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What follows are two selections of readings for Palm Sunday, April 14, 2019.

Both are for Year C in the three-year Lectionary used in public worship.

The first set of readings is for the Liturgy of the Palms.

The second is for the Liturgy of the Passion.

Churches will use one or the other but not both.

Emphases below are mine.

Before proceeding to the readings, it is worth noting that the day before Palm Sunday is Lazarus Saturday, when Jesus raised Mary and Martha’s brother from the dead:

Holy Week begins tomorrow – today is Lazarus Saturday

Liturgy of the Palms

Psalm

The Psalm used is the same for all three Lectionary years. It is thought that David wrote this Psalm of thanksgiving after he became king. Our Lord cited verses 22 and 23 in reference to Himself (Matthew 21:42). The joy expressed here ties in well with that of the people who greeted Jesus upon His entry to Jerusalem.

Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29

118:1 O give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his steadfast love endures forever!

118:2 Let Israel say, “His steadfast love endures forever.”

118:19 Open to me the gates of righteousness, that I may enter through them and give thanks to the LORD.

118:20 This is the gate of the LORD; the righteous shall enter through it.

118:21 I thank you that you have answered me and have become my salvation.

118:22 The stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone.

118:23 This is the Lord’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes.

118:24 This is the day that the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.

118:25 Save us, we beseech you, O LORD! O LORD, we beseech you, give us success!

118:26 Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the LORD. We bless you from the house of the LORD.

118:27 The LORD is God, and he has given us light. Bind the festal procession with branches, up to the horns of the altar.

118:28 You are my God, and I will give thanks to you; you are my God, I will extol you.

118:29 O give thanks to the LORD, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever.

Gospel

Luke’s version of Jesus’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem follows (colt instead of donkey). These posts on the significance of this event might be useful:

The greatest reality story of all time begins on Palm Sunday

Palm Sunday and the Jesus watchers

Palm Sunday: Why palms?

Palm Sunday: Why a donkey?

Luke 19:28-40

19:28 After he had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem.

19:29 When he had come near Bethphage and Bethany, at the place called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of the disciples,

19:30 saying, “Go into the village ahead of you, and as you enter it you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden. Untie it and bring it here.

19:31 If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it.'”

19:32 So those who were sent departed and found it as he had told them.

19:33 As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, “Why are you untying the colt?”

19:34 They said, “The Lord needs it.”

19:35 Then they brought it to Jesus; and after throwing their cloaks on the colt, they set Jesus on it.

19:36 As he rode along, people kept spreading their cloaks on the road.

19:37 As he was now approaching the path down from the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen,

19:38 saying, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!”

19:39 Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, order your disciples to stop.”

19:40 He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.”

Liturgy of the Passion

The first two readings and the Psalm are the same for all three Lectionary years.

First reading

This reading from Isaiah alludes to Christ’s humiliation and suffering to come.

Isaiah 50:4-9a

50:4 The Lord GOD has given me the tongue of a teacher, that I may know how to sustain the weary with a word. Morning by morning he wakens– wakens my ear to listen as those who are taught.

50:5 The Lord GOD has opened my ear, and I was not rebellious, I did not turn backward.

50:6 I gave my back to those who struck me, and my cheeks to those who pulled out the beard; I did not hide my face from insult and spitting.

50:7 The Lord GOD helps me; therefore I have not been disgraced; therefore I have set my face like flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame;

50:8 he who vindicates me is near. Who will contend with me? Let us stand up together. Who are my adversaries? Let them confront me.

50:9a It is the Lord GOD who helps me; who will declare me guilty?

Psalm

The Psalm further reflects the themes of suffering and desperation at the hands of mankind, when only the Lord is faithful.

Psalm 31:9-16

31:9 Be gracious to me, O LORD, for I am in distress; my eye wastes away from grief, my soul and body also.

31:10 For my life is spent with sorrow, and my years with sighing; my strength fails because of my misery, and my bones waste away.

31:11 I am the scorn of all my adversaries, a horror to my neighbors, an object of dread to my acquaintances; those who see me in the street flee from me.

31:12 I have passed out of mind like one who is dead; I have become like a broken vessel.

31:13 For I hear the whispering of many– terror all around!– as they scheme together against me, as they plot to take my life.

31:14 But I trust in you, O LORD; I say, “You are my God.”

31:15 My times are in your hand; deliver me from the hand of my enemies and persecutors.

31:16 Let your face shine upon your servant; save me in your steadfast love.

Epistle

Paul explains the redemptive purpose of Jesus’s human likeness.

Philippians 2:5-11

2:5 Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,

2:6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited,

2:7 but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form,

2:8 he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death– even death on a cross.

2:9 Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name,

2:10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,

2:11 and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Gospel

What follows is Luke’s account of the Last Supper, the betrayal of Jesus, the violent humiliation of the Crucifixion and His burial.

One of the two readings will be used.

Option One

Luke 22:14-23:56

22:14 When the hour came, he took his place at the table, and the apostles with him.

22:15 He said to them, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer;

22:16 for I tell you, I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.”

22:17 Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he said, “Take this and divide it among yourselves;

22:18 for I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.”

22:19 Then he took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”

22:20 And he did the same with the cup after supper, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.

22:21 But see, the one who betrays me is with me, and his hand is on the table.

22:22 For the Son of Man is going as it has been determined, but woe to that one by whom he is betrayed!

22:23 Then they began to ask one another, which one of them it could be who would do this.

22:24 A dispute also arose among them as to which one of them was to be regarded as the greatest.

22:25 But he said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those in authority over them are called benefactors.

22:26 But not so with you; rather the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like one who serves.

22:27 For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one at the table? But I am among you as one who serves.

22:28 “You are those who have stood by me in my trials;

22:29 and I confer on you, just as my Father has conferred on me, a kingdom,

22:30 so that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom, and you will sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.

22:31 “Simon, Simon, listen! Satan has demanded to sift all of you like wheat,

22:32 but I have prayed for you that your own faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.”

22:33 And he said to him, “Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death!”

22:34 Jesus said, “I tell you, Peter, the cock will not crow this day, until you have denied three times that you know me.”

22:35 He said to them, “When I sent you out without a purse, bag, or sandals, did you lack anything?” They said, “No, not a thing.”

22:36 He said to them, “But now, the one who has a purse must take it, and likewise a bag. And the one who has no sword must sell his cloak and buy one.

22:37 For I tell you, this scripture must be fulfilled in me, ‘And he was counted among the lawless’; and indeed what is written about me is being fulfilled.”

22:38 They said, “Lord, look, here are two swords.” He replied, “It is enough.”

22:39 He came out and went, as was his custom, to the Mount of Olives; and the disciples followed him.

22:40 When he reached the place, he said to them, “Pray that you may not come into the time of trial.”

22:41 Then he withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, knelt down, and prayed,

22:42 “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me; yet, not my will but yours be done.”

22:43 Then an angel from heaven appeared to him and gave him strength.

22:44 In his anguish he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down on the ground.

22:45 When he got up from prayer, he came to the disciples and found them sleeping because of grief,

22:46 and he said to them, “Why are you sleeping? Get up and pray that you may not come into the time of trial.”

22:47 While he was still speaking, suddenly a crowd came, and the one called Judas, one of the twelve, was leading them. He approached Jesus to kiss him;

22:48 but Jesus said to him, “Judas, is it with a kiss that you are betraying the Son of Man?”

22:49 When those who were around him saw what was coming, they asked, “Lord, should we strike with the sword?”

22:50 Then one of them struck the slave of the high priest and cut off his right ear.

22:51 But Jesus said, “No more of this!” And he touched his ear and healed him.

22:52 Then Jesus said to the chief priests, the officers of the temple police, and the elders who had come for him, “Have you come out with swords and clubs as if I were a bandit?

22:53 When I was with you day after day in the temple, you did not lay hands on me. But this is your hour, and the power of darkness!”

22:54 Then they seized him and led him away, bringing him into the high priest’s house. But Peter was following at a distance.

22:55 When they had kindled a fire in the middle of the courtyard and sat down together, Peter sat among them.

22:56 Then a servant-girl, seeing him in the firelight, stared at him and said, “This man also was with him.”

22:57 But he denied it, saying, “Woman, I do not know him.”

22:58 A little later someone else, on seeing him, said, “You also are one of them.” But Peter said, “Man, I am not!”

22:59 Then about an hour later still another kept insisting, “Surely this man also was with him; for he is a Galilean.”

22:60 But Peter said, “Man, I do not know what you are talking about!” At that moment, while he was still speaking, the cock crowed.

22:61 The Lord turned and looked at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said to him, “Before the cock crows today, you will deny me three times.”

22:62 And he went out and wept bitterly.

22:63 Now the men who were holding Jesus began to mock him and beat him;

22:64 they also blindfolded him and kept asking him, “Prophesy! Who is it that struck you?”

22:65 They kept heaping many other insults on him.

22:66 When day came, the assembly of the elders of the people, both chief priests and scribes, gathered together, and they brought him to their council.

22:67 They said, “If you are the Messiah, tell us.” He replied, “If I tell you, you will not believe;

22:68 and if I question you, you will not answer.

22:69 But from now on the Son of Man will be seated at the right hand of the power of God.”

22:70 All of them asked, “Are you, then, the Son of God?” He said to them, “You say that I am.”

