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What follows are the readings for the Fourth Sunday after Pentecost, June 17, 2018.

These are for Year B in the three-year Lectionary cycle.

There are two sets of first readings, each with an accompanying Psalm from which the celebrant can choose. I have given the second selection blue subheadings below. Emphases mine throughout.

First reading

The past few Sundays have been featuring passages about the life of Samuel. In last Sunday’s reading, Samuel had appointed Saul as king over Israel. Unfortunately, Saul only partly obeyed the Lord in his commission to destroy the Amalekites and their livestock. He retained some of the animals and left their king, Agag, alive. Although he was close to death, Samuel slayed Agag himself. Samuel was remorseful over appointing Saul king. With divine guidance, he anointed David, Jesse’s youngest son, king:

1 Samuel 15:34 – 16:13

15:34 Then Samuel went to Ramah; and Saul went up to his house in Gibeah of Saul.

15:35 Samuel did not see Saul again until the day of his death, but Samuel grieved over Saul. And the LORD was sorry that he had made Saul king over Israel.

16:1 The LORD said to Samuel, “How long will you grieve over Saul? I have rejected him from being king over Israel. Fill your horn with oil and set out; I will send you to Jesse the Bethlehemite, for I have provided for myself a king among his sons.”

16:2 Samuel said, “How can I go? If Saul hears of it, he will kill me.” And the LORD said, “Take a heifer with you, and say, ‘I have come to sacrifice to the LORD.’

16:3 Invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will show you what you shall do; and you shall anoint for me the one whom I name to you.”

16:4 Samuel did what the LORD commanded, and came to Bethlehem. The elders of the city came to meet him trembling, and said, “Do you come peaceably?”

16:5 He said, “Peaceably; I have come to sacrifice to the LORD; sanctify yourselves and come with me to the sacrifice.” And he sanctified Jesse and his sons and invited them to the sacrifice.

16:6 When they came, he looked on Eliab and thought, “Surely the Lord’s anointed is now before the LORD.”

16:7 But the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the LORD does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.”

16:8 Then Jesse called Abinadab, and made him pass before Samuel. He said, “Neither has the LORD chosen this one.”

16:9 Then Jesse made Shammah pass by. And he said, “Neither has the LORD chosen this one.”

16:10 Jesse made seven of his sons pass before Samuel, and Samuel said to Jesse, “The LORD has not chosen any of these.”

16:11 Samuel said to Jesse, “Are all your sons here?” And he said, “There remains yet the youngest, but he is keeping the sheep.” And Samuel said to Jesse, “Send and bring him; for we will not sit down until he comes here.”

16:12 He sent and brought him in. Now he was ruddy, and had beautiful eyes, and was handsome. The LORD said, “Rise and anoint him; for this is the one.”

16:13 Then Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed him in the presence of his brothers; and the spirit of the LORD came mightily upon David from that day forward. Samuel then set out and went to Ramah.

Psalm

The Psalm discusses the blessings we receive when we trust in and obey the Lord:

Psalm 20

20:1 The LORD answer you in the day of trouble! The name of the God of Jacob protect you!

20:2 May he send you help from the sanctuary, and give you support from Zion.

20:3 May he remember all your offerings, and regard with favor your burnt sacrifices. Selah

20:4 May he grant you your heart’s desire, and fulfill all your plans.

20:5 May we shout for joy over your victory, and in the name of our God set up our banners. May the LORD fulfill all your petitions.

20:6 Now I know that the LORD will help his anointed; he will answer him from his holy heaven with mighty victories by his right hand.

20:7 Some take pride in chariots, and some in horses, but our pride is in the name of the LORD our God.

20:8 They will collapse and fall, but we shall rise and stand upright.

20:9 Give victory to the king, O LORD; answer us when we call.

First reading

The reading from Ezekiel is about the Lord raising the lowly to be great in His sight:

Ezekiel 17:22-24

17:22 Thus says the Lord GOD: I myself will take a sprig from the lofty top of a cedar; I will set it out. I will break off a tender one from the topmost of its young twigs; I myself will plant it on a high and lofty mountain.

