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jesus-christ-the-king-blogsigncomHappy Easter! He is risen!

I hope that all of us enjoy this feast day, the most important in the Church year.

I have many past posts on Easter:

Easter: the greatest feast in the Church year

Easter Sunday: Thoughts on this greatest of days

Happy Easter — He is risen!

The significance of Easter to the Church (various questions answered)

Psalm 118, Christ’s Passion and Eastertide

Easter poems from an inspired Anglican, the Revd George Herbert

Part I of a Martin Luther Easter sermon: the story of Christ’s Resurrection

Part II of a Martin Luther Easter sermon: the fruits and benefits of Christ’s Resurrection

Holy Week and Easter — the two-part story

The road to Emmaus — a great Easter story

Epistle for Easter in Year C — Acts 10:34-43 (2016)

The Easter story: reflections on Mark 16:1-8 (Dr Gregory Jackson, Lutheran)

Judge Andrew Napolitano on the meaning of Easter (great, especially from a layman)

Easter documentaries — when knowing the Bible helps — part 1

Easter documentaries — when knowing the Bible helps — part 2

Easter, the egg and the hare (one of the fullest accounts about Easter symbolism)

Mary Magdalene and the legend of the egg (Christian — not pagan!)

Many of us have lingering questions about Easter, myself included, and this is probably because we are not that well acquainted with all the Gospel accounts of the time between Jesus’s death and the Resurrection.

Today’s post provides excerpts from two of John MacArthur’s sermons on the subject: ‘The Amazing Burial of Jesus, Part 1’ and ‘The Resurrection of Jesus Christ, Part 1’.

Subheads and emphases mine below.

Summary

Anyone knowledgeable about the Christian faith is aware of the significance of the cross, where our sins were borne by the Lord Jesus Christ to free us from the penalty and guilt of sin. Just as significant is the resurrection of Jesus Christ–the single greatest miracle the world will ever know. It demonstrates Christ’s finished work of redemption and reminds us that His power over death will bring us to glory.

Why Jesus died within a few hours

Interestingly, there was discussion on some of my Holy Week posts this year about the rapidity of Jesus’s death on the cross.

MacArthur explains:

Jesus was nailed to the cross at nine in the morning, but most victims lingered much longer on the cross, some for many days. No one took His life from Him; He voluntarily gave it up (John 10:17-18). Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor who ordered His execution, was astounded when He heard Christ was dead so soon (Mark 15:44).

Also significant is that the day He died was a Friday, meaning that Sabbath started at sunset that day:

It was imperative that Christ be dead early enough in the day so He could be put in the grave some time on Friday. That day had to be included as one of the three days He would be in the earth (the others being Saturday and Sunday).

John 19:31-33 states that the Jewish leaders were concerned about Jesus and the two criminals remaining on the cross before a Passover Sabbath. They would have to die and be removed beforehand. The quickest way of ensuring death was to have their legs broken:

31 Since it was the day of Preparation, and so that the bodies would not remain on the cross on the Sabbath (for that Sabbath was a high day), the Jews asked Pilate that their legs might be broken and that they might be taken away. 32 So the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first, and of the other who had been crucified with him. 33 But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs.

MacArthur says:

They derived this particular rule from Deuteronomy 21:22-23, which says, “If a man have committed a sin worthy of death, and he be put to death, and thou hang him on a tree, his body shall not remain all night upon the tree, but thou shalt surely bury him that day (for he who is hanged is accursed by God), that thy land be not defiled.” Apparently they didn’t always follow that regulation since historians tell us that bodies were often left on crosses for days. But on this Passover they made sure to perform this particular injunction to the limit.

John 19:34:37 says:

34 But one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water. 35 He who saw it has borne witness—his testimony is true, and he knows that he is telling the truth—that you also may believe. 36 For these things took place that the Scripture might be fulfilled: “Not one of his bones will be broken.” 37 And again another Scripture says, “They will look on him whom they have pierced.”

Why did the soldiers pierce the crucified?

the soldiers would give the victim what Jewish scholar Alfred Edersheim termed the “coup de grace” (lit., “the stroke of mercy”)–the death stroke (The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, 2 vols. [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1953], 2:613). A soldier would ram his spear into the victim’s heart … One proposal is that the pain of his shattered legs would traumatize the victim so that the spear thrust would be somewhat of a relief … The general idea behind the spear thrust and the leg breaking was to cause the victim to die immediately. 

Onee prophecy fulfilled, mentioned in John 19:36, is in Psalm 34:20:

He keeps all his bones;
    not one of them is broken.

Another prophecy fulfilled, regarding the piercing in John 19:37, is in Zechariah 12:10:

10 “And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and pleas for mercy, so that, when they look on me, on him whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over him, as one weeps over a firstborn.

There were other prophecies fulfilled that day:

Verse 34 tells us that blood and water came out of Christ’s pierced side–a sign of death. That’s a fulfillment of a prophecy from Psalm 69–a psalm that contains prophecies of the crucifixion scene, such as verse 21: “They gave me also gaul for my food, and in my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink.” Verse 20 says, “Reproach hath broken my heart.” Under the intense weight of all the sins of everyone who ever lived or will live, it is not inconceivable that a human heart could rupture. Thus another prophecy was fulfilled.

The importance of Jesus’s burial

The burial of Jesus as told in Matthew 27:57-66 is:

a marvelous account of God’s intervention into every detail in the life of Christ. We see God’s testimony unfold through Joseph of Arimathea (vv. 57-60), the two Marys (v. 61), and the chief priests and Pharisees (vv. 62-66). They play important roles in the burial of Jesus, validating the truthfulness of Christ’s claim to be the Son of God.

Joseph of Arimathea — prophecies fulfilled

jesus-laid-in-a-tomb-f5462516571Joseph of Arimathea’s actions played a significant role in fulfilling two prophecies regarding Jesus:

57 When it was evening, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who also was a disciple of Jesus. 58 He went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then Pilate ordered it to be given to him. 59 And Joseph took the body and wrapped it in a clean linen shroud 60 and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had cut in the rock. And he rolled a great stone to the entrance of the tomb and went away. 

MacArthur tells us:

The entire chapter of Isaiah 53 is devoted to the death of Christ. It says He was despised and rejected, truly a man of sorrows (v. 3). He bore our griefs and carried our sorrows (v. 4). He was wounded for our transgressions and bruised for our iniquities (v. 5). He was taken from prison into judgment (v. 8). Verse 9 says, “His grave was assigned to be with wicked men, yet [He was] with a rich man in his death” (NASB). That unusual prophecy would be difficult to understand apart from the scenario of Christ’s burial. He was supposed to have been buried with criminals, but instead was buried in a rich man’s tomb.

Then, there were Jesus’s words regarding Jonah (Matthew 12:40):

Jesus said, “Just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the sea monster, so shall the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth” (NASB). Jesus predicted that there would be three days between His death and resurrection–that He would be in the earth for three days.

Therefore:

God used Joseph of Arimathea to fulfill those prophecies, and thus provide testimony to the deity of Christ.

MacArthur says:

I don’t know what caused Joseph of Arimathea to publicly manifest himself as a follower of Jesus Christ. Perhaps it was the earthquake, the darkness, the graves opening, and the veil of the Temple ripping from top to bottom (Matt. 27:45, 51-54). Perhaps it was simply his love for Jesus and the agony he felt watching Him endure pain and suffering on the cross. One thing we can be sure of: God worked on his heart to bring to pass the fulfillment of prophecy.

The three days

How can we be sure there were three days between His burial and Resurrection? This is a recurring question, one which is sometimes hotly debated.

MacArthur explains:

Some people have difficulty reconciling what Jesus said in Matthew 12:40 about the length of His stay in the grave: “As Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” Does that mean Jesus had to be in the earth three full days and nights? No. Many commentators take that view and back the crucifixion to Thursday, so the three days and nights are Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, with His rising on Sunday. The obvious problem with that view is that we are left with a fourth- day resurrection. Yet all the passages in Scripture dealing with this issue indicate He was to rise on the third day. That eliminates the need for interpreting Matthew 12:40 as referring to three 24-hour periods. The phrase “three days and three nights” was simply an idiom of the Jewish people referring to a three-day period.

For example, if you were to say, “I’m going to San Diego for three days,” does that mean you’ll be there for three 24-hour periods? Not necessarily. It could mean you’ll be there for a few hours one day, all day the next day, and a few hours the third day. That is how Scripture refers to Christ’s burial.

In Luke 24:21 the disciples traveling the road to Emmaus were bemoaning the death of Christ, saying, “We hoped that it had been he who should have redeemed Israel; and, besides all this, today [Sunday] is the third day since these things were done.” They understood that the Lord’s prophecy of His resurrection wasn’t going to take place after three 24-hour periods, but on the third day, which from Friday would be Sunday. After all, Jesus said He would “be killed, and be raised again the third day” (Matt. 16:21). Matthew 17:23 repeats, “They shall kill him, and the third day he shall be raised again.” The chronological, historical references to the death of Christ indicate a third-day resurrection, not one following three 24-hour periods. When Jesus referred to three days and three nights, we can conclude He was referring to a part of three 24-hour periods. Rabbi Eleazar ben Azariah (who lived around A.D. 100) said, “A day and night are an Onah [a portion of time] and the portion of an Onah is as the whole of it (Jerusalem Talmud, Shabbath ix.3; cf. Babylonian Talmud Pesahim 4a).

The two Marys

Matthew 27:61 says:

Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were there, sitting opposite the tomb.

MacArthur tells us:

Mary Magdalene came from Magdala, a village on the west coast of the Sea of Galilee. The other Mary was the mother of James and Joseph (v. 56). John 19:25 calls her the wife of Clopas, or Alphaeus. (Matthew 10:3 refers to James as the son of Alphaeus to differentiate him from James the son of Zebedee.) She was one of the ladies who followed Him from Galilee to attend to His physical needs by providing food and sustenance. Other ladies had been present during the crucifixion and burial, but they apparently left with Joseph and Nicodemus (v. 60). Only these two women remained.

These two ladies also went to Jesus’s tomb on the third day (Matthew 28:1):

Now after the Sabbath, toward the dawn of the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb.

They went to the tomb because they loved Jesus that much, but also, MacArthur says:

perhaps hoping against hope that what He said might come to pass.

The earthquake — the third day

The two Marys approached the tomb at dawn of the third day, when an earthquake took place and an angel appeared, whose appearance was ‘like lightning’ (Matthew 28:2-7). The words ‘and behold’ are a call to pay close attention:

And behold, there was a great earthquake, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. 3 His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. And for fear of him the guards trembled and became like dead men. But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he[a] lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead, and behold, he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him. See, I have told you.” So they departed quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples.

MacArthur breaks this down for us:

Now this is the second earthquake in three days. There was an earthquake when Christ died, you remember, that split the rocks wide open and opened graves and dead people came alive among the saints. So this is the second earthquake. And God again is moving and God is demonstrating in a physiological way His activity. It’s not new for God. You can look to the past. For example, back in Exodus 19:18 at the giving of the law, 1 Kings chapter 19 verse 11, God came in an earthquake. You can look into the future and you read about it in Joel 2:10 that the time of the coming of the Lord there will be an earthquake. Revelation 6, Revelation 8, Revelation 11 describe that kind of thing. Jesus Himself even referred to it in the great Olivet Discourse, Matthew 24:7, about the earthquake that’s going to be coming or earthquakes attendant with His return. So when God begins to move in the world, the world shakes.

And here these women are approaching…they haven’t yet come to the garden. Instantly there is an earthquake. The epicenter of the earthquake is at the tomb. And the seismic radiation waves rumble through the ground beyond the grave and no doubt rock the land on which the women walk. They feel the earthquake not knowing what has happened.

Now what caused the earthquake? I suppose most people have just sort of concluded, “Well, the resurrection of Christ,” but that’s not the right answer. The resurrection didn’t cause the earthquake. Matthew tells us what caused the earthquake. “There was a great earthquake for or because an angel of the Lord descended from heaven.” When this angel hit the garden it created seismic waves. The word for “earthquake” is the root word seismos from which we get seismograph. And when the angel hit the land it sent out an earthquake. And these women not even knowing what was going on felt the movement of the earth, no doubt, as they approached the tomb. But the earthquake was not caused by the resurrection of Christ, it was caused by the arrival of an angel to open the tomb. Nothing, by the way, says that he let Jesus out of the tomb. That is a fallacy.

