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jesus-christ-the-king-blogsigncomMay my readers have a very happy and blessed Easter!

Jesus rose from the dead on the third day, as He said.

He lives and reigns forevermore.

A lot of people do not know that. I read some startling commentary on the subject during Lent. A growing number of people think that when Jesus died on Good Friday, that was the end of His story. Oh, no, not at all. If it were, what would be the point of Easter?

I’ve written a lot about Easter over the past several years:

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)

Easter poems from an inspired Anglican, the Revd George Herbert

George Herbert: 17th century poet and priest

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

Easter: the drama and glory of the Resurrection (John MacArthur explains Gospel accounts)

Holy Week and Easter — the two-part story

The road to Emmaus — a great Easter story

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

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!)

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The Year B readings from the three-year Lectionary for Easter Day follow. Emphases mine below.

The Old Testament reading foretells the joy:

Isaiah 25:6-9

25:6 On this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines, of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear.

25:7 And he will destroy on this mountain the shroud that is cast over all peoples, the sheet that is spread over all nations; he will swallow up death forever.

25:8 Then the Lord GOD will wipe away the tears from all faces, and the disgrace of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the LORD has spoken.

25:9 It will be said on that day, Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, so that he might save us. This is the LORD for whom we have waited; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.

The post below discusses the Psalm:

Psalm 118, Christ’s Passion and Eastertide

Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24

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

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

118:14 The LORD is my strength and my might; he has become my salvation.

118:15 There are glad songs of victory in the tents of the righteous: “The right hand of the LORD does valiantly;

118:16 the right hand of the LORD is exalted; the right hand of the LORD does valiantly.”

118:17 I shall not die, but I shall live, and recount the deeds of the LORD.

118:18 The LORD has punished me severely, but he did not give me over to death.

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

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

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

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

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

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

There is a choice of two Epistles.

One is from Acts, more about which below. These were Peter’s words to Cornelius, the God-fearing Roman he converted (more here, here, here, here, here and here):

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

Acts 10:34-43

10:34 Then Peter began to speak to them: “I truly understand that God shows no partiality,

10:35 but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.

10:36 You know the message he sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ–he is Lord of all.

10:37 That message spread throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John announced:

10:38 how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him.

10:39 We are witnesses to all that he did both in Judea and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree;

10:40 but God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear,

10:41 not to all the people but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses, and who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead.

10:42 He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one ordained by God as judge of the living and the dead.

10:43 All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”

The other choice is Paul’s discussion of the Resurrection:

1 Corinthians 15:1-11

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There is also a choice of Gospel readings, one of which is from Mark. Dr Gregory Jackson, my Lutheran pastor cyberfriend, wrote about it two years ago, excerpted below:

The Easter story: reflections on Mark 16:1-8

Mark 16:1-8

16:1 When the sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him.

16:2 And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb.

16:3 They had been saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?”

16:4 When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back.

16:5 As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed.

16:6 But he said to them, “Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him.

16:7 But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.”

16:8 So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to any one, for they were afraid.

The other choice is from John’s Gospel. John wrote about himself below:

John 20:1-18

20:1 Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb.

20:2 So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.”

20:3 Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb.

20:4 The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first.

20:5 He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in.

20:6 Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there,

20:7 and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself.

20:8 Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed;

20:9 for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead.

20:10 Then the disciples returned to their homes.

20:11 But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb;

20:12 and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet.

20:13 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.”

20:14 When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus.

20:15 Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” 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.”

20:16 Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher).

20:17 Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because 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.'”

20:18 Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her.

Although these Gospel accounts appear contradictory, they can be put in chronological order. GotQuestions.org has a good explanation as does CompellingTruth.org. The latter source gives us further information, which also helps to explain St Paul’s aforementioned letter:

1. An angel rolls away the stone from the tomb before sunrise (Matthew 28:2-4). The guards are seized with fear and eventually flee.
2. Women disciples visit the tomb and discover Christ missing (Matthew 28:1; Mark 16:1-4; Luke 24:1-3; John 20:1).
3. Mary Magdalene leaves to tell Peter and John (John 20:1-2).
4. Other women remain at the tomb; they see two angels who tell them of Christ’s resurrection (Matthew 28:5-7; Mark 16:5-7; Luke 24:4-8).
5. Peter and John run to the tomb and then leave (Luke 24:12; John 20:3-10).
6. Christ’s First Appearance: Mary Magdalene returns to the tomb; Christ appears to her (Mark 16:9-11; John 20:11-18).
7. Christ’s Second Appearance: Jesus appears to the other women (Mary, mother of James, Salome, and Joanna) (Matthew 28:8-10).
8. At this time, the guards report the events to the religious leaders and are bribed to lie (Matthew 28:11-15).
9. Christ’s Third Appearance: Jesus privately appears to Peter (1 Corinthians 15:5).
10. Christ’s Fourth Appearance: Jesus appears to Cleopas and companion (Mark 16:12-13; Luke 24:13-32).
11. Christ’s Fifth Appearance: Jesus appears to 10 apostles, with Thomas missing, in the Upper Room (Luke 24:36-43).
12. Christ’s Sixth Appearance: Eight days after His appearance to the 10 apostles, Jesus appears to all 11 apostles, including Thomas (John 20:26-28).
13. Christ’s Seventh Appearance: Jesus appears to 7 disciples by the Sea of Galilee and performs the miracle of the fish (John 21:1-14).
14. Christ’s Eighth Appearance: Jesus appears to 500 on a mountain in Galilee (Matthew 28:16-20; Mark 16:15-18; 1 Corinthians 15:6).
15. Christ’s Ninth Appearance: Jesus appears to His half-brother James (1 Corinthians 15:7).
16. Christ’s Tenth Appearance: In Jerusalem, Jesus appears again to His disciples (Acts 1:3-8).
17. Christ’s Eleventh Appearance: Jesus ascends into Heaven while the disciples look on (Mark 16:19-20; Luke 24:50-53; Acts 1:9-12).

