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What follows are the readings for the Seventeenth Sunday after Trinity — the Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost — October 13, 2019.

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

There are two choices for the First Reading and Psalm. I have differentiated these by using blue in the headings for the alternative option.

Emphases below are mine.

First reading

Readings from Jeremiah continue. False teachers who had denounced the prophet had been taken into exile in Babylon. Jeremiah was still in Jerusalem. Others had also been taken captive, including the rulers, carpenters and blacksmiths. Jeremiah sends them a message from the Lord, advising them to make the best of a very bad situation, which would last 70 years.

Jeremiah 29:1, 4-7

29:1 These are the words of the letter that the prophet Jeremiah sent from Jerusalem to the remaining elders among the exiles, and to the priests, the prophets, and all the people, whom Nebuchadnezzar had taken into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon.

29:4 Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon:

29:5 Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce.

29:6 Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease.

29:7 But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.

Psalm

This is a general Psalm of thanksgiving. We have much for which to be grateful in this life, therefore, God deserves our praise.

Psalm 66:1-12

66:1 Make a joyful noise to God, all the earth;

66:2 sing the glory of his name; give to him glorious praise.

66:3 Say to God, “How awesome are your deeds! Because of your great power, your enemies cringe before you.

66:4 All the earth worships you; they sing praises to you, sing praises to your name.” Selah

66:5 Come and see what God has done: he is awesome in his deeds among mortals.

66:6 He turned the sea into dry land; they passed through the river on foot. There we rejoiced in him,

66:7 who rules by his might forever, whose eyes keep watch on the nations– let the rebellious not exalt themselves. Selah

66:8 Bless our God, O peoples, let the sound of his praise be heard,

66:9 who has kept us among the living, and has not let our feet slip.

66:10 For you, O God, have tested us; you have tried us as silver is tried.

66:11 You brought us into the net; you laid burdens on our backs;

66:12 you let people ride over our heads; we went through fire and through water; yet you have brought us out to a spacious place.

First reading – alternate

Reluctantly following Elisha’s instructions, the mighty warrior Naaman is cured of leprosy. God’s ways are not always our ways. We had this reading previously on the Third Sunday after Trinity this year.

2 Kings 5:1-3, 7-15c

5:1 Naaman, commander of the army of the king of Aram, was a great man and in high favor with his master, because by him the LORD had given victory to Aram. The man, though a mighty warrior, suffered from leprosy.

5:2 Now the Arameans on one of their raids had taken a young girl captive from the land of Israel, and she served Naaman’s wife.

5:3 She said to her mistress, “If only my lord were with the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy.”

5:7 When the king of Israel read the letter, he tore his clothes and said, “Am I God, to give death or life, that this man sends word to me to cure a man of his leprosy? Just look and see how he is trying to pick a quarrel with me.”

5:8 But when Elisha the man of God heard that the king of Israel had torn his clothes, he sent a message to the king, “Why have you torn your clothes? Let him come to me, that he may learn that there is a prophet in Israel.”

5:9 So Naaman came with his horses and chariots, and halted at the entrance of Elisha’s house.

5:10 Elisha sent a messenger to him, saying, “Go, wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored and you shall be clean.”

5:11 But Naaman became angry and went away, saying, “I thought that for me he would surely come out, and stand and call on the name of the LORD his God, and would wave his hand over the spot, and cure the leprosy!

5:12 Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Could I not wash in them, and be clean?” He turned and went away in a rage.

5:13 But his servants approached and said to him, “Father, if the prophet had commanded you to do something difficult, would you not have done it? How much more, when all he said to you was, ‘Wash, and be clean’?”

5:14 So he went down and immersed himself seven times in the Jordan, according to the word of the man of God; his flesh was restored like the flesh of a young boy, and he was clean.

5:15c Then he returned to the man of God, he and all his company; he came and stood before him and said, “Now I know that there is no God in all the earth except in Israel.”

Psalm – alternate

This Psalm, which David wrote, is another that is full of praise for the Lord, to whom we owe our obedience and thanksgiving.

Psalm 111

111:1 Praise the LORD! I will give thanks to the LORD with my whole heart, in the company of the upright, in the congregation.

111:2 Great are the works of the LORD, studied by all who delight in them.

111:3 Full of honor and majesty is his work, and his righteousness endures forever.

111:4 He has gained renown by his wonderful deeds; the LORD is gracious and merciful.

111:5 He provides food for those who fear him; he is ever mindful of his covenant.

111:6 He has shown his people the power of his works, in giving them the heritage of the nations.

111:7 The works of his hands are faithful and just; all his precepts are trustworthy.

111:8 They are established forever and ever, to be performed with faithfulness and uprightness.

111:9 He sent redemption to his people; he has commanded his covenant forever. Holy and awesome is his name.

111:10 The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom; all those who practice it have a good understanding. His praise endures forever.

Epistle

Readings from Paul’s letter to Timothy continue. The Apostle advises him to focus on endurance in the faith and to quell petty quarrels among the believers.

2 Timothy 2:8-15

2:8 Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, a descendant of David–that is my gospel,

2:9 for which I suffer hardship, even to the point of being chained like a criminal. But the word of God is not chained.

2:10 Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, so that they may also obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus, with eternal glory.

2:11 The saying is sure: If we have died with him, we will also live with him;

2:12 if we endure, we will also reign with him; if we deny him, he will also deny us;

2:13 if we are faithless, he remains faithful– for he cannot deny himself.

2:14 Remind them of this, and warn them before God that they are to avoid wrangling over words, which does no good but only ruins those who are listening.

2:15 Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved by him, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly explaining the word of truth.

Gospel

Luke tells us of another time when Jesus encountered a grateful Gentile, signalling that He also came to save those who were not Jewish.