22:71 Then they said, “What further testimony do we need? We have heard it ourselves from his own lips!”

23:1 Then the assembly rose as a body and brought Jesus before Pilate.

23:2 They began to accuse him, saying, “We found this man perverting our nation, forbidding us to pay taxes to the emperor, and saying that he himself is the Messiah, a king.”

23:3 Then Pilate asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?” He answered, “You say so.”

23:4 Then Pilate said to the chief priests and the crowds, “I find no basis for an accusation against this man.”

23:5 But they were insistent and said, “He stirs up the people by teaching throughout all Judea, from Galilee where he began even to this place.”

23:6 When Pilate heard this, he asked whether the man was a Galilean.

23:7 And when he learned that he was under Herod’s jurisdiction, he sent him off to Herod, who was himself in Jerusalem at that time.

23:8 When Herod saw Jesus, he was very glad, for he had been wanting to see him for a long time, because he had heard about him and was hoping to see him perform some sign.

23:9 He questioned him at some length, but Jesus gave him no answer.

23:10 The chief priests and the scribes stood by, vehemently accusing him.

23:11 Even Herod with his soldiers treated him with contempt and mocked him; then he put an elegant robe on him, and sent him back to Pilate.

23:12 That same day Herod and Pilate became friends with each other; before this they had been enemies.

23:13 Pilate then called together the chief priests, the leaders, and the people,

23:14 and said to them, “You brought me this man as one who was perverting the people; and here I have examined him in your presence and have not found this man guilty of any of your charges against him.

23:15 Neither has Herod, for he sent him back to us. Indeed, he has done nothing to deserve death.

23:16 I will therefore have him flogged and release him.”

23:18 Then they all shouted out together, “Away with this fellow! Release Barabbas for us!”

23:19 (This was a man who had been put in prison for an insurrection that had taken place in the city, and for murder.)

23:20 Pilate, wanting to release Jesus, addressed them again;

23:21 but they kept shouting, “Crucify, crucify him!”

23:22 A third time he said to them, “Why, what evil has he done? I have found in him no ground for the sentence of death; I will therefore have him flogged and then release him.”

23:23 But they kept urgently demanding with loud shouts that he should be crucified; and their voices prevailed.

23:24 So Pilate gave his verdict that their demand should be granted.

23:25 He released the man they asked for, the one who had been put in prison for insurrection and murder, and he handed Jesus over as they wished.

23:26 As they led him away, they seized a man, Simon of Cyrene, who was coming from the country, and they laid the cross on him, and made him carry it behind Jesus.

23:27 A great number of the people followed him, and among them were women who were beating their breasts and wailing for him.

23:28 But Jesus turned to them and said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children.

23:29 For the days are surely coming when they will say, ‘Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that never bore, and the breasts that never nursed.’

23:30 Then they will begin to say to the mountains, ‘Fall on us’; and to the hills, ‘Cover us.’

23:31 For if they do this when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?”

23:32 Two others also, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him.

23:33 When they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesus there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left.

23:34 Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” And they cast lots to divide his clothing.

23:35 And the people stood by, watching; but the leaders scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Messiah of God, his chosen one!”

23:36 The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine,

23:37 and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!”

23:38 There was also an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews.”

23:39 One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding him and saying, “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!”

23:40 But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation?

23:41 And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.”

23:42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

23:43 He replied, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

23:44 It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon,

23:45 while the sun’s light failed; and the curtain of the temple was torn in two.

23:46 Then Jesus, crying with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” Having said this, he breathed his last.

23:47 When the centurion saw what had taken place, he praised God and said, “Certainly this man was innocent.”

23:48 And when all the crowds who had gathered there for this spectacle saw what had taken place, they returned home, beating their breasts.

23:49 But all his acquaintances, including the women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance, watching these things.

23:50 Now there was a good and righteous man named Joseph, who, though a member of the council,

23:51 had not agreed to their plan and action. He came from the Jewish town of Arimathea, and he was waiting expectantly for the kingdom of God.

23:52 This man went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus.

23:53 Then he took it down, wrapped it in a linen cloth, and laid it in a rock-hewn tomb where no one had ever been laid.

23:54 It was the day of Preparation, and the sabbath was beginning.

23:55 The women who had come with him from Galilee followed, and they saw the tomb and how his body was laid.

23:56 Then they returned, and prepared spices and ointments. On the sabbath they rested according to the commandment.

Option Two

The second Gospel option is Luke 23:1-49 (see verses above).

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We are now in Passiontide, as Holy Week begins.

May we meditate in the days ahead on our Lord’s betrayal and suffering for our collective sinful sake.

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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 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 26:19-23

19 “Therefore, O King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision, 20 but declared first to those in Damascus, then in Jerusalem and throughout all the region of Judea, and also to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds in keeping with their repentance. 21 For this reason the Jews seized me in the temple and tried to kill me. 22 To this day I have had the help that comes from God, and so I stand here testifying both to small and great, saying nothing but what the prophets and Moses said would come to pass: 23 that the Christ must suffer and that, by being the first to rise from the dead, he would proclaim light both to our people and to the Gentiles.”

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Last week’s entry discussed Paul’s defence before King Herod Agrippa II, the Roman governor Festus, Agrippa’s incestuous sister Bernice and a group of dignitaries. Paul spoke of his Damascene conversion.

Festus asked Agrippa to hear Paul speak so that he, Festus, would have a criminal charge to put on Paul’s report which he needed in order to be tried by Nero. Paul believed that he had a fairer chance with Nero than he would in Jerusalem, where he had spent his younger years as a Pharisee under Gamaliel’s tutelage then as a persecutor of Christians. Now the Jews wanted to kill him because he had converted to Christianity himself.

Matthew Henry’s commentary tells us that this scene took place two decades after Paul’s conversion (emphases mine):

It was now above twenty years since Paul was converted

Furthermore, Paul knew that it was God who helped him survive in his ministry (verse 22):

and all that time he had been very busy preaching the gospel in the midst of hazards; and what was it that bore him up? Not any strength of his own resolutions, but having obtained help of God; for therefore, because the work was so great and he had so much opposition, he could not otherwise have gone on in it, but by help obtained of God.

In verse 19, Paul says that he did not disobey our Lord’s instructions during that dramatic conversion, which left him blind for three days. That blindness and shock forced him to think about his role as persecutor. He was going from Jerusalem to Damascus to persecute Christians there. He had to rethink his hate, repent and turn his energies towards preaching God’s grace and Christ Jesus with the same strength of conviction. And, with much prayer then and afterwards, so he did.

Paul told Agrippa where his ministry led him, first to the Jews, then to the Gentiles, giving all the same message: repent — (re)turn to God — with commensurate behaviour (verse 20).

Henry explains:

… they ought, (1.) To repent of their sins, to be sorry for them and to confess them, and enter into covenant against them; they ought to bethink themselves, so the word metanoein properly signifies; they ought to change their mind and change their way, and undo what they had done amiss. (2.) To turn to God. They must not only conceive an antipathy to sin, but they must come into a conformity to God–must not only turn from that which is evil, but turn to that which is good; they must turn to God, in love and affection, and return to God in duty and obedience, and turn and return from the world and the flesh; this is that which is required from the whole revolted degenerate race of mankind, both Jews and Gentiles; epistrephein epi ton Theon–to turn back to God, even to him: to turn to him as our chief good and highest end, as our ruler and portion, turn our eye to him, turn our heart to him, and turn our feet unto his testimonies. (3.) To do works meet for repentance. This was what John preached, who was the first gospel preacher, Matthew 3:8. Those that profess repentance must practise it, must live a life of repentance, must in every thing carry it as becomes penitents. It is not enough to speak penitent words, but we must do works agreeable to those words.

Yet, Paul said, the Jews in Jerusalem objected, seizing him in the temple, where he was completing his Nazirite vow, and attempting to kill him (verse 21). Henry points out the irony of the situation, coming from self-proclaimed holy men:

As true faith, so true repentance, will work. Now what fault could be found with such preaching as this? Had it not a direct tendency to reform the world, and to redress its grievances, and to revive natural religion?

Of course, they were enraged because Paul preached that the same promise that was given to Jews was also given to the Gentiles. John MacArthur says:

That was the problem. Verse 21, “For these causes the Jews caught me in the temple and went about to kill me.” You know why they wanted him dead? Because he was offering equal salvation to whom? Gentiles. The Jews could not tolerate equality with Gentiles. And so Paul says, “They wanted me dead because I offered an equal salvation to Gentiles.” They wanted to kill me in the temple. And you remember they tried to kill him, didn’t they, in the temple. That’s how this whole thing started. That’s how he became a prisoner to begin with.

Paul proclaimed that only God could have allowed him to survive his many travails. MacArthur elaborates:

He says, in 22, “Having therefore obtained help from God,” I love that. He always was getting that. I mean when he – when he was in Lystra they killed him outside the city. The Lord raised him from the dead. When he got to Philippi and they put him in jail, the Lord brought along an earthquake and let him out. It’s amazing the man had help from God all the time. And again, here you have the – the tremendous dichotomy of human effort and divine sovereignty. We struggle and work and give and sweat, and discipline ourselves to work as hard as we can to produce as much as we can for the glory of the Lord. And at the same time it’s all His undergirding strength, isn’t it? This is what Paul is acknowledging.

