, they were pleased to send along two of their leaders. I’ll tell you something friends, and I’ll just digress for a minute. You know why it pleased all of those people? … if everybody is Spirit filled and Spirit controlled then everybody’s goin’ come out agreeing You say, that’s a different kind of church than I’m used to. Well you know what was the genius…what’d I tell ya was the genius of the early church? They were subject to the Spirit’s control

Verse 22 also tells us that Judas — not the betrayer, but another — and Silas were chosen as being leading men in the Jerusalem congregation. This is the only time we read about Judas Barsabbas, but St Luke, the author of Acts, thought it was important to mention him. Henry posits Judas might have been related to Joseph Barsabbas, a candidate for apostlehood (Acts 1:23).

MacArthur has more about Silas:

… of Silas we know very much. Silas, called Silas in the book of Acts is called Silvanus by Paul and Peter, and he wasthe guy who accompanied Paul on his second missionary journey, he was a citizen of Rome, he was the one who carried the first Epistle of Peter.

Some might ask why Paul and Barnabas didn’t just go back themselves. Why would they need Judas Barsabbas and Silas?

They sent these messengers, (1.) To show their respect to the church at Antioch, as a sister-church, though a younger sister, and that they looked upon it as upon the same level with them; as also that they were desirous further to know their state. (2.) To encourage Paul and Barnabas, and to make their journey home the more pleasant (for it is likely they travelled on foot) by sending such excellent men to bear them company; amicus pro vehiculo–a friend instead of a carriage. (3.) To put a reputation upon the letters they carried, that it might appear a solemn embassy, and so much the more regard might be paid to the message, which was likely to meet with opposition from some. (4.) To keep up the communion of the saints, and cultivate an acquaintance between churches and ministers that were at a distance from each other, and to show that, though they were many, yet they were one.

MacArthur says that by having Judas and Silas accompany them, Paul and Barnabas wanted to convey a message that came straight from the church in Jerusalem, not just the two of them:

Jerusalem sent two of its best, to give a solid report on what the decision was salvation’s by grace through faith, plus nothing! You tell ‘em that, not just Paul and Barnabas but you tell ‘em from us in Jerusalem. That’s our commitment.

He explains the Greek word used for ‘leading men among the brothers’, or ‘chief among the brethren’ in older translations:

The Greek word hegeomon, is an interesting word. It, it is the word for commander. We don’t usually think of church leadership as commanders.

It is the word used of the procurator of Judaea, it is the word used of the governor of a province. Keep this in mind beloved, God has always sent in the church authority.

Verse 23 gives us the greeting to the letter and the churches to which it was addressed. The greeting is as egalitarian as it can be — from brothers to brothers — considering Jerusalem was the head church and these were former Jews addressing Gentile converts. Jerusalem was not lording it over the newer outpost churches or the Gentiles there. The Holy Spirit was at work.

MacArthur explains the churches mentioned and omitted:

Now you say, it doesn’t talk about Cyprus and Galatia where they founded the churches, well they were extensions of Antioch. They would have been included in the Antioch. And the word Cilicia, you say, well when did the churches get founded in Cilicia? I’ll tell ya when, remember when the Apostle Paul was hustled out of Jerusalem ‘cause he caused so much trouble? I mean that was when he was a Christian, he brought down so much persecution that the Christians decided that he needed to get outa town. So they sent him to Tarsus, you know what he did? He went to Tarsus for a while and then he took off to Cilicia and founded churches.

The remaining verses in today’s reading give us the text of the letter.

The letter began with the problems the Judaisers were causing (verse 24). The Jerusalem church acknowledged the troublemakers were from there but with no instruction to say or do what they did. It’s a way of saying the church in Jerusalem accepted responsibility for these false teachers, which is rather humbling.

Note that the letter acknowledged the deep distress and mental turmoil the Gentiles were going through because of these horrible men and their egregious falsehoods: ‘troubled you[b] with words, unsettling your minds’. This was serious business.

MacArthur explains:

Now I want ya to notice the word, troubled, that is a very interesting word.

It is a different word than verse 19. You remember I told you the word trouble in verse 19 means to annoy or to hassle, it’s like a gnat, you know just, just a, just an annoyance, an irritation. Let’s not…irritate them by imposing some foolish ritual on them. But here the word is a tremendously strong word, it means to deeply upset, to deeply disturb, to perplex, to create fear. A very severe kind of response. In fact it is used in John 14, the very same word. Remember when Jesus said, “Let not your heart be troubled.” Those disciples were not just annoyed, they were really torn up. He had just announced His death, and they were shaking, they were horrified, they were in terror.

