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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy 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 24:22-27

Paul Kept in Custody

22 But Felix, having a rather accurate knowledge of the Way, put them off, saying, “When Lysias the tribune comes down, I will decide your case.” 23 Then he gave orders to the centurion that he should be kept in custody but have some liberty, and that (C)none of his friends should be prevented from attending to his needs.

24 After some days Felix came with his wife Drusilla, who was Jewish, and he sent for Paul and heard him speak about faith in Christ Jesus. 25 And as he reasoned about righteousness and self-control and the coming judgment, Felix was alarmed and said, “Go away for the present. When I get an opportunity I will summon you.” 26 At the same time he hoped that money would be given him by Paul. So he sent for him often and conversed with him. 27 When two years had elapsed, Felix was succeeded by Porcius Festus. And desiring to do the Jews a favor, Felix left Paul in prison.

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Last week’s entry covered Paul’s defence in Caesarea before Felix the Roman governor and the Apostle’s Jewish accusers.

Paul clearly demonstrated that not only was he innocent of any crime against the Roman government, but also that the accusations against him were of a theological nature, something on which the Romans would not pass judgement.

Felix, having lived in Caesarea — home to Cornelius, the first Roman convert, and to Philip the Evangelist — knew the tenets of Christianity, ‘the Way’, well (verse 22). He placated everyone by saying that when Claudius Lysias, the Roman tribune of Jerusalem, next went to Caesarea, Felix would decide the case then.

John MacArthur says there is no historical evidence the Felix ever called for Claudius Lysias or that the tribune went of his own accord (emphases mine):

You know that there is no record, ever, that he ever called Claudius Lysias down there? And there’s no record that Claudius Lysias ever came. He just permanently postponed the thing. That’s a coward’s act. Now, he had a knowledge of Christianity. You say, “Where did he get it?” Well, he lived in Caesarea, and Philip lived there, and Philip was an evangelist.

And there were a lot of other Christians, and he was in Judea for nine years, eight or nine years, and so there were tens of thousands of Christians all over the place. He had been very, very familiar with Christianity. Some say he was a friend and an acquaintance of Simon Magus, Simon the Sorcerer, who had been exposed to Christianity, and that Simon Magus had first communicated to him. That’s somewhere in ancient history; we don’t know. But he knew enough, and he knew enough to make a right evaluation that this was not a criminal issue, but a theological one.

He knew enough about Christianity to be responsible; he was like Pilate. He was convinced of the testimony of the accused, but he was afraid of the Jews. So, he postponed the decision until Claudius Lysias could come and add information, and he never called Claudius Lysias. It was a convenient non-decision. It was a nothing. It was a postponement.

Felix wanted to placate the Jews:

He had a lot of Jews on his hands who were very angry, and when you have a lot of very angry Jews uptight, it caused revolutions. And when you were the governor and you had revolutions, you were in real trouble with Rome. Remember Pilate? The ultimate reason that Pilate finally allowed Jesus to be crucified was just because he wanted to pacify the Jews, because he was afraid he’d lose his job if he couldn’t rule well. And Felix is trapped in the same thing. On one hand, his relationship to Roman law and to Rome is at stake …

Luke is telling us that Felix knew what the right answer was; that Felix, having a more perfect knowledge of the Way, knew what he should have done.

Felix did not send Paul to the cells with common criminals but ordered his centurion to allow the Apostle some freedom while in custody (verse 23). No doubt, he returned Paul to the apartment in the palace where he was held before his trial.

Felix also allowed Paul’s friends to visit and attend to his needs. Among those friends were Luke, the author of Acts, and Philip the Evangelist.

Matthew Henry’s commentary points out:

a man’s prison is as it were his own house if he has but his friends about him.

MacArthur says that Paul had just lived through a judgement similar to that which Jesus experienced, albeit without the death penalty of crucifixion:

It’s the record of a man before a pagan judge, being accused by Jewish accusers, who comes off innocent. I mean, let’s face it, folks, it’s just like the case of Christ.

Now we get to Felix and Drusilla, a true human interest story.

Felix sent for Paul so that he and Drusilla, who was Jewish, could hear him speak about ‘faith in Christ Jesus’ (verse 24).

Drusilla was the daughter of Herod Agrippa I, the one who was eaten alive by worms — a divine judgement. She left her husband, the King of Emesa (Syria), for Felix. MacArthur tells us:

Felix saw her when she was married to the king of Emesa, a part of Syria, and he liked her. She was real young, 15 or so, and she was supposed to be this raving beauty, according to the historians. And Felix saw her, and said, you know, “That’s for me,” and seduced her, and stole her away. And so the whole thing was a rotten, immoral, disgusting thing from the beginning. So, there they come, the two of them.

Henry has more about the meeting — and Drusilla:

he desired to have an account of it from Paul, who was so celebrated a preacher of that faith, above the rest. Those that would enlarge their knowledge must discourse with men of their own profession, and those that would be acquainted with any profession should consult those that excel in the knowledge of it; and therefore Felix had a mind to talk with Paul more freely than he could in open court, where he observed Paul upon his guard, concerning the faith of Christ; and this only to satisfy his curiosity, or rather the curiosity of his wife Drusilla, who was a Jewess, daughter of Herod Agrippa, that was eaten of worms. Being educated in the Jewish religion, she was more inquisitive concerning the Christian religion, which pretended to be the perfection of that, and desired to hear Paul discourse of it. But it was no great matter what religion she was of; for, whatever it was, she was a reproach and scandal to it-a Jewess, but an adulteress; she was another man’s wife when Felix took her to be his wife, and she lived with him in whoredom and was noted for an impudent woman, yet she desires to hear concerning the faith of Christ. Many are fond of new notions and speculations in religion, and can hear and speak of them with pleasure, who yet hate to come under the power and influence of religion, can be content to have their judgments informed but not their lives reformed.

Paul preached the Good News to the couple, including the Final Judgement, when Felix became alarmed and dismissed Paul, telling him he would send for him again another time (verse 25).

Henry posits that Felix expected to be intrigued, perhaps entertained, by Paul’s discourse, which the Apostle might have personalised for them:

What the account was which Paul gave him of the Christian religion; by the idea he had of it, he expected to be amused with a mystical divinity, but, as Paul represents it to him, he is alarmed with a practical divinity. Paul, being asked concerning the faith in Christ, reasoned (for Paul was always a rational preacher) concerning righteousness, temperance, and judgment to come. It is probable that he mentioned the peculiar doctrines of Christianity concerning the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and his being the Mediator between God and man; but he hastened to his application, in which he designed to come home to the consciences of his hearers

Paul reasoned of righteousness and temperance, to convince Felix of his unrighteousness and intemperance, of which he had been notoriously guilty, that, seeing the odiousness of them, and his obnoxiousness to the wrath of God for them (Ephesians 5:6), he might enquire concerning the faith of Christ, with a resolution to embrace it. [2.] That by the doctrine of Christ is discovered to us the judgment to come, by the sentence of which the everlasting state of all the children of men will be finally and irreversibly determined. Men have their day now, Felix hath his; but God’s day is coming, when everyone shall give account of himself to God, the Judge of all. Paul reasoned concerning this; that is, he showed what reason we have to believe that there is a judgment to come, and what reason we have, in consideration thereof, to be religious.

MacArthur thinks that Paul gave Felix and Drusilla the whole story of Christ’s life as well as the standards of living for believers:

He gave him all the gospel. He told him Jesus was God. He told him Jesus was born of a virgin. He told him Jesus lived a miraculous life. He told him Jesus died on the cross for the deliverance of sin. He told him Jesus rose the third day from the dead. He told him all the facts of the gospel. That’s the content, that’s the faith. That’s what Jude meant when he said, “Contend for the faith,” the embodiment of truth, the content of the gospel. So, Paul detailed the gospel.

Now, that’s exciting. Paul sat down, and Felix heard; Felix and Drusilla listened. And Paul talked about who Christ was, why He came, what He accomplished, the whole gospel. Then he also gave them the back side of it; look at verse 25. “And as he reasoned” – dialogued – he didn’t preach at him, he talked to him, he discussed with him – “of righteousness, self-control, and judgment to come, Felix” – what? – “trembled.” Now, part of the faith, part of the content of the faith, is righteousness, self-control, judgment to come.

Now watch: those three areas must be included in the presentation of the gospel. Righteousness is this: that’s God’s divine ideal, that’s God’s absolute standard. What does God demand? Absolute righteousness. Jesus says, “Be ye holy.” You say, “How holy?” “Even as your Father in Heaven is holy. Be perfect even as God is perfect.” God’s absolute demand is righteousness. The second word is self-control; that’s man’s required response. God has an absolute ideal; you better control yourself to come into conformity to that standard.

So, he told Felix, “Here’s God’s standard, and God demands that you conform to it.” And if you don’t, that’s the third word: judgment to come. That’s the gospel. God’s absolute ideal; you must conform to it or be judged. I’m telling you, this could get very personal to Felix. After Paul presented the ideal of righteousness, and then Paul started shooting down Felix, because Felix had no self-control at all. He was sitting there with a woman that he’d stolen and seduced. His life was a debauchery.

Henry has an excellent analysis of how Felix and Drusilla received Paul’s discourse, referring to the meaning of ‘Felix’ — ‘happy’:

That Paul was willing to take pains, and run hazards, in his work, even where there was little probability of doing good. Felix and Drusilla were such hardened sinners that it was not at all likely they should be brought to repentance by Paul’s preaching, especially under such disadvantages; and yet Paul deals with them as one that did not despair of them. Let the watchman give fair warning, and then they have delivered their own souls, though they should not prevail to deliver the souls they watch for.

3. What impressions Paul’s discourse made upon this great but wicked man: Felix trembled, emphobos genomenos–being put into a fright, or made a terror to himself, a magor-missabib, as Pashur, Jeremiah 20:3,4. Paul never trembled before him, but he was made to tremble before Paul. “If this be so, as Paul says, what will become of me in another world? If the unrighteous and intemperate will be condemned in the judgment to come, I am undone, for ever undone, unless I lead a new course of life.” We do not find that Drusilla trembled, though she was equally guilty, for she was a Jewess, and depended upon the ceremonial law, which she adhered to the observance of, to justify her; but Felix for the present could fasten upon nothing to pacify his conscience, and therefore trembled. See here, (1.) The power of the word of God, when it comes with commission; it is searching, it is startling, it can strike a terror into the heart of the most proud and daring sinner, by setting his sins in order before him, and showing him the terrors of the Lord. (2.) The workings of natural conscience; when it is startled and awakened, it fills the soul with horror and amazement at its own deformity and danger. Those that are themselves the terror of the mighty in the land of the living have hereby been made a terror to themselves. A prospect of the judgment to come is enough to make the stoutest heart to tremble, as when it comes indeed it will make the mighty men and the chief captains to call in vain to rocks and mountains to shelter them.