17:23 On the mountain height of Israel I will plant it, in order that it may produce boughs and bear fruit, and become a noble cedar. Under it every kind of bird will live; in the shade of its branches will nest winged creatures of every kind.

17:24 All the trees of the field shall know that I am the LORD. I bring low the high tree, I make high the low tree; I dry up the green tree and make the dry tree flourish. I the LORD have spoken; I will accomplish it.

Psalm

The Psalm also uses trees to indicate how those who trust in the Lord flourish:

Psalm 92:1-4, 12-15

92:1 It is good to give thanks to the LORD, to sing praises to your name, O Most High;

92:2 to declare your steadfast love in the morning, and your faithfulness by night,

92:3 to the music of the lute and the harp, to the melody of the lyre.

92:4 For you, O LORD, have made me glad by your work; at the works of your hands I sing for joy.

92:12 The righteous flourish like the palm tree, and grow like a cedar in Lebanon.

92:13 They are planted in the house of the LORD; they flourish in the courts of our God.

92:14 In old age they still produce fruit; they are always green and full of sap,

92:15 showing that the LORD is upright; he is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in him.

Epistle

This passage from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians continues with the themes of faith, blessing, salvation and renewal:

2 Corinthians 5:6-10, (11-13), 14-17

5:6 So we are always confident; even though we know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord —

5:7 for we walk by faith, not by sight.

5:8 Yes, we do have confidence, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord.

5:9 So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him.

5:10 For all of us must appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each may receive recompense for what has been done in the body, whether good or evil.

5:11 Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we try to persuade others; but we ourselves are well known to God, and I hope that we are also well known to your consciences.

5:12 We are not commending ourselves to you again, but giving you an opportunity to boast about us, so that you may be able to answer those who boast in outward appearance and not in the heart.

5:13 For if we are beside ourselves, it is for God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you.

5:14 For the love of Christ urges us on, because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died.

5:15 And he died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them.

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

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

Gospel

The Gospel reading is Mark’s version of the parable of the mustard seed, which grows into a large tree — an allegory for the smallest becoming the greatest through faith:

Mark 4:26-34

4:26 He also said, “The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground,

4:27 and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how.

4:28 The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head.

4:29 But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come.”

4:30 He also said, “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it?

4:31 It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth;

4:32 yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.”

4:33 With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it;

4:34 he did not speak to them except in parables, but he explained everything in private to his disciples.

It’s important to remember the last sentence. Jesus took special care in teaching his disciples.

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What follows are the readings for the Third Sunday after Pentecost, June 10, 2018.

These are for Year B in the three-year cycle.

Emphases mine below.

There are two sets of first readings, each with an accompanying Psalm from which the celebrant can choose. I have given the second selection blue subheadings below.

First Reading

By now, Samuel, whose story is continued from last week, was confronted by frustrated elders of Israel asking for a king. Samuel was old and his sons were corrupt judges. Samuel sought the Lord’s advice, and the Lord said to do as the people asked, pointing out that they had rejected not only Samuel’s leadership as prophet but also His position as their King. Samuel then warned them, as the Lord had asked, pointing out that an ordinary king would use them and their belongings for his own enrichment. The last two verses come from 1 Samuel 11, following Saul‘s victory over the Ammonites. Earlier, Saul had been anointed by Samuel. In the closing verses, the Israelites agreed with Samuel that Saul should be their king:

1 Samuel 8:4-11, (12-15), 16-20, (11:14-15)

8:4 Then all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah,

8:5 and said to him, “You are old and your sons do not follow in your ways; appoint for us, then, a king to govern us, like other nations.”

8:6 But the thing displeased Samuel when they said, “Give us a king to govern us.” Samuel prayed to the LORD,

8:7 and the LORD said to Samuel, “Listen to the voice of the people in all that they say to you; for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them.

8:8 Just as they have done to me, from the day I brought them up out of Egypt to this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so also they are doing to you.

