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

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

Acts 5:22-26

22 But when the officers came, they did not find them in the prison, so they returned and reported, 23 “We found the prison securely locked and the guards standing at the doors, but when we opened them we found no one inside.” 24 Now when the captain of the temple and the chief priests heard these words, they were greatly perplexed about them, wondering what this would come to. 25 And someone came and told them, “Look! The men whom you put in prison are standing in the temple and teaching the people.” 26 Then the captain with the officers went and brought them, but not by force, for they were afraid of being stoned by the people.

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Today’s passage is a continuation of last week’s, wherein an angel of the Lord released the Apostles from prison for preaching and healing in Christ’s name. The angel told the Twelve to return to Solomon’s Portico — Solomon’s Porch — at the temple (Acts 5:20):

20 “Go and stand in the temple and speak to the people all the words of this Life.”

This is the first of the miraculous prison stories of Acts. An angel freed Peter again in Acts 12. An earthquake freed Paul and Silas from prison in Acts 16. God wanted the Church to expand. Prison was not going to stop the divine plan.

Acts 5:21 tells us that the high priest and the religious leaders around him sent for the Twelve to be brought from prison before them.

The prison officers went to the cell, but did not find them (verse 22). John MacArthur calls this:

the great escape.

Matthew Henry surmises the Apostles’ absence was all the more confusing because:

It is probable that they found the common prisoners there.

No doubt the officers were fearful that the religious leaders would accuse them of being lax, so they quickly said that everything was secure, yet there was ‘no one inside’ (verse 23). Having no more information available, we do not know whether Henry’s assumption is correct or whether all the prisoners escaped. It seems unlikely that the angel would have also released common criminals. Perhaps by ‘no one inside’, the officers meant the Twelve. It is impossible to know for certain.

Hearing this, the religious leaders were ‘perplexed’ (verse 24). That is probably an understatement. Henry explores the permutations going through their minds. First, they were they figuring out how the Apostles escaped imprisonment. Secondly, they also wondered what the impact of this meant long-term (emphases mine):

They were extremely perplexed, were at their wits’ end, having never been so disappointed in all their lives of any thing they were so sure of. It occasioned various speculations, some suggesting that they were conjured out of the prison, and made their escape by magic arts; others that the keepers had played tricks with them, knowing how many friends these prisoners had, that were so much the darlings of the people. Some feared that, having made such a wonderful escape, they would be the more followed; others that, though perhaps they had frightened them from Jerusalem, they should hear of them again in some part or other of the country, where they would do yet more mischief, and it would be yet more out of their power to stop the spreading of the infection; and now they begin to fear that instead of curing the ill they have made it worse. Note, Those often distress and embarrass themselves that think to distress and embarrass the cause of Christ.

Worse came when someone told the leaders that the men were back preaching and healing in the temple (verse 25). Think of it, these men — released — have not sought shelter elsewhere as ordinary ex-prisoners often do. They are right back where they were arrested: in plain view. Henry says:

Now this confounded them more than any thing.

It scared them, too. MacArthur says:

They were scared to death and they couldn’t stop this thing and they knew they couldn’t stop it. And they knew that their authority was being disregarded, heresy was being preached. God was opposing them by miracles.

Nonetheless, they wanted to get to the bottom of this, so the captain of the temple and the officers went to bring the Twelve in. However, they did it peaceably (verse 26). This was because they feared the wrath of the people, especially that of the new converts.

The Apostles did not mind going with them, because they knew that whatever might happen, God was watching over them and would protect them, just as He had sent the angel to free them.

MacArthur has a good analysis:

… I mean just think of the thrill of going through a jail cell when it was locked. Not too many have that opportunity for several reasons. They don’t usually get in, hopefully, but nevertheless there was no resistance. They could have resisted at that point very easily, but they went so willingly. And probably on the way Peter is plotting out his sermon outline because he knows that the Lord is going to give him a second, this is the second service that they’ll be holding in the Sanhedrin. He’s probably getting it all outlined, of course, and figuring out the order of worship, or whatever.

The story continues next week.

Next time: Acts 5:27-28

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

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

Acts 5:17-21

The Apostles Arrested and Freed

17 But the high priest rose up, and all who were with him (that is, the party of the Sadducees), and filled with jealousy 18 they arrested the apostles and put them in the public prison. 19 But during the night an angel of the Lord opened the prison doors and brought them out, and said, 20 “Go and stand in the temple and speak to the people all the words of this Life.” 21 And when they heard this, they entered the temple at daybreak and began to teach.

Now when the high priest came, and those who were with him, they called together the council, all the senate of the people of Israel, and sent to the prison to have them brought.

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Last week, we read about the very early Church in Jerusalem restored to purity after the deaths of the duplicitous Ananias and Sapphira.

The Apostles, led by Peter, preached in Solomon’s Portico at the temple. Peter, in particular, healed many sick people. With his powerful preaching immediately following on the first Pentecost, he converted thousands of men and more — uncounted — women and children, according to John MacArthur. So many had converted by now, they were impossible to count (Acts 5:14):

14 And more than ever believers were added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women …

And these believers had pure hearts and minds, because everyone by then knew about Ananias and Sapphira. If you were dishonest, God took your life.

The high priest saw all this activity. So did the men around him, the Sadducees. All were deeply jealous of the Apostles (verse 17). It seems an odd reaction, until we consider Matthew Henry’s explanation. They:

saw their wealth and dignity, their power and tyranny, that is, their all, at stake, and inevitably lost, if the spiritual and heavenly doctrine of Christ should get ground and prevail among the people.

The Sadducees — rationalists to the core — despised the divine supernatural, most of all Christ’s Resurrection. They were also the elite who brokered agreements with the Romans so the Jews could live in peace. Therefore, they thought they had Jesus crucified and buried once and for all. To now see daily crowds in Solomon’s Portico hearing about the Resurrection of Christ and seeing healing miracles was too much for them. They were not about to succumb to the Apostles. They were going to put a stop to their ministry. Henry tells us (emphases mine):

When they heard and saw what flocking there was to the apostles, and how considerable they were become, they rose up in a passion, as men that could no longer bear it, and were resolved to make head against it, being filled with indignation at the apostles for preaching the doctrine of Christ, and curing the sick,–at the people for hearing them, and bringing the sick to them to be cured,–and at themselves and their own party for suffering this matter to go so far, and not knocking it on the head at first. Thus are the enemies of Christ and his gospel a torment to themselves. Envy slays the silly one.

The high priest — Annas or Caiphas — arrested the Apostles and imprisoned them among base criminals (verse 18).

So we see here that the message of Christ offends, deeply.

MacArthur says:

If you’re going to live for God in this world, a godly life, a pure life, you’re going to be bumping into the system, and you’re going to irritate the system, and you’re going to get persecuted

The only thing that Jesus is talking about when he’s talking about suffering and bearing His reproach is confronting the world so much and with such effect that the system reacts violently and you get some flack back. And that’s exciting. And you ought to be happy about that.

Then a wondrous, supernatural thing happened. An angel of the Lord opened the prison doors and freed the Twelve (verse 19).

This is the first of the miraculous prison stories of Acts. An angel freed Peter again in Acts 12. An earthquake freed Paul and Silas from prison in Acts 16. God wanted the Church to expand. Prison was not going to stop the divine plan.

Matthew Henry says there was spiritual symbolism in this act:

This discharge of the apostles out of prison by an angel was a resemblance of Christ’s resurrection, and his discharge out of the prison of the grave, and would help to confirm the apostles’ preaching of it.

Returning to today’s passage (verse 20), the angel told the Apostles to go back to the temple and

speak to the people all the words of this Life.

The angel did not say to lie low or to leave Jerusalem. No.