4. How Felix struggled to get clear of these impressions, and to shake off the terror of his convictions; he did by them as he did by Paul’s prosecutors (Acts 24:25), he deferred them; he said, Go thy way for this time, when I have a convenient season I will call for thee. (1.) He trembled and that was all. Paul’s trembling (Acts 9:6), and the jailer’s (Acts 16:29), ended in their conversion, but this of Felix did not. Many are startled by the word of God who are not effectually changed by it. Many are in fear of the consequences of sin, and yet continue in love and league with sin. (2.) He did not fight against his convictions, nor fly in the face of the word or of the preacher of it, to be revenged on them for making his conscience fly in his face; he did not say to Paul, as Amaziah to the prophet, Forbear, why shouldst thou be smitten? He did not threaten him with a closer confinement, or with death, for touching him (as John Baptist did Herod) in the sore place. But, (3.) He artfully shifted off his convictions by putting off the prosecution of them to another time. He has nothing to object against what Paul has said; it is weighty and worth considering. But, like a sorry debtor, he begs a day; Paul has spent himself, and has tired him and his lady, and therefore, “Go thy way for this time–break off here, business calls me away; but when I have a convenient season, and have nothing else to do, I will call for thee, and hear what thou hast further to say.” Note, [1.] Many lose all the benefit of their convictions for want of striking while the iron is hot. If Felix, now that he trembled, had but asked, as Paul and the jailer did when they trembled, What shall I do? he might have been brought to the faith of Christ, and have been a Felix indeed, happy for ever; but, by dropping his convictions now, he lost them for ever, and himself with them. [2.] In the affairs of our souls, delays are dangerous; nothing is of more fatal consequence than men’s putting off their conversion from time to time. They will repent, and turn to God, but not yet; the matter is adjourned to some more convenient season, when such a business or affair is compassed, when they are so much older; and then convictions cool and wear off, good purposes prove to no purpose, and they are more hardened than ever in their evil way. Felix put off this matter to a more convenient season, but we do not find that this more convenient season ever came; for the devil cozens us of all our time by cozening us of the present time. The present season is, without doubt, the most convenient season. Behold, now is the accepted time. To-day if you will hear his voice.

Note that Felix did not offer to have Paul released on bond. This is because he hoped that Paul would eventually offer him money for his release. Interestingly, Luke tells us that Felix sent for Paul often for private conversations (verse 26).

Felix knew that Paul had brought with him to Jerusalem a financial offering for the church there. He might have thought that Paul kept some aside for himself. Alternatively, perhaps he thought that Paul’s friends in Caesarea might appeal for his release by offering Felix money. Henry posits that this is why Felix sent for him time and time again. Luke does not say that Felix ever trembled again, so it seems that Felix was testing the waters about money.

Quite rightly, Henry takes issue with the Christians in Caesarea for not having purchased Paul’s freedom. They had two years in which to do so:

Though Paul is to be commended that he would not offer money to Felix, nor beg money of the churches (his great and generous soul disdained both), yet I know not whether his friends are to be commended, nay, whether they can be justified, in not doing it for him. They ought to have solicited the governor as pressingly for him as his enemies did against him: and if a gift was necessary to make room for them (as Solomon speaks) and to bring them before great men, they might lawfully have done it. I ought not to bribe a man to do an unjust thing, but, if he will not do me justice without a fee, it is but doing myself justice to give it to him; and, if they might do it, it was a shame they did not do it. I blush for them, that they would let such an eminent and useful man as Paul lie in the jail, when a little money would have fetched him out, and restored him to his usefulness again. The Christians here at Cæsarea, where he now was, had parted with their tears to prevent his going to the prison (Acts 21:13), and could they not find in their hearts to part with their money to help him out?

Then, Henry says that, perhaps it was divine providence that prevented them from doing so:

Yet there might be a providence of God in it; Paul’s bonds must be for the furtherance of the gospel of Christ, and therefore he must continue in bonds. However, this will not excuse Felix, who ought to have released an innocent man, without demanding or accepting any thing for it: the judge that will not do right without a bribe will no doubt do wrong for a bribe.

Perhaps Paul converted some Romans working for Felix during those two years. We do not know.

In any event, Luke tells us that Felix left Paul in prison, even when his successor Porcius Festus arrived (verse 27). This was likely because Felix wanted to placate the Jews.

However, history tells us that Felix’s plan did not prevent his ouster.

It is interesting that history gives us an insight into Felix’s downfall. Felix did not retire quietly to Rome. It was likely that the Jews had forced him out and complained to the Roman emperor, as Henry tells us:

The Jews … accused him to the emperor, and some historians say he was sent bound to Rome by Festus; and, if so, surely his remembering how light he had made of Paul’s bonds would help to make his own chain heavy.

We have seen that God was accomplishing His will through Romans — pagans — allowing Paul to escape a brutal death at the hands of angry Jews in Jerusalem. Many will wonder how He could allow Paul to remain a prisoner for two years in Caesarea, with no letters to write to the Christians in the churches he had established.

MacArthur offers this explanation:

The whole time he’s there, we don’t know of any sermon that he ever preached, or of anything that he ever wrote. Can you imagine the apostle Paul, two years and he doesn’t write something and he doesn’t preach? Now, there may have been times when he wrote something, there may have been times when he preached; we don’t have record of it. You say, “Well, what’s going on here?” Well, you know what I believe? And this is just me; this isn’t anything that’s obvious in the text. It’s just what I think may be a possibility.

I really think this may have been furlough. You know what I mean? He had been chased all over the world long enough. I mean, he needed a rest. Besides, he had so much to accomplish in his lifetime, and he worked so fast. he probably had a few years left over. So, the Lord just said, “Well, you might as well take a couple off.” He’d been all over the Roman world, and it all kind of climaxed in Jerusalem. He was nearly beaten to death, he was slugged in the face, he was clamored after and yanked apart, he was thrown into custody, he was hustled to Caesarea by 470 Roman soldiers, and he went through this trial.

I mean, I just think the guy comes to a place in the service of the Lord where he’s got to stop. And a little key thought just kind of bounces out in verse 23 that made me think this. “He commanded a centurion to keep Paul, let him have liberty, that he should forbid none of his acquaintances to” – what? – “to minister.” Now, the implication is there that they came to minister to him. Well, that’s a nice idea for a change, isn’t it? I’m sure that Luke and Aristarchus were with him, too, so he had some good fellowship, and Philip probably hung around a lot.

And there were probably a lot of believers in the local area of Caesarea who came down during the two years and spent some time with him, and I’m sure he was discipling some people. And I’m also sure that when I get to heaven, I’m going to meet some of Felix’s soldiers. And maybe that centurion’s there. But I’ll tell you, I think it’s a time when God just kind of let him rest. Well, resting from what he’d been through, and getting ready for the worst, which was to come, that finally ended in his execution. God knows.

Whatever the thing is, God knew that Paul needed two years there. And whatever God accomplished, He accomplished within His purpose, not outside of it.

Next time — Acts 25:1-5

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We are now three Sundays away from the beginning of Lent.

Centuries ago, the names of these Sundays referred to their distance from Easter in the number of days. If those Sundays were being observed now, February 16, 2019 would have been Septuagesima Sunday. In the early Church, no Gloria was sung nor was the Alleluia in the early Church. This is because it was the first Sunday of the call to Lenten discipline.

Although the word ‘septuagesima’ means ‘seventieth’, it occurs only 63 days before Easter. Early Christians began observing Lent the day after Septuagesima Sunday. This is because Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays were not days of fasting in the early Church. So, if the faithful wished to fast for 40 days before Easter, following the example of Jesus, they would have had to start the Monday after Septuagesima Sunday.

You can read more about Septuagesima, Sexagesima and Quinquagesima Sundays in the following post:

The Sundays before Lent — an explanation

This period of time was known as Shrovetide, which ended on Shrove Tuesday, the day before Ash Wednesday. ‘Shrove’ is the past participle of ‘shrive’, which meant to present oneself for confession, penance and absolution. You can find out more in the post below:

Shrovetide — a history

Even in modern times, the Lectionary readings turn from the themes of rejoicing and thanks that our Saviour came to Earth to redeem us. The themes of sin and repentance predominate.

What follow are the readings for the Sixth Sunday of Epiphany in Year C of the three-year Lectionary commonly used in public worship.

Emphases mine below.

First reading

The verses from Jeremiah read so much better in the King James Version, especially verse 9. I have included verse 11 for its poetic truth:

Thus saith the Lord; Cursed be the man that trusteth in man, and maketh flesh his arm, and whose heart departeth from the Lord.

For he shall be like the heath in the desert, and shall not see when good cometh; but shall inhabit the parched places in the wilderness, in a salt land and not inhabited.

Blessed is the man that trusteth in the Lord, and whose hope the Lord is.

For he shall be as a tree planted by the waters, and that spreadeth out her roots by the river, and shall not see when heat cometh, but her leaf shall be green; and shall not be careful in the year of drought, neither shall cease from yielding fruit.

The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?

10 I the Lord search the heart, I try the reins, even to give every man according to his ways, and according to the fruit of his doings.

11 As the partridge sitteth on eggs, and hatcheth them not; so he that getteth riches, and not by right, shall leave them in the midst of his days, and at his end shall be a fool.

What follows is what millions of churchgoers will hear. To put it into context, the Lord wanted repentance, and Jeremiah was His messenger. Matthew Henry’s commentary says that this chapter provides timeless lessons for all of us.

Jeremiah 17:5-10

17:5 Thus says the LORD: Cursed are those who trust in mere mortals and make mere flesh their strength, whose hearts turn away from the LORD.

17:6 They shall be like a shrub in the desert, and shall not see when relief comes. They shall live in the parched places of the wilderness, in an uninhabited salt land.

17:7 Blessed are those who trust in the LORD, whose trust is the LORD.

17:8 They shall be like a tree planted by water, sending out its roots by the stream. It shall not fear when heat comes, and its leaves shall stay green; in the year of drought it is not anxious, and it does not cease to bear fruit.

17:9 The heart is devious above all else; it is perverse– who can understand it?