Have you ever seen a picture of an angel and a stone rolled back and Jesus coming out? That isn’t right. I mean, Jesus did not have the power to raise Himself from the dead and then wait in there until somebody moved the stone so He could get out. No one actually saw the resurrection. The women experienced the seismic ramifications of that event of the angel coming and the phenomena around the resurrection. The resurrection occurred in an invisible way, no one was in there to see it. Christ came out of that grave.

Put it this way very simply. The angel did not move the stone to let the Lord out. The angel moved the stone to let the women in so they could see that He was already gone.

You say, “Well, how could He get out of there?” Well the same way John 20:26 says the disciples were meeting on the eighth day and Jesus was in their midst, the door being shut. The same way He came through the wall into the upper room is the same way He went out of the rock of the grave which we shouldn’t imagine as any problem for one in His glorified form. So no one saw the resurrection. The angel came not to let the Lord out but to let the women in and to let the apostles in and to let us in and to let the whole world in to see that He wasn’t there.

Faith on display

The faith of the Marys was stronger than that of the disciples.

MacArthur says:

God honored their faith by allowing them to give testimony to what they saw. However feeble their faith may have been, it certainly was stronger than that of the disciples.

Remember, too, that the men were reluctant to believe the women:

The truth is that the disciples were reluctant to believe what the women said (Luke 24:6-12). Thomas was reluctant to believe when he heard from the other disciples who had seen their risen Lord (John 20:24-25). So God gave us first-hand witnesses to spread the word of the resurrection. Through eyewitness testimony and fulfilled prophecy in the burial of Christ, God was at work vindicating Jesus Christ as His Son.

What they saw

The Gospel accounts differ slightly in who went to the tomb and on the number of angels or men there.

Matthew 28 says only the two Marys went and that there was one angel. Only Matthew mentions the earthquake.

Mark 16 says that Salome (not Herod’s stepdaughter, by the way) accompanied the Marys. Mark says there was a ‘young man’ dressed in a white robe sitting inside the tomb.

Luke 24 names the two Marys, says there were two men present in dazzling apparel and records that Peter went to the tomb later.

John 20 records that only Mary Magdalene went and that Peter and an unnamed disciple went to the tomb after she met them. John himself was ‘the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved’. John mentions two angels later (verse 12) who appeared to Mary Magdalene after Peter and John left the tomb.

Regardless, MacArthur looks at Matthew’s and John’s accounts and describes what they saw.

In Matthew 28:

… there were the linen wrappings undisturbed the way they had been wrapped around His body. And the head napkin in a separate place. There was no turmoil, no big hurry to unwrap Him and throw everything on the floor and get out of there. It was just the way it had been when His body was in it only He was gone.

And then the angel came after He left to move the stone so the world could come in and see that He was gone and sat there as the heavenly witness to what had happened. What a scene.

 I can’t imagine for a moment what that must have been like.

In John 20:

I believe this is the proper point to harmonize John’s special interest in Mary Magdalene. Mary was to the women what Peter was to the Apostles. She was impetuous. What happens here is fascinating. The women come into the garden and I think this is the best place to insert this, although we can’t be dogmatic, it seems to me to fit so perfectly here. When Mary comes in all she sees with her rather myopic viewpoint is this whole and the stone is gone. And she doesn’t take note of this angel. And seeing that the stone is moved and the grave is empty is enough for her.

John tells us her reaction. Let’s look at John chapter 20. “The first day of the week comes Mary,” and then he notes, “[She] started out when it was yet dark unto the sepulcher and sees the stone taken away from the sepulcher.” Now apparently that’s all she saw. She missed the angel. She saw just that the stone was removed. And then verse 2, “Then…without a delay…she ran.” She took off. “And she went right to the two most prominent apostles, she went to Simon Peter and to the other disciple whom Jesus loved,” which is John’s term used to describe himself and the fact that it’s to Peter and to the other disciple probably indicates they were in two different homes during this Passover time. We can’t be certain. But anyway, she ran to Peter and John to tell them.

And what did she tell them? “They have taken away the Lord out of the grave and we know not where they’ve laid Him.” They’ve taken Him…they? I don’t know who they are. She didn’t know who they are…somebody. “Peter therefore went forth and so did John and they came to the grave.” Verse 4 says they ran and John outran Peter and arrived first.

MacArthur returns to Matthew 28 to tie these two accounts together:

So as we come to the women then in the confrontation with the angel, Mary Magdalene is apparently gone. She’s bolted to tell Peter and John that the body had been stolen. The other ladies stayed and they have the wonderful experience of an encounter with an angel.

As I mentioned earlier, John 20 records that, after Peter and John returned home from the tomb, Mary Magdalene stayed behind. Not only did she see two angels, but, even better, she also saw Jesus. What an indescribable moment that must have been:

11 But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb. 12 And she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet. 13 They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” 14 Having said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15 Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” 16 Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned and said to him in Aramaic,[b] “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher). 17 Jesus said to her, “Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” 18 Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”—and that he had said these things to her.

MacArthur describes the angel in Matthew 28:

The angel is described for us in verse 3. “His countenance…or his face…was like lightning.” Now that’s a pretty graphic description, isn’t it? Like lightning flashing, brilliant, blazing. This, no doubt, to transmit the effulgence or the essence, the deity, the brilliance of the character of God. This is the glow of God. This is the Shekinah somehow transmitted from God to that angel, as it was on one occasion from God to Moses and shown on his face, do you remember that in the book of Exodus? This angel, this one representative of God, this messenger from God possessed the very character of deity. And it emanated from his glowing face. Also it says his raiment or garment was white as snow and this is emblematic of purity, holiness, of virtue.

So here is a holy angel…the holy angel sent from God bearing the very imprimatur of the character of God, an angel representative of deity, a created being who represents the uncreated cause of all beings, God Himself, this holy angel. This to distinguish him from some man, this to distinguish him from some demon, this to identify him as the agent of God, this beautiful, glorious, glowing, pure, holy being sitting on the stone as living witness to the risen Christ…God’s own assigned witness.

The angel’s presence frightened the guards in the extreme (Matthew 28:4):

And for fear of him the guards trembled and became like dead men.

MacArthur explains:

They went into temporary coma. They were knocked literally unconscious out of terror. Fear will do that. Fear will cause people to be paralyzed to the point where they go unconscious and that’s precisely what happened. They were knocked cold out of fear. They were victims of divine power. They had seen something they had never seen or thought of or ever been able to comprehend and they were not now able to comprehend it.

The women were afraid, too, but because they loved Jesus, they listened to the angel.

‘He has risen’

Jesus Light of the World 616Matthew 28:6 states that the angel said:

He is not here, for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he[a] lay.

Luke 24:6-7:

He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, 7 that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise.”

Mark 16:6:

And he said to them, “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here. See the place where they laid him.

MacArthur’s version of the Bible has ‘He was raised’. This indicates:

that He was raised by the power of the Father. Over and over again it says that in Scripture…Romans 6:4, Galatians 1:1, 1 Peter 1:3, a couple of those I mentioned to you. He was raised by the power of the Father. It also says, doesn’t it, in John 10:18, “I have power to lay My life down and I have power to…what?…take it up again.” So He was raised not only by the Father but He was raised by His own power. And then in Romans 8:11 it says He was raised by the power of the Spirit. “It is the Spirit of Him that raised up Jesus from the dead.” So the whole trinity is involved in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. And the angel gives this incredible announcement, “He’s not here He was raised.” The point is He’s alive.

And then I love this, “He was raised,” it says, “as He said.” Isn’t that great? I mean, He just jolts them with the memory that this is exactly what He said He would do on the third day, just like He said. And by the way, Luke 24:8 says, “And they remembered His words.” So, that’s what He meant…so that’s what He was saying.

What a day of drama and glory!

Truly, Jesus Christ is the Son of God.

Being there for the Lord

JesusChristIt amazes students of the Bible that the Apostles, who spent three years day in and day out with Jesus, were not the first to arrive at the tomb on the third day.

It was the women who were there. And they were blessed by the presence of an angel or angels. Mary Magdalene was further blessed by the presence of Jesus.

MacArthur says we can draw a lasting lesson from being faithful to and present for the Lord:

You know what that says to me? I don’t want to extrapolate too much on this but it’s nice if you’re there when the Lord does wonderful things. There’s a great spiritual truth in that somewhere and that is that the closer you stay to the Lord and what He’s doing, the more you’re going to enjoy what He’s doing. I don’t know about you but I’d rather be there and experience it than hear it from somebody else, wouldn’t you? I praise God for people who are there. I mean they’re there when the Lord is working. They’re there when His people gather together. They’re there when His Word is taught. They’re there when it’s time to come to your knees before Him. They’re there when it’s time to call on His power in ministry. And they’re the ones that experience first hand the moving of the power of God. No, they saw it because they were there.

I trust that you will be the kind of person like those women. What you may lack in faith you make up for in devotion, what you may lack in understanding you make up for in loyalty. And God will confirm your weakness and turn it into strength because you’re faithful enough and loyal enough to be where He is and where He’s moving and where He’s working.

Amen.

Once again, happy Easter, everyone. I hope we have a beautiful day, rain or shine, as we reflect on the Resurrection of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ our Lord.

CranachWeimarAltarCyberbrethren

The painting above is by the Renaissance artists Lucas Cranach the Elder and Lucas Cranach the Younger, father and son. Lucas Cranach the Younger finished the painting in 1555. It is the centre altar painting in Sts Peter and Paul (Lutheran) Church in Weimar, Germany. Read more about it:

Meditations on the Cross

I have a variety of posts on Good Friday. The following three concern Martin Luther’s view of the Crucifixion:

Martin Luther’s ‘How to Contemplate Christ’s Sufferings’: the false views

Martin Luther’s ‘How to Contemplate Christ’s Sufferings’: the true views

Martin Luther’s ‘How to Contemplate Christ’s Sufferings’: the comfort

The next set of posts present a number of perspectives on the Crucifixion:

Reflections on the Crucifixion

Good Friday: in whom can we trust? (John 18:12-27)

Holy Week and Easter — the two-part story

The greatest reality show ends with a popular vote

Barabbas: an inspiration for liberation theology?

John MacArthur’s sermon on Matthew 27  — ‘The Wickedness of the Crucifixion, Part 2’ — is one of the most comprehensive expositories on the events that we contemplate on Good Friday.

Excerpts and a summary follow. Subheads and emphases are mine.

Society at that time

MacArthur cites a theologian, David Thomas, who described the social atmosphere of Jesus’s time as pure evil:

So, as we go through the passage in Matthew that describes the crucifixion, we see just unrelenting evil. David Thomas wrote, “For thousands of years wickedness had been growing. It had wrought deeds of impiety and crime that had rung the ages with agony and often roused the justice of the universe to roll her fiery thunderbolts of retribution through the world. But now it had grown to full maturity. It stands around the cross in such gigantic proportions as had never been seen before. It works an enormity before which the mightiest of its past exploits dwindle into insignificance and pale into dimness. Wickedness crucifies the Lord of life and glory,” end quote.

The Gospels record Jesus speaking of wickedness not only of the religious leaders but that generation as a whole. The disciples also experienced wickedness in their ministries.

Politically, the Jews looked for their Messiah to deliver them from the Romans and to make their land and their people into a mighty kingdom. As my aforementioned post on Barabbas explains, a small group of radical Jews banded together as the Zealots with the objective of throwing off the Roman yoke through violence and theft.

How people saw Jesus

The people directly involved with Jesus’s condemnation, scourging, mocking and death did not know who He was, even when they thought they did.

The crowd yelling for Barabbas to be freed thought that Jesus could not be their Messiah because he was not fighting the Romans.

MacArthur divides these people into four groups:

Let’s call them the ignorant wicked, the knowing wicked, the fickle wicked and the religious wicked. And I want to suggest to you that every person in the world who does not come to faith in Jesus Christ, every Christ‑rejecting person fits into these groups. They are constant. They were there at the cross. They’re around today. And everybody fits somewhere in these four groups.