I hope that helps to clarify the readings and give the story of our Lord’s Resurrection.

He is risen!

Have a blessed Easter!

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Forbidden Bible Verses will return after Easter.

What follows are the readings for Palm Sunday in Year B of the three-year Lectionary used in public worship. The Vanderbilt Lectionary Library is a useful resource for Sunday readings.

Liturgy planners have a choice of readings for Palm Sunday following either the Liturgy of the Palms or Liturgy of the Passion.

Readers might find these posts of interest:

Holy Week begins  (Lazarus Saturday and Palm Sunday)

Holy Week begins tomorrow – today is Lazarus Saturday

Psalm 118, Christ’s Passion and Eastertide

The greatest reality story of all time begins on Palm Sunday

Palm Sunday and the Jesus watchers

Palm Sunday: Why palms?

Palm Sunday: Why a donkey?

If this is the first time you have received palms

Liturgy of the Palms

Interestingly, the Palms liturgy does not specify an Old Testament or an Epistle, only a Psalm and two Gospel choices.

The Psalm emphasises rejoicing, and might well have been in the minds of those greeting Jesus on the donkey during His triumphal entry into Jerusalem. Emphases mine below:

Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One of the two Gospel passages is read, either:

Mark 11:1-11

11:1 When they were approaching Jerusalem, at Bethphage and Bethany, near the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples

11:2 and said to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately as you enter it, you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden; untie it and bring it.

11:3 If anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here immediately.'”

11:4 They went away and found a colt tied near a door, outside in the street. As they were untying it,

11:5 some of the bystanders said to them, “What are you doing, untying the colt?”

11:6 They told them what Jesus had said; and they allowed them to take it.

11:7 Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it; and he sat on it.

11:8 Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut in the fields.

11:9 Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!

11:10 Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David! Hosanna in the highest heaven!”

11:11 Then he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple; and when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve.

Or:

John 12:12-16

12:12 The next day the great crowd that had come to the festival heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem.

12:13 So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord– the King of Israel!”

12:14 Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it; as it is written:

12:15 “Do not be afraid, daughter of Zion. Look, your king is coming, sitting on a donkey’s colt!”

12:16 His disciples did not understand these things at first; but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written of him and had been done to him.

Liturgy of the Passion

The Old Testament reading sets the tone for our Lord’s Passion:

Isaiah 50:4-9a

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Psalm is one of profound suffering, yet with steadfast faith in God:

Psalm 31:9-16

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In the Epistle, Paul tells the Philippians of the nature of Christ and how they (and we) should imitate His holy example:

Philippians 2:5-11

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Gospel choices are lengthy. Mark 14:1-15:47 has the full story of Jesus’s Passion, from the days leading to His arrest through to His burial.

The second choice provides a shorter version, including only the events that we remember on Good Friday:

Mark 15:1-39, (40-47)

15:1 As soon as it was morning, the chief priests held a consultation with the elders and scribes and the whole council. They bound Jesus, led him away, and handed him over to Pilate.

15:2 Pilate asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” He answered him, “You say so.”

15:3 Then the chief priests accused him of many things.

15:4 Pilate asked him again, “Have you no answer? See how many charges they bring against you.”

15:5 But Jesus made no further reply, so that Pilate was amazed.

15:6 Now at the festival he used to release a prisoner for them, anyone for whom they asked.

15:7 Now a man called Barabbas was in prison with the rebels who had committed murder during the insurrection.

15:8 So the crowd came and began to ask Pilate to do for them according to his custom.

15:9 Then he answered them, “Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?”

15:10 For he realized that it was out of jealousy that the chief priests had handed him over.

15:11 But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have him release Barabbas for them instead.

15:12 Pilate spoke to them again, “Then what do you wish me to do with the man you call the King of the Jews?”

15:13 They shouted back, “Crucify him!”

15:14 Pilate asked them, “Why, what evil has he done?” But they shouted all the more, “Crucify him!”

15:15 So Pilate, wishing to satisfy the crowd, released Barabbas for them; and after flogging Jesus, he handed him over to be crucified.

15:16 Then the soldiers led him into the courtyard of the palace (that is, the governor’s headquarters); and they called together the whole cohort.

15:17 And they clothed him in a purple cloak; and after twisting some thorns into a crown, they put it on him.

15:18 And they began saluting him, “Hail, King of the Jews!”

15:19 They struck his head with a reed, spat upon him, and knelt down in homage to him.

15:20 After mocking him, they stripped him of the purple cloak and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him out to crucify him.

15:21 They compelled a passer-by, who was coming in from the country, to carry his cross; it was Simon of Cyrene, the father of Alexander and Rufus.

15:22 Then they brought Jesus to the place called Golgotha (which means the place of a skull).

15:23 And they offered him wine mixed with myrrh; but he did not take it.

15:24 And they crucified him, and divided his clothes among them, casting lots to decide what each should take.

15:25 It was nine o’clock in the morning when they crucified him.

15:26 The inscription of the charge against him read, “The King of the Jews.”

15:27 And with him they crucified two bandits, one on his right and one on his left.

15:29 Those who passed by derided him, shaking their heads and saying, “Aha! You who would destroy the temple and build it in three days,

15:30 save yourself, and come down from the cross!”