17:10 I the LORD test the mind and search the heart, to give to all according to their ways, according to the fruit of their doings.

Psalm

The first Psalm briefly explains the ways of those who are good versus those who are evil. Verse 3 ties in nicely with Jeremiah 17:8.

Psalm 1

1:1 Happy are those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, or take the path that sinners tread, or sit in the seat of scoffers;

1:2 but their delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law they meditate day and night.

1:3 They are like trees planted by streams of water, which yield their fruit in its season, and their leaves do not wither. In all that they do, they prosper.

1:4 The wicked are not so, but are like chaff that the wind drives away.

1:5 Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;

1:6 for the LORD watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.

Epistle

Paul continued his proof of the Resurrection. Last week’s reading was the introduction to this expository; Paul needed to settle a dispute running in Corinth at the time as to whether Jesus actually rose from the dead. This is the continuation.

It is also important to note that the resurrection of the dead is also mentioned in the Old Testament. Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son Isaac on God’s command as a test of faith was an important illustration of that. Seeing that Abraham believed that he would see his son again one day, God was satisfied, and He relented.

Among the ancient Jews, only the theological intellectuals, the Sadducees, disregarded the resurrection of the dead.

At the end of his ministry, Paul suffered greatly for speaking boldly about the resurrection of the dead, including during his time in Jerusalem and surrounds. See my exposition on Acts 24:10-21 for more details.

1 Corinthians 15:12-20

15:12 Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say there is no resurrection of the dead?

15:13 If there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised;

15:14 and if Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation has been in vain and your faith has been in vain.

15:15 We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified of God that he raised Christ–whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised.

15:16 For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised.

15:17 If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.

15:18 Then those also who have died in Christ have perished.

15:19 If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.

15:20 But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died.

Gospel

This week’s reading is the Sermon on the Mount, featuring the Beatitudes. Jesus came down from the mountain, where He had been praying alone. At this point in His ministry, the twelve Apostles were with Him.

Luke 6:17-26

6:17 He came down with them and stood on a level place, with a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people from all Judea, Jerusalem, and the coast of Tyre and Sidon.

6:18 They had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases; and those who were troubled with unclean spirits were cured.

6:19 And all in the crowd were trying to touch him, for power came out from him and healed all of them.

6:20 Then he looked up at his disciples and said: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.

6:21 “Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled. “Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.

6:22 “Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man.

6:23 Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets.

6:24 “But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.

6:25 “Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry. “Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep.

6:26 “Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.”

I have highlighted certain verses from the Beatitudes on purpose, because those are not emphasised much in today’s discourses on this reading. Early on, Jesus warned His followers of persecution, but that they should focus on the life to come and rejoice in their salvation.

Most sermons today emphasise verse 24, however, as Matthew Henry’s powerful commentary states, Jesus’s warning is directed at those who are materialists with no faith. They trust in riches, but not in God. Where that is the case, they have received their earthly reward (see the aforementioned reading from Jeremiah). There will be no heavenly reward for them:

Here is a woe to them that are rich, that is, that trust in riches, that have abundance of this world’s wealth, and, instead of serving God with it, serve their lusts with it; woe to them, for they have received their consolation, that which they placed their happiness in, and were willing to take up with for a portion, Luke 6:24. They in their life-time received their good things, which, in their account, were the best things, and all the good things they are ever likely to receive from God. “You that are rich are in temptation to set your hearts upon a smiling world, and to say, Soul, take thine ease in the embraces of it, This is my rest for ever, here will I dwell; and then woe unto you.” (1.) It is the folly of carnal worldlings that they make the things of this world their consolation, which were intended only for their convenience. They please themselves with them, pride themselves in them, and make them their heaven upon earth; and to them the consolations of God are small, and of no account. (2.) It is their misery that they are put off with them as their consolation. Let them know it, to their terror, when they are parted from these things, there is an end of all their comfort, a final end of it, and nothing remains to them but everlasting misery and torment.

Therefore, it is wrong for clergy to shame middle class churchgoers into giving more when they are already being squeezed through taxes to support a bloated welfare state and through ever increasing tuition costs for their children. Neither of those was around in our Lord’s era.

One must also consider the type of church one is being shamed into donating to. Clergy from corrupt churches (including those in major denominations) are the ones asking for the most money. A false church, one seeking the world and not the Kingdom of God, deserves to die on the vine. A false church is not one that exemplifies the purity and holiness of the early congregation in Jerusalem of Acts 4:32-37.

In closing, I would also ask readers who are uncertain about the resurrection to please read Paul’s explanation about it. Parents and elder family members should make sure the children in their family understand it, too.

I say that because I know of small children in Britain over a decade ago (one was the offspring of a then-colleague) who learned at crèche that Jesus died and that Easter commemorates His death. NO! Easter celebrates Jesus’s victory over death. On the third day, He rose from the dead — according to the Scriptures!

It is essential that we understand what the Bible teaches and pass that knowledge along to younger family members.

Without sound, scripturally based doctrine, there may be no life to come for some.

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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy 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 (here and here).

Acts 24:10-21

10 And when the governor had nodded to him to speak, Paul replied:

“Knowing that for many years you have been a judge over this nation, I cheerfully make my defense. 11 You can verify that it is not more than twelve days since I went up to worship in Jerusalem, 12 and they did not find me disputing with anyone or stirring up a crowd, either in the temple or in the synagogues or in the city. 13 Neither can they prove to you what they now bring up against me. 14 But this I confess to you, that according to the Way, which they call a sect, I worship the God of our fathers, believing everything laid down by the Law and written in the Prophets, 15 having a hope in God, which these men themselves accept, that there will be a resurrection of both the just and the unjust. 16 So I always take pains to have a clear conscience toward both God and man. 17 Now after several years I came to bring alms to my nation and to present offerings. 18 While I was doing this, they found me purified in the temple, without any crowd or tumult. But some Jews from Asia— 19 they ought to be here before you and to make an accusation, should they have anything against me. 20 Or else let these men themselves say what wrongdoing they found when I stood before the council, 21 other than this one thing that I cried out while standing among them: ‘It is with respect to the resurrection of the dead that I am on trial before you this day.’”

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Paul was on trial before Felix, the Roman governor, in Caesarea.

Last week’s entry discussed Tertullus’s attempt to smear Paul’s reputation for his clients, the Sanhedrin. He made outrageous accusations.

Now it was Paul’s turn to speak. He addressed Felix not with flattery, as Tertullus had, but by simply acknowledging Felix’s authority and that he had confidence the governor would hear him favourably. Therefore, he would make his defence ‘cheerfully’ (verse 10).

Although it seems an odd thing to say, given Felix’s corrupt nature as a governor, Paul was effectively telling him, ‘When you hear what I have to say, you will know this is a religious matter, not one of sedition against the Roman government. You have been in this region long enough to know what this dispute is about.’

Matthew Henry’s commentary offers this analysis of the message Paul conveyed to Felix (emphases mine):

1. He could say of his own knowledge that there had not formerly been any complaints against Paul. Such clamours as they raised are generally against old offenders; but, though he had long say judge there, he never had Paul brought before him till now; and therefore he was not so dangerous a criminal as he was represented to be. 2. He was well acquainted with the Jewish nation, and with their temper and spirit. He knew how bigoted they were to their own way, what furious zealots they were against all that did not comply with them, how peevish and perverse they generally were, and therefore would make allowances for that in their accusation of him, and not regard that which he had reason to think came so much from part-malice. Though he did not know him, he knew his prosecutors, and by this might guess what manner of man he was.

Paul wisely ignored Tertullus’s accusations and went on to restate his case, as he had done in Jerusalem.

He began by saying that he had arrived in Jerusalem only 12 days earlier, ‘to worship’ (verse 11). Paul stated that he did not start any disputes either in the synagogues or in the city (verse 12) — therefore, nothing of either a religious or a secular nature.

Of those 12 days, Paul had been a prisoner for six, which Felix would have known. He was saying that he would not have had a chance to organise an uprising against Jew or Roman.

Paul added that neither Tertullus or the Sanhedrin could prove any of their accusations against him (verse 13).

St Luke, the author of Acts, gave us much detail about Paul’s time in Jerusalem. Looking back in the previous chapters, when Paul arrived in Jerusalem, the Church leaders there told him that he should complete his Nazirite vow with four other men and pay for all the animal sacrifices involved. This, the elders said, was necessary to placate local Jews.

When he attempted to complete the Nazirite vow with the men, a group of Jews falsely accused him of stirring up trouble in Asia Minor, probably Ephesus. This resulted in a mob physically and verbally attacking Paul.

Then, the Romans took Paul prisoner. The Roman tribune in Jerusalem, Claudius Lysias, could not get a reasoned set of accusations from the Jews, at least 40 of whom vowed to murder Paul, so he had the Apostle escorted from Jerusalem to Caesarea and effectively escalated the Apostle’s case to Felix.

Now back to Paul’s self-defence. Paul responded to Tertullus’s accusation that he was a member of a sect of Nazarenes (who did not have a good reputation) by saying that he belonged to the Way, the commonly used term for Christianity in that era. He rightly described the Way as the true worship of the Jewish God of our Fathers (Abraham, Isaac and Jacob) and correct interpretation of Scripture (verse 14).

Paul went on to say that, because he truly hoped in God, he knew there would be a final resurrection of the both the ‘just and the unjust’, Judgement Day (verse 15). For that reason, Paul said, he made sure that his conscience was clear before God and man (verse 16).

John MacArthur tells us that Paul was not only explaining the Way but was also pointing a finger at his accusers for falsely worshipping God by denying the Messiah:

“The Way” is the title of Christianity; the unsaved people used to slur the Christians by calling them “Nazarenes” or slur them by calling them “Christians,” “little Christs,” but the Christians called themselves “The Way,” members of The Way. That’s good, isn’t it?

We say, “Where did they get that name?” Well, it’s pretty obvious; there is no other way. Jesus said, “I am the way.” Peter preached, “There is no other name under Heaven given among men whereby we must be saved.” Peter even uses it in II Peter 2:2. He says that “False teachers, by their pernicious ways, cause the way of truth to be evil spoken of.” So this was a title for Christianity used by Christians: The Way.

Yes, he says, “I confess to you that after the Way which they call heresy” – yeah, they call it heresy – “…so worshiped I the God of my fathers, believing all things written in the Law and in the Prophets and have hope toward God, which they themselves also allow, that there shall be a resurrection of the dead, both of the just and of the unjust.” You can see the High Priest saying, “Yuck! Here we go again on the resurrection,” because the Sadducees didn’t believe in the resurrection, right? That’s what started the fight in the Sanhedrin.