The soldiers — the ignorant wicked

We saw that the callous soldiers basically were Roman Legionnaires stationed in Caesarea, no doubt, with Pilate. They didn’t really have first‑hand information about Jesus. They were not very well apprised of who He was. They may have had a very limited smattering of information. They basically are ignorant. To them Jesus is another criminal and a somewhat deranged one at that. There seems to be no legitimate criminal act that He has done. He seems to be more a maniac who thinks Himself to be a king but by who any … by any definition they know of a king is not a king at all. They no doubt think Him to be somewhat deficient intellectually and mentally and through all the tortures that they bring upon. Him, He never says a word which probably confirms their suspicion.

Pontius Pilate — the ignorant wicked

He has already stated on several occasions that Jesus is innocent. He has given the findings of the court when he said, “I find no fault in this man.” He really doesn’t want to execute a man he knows to be innocent. His wife has warned him against that and his own conscience has done the same. But he is being blackmailed into a corner by the Jews and he thinks maybe he can satiate their thirst for blood by showing Jesus to be such a foolish, foolish looking person that they will understand Him to be little threat to Rome or to Israel. And so he brings Jesus out and says, “Behold the man.” And the scream the more for His blood and say if you don’t kill Him we’ll report you to Caesar. And trapped for the fear of the loss of his position, he indicates that Jesus is to be crucified. And so it is determined.

The two robbers — the knowing wicked

They knew something of the claims of Jesus. They knew something about it as is evidenced by the future record of what they say. We find that in verse 44. “The lesti, the robbers also who were crucified with Him,” and the Authorized says, “cast the same in His teeth.” Actually, what the text says is “heaped insults at Him.” They heaped the same insults at Him. The same insults they were hearing from the Jewish leaders who were saying, “If You’re the king of Israel, come down. You say You trust in God, let God deliver You. You said You were the Son of God,” so forth. So they knew some of the claims of Jesus.

They were familiar because they were a part of the Jewish society with perhaps the work of Jesus Christ, may have been familiar with His person, may on occasion have heard Him in a crowd. We don’t know that. But obviously they knew something about Him, something more than the Roman legionnaires would have known who had nothing to do with life in that part of the world …

… these crass materialistic bandits, for them life revolves around possessions, materialism, loot. They have not thought about righteousness, truth, justice, honor, godliness. They have no concern for morality. They have no concern for Messiahs and kingdoms; they’re just out for the loot.

However, Luke recorded that one of the thieves did believe at the eleventh hour and that he rebuked the other (Luke 23:39-43):

39 One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him,[d] saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” 40 But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41 And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” 42 And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” 43 And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

The crowd — the fickle wicked

The people who joyously acclaimed Jesus on Palm Sunday were the same who wanted Him to die. They preferred Barabbas.

It was bad enough that they sentenced Jesus to death by shouting for the release of Barabbas (Luke 23:13-25), but, as He agonised on the cross, they walked by to taunt Him (Matthew 27:39-40).

They had a place for Jesus, they wanted His miracles, they wanted His signs and wonders, they listened to His teaching. The crowd was fascinated by Jesus, to some extent. And they knew full well who He claimed to be and they knew there was a demonstration of the veracity of those claims …

Jesus didn’t fulfill their expectation. In fact, when Jesus rode in, they thought He would attack the Romans. He came back into town and attacked the Jews by wiping out the temple buying and selling. And that was not in His favor. They thought He ought to attack Rome, not them. And now how could this be the Messiah? All week long and He’s done nothing. He’s been here all week and now look at Him, He’s hanging on a cross, put there by the Romans. He is a victim. This is not our Messiah

Because they assumed the Messiah would come in a military triumph over Rome and all the other nations. It all was coming to pieces and they had forgotten their hallelujahs and hosannas and now in their disappointment over Jesus’ failure to give them what they wanted when they wanted it, they had turned against Him and were blaspheming His name. So fickle.

The Jewish leaders — the religious wicked

The wors[t] group is yet to come in verses 41 to 43, the religious wicked. They are illustrated to us by the canting, and that word basically means insincere and hypocritical, the canting leaders, insincere, hypocritical, the lowest level of blasphemers, religious hypocrites who parade their pi[e]ty, who want to appear to represent God and know the truth and be pure and godly and virtuous and represent the Word of God. And the truth of it is they’re filled with hate and vilification toward the very Christ of God Himself.

In verse 41 we meet them. It wasn’t just a fickle crowd, likewise also the chief priests. All those various orders of priests that operated within the temple ministries were mocking Him along with the scribes who were the authorities on the law and the elders who were suppose to be the revered and renowned men of maturity and wisdom in the land. They constitute the Sanhedrin, the ruling body of Israel.

So, all of these leaders who are supposedly the religious elite, who suppose … are supposed to know everything there is to know about the truth of God and the Word of God and the mind of God and the heart of God, who pretend to love God and revere His Word and hold up His name. They come along and what did they say? And notice, please, that the crowd talked to Jesus, the leaders don’t talk to Christ. They hate Him. He is so despised by them they will not talk to Him, they only talk about Him. So they talk to each other about Him.

Verse 42, “He saved others.” And they mean by that His healing ministry, His deliverance from demons. “He did it for others, Himself He cannot save.” They never denied ever in the New Testament the miracles of Jesus, never. It was impossible to do that. There, is never an indication that the religious leaders of Israel denied His miracles. They said they were by Satan done, by Satan accomplished, but they never denied them. They said He does what He does by the power of Beelzebub, but they never denied them.

And now, to see Jesus hanging on the cross unable to come down, will affirm in their minds that indeed He did have power but it was Satan’s power. So when we put Him on the cross, we can be sure He’ll stay there because God is on our side. Look, the fact that He is there shows that His power is not as great as ours. His is Satan’s, ours is God. God’s with us.

They’re mocking His power. If He is the king of Israel, let Him now come down from the cross and we’ll believe Him, if He has such sovereignty and such authority and such power, let us see it now. They put in the word “now,” right now. They were forever and always asking for a sign. The truth of the matter is even if He had come down from the cross, they wouldn’t have believed, their hearts were so evil.

The horror of Jesus’s suffering

MacArthur describes in detail how horrifically Jesus suffered that day for our sins — the sins of the whole world, believers and unbelievers alike.

One thing is made abundantly clear throughout the pages of Holy Scripture and that is that man is wicked, that he is sinful. And given over to his own devices unrestrained will perpetrate crimes beyond imagination. Now the wickedness of man is no more clearly seen, nor does it reach a higher apex than it does in the execution of Jesus Christ. The crucifixion of the Savior is the greatest expression of human evil in history, the epitome of demonstration of the depth and comprehensiveness of the sinfulness of human nature

Yes, the crucifixion was the greatest act of love on the part of God and that seems to be John’s focus and even more the emphasis of Mark and Luke, but it was also the greatest expression of human evil which seems to be Matthew’s particular interest under the direction of the Spirit as he writes

wickedness is not content just to execute Jesus Christ. It must torment Him also in the process. It must taunt Him in the process. It must heap on Him all imaginable evil. It cannot just kill Him, it must slap Him and punch Him and stab Him and spit on Him and defame Him and blaspheme Him and keep that up all the time He is dying. Inconceivable. But such is the cruelty of the human heart when fully exposed.

… according to Isaiah 53:4, He carried our griefs and He carried and bore our sorrows and in addition to that His own sorrow in being alienated and separated from His Father. So He not only suffered more than any man has suffered, but He suffered more than all men together have ever suffered.

During His earthly life, Jesus suffered for us temporally through poverty and self-denial. He also suffered spiritually by temptation from Satan. As if those were not bad enough, He suffered continual rejection by His own people. On the day He was crucified, He also suffered His father’s wrath because of mankind’s wickedness:

God then had to pour out all of heaven’s fury against all of earth’s sin and it all came on Jesus Christ. So He suffered the unmitigated wrath of God.

The scourging

MacArthur described how the aforementioned soldiers scourged Jesus:

they’ve tied His wrists to a post, His feet suspended from the ground, His body taut and they have taken leather thongs attached to a piece of wood and in the end of the leather thongs are bits of stone and bone and metal and they have lashed Him until His flesh is ripped off and His internal organs are laid bare and exposed and blood rushes from out of His body.

If you have seen Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ, you saw exactly that. (MacArthur had not written from Gibson’s perspective, because he wrote his sermon in 1985. The film came out in 2004.) I was quite disgusted with every other Christian I know in the offline world, none of whom liked the film because it was too gory and violent: ‘It never would have happened like that!’ NO! It did happen like that — for our sake!

The mocking

They have then clothed Him again. They brought Him back into Pilate’s hall and they start a little game under the watchful supervision of Pilate. And that little game is to make Jesus to appear as a king. And you’ll notice what happens in verse 28. They stripped Him. They took off His own robe which had been placed over His open wounds and they put on Him a scarlet robe, that’s the heavy outer robe Rome…worn by a Roman soldier. No doubt causing excruciating pain to those open wounds, a mock royal robe. And then they braided a crown of thorns and put it around His head. Put a reed in His right hand representative of a crown and a scepter. They bowed their knees before Him and mocked Him saying, “Hail, king of the Jews.” And as they rose from the ground they spit in His face. Then they took the reed out of His hand in a mocking gesture of snatching away His pitiful sovereignty and smashed Him in the head with His own scepter. In John 19:3 it says they kept on punching Him. He is a fool. He is a clown. He’s a buffoon. He is an object of mockery. This one who claims to be a king, what a farce, what a joke, how ridiculous. And the soldiers with joy and glee trained in the art of killing and maiming people enjoy to the very fullest their leisure expression on Jesus Christ at His expense.

By the way, this is the second time He has been punched and spit on. The Jewish leaders did it back in chapter 26 verses 67 and 68. There they spit on Him because He claimed to be a prophet. Here they spit on Him because He claimed to be a king. Little did they know the King that He was and long will they know it in hell in eternity. Little did they know that indeed He was a King and indeed He will wear a robe and a blood‑spattered robe at that. In Revelation chapter 19 and verse 13 it shows Jesus Christ coming in Second Coming glory out of heaven and He is indeed wearing a robe of royalty and it is a robe spotted with blood but it is not, at that time, His own blood but rather the blood of His enemies. And indeed some day He will wear a royal crown. It will be far different from this crown, not a stephanos, not a crown made of some earthly thing but a diadema, a diadem, a royal regal crown. Yes, Revelation 19:12 says He will wear many crowns for He will not only have His own but He will wear the crown that once belonged to every other sovereign in the world for He alone will be King.

And some day He will wield a scepter and it will be no reed, it will be according to Revelation 19:15, a rod of iron with which He will bring instant judgment on the unbelieving world

The blows from the reed which was heavy enough to cause a painful blow to the head are added and more bumps and bruises appear. His body is dripping with blood, oozing from His pores. A lack of sleep, the anguish of sin has contorted and twisted His face so that He is hardly recognizable as human, let alone as Jesus of Nazareth. And He is thought to be nothing more than a fool.

The way of the cross

They put back on His own garment. And they lead Him away to crucify Him. As they leave the city in verse 32, they conscript a man by the name of Cyrus … of Simon who is from Cyrene. And this man, as we saw last time, is to carry the cross of Christ. They then, verse 33, come to a place called Golgotha, meaning skull place named for the shape of the hill. They give Him vinegar to drink, actually wine, oinos in the better texts. They give Him wine to drink and mingled with bitter herbs. That’s a general term. Mark tells us the bitter herbs were in fact myrrh. And myrrh would act like a sedative. This was provided by Jerusalem women. There was an association of women who provided this for people who were to be crucified as an expression of the fulfillment of Proverbs 31 where it says that strong drink is for those who face death. These women did it out of kindness. The soldiers appreciated it not because they wanted to show kindness, but because it was easier to crucify a drugged victim. So it accommodated them as well.