Knowing that, the letter stated, the church in Jerusalem met to discuss the matter and, having come to a unanimous agreement, decided to send two of their esteemed men to accompany the ‘beloved’ Paul and Barnabas (verse 25) who risked their lives for Christ (verse 26).

Those verses mean that the church of Jerusalem heartily approved of Paul, Barnabas as men and the way they presented the Good News to Gentiles. Henry has more:

[1.] “They are men that are dear to us; they are our beloved Barnabas and Paul–men whom we have a value for, a kindness for, a concern for.” Sometimes it is good for those that are of eminence to express their esteem, not only for the despised truth of Christ, but for the despised preachers and defenders of that truth, to encourage them, and weaken the hands of their opposers. [2.] “They are men that have signalized themselves in the service of Christ, and therefore have deserved well of all the churches: they are men that have hazarded their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 15:26), and therefore are worthy of double honour, and cannot be suspected of having sought any secular advantage to themselves; for they have ventured their all for Christ, have engaged in the most dangerous services, as good soldiers of Christ, and not only in laborious services.” It is not likely that such faithful confessors should be unfaithful preachers.

The letter from the Jerusalem church went on to say that those hearing it could equally rely on Judas and Silas to be faithful to those same teachings (verse 27).

The next sentence of the letter mentioned that their decision to send it seemed good to the Holy Spirit as well as to them (verse 28). The Jerusalem congregation considered the matter and their decision with seriousness in wanting to arrive at a decision of which the Holy Spirit would approve. The unanimity attested they had arrived at the correct decision.

The decision was exactly as James had put it: no further burden other than no idolatry, no blood, no strangled creatures and no sexual immorality (verse 29).

I really like how the letter ends: avoid these things and ‘you will do well. Farewell’.

The story continues next week.

Next time — Acts 15:30-35

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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

Acts 15:1-5

The Jerusalem Council

15 But some men came down from Judea and were teaching the brothers, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.” And after Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and debate with them, Paul and Barnabas and some of the others were appointed to go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and the elders about this question. So, being sent on their way by the church, they passed through both Phoenicia and Samaria, describing in detail the conversion of the Gentiles, and brought great joy to all the brothers.[a] 4 When they came to Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the church and the apostles and the elders, and they declared all that God had done with them. But some believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees rose up and said, “It is necessary to circumcise them and to order them to keep the law of Moses.”

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Last week’s post was about Paul and Barnabas’s return to the church in Antioch — the one in Syria — on their return to Jerusalem.

This is an essential passage showing how close the Church came to splitting between Jewish and Gentile converts. As we see from the title, Acts 15 is all about the Jerusalem Council which prevented this split.

This is very important, especially for Christians who are enthralled by Hebraic Christianity.

First, a review of the reading, then an analysis to follow.

Some men had gone to Antioch from Judea to preach to the converted Gentiles that if they were not circumcised according to Mosaic law, they could not be saved (verse 1).

This, of course, was contrary to God’s will and to what Paul and Barnabas had preached in Antioch when they founded the church there. Consequently, Paul and Barnabas took against this false teaching, fiercely debating the issue with the false teachers. The church in Antioch appointed the two of them along with selected members of the church there to go to Jerusalem and sort the matter out once and for all (verse 2).

On their way, they visited the churches in Phoenicia and Samaria to tell the people of the many, many Gentiles who converted (verse 3), which made those listening very happy indeed.

When they reached Jerusalem, the church there formally greeted — ‘welcomed’ — them. Paul and Barnabas told how God worked through them to build strong churches in various faraway towns and cities, converting Gentiles as well as Jews (verse 4).

However, some Christians who were former Pharisees, objected saying that the Gentiles could not be saved unless they were circumcised (verse 5). The use of the word ‘party’ in that verse is the same as reference to a political party today. There are references to the ‘circumcision party’ in the New Testament. These are the same people. They are also referred to as Judaisers.

Judaisers believed that no Gentile man could truly become Christian without circumcision. Their reasoning was that, as the Messiah — Jesus — was promised to the Jews, every true Christian in their eyes had to follow Jewish law. Gentiles were not worthy, because they had not initially been included in the promise of a Messiah. Therefore, they had to follow Jewish law in order to be saved.