Paul then said that nothing he preached ever went against Scripture, from Moses through to the prophets (verse 22). Christ — the Messiah — would come to mankind, redeem their sins through suffering and rise from the dead, at which point God’s promise of salvation was equally open to the Gentiles (verse 23).

Henry explains that all of this was in Scripture, therefore, it was strange that could the Jews would object:

Three things they prophesied, and Paul preached:– (1.) That Christ should suffer, that the Messiah should be a sufferer–pathetos; not only a man, and capable of suffering, but that, as Messiah, he should be appointed to sufferings; that his ignominious death should be not only consistent with, but pursuant of, his undertaking. The cross of Christ was a stumbling-block to the Jews, and Paul’s preaching it was the great thing that exasperated them; but Paul stands to it that, in preaching that, he preached the fulfilling of the Old-Testament predictions, and therefore they ought not only not to be offended at what he preached, but to embrace it, and subscribe to it. (2.) That he should be the first that should rise from the dead; not the first in time, but the first in influence–that he should be the chief of the resurrection, the head, or principal one, protos ex anastaseos, in the same sense that he is called the first-begotten from the dead (Revelation 1:5), and the first-born from the dead, Colossians 1:18. He opened the womb of the grave, as the first-born are said to do, and made way for our resurrection; and he is said to be the first-fruits of those that slept (1 Corinthians 15:20), for he sanctified the harvest. He was the first that rose from the dead to die no more; and, to show that the resurrection of all believers is in virtue of his, just when he arose many dead bodies of saints arose, and went into the holy city, Matthew 27:52,53. (3.) That he should show light unto the people, and to the Gentiles, to the people of the Jews in the first place, for he was to be the glory of his people Israel. To them he showed light by himself, and then to the Gentiles by the ministry of his apostles, for he was to be a light to enlighten those who sat in darkness. In this Paul refers to his commission (Acts 26:18), To turn them from darkness to light. He rose from the dead on purpose that he might show light to the people, that he might give a convincing proof of the truth of his doctrine, and might send it with so much the greater power, both among Jews and Gentiles. This also was foretold by the Old-Testament prophets, that the Gentiles should be brought to the knowledge of God by the Messiah; and what was there in all this that the Jews could justly be displeased at?

MacArthur reminds us of the symbolism in the Old Testament, which is particularly apposite as we approach Easter:

Have you read Psalm 22? Have you read Isaiah 53? It’s there. What about all the pictures of all the lambs in the Old Testament? What about the Passover Lamb? It’s all there. “And then that He should rise from the dead.” That’s there too in the Psalms. “Thou shalt not suffer Thine holy one to see corruption.” It’s all there. I’m just preaching what the Old Testament teaches.

Paul was not telling his story to Agrippa just as a self-defence, but also as a means of converting him. More on that after Easter.

Next time — Acts 26:24-29

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 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 26:12-18

Paul Tells of His Conversion

12 “In this connection I journeyed to Damascus with the authority and commission of the chief priests. 13 At midday, O king, I saw on the way a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, that shone around me and those who journeyed with me. 14 And when we had all fallen to the ground, I heard a voice saying to me in the Hebrew language,[a] ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.’ 15 And I said, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ And the Lord said, ‘I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. 16 But rise and stand upon your feet, for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you as a servant and witness to the things in which you have seen me and to those in which I will appear to you, 17 delivering you from your people and from the Gentiles—to whom I am sending you 18 to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.’

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Last week’s entry discussed the first part of Paul’s witness — and self-defence — to King Herod Agrippa II, the last of the Herods, who heard him in a grand assembly with his incestuous sister Bernice, the Roman governor Festus and local dignitaries decked out in their best finery.

Festus had to place a criminal charge on his report that would accompany Paul to Rome, to be heard, at the Apostle’s request, by the emperor — Nero, at that time. Therefore, Festus asked for Herod Agrippa II to hear what Paul had to say. Agrippa II, a Jew by practice but not by tribe, would know more about Jewish law than the recent newcomer from Rome.

Think of it. Paul believed he stood a better chance of justice in Rome, by a pagan court under a mad emperor, than in Jerusalem, where he was educated as a young Pharisee.

Paul explains his Damascene conversion, which really gives witness to the supernatural. Paul continued his defence by saying that he was going the Syrian city as as the chief persecutor of Christians. Not being content, he journeyed with all the authority provided by the Jewish hierarchy in Jerusalem (verse 12).

He then went on to say that at midday, a light immeasurably brighter than the noonday sun struck him and those travelling with him (verse 13). What else could it mean than a divine act, especially when that indescribable light caused them to be struck to the ground (verse 14)? As Matthew Henry’s commentary says, if only Paul had been struck to the ground by its brilliance, one might hold his testimony suspect. Yet, all his companions were similarly blinded and lost their balance, too (emphases mine):

… it shone round about those that journeyed with him: they were all sensible of their being surrounded with this inundation of light, which made the sun itself to be in their eyes a less light. The force and power of this light appeared in the effects of it; they all fell to the earth upon the sight of it, such a mighty consternation did it put them into; this light was lightning for its force, yet did not pass away as lightning, but continued to shine round about them.

Paul recounted that he heard a voice — Christ’s — speaking in Hebrew asking him why he was persecuting Him, noting that Paul was having a tough time kicking against the goads (verse 14). Goads are used to tame animals. They are strong restraints which they learn to accept. Restraint — as well as repentance and conversion — was what the future Apostle was about to experience in the three days to come, blinded and duly restrained from his zealous urge to persecute the faithful.

Paul said that he stopped kicking at the goads at that point, addressing Christ as Lord — unthinkable for such a puritanical Pharisee as he. Yet, there he was, blind, helpless — and, most importantly, powerless.

These three posts describe, scripturally and with theological sources, what Paul experienced, as recounted in Acts 9:

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

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

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

Paul then sped up the story for Agrippa II by giving him his ministry: to witness for Christ in having seen Him via that brilliant light, delivering him from the spiritually blind Jews of his day into giving him the power to witness to the Gentiles (verses 16, 17).

The message to Paul from Christ Jesus was that he would send him to open the eyes of both to turn from Satan — from ‘darkness to light’ — so that they might receive forgiveness of sins and sanctification by faith through belief in Him (verse 18).

Even reading this passage now, Paul’s fifth defence, it is equally as powerful when told it before and Luke, the author of Acts, recounted as the Apostle experienced it early on.

Paul was trying not only to defend himself and his scriptural beliefs. He was also trying to urge Agrippa — and, possibly indirectly, his incestuous sister Bernice (known throughout the ancient world as such) — to repent of his sins and embrace the risen Christ as Lord and Saviour. MacArthur posits this about Agrippa II and Paul’s discourse:

He doesn’t need more of God. He doesn’t need more information. He needs a total rebirth. And then, in addition he [Paul] says, “My message was this. To tell that they may receive forgiveness of sins.” Boy, I imagine old Bernice was wiggling around at that point. I imagine Agrippa was going, “Mph,” like this. Paul was a penetrating personBut when he said that they may receive forgiveness of sins, I can see a long stare and a long pause. Because Agrippa and Bernice knew enough to know that what they did was sin. They knew it not only because they knew the Scriptures, but – the Old Testament, but they knew it because they knew their conscience.

In a sense Paul was saying, “Forgiveness is available, Agrippa. Whatever you and Bernice have done, whatever you are, that’s our message.” I’m telling you that’s an exciting message to be able to give the world, isn’t it? To be able to say to somebody who is a Christian, “My little children, He has forgiven you all your trespasses for His name’s sake.” Oh what a blessed thought. That’s what Paul meant when he said, “Blessed is the man to whom the Lord does not impugn iniquity. Blessed is the man to whom the Lord charges no sin.”

Some might object to that, however, MacArthur rightly points out that we do not know who God’s elect are. And, as Sunday’s Gospel reading, that of the Parable of the Prodigal Son, teaches: those who repent at the eleventh hour are part of that elect. MacArthur tells us:

You say, “But surely even if you’re a Christian, God will lay some sin at your feet.” Not at all. “Who shall lay any charge to God’s elect? It is God that justifies. Shall Christ? Nay.” Shall Christ accuse the one He died to save? No. Shall Christ accuse you of the sin He died and bore? No. There’s no accusation against you. Forgiveness is full and free and complete. In addition to the moment transformation from darkness to light, power to Satan to God, forgiveness of sin, there’s the future. He gives you an inheritance among them who are sanctified. The word sanctified means holy. You know another marvelous thing about becoming a Christian is the future promise of an inheritance undefiled and reserved for us. Isn’t that marvelous? An inheritance with God.

And then he gives the way you can attain it. Look at the end of verse 18. It’s all yours Agrippa, by” – What? – “faith that is in Me.” Jesus said to Paul that day, Paul you go and you preach “to open their eyes, to turn them from darkness to light, from the power of Satan to the power of God, that they may receive forgiveness of sin and inheritance among those who are sanctified by faith that is in Me.” You tell them that if they believe in Me it is all theirs. And so Paul quotes to Agrippa the words of Jesus, the words of our Lord as they were given to him in Damascus.