8:9 Now then, listen to their voice; only–you shall solemnly warn them, and show them the ways of the king who shall reign over them.”

8:10 So Samuel reported all the words of the LORD to the people who were asking him for a king.

8:11 He said, “These will be the ways of the king who will reign over you: he will take your sons and appoint them to his chariots and to be his horsemen, and to run before his chariots;

8:12 and he will appoint for himself commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and some to plow his ground and to reap his harvest, and to make his implements of war and the equipment of his chariots.

8:13 He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers.

8:14 He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive orchards and give them to his courtiers.

8:15 He will take one-tenth of your grain and of your vineyards and give it to his officers and his courtiers.

8:16 He will take your male and female slaves, and the best of your cattle and donkeys, and put them to his work.

8:17 He will take one-tenth of your flocks, and you shall be his slaves.

8:18 And in that day you will cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves; but the LORD will not answer you in that day.”

8:19 But the people refused to listen to the voice of Samuel; they said “No! but we are determined to have a king over us,

8:20 so that we also may be like other nations, and that our king may govern us and go out before us and fight our battles.”

11:14 Samuel said to the people, “Come, let us go to Gilgal and there renew the kingship.”

11:15 So all the people went to Gilgal, and there they made Saul king before the LORD in Gilgal. There they sacrificed offerings of well-being before the LORD, and there Saul and all the Israelites rejoiced greatly.

Psalm

The accompanying Psalm reflects joy and gratitude for deliverance from harm:

Psalm 138

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

First reading

This reading will be familiar to nearly everyone, as it recounts the story of Adam and Eve’s Original Sin — eating fruit from the Tree of Knowledge — and the punishment to come:

Genesis 3:8-15

3:8 They heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden.

3:9 But the LORD God called to the man, and said to him, “Where are you?”

3:10 He said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself.”

3:11 He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?”

3:12 The man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit from the tree, and I ate.”

3:13 Then the LORD God said to the woman, “What is this that you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent tricked me, and I ate.”

3:14 The LORD God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this, cursed are you among all animals and among all wild creatures; upon your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life.

3:15 I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will strike your head, and you will strike his heel.”

Psalm

The Psalm has the themes of hope, forgiveness and salvation:

Psalm 130

130:1 Out of the depths I cry to you, O LORD.

130:2 Lord, hear my voice! Let your ears be attentive to the voice of my supplications!

130:3 If you, O LORD, should mark iniquities, Lord, who could stand?

130:4 But there is forgiveness with you, so that you may be revered.

130:5 I wait for the LORD, my soul waits, and in his word I hope;

130:6 my soul waits for the Lord more than those who watch for the morning, more than those who watch for the morning.

130:7 O Israel, hope in the LORD! For with the LORD there is steadfast love, and with him is great power to redeem.

130:8 It is he who will redeem Israel from all its iniquities.

Epistle

The Epistle is from Paul to the Corinthians. Paul tells them not to lose heart, that there is a greater — divine — eternal destination that awaits them:

2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1

4:13 But just as we have the same spirit of faith that is in accordance with scripture–“I believed, and so I spoke” –we also believe, and so we speak,

4:14 because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus, and will bring us with you into his presence.

4:15 Yes, everything is for your sake, so that grace, as it extends to more and more people, may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God.

4:16 So we do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day.

4:17 For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure,

4:18 because we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal.

5:1 For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.

Gospel

The Gospel reading from Mark warns against blaspheming the Holy Spirit. The context is that Jesus, having begun His ministry, was healing many — including the man with the withered hand in the synagogue — and was besieged by crowds. Mary and her sons worried for Jesus’s stamina and safety. Meanwhile, the Scribes from Jerusalem accused Jesus of having a demonic spirit which was driving out others’ demons. Jesus condemned their words by saying that anyone who denigrated the divine power within Him was blaspheming the Holy Spirit, at work in these healing miracles:

Mark 3:20-35

3:20 and the crowd came together again, so that they could not even eat.