15:31 In the same way the chief priests, along with the scribes, were also mocking him among themselves and saying, “He saved others; he cannot save himself.

15:32 Let the Messiah, the King of Israel, come down from the cross now, so that we may see and believe.” Those who were crucified with him also taunted him.

15:33 When it was noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon.

15:34 At three o’clock Jesus cried out with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

15:35 When some of the bystanders heard it, they said, “Listen, he is calling for Elijah.”

15:36 And someone ran, filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on a stick, and gave it to him to drink, saying, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to take him down.”

15:37 Then Jesus gave a loud cry and breathed his last.

15:38 And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom.

15:39 Now when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way he breathed his last, he said, “Truly this man was God’s Son!”

15:40 There were also women looking on from a distance; among them were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome.

15:41 These used to follow him and provided for him when he was in Galilee; and there were many other women who had come up with him to Jerusalem.

15:42 When evening had come, and since it was the day of Preparation, that is, the day before the sabbath,

15:43 Joseph of Arimathea, a respected member of the council, who was also himself waiting expectantly for the kingdom of God, went boldly to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus.

15:44 Then Pilate wondered if he were already dead; and summoning the centurion, he asked him whether he had been dead for some time.

15:45 When he learned from the centurion that he was dead, he granted the body to Joseph.

15:46 Then Joseph bought a linen cloth, and taking down the body, wrapped it in the linen cloth, and laid it in a tomb that had been hewn out of the rock. He then rolled a stone against the door of the tomb.

15:47 Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses saw where the body was laid.

No matter how many times I have heard and read the harrowing story of the Crucifixion, I continue to be moved by what Jesus did for our sakes.

The number of hard-hearted people in this world is appalling. I pray more come to believe in Him, especially during Passiontide and Eastertide.

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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

Acts 15:36-41

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MacArthur explains:

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

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

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

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

MacArthur says (emphases mine):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next time — Acts 16:1-5

What follows are the readings for the Second Sunday in Lent for Year B in the three-year Lectionary.

These come from the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, a handy online reference for Sunday readings.

Themes are God’s covenant with Abraham, God’s infinite love, faith through grace and salvation via a belief in Christ Jesus. Emphases mine below.

The Old Testament reading recounts God’s renaming of Abram and Sarai, promising that Abraham would be the father of many nations. At that time, the couple were elderly and Sarah was barren:

Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16

17:1 When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the LORD appeared to Abram, and said to him, “I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless.

17:2 And I will make my covenant between me and you, and will make you exceedingly numerous.”

17:3 Then Abram fell on his face; and God said to him,

17:4 “As for me, this is my covenant with you: You shall be the ancestor of a multitude of nations.

17:5 No longer shall your name be Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I have made you the ancestor of a multitude of nations.

17:6 I will make you exceedingly fruitful; and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come from you.

17:7 I will establish my covenant between me and you, and your offspring after you throughout their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you.

17:15 God said to Abraham, “As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name.

17:16 I will bless her, and moreover I will give you a son by her. I will bless her, and she shall give rise to nations; kings of peoples shall come from her.”

The Psalm exhorts the twelve tribes of Israel — Jacob’s offspring — to glorify the Lord, who is faithful to His people:

Psalm 22:23-31

22:23 You who fear the LORD, praise him! All you offspring of Jacob, glorify him; stand in awe of him, all you offspring of Israel!

22:24 For he did not despise or abhor the affliction of the afflicted; he did not hide his face from me, but heard when I cried to him.

22:25 From you comes my praise in the great congregation; my vows I will pay before those who fear him.

22:26 The poor shall eat and be satisfied; those who seek him shall praise the LORD. May your hearts live forever!

22:27 All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the LORD; and all the families of the nations shall worship before him.

22:28 For dominion belongs to the LORD, and he rules over the nations.

22:29 To him, indeed, shall all who sleep in the earth bow down; before him shall bow all who go down to the dust, and I shall live for him.

22:30 Posterity will serve him; future generations will be told about the Lord,

22:31 and proclaim his deliverance to a people yet unborn, saying that he has done it.

In the Epistle, Paul explains that God’s covenant with Abraham was based not on legalism but on faith, similarly our salvation through a belief in Jesus Christ:

Romans 4:13-25

4:13 For the promise that he would inherit the world did not come to Abraham or to his descendants through the law but through the righteousness of faith.

4:14 If it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void.

4:15 For the law brings wrath; but where there is no law, neither is there violation.

4:16 For this reason it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his descendants, not only to the adherents of the law but also to those who share the faith of Abraham (for he is the father of all of us,

4:17 as it is written, “I have made you the father of many nations”) –in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist.

4:18 Hoping against hope, he believed that he would become “the father of many nations,” according to what was said, “So numerous shall your descendants be.”

4:19 He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was already as good as dead (for he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb.

4:20 No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God,

4:21 being fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised.

4:22 Therefore his faith “was reckoned to him as righteousness.”

4:23 Now the words, “it was reckoned to him,” were written not for his sake alone,

4:24 but for ours also. It will be reckoned to us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead,

4:25 who was handed over to death for our trespasses and was raised for our justification.

Clergy have the choice of two readings from Mark’s Gospel, the second of which is the Transfiguration. It is useful to contemplate the two together, for reasons which follow.

The last verse in this first Gospel reading is particularly important to remember:

Mark 8:31-38

8:31 Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.

8:32 He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.

8:33 But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”

8:34 He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.

8:35 For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.

8:36 For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life?

8:37 Indeed, what can they give in return for their life?