There’s only one way to know those things and that’s by faith. The simple gospel of Jesus Christ that we’re called on to preach is the gospel of Ephesians 2:8 and 9, “For by grace are you saved through faith, that not of yourselves. It is the gift of God, not of works, lest any man should boast.” So he says, “Agrippa, look what happened to me. I was a Jew of all the Jews. I was zealous not only for Judaism, but I was killing Christians and trying to get them to blaspheme

Paul’s testimony continues next week.

Next time — Acts 26:19-23

March 30, 2019 is Laetare Sunday, which is Mothering Sunday here in the UK.

To all the British mums reading this, I wish you a very happy day with family. (Commiserations on the move to British Summer Time.)

Laetare Sunday was the day that Britons and others in Anglophone countries worshipped at their ‘mother’ church. Afterwards, the congregation gathered round the church and held hands to ‘clip’ it, showing their love for and solidarity with it.

Servants were given time to make a Simnel cake ahead of time to give to their mothers that day. Nowadays, Simnel cake is more often served at Easter. Its 12 marzipan balls symbolise Christ and his faithful 11 Apostles.

Celebrants in the Catholic and Anglican traditions often wore a pink vestment on Laetare Sunday, as it is the one joyful day of worship during Lent.

It is so called for the ancient Introit, which includes these words:

“Laetare Jerusalem” (“O be joyful, Jerusalem”)

Catholics have a longstanding tradition dating back to the Middle Ages of the Golden Rose, which the Pope can award at his discretion to worthy dignitaries for an exemplary life. The University of Notre Dame in Indiana awards its Laetare Medal on this day to a deserving recipient. The Golden Rose symbolises our Lord who sprang from the root of Jesse’s tree like a flower (Isaiah 11:1).

Laetare Sunday was known as ‘the Sunday of the Five Loaves’, as the Feeding of the Five Thousand was the original Gospel reading, prior to the incursion of the Lectionary.

You can read more about Laetare Sunday in the posts below:

Laetare Sunday, Mother’s Day and the Golden Rose

Laetare Sunday is Mothering Sunday

Now onto the readings for Year C in the three-year Lectionary used in public worship.

Emphases mine below.

First reading

This passage from Joshua is about the Lord’s gift of Gilgal to the Israelites. Once they could eat abundantly, He withdrew His merciful supply of manna. The Lord provides for His people.

Joshua 5:9-12

5:9 The LORD said to Joshua, “Today I have rolled away from you the disgrace of Egypt.” And so that place is called Gilgal to this day.

5:10 While the Israelites were camped in Gilgal they kept the passover in the evening on the fourteenth day of the month in the plains of Jericho.

5:11 On the day after the passover, on that very day, they ate the produce of the land, unleavened cakes and parched grain.

5:12 The manna ceased on the day they ate the produce of the land, and the Israelites no longer had manna; they ate the crops of the land of Canaan that year.

Psalm

The Lord is good, therefore, we should rejoice and be glad. He forgives the iniquities of those who repent. The righteous receive His many blessings. ‘Selah’, incidentally, means ‘heed these words’, ‘pay close attention’. Verse 8 is David’s message of instruction to his people. He took a long time, because of stubbornness, to repent of his sins (verses 3, 4). This Psalm is a maschil, a teaching Psalm.

Psalm 32

32:1 Happy are those whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.

32:2 Happy are those to whom the LORD imputes no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit.

32:3 While I kept silence, my body wasted away through my groaning all day long.

32:4 For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer. Selah

32:5 Then I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not hide my iniquity; I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD,” and you forgave the guilt of my sin. Selah

32:6 Therefore let all who are faithful offer prayer to you; at a time of distress, the rush of mighty waters shall not reach them.

32:7 You are a hiding place for me; you preserve me from trouble; you surround me with glad cries of deliverance. Selah

32:8 I will instruct you and teach you the way you should go; I will counsel you with my eye upon you.

32:9 Do not be like a horse or a mule, without understanding, whose temper must be curbed with bit and bridle, else it will not stay near you.

32:10 Many are the torments of the wicked, but steadfast love surrounds those who trust in the LORD.

32:11 Be glad in the LORD and rejoice, O righteous, and shout for joy, all you upright in heart.

Epistle

Paul’s message to the Corinthians is an uplifting one. We are reconciled to God through His Son Christ Jesus. As such, all things become new for the faithful. Therefore, we must be ambassadors for Christ and live in righteousness.

2 Corinthians 5:16-21

5:16 From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way.

5:17 So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!

5:18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation;

5:19 that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us.

5:20 So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.

5:21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

Gospel

This Sunday’s Gospel is the Parable of the Prodigal Son, most troublesome to many of us for various reasons. Although the Lectionary compilers include Luke’s introduction, it would have been welcome had they also included the Parables of the Lost Sheep and the Lost Coin, which add to the context.

It says something about modern society that we cannot bear listening to Scripture! Seven extra verses! ‘Quick, I gotta get to the mall’ or ‘Johnny can’t be late for football practice’. Woe are we.

Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32

15:1 Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him.

15:2 And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

15:3 So he told them this parable:

15:11b “There was a man who had two sons.

15:12 The younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.’ So he divided his property between them.

15:13 A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and traveled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living.

15:14 When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need.

15:15 So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs.

15:16 He would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything.

15:17 But when he came to himself he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger!

15:18 I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you;

15:19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.”‘

15:20 So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him.

15:21 Then the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’

15:22 But the father said to his slaves, ‘Quickly, bring out a robe–the best one–and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet.

15:23 And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate;

15:24 for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!’ And they began to celebrate.

15:25 “Now his elder son was in the field; and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing.

15:26 He called one of the slaves and asked what was going on.

15:27 He replied, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound.’

15:28 Then he became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him.

15:29 But he answered his father, ‘Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends.

15:30 But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!’

15:31 Then the father said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours.

15:32 But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.'”

Here are the missing verses:

4 What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.

Or what woman, having ten silver coins,[a] if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp and sweep the house and seek diligently until she finds it? And when she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’ 10 Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

It took me many years to come to grips with this parable, often misused in family situations. I had to do a lot of research on it, because most of the sermons about it are what we’ve been hearing all these years.

Three lessons: one, it was intended for the Jewish hierarchy and, two, Jesus was referring to the lost tribes of Israel.

And, finally — most especially for Christians — it has to do with the last-minute repentant sinner, whom we should celebrate. As the father in the parable said, inspiring Amazing Grace, the brother was dead but came to life, was lost and now found.

I hope these posts help explain it (sources within):

Historical meaning of the Parable of the Prodigal Son

Everyone sees older brother as bad

The Prodigal Son, public policy and churchgoers

The Parable of the Prodigal Son and brothers in Genesis

The Parable of the Prodigal Son relates to the lost tribes of Israel

It’s a difficult parable but relatively simple when placed in context.

May everyone reading this enjoy a blessed Laetare Sunday.

Bible spine dwtx.orgThe 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 26:1-11

Paul’s Defense Before Agrippa

26 So Agrippa said to Paul, “You have permission to speak for yourself.” Then Paul stretched out his hand and made his defense:

“I consider myself fortunate that it is before you, King Agrippa, I am going to make my defense today against all the accusations of the Jews, especially because you are familiar with all the customs and controversies of the Jews. Therefore I beg you to listen to me patiently.

4 “My manner of life from my youth, spent from the beginning among my own nation and in Jerusalem, is known by all the Jews. They have known for a long time, if they are willing to testify, that according to the strictest party of our religion I have lived as a Pharisee. And now I stand here on trial because of my hope in the promise made by God to our fathers, 7 to which our twelve tribes hope to attain, as they earnestly worship night and day. And for this hope I am accused by Jews, O king! Why is it thought incredible by any of you that God raises the dead?

9 “I myself was convinced that I ought to do many things in opposing the name of Jesus of Nazareth. 10 And I did so in Jerusalem. I not only locked up many of the saints in prison after receiving authority from the chief priests, but when they were put to death I cast my vote against them. 11 And I punished them often in all the synagogues and tried to make them blaspheme, and in raging fury against them I persecuted them even to foreign cities.

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Last week’s entry discussed the pompous appearance of the Roman governor Festus, Herod Agrippa II, Bernice and the great and the good to hear Paul speak. It was an occasion to satisfy their curiosity and perhaps to spark amusement.

Festus needed Agrippa II to hear Paul so that he could write a credible accusation on the criminal report he had to send with Paul to Rome. Paul, having had no satisfaction in Caesarea, appealed to Caesar — the emperor Nero — via Festus.

Agrippa II understood the Jewish law, even if he, as an adopted Jew, did not follow much of it himself.

Agrippa granted Paul permission to speak, and the Apostle began his defence (verse 1).

Paul was gracious in acknowledging Agrippa’s permission and announced that he would defend himself against all Jewish accusations. He also mentioned that Agrippa understood Jewish ‘customs and controversies’, imploring the last of the Herods to hear him ‘patiently’ (verses 2, 3).

Paul then explained his early life, saying that the Sanhedrin knew his origins (Tarsus in Cilicia) and his education in Jerusalem (under Gamaliel). Members of the Sanhedrin — his accusers — would have known him from his years in Jerusalem (verse 4).

The Jewish hierarchy knew that he was a Pharisee. Pharisees were the strictest observers of the laws of Moses (verse 5).