He tasted it and wouldn’t drink it because He wanted to go to the cross with all of His senses acute and alert

The crucifixion

I’m so amazed at the fact that the crucifixion itself is passed over with such brevity. In fact, as I told you, in the Greek text it actually says the having crucified Him on[ce] parted His garments. It almost throws away the crucifixion in the original text. And we really don’t have anything given to us about the details of it so we need to kind of fill in just for a moment. The cross would be lying on the ground, the victim would be placed down on the cross and first His feet would be extended, His toes pulled down and then a large nail would be driven through the arch of one foot and then the arch of another foot. And then His hands would be extended allowing His knees to flex a little bit and there would be great nails driven through His wrists just below the bottom part of His hand, the heel of His hand because there is the place where it would hold. In the middle of the hand it wouldn’t hold, it would pull through the fingers.

Once the victim was nailed there, the cross would be picked up and dropped into a hole. And when it hit the bottom of the socket, of course, it would rip and tear the flesh and send the nerve impulses to make explosions in the brain in regard to pain. The victim is now crucified. Slowly He would begin to sag down more and more the weight being placed upon the nails running through His wrists, excruciating fiery pain would shoot up the arms and into the mind. Pressure put on the median nerves would be beyond almost the ability to endure.

The Lord then would try to push to relieve the pain and so He would push with His feet and be pushing on the two wounds in His feet. And the same thing would happen. And hour after hour this wrenching twisting torment of the body back and forth, trying to relieve one and then the other, the hands and the feet, it would become very impossible after a while to do any pushing upward because of the pain and the sagging would put the greatest weight upon the hands.

Dr. Truman, Davis writes, “At this point, another phenomenon occurred as the arms fatigued, great waves of cramps sweep over the muscles nodding them in deep relentless throbbing pain. With these cramps comes the inability to push Himself upward. Hanging by His arms, the pectoral muscles are paralyzed and the inner costal muscles are unable to act. Air can be drawn into the lungs but it can’t be exhaled. Jesus fights to raise Himself to get even one short breath. Finally carbon dioxide builds up in the lungs and in the blood stream and the cramps subside. He would grasps short breaths of air, hours of limitless pain, cycles of twisting joint‑rending cramps, intermittent partial asphyxiation, searing pain as tissue is torn from His lacerated back as He moves up and down the rough timber. A deep crushing pain in the chest as the pericardium slowly fills with scorum (?) and begins to compress the heart. And this leads to death.”

‘King of the Jews’

After Jesus took His last breath, the soldiers had to nail to the cross the reason for His death. Pilate gave that to them:

They set over His head an accusation because it was required that a man who was crucified be crucified for some criminal reason. And there was no legitimate criminal reason to crucify Christ. Pilate, wanting to make his statement of the innocence of Christ and also wanting to affirm his … despising of the Jews, puts over the head of Jesus, “THIS IS JESUS,” the other writers tell us he put, “THIS IS JESUS OF NAZARETH THE KING OF THE JEWS.” And in all three languages of the times so everyone could read it. And the Jews … protested and said, “We don’t want that up there, we want, “He said He is king of the Jews.'” And Pilate said, “What I have written I have written.” And thus in cynical sarcastic words he mocked the Jews by saying to the whole world, “There’s your king, there’s your king, you despicable people, you deserve such a king.”

A statement

There is much more to read. This is a compelling sermon, not to be missed.

The same types of people who sentenced, mocked and killed Jesus are around today. Some even attend church.

All of them are convinced of their own self-righteousness. They reject Jesus Christ. They reject the Bible. They do not want to know. Their way is better.

They know more than the Christian humbly praying for more grace, praying for sanctification, praying to be delivered from temptation.

The day will come when we will be at the seat of divine and holy judgement. Where are we now? Where will we be then?

MacArthur concludes with this:

I don’t know where you are today. He longs to embrace you into His arms, to give you the salvation He so freely offered. He stayed on the cross not because He couldn’t come down, He stayed on the cross because He wouldn’t come down. And I believe that the Savior shed tears for those who shed His very blood. Such is the compassion of God and the gift of salvation. Let’s bow in prayer.

Thank You, Father, for the scene that we have viewed today from Your holy Word. Thank You for the friend of sinners who died for the very ones who crucified Him in all generations. Thank You that His arms are open to all who come. O Father, may we be grateful enough, thankful enough not only to receive the Lord Jesus Christ, but to live our lives totally in obedience to Him.

Amen.

The 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 7:23-29

23 “When he was forty years old, it came into his heart to visit his brothers, the children of Israel. 24 And seeing one of them being wronged, he defended the oppressed man and avenged him by striking down the Egyptian. 25 He supposed that his brothers would understand that God was giving them salvation by his hand, but they did not understand. 26 And on the following day he appeared to them as they were quarreling and tried to reconcile them, saying, ‘Men, you are brothers. Why do you wrong each other?’ 27 But the man who was wronging his neighbor thrust him aside, saying, ‘Who made you a ruler and a judge over us? 28 Do you want to kill me as you killed the Egyptian yesterday?’ 29 At this retort Moses fled and became an exile in the land of Midian, where he became the father of two sons.

———————————————————————————————–

Today’s verses are a continuation of Stephen’s address to the temple court.

Stephen was one of the first deacons, whom the Apostles appointed along with five other holy and wise men from the Hellenist (Greek) Jews. Acts 6 gives us the account of how and why the Apostles chose them.

As the Church at this time was centred at the temple in Solomon’s Portico, the Jews, including the religious leaders, could see and hear thousands of converts every day. They knew that the Apostles were teaching and doing miraculous healing, the way Jesus did. The threat to the Jewish authorities was expanding. It was bad enough that Jews from Jerusalem were becoming followers of Jesus, but now Jews from other nations were, too.

Stephen was brought before the temple council to defend himself against four charges of blasphemy: blaspheming God, Moses, the law and the temple. Acts 7 contains his address and the council’s action against him.

Stephen first got the council’s attention by saying he had revered the same traditions as they and respected the history of the people of Israel. He related the story of Abraham, then of Joseph.

At this point, he accomplished two objectives: holding his audience’s attention and defending himself against the charge of blaspheming God.

As Stephen related his scriptural knowledge of the early patriarchs, he also indicted his audience for rejecting Jesus. His reason for mentioning Joseph was to get them to realise that Joseph’s brothers treated him the same way the Jews treated Jesus.

Stephen offered the first Christian apologetic: a defence of — reasoned case for — Jesus, in this case, as Messiah.

In last week’s verses, Stephen began his scriptural account of Moses: from the time of his birth through to his early adulthood. Please read that linked post if you haven’t done so, as it will help clarify today’s reading.

By the time Moses was born, several generations had passed since Joseph’s time. A new Pharaoh came to rule. He did not know the history of how the Israelites came to be there. Nor did he know the story of Joseph. Hence, he enslaved the descendants of the twelve patriarchs of Israel.

Despite having been adopted by Pharaoh’s daughter and educated in all the best Egyptian traditions, Moses never forgot that he was an Israelite. Aged 40, he decided it was time to meet his family members (verse 23).

Matthew Henry tells us of Moses at this point in time, as described in Acts 7:22: ‘mighty in his words and deeds’. Emphases mine below:

He became a prime minister of state in Egypt. This seems to be meant by his being mighty in words and deeds. Though he had not a ready way of expressing himself, but stammered, yet he spoke admirably good sense, and every thing he said commanded assent, and carried its own evidence and force of reason along with it; and, in business, none went on with such courage, and conduct, and success. Thus was he prepared, by human helps, for those services, which, after all, he could not be thoroughly furnished for without divine illumination. Now, by all this, Stephen will make it appear that, notwithstanding the malicious insinuations of his persecutors, he had as high and honourable thoughts of Moses as they had.

Stephen did not speak of Moses’s stammering, only his greatness. This was to clear himself of the charge of blaspheming Moses.

However, as with his account of Joseph, Stephen was trying to tell the Jewish court that their ancestors rejected leaders such as Joseph and Moses to their detriment. Stephen was using Joseph and Moses as comparative figures for Jesus. The Jews rejected Joseph, Moses and Jesus.

Through his apologetic, Stephen wanted to convince his audience that Jesus is Messiah.

Back now to our reading. Stephen said that Moses saw one of the Egyptians — probably a foreman — oppress one of the Israelite slaves. Moses, in turn, fatally struck the man (verse 24). Moses saw the Egyptian abuse one of his family members and wanted to avenge his kinsman.

Moses knew:

that his commission from heaven would bear him out

However, he also worked on the assumption that his kith and kin would recognise that he was one of them and that he was sent to deliver them from bondage to the Promised Land (verse 25):

he supposed that his brethren (who could not but have some knowledge of the promise made to Abraham, that the nation that should oppress them God would judge) would have understood that God by his hand would deliver them; for he could not have had either presence of mind or strength of body to do what he did, if he had not been clothed with such a divine power as evinced a divine authority.

But that was not the case.

The incident elicited a lot of talk because, when Moses returned to the slaves the next day, they were quarrelling (verse 26). Some must have been saying, ‘He did a good thing. Could he deliver us? Is he fulfilling the promise made to Abraham?’ Others no doubt took the opposite view, ‘Who does that guy think he is?’

Moses, wanting them to make peace, asked why they were quarrelling. Instead of responding rationally, the Israelite contending with his neighbour pushed Moses aside and asked who made him judge and ruler over them (verse 27). He went further by asking if Moses was going to kill him, too.

Henry warns us about people like this:

Proud and litigious spirits are impatient of check and control.

That response was Israel’s rejection of Moses. That Israelite who spoke to him so aggressively was stubborn and spiritually blind. That is what Stephen was trying to convict the Jewish court of: a similar but infinitely more serious rejection of Jesus.

John MacArthur says of Moses:

He had done the first thing. He had shown that he was going to defend them. But they didn’t get the message. They understood not. So blind, they were blind to their own redeemer, their own deliverer, the one who was going to take them to the Promised Land. It was the time of promise, verse 17 said it, and it was time to go, but they weren’t going to go because they weren’t going to accept the deliverer.

Jesus came and offered a kingdom. They didn’t accept the King. Did they get the kingdom? No, it was postponed. Moses came and said, “I’ll give you the Promised Land.” Did they get the Promised Land? Forty years later they got it. No, 80 years later, because they didn’t believe when the redeemer came the first time. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

Verse 26, “And the next day he showed himself to them as they strove.” He came down there and two of them were arguing. He not only came to defend them from their enemies, he came to make peace among them. He was the truest kind of deliverer. His plans were not only political, they were personal. He not only saw the deliverance of Israel as a nation, he saw himself as a peacemaker between individuals. That’s the heart of a real deliverer, isn’t it? Great man.

Thus rejected, Moses exiled himself to Midian, where he fathered two sons (verse 29). MacArthur tells us:

Remember his wife, Zipporah? He married her over there and he fiddled around in the desert for 40 years herding sheep.

Stephen’s point to the court about Moses was that God postponed Israel’s deliverance because they were stubborn, blind, aggressive and disobedient. He punished them with 40 more years of slavery and another 40 in the journey to the Promised Land. Many Israelites died during that time because they rejected Moses in the first place. Had they accepted him, they would have adhered to God’s timetable.

Although Stephen did not know this — he was the first martyr — their rejection of Christ resulted in the destruction of the temple decades later by the Romans in 70 AD: God’s punishment. It was never rebuilt.

Yet, although he was convicting his audience of spiritual blindness and brutal rejection, Stephen wanted to open their eyes, to give them insight into Jesus as Messiah. Stephen was saying, ‘Accept Jesus as I accept Him as the Deliverer, the Promised One, the Messiah’.

Henry says that, with this apologetic, Stephen cleared himself of blaspheming Moses. Furthermore, he indirectly warned the court not to reject his message about Jesus, the way their ancestors rejected Moses. Finally, he warned them, again indirectly, that if they did reject Jesus as Messiah, God would take Him away from them in favour of the Gentiles.

The next reading continues Stephen’s discourse on Moses.

Forbidden Bible Verses continues after Easter.

Next time: Acts 7:30-34

The 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 7:17-22

17 “But as the time of the promise drew near, which God had granted to Abraham, the people increased and multiplied in Egypt 18 until there arose over Egypt another king who did not know Joseph. 19 He dealt shrewdly with our race and forced our fathers to expose their infants, so that they would not be kept alive. 20 At this time Moses was born; and he was beautiful in God’s sight. And he was brought up for three months in his father’s house, 21 and when he was exposed, Pharaoh’s daughter adopted him and brought him up as her own son. 22 And Moses was instructed in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and he was mighty in his words and deeds.