8:38 Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”

The story of the Transfiguration features each year during Lent. Jesus took His leading apostles to witness what was a ‘terrifying’ experience for them. A New Covenant was being made with the world:

Mark 9:2-9

9:2 Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them,

9:3 and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them.

9:4 And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus.

9:5 Then Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”

9:6 He did not know what to say, for they were terrified.

9:7 Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!”

9:8 Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus.

9:9 As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead.

Ligonier Ministries has a concise and excellent explanation of the two readings, ‘The Mount of Transformation’. Excerpts follow:

Peter and the other disciples found it difficult to believe that Jesus would have to suffer and die, and they were no doubt troubled by our Lord’s teaching that true discipleship involves suffering (Mark 8:31–38). They needed encouragement that all was proceeding exactly as God had planned and that suffering for Christ’s sake would be worthwhile. In the transfiguration, they received such encouragement and assurance.

The account of Jesus’ transfiguration is so familiar that we must be careful not to miss the significance of the details. It occurred on a high mountain (9:2), which recalls Moses’ meeting with God high up on Mount Sinai (Ex. 19:20). The disciples, on the Mount of Transfiguration, were participating in an event that marked a key transition in the history of the Lord’s people. At Sinai, the mediator of the old covenant—Moses—was established; on the Mount of Transfiguration, the mediator of the new covenant—Jesus Christ was revealed and confirmed

Peter, James, and John saw the purity and deity of our Savior on that occasion, which would strengthen their faith over the course of the rest of their lives (2 Peter 1:16–18).

Reading the coming Sunday’s Scripture in advance of the church service often reinforces the messages we are meant to understand.

Below are the readings for the First Sunday in Lent (Year B), from Vanderbilt University’s three-year Lectionary site. Emphases mine.

The Old Testament reading tells the story of God’s covenant with Noah and his descendants. God promised not to destroy Earth with a flood. The sign of His covenant is the rainbow. This is one of my favourite Bible passages:

Genesis 9:8-17

9:8 Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him,

9:9 “As for me, I am establishing my covenant with you and your descendants after you,

9:10 and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the domestic animals, and every animal of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark.

9:11 I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.”

9:12 God said, “This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations:

9:13 I have set my bow in the clouds, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth.

9:14 When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds,

9:15 I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh.

9:16 When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.”

9:17 God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant that I have established between me and all flesh that is on the earth.”

The Psalm reminds us of God’s infinite mercy and steadfast love:

Psalm 25:1-10

25:1 To you, O LORD, I lift up my soul.

25:2 O my God, in you I trust; do not let me be put to shame; do not let my enemies exult over me.

25:3 Do not let those who wait for you be put to shame; let them be ashamed who are wantonly treacherous.

25:4 Make me to know your ways, O LORD; teach me your paths.

25:5 Lead me in your truth, and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all day long.

25:6 Be mindful of your mercy, O LORD, and of your steadfast love, for they have been from of old.

25:7 Do not remember the sins of my youth or my transgressions; according to your steadfast love remember me, for your goodness’ sake, O LORD!

25:8 Good and upright is the LORD; therefore he instructs sinners in the way.

25:9 He leads the humble in what is right, and teaches the humble his way.

25:10 All the paths of the LORD are steadfast love and faithfulness, for those who keep his covenant and his decrees.

In the Epistle, Peter, in describing the New Covenant, points to both the themes in the Psalm and the reading from Genesis:

1 Peter 3:18-22

3:18 For Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God. He was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit,

3:19 in which also he went and made a proclamation to the spirits in prison

3:20 who in former times did not obey, when God waited patiently in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were saved through water.

3:21 And baptism, which this prefigured, now saves you–not as a removal of dirt from the body, but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ,

3:22 who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers made subject to him.

The Gospel recounts the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist and Jesus’s subsequent exhortation to ‘believe in the good news’:

Mark 1:9-15

1:9 In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan.

1:10 And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him.

1:11 And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

1:12 And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness.

1:13 He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.

1:14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God,

1:15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”

This is a powerful set of readings, well worth reflecting upon before church on Sunday.

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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

Acts 13:4-7

Barnabas and Saul on Cyprus

So, being sent out by the Holy Spirit, they went down to Seleucia, and from there they sailed to Cyprus. When they arrived at Salamis, they proclaimed the word of God in the synagogues of the Jews. And they had John to assist them. When they had gone through the whole island as far as Paphos, they came upon a certain magician, a Jewish false prophet named Bar-Jesus. He was with the proconsul, Sergius Paulus, a man of intelligence, who summoned Barnabas and Saul and sought to hear the word of God.

————————————————————————————

Last week’s entry discussed the verses following Herod’s death by worms. First, the number of new Christians increased — the death was so slow, so public and gruesome it could only have been seen as a divine judgement. Secondly, Barnabas and Saul brought John Mark (St Mark of the Gospel) into their ministry.

Yesterday’s post explained the first three verses of Acts 13. If you haven’t yet read it, doing so will help clarify the shift out of Jerusalem and Judea to distant lands to spread the Word.

In summary, the church in Antioch was becoming well established to the point that two of the ministers could go and establish another church elsewhere. The five teachers in Antioch were Barnabas (the eldest), Simeon Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen and Saul. The Holy Spirit directed the five to send Barnabas and Saul away for a new ministry.

Those who know the Bible well and those have been following my series on Acts, recognise Barnabas, the Levite from Cyprus who converted. He first appears at the end of Acts 4. I wrote about him in last week’s Forbidden Bible Verses instalment about Acts 12:24-25.

Note that St Luke, the author of Acts, again impresses upon us that the Holy Spirit sent forth Barnabas and Saul, who went to the port of Seleucia and sailed to Cyprus (verse 4). It is possible that Barnabas wanted to evangelise his homeland.