He then alluded to the Jewish belief in the Messiah and the resurrection of the dead, lamenting that the Jews were accusing him believing those tenets of faith (verse 7). He pressed on by asking why they objected to his belief in the resurrection of the dead (verse 8), which is a belief rooted in the Old Testament. Only the Sadducees, who did not believe in the supernatural, disregarded it.

Students of Acts know that later in the chapter, it becomes apparent that Paul really wanted to convert Agrippa II. John MacArthur tells us (emphases mine):

And he’s saying, “Agrippa, I want you to know what this Jesus did.”

Now, Agrippa didn’t need to hear the facts of Jesus dying and so forth. He knew all that. He needed to hear what Christ had done in his resurrection power. And so that’s what Paul wants to tell him and everybody else who hears. So he begins with his conduct. Look at verses 4 and 5. He describes his early life. “My manner of life from my youth, which was at the first among mine own nation at Jerusalem, know all the Jews who knew me from the beginning, if they would testify that after the strict sect of our religion I lived a Pharisee.”

Now, he says, “You know from the earliest years of my life I was educated at Jerusalem. And all the Jews know this. And if they had the courage to testify they would have to admit that I belonged to the strictest sect of our religion. I lived a Pharisee.” Now, Pharisee was the strict legalist and he was even at the strict end of the strict legalists. He was a right-wing, right-wing Pharisee. So he says, “My manner of life from my youth I was trained in Orthodox Judaism right here in Jerusalem and all the Jews know this. They know I sat at the feet of Gamaliel.

“They know that after the strictest sect,” – and Paul does something here in using the word “strictest” that Greek writers are allowed to, that you’re never allowed to do in English comp. He uses a double superlative. And a double superlative really lays heavy emphasis in the Greek. What he says is “I belonged to the most-strictest sect.” He is laying tremendous weight on this emphasis. He stresses that, “If anybody ever lived who was convinced that Judaism was the final word of God, it was me. I belonged to the farthest, farthest, farthest extreme legal view and everybody knows I did.”

And you see what he was doing? He’s setting them up for the transformation. He’s showing them how zealous he was as a Jew in order that they might understand the tremendous cataclysmic effect of the transformation that occurred at Damascus. And so Paul stresses, “I believed in the strictest way in all the facets of Judaism. I was a Pharisee.” Having talked about the conduct of his past life he now goes into his condemnation, verses 6 to 8. “And now I stand and am condemned or judged. I’m condemned for the hope of the promise made of God unto our fathers.” He says, “I was raised a Jew. I was a Pharisee and now I am being condemned. And you know why I am being condemned? I am being condemned for believing the promises that God made to the Jewish fathers.”

You say, “Well is this hope?” Look at it in verse 6. “For the hope of the promise.” Listen what was the Jewish hope? The Jewish hope is this, and this is the context here. The Jewish hope was the coming of Messiah. The hope of every Jew was Messiah would come and deliver Israel. Why Israel had been struggling against bondage from Egypt right up until this time. They were still under Rome.

Matthew Henry points out that a number of Gentiles were in the audience who no doubt struggled with the notion of the resurrection of the dead. They might have found it confusing — or amusing:

Now many of his hearers were Gentiles, most of them perhaps, Festus particularly, and we may suppose, when they heard him speak so much of Christ’s resurrection, and of the resurrection from the dead, which the twelve tribes hoped for, that they mocked, as the Athenians did, began to smile at it, and whispered to one another what an absurd thing it was, which occasioned Paul thus to reason with them.

He then went on to describe his adult life as a Pharisee persecuting Christians (verses 9, 10): namely Stephen the first martyr, but also many others. Stephen was put to death, others were scourged and imprisoned.

He described how he tried to make Christians blaspheme — still an instrument of spiritual and psychological torture used by totalitarian governments today. He concluded by saying that Jerusalem not was not enough to satisfy his violent zealotry, so he went to other cities to persecute Christians there (verse 11).

Henry describes the unimaginable hatred that raged through Paul’s body and mind during that self-righteous period immediately before his conversion:

His rage swelled so against Christians and Christianity that Jerusalem itself was too narrow a stage for it to act upon, but, being exceedingly mad against them, he persecuted them even to strange cities. He was mad at them, to see how much they had to say for themselves, notwithstanding all he did against them, mad to see them multiply the more for their being afflicted. He was exceedingly mad; the stream of his fury would admit no banks, no bounds, but he was as much a terror to himself as he was to them, so great was his vexation within himself that he could not prevail, as well as his indignation against them. Persecutors are mad men, and some of them exceedingly mad. Paul was mad to see that those in other cities were not so outrageous against the Christians, and therefore made himself busy where he had no business, and persecuted the Christians even in strange cities. There is not a more restless principle than malice, especially that which pretends conscience.

MacArthur reminds us of the pact that the Jews had with the Roman soldiers: deny the Resurrection. This is how Jesus became as hated as He is loved. MacArthur says that Paul knew the Jews’ anger revolved around Jesus as Messiah:

He knew that the Jews did believe in the resurrection but that they wouldn’t accept the resurrection of Jesus. And one of the most startling acts of willful rejection anywhere in Scripture, you have Matthew 28:11This is after the resurrection, “And when they were going behold some of the watch, some of the Roman soldiers who were guarding the tomb, came to the city, showed the chief priests all that was done.” The Romans came in and said, “I hate to tell you this, but there was a resurrection.

And the chief priests got assembled with the elders and took much counsel and gave much money to the soldiers.” Now, if you know anything about how the Jews hated the Romans you know they wouldn’t want to give them any money. They would have despised the fact of giving them money. You say, “Why did they do it? What do you think it was?” Bribery! They said, “Say this. ‘His disciples came by night and stole him while we slept.’” Now that’s a real bright statement. If they were asleep, how could they possibly testify that while they were asleep the disciples came and stole the body? They bought them off. And if you get in trouble with the Roman governor for sleeping, we’ll take care of that. “So they took the money and did as they were taught and this is the saying commonly reported among the Jews until this day.”

They still believe it. And it tells in the Bible how it all started. The soldiers were bribed. Willful rejection. So it might have been fine for Agrippa to say, “That’s great, Paul. I believe in the resurrection. That’s a Jewish hope. That’s great, but we just don’t believe Jesus rose from the dead.” And so that launches Paul, that – knowing that Agrippa’s thinking that. Paul was the master of analyzing the response and then reacting to it. Look at the book of Romans. He answers all the questions that you were thinking but never asked. The same thing happens here. He knows that Agrippa’s question is regarding Jesus, not the totality of the resurrection.

The story of Paul’s defence continues next week, with his dramatic Damascene conversion.

Next time — Acts 26:12-18

What follows are readings for the Third Sunday in Lent, March 24, 2019.

These are for Year C in the three-year Lectionary used in public worship.

Emphases mine below.

The main theme for this week is spiritual nourishment, which only a belief in Christ Jesus can bring.

First reading

The reading from Isaiah was meant for God’s people in Babylonian exile, however, as Matthew Henry explains, the prophet clearly foretold that God’s only begotten Son was the Saviour of the world: Jew and Gentile. The references to food were material at the time, however, we can take comfort that they are allegorical to our salvation through the Crucifixion and Resurrection. Another of my favourite Bible verses is below: verse 8.

Isaiah 55:1-9

55:1 Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.

55:2 Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food.

55:3 Incline your ear, and come to me; listen, so that you may live. I will make with you an everlasting covenant, my steadfast, sure love for David.

55:4 See, I made him a witness to the peoples, a leader and commander for the peoples.

55:5 See, you shall call nations that you do not know, and nations that do not know you shall run to you, because of the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, for he has glorified you.

55:6 Seek the LORD while he may be found, call upon him while he is near;

55:7 let the wicked forsake their way, and the unrighteous their thoughts; let them return to the LORD, that he may have mercy on them, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.

55:8 For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the LORD.

55:9 For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.

Psalm

The Psalm ties in well with the passage from Isaiah, reflecting the rich spiritual nourishment that we have in the knowledge of God through His Son Jesus. David wrote this whilst in the wilderness, clearly expressing his enduring faith in and trust of the Lord.

Psalm 63:1-8

63:1 O God, you are my God, I seek you, my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.

63:2 So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary, beholding your power and glory.

63:3 Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you.

63:4 So I will bless you as long as I live; I will lift up my hands and call on your name.

63:5 My soul is satisfied as with a rich feast, and my mouth praises you with joyful lips

63:6 when I think of you on my bed, and meditate on you in the watches of the night;

63:7 for you have been my help, and in the shadow of your wings I sing for joy.

63:8 My soul clings to you; your right hand upholds me.

Epistle

St Paul’s letter to the Christians of Corinth explains that although God had mercy on His people, He first passed divine judgements on them for their grave sins. From those lessons, he says, believers in Christ should not commit the same offences: idolatry, sexual immorality, complaining about God and testing Jesus. The last verse is sometimes expressed in conversation as ‘God would never give you anything you could not endure’. People say that verse does not exist in the Bible, when, in fact, verse 13 is the source for that popular expression.

1 Corinthians 10:1-13

10:1 I do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, that our ancestors were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea,

10:2 and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea,

10:3 and all ate the same spiritual food,

10:4 and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual rock that followed them, and the rock was Christ.