——————————————————————————————–

Acts 7 is about one of the first deacons of the Church, Stephen, who became the first martyr.

Acts 6 tells us how the Apostles chose Stephen and six other men to serve as deacons: ensuring charity was dispensed and handling any donations.

All of these deacons were beyond reproach and were Hellenistic — Greek — Jews.

As the Church at this time was centred at the temple in Solomon’s Portico, the Jews, including the religious leaders, could see and hear thousands of converts every day. They knew that the Apostles were teaching and doing miraculous healing, the way Jesus did. The threat to the Jewish authorities was expanding. It was bad enough that Jews from Jerusalem were becoming followers of Jesus, but now Jews from other nations were, too.

Stephen was brought to the temple council to defend himself against four charges of blasphemy: blaspheming God, Moses, the law and the temple. Acts 7 contains his address and the council’s action against him.

Stephen first got the council’s attention by saying he had revered the same traditions as they and respected the history of the people of Israel. He related the story of Abraham, then of Joseph.

At this point, he accomplished two objectives: held his audience’s attention and defended himself against the charge of blaspheming God.

As Stephen relates his scriptural knowledge of the early patriarchs, he is also indicting his audience for rejection of Jesus as Messiah. His reason for mentioning Joseph was to get them to realise that Joseph was treated by his brothers the same way the Jews treated Jesus.

Stephen offered the first apologetic — defence of, reasoned case for — that Jesus is Messiah.

In today’s verses, Stephen begins his talk about Moses. Recall that Joseph was Pharaoh’s right hand man when a famine hit Israel and Egypt. Joseph’s brothers and his father Jacob were in Israel. The brothers went to Egypt for grain, the supply of which Joseph managed. Pharaoh invited the brothers to bring their families and Jacob to live in Egypt.

The historical setting for today’s verses is many generations later. The leaders of the twelve tribes have long since died. So has the kind Pharaoh. The people of Israel are still in Egypt, but greatly multiplied, so that they are now the size of a small nation. God was ready to return them to their own land, as He had promised Abraham (verse 17).

There was a problem. A new Pharaoh came to rule, one who did not know the great things that Joseph had done (verse 18). Consequently, he cared nothing for the Israelites. This new king made slaves out of the people of Israel and made them kill their children (verse 19) probably as a means of genocide.

Stephen mentions this because he is indicting the Jewish leaders of trying to kill the infant Church.

Matthew Henry offers this analysis (emphases mine):

Now Stephen seems to observe this to them, not only that they might further see how mean their beginnings were, fitly represented (perhaps with an eye to the exposing of the young children in Egypt) by the forlorn state of a helpless, out-cast infant (Ezekiel 16:4), and how much they were indebted to God for his care of them, which they had forfeited, and made themselves unworthy of: but also that they might consider that what they were now doing against the Christian church in its infancy was as impious and unjust, and would be in the issue as fruitless and ineffectual, as that was which the Egyptians did against the Jewish church in its infancy. “You think you deal subtly in your ill treatment of us, and, in persecuting young converts, you do as they did in casting out the young children; but you will find it is to no purpose, in spite of your malice Christ’s disciples will increase and multiply.”

This period in Israel’s history was the time when Moses was born (Exodus 2). Stephen described him as ‘beautiful in God’s sight’ (verse 20). Moses’s parents brought him up for three months hidden away at home. Then his mother placed him in a basket, which she made waterproof, and set him in the reeds by the river bank.

Pharaoh’s daughter found the basket and a servant opened it to find a crying baby. Moses’s sister was on the sidelines watching. She approached Pharaoh’s daughter, who was quite taken by this beautiful infant, and offered to find ‘a nurse from the Hebrew women’ to feed the baby (Exodus 2:7). This canny girl fetched her mother — Moses’s mother — and took her to Pharaoh’s daughter. Moses’s mother was paid to nurse her own son and when he was old enough, she took him to live in Pharaoh’s opulent palace. Pharaoh’s daughter took Moses as her own son and gave him that name because it sounds like the Hebrew for ‘draw out’, i.e. she drew him out of the water.

Now back to Acts, where Stephen said that Moses grew up to be well educated in Egyptian ways and very accomplished as an adult (verse 22).

John MacArthur describes Moses, saying that the ancient Jewish historian:

Josephus says that the history tells him that when Moses walked down the street, everybody stopped doing what they were doing just to look at him, because he was so striking and so handsome. So he was quite a man. But even as a baby he was exceedingly fair, handsome child.

So Moses was adopted as the son of Pharaoh, with all the benefits. You can imagine what kind of benefits went with being the son of Pharaoh. So he lived in the palace …

He was an amazing person. Not only exceedingly fair and handsome, not only with all of the ability that was his just by virtue of his birth and his inheritance physically, heredity, but what was his by the education that he got in Egypt. I mean, the Egyptians, they tell us, knew geometry and medicine and astronomy, and they were very advanced, and Moses was a remarkable man, with all of that natural ability coupled with the finest and most comprehensive education available in the ancient world. And he was going to be God’s deliverer, to lead Israel to the land of promise. He was mighty.

With this introductory discourse on Moses, Stephen cleared himself of the charge of blaspheming him. He paints a highly positive picture of the man. Of course, Moses was far from perfect as a leader of the twelve tribes, and there were times when he disobeyed God in memorable ways. However, MacArthur says:

But, you see, Stephen stays away from all that. He’s defending himself against blaspheming Moses, so he just praises him.

So far, so good. Stephen had more to say about Moses, which I’ll cover in future posts.

Next time: Acts 7:23-29

Bible oldThe 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 7:9-16

“And the patriarchs, jealous of Joseph, sold him into Egypt; but God was with him 10 and rescued him out of all his afflictions and gave him favor and wisdom before Pharaoh, king of Egypt, who made him ruler over Egypt and over all his household. 11 Now there came a famine throughout all Egypt and Canaan, and great affliction, and our fathers could find no food. 12 But when Jacob heard that there was grain in Egypt, he sent out our fathers on their first visit. 13 And on the second visit Joseph made himself known to his brothers, and Joseph’s family became known to Pharaoh. 14 And Joseph sent and summoned Jacob his father and all his kindred, seventy-five persons in all. 15 And Jacob went down into Egypt, and he died, he and our fathers, 16 and they were carried back to Shechem and laid in the tomb that Abraham had bought for a sum of silver from the sons of Hamor in Shechem.

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Last week’s post featured the first part of Stephen’s address. If you have not had a chance to read it, please do, as it explains his circumstances and why he speaks as he does.

In short, Stephen must defend himself against four charges of blasphemy by the temple court: blasphemy against God, Moses, the law and the temple. Last week’s verses demonstrate that not only did he capture the attention of his accusers but he also defended himself against the charge that he blasphemed God.

He goes further in his address with the following objectives. Matthew Henry’s commentary summarises them well (emphases mine below):

1. He still reminds them of the mean beginning of the Jewish nation, as a check to their priding themselves in the glories of that nation; and that it was by a miracle of mercy that they were raised up out of nothing to what they were, from so small a number to be so great a nation; but, if they answer not the intention of their being so raised, they can expect no other than to be destroyed. The prophets frequently put them in mind of the bringing of them out of Egypt, as a aggravation of their contempt of the law of God, and here it is urged upon them as an aggravation of their contempt of the gospel of Christ. 2. He reminds them likewise of the wickedness of those that were the patriarchs of their tribes, in envying their brother Joseph, and selling him into Egypt; and the same spirit was still working in them towards Christ and his ministers. 3. Their holy land, which they doted so much upon, their fathers were long kept out of the possession of, and met with dearth and great affliction in it; and therefore let them not think it strange if, after it has been so long polluted with sin, it be at length destroyed. 4. The faith of the patriarchs in desiring to be buried in the land of Canaan plainly showed that they had an eye to the heavenly country, to which it was the design of this Jesus to lead them.

The patriarchs in verse 9 are the sons of Jacob, each of whom led a tribe of Israel. They were jealous of Joseph whom they sold into slavery in Egypt. However, God was watching over Joseph, who had great problems. John MacArthur reminds us that Joseph:

went to work for a guy named Potiphar who had a wife who had her eye on Joseph. And she really liked Joseph. So she got him in a compromising thing. He was over there where she was, in her bedroom. And she started making advances to him, trying to seduce old Joseph. It’s your heart, Joseph.

And you know what he did? He ran. Smart thing, Joseph did. He put those old wheels in motion and he was gone. Didn’t fool around. Just avoid the temptation. He took off running. You know what happened? She got his coat. Mmm-mmm-mmm, incriminating evidence. So she reported that this thing had happened, that Joseph had, you know, done this to her, and she had his coat to prove it. And he wound up in the clink. False accusation. Put him in prison.

Why is Stephen talking about Joseph? Because there is a parallel there with Jesus:

You know how Jesus got captured and put in prison? By false accusation. They had a mock trial and they brought forth false witnesses. Just like Joseph.

Stephen’s words are brilliant (verse 10): God delivered Joseph ‘out of all his afflictions’. MacArthur explains:

Joseph got out. And when he got out of there, he went to the next place, to Pharaoh himself. Sat on the right hand of the Pharaoh, the king of the land.

Here is another parallel with Jesus:

Do you know that the men delivered Jesus, in fact they delivered Him into the grave, and God took Him out of the grave and exalted Him to His right hand. Joseph, again, is a picture of Jesus. Joseph found the lowest kind of humility and was lifted to the loftiest exaltation. So was Jesus Christ. Joseph is a picture of Jesus.

This is an excellent way of getting these men to come to the idea of Jesus. It’s a great apologetic — defence of, reasoned case for — Jesus being the Messiah.

MacArthur gives us a third parallel:

Joseph, rejected by Israel, his brothers, was accepted by Gentiles in Egypt. You got that one? Jesus, rejected by Israel, turned and founded His church among whom? Gentiles. Continues to be a picture of Jesus.

Stephen continued his account of Genesis by mentioning the famine affecting that part of the world (verse 11). Joseph had masterminded the pharaoh’s silos and was storing grain in them for the Egyptians. Word reached Joseph’s father Jacob that Egypt had grain set aside in reserve. Jacob sent Joseph’s brothers to Egypt in search of grain (verse 12). Here we have Joseph in the most exalted position, in charge of the grain stores while his brothers have nothing. MacArthur tells us:

When Joseph went to Egypt, famine came. And his whole family back there in Canaan found no sustenance. They had rejected their leader. Do you know what happened to Israel when they rejected Jesus Christ? They fell into a spiritual famine and they still exist in it, don’t they? Sure they do. The famine is a type of Israel’s blindness today. They have no spiritual sustenance at all. None at all.

Note that Stephen is careful to say that Joseph’s brothers did not meet him on their first visit to Egypt. However, they did meet on the second visit (verse 13), at which time Pharaoh also made their acquaintance. Again, this refers to Jesus:

When is Jesus going to be made known to Israel? At His first coming? At His second. It’s the same type again. The first time, rejected, sold for envy. The second time, accepted.

Joseph summoned Jacob and his eleven sons — along with their families — to Egypt (verse14). All of Israel was in Egypt. MacArthur tells us:

That’s a picture of the fact that at the Second Coming when Jesus is revealed, who’s going to get saved? Part of Israel? All Israel. Romans 11, “All Israel shall be saved.” Again, perfectly typified in the life of Jesus, the whole picture of Christ.

Jacob died in Egypt (verse 15) but was buried:

at Machpelah in a cave up at Hebron.

Genesis 50 tells us:

12 So Jacob’s sons did as their father commanded. 13 They carried his body to the land of Canaan and buried it in the cave in the field of Machpelah near Mamre. Abraham had bought this cave and field from Ephron the Hittite to use as a burial place. 14 After Joseph buried his father, he returned to Egypt, along with his brothers and everyone who had gone with him to bury his father.

His sons were buried in the tomb Abraham bought from Hamor’s sons in Shechem (verse 16).

MacArthur says:

And there is a picture of Israel entering into the kingdom relationship.

Therefore, Stephen’s purpose in telling the story of Joseph, was to point out that the Jewish leaders were gravely sinful in rejecting Jesus.