John MacArthur compares their false teaching to a house with an enclosed front porch (see no. 8). You can sit on the front porch all you like without ever being invited into the main house, where all the real activity takes place. The Judaizers were willing to welcome Gentiles to a certain extent, but they would have to stay on the front porch until they earned their way — via circumcision — into the inner sanctum, i.e. eternal salvation. Wrong.

There were some exceptions to this, but all had to do with either people who were part Jewish — the Samaritans — or Gentiles who had renounced paganism and worshipped with the Jews without getting circumcised, such as Cornelius and the Ethiopian eunuch.

Not surprisingly, the Gentile converts in Antioch, so happy that they, too, could be saved, were troubled by these false teachers from Judea. So were Paul and Barnabas.

MacArthur says that this was fracturing the church in Antioch, because the converted Jews would no longer eat with converted Gentiles or — worse — go to the Lord’s table with them. Even Peter fell for this when he went to Antioch. Paul was furious (emphases mine):

And you know a guy that you’d expect better out of really goofed up, and it’s Peter. In Galatians 2:11 Paul tells us what Peter did, Peter was at Antioch too, at the time that some of these people, whether the same group or not we don’t know, but some Judaizers showed up, of the circumcision party, that was the group that believed you had to get circumcised to get saved. “When Peter was come to Antioch,” verse 11 of Galatians 2, Paul said, “I withstood him to the face,” that must have been quite a confrontation, Peter was no slouch, “because he was to be blamed.”

There was also a political aspect here. Some of these Judaisers were Zealots, keen on overthrowing Roman rule by any means necessary. Some thought that by making Gentile Christian men get circumcised, they could increase their numbers in order to dominate Rome. Matthew Henry’s commentary posits that, if an insurrection were successful, some of those Zealots were quite willing to blame Gentiles, who would then have been imprisoned or killed:

But now that they hear the doctrine of Christ is received among the Gentiles, and his kingdom begins to be set up in the midst of them, if they can but persuade those that embrace Christ to embrace the law of Moses too they hope their point will be gained, the Jewish nation will be made as considerable as they can wish, though in another way; and “Therefore by all means let the brethren be pressed to be circumcised and keep the law, and then with our religion our dominion will be extended, and we shall in a little time be able to shake off the Roman yoke; and not only so, but to put it on the necks of our neighbours, and so shall have such a kingdom of the Messiah as we promised ourselves.”

John MacArthur says it is possible that the Judeans who were preaching falsely to the Gentiles might have been tailing Paul and Barnabas on their long journey, going to the churches after they left town:

… these guys may well have traversed the paths of Paul and Barnabas, if they did that they were pretty zealous, wouldn’t you say? If they went to all of that trouble? Transportation in those days being what it was, by foot, everywhere through the Taurus Mountains, the whole bit. If that did happen, and we can’t be dogmatic, but if it did they were zealous. Even their journey to Antioch alone gives some indication of their zeal. And along that line, I think they were probably, some of them at least sincere. Feeling that a whole lot of pagans who didn’t know anything about Judaism couldn’t jump in at the end of a process, they had to come the whole route, including Judaism and the law of Moses.

We find that, according to those in Jerusalem, not only was circumcision necessary, following Mosaic law was, too (verse 5).

MacArthur points out that this could have harmed the Church immeasurably, because there would have been a Jewish church and a Gentile church, which is not at all what God intends:

Now here you had a terrible, terrible potential disaster, because this was to impose legalism on the Gentiles, this could have been a…absolutely destructive, it could have created two churches, it could have created the Gentile church who would have maintained their salvation by grace, and the Jewish church maintaining their salvation by law, and you would have had two churches, the very thing our Lord prayed for that they may be what? One would have been violated from the very beginning. And so it became a crucial issue to deal with this.

MacArthur spends some time in his sermon explaining how St Paul had to tackle these same false teachings in his letters to the Galatians, warning against resubmitting to the yoke of bondage (Galatians 5:1) — ceremonial law. MacArthur has more on Paul — an ex-Pharisee himself — and Galatians:

In chapter 3 verse 11, just in case you didn’t get the message, he says, “But that no man is justified by the law in the sight of God, it is evident because,” even in Habakkuk, in the Old Testament it says, “The just shall live by,” what? by “faith. And the law is not of faith.”

You can’t mix the two. Over in chapter 5 verse 6, this is a clear statement, “For in Jesus Christ neither circumcision avails anything, nor uncircumcision, but,” what’s the next word? “Faith.” Now you see Paul in his own mind was clear on this issue, it wasn’t a problem for him.