10:5 Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them, and they were struck down in the wilderness.

10:6 Now these things occurred as examples for us, so that we might not desire evil as they did.

10:7 Do not become idolaters as some of them did; as it is written, “The people sat down to eat and drink, and they rose up to play.”

10:8 We must not indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day.

10:9 We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did, and were destroyed by serpents.

10:10 And do not complain as some of them did, and were destroyed by the destroyer.

10:11 These things happened to them to serve as an example, and they were written down to instruct us, on whom the ends of the ages have come.

10:12 So if you think you are standing, watch out that you do not fall.

10:13 No testing has overtaken you that is not common to everyone. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it.

Gospel

The parable from Jesus recounted below is about the importance of repentance and bearing spiritual fruit that comes spontaneously from faith. The Lord gives us time to repent, but repent we must. Otherwise, we risk divine judgement, not unlike the fig tree that could be cut down if it is not fruitful.

Luke 13:1-9

13:1 At that very time there were some present who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices.

13:2 He asked them, “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans?

13:3 No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did.

13:4 Or those eighteen who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them–do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem?

13:5 No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did.”

13:6 Then he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and found none.

13:7 So he said to the gardener, ‘See here! For three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree, and still I find none. Cut it down! Why should it be wasting the soil?’

13:8 He replied, ‘Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig around it and put manure on it.

13:9 If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.'”

These readings comprise another particularly rich seam of sermon material. Will our clerics preach it wisely on Sunday?

Bible ourhomewithgodcomThe 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 25:23-27

23 So on the next day Agrippa and Bernice came with great pomp, and they entered the audience hall with the military tribunes and the prominent men of the city. Then, at the command of Festus, Paul was brought in. 24 And Festus said, “King Agrippa and all who are present with us, you see this man about whom the whole Jewish people petitioned me, both in Jerusalem and here, shouting that he ought not to live any longer. 25 But I found that he had done nothing deserving death. And as he himself appealed to the emperor, I decided to go ahead and send him. 26 But I have nothing definite to write to my lord about him. Therefore I have brought him before you all, and especially before you, King Agrippa, so that, after we have examined him, I may have something to write. 27 For it seems to me unreasonable, in sending a prisoner, not to indicate the charges against him.”

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In last week’s entry, Herod Agrippa II told the Roman governor Festus that he very much wanted to hear what Paul had to say.

Agrippa II said that out of curiosity more than anything. He had no wish to become a convert. Nor did his sister Bernice, his consort. Yes, she was well known in the ancient world for sleeping with her brother.

Festus immediately assented to Agrippa’s request, and the next day, a commingling of the notional great and the good men from the region, along with Bernice, converged on the governor’s hall, complete with military tribunes, at which point Paul, the prisoner, was brought into their midst (verse 23).

Those who know Acts are aware that no one came out of religious interest. This was a big occasion, where every man wore his finery. They were there to rub shoulders with each other and outdo each other in their appearance.

Matthew Henry’s commentary describes the scene (emphases mine):

Agrippa and Bernice took this opportunity to show themselves in state, and to make a figure, and perhaps for that end desired the occasion, that they might see and be seen; for they came with great pomp, richly dressed, with gold and pearls, and costly array; with a great retinue of footmen in rich liveries, which made a splendid show, and dazzled the eyes of the gazing crowd. They came meta polles phantasias–with great fancy, so the word is. Note, Great pomp is but great fancy. It neither adds any read excellency, nor gains any real respect, but feeds a vain humour, which wise men would rather mortify than gratify. It is but a show, a dream, a fantastical thing (so the word signifies), superficial, and it passeth away. And the pomp of this appearance would put one for ever out of conceit with pomp, when the pomp which Agrippa and Bernice appeared in was, [1.] Stained by their lewd characters, and all the beauty of it sullied, and all virtuous people that knew them could not but contemn them in the midst of all this pomp as vile persons, Psalms 15:4. [2.] Outshone by the real glory of the poor prisoner at the bar. What was the honour of their fine clothes, compared with that of his wisdom, and grace, and holiness, his courage and constancy in suffering for Christ! His bonds in so good a cause were more glorious than their chains of gold, and his guards than their equipage. Who would be fond of worldly pomp that here sees so bad a woman loaded with it and so good a man loaded with the reverse of it?

However, they could not see that Paul, as physically modest and poorly attired as he was, would forever be revered as a great Apostle, whereas they would largely fade into history. They would have scorned anyone who would have suggested it at the time. Oh, the irony.

John MacArthur has this:

Now, if we can believe tradition, Paul was not very imposing, physically. You see all of this glitter and glamour and fantasia going on, and all this stuff, and in walks a little bandy-legged, baldheaded Jewish guy, who maybe couldn’t see too well, and had a two year Tunic on, that had been a cell with him, or wherever he was kept; and he’s shackled by a chain, and he stands in the middle.

And you can imagine people saying, did we come to hear this guy? Hey, it’s a little overdone, isn’t it, for him? But you know what’s amazing about Paul, it didn’t matter what was going on around him, he always dominated the scene, didn’t he? He always dominated the scene. He was not, apparently, an imposing figure. But they may have said, this guy is a problem? You know, Luke has a great sense of values and he must have a great sense humor because the contrast here is just really interesting. And I imagine that all those people, with all their paraphernalia on, especially Agrippa, and Bernice – and probably Festus, too – would really have been super scandalized if they’d known that history recorded that they looked like a bunch of jerks, and Paul’s the one that stuck and looked liked somebody.

They never would’ve dreamed that. They never would dream that history would record that Paul was the dramatic hero, and they were stupid, foolish. Putting on a big show, like a bunch of kids playing house, in the backyard. All the VIPs and in walks Paul. Maybe the greatest of the VIPs, apart from Jesus Christ, that ever lived. A beautiful thing

Festus explained to those present the background of the Jews wanting to murder Paul (verse 24). He added that, to the contrary of what the Jews claimed, he could not find any offence that Paul had committed and that the Apostle had requested his case be tried by the emperor (verse 25).

Then Festus explained why he invited Agrippa, who knew the Jewish faith, to the hearing. In order to send Paul to Rome, Festus would have to write a criminal report. Yet, as it stood, he had nothing to write. Therefore, he hoped that Agrippa might advise on a criminal charge arising from the hearing (verse 26).

He concluded his introduction of the hearing by saying that it seemed unjust to send a prisoner to a higher court without a reasonable accusation (verse 27).

MacArthur explains that, legally, Paul probably did not need to even be present. This was a hearing, not a trial. Yet, Paul never missed an occasion to preach about Christ, the Cross and the Resurrection:

Legally speaking Paul didn’t even have to show up. Now, he would have had a hard time trying not to show up, because they would’ve dragged him in. But he maybe could have argued wisely, from the law standpoint, and said, you better not take me in there, I’ve had my trial. I’ve been judged innocent; I pleaded my case to Rome, I have no need to go to that thing. And he may have been able to get out of it, but not Paul. Why wouldn’t he wanna get out of it? Because it was another platform, to do what? Preach Christ. Everything that ever happened in the man’s life, he turned around to that.

So, we first of all see the consultation regarding his testimony, then the circumstances around his testimony. What a beautiful stage – all set, for him to preach. And whole place is jammed with pagans from wall to wall. People who didn’t know the Lord, and he just had of ’em as an audience. I mean he was in paradise. You know this is exciting because this is the objective of the church, to go into the world and preach the gospel. You know, you read the New Testament and you read about the church meeting, the church meets and prays and breaks bread, fellowships, studies of the word of God – the church never meets to evangelize, it always go out into the world to do that. And here he is. He’s out there confronting the world, nose to nose.

Acts 26, which we will begin next week, records Paul’s dramatic and bold testimony to this pompous group of unbelievers.

Next time — Acts 26:1-11

What follows are readings for the Second Sunday in Lent, March 17, 2019.

These are for Year C in the three-year Lectionary used in public worship.

Emphases below mine.

First reading

The Lord makes a covenant with Abram, though He lets him know that His people will not be without suffering (see missing verses which follow). At this time, Abram and his wife Sarai had no children and his heir was his steward Eliezer. Isaac came later.

Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18

15:1 After these things the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision, “Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.”

15:2 But Abram said, “O Lord GOD, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?”

15:3 And Abram said, “You have given me no offspring, and so a slave born in my house is to be my heir.”

15:4 But the word of the LORD came to him, “This man shall not be your heir; no one but your very own issue shall be your heir.”

15:5 He brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your descendants be.”

15:6 And he believed the LORD; and the LORD reckoned it to him as righteousness.

15:7 Then he said to him, “I am the LORD who brought you from Ur of the Chaldeans, to give you this land to possess.”

15:8 But he said, “O Lord GOD, how am I to know that I shall possess it?”

15:9 He said to him, “Bring me a heifer three years old, a female goat three years old, a ram three years old, a turtledove, and a young pigeon.”

15:10 He brought him all these and cut them in two, laying each half over against the other; but he did not cut the birds in two.

15:11 And when birds of prey came down on the carcasses, Abram drove them away.

15:12 As the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram, and a deep and terrifying darkness descended upon him.

15:17 When the sun had gone down and it was dark, a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch passed between these pieces.

15:18 On that day the LORD made a covenant with Abram, saying, “To your descendants I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates….”