Stephen was not finished. His address continues next week with Moses.

Next time: Acts 7:17-22

The 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 7:2b-8

“Brothers and fathers, hear me. The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham when he was in Mesopotamia, before he lived in Haran, and said to him, ‘Go out from your land and from your kindred and go into the land that I will show you.’ 4 Then he went out from the land of the Chaldeans and lived in Haran. And after his father died, God removed him from there into this land in which you are now living. Yet he gave him no inheritance in it, not even a foot’s length, but promised to give it to him as a possession and to his offspring after him, though he had no child. And God spoke to this effect—that his offspring would be sojourners in a land belonging to others, who would enslave them and afflict them four hundred years. ‘But I will judge the nation that they serve,’ said God, ‘and after that they shall come out and worship me in this place.’ And he gave him the covenant of circumcision. And so Abraham became the father of Isaac, and circumcised him on the eighth day, and Isaac became the father of Jacob, and Jacob of the twelve patriarchs.

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Before we come to today’s reading, it is worthwhile recapping Acts 6, which is part of the three-year Lectionary readings for St Stephen’s feast day. He was the first martyr.

Because the first Pentecost took place during the Jewish feast of the first harvest, Jews from all over the ancient world had gathered in Jerusalem.

Among them were many new converts, including Jews from Greece, the Hellenists (Acts 6:1). The Hellenists complained that their newly converted widows were receiving less in charity than the widows of Jerusalem and surrounds. Whether this was a sound complaint, we do not know. However, the Apostles decided that keeping track of charity and collecting funds for the new Church would limit the time they spent teaching and healing.

Therefore, they instituted deacons to take on the charity work — to ‘serve tables’ (Acts 6:2). The word ‘deacon’ is not used as such in Acts 6, but this essentially was what the position involved. Matthew Henry tells us that the Greek words for serving tables are

diakonein trapezais–to be deacons to the tables, Acts 6:2.

The Twelve directed all the disciples — which now included several thousands of converts — to name seven men who were (Acts 6:3):

of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom …

Henry explains:

These must be, First, Of honest report, men free from scandal, that were looked upon by their neighbours as men of integrity, and faithful men, well attested, as men that might be trusted, not under a blemish for any vice, but, on the contrary, well spoken of for every thing that is virtuous and praiseworthy; martyroumenous–men that can produce good testimonials concerning their conversation. Note, Those that are employed in any office in the church ought to be men of honest report, of a blameless, nay, of an admirable character, which is requisite not only to the credit of their office, but to the due discharge of it. Secondly, They must be full of the Holy Ghost, must be filled with those gifts and graces of the Holy Ghost which were necessary to the right management of this trust. They must not only be honest men, but they must be men of ability and men of courage; such as were to be made judges in Israel (Exodus 18:21), able men, fearing God; men of truth, and hating covetousness; and hereby appearing to be full of the Holy Ghost. Thirdly, They must be full of wisdom. It was not enough that they were honest, good men, but they must be discreet, judicious men, that could not be imposed upon, and would order things for the best, and with consideration: full of the Holy Ghost, and wisdom, that is, of the Holy Ghost as a Spirit of wisdom. We find the word of wisdom given by the Spirit, as distinct form the word of knowledge by the same Spirit, 1 Corinthians 12:8. Those must be full of wisdom who are entrusted with public money, that it may be disposed of, not only with fidelity, but with frugality.

Henry says that the seven men chosen were not among the disciples at the first Pentecost but those who had converted and received the Holy Spirit afterwards. Furthermore, their names were Greek, implying they were Hellenists (Acts 6:5). Perhaps this was a better way of ensuring charity was distributed equally to Hebrew and Hellenist alike.

Henry tells us more about these men:

Nicolas, it is plain, was one of them, for he was a proselyte of Antioch; and some think the manner of expression intimates that they were all proselytes of Jerusalem, as he was of Antioch. The first named is Stephen, the glory of these septemviri, a man full of faith and of the Holy Ghost; he had a strong faith in the doctrine of Christ, and was full of it above most; full of fidelity, full of courage (so some), for he was full of the Holy Ghost, of his gifts and graces. He was an extraordinary man, and excelled in every thing that was good; his name signifies a crown. Philip is put next, because he, having used this office of a deacon well, thereby obtained a good degree, and was afterwards ordained to the office of an evangelist, a companion and assistant to the apostles, for so he is expressly called, Acts 21:8. Compare Ephesians 4:11. And his preaching and baptizing (which we read of Acts 8:12) were certainly not as a deacon (for it is plain that that office was serving tables, in opposition to the ministry of the word), but as an evangelist; and, when he was preferred to that office, we have reason to think he quitted this office, as incompatible with that. As for Stephen, nothing we find done by him proves him to be a preacher of the gospel; for he only disputes in the schools, and pleads for his life at the bar, Acts 6:9,7:2. The last named is Nicolas, who, some say, afterwards degenerated (as the Judas among these seven) and was the founder of the sect of the Nicolaitans which we read of (Revelation 2:6,15), and which Christ there says, once and again, was a thing he hated. But some of the ancients clear him from this charge, and tell us that, though that vile impure sect denominated themselves from him, yet it was unjustly, and because he only insisted much upon it that those that had wives should be as though they had none, thence they wickedly inferred that those that had wives should have them in common, which therefore Tertullian, when he speaks of the community of goods, particularly excepts: Omnia indiscreta apud nos, præter uxores–All things are common among us, except our wives.–Apol. cap, 39.

The Apostles prayerfully laid their hands on this group of seven men (Acts 6:6), which also included (Acts 6:5):

Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas …

Thus ordained, the first deacons went about their duties.

Stephen was filled with such grace and faith that he performed (Acts 6:8):

great wonders and signs among the people.

Henry tells us that wonders and signs were not restricted to the Apostles:

It is not strange that Stephen, though he was not a preacher by office, did these great wonders, for we find that these were distinct gifts of the Spirit, and divided severally, for to one was given the working of miracles, and to another prophecy, 1 Corinthians 12:10,11. And these signs followed not only those that preached, but those that believed. Mark 16:17.

A group of devout Jews from abroad — Greece, Asia Minor and freemen (freed slaves) from Rome — took issue with Stephen’s actions (Acts 6:9). However, he responded with such divinely inspired wisdom that they had nothing more to say. So, they took their hostility further and made up lies about him, saying he had blasphemed Moses and God (Acts 6:11). Having cooked up a lie, they then used it to agitate the scribes and elders in the temple (Acts 6:12), which produced the desired result. Stephen was brought up before the council at the temple. Acts 6:15:

15 And gazing at him, all who sat in the council saw that his face was like the face of an angel.

This brings us to Acts 7, which begins with the high priest asking Stephen to explain himself.

John MacArthur tells us about the charges of blasphemy levelled against Stephen:

He had been charged with blasphemy against God, Moses, the law and the Temple, the most sacred things in the mind of any Jew. And he had to answer the charge. But he knew what he believed, and he knew why he believed it. And he answered it. And I think it’s important to notice that he answered the charge with Scripture. He defended the faith not in vagaries of philosophy, not in logic, but in verbal testimony to the Scripture. And he even quotes it repeatedly verbatim, which shows something of what he must’ve known about Scripture.

Historical Jewish tradition says that the great rabban Gamaliel — from last week’s post on Acts 5:33-42 — trained Stephen in Scripture. Gamaliel certainly taught St Paul and he might well have taught Barnabas also.

Stephen’s speech is a magnificent lesson in apologetics, a defence of the Christian faith, not being sorry for it, as apology generally means today.

Before we look at it in more detail, MacArthur posits that Stephen’s ministry to the Hellenists was a means of moving the thrust of the new Church along and out of Jerusalem:

It was now time for operation number two, which was Judea and Samaria, moving out from Jerusalem. Now, Stephen became the key to this thrust, for many reasons. In the first place, they needed to get better organized in order to step out. The church was falling into some internal problems because they weren’t structured right, so in chapter 6 they got organized. They chose seven Spirit-filled men to handle the business of the church so the apostles could be free to preach and to pray …

And so Stephen was important to the progress of the church because he was taking over responsibility that freed the church to go. Secondly, he was important because he was a preacher, a New Testament prophet, and he preached to foreign Jews. So he began to extend this from the Palestine Jews to the Hellenist, or Grecian, Jews, who would come into Jerusalem.

Ultimately, Stephen’s ministry ended in martyrdom, which further assisted the Church at that time:

immediately following his death, chapter 8, verse 1 says, “And Saul was consenting unto his death. And at that time there was a great persecution against the church which was at Jerusalem.” The death of Stephen precipitated the persecution of the church. And, as you know, when the church gets persecuted, the church gets going.

And so the persecution came, and immediately they were all scattered abroad throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, which is right on target, right on schedule, exactly where God wanted them to go. Phase two begins to move. And it isn’t because God sent them out there directly. It’s because the people in Jerusalem started persecuting them and they fled to those places.

Stephen’s speech explains early Jewish history concerning the covenant and promises that God fulfilled for the people of Israel. Today’s reading is only the first part, relating how Abraham was called by God from Mesopotamia to inhabit a new land (verses 2, 3).

Note that Stephen addressed those gathered as ‘brothers and fathers’. In other words, ‘I am one of you’. Left unspoken for now is that he understood that God wanted them to believe in Jesus, the Messiah.

He also referred to ‘the God of glory’ and ‘our father Abraham’, further evidence that he was not blaspheming and that he had reverence for the Almighty and the great persons in Scripture.

Stephen went on to say that Abraham accepted God’s instructions and moved to Haran, then on to the present land ‘where you are now living’ (verse 4). Yet, God didn’t leave Abraham an inheritance of land, but told him it would belong to his offspring (verse 5). This was incredible, because Abraham and his wife Sarah had no children. She was sterile. Furthermore, they were advanced in age. So, Abraham spent time alone with their servant Hagar. Nine months later Ishmael was born. However, Ishmael was not part of God’s plan for Abraham.

Yet, Abraham’s faith was such that, even though his understanding of that plan was imperfect, he did not question God or His design for him and his people.

Then, as Stephen related (verses 6, 7), God had more news for Abraham: his offspring would be slaves to others, toiling in a foreign land for 400 years. (MacArthur tells us that it was 430.) Then, His people would be released from bondage and come to worship Him in their own land.

God made a covenant with Abraham, one of circumcision (verse 8) for every male in his family down through the generations, including slaves and foreigners. Abraham circumcised Isaac eight days after he was born. Circumcision continued with Isaac’s son Jacob and so on, encompassing all twelve tribes of Israel and their descendants.

What Stephen did here was to express his faith in God’s sovereignty. MacArthur explains:

Stephen’s saying, “I realize the destiny of Israel’s in the hands of God.” Do you see what he’s saying? That’s what he’s recognizing. “I know that God is running the show. I believe in the God of Israel, who called Abraham, who took the children of Israel into Egypt, who brought the plagues on Pharaoh and got them out of Egypt, who presented the great deliverer, Moses. I believe it all,” is what’s saying. He’s establishing himself in relation to the God of Israel.

This accomplished two things for those listening to Stephen in court:

He has captured their attention by reciting the history they love to hear. And I’ll bet you he was a dynamic speaker. It says that they couldn’t resist his spirit. And I think they just ate it up. And the second thing he accomplished was, he defended himself against the charge that he blasphemed God. He did believe in God. He did not believe God was unholy, unsacred. He believed God was the holy God of glory, the very God of Israel.

What Stephen was moving towards by recounting their common history as Jews was this:

The third thing he wants to do is indict them for sinfulness and rejection. The fourth thing is to present Messiah.

The story continues next week.

Next time: Acts 7:9-16

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 5:33-42

33 When they heard this, they were enraged and wanted to kill them. 34 But a Pharisee in the council named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law held in honor by all the people, stood up and gave orders to put the men outside for a little while. 35 And he said to them, “Men of Israel, take care what you are about to do with these men. 36 For before these days Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody, and a number of men, about four hundred, joined him. He was killed, and all who followed him were dispersed and came to nothing. 37 After him Judas the Galilean rose up in the days of the census and drew away some of the people after him. He too perished, and all who followed him were scattered. 38 So in the present case I tell you, keep away from these men and let them alone, for if this plan or this undertaking is of man, it will fail; 39 but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You might even be found opposing God!” So they took his advice, 40 and when they had called in the apostles, they beat them and charged them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. 41 Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name. 42 And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they did not cease teaching and preaching that the Christ is Jesus.