If not, Cyprus was still an easy first destination. MacArthur says that arriving at Seleucia from Antioch was a 16-mile journey via the Euphrates River. From Seleucia:

you could look out a few miles, you could see Cyprus, a little island out there. They got a ship and took off …

MacArthur describes Cyprus (emphases mine below):

That little island of Cyprus, 30 to 50 miles wide, 110 miles long, two important cities, one in the southeast corner, one in the northwest corner Salamis and Paphos and the land in-between was going to be conquered for Christ. That’s the first new adventure for the Gentile church. What an exciting thing.

They first arrived at Salamis on the south-east coast, where they began preaching and teaching in the synagogues with John (Mark, of the Gospel) to help them (verse 5).

Saul of Tarsus preached in the synagogues of Damascus (Acts 9:20), so it seemed logical to do the same on Cyprus. MacArthur explains:

Now there were a lot of Jews in that city, many thousands, enough to keep several synagogues operating. And as Paul’s custom was soon to be, he went into the synagogues and there he used the place as a platform. It was a public place where many could gather and it was a great place for preaching and he’d go there and begin to preach. And since he was a Jew he would inevitably have access and as a former member of the Sanhedrin and so forth and so on they would be receiving him.

John Mark’s role was of a preacher-in-training. Matthew Henry’s commentary tells us:

They had John for their minister; not their servant in common things, but their assistant in the things of God, either to prepare their way in places where they designed to come or to carry on their work in places where they had begun it, or to converse familiarly with those to whom they preached publicly, and explain things to them; and such a one might be many ways of use to them, especially in a strange country.

The three men travelled from east to west, a journey of 110 miles, no doubt stopping in many places along the way to preach and teach. Luke did not tell us how long this journey with frequent stops took, but it must have been some time.

Their final destination was Paphos on the north-west coast (verse 6). Paphos was the seat of the Roman government on the island and was well-known for the Paphian Venus, as there was a widespread and deep cult surrounding the goddess of love there. MacArthur explains:

Venus was supposedly, according to their tradition, to have been born in the foam of the sea off the shore of Paphos having been born then come to live in Paphos and she was worshipped with the wildest kind of sexual orgies, as were so many of the gods and goddesses of that time. One writer said the city was a pit of sin where people wallowed in moral filth. So here comes two guys and a helper. They are going to conquer Paphos. Here they come, but the Spirit of God is with them.

It could only be expected that Satan would be there to try and frustrate their holy work. The three men met a Jewish sorcerer by the name of Bar-Jesus (verse 6), which means ‘son of salvation’ or ‘son of Joshua’. Henry says that the name carried an alternative — darker — meaning:

the Syriac calls him, Bar-shoma–the son of pride; filius inflationis–the son of inflation.

‘Inflation’ there means being puffed up with pride.

Bar-Jesus’s other name was Elymas, which we will see next week (Acts 13:8).

Bar-Jesus was not a magician who does card tricks or pulls rabbits out of hats. He was a practitioner of the dark arts.

If you think this scene with a magician sounds familiar, you remember the story of Simon Magus from Acts 8 (here and here), when he was baptised thanks to Philip the Evangelist then asked the Apostles to sell him power from the Holy Spirit. Clearly, the man never understood and Peter rebuked him severely. Simon Magus and Bar-Jesus shared similar characteristics.

John MacArthur expands on this:

Both were demon-possessed mediums. You know what a medium is? It’s a contact. Men contact this medium who is infested with demons and thus they contacted the demonic world.

The title sorcerer, let me take a footnote on that. The title sorcerer comes from the Greek word magos, from which we get magic. Now watch very carefully. The word initially doesn’t have to mean anything evil in its full sense. The word magos is the very word translated in Matthew 2 for wise men magi. It’s the same word. In reference to them, remember they came bearing gifts for the Christ child, but in reference to them it has kind of a good sense for they were good men, they were astronomers from Persia and magi became the title of Persian astronomers, Persian scientists.

But some of that Persian science had degenerated into the occult. Astronomy became what? Astrology. And so there were two kinds of Persian scientists. There were magi who were in a rather good sense somewhat scientific and there were magi who were correctly to be translated sorcerers. And though they were Zoroastrian priests to begin with, they rather divided into two kinds, those who were really plugged into Satan and those who were somewhat pseudoscientific. And so the word itself can go either way. But magic really was the art practiced by Persian priests in connection with astronomy. It deteriorated into astrology and now it comes down to what we know today.

And so every kind of fraud and deception and every form of the occult and so forth and so on was going on in the name of magic. And this guy was into it. He was a magician. He was a sorcerer. Now I’m not talking about magic. I’m not talking about pulling rabbits out of hats. That’s inconsequential. That’s immaterial. That may even prove to illustrate some good principles. We’re talking about demonic magic.

All right, they found a certain sorcerer, a false prophet. Now notice this: mediums are very often false prophets. Demon possessed people very often fain to be prophets of God.

Bar-Jesus was with the Roman pro-consul, Sergius Paulus, at the time he summoned Barnabas and Saul to hear the Word (verse 7). We are told that Sergius Paulus is ‘a man of intelligence’.

Given that information, did Sergius Paulus invite Bar-Jesus to be an adviser of some sort? MacArthur thinks so:

Sergius Paulus then dabbled in the occult and he had this man with him. And it’s interesting the emperor Tiberius, at this particular time in the world, had a whole flock of these occult medium demon-possessed people around him giving him information. Is it any wonder the Roman Empire went out of existence? All the information was coming from the pit.