So you know what Paul says? “I would just like to say that it is true that I am a believer in the Way and consequently, I truly worship my God; I believe all of His revelation, including the part about resurrection,” as if to say “take that.” Who’s the real heretics? The high priests who have ceased worshiping God because there is only one way to God; Jesus said, “No man comes to the Father but by Me,” who have ceased believing all the Law and the Prophets because if you believed all the law and the prophets, you are going to have to believe in Christ because all the Law and the prophets talked about was Christ. “And who have ceased believing in the great hope of Israel, the hope of a resurrection.” They’re the heretics. It’s a pretty strong argument.

Henry makes this point about the resurrection of the dead. It was fundamental to the Jewish faith, too:

The resurrection of the dead is a fundamental article of our creed, as it was also of that of the Jewish church. It is what they themselves also allow; nay, it was the expectation of the ancient patriarchs, witness Job’s confession of his faith; but it is more clearly revealed and more fully confirmed by the gospel, and therefore those who believed it should have been thankful to the preachers of the gospel for their explications and proofs of it, instead of opposing them.

MacArthur provides scriptural citations:

The traditional hope of the Jew was the resurrection. You say, “Did the Old Testament teach a resurrection?” Of course it did! Isaiah 26:19, Job 19:26, Daniel 12:2, and elsewhere the Old Testament taught a resurrection.

I believe in my heart that Abraham believed in a resurrection, that’s why he was willing to sacrifice Isaac. I think that was ultimate faith.

Over time, MacArthur explains, the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Bible) became the only ones that were legally binding on the Jews:

the Sadducees standing there didn’t believe in a resurrection. You say, “How did they get around it if it’s in Isaiah, Job, Daniel, etc.?” They got around it because they said this, “The only binding truth in the Old Testament is what Moses said out of the first five books. That’s it.” That’s why, when Jesus was having an argument about resurrection, He quoted Exodus 3, because He knew that was the only thing that they would adhere to. He used it by implication; the name of God being the indication of resurrection.

The Sadducees were not traditional; they were heretics. They denied that which the Old Testament taught. They were modernists. They were the aristocratic family and they were the modernists theologically. They were not traditional Jews, and I’m sure the accusers here are mostly Sadducees. The high priest was a Sadducee, and most likely the other elders were as well. So Paul says “boy, I’m the guy that believes in the truth, the resurrection of the dead, the just and the unjust.” Yes, there will be a resurrection of both. Unsaved people? Yes, they will be resurrected physically, in some form.

Then Paul moved on to discuss his purpose in going to Jerusalem. He said that he was coming with alms and offerings for his ‘nation’, meaning the Christians of that city (verse 17). Paul had collected offerings from the various Gentile churches he visited elsewhere to bring to the poor congregation in Jerusalem.

MacArthur explains the difference between alms and offerings as well as why Paul said ‘my nation’. The recipients were the Jews who believed that Christ Jesus fulfilled Holy Scripture:

And so, he said, “I came to bring alms to my nation, even offerings.” And the idea of offerings – you say, “What’s the difference between alms and offerings?” Alms is the definition of what he brought; offering is the source of what he brought.

It was the money for the needy given by the Gentiles. “They were offerings,” he said, “that I brought to give to the needy. That’s why I came.” Now, I want you to notice something interesting. He says, “After many years I came to bring alms to my nation.” You say, “Well, wait a minute. He didn’t give them to the nation. He gave them to the Christian Jews.” … The only true Jew in existence is what? The Christian Jew, the one who is a Jew not outwardly, but inwardly. And so, there’s no reason to qualify that.

You say, “Well, maybe Paul is kind of getting himself off the hook by using a generality.” Not really. Paul did not distinguish the Christian Jew from the rest, because, in his mind, a true Jew was one who believed in the Messiah, Jesus Christ, and he was right. And so, he did bring to his nation these things. “I came here,” he says, “To bring alms to my nation, offerings. And there I was in the temple, minding my own business” – that’s in the white spaces between 17 and 18.

Paul went on to say that he was completing his Nazirite vow quietly in the temple when ‘Jews from Asia’ (verse 18) began shouting false accusations about him. He left that bit unspoken, but covered it by saying they are the ones who should be before Felix, not the Sanhedrin, defending their accusations (verse 19).

However, Paul said, as the Jews from Asia are not present, then the Sanhedrin should say what they think he is guilty of (verse 19), other than a robust defence of the resurrection of the dead (verse 20). That pointed the finger straight back at the Sadducees.

Henry clarifies Paul’s message:

When I was there, they could not take offence at any thing I said; for all I said was, Touching the resurrection of the dead I am called in question by you this day (Acts 24:21), which gave no offence to any one but the Sadducees. This I hope was no crime, that I stuck to that which is the faith of the whole Jewish church, excepting those whom they themselves call heretics.”

MacArthur says that, with his statement, Paul had exonerated himself from any civil charges. In other words, this was a purely theological matter, which a Roman court did not handle:

Paul knows that that’s no criminal issue at all. That’s a theological discussion. These guys were standing right there; they had been in the council. They had nothing to say. There was no accusation given. The only thing they could say was that he had said something about the resurrection and everybody got uptight about it. That’s all. It was theological; no issue for a court. And incidentally, Felix knew this. He knew it even before Paul’s testimony, because in chapter 23:29, he got a letter from the tribune of Jerusalem, who explained it.

“Whom I perceived,” he said, “to be accused of questions of their law but having nothing laid to his charge worthy of death or bonds.” In other words, Claudius Lysias, when he sent Paul to Felix, sent this letter along, and said, “Hey Felix, this guy hasn’t done one thing to break the law. It’s a whole theological issue between the Jews.” And so, what Paul does in the last of his testimony is in verse 21. What he does is, he throws the whole case back into theology, and it’s a very wise move. Here he is as wise as a serpent.

He just throws the whole case into the theological area, and he knows from experience that a Roman judge cannot make a determination in a case or regarding Jewish theology. There is no crime, there’s no criminal act, there’s no civil crime; there’s nothing. Felix knew that, he knew the real issue. Paul just gave him the responsibility. He says, “The only thing they’ve got that hassles them is that I made a statement concerning the resurrection of the dead, and I said that’s probably the issue, that that’s the only thing that they could bring up.”

The story continues next week, turning to Felix’s spiritual health.

Next time — Acts 24:22-27

Below are the readings for the Fifth Sunday after Epiphany, February 10, 2019.

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

Emphases mine below.

First reading

Isaiah receives his divine commission to be a prophet. There is much to study here. Matthew Henry’s commentary on this passage is powerful and well worth reading. The purpose of the coal placed on Isaiah’s lips during his vision of God’s dominion was not to inflict pain, but to cleanse him from sin so that he could go and preach to the people to persuade them to reject the world and return to Him.

Isaiah 6:1-8, (9-13)

6:1 In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lofty; and the hem of his robe filled the temple.

6:2 Seraphs were in attendance above him; each had six wings: with two they covered their faces, and with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew.

6:3 And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory.”

6:4 The pivots on the thresholds shook at the voices of those who called, and the house filled with smoke.

6:5 And I said: “Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!”

6:6 Then one of the seraphs flew to me, holding a live coal that had been taken from the altar with a pair of tongs.

6:7 The seraph touched my mouth with it and said: “Now that this has touched your lips, your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out.”

6:8 Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I; send me!”

6:9 And he said, “Go and say to this people: ‘Keep listening, but do not comprehend; keep looking, but do not understand.’

6:10 Make the mind of this people dull, and stop their ears, and shut their eyes, so that they may not look with their eyes, and listen with their ears, and comprehend with their minds, and turn and be healed.”

6:11 Then I said, “How long, O Lord?” And he said: “Until cities lie waste without inhabitant, and houses without people, and the land is utterly desolate;

6:12 until the LORD sends everyone far away, and vast is the emptiness in the midst of the land.

6:13 Even if a tenth part remain in it, it will be burned again, like a terebinth or an oak whose stump remains standing when it is felled.” The holy seed is its stump.

Psalm

In this Psalm, David looks back in gratitude for all that God has done for him. He looks forward to the future in faith, confident of His continuing guidance and love.

Psalm 138

138:1 I give you thanks, O LORD, with my whole heart; before the gods I sing your praise;

138:2 I bow down toward your holy temple and give thanks to your name for your steadfast love and your faithfulness; for you have exalted your name and your word above everything.

138:3 On the day I called, you answered me, you increased my strength of soul.

138:4 All the kings of the earth shall praise you, O LORD, for they have heard the words of your mouth.

138:5 They shall sing of the ways of the LORD, for great is the glory of the LORD.

138:6 For though the LORD is high, he regards the lowly; but the haughty he perceives from far away.

138:7 Though I walk in the midst of trouble, you preserve me against the wrath of my enemies; you stretch out your hand, and your right hand delivers me.

138:8 The LORD will fulfill his purpose for me; your steadfast love, O LORD, endures forever. Do not forsake the work of your hands.

Epistle

When Paul wrote this letter, there was a dispute in Corinth about the truth of the resurrection of the dead. Paul reassures the Christians by discussing witnesses who saw Jesus after the Resurrection.

1 Corinthians 15:1-11

15:1 Now I would remind you, brothers and sisters, of the good news that I proclaimed to you, which you in turn received, in which also you stand,

15:2 through which also you are being saved, if you hold firmly to the message that I proclaimed to you–unless you have come to believe in vain.

15:3 For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures,

15:4 and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures,

15:5 and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.

15:6 Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died.

15:7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles.

15:8 Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.

15:9 For I am the least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.

15:10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me has not been in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them–though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.

15:11 Whether then it was I or they, so we proclaim and so you have come to believe.

Gospel

This reading from Luke is the famous ‘fishers of men’ passage. It is unfortunate that the compilers of the New Revised Standard Version thought they had to change what was beautiful, and universally understood, wording.

Luke 5:1-11

5:1 Once while Jesus was standing beside the lake of Gennesaret, and the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God,

5:2 he saw two boats there at the shore of the lake; the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets.

5:3 He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little way from the shore. Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat.

5:4 When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.”

5:5 Simon answered, “Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.”

5:6 When they had done this, they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break.

5:7 So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both boats, so that they began to sink.

5:8 But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!”

5:9 For he and all who were with him were amazed at the catch of fish that they had taken;

5:10 and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who are partners with Simon. Then Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.”

5:11 When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him.