They were to return to Solomon’s Portico, stand resolutely and speak boldly — to the people. To the people, not to the hierarchy to try and convince them of the reality of Christ.

From this, we can see why and how the elites are so far above themselves that the vast majority of humankind does not concern them in the slightest.

Henry elaborates:

To whom they must preach: “Speak to the people; not to the princes and rulers, for they will not hearken; but to the people, who are willing and desirous to be taught, and whose souls are as precious to Christ, and ought to be so to you, as the souls of the greatest. Speak to the people, to all in general, for all are concerned.”

Also note that the angel said to speak ‘all the words’ — not just the comfortable, convenient ones.

Which brings us to the angel’s word ‘Life’. What did it mean in that context? What does it mean today?

Ultimately, it refers to the Resurrection of Christ which brings us eternal life.

Henry explains what it meant for the Apostles:

This life which you have been speaking of among yourselves, referring perhaps to the conferences concerning heaven which they had among themselves for their own and one another’s encouragement in prison: “Go, and preach the same to the world, that others may be comforted with the same comforts with which you yourselves are comforted of God.” Or, “of this life which the Sadducees deny, and therefore persecute you; preach this, though you know it is this that they have indignation at.” Or, “of this life emphatically; this heavenly, divine life, in comparison with which the present earthly life does not deserve the name.” Or, “these words of life, the very same you have preached, these words which the Holy Ghost puts into your mouth.” Note, The words of the gospel are the words of life, quickening words; they are spirit, and they are life; words whereby we may be saved–that is the same with this here, Acts 11:14. The gospel is the word of this life, for it secures to us the privileges of our way as well as those of our home, and the promises of the life that now is as well as of that to come. And yet even spiritual and eternal life are brought so much to light in the gospel that they may be called this life; for the word is nigh thee.

MacArthur says:

Men are dead. And they’re groping in this kind of deadness to find reality and it isn’t there and the only thing they really need is life and there’s only one who can give life and that’s Jesus, who said, “I am the way, the truth and,” what? “The life.” Of whom John said, “He that hath the Son,” what? “Hath life.” And to come alive is what it is to be saved. All of a sudden you sense God and you’re alive to His world and you’re a part of what He is and what He’s doing. And this is life. And it doesn’t say tell the people all the words that add to their life. Christianity is not a part of life, it is life and apart from it you’re dead.

Encouraged, the Apostles returned at dawn to the temple to teach (verse 21). The temple opened at daybreak, so the Twelve went in as soon as they could.

While the Apostles continued their marvellous ministry, the high priest convened with his council before calling the Twelve from the cells. He was unaware that his prisoners had resumed their holy work.

MacArthur tells us:

you can see the austerity of this occasion. They’re getting ready now to deal with these upstarts. “The high priest came, and they that were with him,” he had this little gang that trailed around, that were kind of attached to him theologically, “And they called the council together,” that’s the Sanhedrin, the ruling elders of Israel, and then they got in addition to that, which is the senate,” which is grusia, which has to do probably with all of the elder, older Jews, the wise older men who in years past had served in many capacities and they called together this kind of a Senate of wise men made up of many Pharisees.

So they had all of the brain trust of Israel meeting together to dispense with these guys and then they sent to the prison to have them brought. You go and you bring the prisoners. We’ll deal with them.

Henry gives us the numbers:

they called together, pasan ten gerousianall the eldership, that is (says Dr. Lightfoot), all the three courts or benches of judges in Jerusalem, not only the great sanhedrim, consisting of seventy elders, but the other two judicatories that were erected one in the outer-court gate of the temple, the other in the inner or beautiful gate, consisting of twenty-three judges each; so that, if there was a full appearance, here were one hundred and sixteen judges. Thus God ordered it, that the confusion of the enemies, and the apostles’ testimony against them, might be more public, and that those might hear the gospel who would not hear it otherwise than from the bar. Howbeit, the high priest meant not so, neither did his heart think so; but it was in his heart to rally all his forces against the apostles, and by a universal consent to cut them all off at once.

The story continues next week.

Next time: Acts 5:22-26

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

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

Acts 5:12-16

Many Signs and Wonders Done

12 Now many signs and wonders were regularly done among the people by the hands of the apostles. And they were all together in Solomon’s Portico. 13 None of the rest dared join them, but the people held them in high esteem. 14 And more than ever believers were added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women, 15 so that they even carried out the sick into the streets and laid them on cots and mats, that as Peter came by at least his shadow might fall on some of them. 16 The people also gathered from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing the sick and those afflicted with unclean spirits, and they were all healed.

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The last two posts were about the deaths of Ananias and his wife Sapphira who thought they could deceive God and the Holy Spirit by denying the fledgling church of full proceeds from a property sale that they had pledged to the Apostles.

John MacArthur summarises this succinctly:

… it was just at that point that Satan struck, and tragedy hit … the great sin that threaten­ed to be a blight on the church, the sin of Ananias and Sapphira who lied to the Holy Spirit, in an effort to gain religious prestige and to be thought of as spiritual. They did things that were extremely carnal, and God had to discipline them in the face of the whole church, and He did it by just executing them right there, they dropped dead on the spot. And God pointed out the severity of sin, in the fellowship of the church. God did the disciplining there, because they needed to learn a graphic lesson. And so the cancer that had swept into the church so briefly was immediately operated on by God and put out.

This was the only blot on the landscape of the earliest days of the Church. MacArthur takes us through the magnificent Spirit-led growth that resulted after the first Pentecost as Acts describes it (emphases mine):

In 2:41 for example it says, there were added 3,000 souls, in Acts 2:47 it says, the Lord added to their number daily such as should be saved. In Acts 4:4 it says, the number of men came to be about 5,000, and in addition to the men would be the women and children. In chapter 5 verse 14 it says, and more than ever believers were added to the Lord, multitudes of men and women.

With Ananias and Sapphira buried, the Church is pure once again:

A holy instru­ment is a powerful weapon in the hand of God, you see. God really only works in a positive way through holy instruments. And the church that is to reach the world must be pure. It must be a church that deals with sin. A church that is pure in the world fits the first qualifi­cation for effective evangelism. Now God did the purifying in the case of chapter 5 there, and I think God still does some purifying in the church. We read in the Book of Hebrews that everyone whom He loves He chastens. He scourges every son. So God is still doing some chasten­ing, and it may just be that God is still killing some Christians too.

This brings us to today’s verses. MacArthur says we can read them as two different sets. He says there is a ‘parenthesis’ from the second sentence in verse 12 through verse 14. In fact, Matthew Henry’s version of the Bible actually has parentheses in these places.

These are the two things we glean from this passage:

12 Now many signs and wonders were regularly done among the people by the hands of the apostles. 15 so that they even carried out the sick into the streets and laid them on cots and mats, that as Peter came by at least his shadow might fall on some of them. 16 The people also gathered from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing the sick and those afflicted with unclean spirits, and they were all healed.

And they were all together in Solomon’s Portico. 13 None of the rest dared join them, but the people held them in high esteem. 14 And more than ever believers were added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women,

Let’s look at them as we have them in divinely inspired Scripture.

Thanks to the Holy Spirit, the first sentence in verse 12 tells us that all the divine healing and miracles Jesus did was transmitted into the hands of the Apostles at that time. Matthew Henry explains:

The miracles they wrought proved their divine mission. They were not a few, but many, of divers kinds and often repeated; they were signs and wonders, such wonders as were confessedly signs of a divine presence and power.

Henry draws our attention to the words ‘among the people’:

They were not done in a corner, but among the people, who were at liberty to enquire into them, and, if there had been any fraud or collusion in them, would have discovered it.