3:21 When his family heard it, they went out to restrain him, for people were saying, “He has gone out of his mind.

3:22 And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, “He has Beelzebul, and by the ruler of the demons he casts out demons.”

3:23 And he called them to him, and spoke to them in parables, “How can Satan cast out Satan?

3:24 If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand.

3:25 And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand.

3:26 And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but his end has come.

3:27 But no one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his property without first tying up the strong man; then indeed the house can be plundered.

3:28 “Truly I tell you, people will be forgiven for their sins and whatever blasphemies they utter;

3:29 but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin”–

3:30 for they had said, “He has an unclean spirit.”

3:31 Then his mother and his brothers came; and standing outside, they sent to him and called him.

3:32 A crowd was sitting around him; and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside, asking for you.”

3:33 And he replied, “Who are my mother and my brothers?”

3:34 And looking at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers!

3:35 Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”

I hope the sermons about today’s Gospel are good, because the passage from Mark 3 touches on complex and difficult issues surrounding Jesus’s ministry. Anyone preaching on these effectively will need to dig deep to explain the context, not always part of today’s lacklustre seminary training.

What follows are Lectionary readings for the Second Sunday after Pentecost, June 3, 2018.

These are for Year B in the three-year cycle.

The first reading, which most churchgoers probably do not hear, as only an Epistle and Gospel are generally read, is about young Samuel, son of Hannah, whose song of thanksgiving featured on May 31 for the feast of the Visitation of Mary to Elizabeth. As my post for that day explains, Hannah had been barren all her life. She regularly went to the temple to pray for a child. Eli, the High Priest, heard her last prayer and blessed her. She promised God she would put Samuel in His service.

The reading recounts young Samuel being under Eli’s tutelage when something dramatic happened. Emphases mine throughout:

1 Samuel 3:1-10, (11-20)

3:1 Now the boy Samuel was ministering to the LORD under Eli. The word of the LORD was rare in those days; visions were not widespread.

3:2 At that time Eli, whose eyesight had begun to grow dim so that he could not see, was lying down in his room;

3:3 the lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the temple of the LORD, where the ark of God was.

3:4 Then the LORD called, “Samuel! Samuel!” and he said, “Here I am!”

3:5 and ran to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” But he said, “I did not call; lie down again.” So he went and lay down.

3:6 The LORD called again, “Samuel!” Samuel got up and went to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” But he said, “I did not call, my son; lie down again.”

3:7 Now Samuel did not yet know the LORD, and the word of the LORD had not yet been revealed to him.

3:8 The LORD called Samuel again, a third time. And he got up and went to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” Then Eli perceived that the LORD was calling the boy.

3:9 Therefore Eli said to Samuel, “Go, lie down; and if he calls you, you shall say, ‘Speak, LORD, for your servant is listening.'” So Samuel went and lay down in his place.

3:10 Now the LORD came and stood there, calling as before, “Samuel! Samuel!” And Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.”

3:11 Then the LORD said to Samuel, “See, I am about to do something in Israel that will make both ears of anyone who hears of it tingle.

3:12 On that day I will fulfill against Eli all that I have spoken concerning his house, from beginning to end.

3:13 For I have told him that I am about to punish his house forever, for the iniquity that he knew, because his sons were blaspheming God, and he did not restrain them.

3:14 Therefore I swear to the house of Eli that the iniquity of Eli’s house shall not be expiated by sacrifice or offering forever.”

3:15 Samuel lay there until morning; then he opened the doors of the house of the LORD. Samuel was afraid to tell the vision to Eli.

3:16 But Eli called Samuel and said, “Samuel, my son.” He said, “Here I am.”

3:17 Eli said, “What was it that he told you? Do not hide it from me. May God do so to you and more also, if you hide anything from me of all that he told you.”

3:18 So Samuel told him everything and hid nothing from him. Then he said, “It is the LORD; let him do what seems good to him.”

3:19 As Samuel grew up, the LORD was with him and let none of his words fall to the ground.