The readings from Isaiah and Luke tie together nicely. Both the prophet and Peter were so awestruck by their respective experiences that each proclaimed himself unworthy through sin to serve the Lord.

I suspect were we to have one of these divine encounters, we, too, would be seared with the awareness of our own iniquity and inadequacy. Yet, even without such experiences, the Lord lifts us up in love and encouragement. May we have the eyes to see and the ears to hear, giving Him praise, just as David did.

Bible treehuggercomThe 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 24:1-9

Paul Before Felix at Caesarea

24 And after five days the high priest Ananias came down with some elders and a spokesman, one Tertullus. They laid before the governor their case against Paul. And when he had been summoned, Tertullus began to accuse him, saying:

“Since through you we enjoy much peace, and since by your foresight, most excellent Felix, reforms are being made for this nation, in every way and everywhere we accept this with all gratitude. But, to detain[a] you no further, I beg you in your kindness to hear us briefly. For we have found this man a plague, one who stirs up riots among all the Jews throughout the world and is a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes. 6 He even tried to profane the temple, but we seized him.[b] By examining him yourself you will be able to find out from him about everything of which we accuse him.”

The Jews also joined in the charge, affirming that all these things were so.

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Last week’s entry discussed Paul’s safe arrival in Caesarea, thanks to an impressive Roman military escort. There he lodged in an apartment in Herod’s praetorium, which Felix the Roman governor used. God achieved His goal for Paul by working through unbelievers.

Jerusalem’s Roman tribune, Claudius Lysias, had escalated Paul’s case upwards to Felix the governor, who wanted to convene members of the Sanhedrin to hear their complaint against Paul.

Five days after Paul’s arrest in Jerusalem, the high priest Ananias, accompanied by religious elders — akin to religious Supreme Court justices — and a spokesman, Tertullus, appeared before Felix in Caesarea to state their case (verse 1).

Tertullus was a slick orator for hire, a go-between between non-Romans and Roman authorities. He would charge a fee to help plead a case or to butter up Roman authorities. He could twist the truth convincingly.

Matthew Henry’s commentary says:

his speech (or at least an abstract of it, for it appears, by Tully’s orations, that the Roman lawyers, on such occasions, used to make long harangues) is here reported, and it is made up of flattery and falsehood; it calls evil good, and good evil.

John MacArthur tells us Tertullus was a (emphases mine):

professional case reader; a guy who could come in there and read this deal off, and figure it all out, and then could go and plead the thing. This is a man who probably was versed in legal procedure as far as Rome went. He probably spoke eloquent Latin; and, he was the guy they were going to have plead the case. It says at the end of verse 1 that, “He informed the governor.” The high priest and the other people from the Sanhedrin just stood there while Tertullus did the talking.

BibleHub says we should not make too many assumptions about Tertullus’s religious identity or nationality:

Although he bore a Roman name, he was not necessarily a Roman; Roman names were common both among Greeks and Jews, and most orators were at this time of eastern extraction. Nor is it definitely to be concluded from the manner of his speech (Acts 24:2-8) that he was a Jew; it has always been customary for lawyers to identify themselves in their pleading with their clients.

Tertullus began presenting the Sanhedrin’s case by first flattering Felix, lauding his peaceful rule, his foresight and his reforms (verses 2, 3).

In reality, that was untrue. Even Roman historians and the Jewish historian Josephus attested that Felix’s tenure was characterised by disordered violence, which he put down with too much force at times, resulting in more revolt. The Jewish Encyclopedia states:

Felix exercised, as Tacitus says, “the royal prerogative in a slavish sense, with all manner of cruelties and excesses”; it was he who excited the bitter feelings of the Jewish patriots to the highest pitch, and for this even his patron Jonathan reproached him in the end.

When Paul was there:

A fierce contest arose at that time between the Jewish and Syrian citizens of Cæsarea, and as Felix acted unjustly toward the Jews, he was recalled by Nero about 60 C. E. (“Ant.” xx. 8, §§ 7-9; “B. J.” ii. 12, § 7). At the intercession of Pallas he escaped punishment (“Ant.” l.c.).

Pallas was Felix’s brother. Both were Greek freedmen. By rights, Felix could have been severely punished for not only allowing, but possibly contributing, to local unrest. Romans in positions of authority, from governors down to prison guards, were expected to maintain order at all times. Depending on the offence, the death penalty was also in force for those who did not do their jobs properly.

He lured his second wife, Drusilla (Herod Agrippa I’s daughter), away from her then-husband:

Related to Claudius by a former marriage, Felix, immediately on entering office, alienated the affections of the Jewish princess Drusilla, sister of Agrippa II., from her husband, King Azizus of Emesa (Josephus, “Ant.” xx. 7, § 2; comp. Acts xxiv. 24).

Felix, Drusilla, their son Marcus Antonius Agrippa and daughter Antonia Clementiana returned to Rome in 58 AD. (Therefore, this episode with Paul took place around two years earlier.) His wife and son died when Mount Vesuvius erupted in 79 AD. He married for a third time, although details are scarce.

Back now to Tertullus, who went on to make the Sanhedrin’s case ‘briefly’ against Paul (verse 4). He truly put himself in the Sanhedrin’s shoes rhetorically, by calling Paul ‘a plague’, one who ‘stirs up riots among all the Jews throughout the world‘ and a ‘ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes’ (verse 5). Well, one couldn’t get much stronger verbiage than that. Remember that Tertullus might not have believed what he was saying but that he was paid handsomely to make his clients’ case.

As Henry says, Tertullus had:

a saleable tongue (as one calls it) …

Therefore, we should not be angry with him but rather angry with the Sanhedrin:

those dignified men that had such malicious hearts as to put such words into his mouth.

Note Tertullus’s half-truths. Paul did not stir up riots; Jews were angry at his preaching the truths of the Good News. He was not a ringleader; he was a preacher and a teacher who came in peace and love wherever he went.

MacArthur explains that, even though Tertullus was talking about matters religious, he was simultaneously trying to make a case that Paul was a seditionist — a potential civil charge which might have swayed Roman opinion against the Apostle:

… there was the potential that this could stick if the right twist on the truth could be brought to bear. So they accuse him of being a man of sedition, and one who moves people to riot, and The Romans did not tolerate it. They were paranoid about revolution. They were paranoid about insurrections and riots, because they had managed to conquer; they had placed all their rulers and soldiers in these areas to keep the peace; and this is the one thing they feared.

This is why Tertullus made the Sanhedrin’s claims carefully in order to keep the case under Felix:

Now, he doesn’t name any riot. You know why? If he had named a riot in any area, it would have immediately removed the responsibility from Felix because they would have had to transfer Paul into that area to be tried under whoever had the jurisdiction over the area

So they accuse him, then, of leading sedition among all the Jews throughout the world; an accusation of treason. And it isn’t true. He was accused, of course, of creating dissention everywhere he went, but that was only because people created the dissention in response to what he was preaching.

Then, Tertullus returned to the religious aspect of the argument: the Sanhedrin prevented Paul from trying to profane the temple (verse 6), which was a bald-faced lie. Paul was completing his Nazirite vow, but the Jews were so incensed, they couldn’t think straight (Acts 21:28-29):

28 … “Men of Israel, help! This is the man who is teaching everyone everywhere against the people and the law and this place. Moreover, he even brought Greeks into the temple and has defiled this holy place.” 29 For they had previously seen Trophimus the Ephesian with him in the city, and they supposed that Paul had brought him into the temple.

By the way, if Trophimus had been with him, the Jews were allowed under Roman law to kill him, because he was a Gentile. Paul, a Jew, would have lived.

Eagle-eyed readers will have observed that the ESV goes from verse 6 to verse 8. Some translations have the following, which makes the narrative much clearer:

and we would have judged him according to our law. 7But the chief captain Lysias came and with great violence took him out of our hands, 8commanding his accusers to come before you.

Tertullus concluded, saying that, ‘by examining him’, Felix would find out that the Sanhedrin was telling the truth (verse 8). I thought that Tertullus meant examining Paul, but MacArthur posits that ‘him’ referred to Claudius Lysias, as we will find out later in Acts 24:

Now they say it, “And if you want to know what happened, you just ask Claudius Lysias.” You say, “Well, they told lies, though.” Sure, but Claudius Lysias wasn’t going to get in a fight with them.

And, if you look at verse 22, it says, “Felix heard these things,” etc., etc. He deferred them and said, “When Lysias the chief captain shall come down, I will determine your case.” It seems as though the indication of 22 is that the reference was to hearing from Claudius Lysias

And so later on, in 22, Felix says, “I’ll check with him.” You know something? He never did

The Jews present affirmed what Tertullus had said (verse 9). MacArthur says that each accuser probably presented a short statement of assent:

So, so-and-so took the stand, and then another elder – and whatever else – and they all said, “Oh, everything he says is true.” They just perjured themselves up one side and down the other, lying right through their teeth. In the name of God, “servants of God” they called themselves, “lovers of God,” “lovers of the law,” they called themselves. And here they are, blatantly lying in order to preserve their religion and to execute a man they didn’t want around.

Paul was experiencing the same type of false accusations that Jesus had. Through the ages, especially today, Christians are going through the same persecution.

MacArthur says that if believers aren’t persecuted in some way, they’re not living a godly enough life:

Now listen; this is a very, very clear illustration of what a Christian should expect. How many times have we seen that, if a Christian really lives his life in the face of an ungodly world, he’s going to make waves? Is that right? 2 Timothy 3:12 says, “Yea, and all that will live godly in this present age shall suffer persecution.” If you’re going to live a godly life in the midst of an ungodly society, you’re going to get some flack. I mean, that’s expected; that’s how it will be. If you’re not getting any flack, you’re not living a godly life in the midst of an ungodly world. They can’t handle it.

Listen to what Peter said in 1 Peter 3:14. “…if you suffer for righteousness’ sake, happy are you. Don’t be afraid of their terror, neither be troubled, but sanctify the Lord God always in your hearts, be ready to give an answer to every man that asks you the reason for the hope that is in you with meekness and fear.” In other words, stand up there and give an answer boldly, meekly. Listen, “Having a good conscience,” which means you can stand up there with a clear conscience and give your answer. “Whereas they speak evil of you as evildoers, they may be ashamed to falsely accuse your good manner of life in Christ.”

What is he saying? Two things. One, have a blameless life. Two, have a clear testimony and let happen what happens …

Jesus put it this way in Matthew 5. He said, “Blessed are you when men shall revile you…and speak all manner of evil against you falsely. Blessed are you.” What do you mean “blessed”? That I made enemies? Jesus made enemies.