All were together in Solomon’s Portico, therefore, out in the open air at the temple. The sentence has more resonance in the King James Version:

and they were all with one accord in Solomon’s porch.

Henry tells us:

The church was hereby kept together, and confirmed in its adherence both to the apostles and to one another

He addresses the seeming incongruity of Jesus’s followers being allowed to worship openly in the temple grounds:

God inclined their hearts to tolerate them there awhile, for the more convenient spreading of the gospel; and those who permitted buyers and sellers could not for shame prohibit such preachers and healers there.

This is where Christian worship began — before St Paul’s conversion. Henry says we should heed this example:

early was the institution of religious assemblies observed in the church, which must by no means be forsaken or let fall, for in them a profession of religion is kept up.

Verse 13 might need clarification. Who were ‘the rest’ who did not join in? Who were those — ‘them’ — the people held in such high esteem?

Henry tells us that those present, filled with the Holy Spirit, deferred to the Apostles as the Twelve had the divine gifts of healing. MacArthur’s take is slightly different. He thinks St Luke wrote here about non-Christians:

You know why people didn’t line up with that movement? That was dangerous! I mean you could drop dead in that deal. You know who they got into their movement? They got only the people who were really committed, true? You better believe it. Nobody but nobody is going to swing into that move­ment in a hypocritical attitude. Nobody is going to get into that deal unless they are really sold out to Jesus Christ, totally, it’s too ris­ky. I mean they can spot sin, and what happens to sinners? They drop dead. Can you imagine how the rumors flew? Boy, don’t go near those guys, there are really….. that’s strong stuff. You get in there and mess around and it’s over. You see, the pure church that deals with sin, keeps itself pure because it keeps the tares out. Do ya get it? You see, people don’t flock to join that kind of a movement

And with this purity and power of the Apostles came the high esteem from the converts. Henry tells us:

Observe, The apostles were far from magnifying themselves; they transmitted the glory of all they did very carefully and faithfully to Christ, and yet the people magnified them; for those that humble themselves shall be exalted, and those honoured that honour God only.

Verse 14 is important because we read that women were welcome in the Church. Jesus’s followers intermingled and worshipped together. They were religious equals, unlike in the Jewish system where women had to worship separately in the Court of Women in the temple at Jerusalem. (Even today, conservative synagogues still separate women from men.) They were also not obliged to participate in certain religious feasts.

And, all the while, the Church grew and grew in Jerusalem. MacArthur says:

It grew so fast, they couldn’t count it anymore, they stopped counting.

It grew because:

it was a pure church and as a result of being a pure church, it grew. Now when we start talking about evangelism, people, we do not start talking about evangelism when we leave this place with a little tract in our hand, we start talking about evangelism right here. As we work within our own lives, and amidst our own congregation on the principles of purity. That’s where evangelism begins.

It is difficult to imagine the tremendous crowds bringing in the sick, hoping to just have a bit of Peter’s shadow cast over them for healing (verse 15). MacArthur says a man’s shadow was very important culturally in that part of the world:

It’s an interesting thing, the Orientals you know, believed that a man’s shadow carried his influence, and parents would run and take their little children into the shadow of great men. And just as much, parents would grab their little children and snatch them and pull them away from the shadow of someone they disliked, in Oriental fantasy. But none the less expressed here, it doesn’t say Peter’s shadow healed anybody. It just says they believed that if Peter’s shadow passed by, this was a part of their Oriental belief. But boy, they sure thought something of Peter, they really did. I studied this, and I asked my­self the question, I don’t see anybody runnin’ to get into my shadow. And I thought well, that’s sure a principle that we oughta apply in all of our lives. Is there something about us that causes people to run to us? Is there something so attractive and dynamic about the power of God expressed in our lives that people want to run to be with us? Pray to God it would be so.

Henry interprets Peter’s shadow spiritually:

God expresses his care of his people, by his being their shade on their right hand; and the benign influences of Christ as a king are compared to the shadow of a great rock. Peter comes between them and the sun, and so heals them, cuts them off from a dependence upon creature sufficiency as insufficient, that they may expect help only from that Spirit of grace with whom he was filled. And, if such miracles were wrought by Peter’s shadow, we have reason to think they were so by the other apostles, as by the handkerchiefs from Paul’s body (Acts 19:12), no doubt both being with an actual intention in the minds of the apostles thus to heal;

Verse 16 underscores that all the ailing or those with unclean spirits who were presented were healed. That also means the healing was immediate and complete, as it was with Jesus.

Henry has this observation:

… distempered bodies and distempered minds were set to rights. Thus opportunity was given to the apostles, both to convince people’s judgments by these miracles of the heavenly origin of the doctrine they preached, and also to engage people’s affections both to them and it, by giving them a specimen of its beneficial tendency to the welfare of this lower world.

This period in the Church’s history is the Apostolic Era. It lasted for a limited period of time. MacArthur explains:

God does healing miracles today, but not through these same gifts, since these have passed away. These were only for the beginning of this age and incidentally if you study your Bible correctly you’ll find that at the beginning of all the major ages of the Bible, miracles were a part of the initiation. There is no promise that miracles would continue in this age, they are not even promised for the end of the age. People say well, it’s the end of the church age, so miracles are happen­ing. You won’t find that in the Bible anywhere. Nowhere does it say that the church age is going to end in a burst of miracles. The test­imony of the Holy Spirit says at the end of the church age, watch this, there will be apostasy, lawlessness, departure from the faith, false religions, delusions, doctrines of devils and all the way down, every­thing but miracles. It says there will be signs and wonders however, divine miracles, it says there will be signs and wonders, Second Thess­alonians 2. They will be lying wonders, propagated by whom? Satan. So if you’re looking for miracles today, expect the source to be Satan. And we’re seeing them. Now of course this full thing isn’t until the tribulation, but we’ve already begun to see the mystery of iniquity working right now, haven’t we? Some of these lying wonders that are happening under demonic influence.

During the Apostolic Era, the Holy Spirit worked through the Apostles, enabling the Church to grow and expand from Jerusalem to the Near East. True faith and utmost purity enabled it to spread to northern Africa and to Europe.

Next time: Acts 5:17-21

Bible read me 1The three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

Acts 5:7-11

After an interval of about three hours his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. And Peter said to her, “Tell me whether you[a] sold the land for so much.” And she said, “Yes, for so much.” But Peter said to her, “How is it that you have agreed together to test the Spirit of the Lord? Behold, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out.” 10 Immediately she fell down at his feet and breathed her last. When the young men came in they found her dead, and they carried her out and buried her beside her husband. 11 And great fear came upon the whole church and upon all who heard of these things.

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Last week’s post concerned the first part of this shocking episode: Ananias’s death, a sentence God carried out through Peter for deceiving Him and the Holy Spirit.

If you haven’t already read it, I strongly recommend doing so, because it concerns the sometimes fatal folly of humans trying to pull one over on the Holy Trinity. Not recommended. In the case of Ananias, it was his sin unto death: the last one before God decides to pull the plug on someone’s life in cases of egregious offence.

Acts 5:6 tells us that young men wrapped up Ananias’s body and carried it out — implying out of the city — for burial. Matthew Henry explains that they:

buried it decently, though he died in sin, and by an immediate stroke of divine vengeance.

Three hours later after the death of Ananias, Sapphira, his wife, walked in (verse 7). She did not know what happened nor that Peter, the Apostles and others present knew the two had consciously not given all the money from their property sale to the congregation. They kept some back for themselves.

Given those circumstances, both our commentators surmise that she thought she was in for a lot of love, given the donation. She was, in John MacArthur’s estimation:

expecting to get in on the laurels.