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Very little of Acts 5 is in the three-year Lectionary.

More’s the pity, because this chapter reveals much about the Church in infancy, as these events happened shortly after Pentecost.

The end of Acts 4 mentions a godly convert:

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

Acts 5 opened with the stories of deceitful husband and wife Ananias and Sapphira, who attempted to imitate Joseph’s example by pledging money from a property sale. However, they decided to keep a share of the proceeds for themselves. Peter accused them of deceiving God and the Holy Spirit. They were so convicted that God took their lives, first Ananias, then Sapphira.

After their deaths, the Church’s purity was restored. The Apostles, particularly St Peter, attracted more converts with their healing miracles, performed through the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Even the high priest and the Sadducees could not contain the Twelve. An angel of the Lord released our holy men from prison. Following the angel’s instructions, they returned to Solomon’s Portico — or Porch — to continue preaching and healing.

When the temple captain and prison officers brought them back for a hearing, they went peaceably. Once before the council, they were charged with disobedience. This is the only part of Acts 5 that is in the Lectionary:

29 But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men. 30 The God of our fathers raised Jesus, whom you killed by hanging him on a tree. 31 God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. 32 And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.”

The council members heard Peter and were furious. They wanted to kill the Apostles (verse 33). They were angry that he was telling them the truth, one they preferred to forget.

Matthew Henry explains the unrelenting dynamic that was going on in their minds (emphases mine):

instead of yielding to it, they raged against it, and were filled, 1. With indignation at what the apostles said: They were cut to the heart, angry to see their own sin set in order before them; stark mad to find that the gospel of Christ had so much to say for itself, and consequently was likely to get ground. When a sermon was preached to the people to this purport, they were pricked to the heart, in remorse and godly sorrow, Acts 2:37. These here were cut to the heart with rage and indignation. Thus the same gospel is to some a savour of life unto life, to others of death unto death. The enemies of the gospel not only deprive themselves of its comforts, but fill themselves with terrors, and are their own tormentors. 2. With malice against the apostles themselves. Since they see they cannot stop their mouths any other way than by stopping their breath, they take counsel to slay them, hoping that so they shall cause the work to cease. While the apostles went on in the service of Christ, with a holy security and serenity of mind, perfectly composed, and in a sweet enjoyment of themselves, their persecutors went on in their opposition to Christ, with a constant perplexity and perturbation of mind, and vexation to themselves.

John MacArthur says the same thing of the Gospel truth:

It’s a sword and it rips men open. Convicts them. And they just couldn’t stand it. The word “deperianto” means violently agitated. Cut to the heart. They were just torn up inside. You say, “What got them all messed up?” The persistent preaching of these Christians.

A highly learned Pharisee, Gamaliel, stepped up and asked that the Apostles be removed from the area (verse 34). (Incidentally, there is only one famous person I can think of who had this name: Warren Gamaliel Harding, US president from 1921-1923. He was a Baptist who died in office. His administration was scandal-ridden.)

Who was the Gamaliel from Acts 5?

Henry tells us:

This Gamaliel is here said to be a Pharisee by his profession and sect, and by office a doctor of the law, one that studied the scriptures of the Old Testament, read lectures upon the sacred authors, and trained up pupils in the knowledge of them. Paul was brought up at his feet (Acts 22:3), and tradition says that so were Stephen and Barnabas. Some say he was the son of that Simeon that took up Christ in his arms, when he was presented in the temple, and grandson of the famous Hillel. He is here said to be in reputation among all the people for his wisdom and conduct, it appearing by this passage that he was a moderate man, and not apt to go in with furious measures. Men of temper and charity are justly had in reputation, for checking the incendiaries that otherwise would set the world on fire.

Henry saw the value of moderation in all things, especially in making decisions. MacArthur says that Gamaliel was working on the wrong premise. More about that later in this post.

MacArthur has more on Gamaliel:

Now he’s an eminent man. It says he was a teacher of the law and in the Talmud, which is the rabbinical writings of the Judaism[;] the Talmud calls him Gamaliel, the Elder, and the word rabban is a word that it’s not like Rabbi, it’s saved for only seven men, the seven most eminent teachers of Israel. He was the first one who ever got that title, so he’s a pretty sharp guy. He was the greatest teacher of his day. He was the grandson of Hillel. There were two great Rabbis. Any Jew will tell you the two great Rabbis Hillel and Chaim, those two Rabbis founded the two branches of Phariseeism one a little more conservative than the other. Hillel was the little more liberal wing. He was the grandson of Hillel. His heritage was good; he was a sharp guy. The old writing[s] tell us he had great earning, he was noble, he studied Greek literature, he was culturally so far advanced from the other Rabbis they weren’t even in the same ballpark with him. He was called the Beauty of the Law. He died 18 years before the sack of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. and in the Mishna it says, “Since Rabban Gamaliel, the Elder, there has been no more reverence for the law, and purity and abstinence died out at the same time.” So he was a very dominating guy. They felt that when he died everything went with him.

Interestingly enough in Acts 22:3, it says that the apostle Paul studied at his feet. So Paul had the best teacher of Judaism that was alive at that time, maybe one of the greatest that ever lived.

MacArthur also gives us valuable information about the organisational set up of the temple:

Now Gamaliel was a Pharisee and you’ll remember that the Sadducees controlled the Sanhedrin, the Sanhedrin was the 70-member counsel that ruled Jerusalem. But within the framework of the 70-member counsel there were Pharisees, it was just that the Sadducees had the rule, had the money, they were the political collaborationists. They were the ones that had sided with Rome. They were the ones that you might say were the theological liberals. They were concerned with social customs, they were concerned with getting along with Rome, they were very liberal in theology, they didn’t believe in the resurrection, and they didn’t believe in angels and that’s why God made sure that the Apostles preached the resurrection and got let out of prison by an angel because He was defying their theology.

But nonetheless, they were the theological liberals; they were the political liberals, whereas the Pharisees were the traditionalists. They were purists as regarding the law; they were nationalists as regarding Israel. They believed that Israel should exist apart from any connection with Rome. They were the ones who would have joined in any rebellion to get Rome off their necks because they were isolationists, nationalistic, whereas the Sadducees were political collaborators with Rome and they were theological liberals and they look at it from an economic standpoint, prestige standpoint, etc. etc. Very much like the dichotomy today between evangelicals and liberals.

So they were poles apart religiously and they were poles apart politically, which made for an interesting kind of dialogue within the framework of the Sanhedrin. Now the Sadducees were very influential with the Sanhedrin and very influential with Rome, but very uninfluential with the people. The people’s group were the Pharisees. They were the ones that really swayed the people. Now this is very important because it adds a little bit of kind of undercurrent by play to this thing that’s going to happen in a second.

Josephus says, and Josephus was a non-Christian historian about the time of Christ, who commented on a lot of things that were going on then, and Josephus says that because of the popularity of the Pharisees with the people, the Sadducees would always acquiesce to their demands.

In short, the Sadducees listened to Gamaliel, not only because of his wisdom, but also because he had his finger on the public pulse.

Gamaliel warned straightaway that careful consideration must be given in the handling of the Apostles (verse 35). Henry has this analysis:

It is not a common case, and therefore should not be hastily determined. He calls them men of Israel, to enforce this caution: “You are men, that should be governed by reason, be not then as the horse and the mule that have no understanding; you are men of Israel, that should be governed by revelation, be not then as strangers and heathens, that have no regard to God and his word.

MacArthur disagrees. Of Gamaliel, he says:

although he comes across theological, I think in the back of his brain is a political thought because if this is the best he can come up with in theology he’s hurting.

Gamaliel asked the council to remember two political and religious radicals of their lifetime: Theudas and Judas the Galilean (not the betrayer).

Theudas, he reminded them, claimed to be someone important and was able to assemble 400 men to do his bidding. He was then killed — possibly by the authorities — and his movement stopped (verse 36).

Around the time of Theudas, Judas the Galilean started an uprising in the days of the census and unfair taxation. He, too, met his death and so did his movement (verse 37).

What was Gamaliel talking about? Henry fills us in on events that took place around the time when Jesus was born, so, 30+ years before. However, Henry also points out there were another politically motivated men by these names, which makes the timeline tricky to place:

Observe, [1.] The attempt he made. It is said to be after this, which some read, besides this, or, Let me mention, after this,–supposing that Judas’s insurrection was long before that of Theudas; for it was in the time of the taxation, namely, that at our Saviour’s birth (Luke 2:1), and that of Theudas, whom Josephus speaks of, that mutinied, in the time of Cuspius Fadus; but this was in the days of Claudius Cæsar, some years after Gamaliel spoke this, and therefore could not be the same. It is not easy to determine particularly when these events happened, nor whether this taxing was the same with that at our Saviour’s birth or one of a later date. Some think this Judas of Galilee was the same with Judas Gaulonites, whom Josephus speaks of, others not. It is probable that they were cases which lately happened, and were fresh in memory. This Judas drew away much people after him, who gave credit to his pretensions. But, [2.] Here is the defeat of his attempt, and that without any interposal of the great sanhedrim, or any decree of theirs against him (it did not need it); he also perished, and all, even as many as obeyed him, or were persuaded by him, were dispersed. Many have foolishly thrown away their lives, and brought others into the same snares, by a jealousy for their liberties, in the days of the taxing, who had better have been content, when Providence had so determined, to serve the king of Babylon.

MacArthur gives us his version of historical events:

There are too many guys named Theudas to remember who this is. We don’t have any idea. Josephus talks about a later Theudas who had a rebellion, but his rebellion was so different from the characteristics here and it came so many years later that we know it’s not the same guy

After this man rose up Judas of Galilee,” and this one we do know a little bit about. This fellow led a revolt about 6 A. D. You remember that Herod the Great died in 4 A. D., I guess, 4 B. C. I can’t remember which, and after he died there about ten thousand robbers that popped up. They popped up all over everywhere. It just came to be a common thing see. 4 B. C. he died. It was kind of a common thing and they were just running around in the country.

A lot of times these little groups of robbers would get together and they’d find a leader and they’d crown him a king and they’d start a little revolution. Well one of these guys was Judas and in 6 A. D. he led a rebellion during the time of the census or the taxation under Quirinius, which just gives you a historical footnote. But his position was this: he said God is king; therefore to pay taxes to Rome is blaspheming God. None of us shall pay taxes anymore and he started spreading this around. Well this was a big threat to Rome so immediately the Roman IRS got activated and came down and stomped all over Judas and his people. And it’s interesting that verse 37 says, “In the days of those in the registration he drew away many people after him. He also perished and all even as many as obeyed him were dispersed.”

MacArthur says that after the Judas of 6 AD:

out of that movement came a group of people known as the Zealots. Did you ever read about the Zealots in the Bible? The Zealots were the super super nationalistic people, really believed in the purity and the isolation of Israel. And they grew out of Judas’ rebellion. So it wasn’t just as ineffective as [Gamaliel] said.

Gamaliel told the council to leave the Apostles alone and see if their following and their message peters out (yes, pun). If it is a temporal movement, he said, it will die out of its own accord (verse 38).

However, he added, if this is a movement borne of God, then it is better to leave the Apostles alone rather than to experience divine wrath (verse 39).

MacArthur does not like that reasoning at all:

That is one of the dumbest messed up principles I’ve ever read. Parts of it are true and that’s what’s so insidious. That’s the way all the cults are, you know. They’re right just enough to mess you up. They’re like a clock that doesn’t work. They’re right on twice a day. And so his advice is let them alone and it’ll all work out.

You know what principle being interpreted is? Listen. Whatever succeeds is of God; whatever fails is not. That’s what he’s saying isn’t it? When you put 38 and 39 together he says if it’s of God it’ll succeed, if it isn’t it won’t. So whatever succeeds is of God, whatever fails is not. That is a dumb principle. If you live by that principle you will be a mess. I’ll say this. It’s true in an ultimate sense, right? At the coming of Christ whatever is of God will remain, whatever isn’t will be wiped out. But it’s only true in an ultimate sense. That’s sure no way to evaluate something that’s going on in that moment. I mean there are kinds of successful [movements] that God hates. Illustration number one: the Sanhedrin. I mean if that principle is true, none of them would even be there. They say if it’s of God it’ll remain. They’re looking at each other here we all remain. They didn’t even know God. If we applied that principle that meeting couldn’t have taken place.