MacArthur isn’t advocating provoking hostile arguments with people about faith — not at all — but, in life, some unscrupulous people will naturally take issue with us. That might well include fellow church members — possibly even the clergy! Look at how the Jewish leaders took against Jesus and Paul.

Next week, we’ll look at Paul’s response.

Next time — Acts 24:10-21

February 2 and 3, 2019 is a rather busy weekend in the Church calendar.

Candlemas

Today, February 2, is the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord, traditionally known as Candlemas, the day on which church candles are blessed. Some countries, especially France, serve crêpes and cidre on Candlemas.

Theologically, Candlemas is 40 days after Christmas and the date when Jewish ceremonies for mother and male child are performed. February 2 recalls two events: a) Jesus’s formal Presentation in the Temple and b) Mary’s return to the Temple after childbirth, which carried over into Christianity as a ceremony called the Churching of Women.

You can read more about Candlemas in the following post:

February 2 is Candlemas

The Gospel reading is Luke 2:22:40, which I wrote about at length in the following posts:

Jesus presented at the temple (Part 1)

Jesus presented at the temple (Part 2)

Candlemas: the prophetess Anna

St Blaise Day

February 3 is the feast day of St Blaise, traditionally when Catholics have their throats blessed by their priest during or after Mass. The priest crosses two beeswax candles and places them close to the congregant’s throat, reciting a blessing against an ailment of the throat. St Blaise was born in an ancient part of Armenia. That part of Armenia is now in Turkey. Blaise was also one of the Fourteen Holy Helpers who was said to have performed many miracles. His last miracle, prior to martyrdom, was dislodging a fish bone from a child’s throat. The lad’s mother simply placed the choking boy at Blaise’s feet and the bone troubled him no more. You can read more about St Blaise in the following post. I promise you will not be bored:

St Blaise’s feast day and the blessing of throats

Fourth Sunday after Epiphany

What follows are the readings for the Fourth Sunday after Epiphany, February 3, 2019.

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

Emphases mine below.

First reading

The reading from Jeremiah is apposite, considering that three American states are looking at infanticide laws. New York State’s passed on January 22. Virginia’s failed in the state legislature this week, and Rhode Island will soon be considering a bill approving very late term abortion. California, incidentally, has had laws for several years that are very similar to New York’s.

Essentially, such late term abortions amount to infanticide.

One of the verses that caused me to change my mind about abortion is Jeremiah 1:5. God had a purpose for Jeremiah. Similarly, He has a purpose for each of us. What does He think about His developing humans who die in the womb — each one with a divine purpose? How will He judge those who abort and those who perform abortions, particularly those amounting to infanticide?

Jeremiah 1:4-10

1:4 Now the word of the LORD came to me saying,

1:5 “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.”

1:6 Then I said, “Ah, Lord GOD! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy.”

1:7 But the LORD said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am only a boy’; for you shall go to all to whom I send you, and you shall speak whatever I command you,

1:8 Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, says the LORD.”

1:9 Then the LORD put out his hand and touched my mouth; and the LORD said to me, “Now I have put my words in your mouth.

1:10 See, today I appoint you over nations and over kingdoms, to pluck up and to pull down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant.”

Psalm

David wrote this Psalm in his dotage. May we likewise share his praise of and trust in the Lord.

Psalm 71:1-6

71:1 In you, O LORD, I take refuge; let me never be put to shame.

71:2 In your righteousness deliver me and rescue me; incline your ear to me and save me.

71:3 Be to me a rock of refuge, a strong fortress, to save me, for you are my rock and my fortress.

71:4 Rescue me, O my God, from the hand of the wicked, from the grasp of the unjust and cruel.

71:5 For you, O Lord, are my hope, my trust, O LORD, from my youth.

71:6 Upon you I have leaned from my birth; it was you who took me from my mother’s womb. My praise is continually of you.

Epistle

St Paul wrote of the essential nature of love in being a follower of Christ. This must be one of his most well-known letters. It reads much better in the King James Version:

1 Corinthians 13:1-13

13 Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.

And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing.

And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.

Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up,

Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil;

Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth;

Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.

Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away.

For we know in part, and we prophesy in part.

10 But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away.

11 When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.

12 For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.

13 And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.

Here is the Lectionary version, taken from the New Revised Standard Version:

1 Corinthians 13:1-13

13:1 If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.

13:2 And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.

13:3 If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

13:4 Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant

13:5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful;

13:6 it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth.

13:7 It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

13:8 Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end.

13:9 For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part;

13:10 but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end.

13:11 When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways.

13:12 For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.

13:13 And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.

Gospel

This reading is a continuation of last week’s, with Jesus preaching to the Nazarenes in their synagogue, wanting to cure their unbelief and warning them that God sometimes chose Gentiles to receive His favour, not His Chosen. His fellow townsmen were outraged. This is quite shocking.

Luke 4:21-30

4:21 Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

4:22 All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They said, “Is not this Joseph’s son?”

4:23 He said to them, “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘Doctor, cure yourself!’ And you will say, ‘Do here also in your hometown the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum.'”

4:24 And he said, “Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown.

4:25 But the truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a severe famine over all the land;

4:26 yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon.

4:27 There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.”

4:28 When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage.

4:29 They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff.

4:30 But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way.

There is a rich seam of material here for Sunday sermons from an excellent choice of readings.

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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

Acts 23:31-35

31 So the soldiers, according to their instructions, took Paul and brought him by night to Antipatris. 32 And on the next day they returned to the barracks, letting the horsemen go on with him. 33 When they had come to Caesarea and delivered the letter to the governor, they presented Paul also before him. 34 On reading the letter, he asked what province he was from. And when he learned that he was from Cilicia, 35 he said, “I will give you a hearing when your accusers arrive.” And he commanded him to be guarded in Herod’s praetorium.

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

Last week’s entry discussed the letter that Jerusalem’s Roman tribune Claudius Lysias — whom St Luke referred to by name in Acts 23:26 — sent to the Roman governor Felix.

Claudius Lysias had moved Paul’s case up the management chain, therefore, the Apostle was no longer his responsibility.

As we read last week, the tribune ordered two of his centurions — each in charge of 100 troops — to provide Paul with horses. It is quite possible that Luke, the author of Acts, accompanied Paul on this journey to Caesarea.

Paul had a huge military escort. The full phalanx of men took him during the night to Antipatris (verse 31). BibleHub’s atlas page tells us more about Antipatris, which was halfway between Jerusalem and Caesarea (emphases mine):

It was a town built by Herod the Great, and called after his father Antipater. It is probably identical with the modern Ras el-`Ain, “fountain head,” a large mound with ruins at the source of Nahr el`Aujeh, in the plain to the Northeast of Jaffa. There are remains of a crusading castle which may be the Mirabel of those times …

It is 28 ms. n. w. of Jerusalem, has ruins, a fine spring and is on the ancient Roman road: 27 ms. a little w. of n. are the ruins of Cesarea, on the coast. Another site has been suggested at Kefr Saba, 4 ms. n. of the first mentioned place.

The following day, no doubt after a short rest period, the main body of troops returned to the barracks in Jerusalem (verse 32). Antipatris was in a calmer region characterised by the lack of tension between Romans and Jews, as it was mostly Gentile. The more armed Roman troops were needed back in the city, hence their return. Therefore, the horsemen continued escorting Paul from Antipatris to Caesarea.

Matthew Henry’s commentary tells us:

Thence the two hundred foot-soldiers, and the two hundred spearmen, returned back to Jerusalem, to their quarters in the castle; for, having conducted Paul out of danger, there needed not strong a guard, but the horsemen might serve to bring him to Cæsarea, and would do it with more expedition

John MacArthur says:

Once they got him down to Antipatris, they were in Gentile territory – pretty much. And, they felt that the 70 horsemen could handle him, so the other 400 came back to Jerusalem. And that was wise, too, because he had to have his forces where they needed to be, back in the city.

Upon arrival, the cavalry presented Paul and the letter from Claudius Lysias to the governor, Felix (verse 33). They duly returned to Jerusalem.

Felix read the brief letter and asked Paul where he was from. Paul told him he was from Cilicia (verse 34), where Tarsus was.

Felix asked Paul that question, because he wanted to be sure that he was authorised to hear the case. MacArthur explains:

he had to determine who had jurisdiction. The Romans had divided their conquered world into various provinces over which there were procurators, or governors. Cilicia and Judea were considered to be in the domain of Felix, and that’s what he wanted to determine so that he would know that he had jurisdiction. When Paul replied that he was from Cilicia, which is just north of the Judea area, he agreed that that was his jurisdiction. He says, “I will try the case,” verse 35, “…when your accusers arrive.”

Having told Paul that he would hear his case, he commanded his men to put Paul up in one of Herod Agrippa I’s apartments (verse 35). That was the Herod who suffered a divine judgement of death by worms in Acts 12. He was eaten alive. His palace — praetorium — became the governor’s residence. So, Paul was lodging in the same building as Felix.

At the beginning of Acts 23, MacArthur said that there were four themes to the chapter: the confrontation, the conflict, the conquest and the consolation.

Clearly, this was a time of consolation for Paul, to be accommodated in such grandeur — even if he was a prisoner.

Throughout this chapter, MacArthur — and Henry — have pointed out that God was working through unbelievers, the Romans, to deliver Paul to safety. Luke did not write of divine intervention, but it is apparent. MacArthur says:

You talk about first class; he’d had been escorted by 470 soldiers, and now he is going to room in the palace. God is taking care of him.

You can just imagine that Paul is there in the palace just praising the Lord for a promise given only a night before, and fulfilled already – the care of the Lord for His children. Do you see a miracle in the passage? Did you see a miracle anywhere? No miracle. No signs, no wonders, and no mighty deeds. Did you see God at work in His providence, ordering the circumstances, ordering the lives of the people, moving all the scenes and the characters on the stage to accomplish His will?

Beloved, this passage tells me things about God even though God isn’t mentioned. One, it tells me God is faithful. He keeps His word. Do you believe that? Peter said this in 2 Peter 3:9, “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise.” I see a faithful God. He makes a promise in verse 11, and right in the morning He carries out the fulfillment of it. Paul is 60 miles closer to the promised destination the first day, and God confirmed that promise in his heart. God is faithful.