Henry tells us that all this took place at Solomon’s Porch of the temple in Jerusalem, because the next few verses took place there, the subject of next week’s entry about the signs and wonders done.

He thought that the original idea came from Sapphira herself:

perhaps … first in the transgression, and tempted her husband to eat this forbidden fruit.

Peter confronted her about the amount of money from the property sale. She agreed with what he said (verse 8) and, therefore, lied to him. He then asked her a question similar to the one he posed to Ananias (verse 9). How could the two of them have agreed to test the Holy Spirit? He then told her that the men who buried her husband were ready to take her body, too!

Henry explains the couple’s thought process (emphases mine):

Ananias and his wife agreed to tell the same story, and the bargain being private, and by consent kept to themselves, nobody could disprove them, and therefore they thought they might safely stand in the lie, and should gain credit to it. It is sad to see those relations who should quicken one another to that which is good harden one another in that which is evil …

That they agreed together to do it, making the bond of their relation to each other (which by the divine institution is a sacred tie) to become a bond of iniquity. It is hard to say which is worse between yoke-fellows and other relations–a discord in good or concord in evil.

Peter made sure that, before Sapphira breathed her last, she was aware of her sin — testing the Holy Spirit:

It seems to intimate that their agreeing together to do it was a further tempting of the Spirit; as if, when they had engaged to keep one another’s counsel in this matter, even the Spirit of the Lord himself could not discover them. Thus they digged deep to hide their counsel from the Lord, but were made to know it is in vain. “How is it that you are thus infatuated? What strange stupidity has seized you, that you would venture to make trial of that which is past dispute? How is it that you, who are baptized Christians, do not understand yourselves better? How durst you run so great a risk?”

Henry gives us examples from the Old Testament where people tested God:

That they tempted the Spirit of the Lord; as Israel tempted God in the desert, when they said, Is the Lord among us, or is he not? after they had seen so many miraculous proofs of his power; and not only his presence, but his presidency, when they said, Can God furnish a table? So here, “Can the Spirit in the apostles discover this fraud? Can they discern that this is but a part of the price, when we tell them it is the whole?” Can he judge through this dark cloud? Job 22:13. They saw that the apostles had the gift of tongues; but had they the gift of discerning spirits? Those that presume upon security and impunity in sin tempt the Spirit of God; they tempt God as if he were altogether such a one as themselves.

As soon as Peter made Sapphira aware of her sin, she dropped dead at his feet (verse 10). It could be a combination of being found out and the sudden knowledge that her husband dropped dead was too much for her. All this, in Henry’s words:

struck her as a thunderbolt and took her away as with a whirlwind.

The Holy Spirit was working powerfully through Peter, giving him the discernment, the right words to say and the most effective delivery.

Henry advises us not to consider every sudden death as being divine punishment:

We must not think that all who die suddenly are sinners above others; perhaps it is in favour to them, that they have a quick passage: however, it is forewarning to all to be always ready. But here it is plain that it was in judgment.

He also does not think they were eternally saved, either:

Some put the question concerning the eternal state of Ananias and Sapphira, and incline to think that the destruction of the flesh was that the spirit might be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus. And I should go in with that charitable opinion if there had been any space given them to repent, as there was to the incestuous Corinthian. But secret things belong not to us. It is said, She fell down at Peter’s feet; there, where she should have laid the whole price and did not, she was herself laid, as it were to make up the deficiency.

The young men, having just returned, came in to remove her body to bury it beside her husband’s. Henry points out:

it is not said, They wound her up, as they did Ananias, but, They carried her out as she was, and buried her by her husband; and probably an inscription was set over their graves, intimating that they were joint-monuments of divine wrath against those that lie to the Holy Ghost.

Not surprisingly, those who learned of these deaths from attempting to deceive God and the Holy Spirit were struck with ‘great fear’ (verse 11).

This whole event really should be in the three-year Lectionary. If it scares people — the clergy’s great and near-universal fear — so much the better!

We in the West have such a blessing of creature comforts that we have forgotten the wrath of God! Woe betide us!

MacArthur says:

Oh, there are lessons here, what are they? God hates sin. Especi­ally sins in Christians’ lives. Second, God punishes sin. I Peter 4:17, says Judgement must begin at the house of God. And if God cares about the sins of the saints that much and punishes them that stringent­ly, I say to you who are unbelievers, beware of the judgement of God upon you. And so we see lessons, powerful, speaking to our hearts.

Some will wonder whether the Apostles kept the money that Ananias brought them. Henry thought so:

I am apt to think they did … What they brought was not polluted to those to whom they brought it; but what they kept back was polluted to those that kept it back.

The tone of Acts 5 changes in the verses that follow and we return to the glorious wonders that the Holy Spirit made possible in the earliest days of the Apostolic Era.

Next time: Acts 5:12-16

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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

Acts 5:1-6

Ananias and Sapphira

But a man named Ananias, with his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property, and with his wife’s knowledge he kept back for himself some of the proceeds and brought only a part of it and laid it at the apostles’ feet. But Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back for yourself part of the proceeds of the land? While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not at your disposal? Why is it that you have contrived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to man but to God.” When Ananias heard these words, he fell down and breathed his last. And great fear came upon all who heard of it. The young men rose and wrapped him up and carried him out and buried him.

———————————————————————————————–

The story of Ananias and Sapphira is one of the most dramatic and instructive in the New Testament with regard to Christian living.

In last week’s post, I cited the final verses of Acts 4, which concluded a description of the generous spirit of giving among the new Christians, filled with the Holy Spirit on and after the first Pentecost. No one was in need or want.

Those who could do so volunteered to sell property and give the proceeds to the disciples to be used for the benefit of the quickly growing community of converts, which, thanks to Peter’s bold evangelism, probably exceeded 20,000 at this point. Scripture gives us the numbers of men. John MacArthur asks us to add on extra for women and children.

Acts 4 ends with this:

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

Of this gentleman, MacArthur says (emphases mine):

Now Joseph was, verse 36, by the apostles nicknamed or surnamed Barnabas. Now Barnabas means the son of consolation, encouragement or exhortation. Apparently Barnabas or Joseph had the gift of exhortation, so they just called him, son of exhortation. And he plays an important part. You remember Barnabas was the man who accompanied the apostle Paul later on in his first miss­ionary journey. Barnabas in chapter 11 verses 22 and following is giv­ing a little counsel, and it’s kinda a beautiful thing to see. Apparent­ly a beloved fellow, you remember he and Paul had a little falling out over John Mark and they parted ways, ’cause Barnabas was such a loving soul, he just couldn’t give up on John Mark. So apparently he was a very dear, a very precious man, and so here he is, his name is Barnabas and he was a Levite and that’s interesting because the Levites were the priestly family, they couldn’t own any property. You say, well how did he get this property? Well, I think it’s another indication that the Old Covenant had passed away. The Old Covenant passing away, then freed the Levites from the bondage of the old law, and he had the right then to own property. And so apparently he’s purchased this, now if he was a Levite he wouldn’t be very wealthy ’cause a priest didn’t make any money, they pretty much lived off of what other people supplied them. And so this was a big thing to him and perhaps he had saved and scrimped and all the way along to be able to have this. He was from the country of Cyprus. Well it says in 37, “Having land, he sold it, and he brought the money, and laid it at the apostles’ feet.” Isn’t that interesting? That was something that probably was his whole lifetime investment, if any history of the Levites is any indic­ation. And he sold it and just said here, you do with what you want.

That brings us to today’s verses. Note that verse 1 begins with ‘but’. Think in terms of ‘however’, signifying something of an opposite nature to come. Matthew Henry explains:

The chapter begins with a melancholy but, which puts a stop to the pleasant and agreeable prospect of things which we had in the foregoing chapters; as every man, so every church, in its best state has its but.