3:20 And all Israel from Dan to Beer-sheba knew that Samuel was a trustworthy prophet of the LORD.

The Psalm ties in nicely with the story of Samuel and points to the close personal relationship God has with us:

Psalm 139:1-6, 13-18

139:1 O LORD, you have searched me and known me.

139:2 You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from far away.

139:3 You search out my path and my lying down, and are acquainted with all my ways.

139:4 Even before a word is on my tongue, O LORD, you know it completely.

139:5 You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me.

139:6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is so high that I cannot attain it.

139:13 For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.

139:14 I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; that I know very well.

139:15 My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth.

139:16 Your eyes beheld my unformed substance. In your book were written all the days that were formed for me, when none of them as yet existed.

139:17 How weighty to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them!

139:18 I try to count them — they are more than the sand; I come to the end — I am still with you.

The third reading — where used — is about the Fourth Commandment:

Deuteronomy 5:12-15

5:12 Observe the sabbath day and keep it holy, as the LORD your God commanded you.

5:13 Six days you shall labor and do all your work.

5:14 But the seventh day is a sabbath to the LORD your God; you shall not do any work–you, or your son or your daughter, or your male or female slave, or your ox or your donkey, or any of your livestock, or the resident alien in your towns, so that your male and female slave may rest as well as you.

5:15 Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm; therefore the LORD your God commanded you to keep the sabbath day.

Another Psalm — optional — follows, which fits in with the reading from Deuteronomy:

Psalm 81:1-10

81:1 Sing aloud to God our strength; shout for joy to the God of Jacob.

81:2 Raise a song, sound the tambourine, the sweet lyre with the harp.

81:3 Blow the trumpet at the new moon, at the full moon, on our festal day.

81:4 For it is a statute for Israel, an ordinance of the God of Jacob.

81:5 He made it a decree in Joseph, when he went out over the land of Egypt. I hear a voice I had not known:

81:6 “I relieved your shoulder of the burden; your hands were freed from the basket.

81:7 In distress you called, and I rescued you; I answered you in the secret place of thunder; I tested you at the waters of Meribah. Selah

81:8 Hear, O my people, while I admonish you; O Israel, if you would but listen to me!

81:9 There shall be no strange god among you; you shall not bow down to a foreign god.

81:10 I am the LORD your God, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt. Open your mouth wide and I will fill it.

In the Epistle, Paul explains the power of the Lord working through those who believe in His Son, no matter how dire the circumstance:

2 Corinthians 4:5-12

4:5 For we do not proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus’ sake.

4:6 For it is the God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

4:7 But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us.

4:8 We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair;

4:9 persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed;

4:10 always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies.

4:11 For while we live, we are always being given up to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus may be made visible in our mortal flesh.

4:12 So death is at work in us, but life in you.

The Gospel reading describes the Pharisees’ hate towards Jesus for allowing His disciples to satisfy their hunger on the Sabbath and His healing of the man with the withered hand:

Mark 2:23-3:6

2:23 One sabbath he was going through the grainfields; and as they made their way his disciples began to pluck heads of grain.

2:24 The Pharisees said to him, “Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the sabbath?”

2:25 And he said to them, “Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need of food?

2:26 He entered the house of God, when Abiathar was high priest, and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and he gave some to his companions.”

2:27 Then he said to them, “The sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the sabbath;

2:28 so the Son of Man is lord even of the sabbath.”

3:1 Again he entered the synagogue, and a man was there who had a withered hand.

3:2 They watched him to see whether he would cure him on the sabbath, so that they might accuse him.

3:3 And he said to the man who had the withered hand, “Come forward.”

3:4 Then he said to them, “Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the sabbath, to save life or to kill?” But they were silent.

3:5 He looked around at them with anger; he was grieved at their hardness of heart and said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was restored.

3:6 The Pharisees went out and immediately conspired with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him.

Lectionary readings for the next several Sundays will include more from the books of Samuel, 2 Corinthians and Mark’s Gospel.

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!

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.

————————————————————————————-

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.

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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

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