Several years ago, when I first started my website, there was a book making the rounds on certain Protestant websites about living the ‘perfect’ life by following the Book of Leviticus. It was not written by a convert, but by a pastor who had always been in the Church. You can’t get saved by following the law. Divine grace is a free gift from God. Faith via grace saves us, not circumcision or, for the ladies, ritual baths. Nor do Mosaic dietary rules save. What did we see in Cornelius’s story? The Lord gave Peter a divine vision about food, before sending him off to preach to the Gentile, Cornelius.

In Galatians, Paul taught other lessons relating to Mosaic law. One was that we should not glorify in other people’s flesh, meaning that Judaisers were thrilled when a Gentile Christian began to follow the old law,. They were counting up the numbers of misled converts. The other lesson was that if the law supersedes Christ, then He died in vain:

In chapter 6 … “As many as desire to make a fair show in the flesh,” ha, they wanta show off their legalism, “they constrain you to be circumcised.” So he knew there were teachers doin’ this, “they make the issue in the flesh, they constrain you to be circumcised.” But look at 13, “For neither they themselves who are circumcised keep the law, but desire to have you circumcised, that they may glory in your flesh.” What does that mean?

That they made glory over the fact that you became a Jew. You see they have an exalted..’such an exalted view of Judaism, that the very fact that you had to become what they are to get saved, makes them think they’re somethin’. If everybody’s gotta come…become what I am to be saved, then I must really be somethin’. Paul says, “God forbid that I should glory in the flesh.” That’s what he means. I should glory only in what? “In the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, for in Christ Jesus (verse 15) neither circumcision avails anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature.” So law, legalism, ritual, ceremony, circumcision, the whole thing means nothing in salvation, absolutely nothing. Now in chapter 2 verse 21 of Galatians he kind of gives what might be a summary statement. “I do not make void the grace of God.” You know what happens if you add law to grace? You know what you do to grace? You make it void. “If righteousness came by the law, then Christ is dead in vain.”

MacArthur explains the essentials about grace and salvation:

If righteousness is ours through law, then we don’t need grace. In other words if I go in to the court and the judge says, you’re innocent, go free, I don’t need grace, right? I didn’t break the law. But if I go in to the court and the judge says, you’re guilty, go free, that’s grace. And every man is guilty. We’ve all broken the law, law can’t satisfy, we shattered the law, only grace. You can’t confuse law and grace, they don’t go together, if you add law to grace you don’t have grace. If you add grace to law for that matter you don’t have law. And so the Apostle Paul was clear, he just simply said there is no connection between the two. Nobody ever got saved by keeping the law all the law did was show you how bad you were, nobody ever was justified by the law, only by grace, and if ya try to mix the two you destroy grace. God wants to confirm every man a sinner and then give him grace.

In other words, there is no front porch — legalism — to salvation.

The story of the Jerusalem Council continues next week. Peter also makes a brief appearance.

Next time — Acts 15:6-11

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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

Acts 14:24-28

Paul and Barnabas Return to Antioch in Syria

24 Then they passed through Pisidia and came to Pamphylia. 25 And when they had spoken the word in Perga, they went down to Attalia, 26 and from there they sailed to Antioch, where they had been commended to the grace of God for the work that they had fulfilled. 27 And when they arrived and gathered the church together, they declared all that God had done with them, and how he had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles. 28 And they remained no little time with the disciples.

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Last week’s post was about the stoning of Paul in Lystra, his genuinely miraculous recovery, his journey with Barnabas to Derbe — home of Timothy — then back to Lystra, Iconium and Antioch in Pisidia to appoint elders for each church and, with prayer and fasting, commend them to God.

All of this was in Pisidia, part of Anatolia — Asia Minor.

At this point, they were embarking on their lengthy return to Jerusalem, returning to other places where they had converted Gentiles and create a church body (rather than a building).