We discover that Ananias and his wife Sapphira sold a piece of property. Furthermore, both husband and wife knew that Ananias was going to withhold some of the proceeds for themselves (verse 2).

When Ananias brought the portion of the proceeds for the apostles to do with as they saw fit, Peter asked why he lied to the Holy Spirit because his heart was now filled with Satan (verse 3).

Both MacArthur and Henry say that the couple wanted to appear to be as good as Barnabas. It seemed they thought they were on to a win-win situation — a deceptive one. They pledged to the apostles they would donate all the proceeds but knew from the start they would hold some back for themselves. No one would ever know, right?

Henry contrasts the rich young man who encountered Jesus and this couple:

It was commendable, and so far it was right, in that rich young man, that he would not pretend to follow Christ, when, if it should come to a pinch, he knew he could not come up to his terms, but he went away sorrowful. Ananias and Sapphira pretended they could come up to the terms, that they might have the credit of being disciples, when really they could not, and so were a discredit to discipleship.

MacArthur describes what probably happened before the sale:

You see, they had vowed to the Holy Spirit and publicly in front of the congregation that they were going to sell this thing and give it all to the Lord. That was the physical action; it was a lie, they lied to God and to men, and ah, that’s really what Peter says at the end of verse 4, is that you didn’t only lie to men, but you lied to God. So they just put a big lie on. That was really the physical act sin, but behind every physical act sin, watch this, is a mental attitude sin, and the mental attitude sin was, was the secret sin, you know like Lewis Sperry Chafer says, secret sin on earth is open scandal in heaven. They thought they were sneaky. And the mental attitude sin was this, hypocrisy based on a desire for spiritual status. I’ll say it again, hypocrisy based on a desire for spiritual status. You see they wanted to be elevated in the minds of everybody else, spiritually, they wanted everybody to think they were super spiritual. And they believed that they would be applau­ded for sacrifice and they could save a little cash at the same time.

By the way, Ananias is alone before Peter. (We’ll get to Sapphira next week.)

Peter asked Ananias why he contrived in his heart to lie — not to man but to God (verse 4). Henry says that the Holy Spirit drove Peter to this truth and to say it aloud:

The Spirit of God in Peter not only discovered the fact without any information (when perhaps no man in the world knew it but the man and his wife themselves), but likewise discerned the principle of reigning infidelity in the heart of Ananias, which was at the bottom of it, and therefore proceeded against him so suddenly.

Some may ask if Ananias changed his mind after making the sale. Henry surmised that if such were the case:

Peter would have taken Ananias aside, and have bidden him go home, and fetch the rest of the money, and repent of his folly in attempting to put this cheat upon them …

However:

he knew that his heart was fully set in him to do this evil, and therefore allowed him not space to repent.

Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, could discern that Satan had entered Ananias and could corrupt the new, fledgling set of Christians. MacArthur explains:

Hypocrisy was the dirty sin, hypocrisy was the mental attitude sin, the core sin, creating the impression they were giving all, and they were really pious, and they were really spiritual. And dear ones, this is Satan’s initial move to the inside, to corrupt the church, the sin of hypocrisy among Christians.

Peter’s words were true, because when Ananias heard them, he dropped dead (verse 5). Furthermore, those who heard of what happened were struck with ‘great fear’.

Peter convicted Ananias of lying to the Holy Spirit (verse 3) and of lying to God (verse 4).

Ananias received divine judgement — death sentence — for his grave sins.

MacArthur says:

You say, how did he die? I’ll tell ya how he died. He died by judicial act of God’s judgement. You say, well what were the physical causes? I think the shock of the whole thing just stopped his heart, right then. I think his conscience was so struck with the horror of what Peter had just said that he just stopped living.

Had Ananias received the Holy Spirit previously? Henry thought it possible:

1. … Some think that Ananias was one of those that had received the Holy Ghost, and was filled with his gifts, but, having provoked the Spirit to withdraw from him, now Satan filled his heart; as, when the Spirit of the Lord departed from Saul, an evil spirit from God troubled him. Satan is a lying spirit; he was so in the mouth of Ahab’s prophets, and so he was in the mouth of Ananias, and by this made it appear that he filled his heart.

2. The sin itself: He lied to the Holy Ghost; a sin of such a heinous nature that he could not have been guilty of it if Satan had not filled his heart.

Some will wonder if this really took place. MacArthur gives us an example from English history:

English history records for us the account of the Dean of Saint Paul’s who went in to see Edward [I], and Edward [I] was so mad, he looked at him with a glare that struck him so hard that he fell over dead. Now if Edward [I] can do that, I think God can do it

Therefore:

I think God just brought to the attention of Ananias such a flagrant, blatant act of sin at such a shocking moment of time and he was so discovered, that instead of having to go out and kill himself, he just stopped his heart, dead. In sheer fear and terror.

MacArthur cites other examples in the New Testament whereby God takes people out when they are sinning against Him egregiously. I have broken these up into separate paragraphs so that we all can read them more easily:

Does God actually kill Christians? Yes, He does. Not always though, but He does. You say, you mean that God would actually take the life of a Christian? Yes. You say, What gives you belief in that? I’ll tell you, it’s simple; it’s right in the Word of God. And if the Bible says it, I believe it, and as somebody said, that settles it. [I] Corinthians 11, and you listen well, talking about communion, the Lord’s Table, “He that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh judgement to himself.” You come to the table of the Lord as a Christian and your heart’s not pure, you’re com­ing and you’re going to eat and you’re going to do it unworthily, unless your heart is clean and there’s no open sin in your life. Listen, he says some of you are doing this and, “For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep.” … actually taken the lives of some of you Corinthians because of the way you come to the Lord’s Table.

Let me give you another one. It’s [I] John 5:16 says this, “If any man sees his brother (Christian) sin a sin which is not unto death, he shall ask, and he shall give him life for them that sin not unto death. There is a sin unto death; I do not say that he shall pray for it.” You say, what is the sin unto death? It’s that last sin that a sinning believer commits when God says, that’s it, I’ve had it, you’re comin’ home. It’s the straw that broke the camel’s back, and sometimes a Christian lives in sin, and God finally just says, I’m sorry, that’s all, and takes him outta the world. That’s ultimate discipline.

Let me show you one other passage, maybe you never thought of it in this light, but I read it to you in this light. James 1:18, “Of His own will begot He us (he says) with the word of truth, that we should be a kind of first fruits of His creatures.” God begot us, to be a living example to the world of what His creatures oughta be, you see? We’re to be examples, that’s why He saved us and left us here, now watch, verse 21, well verse 19, let’s go right through it, “Wherefore, my beloved brethren, (now to whom is he speaking when he uses those words, Christians or non-Christians? Christians, he says my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, and slow to speak, and slow to wrath; For the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God. (listen) Wherefore, (here you are beloved brethren, God has called you to be examples, so do this) put away filthiness overflowing of wickedness, and receive with meekness the engrafted word, which is able to save your souls.” Do Christians need to do something to have their souls saved? No, that’s a problem isn’t it? It’s not a problem if you understand the Greek word for “souls” is also the word for lives. You know what he’s saying? Put the wickedness out of your life, put the filthiness out of your life, receive the Word, or you’ll die. That’s what he’s saying. That’s how strong God spoke in the early church. If you want to save your lives, ya better get into the Word and put away the filthiness. Now that’s serious stuff.

God will not be mocked.

Atheists do not have a get-out clause by saying, ‘Well, I don’t believe in God. I’m okay.’ No, they are not ‘okay’. Divine judgement concerns everyone.