Second, God is caring. Did you see the care of God? Did you see how He takes care of His servant? He knows how much Paul can handle. He knew that it wasn’t time now for Paul to sneak out of town, or to be dragged out of town, or to be hustled through the Judean hillsides between the robbers and all of the people that were lurking there, and the seditionists; by two or three men, sort of scared and huddled in the corner. He knew how much Paul had endured, and He knew it was time for Paul to go first class, and that’s how he went.

Henry’s commentary points out another aspect, the fact that Paul’s stay in the governor’s palace brought him in contact with many great men with whom he could share the Good News:

Paul had never affected acquaintance or society with great men, but with the disciples, wherever he came; yet Providence overrules his sufferings so as by them to give him an opportunity of witnessing to Christ before great men; and so Christ had foretold concerning his disciples, that they should be brought before rulers and kings for his sake, for a testimony against them, Mark 13:9 … There he had opportunity of acquainting himself with great men that attended the governor’s court, and, no doubt, he improved what acquaintance he got there to the best purposes.

There is a concept popular in some Protestant denominations, that of common grace. Catholics would call it natural law. Jewish people understand it as the Noahide laws. Whatever the case, divinely oriented common decency prevents our world from completely falling apart through violence and depravity. Even though we all sin, most of us — wherever we are in the world and regardless of belief or unbelief — recognise the difference between right and wrong.

How the Romans treated Paul in Acts 23 is one good biblical example of divine intervention at work in unbelievers.

Next time — Acts 24:1-9

What follows are the readings for the Third Sunday after Epiphany, January 27, 2019.

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

Emphases mine below.

First reading

The worship service of thanksgiving that Nehemiah wrote of was conducted after the Lord released His people from Babylon. In like manner, Christians are grateful that the Lord sent us Christ Jesus who freed us from sin by dying on the Cross.

Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6, 8-10

8:1 all the people gathered together into the square before the Water Gate. They told the scribe Ezra to bring the book of the law of Moses, which the LORD had given to Israel.

8:2 Accordingly, the priest Ezra brought the law before the assembly, both men and women and all who could hear with understanding. This was on the first day of the seventh month.

8:3 He read from it facing the square before the Water Gate from early morning until midday, in the presence of the men and the women and those who could understand; and the ears of all the people were attentive to the book of the law.

8:5 And Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people, for he was standing above all the people; and when he opened it, all the people stood up.

8:6 Then Ezra blessed the LORD, the great God, and all the people answered, “Amen, Amen,” lifting up their hands. Then they bowed their heads and worshiped the LORD with their faces to the ground.

8:8 So they read from the book, from the law of God, with interpretation. They gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading.

8:9 And Nehemiah, who was the governor, and Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who taught the people said to all the people, “This day is holy to the LORD your God; do not mourn or weep.” For all the people wept when they heard the words of the law.

8:10 Then he said to them, “Go your way, eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions of them to those for whom nothing is prepared, for this day is holy to our LORD; and do not be grieved, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.”

Psalm

The Psalm is a jubilant one of rejoicing in the Lord. Verse 14 is what many Anglican — including Episcopal — clergy pray aloud before they give their sermons.

Psalm 19

19:1 The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.

19:2 Day to day pours forth speech, and night to night declares knowledge.

19:3 There is no speech, nor are there words; their voice is not heard;

19:4 yet their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world. In the heavens he has set a tent for the sun,

19:5 which comes out like a bridegroom from his wedding canopy, and like a strong man runs its course with joy.

19:6 Its rising is from the end of the heavens, and its circuit to the end of them; and nothing is hid from its heat.

19:7 The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul; the decrees of the LORD are sure, making wise the simple;

19:8 the precepts of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the LORD is clear, enlightening the eyes;

19:9 the fear of the LORD is pure, enduring forever; the ordinances of the LORD are true and righteous altogether.

19:10 More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey, and drippings of the honeycomb.

19:11 Moreover by them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward.

19:12 But who can detect their errors? Clear me from hidden faults.

19:13 Keep back your servant also from the insolent; do not let them have dominion over me. Then I shall be blameless, and innocent of great transgression.

19:14 Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer.

Epistle

Paul explained the importance of a church community. This unity holds true both locally and globally.

1 Corinthians 12:12-31a

12:12 For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ.

12:13 For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body–Jews or Greeks, slaves or free–and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.

12:14 Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many.

12:15 If the foot would say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body.

12:16 And if the ear would say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body.

12:17 If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be?

12:18 But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose.

12:19 If all were a single member, where would the body be?

12:20 As it is, there are many members, yet one body.

12:21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.”

12:22 On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable,

12:23 and those members of the body that we think less honorable we clothe with greater honor, and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect;

12:24 whereas our more respectable members do not need this. But God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior member,

12:25 that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another.

12:26 If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.

12:27 Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.

12:28 And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers; then deeds of power, then gifts of healing, forms of assistance, forms of leadership, various kinds of tongues.

12:29 Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles?

12:30 Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret?

12:31 But strive for the greater gifts.

Gospel

Jesus’s reading at the synagogue in Nazareth took place after his 40 days in the desert. Note that He told his hometown congregation that Isaiah’s prophecy was fulfilled that very day. Matthew Henry has an excellent commentary on the verses from Isaiah and Jesus’s fulfilment of that prophecy.

Luke 4:14-21

4:14 Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country.

4:15 He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone.

4:16 When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read,

4:17 and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:

4:18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free,

4:19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

4:20 And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him.

4:21 Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

Anyone reading this looking for a good interpretation of Luke’s Gospel would do well to read the aforementioned commentary from Matthew Henry.

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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

Acts 23:23-30

Paul Sent to Felix the Governor

23 Then he called two of the centurions and said, “Get ready two hundred soldiers, with seventy horsemen and two hundred spearmen to go as far as Caesarea at the third hour of the night.[a] 24 Also provide mounts for Paul to ride and bring him safely to Felix the governor.” 25 And he wrote a letter to this effect:

26 “Claudius Lysias, to his Excellency the governor Felix, greetings. 27 This man was seized by the Jews and was about to be killed by them when I came upon them with the soldiers and rescued him, having learned that he was a Roman citizen. 28 And desiring to know the charge for which they were accusing him, I brought him down to their council. 29 I found that he was being accused about questions of their law, but charged with nothing deserving death or imprisonment. 30 And when it was disclosed to me that there would be a plot against the man, I sent him to you at once, ordering his accusers also to state before you what they have against him.”

————————————————————————————————————-

In last week’s reading, Paul’s young nephew informed the Roman tribune of the Sanhedrin’s plot to murder Paul. The Jewish leaders involved had taken an oath to not eat or drink anything until they had accomplished their evil deed.

The tribune decided to despatch Paul at 9 p.m. to Caesarea in Gentile territory (verse 23). Students of Acts will know this was the town where Cornelius — a centurion and the first Gentile convert — lived.

Paul received ‘first class’ transportation, as John MacArthur describes (emphases mine):

Caesarea was a Gentile-dominated town and a Gentile-dominated territory. And, there was less likelihood of a real problem, or revolution, or an assassination. So, he calls his forces in verse 23. ““He called to him two centurions.” Each of those, of course, would be commanding 100 men. “Make ready 200 soldiers to go to Caesarea.”

So, each man would take the 100 troops that were under him, and this is the heavily armed infantry. The Roman armies moved in three parts. First of all, the heavy-armed infantry. These would be the guys with the swords and the shields who could set up the defense – the phalanx – where they would line up with shields, and this would be the front-line kind of thing. And, this was really an armed group.

Then, “In addition to that, 70 horsemen.” This is the cavalry. Important in Roman armies that they had the cavalry.

The third thing, 200 – and the Greek says “graspers by the right hand,” 200 graspers by the right hand. But, it’s translated here “spearmen.” Obviously, you know, it would be difficult to say, “All right, all you graspers by the right hand; fall out.” What it means is “javelin throwers,” the men who carried the javelin. This is the light-armed troops.

Very often, as the army moved, the cavalry might be reconnaissance or flank troops. The heavy-armed would be out front, and the spearmen in the back throwing these javelins. And so here [are] 470 soldiers armed to the gills to escort one apostle out of town. You know, when the providence of God goes into action and God takes care of His saints, they usually go first-class.

Verse 24 tells us that Paul received his own mount — steed — which must have been a luxury for him as he travelled on land by foot.

Why was the Roman tribune going to such an extent to transport Paul out of Jerusalem?

There were two reasons.

First, this was at the time when the Jews in Jerusalem were becoming restless about Roman rule in general. MacArthur says this took place in 61 AD, nine years before the destruction of the temple. Any further disorder in the city — another riot over Paul — could have landed the tribune in hot water with his superiors, to say the least. The Romans expected their leaders in other territories to maintain orderly rule.

Secondly, with regard to Paul specifically, the tribune knew he had treated him wrongly, binding him up for scourging, which was against the law as far as Roman citizens were concerned. The tribune could have lost his position, were it ever discovered by his superiors.

Of course, the tribune wanted to protect his own position, and this passage describes how he did it. He sent an interesting letter to Felix the governor (verse 25).

He began the letter by announcing himself by name (verse 26). Although the name of Claudius Lysias has appeared in my past few posts, this is the first time Luke identifies the tribune as such.

Our commentators differ in concluding how Luke knew the tribune’s name.

MacArthur says it was divine inspiration:

What is interesting about it is this: Luke records for us this letter verbatim.

You say, “What is interesting about that?” Luke never read it. Now, you know what I’m saying? This is a good illustration of divine inspiration. The Spirit of God told Luke, by the miracle of revelation, the words of that letter, and he wrote them down with his own hand. That’s inspiration in the Bible. That’s how the whole Bible has been written – the inspiration of God; verbal inspiration. And incidentally, the letter was probably written in Latin, so the Spirit of God had to give it to Luke in Greek. But the Spirit does well at translation, believe me.

On the other hand, Matthew Henry’s commentary says that Luke accompanied Paul out of Jerusalem with the Roman troops and could have had a copy of the letter:

This letter is here inserted totidem verbis–verbatim, Acts 23:25. It is probable that Luke the historian had a copy of it by him, having attended Paul in this remove.

There is no right or wrong answer, because we have no way of knowing what happened. Personally, I agree with Henry, because Luke had accompanied Paul to Jerusalem for Pentecost.

Claudius Lysias covered his tracks by saying that he rescued Paul from the baying mob for his protection, having learned he was a Roman citizen (verse 27). The reality was that he had Paul bound for scourging until Paul informed him he was a free-born Roman citizen. Interestingly, Claudius Lysias had purchased his own citizenship.