They left the region of Pisidia and travelled south to the coastal region of Pamphylia (verse 24). The main city was Perga, on the coast. This was a return trip. Paul and Barnabas established a church there (Acts 13:13-14a). They returned to preach the word once more (verse 25). Matthew Henry explains they wanted to make more converts:

making a second offer, to see if they were now better disposed than they were before to receive the gospel. What success they had there we are not told …

From Perga, they travelled to Attalia (present day Antalya). The Church is still alive and well, even though this is part of Turkey:

Some of the bishops attributed to the episcopal see of Attalea in Pamphylia may instead have been bishops of Attalea in Lydia (Yanantepe), since Lequien lists them under both sees.[11][12] No longer a residential bishopric, Attalea in Pamphylia is today listed by the Catholic Church as a titular see.[13]

Then Paul and Barnabas crossed the Mediterranean Sea to return to Antioch (verse 26), the Syrian city where Barnabas had established a church which grew to such an extent that he asked for Paul’s help (Acts 11). They found a thriving church:

where they had been commended to the grace of God for the work that they had fulfilled.

What a beautiful way St Luke, the author of Acts, had with words.

In Antioch (Syria), Paul and Barnabas shared the grace and Spirit-filled story of their journeys, the conversions, the persecution and the new churches. Particularly important was the opening of the Church to Gentiles (verse 27). No doubt, there was also a lot of preaching and prayer. We do not know how many of the congregation they met with. Henry has several possibilities:

It is probable that there were more Christians at Antioch than ordinarily met, or could meet, in one place, but on this occasion they called together the leading men of them; as the heads of the tribes are often called the congregation of Israel, so the ministers and principal members of the church at Antioch are called the church. Or perhaps as many of the people as the place would hold came together on this occasion. Or some met at one time, or in one place, and others at another.

John MacArthur has an interesting take, reminding us that our two preachers would have given God every glory and thanks for those churches:

Can you imagine when they hustled up the hills and arrived at Antioch and nobody had heard from them for a year and a half to two years? These are the two most beloved people in the church and they arrived and they probably looked emaciated and scrawny and scarred all up from beatings with rods and whips and stone. I mean they were a mess, and they arrived and what a joyous time. Can you imagine what a joyous time? You probably say, “I bet they had a testimonial banquet. Probably gave them a little plaque that said, ‘For successful missionary effort above and beyond the call of duty, Paul and Barnabas.” No such thing. Verse 27, “When they come and gathered the church together they reviewed all that they had done.” Is that what it says? Oh, it doesn’t say that. All that God had done with them. You know what they saw themselves as? Tools. God was the master carpenter.

Paul and Barnabas stayed with their disciples — and friends — some time in Antioch. Henry posits that this was:

longer than perhaps at first they intended, not because they feared their enemies, but because they loved their friends, and were loth to part from them.

That gives me the impression that they met as many church members and new converts as they could during that time. What a blessing that must have been for everyone.

MacArthur concludes:

If I came to the end of my life and if God said to me, “John, anything You want me to say I’d like to say” you know what I’d like Him to say? “John, you did it. I gave it to you to do and you did it.” That’s what I want here. Well – what? Done. I mean I want to do it. I like that. Paul came to the end of his life and says, “I’m ready to die. I did it. Finished the course, fought the good fight, kept the faith. Okay, Lord. I’m ready. I did it.”

Boy, I’ll tell ya, if we all did it what would be done? Do it, will ya? Whatever it is God is calling you to do, do it. You’ve got to have these characteristics – know your gifts, be bold, divine power, humility, persistence, follow-up, commitment, and give Him all the glory and do it.

Next time: Acts 15:1-5

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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

Acts 14:19-23

Paul Stoned at Lystra

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

15 But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. 16 For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Henry has an interesting detail about Derbe:

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

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

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

MacArthur explains the determination of these men:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The props — support — entailed:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MacArthur says:

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

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

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

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

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

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

“ordained”, very interesting word in the Greek.

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

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

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

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

MacArthur says:

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

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

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

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

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

He tells us what Paul and Barnabas did next:

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

Their story continues next week.

Next time — Acts 14:24-28

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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

Acts 14:1-7

Paul and Barnabas at Iconium

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

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

Acts 13 ends with these verses:

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

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

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

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

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

Iconium was one of those exceptions:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Also, some people needed a tangible reason to believe:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

With regard to the severely divided city, Henry posits:

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

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

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

Henry has this lesson for us:

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

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

MacArthur describes the atmosphere:

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

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

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

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

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

MacArthur gives this analysis:

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

Also:

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

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

Lystra, MacArthur tells us:

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

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

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

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

The Gentile crowd was amazed, to put it mildly:

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

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

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

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

faith to be made well

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

Forbidden Bible Verses returns in January 2018.

Next time — Acts 14:19-23

Bible 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 Anatolia 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

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.

————————————————————————————

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.

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