Verse 6 tells us that Ananias’s corpse was wrapped up and the young men removed it from the congregation to bury it.

MacArthur says they took him out of the city for burial.

To be continued next week.

This really should be in the three-year Lectionary. Can’t you just imagine theologians and clergy saying, ‘Well, we don’t want to scare anyone off’?

Christians have it too easy these days. We ignore or rationalise the hard truths of Holy Scripture because ‘they’re not nice’.

I would suggest that if clergy actually preached from the Bible as John MacArthur does, our mainline denomination churches would have the attendance they did in the 20th century. It sounds paradoxical, but MacArthur proves my case with his huge congregation. No church growth malarkey for him, just the word of God.

Next time: Acts 5:7-11

 

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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

Acts 4:22

For the man on whom this sign of healing was performed was more than forty years old.

—————————————————————————————————-

It is curious that the compilers of the three-year Lectionary would leave one line out of the two-chapter story of Peter’s healing the lame man.

The story begins in Acts 3. Peter and John were going to the temple to pray at 3 p.m. A well known man — lame from birth — was at the Beautiful Gate of the temple every day asking for alms (emphases mine):

And Peter directed his gaze at him, as did John, and said, “Look at us.” And he fixed his attention on them, expecting to receive something from them. But Peter said, “I have no silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!” And he took him by the right hand and raised him up, and immediately his feet and ankles were made strong. And leaping up, he stood and began to walk, and entered the temple with them, walking and leaping and praising God. And all the people saw him walking and praising God, 10 and recognized him as the one who sat at the Beautiful Gate of the temple, asking for alms. And they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him.

Peter then gave the people a sermon in Solomon’s Portico. What he said is similar to his first sermon on the first Pentecost in Acts 2.

To those who witnessed the miracle, he said, in part:

13 The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God of our fathers, glorified his servant[b] Jesus, whom you delivered over and denied in the presence of Pilate, when he had decided to release him. 14 But you denied the Holy and Righteous One, and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, 15 and you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses. 16 And his name—by faith in his name—has made this man strong whom you see and know, and the faith that is through Jesus[c] has given the man this perfect health in the presence of you all.

17 “And now, brothers, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did also your rulers. 18 But what God foretold by the mouth of all the prophets, that his Christ would suffer, he thus fulfilled. 19 Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out, 20 that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Christ appointed for you, Jesus, 21 whom heaven must receive until the time for restoring all the things about which God spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets long ago.

For this, the Sadducees arrested Peter and John and held them overnight (Acts 4:1-3). Regardless, the Holy Spirit was at work:

But many of those who had heard the word believed, and the number of the men came to about five thousand.

It is quite possible that there were thousands more when women and children were added in.

The elite of the priesthood, including Caiaphas and Annas the high priest, confronted the two apostles the next day. Peter said they worked the miracle in the name of Jesus:

11 This Jesus[a] is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone.[b] 12 And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men[c] by which we must be saved.”

Note that verse, because it refutes the modern claim that anyone spiritual can be saved, regardless of their religion. Not true!

The priests were taken aback by Peter and John’s boldness then recognised them as His disciples (verse 14). They wondered what further action they should take against the two. They went through the same thought process that they did with Jesus. By whose power do they work these miracles? What can the priests do when everyone is marvelling at the miracle? So, the priests told them not to speak anymore about Jesus Christ:

19 But Peter and John answered them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, 20 for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.”

John MacArthur gives us a glimpse as to what Jerusalem must have been like at that moment:

Now there’s 20,000 people running all over Jerusalem proclaiming Him. And it just got worse … And here they hope that they had gotten rid of Him when they killed Him and now they hope they can get rid of Him by shutting up Peter and John.

And roughly two millennia later, the same circumstances still apply, which is rather curious:

And you know, even today as I was in Israel the thing that struck me the most, I think, the most…the clearest thing that I could see in terms of just kind of identifying certain factors, the thing that overwhelmed me every day was that right in the middle of Judaism which rejects Jesus are all of the things that relate to Jesus.

just imagine having to live in Israel and one bus load after another of pilgrims coming to see the places where Jesus was. There goes another one. They’re all over the place. And everybody’s carrying around little olive wood New Testaments and little Jesus symbols, and everywhere you go in the midst of Israel there are churches with crosses and Jesuses everywhere. They cannot get rid of Jesus. No matter how they try. They can’t.

This brings us to today’s verse, which is important in the context of Peter’s healing the lame man.

Recall that Acts 3:2 tells us he was lame from birth. At age 40, particularly in those days without medical advancement which is still relatively recent (19th century), there was no hope for his condition. Matthew Henry, who died in the early 18th century, appreciated this:

The older he grew the more inveterate the disease was, and the more hardly cured.

Henry adds that the fact that the man is older gives his testimony about his lameness and healing all the more resonance. He could speak with a modicum of wisdom that people would respect.

It is for this reason that I wonder why the Lectionary compilers would omit it. It’s only one sentence!

Henry also related the man’s physical cure to repentance and conversion, which is a practical application of this miracle:

If those that are grown into years, and have been long accustomed to evil, are cured of their spiritual impotency to good, and thereby of their evil customs, the power of divine grace is therein so much the more magnified.

The Holy Spirit was working powerfully through Peter and John. The Book of Acts is a testament to that divine power of the first Pentecost. The two apostles went back to tell their friends all that the high priests said. Everyone prayed aloud (verse 24) and asked for boldness!

29 And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness, 30 while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” 31 And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness.

This is why Acts is such a meaningful book of the New Testament. Acts 4 continues:

33 And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. 34 There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold 35 and laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.

God wanted the Church to expand and made conditions perfect in order for this to happen.

The chapter ends with this:

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

Those first months of the Church must have been an incredible time for the disciples and the converts. We are blessed to have a divinely inspired account of it.

Next time: Acts 5:1-6

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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

Acts 2:33-35

33 Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing. 34 For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he himself says,

“‘The Lord said to my Lord,
“Sit at my right hand,
35     until I make your enemies your footstool.”’

———————————————————————————————

My last post — the first concerning the Book of Acts — discussed the first Pentecost, after which the 70 — Jesus’s closest followers — who had received the Holy Spirit began speaking in tongues for the Apostolic era. The Holy Spirit enabled them to speak in foreign languages in order to expand the church.

These tongues were recognised languages to the Gentiles present who had come from faraway lands. The Jews present did not understand these languages, so instead they accused the 70 of being drunk at 9 a.m.

Peter, in his characteristic boldness, immediately stood up: one, to demonstrate he was sober and, two, to give his first sermon inspired by the Holy Spirit.

He addressed not the Gentiles, but rather the Jews who had witnessed Jesus’s ministry. Some of them might have even called for His death on the day of His Crucifixion.

The Holy Spirit worked through Peter to cite Old Testament scripture, including the prophet Joel and, later, David, revered by all the Jews, from Psalm 110.

Peter’s message was that the Jesus of Nazareth they saw and heard was, indeed, the long-awaited Messiah. Now was the time for them to realise it. Forget the scribes, the Pharisees and their other religious leaders. Scripture prophesied Jesus. They had to realise that and come to God through His only begotten Son.

Today’s verses are at the end of his sermon which concluded with:

36 Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.”

Peter pulled no punches.

In verse 33, Peter was telling the Jews that Jesus — resurrected and ascended to heaven (Acts 1 describes the Ascension) is at the right hand of His Father. Furthermore, God promised Jesus He would send the Holy Spirit to His followers on this day. Essentially, Peter was saying, ‘You are witnessing what He promised to us.’ Therefore, it was no laughing matter: ‘No, we are not drunk. We have received a divine gift, one we were told would come.’