Here are the missing verses 13 through 16 about judgement via captivity, then deliverance:

13 Then the Lord said to Abram, “Know for certain that your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs and will be servants there, and they will be afflicted for four hundred years. 14 But I will bring judgment on the nation that they serve, and afterward they shall come out with great possessions. 15 As for you, you shall go to your fathers in peace; you shall be buried in a good old age. 16 And they shall come back here in the fourth generation, for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete.”

Psalm

Although scholars of the Psalms disagree as to when David wrote these verses, all agree that they are of universal importance with regard to faith in God as our strength and our refuge.

Psalm 27

27:1 The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?

27:2 When evildoers assail me to devour my flesh– my adversaries and foes– they shall stumble and fall.

27:3 Though an army encamp against me, my heart shall not fear; though war rise up against me, yet I will be confident.

27:4 One thing I asked of the LORD, that will I seek after: to live in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the LORD, and to inquire in his temple.

27:5 For he will hide me in his shelter in the day of trouble; he will conceal me under the cover of his tent; he will set me high on a rock.

27:6 Now my head is lifted up above my enemies all around me, and I will offer in his tent sacrifices with shouts of joy; I will sing and make melody to the LORD.

27:7 Hear, O LORD, when I cry aloud, be gracious to me and answer me!

27:8 “Come,” my heart says, “seek his face!” Your face, LORD, do I seek.

27:9 Do not hide your face from me. Do not turn your servant away in anger, you who have been my help. Do not cast me off, do not forsake me, O God of my salvation!

27:10 If my father and mother forsake me, the LORD will take me up.

27:11 Teach me your way, O LORD, and lead me on a level path because of my enemies.

27:12 Do not give me up to the will of my adversaries, for false witnesses have risen against me, and they are breathing out violence.

27:13 I believe that I shall see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living.

27:14 Wait for the LORD; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the LORD!

Epistle

Paul tells the Philippians not to despair in this life. Transformed by Christ, they — and we — are citizens of Heaven.

Philippians 3:17-4:1

3:17 Brothers and sisters, join in imitating me, and observe those who live according to the example you have in us.

3:18 For many live as enemies of the cross of Christ; I have often told you of them, and now I tell you even with tears.

3:19 Their end is destruction; their god is the belly; and their glory is in their shame; their minds are set on earthly things.

3:20 But our citizenship is in heaven, and it is from there that we are expecting a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.

3:21 He will transform the body of our humiliation that it may be conformed to the body of his glory, by the power that also enables him to make all things subject to himself.

4:1 Therefore, my brothers and sisters, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, my beloved.

Gospel

There are two Gospel choices for this particular Sunday. One is Luke’s account of the Transfiguration, the assigned reading for the last Sunday in Epiphany, but perhaps provided again as it corresponds well with the Epistle. The other passage from Luke follows, about the spiritual blindness of the Pharisees and the evil nature of Herod (‘that fox’). Jesus simply tells the Pharisees that His work is not finished, then laments the unbelief in Jerusalem.

Luke 13:31-35

13:31 At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to him, “Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.”

13:32 He said to them, “Go and tell that fox for me, ‘Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work.

13:33 Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way, because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed outside of Jerusalem.’

13:34 Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!

13:35 See, your house is left to you. And I tell you, you will not see me until the time comes when you say, ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.'”

Jesus saves sinners who willingly acknowledge that He is Lord. Those sinners who are unwilling to do so suffer divine judgement.

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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

Acts 25:13-22

Paul Before Agrippa and Bernice

13 Now when some days had passed, Agrippa the king and Bernice arrived at Caesarea and greeted Festus. 14 And as they stayed there many days, Festus laid Paul’s case before the king, saying, “There is a man left prisoner by Felix, 15 and when I was at Jerusalem, the chief priests and the elders of the Jews laid out their case against him, asking for a sentence of condemnation against him. 16 I answered them that it was not the custom of the Romans to give up anyone before the accused met the accusers face to face and had opportunity to make his defense concerning the charge laid against him. 17 So when they came together here, I made no delay, but on the next day took my seat on the tribunal and ordered the man to be brought. 18 When the accusers stood up, they brought no charge in his case of such evils as I supposed. 19 Rather they had certain points of dispute with him about their own religion and about a certain Jesus, who was dead, but whom Paul asserted to be alive. 20 Being at a loss how to investigate these questions, I asked whether he wanted to go to Jerusalem and be tried there regarding them. 21 But when Paul had appealed to be kept in custody for the decision of the emperor, I ordered him to be held until I could send him to Caesar.” 22 Then Agrippa said to Festus, “I would like to hear the man myself.” “Tomorrow,” said he, “you will hear him.”

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Last week’s entry was about Paul’s plea to be heard before ‘Caesar’ — meaning the emperor Nero — in Rome rather than by the Sanhedrin in Jerusalem. The Sanhedrin wanted to murder him for two years.

John MacArthur has an excellent summary of Paul’s story thus far (emphases mine):

… the only thing that stands out in the text is, that the man hasn’t done anything. He has not blasphemed God by desecrating the Temple, as he was accused. He has not defied Israel by disobeying the Mosaic Law. He has not defied Rome, by being an insurrectionist and creating riots against the government. He has not done any of those things, and all of those courts, both Jewish and Roman, have attested to the fact that he has not, done those things.

But, you see, he has been retained as a prisoner, because the Roman Governors don’t have the courage to release him because they know the Jews want him dead, and they’re afraid of the Jews, if they let him go. They’re afraid that they will pressured, that there will be riots by the Jews, and they will have a hard time coping with them, so acquiesced to the Jews’ wishes, by keeping Paul and prisoner, and they play footsie with the desire of the Jews to execute him. They know he’s innocent, but they don’t let him go because they’re afraid of the Jews – it’s, blackmail is what it is. That’s an old story, with Roman Governors. The Jews did it, to all of them.

And so, we see in the situation here, that Paul should have been should have released; he’s proven innocent on four occasions, but they still have him there, in prison, in Caesarea, because they know the Jews want him dead, and they think they might be pacified if the just keep him incarcerated. But Paul, you know, realizes this just can’t go on like this, and here realizes his life is in danger, so he knows he’s not gonna get any justice in Caesarea. And he’s never gonna get off the hook, in Caesarea, so he has the only the recourse possible left to him, and that is that, which any Roman citizen had, who was brought before a Court, anywhere in the world, he appealed to Caesar.

There is also a divine aspect to Paul’s desire in reaching Rome, because our Lord appeared to him in Jerusalem and told him that Rome was where he would go (Acts 23:11):

11 The following night the Lord stood by him and said, “Take courage, for as you have testified to the facts about me in Jerusalem, so you must testify also in Rome.”

There was one problem. Festus had to send a criminal report in order for Paul to be heard in Nero’s court. As none of the Sanhedrin’s false allegations could be substantiated, Festus had no content for such a report.

Meanwhile, as Festus was the new governor, Herod Agrippa II — the last of the Herods and the son of Herod Agrippa I, eaten alive by worms — came to visit with his consort Bernice (verse 13).

There have been many women named Bernice, but in reading this Bernice’s story, one wonders how the name became so popular. Bernice was Agrippa II’s sister — and his companion in every sense of the word.

Matthew Henry says that Agrippa II was the great-grandson of Herod the Great, who was in power when Jesus was born. Also, although he was Jewish by religion, he was not so via blood lines:

The Jewish writers speak of him, and (as Dr. Lightfoot tells us) among other things relate this story of him, “That reading the law publicly, in the latter end of the year of release, as was enjoined, the king, when he came to those words (Deuteronomy 17:15), Thou shalt not set a stranger king over thee, who is not of thy brethren, the tears ran down his cheeks, for he was not of the seed of Israel, which the congregation observing, cried out, Be of good comfort, king Agrippa, thou art our brother; for he was of their religion, though not of their blood.”

MacArthur explains that the Romans did not give Agrippa II much territory over which to rule. In fact, he was quite Roman, but, because he was king, had power over religious appointments and Jewish ceremonial worship:

Festus was, if anything the superior to Herod. Even though Herod was the King, he was only a vassal King. He was to the land, what Queen Elizabeth is to England; it’s sort of Pomp and Circumstances, and not a whole lot else. The Roman Government had subjugated all of Israel’s own authority, and this man was just a puppet thing. In fact, he was reared, for most of his life, in Rome. It wasn’t till the time that his father died and after, that he was given some territory to rule in Israel, that he left Rome. He spent the last days of life in Rome, and died there. So, he was really Roman oriented and Roman, in allegiance, though he was Jewish. And, of course, as a King, was in charge of the appointment of Priests and the operation of the ceremonies of Jewish worship. So, he was very, very familiar with this

He was reared in Rome, he lived in Rome, until his father died in 44 A.D. Claudius, the Emperor of Rome wanted to appoint him to the Kingdom that his father had, but everybody told him, he was too young – he was only 17. So, they waited another six years, till he was 23, and then they gave him only a part of the territory.