MacArthur went to mention bad religious and political movements that are a century, sometimes more than a millennia old, which are definitely not borne of God.

Henry’s assessment is a more charitable:

It is uncertain whether he spoke this out of policy, for fear of offending either the people or the Romans and making further mischief. The apostles did not attempt any thing by outward force. The weapons of their warfare were not carnal; and therefore why should any outward force be used against them? Or, whether he was under any present convictions, at least of the probability of the truth of the Christian doctrine, and thought it deserved better treatment, at least a fair trial. Or, whether it was only the language of a mild quiet spirit, that was against persecution for conscience’ sake. Or, whether God put this word into his mouth beyond his own intention, for the deliverance of the apostles at this time. We are sure there was an overruling Providence in it, that the servants of Christ might not only come off, but come off honourably.

I see merit in both, but agree more with Henry’s regarding providential intervention.

In any event, the Sanhedrin heeded Gamaliel’s advice (verse 39).

So, what happened to Gamaliel? Henry tells us:

The tradition of the Jewish writers is that, for all this, he lived and died an inveterate enemy to Christ and his gospel; and though (now at least) he was not for persecuting the followers of Christ, yet he was the man who composed that prayer which the Jews use to this day for the extirpating of Christians and Christianity. On the contrary, the tradition of the Papists is that he turned Christian, and became an eminent patron of Christianity and a follower of Paul, who had formerly sat at his feet. If it had been so, it is very probable that we should have heard of him somewhere in the Acts or Epistles.

Interesting!

Although Gamaliel presented a reasonable approach, the rage of the council was such that they themselves were not about to let the Apostles go off lightly. So, in addition to ordering them not to speak of Jesus any more, they had the Twelve scourged (verse 40). MacArthur describes this horrific punishment, which Jesus Himself endured before the Crucifixion:

Deuteronomy 25 tells about it. It’s a sad thing.

The Mishna says a guy would take the hands of the person and strap him to two posts like this. He would strip his shirt off. The stone was set behind the man or in front of the man on which the guy stood and he had to swing with all his might, the Mishna said. He wrapped the leather around his hand, two big long wide broad pieces of leather from the navel to the ground, that long, and they gave him one-third of the stripes on the front and two-thirds on the back and he did it to every one of those believers there. Then that brought us to the third and final reaction and we’ll close with this.

The Apostles must have been in unimaginable, unbearable pain afterwards.

However, as they left the council, bleeding, they rejoiced! They were so happy that their tormentors considered them worthy enough to suffer in the name of Jesus (verse 41). Henry expands on this:

(1.) They reckoned it an honour, looked upon it that they were counted worthy to suffer shame, katexiothesan atimasthenai–that they were honoured to be dishonoured for Christ. Reproach for Christ is true preferment, as it makes us conformable to his pattern and serviceable to his interest. (2.) They rejoiced in it, remembering what their Master had said to them at their first setting out (Matthew 5:11,12): When men shall revile you, and persecute you, rejoice and be exceedingly glad. They rejoiced, not only though they suffered shame (their troubles did not diminish their joy), but that they suffered shame; their troubles increased their joy, and added to it. If we suffer ill for doing well, provided we suffer it well, and as we should, we ought to rejoice in that grace which enables us so to do.

They duly returned to their ministry in Jerusalem, not only speaking in the temple but also going from house to house (verse 42). Henry explains:

Though in the temple they were more exposed, and under the eye of their enemies, yet they did not confine themselves to their little oratories in their own houses, but ventured into the post of danger; and though they had the liberty of the temple, a consecrated place, yet they made no difficulty of preaching in houses, in every house, even the poorest cottage. They visited the families of those that were under their charge, and gave particular instructions to them according as their case required, even to the children and servants.

Also:

They did not preach themselves, but Christ, as faithful friends to the bridegroom, making it their business to advance his interest. This was the preaching that gave most offence to the priests, who were willing they should preach any thing but Christ; but they would not alter their subject to please them.

Henry has this reminder:

It ought to be the constant business of gospel ministers to preach Christ; Christ, and him crucified; Christ, and him glorified; nothing besides this but what is reducible to it.

MacArthur has a good analogy, comparing a robust Church to the effervescence of a fizzy drink:

We went somewhere the other day for lunch and somebody said, “I’d like to have a Coke.” Well I’m sorry the carbonation machine doesn’t work and the Coke is flat.” And I kept thinking, “Oh that is just about how I often feel about the church.” What happened to the fizz? I mean there’s no effect. So much of our Christianity is in the walls, isn’t it? And where’s the influence?

This is what the early church had was influence. Everywhere they went the world shook because their step was so heavy and it shook for God. You remember they said of them, “These who turned the world upside down have come to our city also.” See! Influence. They became the issue. Boy, when Christianity gets to be the issue that’s exciting.

Clergy really do need to remember this. Forget the soft platitudes. Give us meat.

And, we laypeople can draw a lesson from this too, whether we teach, work with young people or are parents or guardians. Make Christianity come alive for children. Start them off early with Bible stories and explain their importance. Explain the life of Christ in the way the Apostles did and they will not stray from a love for our Saviour, our only Mediator and Advocate.

Next week, we will read of another great preacher of Jesus: Stephen — possibly one of Gamaliel’s students — who ended up being the first martyr.

Next time: Acts 7:2b-8

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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

Acts 5:27-28

27 And when they had brought them, they set them before the council. And the high priest questioned them, 28 saying, “We strictly charged you not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching, and you intend to bring this man’s blood upon us.”

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Last week’s entry described the surprise of the captain of the temple and the prison officers discovering the escape of the Apostles from prison. An angel of the Lord freed them.

When we left off last week, the captain of the temple and the prison officers took the Apostles away once more. However, they were gentle, because they feared that the crowd might stone them (verse 26).

The Apostles appeared before the council, where the high priest questioned them (verse 27). Matthew Henry tells us they considered the Twelve:

as delinquents.

John MacArthur says this was a momentous occasion for the Apostles:

here they are right back and the stage is set for sermon number two to the Sanhedrin, and the attendance has grown because now the senate is there. This is even better.

The high priest charges them with three offences (verse 28): disobeying the order not to preach about Christ Jesus, filling Jerusalem’s people with enthusiasm for Him and accusing the Jewish hierarchy of sentencing Him to death.

Henry offers this analysis (emphases mine):

Thus those who make void the commandments of God are commonly very strict in binding on their own commandments, and insisting upon their own power: Did not we command you? Yes, they did; but did not Peter at the same time tell them that God’s authority was superior to theirs, and his commands must take place of theirs? And they had forgotten this. 2. That they had spread false doctrine among the people, or at least a singular doctrine, which was not allowed by the Jewish church, nor agreed with what was delivered form Moses’s chair. “You have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine, and thereby have disturbed the public peace, and drawn people from the public establishment.” Some take this for a haughty scornful word: “This silly senseless doctrine of yours, that is not worth taking notice of, you have made such a noise with, that even Jerusalem, the great and holy city, is become full of it, and it is all the talk of the town.” They are angry that men, whom they look upon as despicable, should make themselves thus considerable. 3. That they had a malicious design against the government, and aimed to stir up the people against it, by representing it as wicked and tyrannical, and as having made itself justly odious both to God and man: “You intend to bring this man’s blood, the guilt of it before God, the shame of it before men, upon us.”

Henry points out the hypocrisy of these accusations:

See here how those who with a great deal of presumption will do an evil thing yet cannot bear to hear of it afterwards, nor to have it charged upon them. When they were in the heat of the persecution they could cry daringly enough, “His blood be upon us and upon our children; let us bear the blame for ever.” But now that they have time for a cooler thought they take it as a great affront to have his blood laid at their door. Thus are they convicted and condemned by their own consciences, and dread lying under that guilt in which they were not afraid to involve themselves.

MacArthur says the Apostles would have willingly agreed with the charges brought upon them:

So the first indictment was disobedience. The second charge they made against them was that they had accused them of the death of Christ. Notice it at the end of the verse: “And you intend to bring this man’s blood on us.” You’re saying all over the place that we are guilty. That’s right. That’s exactly what we’ve been saying. You guys have really gotten it right. Your charges are totally accurate. We’ve been disobedient and we’ve been indicting you

They had the indictment right. They were disobedient and in fact they were accusing them of crucifying Christ. Then this wonderful commendation in the middle of the verse: “And behold you have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine.” Praise the Lord! That’s what we’ve been trying to do. Mission accomplished! Saturation evangelism! What a commendation.

Episodes such as these make Acts an irresistible book of the New Testament. With the Holy Spirit descending upon them at that first Pentecost, the Apostles were spiritually on fire — and unabashedly taking the Good News to the temple!

They were teaching and healing with a consistent and singular message, as the angel who freed them directed (Acts 5:20):

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

MacArthur retraces Peter’s consistent indictment of the religious authorities in Acts:

Chapter 2:23 he says, “You have taken and by wicked hands crucified.” Chapter 2:36 he says, “Let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God hath made that same Jesus, whom you have crucified, Lord and Christ.” Chapter 3:15, “You killed the Prince of life.” Chapter 4: verse, I think it’s 10 and 11, “Be it known unto you all, all the people of Israel that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom ye crucified.” Sure, we’ve been saying that all along. You did it.

He also points out the hypocrisy of the religious leadership:

But have you forgotten Matthew 27:25? Jesus was to be crucified and they all screamed crucify Him, crucify Him and then they said this, “His blood be,” where, “On us.” They wanted it. Peter is not accusing them of anything that they didn’t desire to be accused of.

However, something else troubled the Jewish hierarchy: the miracle of the Apostles’ prison escape. It was too much for them to handle:

… there’s no question about the miracle of the escape. You know what? They don’t dare to ask them about it because they don’t want to hear about it. They’re so sick of hearing about miracles they’re already so messed up in their minds that another miracle would just really be too much to handle. So in all of that conversation they don’t even ask them how in the world they got out of jail. You know, my mind is made up. Don’t confuse me with facts.

MacArthur explains that the Apostles experienced this great Spirit-driven power because they had a pure church, after the Lord took the lives of deceivers Ananias and Sapphira, his wife:

So you see the effective evangelism of the early church was built on purity, power, and persecution. Let me give you a fourth one and then we’ll wrap it up. And I changed it while I was sitting here. The fourth one in your outline is preaching. Put down persistence. That’s a better word for it. That reflects what it’s really saying.

Persistence! And this again is the idea of the cork that keeps popping back up. They just never quit.

The next few verses, providing the proof of persistence, are in the three-year Lectionary, but without the rest of Acts 5, the average pewsitter is lost in a big cloud of ‘So what?’ Understanding all of Acts 5 makes the next few verses really powerful. Consider all of the following verses highlighted:

29 But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men. 30 The God of our fathers raised Jesus, whom you killed by hanging him on a tree. 31 God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. 32 And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.”

Peter went back to righteously defy the religious leaders with truth. He was following the directives of God, not those of men.

May we follow his example in our own lives, trusting in the Holy Spirit to provide the right words at the right time.

Next time: Acts 5:33-42

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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

Acts 5:22-26

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

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

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

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

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

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

the great escape.

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

It is probable that they found the common prisoners there.

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

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

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

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

Now this confounded them more than any thing.

It scared them, too. MacArthur says:

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

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

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

MacArthur has a good analysis:

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

The story continues next week.

Next time: Acts 5:27-28

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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

Acts 5:17-21

The Apostles Arrested and Freed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MacArthur says:

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

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

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

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

Matthew Henry says there was spiritual symbolism in this act:

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

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

speak to the people all the words of this Life.

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

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

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

Henry elaborates:

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

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

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

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

Henry explains what it meant for the Apostles:

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

MacArthur says:

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

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

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

MacArthur tells us:

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

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

Henry gives us the numbers:

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

The story continues next week.

Next time: Acts 5:22-26

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