At this point, he mentioned David and cited Psalm 110:1 — the clincher (verses 34, 35). No Jew listening could ignore either. They revered David and loved his psalms.

Peter said that David was not speaking of himself there, because he had not ascended to heaven. He was speaking of the Messiah. David did not sit at the right hand of God, either. Therefore, what he said could not be about himself, but the Son of God.

Acts 2:37 tells us that the Jews hearing Peter’s words were cut to the core. They asked what they should do (emphases mine):

38 And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.”

Peter was saying that this gift of the Holy Spirit would be given not only to them but also to Gentiles (‘all who are far off’). Note, however, that he qualified it. The gift was for those whom the Lord God calls to Himself. Therefore, by that, he is referring to the elect. The Lord God must call us in order for us to be saved.

We pray that as many as possible are called to be saved, because not all of us are among the elect. Only God our Father knows for certain. But as we are called to the Great Commission which Jesus ordained, we must ensure that as many people as possible are invited to become members of the Church.

I would encourage everyone to read the commentaries by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur linked to above. Both give excellent expositions of Peter’s sermon. Sadly, the three-year Lectionary schedules that sermon for weekday readings. Because of the time limitations for weekday services, officiating clergy are unlikely to be able to explain the significance of Peter’s transformation on Pentecost and the divinely inspired words he preached. More’s the pity.

The Holy Spirit worked powerfully through Peter; he echoed Jesus’s words (verse 40) and, as a result, made many converts among the Jews:

40 And with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation.” 41 So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.

In Acts 3 — all of which is in the Lectionary — Peter healed a beggar and preached again to the Jews, exhorting them to repent and believe that Christ Jesus is their Messiah and Lord.

Next time: Acts 4:22

Today’s painting is ‘The Nativity’ by Federico Barocci (Baroccio), who was born in the first half of the 16th century and died in 1612. He painted ‘The Nativity’ in 1597. I found this thanks to The Four Mass’keteers and featured it in my 2009 Boxing Day post.

All being well, we have now finished our Christmas cards and present wrapping. We can now focus on our Saviour’s humble birth on earth. Past posts of mine may be helpful in this respect:

The Christmas story in Matthew’s Gospel (hermeneutics)

Christmas Eve — Matthew 1:18-25 (with commentary from Albert Barnes)

The Christmas story according to St Luke

The Christmas story in Luke’s Gospel (hermeneutics)

Angel imagery in Christmas carols (Dr Paul Copan on how the Bible portrays them)

I hope your Christmas Eve is pleasant and peaceful.

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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

Acts 2:12-13

12 And all were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” 13 But others mocking said, “They are filled with new wine.”

—————————————————————————————-

This is the first set of verses in Acts which have been omitted from three-year Lectionary.

More’s the pity. In the Gospels, there are two mentions of people accusing Jesus of being a drunkard. Neither of them is in the Lectionary, either.

In 2015, I wrote about Matthew 11:16-19 which ends with this observation from Jesus about His critics (emphases mine):

19 The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is justified by her deeds.”[a]

In 2013, I wrote about the parallel passage, Luke 7:31-35:

34The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ 35Yet wisdom is justified by all her children.

Remember that last sentences in each, as they also relate to the Holy Spirit’s purpose in the account of the first Pentecost in Acts 2.

Matthew Henry points out:

if they called the Master of the house a wine-bibber, no marvel if they so call those of his household.

Before we go further, let’s look at the authorship of Acts and why it was written. St Luke wrote it, addressing it to his friend Theophilus, a benefactor of his but, as this book was dedicated to him, also a pupil (Acts 1:1):

In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach,

Luke also dedicated his Gospel to the same man (Luke 1:4), likely to have been a senior Roman official, according to John MacArthur:

3it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, 4that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught.

Note that Luke addresses him as ‘most excellent’ in the Gospel but only as ‘O’ in Acts. Henry offers the following possibilities to explain the differences:

not that he had lost his excellency, nor that it was diminished and become less illustrious; but perhaps he had now quitted his place, whatever it was, for the sake of which that title was given him,–or he was now grown into years, and despised such titles of respect more than he had done,–or Luke was grown more intimate with him, and therefore could address him with the more freedom.

In any event, the dedication of important books to individuals was normal, however, their content is just as pertinent to us when it comes to Scripture:

It was usual with the ancients, both Christian and heathen writers, thus to inscribe their writings to some particular persons. But the directing some of the books of the scripture so is an intimation to each of us to receive them as if directed to us in particular, to us by name; for whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning.

As for Luke, you can find out more about him here. In that post, I cited John MacArthur who says that Luke was not only a physician, but also a historian, a theologian and a pastor.

In his introduction to Acts, MacArthur tells us:

Luke is the author of Acts. And Luke was closely associated with the Apostles from about the time of Jesus’ death, around 30 A.D., to about 60 or 63 A.D. where evidently he penned this book. And in those intervening 30‑plus years, as Luke travelled in the companionship of the Apostles, he penned what was going on. And the story of the book of Acts is the beginning of the church at Jerusalem and its explosion until it reaches the capital of the world, one of those uttermost parts of the earth, the city of Rome. And in a thirty‑ year period, under the tremendous power of the Spirit of God, the church exploded around that area of the world and reached the capital of the world in the form of the Apostle Paul in his arrival in the city of Rome. And in those 30 years, Luke presents to us how it was that the Spirit of God superintended, controlled and empowered the expansion of the church.

Luke wanted to communicate to Theophilus how and why the Church developed so that the Roman would realise that Christianity represented truth and that Christians were good people, not rebels who wanted to overturn civil and political order:

in writing to this man, he is evidently‑‑as one of his purposes‑‑attempting to commend Christianity to the Roman world. The Romans had a rather exclusive view of religion, you worship the emperor. And they had some other gods that were involved, but emperor worship was the key thing. They were somewhat tolerant although their tolerance ran a little thin and they became great persecutors of Christianity. And in this particular book, Luke directs the attention of the Romans from time to time to the character of Christians, that is that they are not bad citizens but rather they are very loyal and they are very law abiding. He also directs the Romans’ attention to the fact that many other Roman officials have treated the Christians with great care and have even given good testimonies about Christians. So it has kind of as a background thought the commending of Christianity to the Roman world, lest the Romans be threatened that all of these people were rebels who were going to overthrow the pax Romana or the Roman peace.

However, Luke also meant his writings for the Jews, who felt the Church was exclusive to them. Luke wanted to prove to them that it was also meant for the Gentiles:

… there was this kind of latent problem with the new‑born church as it was to unfold and that is that the Jews would think that it belonged primarily to them and the Gentiles were second‑class citizens. Particularly might this have happened in view of what happened when the church began at Jerusalem as the Spirit of God came in cloven tongues of fire and came upon them, they were baptized in the Holy Spirit, they began to speak in different languages. Now then this gave them a certain exclusive kind of feeling and that’s why when Peter came to the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15, he was so shocked when he announced to the Jerusalem council, “Guys, you’ll never believe it, the same thing happened to the Gentiles that happened to us, can you believe that?” In other words, the point is that God wanted them to make sure the Gentiles and the Jews were on an equal basis in the church.

That said:

the main purpose of Acts is stated as such in Acts 1 verse 8. And if you’ll look at that for a moment you’ll see the main character summarized very clearly. Verse 8, “But ye shall receive power after the Holy Spirit has come upon you,” and here’s really the purpose, “ye shall be witnesses unto Me both in Jerusalem, in all Judea and in Samaria and in the utter most part of the earth.” Now there you have the outline of the book of Acts. The book of Acts begins when the Spirit came. They received power. Immediately they became…witnesses declaring the wonderful works of God. They began where? In Jerusalem. Then the book of Acts moves and they went to Judea. Then they went to Samaria, finally they went to the world. They wound up in the capital city of Rome and that’s exactly the outline of the book of Acts given in the eighth verse. It begins right there and it sweeps clear through to the end of the book.