A little later, when he matured, and when was 27, they gave him a little more of the territory, and he really ruled a very small – relatively smaller. You have Northern Palestine and Galilee, just a little section, up there. And he strictly a vassal King – he was Jewish in nationality, he Roman in perspective. I think it very interesting that he established his Capital at Caesarea Philippi, which is a different Caesarea, than the one that is – this location, at this text. Caesarea Philippi was north, and he changed the name of it, to Neronius in order to fascinate Nero

As for Bernice, she was Drusilla’s — Felix’s wife’s — sister. Felix was Festus’s predecessor, who had been sent back to Rome in disgrace because the Jews in Jerusalem complained to the emperor about him.

When discussing Bernice, Henry warns us against saying that people were better in the old days. Bernice had been married to her own uncle, another Herod, and, after his death, went back to her brother Agrippa II. Then, she married the king of Cilicia, got divorced and returned once more to Agrippa II:

She was his own sister, now a widow, the widow of his uncle Herod, king of Chalcis, after whose death she lived with this brother of hers, who was suspected to be too familiar with her, and, after she was a second time married to Polemon king of Cilicia, she got to be divorced from him, and returned to her brother king Agrippa. Juvenal (Sat. 6) speaks of a diamond ring which Agrippa gave to Bernice, his incestuous sister:

Berenices
In digito factus pretiosior; hunc dedit olim
Barbarus incestæ, dedit hunc Agrippa sorori.

That far-famed gem which on the finger glow’d
Of Bernice (dearer thence), bestowed
By an incestuous brother.–GIFFORD.

And both Tacitus and Suetonius speak of a criminal intimacy afterwards between her and Titus Vespasian. Drusilla, the wife of Felix, was another sister. Such lewd people were the great people generally in those times! Say not that the former days were better.

MacArthur says that Bernice kept returning to her brother, because her reputation was so bad that no other man wanted her:

Historian Josephus, tells – and he is the major Historian of that era, and reliable – that they lived in incest. And it became very common knowledge, this debauched situation. Bernice got around, and every once in awhile she’d had an interlude with a lover, but would always come back, because the lover would always dump her, sooner or later because of this terrible incest that kept perpetuating. In fact, the son Vespasian, Titus – the one who really was so instrumental in part of the destruction of Jerusalem, took Bernice as his lover. But when he got her back to Rome, the talk around Rome was so bad, he dumped her, and she went right back into the incest with Agrippa. And they lived in it, until they died, and they lived to a very old [age], and lived in Rome.

We will see that St Luke, inspired by the Holy Spirit to write Acts, never mentions Agrippa without adding ‘and Bernice’.

MacArthur cites Dr Harry Ironside, a famous Bible scholar of the 20th century, who had this to say about the infamous couple:

Doctor Ironside said, “If Agrippa dies unsaved, we may be that God links Bernice with him, still. And when Agrippa stands, eventually, at the Great White Throne, Bernice will be there, too.” In other words, Bernice represents sin, that sin, that evil thing in his life from which he never could be separated, in time or eternity, unless he would judge the sin and get right with God. Surely, there is something intensely solemn here. Oh, the awfulness of sin, how it clings. It’s a vivid illustration, isn’t it? – And, Bernice.

Agrippa and Bernice stayed at the Roman governor’s palace — incidentally, Agrippa I’s — for several days, during which time Festus brought Paul into the conversation. Festus explained that Paul was a holdover prisoner from Felix’s time (verse 14). He went on to describe his meeting with the Sanhedrin in Jerusalem (verse 15).

Festus explained that he told the Jews they would have to bring charges about Paul and that the Apostle was allowed to defend himself against the accusations (verses 16, 17).

Festus intimated that he had imagined Paul had done something very wrong indeed until his accusers could not substantiate any of their accusations (verse 18).

Then, Festus brought Jesus into the conversation, as the main point of contention between Paul and the Jews (verse 19). To Festus, Jesus was some sort of religious figure, but he did not understand the implications of Paul saying that He rose from the dead and the Jews denying the Resurrection. Festus thought there was a dispute only about a man still being alive or dead.

Festus told Agrippa II that he gave Paul the opportunity to be tried in Jerusalem again (verse 20), but that Paul had appealed to Caesar instead (verse 21).

The passage ends with Agrippa telling Festus he would like to hear from Paul personally, and the Roman governor agreed to the request (verse 22).

MacArthur says that Agrippa worded his request in such a way that implied he knew something of Paul — and of Jesus:

… just a little footnote, “Agrippa, I would also hear the man myself,” is an imperfect, and it gives the idea of a continuous action. It may be, that he had continuously wished to hear this man, having heard about him. There’s no doubt in my mind, that he had heard about it, and that had been a constant wish to hear him. It was a curiosity with Agrippa.

The story continues next week.

Next time — Acts 25:23-27

What follows are readings for the First Sunday in Lent, March 10, 2019.

These are for Year C in the three-year Lectionary used in public worship.

Emphases mine below.

First reading

Moses gives the instructions for observing the Feast of the First Fruits, an offering of the initial harvest of the season in thanksgiving to the Lord, who liberated the Israelites from Egypt. As Matthew Henry’s commentary points out, the first fruits are the ones people most wish to enjoy, hence, it was only fitting that one sacrificed those to God in an act of self-denial. Self-denial is appropriate for Lent, as is remembering that God gives us all good things, including the food we eat.

Deuteronomy 26:1-11

26:1 When you have come into the land that the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance to possess, and you possess it, and settle in it,

26:2 you shall take some of the first of all the fruit of the ground, which you harvest from the land that the LORD your God is giving you, and you shall put it in a basket and go to the place that the LORD your God will choose as a dwelling for his name.

26:3 You shall go to the priest who is in office at that time, and say to him, “Today I declare to the LORD your God that I have come into the land that the LORD swore to our ancestors to give us.”

26:4 When the priest takes the basket from your hand and sets it down before the altar of the LORD your God,

26:5 you shall make this response before the LORD your God: “A wandering Aramean was my ancestor; he went down into Egypt and lived there as an alien, few in number, and there he became a great nation, mighty and populous.

26:6 When the Egyptians treated us harshly and afflicted us, by imposing hard labor on us,

26:7 we cried to the LORD, the God of our ancestors; the LORD heard our voice and saw our affliction, our toil, and our oppression.

26:8 The LORD brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with a terrifying display of power, and with signs and wonders;

26:9 and he brought us into this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey.

26:10 So now I bring the first of the fruit of the ground that you, O LORD, have given me.” You shall set it down before the LORD your God and bow down before the LORD your God.

26:11 Then you, together with the Levites and the aliens who reside among you, shall celebrate with all the bounty that the LORD your God has given to you and to your house.

Psalm

This Psalm was written for encouragement during a time of pestilence, yet, it applies equally to all believers. The Lord is our refuge, our fortress and our salvation.

Psalm 91:1-2, 9-16

91:1 You who live in the shelter of the Most High, who abide in the shadow of the Almighty,

91:2 will say to the LORD, “My refuge and my fortress; my God, in whom I trust.”

91:9 Because you have made the LORD your refuge, the Most High your dwelling place,

91:10 no evil shall befall you, no scourge come near your tent.

91:11 For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways.

91:12 On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.

91:13 You will tread on the lion and the adder, the young lion and the serpent you will trample under foot.

91:14 Those who love me, I will deliver; I will protect those who know my name.

91:15 When they call to me, I will answer them; I will be with them in trouble, I will rescue them and honor them.

91:16 With long life I will satisfy them, and show them my salvation.

Here are the missing verses (ESV):

For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler
    and from the deadly pestilence.
He will cover you with his pinions,
    and under his wings you will find refuge;
    his faithfulness is a shield and buckler.
5 You will not fear the terror of the night,
    nor the arrow that flies by day,
nor the pestilence that stalks in darkness,
    nor the destruction that wastes at noonday.

A thousand may fall at your side,
    ten thousand at your right hand,
    but it will not come near you.
You will only look with your eyes
    and see the recompense of the wicked.

Epistle

Paul tells the Romans that all who confess that Jesus is Lord will be saved.

Romans 10:8b-13

10:8b “The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim);

10:9 because if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.

10:10 For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved.

10:11 The scripture says, “No one who believes in him will be put to shame.”

10:12 For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him.

10:13 For, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”

Gospel

Luke recounts Jesus’s 40 days in the wilderness, beset by temptation and encounters with the devil.

Luke 4:1-13

4:1 Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness,

4:2 where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished.

4:3 The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.”

4:4 Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone.'”

4:5 Then the devil led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world.

4:6 And the devil said to him, “To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please.

4:7 If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.”

4:8 Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.'”

4:9 Then the devil took him to Jerusalem, and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here,

4:10 for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you,’

4:11 and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.'”

4:12 Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'”

4:13 When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.

The ‘opportune time’ refers to Judas’s betrayal (Luke 22:53). Jesus said to the Jewish hierarchy — led by Judas — at His arrest at the Mount of Olives:

53 When I was with you day after day in the temple, you did not lay hands on me. But this is your hour, and the power of darkness.”

There is much to examine in Sunday’s readings. I have been finding it useful to read the Lectionary selections beforehand rather than just rely on hearing them in church.

I am certain that if more families got together before Sunday worship to read and discuss these Scripture passages, our young people would understand Christianity much better than they do at present.

Nothing saddens me more than to see teens and twenty-somethings gravitate to other world religions — or none! — for the simple reason that they know nothing about Christianity!

It is up to adults to show the way by teaching the Bible to their youngsters. Let’s make it a priority, beginning now, during Lent.

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