The tribune said that he sent Paul to the Sanhedrin to find out more (verse 28). As he discovered their vehement objection to Paul was based on a point of Jewish law, it was nothing that deserved death or imprisonment under Roman law (verse 30).

Claudius Lysias concluded by saying he discovered the plot to murder Paul, and, thereby requested that Felix put Paul before the Sanhedrin so that he could find out what the specific accusations are (verse 30).

Claudius Lysias pushed the matter upward to his immediate superior.

Paul was living through a trial situation similar to Jesus’s own, as MacArthur explains:

Jesus went to Pilate first and Pilate pushed Him up to Herod. And here, Claudius Lysias, the commander, doesn’t want to side. He wants him out of town, in protection, really, for his life and for Claudius’ position; and, he wants to turn him over to Felix and let him deal with it.

John MacArthur laid out four themes for Acts 23: the confrontation, the conflict, the conquest and the consolation.

If one can think of it as such, this dramatic episode will now move from conquest to consolation. The Romans, again under divine intervention, moved Paul securely out of Jerusalem to a Gentile area, where he would be safe.

Next time — Acts 23:31-35

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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

Acts 23:16-22

16 Now the son of Paul’s sister heard of their ambush, so he went and entered the barracks and told Paul. 17 Paul called one of the centurions and said, “Take this young man to the tribune, for he has something to tell him.” 18 So he took him and brought him to the tribune and said, “Paul the prisoner called me and asked me to bring this young man to you, as he has something to say to you.” 19 The tribune took him by the hand, and going aside asked him privately, “What is it that you have to tell me?” 20 And he said, “The Jews have agreed to ask you to bring Paul down to the council tomorrow, as though they were going to inquire somewhat more closely about him. 21 But do not be persuaded by them, for more than forty of their men are lying in ambush for him, who have bound themselves by an oath neither to eat nor drink till they have killed him. And now they are ready, waiting for your consent.” 22 So the tribune dismissed the young man, charging him, “Tell no one that you have informed me of these things.”

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

Paul’s status at this point in Acts is ‘Paul the prisoner’, which is ongoing throughout the rest of the book.

In my last post before Christmas, I wrote about the Sanhedrin’s plot to kill Paul.

Paul’s nephew — his sister’s son — found out about this cold-blooded conspiracy, went to the barracks and told him (verse 16).

Information about Paul’s family is scant. John MacArthur gives us a few possibilities about this lad and his parents. Also note the providential aspect to this (emphases mine):

Do you realize that the Bible says nothing about Paul’s family at all? All we know is his father was a Pharisee because he made that statement earlier. We don’t know anything else. We do know that in Philippians 3:8 he said that because of his faith in Christ, he had suffered, “The loss of all things.” And, most Bible teachers assume that “the loss of all things” included being disinherited from his Jewish family because from then on, you hear nothing at all about his family, nothing at all.

How, then, all of a sudden does Paul’s sister’s son come to Paul’s rescue? What is he doing in Jerusalem? Did he live there? Was he there studying to be a rabbi, as Paul had been when he was a boy? Was Paul’s sister really one who cared about Paul even though he had been disinherited? Had Paul’s sister become a believer? Interesting to think about. I can’t imagine the apostle Paul not trying to convert his family, can you? I’m sure he gave it everything he had.

An interesting thing pops up in verse 16, “When Paul’s sister’s son heard of the ambush” – the verb “he went and entered the barracks,” that aorist participle there could be translated “having been present,” and it is possible that the boy was present when the plot took place. It is possible it means he was present at the prison. It is possible that it means he was present at the plot. It seems sensible to say he was present at the plot or he wouldn’t have known the plot. Can you imagine how God worked the circumstances to have that little boy hanging around the conspirators and to get the right message, and then to have the presence of mind to go warn his uncle?

But, that is what happened. You can see that this is no less supernatural than if God had reached a big sky-hook out of Heaven and pulled Paul right up.

I think it’s interesting to add a point, and I’ll take a minute to do that. There is a word in Romans 16 that is translated in the English Authorized Version “kinsman.” Sometimes it means countryman; sometimes it means relative. It is an interesting thought, if you look at Romans 16 in verse 7, “Greet Andronicus and Junias, my kinsmen, who are in Christ before me.” That’s interesting. The possibility is there.

Then he says, in verse 11, “Greet Herodion, my kinsman who are in the Lord,” with another individual. Verse 21, “Timothy my fellow worker” – or work fellow – “and Lucius, and Jason, and Sosipater, my kinsmen.” Now, it may have been that Paul did have some fruit in his own family. We don’t know, but it’s interesting to think about.

Well, so the boy heard about the plot and he came to the barracks and told Paul. Now, maybe the family was high, kind of high class. You know, Paul had been a member of the Sanhedrin and his father a Pharisee and a Roman citizen, and the whole ball of wax, zealous for the law. It could have been that his father was kind of a sharp guy, up there, and we don’t know – it’s possible – that he may have been even in the leadership of Israel. But whatever, the boy heard it, went, and told Paul about it. How exciting!

Matthew Henry’s commentary simply says:

… some how or other, we are not told how, he heard of their lying in wait, either overheard them talking of it among themselves, or got intelligence from some that were in the ploy: and he went into the castle, probably, as he used to do, to attend on his uncle, and bring him what he wanted, which gave him a free access to him and he told Paul what he heard.

I particularly liked this, which points out that God had a plan for Paul:

Note, God has many ways of bringing to light the hidden works of darkness; though the contrivers of them dig deep to hide them from the Lord, he can made a bird of the air to carry the voice (Ecclesiastes 10:20), or the conspirators’ own tongues to betray them.

To understand Paul’s relationship with the centurion — commander of 100 soldiers — who did his bidding (verse 17), it is worth noting that a) Paul informed the tribune that he was a Roman citizen from birth and b) the tribune and his centurions thought the Apostle was someone pretty important if the whole city of Jerusalem wanted to kill him. Because no one, including the Sanhedrin, enlightened the Romans about their hatred of Paul, they had to work on assumptions.

Also, Paul, having been not only well educated but also doing the Lord’s work, was a model prisoner, thereby earning the centurion’s respect. So, when Paul asked him to take the lad to the tribune, Claudius Lysias, there was no objection. (St Luke, the author of Acts, never mentions the tribune by name.)

The centurion duly took the boy to Claudius Lysias, explaining that he had something to tell him (verse 18).

Henry offers this analysis, which further indicates that divine providence was at work:

The centurion very readily gratified him, Acts 23:18. He did not send a common soldier with him, but went himself to keep the young man in countenance, to recommend his errand to the chief captain, and to show his respect to Paul: “Paul the prisoner (this was his title now) called me to him, and prayed me to bring this young man to thee; what his business is I know not, but he has something to say to thee.” Note, It is true charity to poor prisoners to act for them as well as to give to them. “I was sick and in prison, and you went on an errand for me,” will pass as well in the account as, “I was sick and in prison, and you came unto me, to visit me, or sent me a token.” Those that have acquaintance and interest should be ready to use them for the assistance of those that are in distress. This centurion helped to save Paul’s life by this piece of civility, which should engage us to be ready to do the like when there is occasion. Open thy mouth for the dumb, Proverbs 31:8. Those that cannot give a good gift to God’s prisoners may yet speak a good word for them.

Paul’s nephew must have been young, because the tribune took him by the hand to ask him about his news privately (verse 19). The boy was probably nervous and, by holding his hand, the tribune reassured him. Henry says that, too, was significant, reminding us that the tribune acted illegally in having a fellow Roman citizen — Paul — bound for scourging. That carried a huge penalty, if his superior had found out. Recall, too, that the tribune bought his Roman citizenship, whereas Paul was a natural born Roman. Claudius Lysias was obliged to be nice to Paul, even indirectly:

The chief captain received the information with a great deal of condescension and tenderness, Acts 23:19. He took the young man by the hand, as a friend or father, to encourage him, that he might not be put out of countenance, but might be assured of a favourable audience. The notice that is taken of this circumstance should encourage great men to take themselves easy of access to the meanest, upon any errand which may give them an opportunity of doing good–to condescend to those of low estate. This familiarity to which this Roman tribune or colonel admitted Paul’s nephew is here upon record to his honour. Let no man think he disparages himself by his humility or charity. He went with him aside privately, that none might hear his business, and asked him, “What is it that thou hast to tell me? Tell me wherein I can be serviceable to Paul.” It is probable that the chief captain was the more obliging in this case because he was sensible he had run himself into a premunire in binding Paul, against his privilege as a Roman citizen, which he was willing now to atone for.

Paul’s nephew told the tribune that the Jews planned on obtaining the tribune’s consent to see Paul in the council on the pretext that they had more questions for him (verse 20), when, in fact, they, having taken an oath, were going to murder him in cold blood (verse 21). The boy said:

do not be persuaded by them

The tribune asked the boy not to say anything about their private exchange, and dismissed him (verse 22).

Consider the Lord’s work here. A subject of the Romans — a boy, at that — tells the Roman tribune what to do. MacArthur says:

Now, here is a little kid commanding the Roman commander. Now, you can see how God is superintending this thing. “Do not thou yield to him, for there lie in wait for him.” There is an ambush of more than 40 men who have anathematized themselves with an anathema. In other words, they have devoted themselves to destruction. They will neither eat nor drink until they have killed him, and they are now ready, and “The whole thing depends upon the promise from you to deliver the prisoner.”

Henry points out that the boy never mentioned which of ‘the Jews’ were plotting against Paul:

he does not say who, lest he should invidiously reflect upon the chief priests and the elders; and his business was to save his uncle’s life, not to accuse his enemies

As for telling the boy to say nothing to anyone, Claudius Lysias knew that if this conspiracy against Paul did not work, the Sanhedrin would come up with another. Even worse, if the Sanhedrin knew the Romans had actively prevented their plot from going ahead, there could have been a huge revolt in Jerusalem. John MacArthur explains:

I don’t think that that commander wanted an argument with those Jews, and I don’t think that he wanted them to know that he knew their plot, because if they knew he knew their plot, and he wouldn’t let it come off, then you would begin to see potential revolution and sedition.

And Jerusalem and Judea w[ere] volatile. It was only a few years after this that the whole place exploded in a revolution. And, he knew the past history of what other commanders had run into in that place, and he did not want to butt heads with them.

John MacArthur laid out four themes for Acts 23: the confrontation, the conflict, the conquest and the consolation.

Today’s passage shows the beginning of the conquest, with God working through Paul’s nephew and the Romans to defeat the Sanhedrin’s evil, murderous conspiracy.

Next time — Acts 23:23-30

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