Henry’s commentary proffers another perspective:

He was hanging on at court, was with the deputy of the country. It does not appear that the deputy called for him, as he did for Barnabas and Saul; but he thrust himself upon him, aiming, no doubt, to make a hand of him, and get money by him.

The story continues next week.

However, in closing, MacArthur gave this sermon in 1973. It begins with the deterioration of the Spirit-driven Church in favour of something secular:

I hope that several things are happening as we’re studying the book of Acts. One of those is I hope that it’s iconoclastic in a sense. That is I hope that it smashes some idols about the church, because I think that for many years through the filtering in and out of church history and culture and so forth the church has very often substituted its form for its real life. It has substituted its ritual for its reality. It has become an institution instead of life. It has become a business instead of a body. It has become a kind of professional pulpitism sponsored by lay spectators rather than a ministering organism and I hope that somehow as we study the book of Acts, even as we did when we studied the book of Ephesians, we are smashing some old idols about the church and that we can kind of get down to the basis of what the New Testament church is to be …

There are two extremes of the church that I see. There is the religious machine type church, which is big business. The church becomes an end in itself. It just exists to exist. It is not a means to anything. It is just an end. It doesn’t have as its primary goal, at least in a working sense, teaching and winning and discipling and reproducing. Its success is measured by the number of people that are there, the number of bodies that are briefed, baptized, blessed, and given tithing envelopes, and that’s about it. And if you have more bodies in your building than the guy down the street you’re successful and he’s not.

And so you have the big business idea of the church, which, of course, is totally foreign to the concept of an organism and a body that operates in simplicity through the gifts of the Spirit and the responsibilities of fellowship.

On the other hand, you have the other extreme, which is the social reform view of the church. That the church isn’t really to preach the Word of God, the church is to preach economics, politics, it is involved in civil and social and environmental struggles and truly the pastors and leaders are as lost as the heathen, only they are more damned the Bible says, because they sin willfully against light and their false prophets. Their concern is a preoccupation with civil issues. If there is no reality to their theology, if they can’t believe the Word of God, if they can’t really nail down who Jesus is and they can’t be firm on fact on who God is, the only thing left to do is fool around with man. And so that’s what happens.

U. S. and News and World Report recently did some surveys of young pastors and young ministers and these men says the article, “Are calling on our churches to save the individual.” Sounds good. It goes on, “By saving or reforming society dealing with the ills of urbanization technology and discrimination.” Only that approach they feel will make religion relevant.

Beloved, that approach will make religion obsolete. That is not what we’re to do. Oh ultimately we are to minister to the total man in every way, but the church preoccupied with social ills is a church that is had the gospel vacuumed and sucked right out of it. And I reject the idea that the church is a reformed institution for the world. I think the church is a reformed institution for one man at a time on the basis of the gospel of Jesus Christ and changed individuals will change the world. You’ll never change society any other way than to change men through the preaching of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

That approach severely weakened Christianity, starting in the 1980s and continuing on through the present day.

The terrible truth is that no clergyperson will admit this grave error, indeed, a grave sin against Christ.

Next time — Acts 13:8-12

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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

Acts 12:24-25

24 But the word of God increased and multiplied.

25 And Barnabas and Saul returned from[a] Jerusalem when they had completed their service, bringing with them John, whose other name was Mark.

——————————————————————————————–

Last week’s post was about the dramatic death of Herod Antipas. It was a just judgement on an evil ruler who beheaded St James the Great and wanted to murder Peter publicly.

As a result of Herod’s death, the early Church continued to grow and grow (verse 24). Matthew Henry explains:

When such a persecutor was taken off by a dreadful judgment, many were thereby convinced that the cause of Christianity was doubtless the cause of Christ, and therefore embraced it.

God’s purposes will not be foiled. John MacArthur says (emphases mine):

You know men have tried to destroy God, they have tried to burn Bibles, they’ve tried to wreck the church, they’ve tried everything and you know what, God’s work just keeps going on. Look at verse 24, just love it. After all of this the word of God did what? Grew and did what? Multiplied. Isn’t that terrific? For a man to think he’s going to stop the purpose of God is like taking a whiskbroom down to the beach and telling somebody you’re going to sweep back the tide. Doesn’t work. Can’t be done.

St Luke, the author of Acts, gives us verse 25 as the transition into Acts 13, which is about the ministries in Antioch and Cyprus.

Barnabas and Saul of Tarsus spent time in Antioch, preaching and teaching the people there.

Barnabas was the Levite in Acts 4:36-37 who gave all of his assets to the church in Jerusalem. In Acts 9, he convinced the disciples in Jerusalem that they should accept the converted Saul of Tarsus, their greatest persecutor — later Paul — into their church.

John Mark wrote the Gospel of Mark. We will read more about him and Barnabas in Acts. They were cousins who spread the Gospel message together. Barnabas also worked with Paul. These are the references to John Mark and Barnabas.

Barnabas and Saul were in Jerusalem for a brief spell. Henry tells us that they no doubt brought donations from the converts in Antioch to the church in Jerusalem. During their stay, it is possible that they lodged at Mary’s house, which Peter visited briefly after the angel released him from prison.

Then, they returned to Antioch, taking with them John Mark, Mary’s son. Henry explains:

It is probable that Barnabas lodged there [at Mary’s house], and perhaps Paul with him, while they were at Jerusalem, and it was that that occasioned the meeting there at that time (for wherever Paul was he would have some good work doing), and their intimacy in that family while they were at Jerusalem occasioned their taking a son of that family with them when they returned, to be trained up under them, and employed by them, in the service of the gospel. Educating young men for the ministry, and entering them into it, is a very good work for elder ministers to take care of, and of good service to the rising generation.