The purpose then of the book as Luke states it there is to show the story of the spread of Christianity empowered and energized by the Holy Spirit throughout the world.

For those unfamiliar with Acts, Luke begins with Jesus’s Ascension on Mount Olivet (Acts 1). Then, Peter discussed Judas’s death, where Luke inserted a parenthetical explanation:

18 (Now this man acquired a field with the reward of his wickedness, and falling headlong[d] he burst open in the middle and all his bowels gushed out. 19 And it became known to all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so that the field was called in their own language Akeldama, that is, Field of Blood.)

Peter, speaking before the Apostles, the women closest to Jesus as well as Jesus’s mother and brothers, cited Psalm 109:8 in justifying a replacement for Judas. The group nominated Barsabbas (Justus) and Matthias. After praying for guidance and casting lots, they chose Matthias to replace Judas.

Most of Acts 2 describes the first Pentecost. The 70 followers of Jesus were together in one house. These verses help to shed light on today’s verses, 12 and 13:

And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested[a] on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.

Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven. And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language.

Note that the tongues were real languages, not random babbling. And, using those divinely given languages, the 70 spoke about the wondrous works of Almighty God — i.e. in a Jewish scriptural context — and were understood by those present who spoke those respective foreign tongues.

I can’t emphasise that enough.

I always wondered how there was a crowd of Jews nearby at the time. John MacArthur says that even the date of Pentecost was divinely ordained. It happened 50 days after Passover, which was the Feast of Harvest of the first fruits of the season. God commanded this feast to Moses in Leviticus 23. MacArthur explains:

by divine timing, the fact of the birth of the church and the baptism of the Holy Spirit occurring on Pentecost fulfills the prophecy of Leviticus 23 in which we see the Feast of Harvest as a preview or a type of the church and the baptism of the Spirit … As Christ, for example, fulfilled the Passover feast by dying on the Passover, as He fulfilled the First Fruits feast by rising on the First Fruits feast day, so the Spirit and the birth of the church occurs on Pentecost to fulfill the meaning of that feast from Leviticus 23. You see, these three feasts are types or pictures prophetically of what is to come. And Jesus died on the right day, He rose on the right day and the church was born on the right day because Leviticus 23 outlined it in the pictures of the feasts, which we went into last time. So when it says that “when the day of Pentecost was fully come,” that is the key to interpreting the passage. In other words, this has a very basic direct significance for a special day in the calendar of Israel.

He goes on to say that this was part of God’s divine plan and has nothing to do with us today other than to know why Pentecost occurred when it did:

for people to come along and say that the Spirit of God comes upon an individual as in Acts when the preparation is right and when the individual does the right things is to misinterpret the passage. The Spirit came on a specific day designed by God, the day of Pentecost. It had absolutely nothing to do with the believers there, nothing to do with them meeting any qualifications or any requirements. They were there and it happened because God sovereignly designed it to happen.

Because of the importance of this feast, devout Jews living in other lands went up to Jerusalem to worship and offer the requisite sacrifices.

When they heard the disciples speak in their own languages, they were confused but amazed (verse 12). They marvelled. Remember that everyone considered Galileans to be uneducated, uncultured bumpkins with a particular accent. Matthew 26:73 says that in Peter’s last denial of Jesus, people identified him by his speech:

73 After a little while the bystanders came up and said to Peter, “Certainly you too are one of them, for your accent betrays you.”

MacArthur explains the divine plan:

First of all, the Spirit sent a sound like a wind just to make sure they got gathered together. He got them all together, then they had this marvelous miracle of speaking in languages just to make sure He really messed up their minds. And, you see, when they then began to speak the wonderful works of God, then the Jews only had two choices. Either this was a miracle of the devil, or it’s a miracle of God. But when they started praising God, that eliminated one of those choices. And so what the Spirit was doing was narrowing the whole thing down to the admission that this is of God.

Matthew Henry tells us that the derisive accusation of drunkenness (verse 13) probably came from the Jewish hierarchy who knew Jesus, because the foreigners present marvelled at people who had never travelled outside their own region, yet could speak their language fluently.

The Jewish hierarchy didn’t understand those languages to begin with and put it down to heavy drinking during the daytime:

As when they resolved not to believe the finger of the Spirit in Christ’s miracles, they turned it off with this, “He casteth out devils by compact with the prince of the devils;” so, when they resolved not to believe the voice of the Spirit in the apostles’ preaching, they turned it off with this, These men are full of new wine.

A simple rationalisation for them. See how their hard-heartedness continued even after Jesus rose from the dead.

MacArthur says:

Isn’t it interesting how with all the proof in the world some people still aren’t convinced? You know, I’ve made up my mind; don’t confuse me with facts (laughter). Isn’t it amazing how you can give them all the evidence there is and if they don’t want to believe it, they won’t believe it. That’s why we say salvation not an issue of dialogue; it’s an issue of sovereignty. It has not to do with how well we argue; it has to do with how the Spirit draws and breaks down the barriers. And so here are some who have seen all of this and they’re not about to give in and say it’s God, not any way. They just block their minds out, which are blinded by Satan.

That’s why we can say only so much to atheists. As MacArthur points out, good argumentation has nothing to do with conversion. Conversion is the work of the Holy Spirit. That’s why the best thing we can do for atheists is to pray for divine intervention leading to faith through grace.

Continuing on with Acts 2, Peter no sooner heard the remark about drunkenness than he stood up to preach the Gospel.

The first conversion story after the first Pentecost continues in the New Year.

Next time: Acts 2:33-35

My reader undergroundpewster — an Episcopal layman — wrote about Jeremiah 23:1-6, one of the readings for the last Sunday of the Church year on November 20, 2016.

‘Did You Preach on Jeremiah’s Prophecy Today?’ is a short and particularly powerful post about bad shepherds of the flock. Please read it in full. Excerpts and a summary follow. Emphases in the original.

These are the relevant verses:

Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture! says the Lord. Therefore, thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, concerning the shepherds who shepherd my people: It is you who have scattered my flock, and have driven them away, and you have not attended to them. So I will attend to you for your evil doings, says the Lord. Then I myself will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the lands where I have driven them, and I will bring them back to their fold, and they shall be fruitful and multiply. I will raise up shepherds over them who will shepherd them, and they shall not fear any longer, or be dismayed, nor shall any be missing, says the Lord. The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In his days Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety. And this is the name by which he will be called: ‘The Lord is our righteousness.’

The Gospel reading for that day was about the thieves on the Cross (Luke 23:35-43) which includes this important verse. Jesus told the thief who recognised Him as the Son of God:

“Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

Undergroundpewster says that it is much easier to preach on that verse than on Jeremiah’s. The message is positive and redemptive.

However, bad shepherds ignore Jeremiah at their peril. The post explains how and why. Ultimately:

I pray that the false teachers among us will come to the realization that there are some criminal acts, such as driving away God’s flock, which put them in jeopardy of God’s punishment and that they repent before they wind up like the less fortunate criminal who derided our Lord as he hung beside Jesus.

It is up to laypeople to know how to discuss and explain Scripture when clergy do not. We have many bad shepherds in varying degrees, especially in the Episcopal/Anglican Church. I know. That’s my denomination.

This is partly the fault of seminaries, but also of those men and women themselves who rarely look beyond what they are taught. Unfortunately, their bishops encourage spiritual blindness, which extends to their congregations, not unlike the Pharisees of Jesus’s time towards their faithful.

Pray regularly and study the Bible.

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