Those were three powerful ministers of the word of God, going out and increasing the numbers in the Church.

MacArthur reminds us:

Listen to what Jesus said: Jesus said, “I will build my church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.” When God sets His purpose in motion you can’t frustrate His purpose. It can’t be done. Oh in Psalms listen to these verses: Here’s a classic definition of all these kings we’ve talked about. “The kings of the earth set themselves and the rulers take counsel together against the Lord.” And you know what the Lord’s response is? Verse 4, “He who sits in the heavens shall laugh.” It’s stupid to fight God. Doesn’t make sense. Isaiah said this: “Woe unto him that strives with his Maker,” Isaiah 49:5. Man’s a fool to fight God.

MacArthur then has a word for unbelievers, who always say that they are not subject to God’s will:

And I say to you this morning if you’ve never come to Jesus Christ and accepted Him as Savior you’re fighting God’s only provision for your salvation and forgiveness of sin. If you’ve never come to Jesus Christ you’re not giving God the glory, and if you’re not giving God the glory then you’re fighting against His glory. And if you’ve not become a part of His church, a part of His body, you’re fighting against His purpose and all three are losers. You say, well I’m not fighting God. Jesus said, “He that is not with me is what? Against me.” You say, “Well I’d like to get on God’s side. How do I do it?” Jesus said, “No man come unto the Father but by Me.” You come to Christ, receive Him by faith and you’re on God’s side. You cease being an enemy. Are you ready for this? And you become a son, a son of God on whom He pours out all His love.

We are quickly approaching Advent and preparing for Christmas. In the coming weeks, let us pray that more people accept Christ as Saviour, so that Christmas becomes for them a time of holy awe and an increase in faith.

Next time — Acts 13:4-7

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.

Around the time that Jesus cleansed the temple during His last Passover week, He cursed a fig tree that was not bearing fruit.

Matthew and Mark record this slightly differently.

Matthew’s account is in Chapter 21. The fig tree episode is placed after the cleansing of the temple.

Mark’s account is in Chapter 11, where it bookends the cleansing of the temple (verses 12-14 and 20-25).

It is interesting that neither account of Jesus cursing the fig tree is in the three-year Lectionary for public worship. That said, Mark 11:20-25 — The Lesson from the Withered Fig Tree — is included.

I wrote about Matthew 21:18-22 in March 2016. This is about more than a hungry Jesus being unable to find and eat a fig:

This is an allegory for the curse to come to the Jews for their unbelief and hard hearts. Remember that the Romans destroyed the temple in 70 AD. No replacement was ever built.

The fig tree with leaves and no fruit symbolises the Jewish people of His day. The hierarchy were hypocrites, with one set of rules for themselves and an onerous one for ordinary Jews. The religious leaders felt that Jesus threatened their prestige and power. Instead of seeing Him as their long-awaited Messiah, foretold in so many places in Scripture, they plotted to kill Him. They looked religious — just as the fig tree looked fruitful, covered in leaves as it was. However, just as the leaders were devoid of faith and dead in sin, so the fig tree was devoid of fruit. Under the principles of divine judgement, both would have to go.

The ordinary people were no better. How many thousands followed Him to be amazed? How many followed Him and came to believe He was their Saviour? Very few.

This allegory also relates to Christians who look pious outwardly but have empty hearts with no faith. Works won’t make up for a lack of faith. True fruits of faith come spontaneously (emphases mine):

Fruit is a spontaneous product of real faith. It’s checking in on a sickly neighbour not because you think you ought to, but because you want to. It’s helping other people because you personally feel the urge to do so. Fruit is praying as if you were talking to a friend several times a day, whether asking for divine grace and assistance or giving thanks for blessings received.

My post on Matthew has good quotes from John MacArthur on those verses, including this one:

some of you are not seeing God work in your life simply because there’s no persistence in your prayer. There’s no continuance in your prayer. There’s no strengthening. You don’t get an answer so you quit. And it’s not mustard seed, it’s something else. Mustard seeds start small, gets big.

I wrote about Mark 11:12-14 in 2012. The themes explored in that post relate to true worship and a nation’s health. It dovetails nicely with yesterday’s post, ‘Monday of Holy Week: the righteous anger of Jesus towards the money changers’. In 2012, I wrote:

It is time for more of us to return to the Bible, to prayer, to faith. We can see that our apostasy — again, generally speaking — is spreading to our nations and governments, allowing evil to gain a foothold. What did Jesus and the authors of the Epistles say? Repent, repent, repent. All is not lost, however, we must mend our ways starting today.

A corrupt Church means a corrupt nation.

Yes, Christ’s bride the Church will ultimately prevail, but it is time to reread Revelation 2 and 3, namely, His letters to the seven churches: Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea.

It’s odd, isn’t it, that not one of those letters is in the Lectionary. Not a single one.

John MacArthur’s sermon on those verses has this:

The direct application of the curse is to the temple, but it expands to the temple leadership and the temple participants and thus to the nation and becomes very personal…very personal. Paul says they had a zeal for God but not according to knowledge. They made a fatal flaw. They didn’t worship idols, that wasn’t what they did, that’s what caused the destruction of the first temple. And an idol caused the destruction of the second temple. The destruction of this temple is not about idols, it’s about thinking you can establish your own righteousness, Romans 10 …

He went to the temple at the beginning. He went to the temple at the end. And He confronted the corruption of Israel’s religion all three years in between. When the temple is corrupt, it’s because the leaders are corrupt. When the leaders are corrupt, the people are corrupt. When the people are corrupt, the nation is corrupt. If it’s bad in the temple, it’s bad everywhere. And I say to you in a general sense, the measure of any society is its worship. You cannot judge a people by their economic status. You cannot judge a nation by its economics. God doesn’t. You can’t judge a nation by its social equity. You can’t judge a nation by its concern for protection of people from harm. That’s superficial. You judge a nation by its worship. That’s how God judges. And it’s worship that determines eternal destiny.

The Lord always goes to the temple, to the heart of worship … Judgment always begins with the house of God.

Holy Week is the ideal time, in light of these historical events, for us to take stock of our personal spiritual situation. Are we Christians for appearance’s sake, in public but not in private? Or are we truly on the road to sanctification, becoming ever closer to Jesus and God the Father in our daily journey?

On Easter Sunday, Dr Gregory Jackson of Ichabod posted an outstanding expository sermon on the resurrection.

Please read it in full. Excerpts follow below.

(Image credit: Padre Steve)

The text is Mark 16:1-8 (KJV):

Mark 16:1 And when the sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome, had bought sweet spices, that they might come and anoint him. 2 And very early in the morning the first day of the week, they came unto the sepulchre at the rising of the sun. 3 And they said among themselves, Who shall roll us away the stone from the door of the sepulchre? 4 And when they looked, they saw that the stone was rolled away: for it was very great. 5 And entering into the sepulchre, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, clothed in a long white garment; and they were affrighted. 6 And he saith unto them, Be not affrighted: Ye seek Jesus of Nazareth, which was crucified: he is risen; he is not here: behold the place where they laid him. 7 But go your way, tell his disciples and Peter that he goeth before you into Galilee: there shall ye see him, as he said unto you. 8 And they went out quickly, and fled from the sepulchre; for they trembled and were amazed: neither said they any thing to any man; for they were afraid.

Emphases in bold mine below, apart from the Scripture verses and title.

The Lesson Where Jesus Is Absent

KJV Mark 16:1 And when the sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome, had bought sweet spices, that they might come and anoint him. 

This Gospel lesson is so important in considering the meaning of the empty tomb. Instead of featuring Jesus, His works and statements, this lesson emphasizes the absence of Jesus, because the women went to honor His body and He was not there to be honored. This is the only Gospel lesson I can recall where Jesus is absent.

For that reason, we should consider all that we do and think, because we carry so many burdens, like the women carrying their spices. That was a burden, as everyone knows who has trudged along, carrying one thing or another. Yesterday I needed to take a bag of rocks and a large bag of birdseed to the backyard, from the truck of the car. The first thing I thought of was – how can I make this easier? I used the two garbage cans on wheels as my wheelbarrow, and lightened the burden.

Imagine that over a long distance and wondering too, how will I manage to get this burden inside, since the tomb is sealed? And yet all that work, anxiety, and labor, though filled with good intentions, meant nothing.

This lesson teaches us that the Gospel message itself is everything, not our works, merit, not even what our anxieties, concerns, and sins are that we drag along with us

2 And very early in the morning the first day of the week, they came unto the sepulchre at the rising of the sun.

Their conflict came from the issue of the tomb itself. As most graphics show, the door was not an enormous round boulder, which would be extremely difficult for a group of men to move, but a stone lid that rolled in a groove. The lid could be shoved to the side in that groove, or even flattened to the ground, by several men. Unless the women were EMT bodybuilders, the shoulder strength required was entirely lacking for the very job they came to do. But in faith they busied themselves with the job anyway and arrived early.

So it was that the Jewish traditions and the timing of the crucifixion coincided to make them the first witnesses of the empty tomb, so that nothingness became the most important visible symbol of the resurrection of Christ.

3 And they said among themselves, Who shall roll us away the stone from the door of the sepulchre?

The question they finally asked is one that continues to bedevil our rationalistic society. They assumed Jesus was dead and sealed in His tomb. For many people today, that is their estimation of the Bible and the Christian Faith. That is probably the most significant question to ask an ordained pastor or theologian. “Did Jesus rise bodily from the dead?” One must qualify rise because some would say yes, meaning in a spiritual or mythological sense. I asked a future Unitarian minister that question, plus the Virgin birth, and she said, “Those are not important questions to ask.” The same response came from ELCA seminaries when I wrote to them to ask if anyone on their faculty taught the actual bodily resurrection of Christ and the Virgin Birth. One seminary (out of nine) said that yes, one faculty member published that the resurrection of Christ “probably happened.” That seminary is now merging into a college because of its financial and enrollment problems (Berkeley) … 

It is not surprising that Christians have problems finding a good church. A few of my readers are in that situation. Some like to talk to the clergy before they become members. Dr Jackson’s question is an excellent one for them to ask:

Did Jesus rise bodily from the dead?

The answer could determine whether they join or keep searching for another congregation.

I also liked Dr Jackson’s exploration of burdens, which often overcome us in our daily lives. We can take an example from these women who had sustaining faith. Even faced with the weighty obstacle of moving the stone to the tomb:

in faith they busied themselves with the job anyway

Dr Jackson offers this gem of wisdom:

Luther says in one of his Easter sermons that God salts and stretches our hides so we will pay attention to His Word. Our external and internal sufferings remind us of our need for comfort in the Gospel

A lot of Christians in the West are suffering physically or mentally. It is interesting to note from the blogosphere that, among them, those who read the Bible, pray a lot and worship regularly are coping with their trials better than those who refuse to read the New Testament, also eschewing church and prayer.

How can we have more faith if we do not pray for more grace? How can we find comfort, if we do not read and reread the Gospel message?

Eastertide is a time of renewed hope and new life. May we use this time to increase our faith through divine grace.

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