Luke 17:11-19

17:11 On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee.

17:12 As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance,

17:13 they called out, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!”

17:14 When he saw them, he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were made clean.

17:15 Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice.

17:16 He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan.

17:17 Then Jesus asked, “Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they?

17:18 Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?”

17:19 Then he said to him, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.”

That Gospel story always amazes me. Lepers were the ultimate outcasts. Our Lord healed ten of them, fully and instantly. Yet, only one returned to give Him thanks.

The Psalms tie in particularly well with this reading. May we always remember to thank the Triune God — Father, Son and Holy Spirit — for our many blessings, great and small.

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What follows are the readings for the Sixteenth Sunday after Trinity — the Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost — October 6, 2019.

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

There are two choices for the First Reading and Psalm. I have differentiated these by using blue in the headings for the alternative option.

Emphases below are mine.

First reading

One of the following readings from Lamentations may be read.

Jeremiah wrote Lamentations as a poetic description of what happened during the Chaldeans’ destruction of Jerusalem in 586 BC. The Babylonian exile followed. Jeremiah, in the eponymous book, prophesied this. Lamentations lays out what happened, as Jeremiah and his fellow Jews experienced it. The prophet intended for this five-chapter book to be memorised, and it is still read today during the Jewish Festivals of the Lord.

In the first selection, Jeremiah’s description of an empty Jerusalem shows that what God increases, He can also devastate.

Lamentations 1:1-6

1:1 How lonely sits the city that once was full of people! How like a widow she has become, she that was great among the nations! She that was a princess among the provinces has become a vassal.

1:2 She weeps bitterly in the night, with tears on her cheeks; among all her lovers she has no one to comfort her; all her friends have dealt treacherously with her, they have become her enemies.

1:3 Judah has gone into exile with suffering and hard servitude; she lives now among the nations, and finds no resting place; her pursuers have all overtaken her in the midst of her distress.

1:4 The roads to Zion mourn, for no one comes to the festivals; all her gates are desolate, her priests groan; her young girls grieve, and her lot is bitter.

1:5 Her foes have become the masters, her enemies prosper, because the LORD has made her suffer for the multitude of her transgressions; her children have gone away, captives before the foe.

1:6 From daughter Zion has departed all her majesty. Her princes have become like stags that find no pasture; they fled without strength before the pursuer.

By the third chapter, Jeremiah has hope that the Lord will show mercy to His people. This passage can also be seen as analogous to Christ weeping over Jerusalem.

Lamentations 3:19-26

3:19 The thought of my affliction and my homelessness is wormwood and gall!

3:20 My soul continually thinks of it and is bowed down within me.

3:21 But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope:

3:22 The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases, his mercies never come to an end;

3:23 they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.

3:24 “The LORD is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.”

3:25 The LORD is good to those who wait for him, to the soul that seeks him.

3:26 It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the LORD.

Psalm

Jeremiah wrote this Psalm, one of the ones written near the end of the days of the Old Covenant, recalling Babylonian captivity. It, too, is a lamentation. Matthew Henry’s commentary says that this Psalm is also suitable for the Church in times of persecution. Verse 1 is very familiar to us, recalling a famous 1970s Jamaican song.

Psalm 137

137:1 By the rivers of Babylon– there we sat down and there we wept when we remembered Zion.

137:2 On the willows there we hung up our harps.

137:3 For there our captors asked us for songs, and our tormentors asked for mirth, saying, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”

137:4 How could we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?

137:5 If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand wither!

137:6 Let my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth, if I do not remember you, if I do not set Jerusalem above my highest joy.

137:7 Remember, O LORD, against the Edomites the day of Jerusalem’s fall, how they said, “Tear it down! Tear it down! Down to its foundations!”

137:8 O daughter Babylon, you devastator! Happy shall they be who pay you back what you have done to us!

137:9 Happy shall they be who take your little ones and dash them against the rock!

First reading – alternate

Habakkuk was a contemporary of Jeremiah’s. He, too, warned that the Chaldeans, God’s chosen instruments of judgement, would conquer Jerusalem. Habakkuk’s prophecy dates from 600 BC. In the first part of today’s reading, the prophet laments what he sees as evil winning over good, but, in the second half, the Lord answers Habakkuk by saying that He ends trials at the appointed time, therefore, we are not to lose heart in our suffering.

Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2:1-4

1:1 The oracle that the prophet Habakkuk saw.

1:2 O LORD, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not listen? Or cry to you “Violence!” and you will not save?

1:3 Why do you make me see wrong-doing and look at trouble? Destruction and violence are before me; strife and contention arise.

1:4 So the law becomes slack and justice never prevails. The wicked surround the righteous– therefore judgment comes forth perverted.

2:1 I will stand at my watchpost, and station myself on the rampart; I will keep watch to see what he will say to me, and what he will answer concerning my complaint.

2:2 Then the LORD answered me and said: Write the vision; make it plain on tablets, so that a runner may read it.

2:3 For there is still a vision for the appointed time; it speaks of the end, and does not lie. If it seems to tarry, wait for it; it will surely come, it will not delay.

2:4 Look at the proud! Their spirit is not right in them, but the righteous live by their faith.

Psalm – alternate

This Psalm of David’s — a maschil, or teaching Psalm — tells us we must learn the ways of Providence and be patient in waiting for the end of our trials and tribulations.

Psalm 37:1-9

37:1 Do not fret because of the wicked; do not be envious of wrongdoers,

37:2 for they will soon fade like the grass, and wither like the green herb.

37:3 Trust in the LORD, and do good; so you will live in the land, and enjoy security.

37:4 Take delight in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart.

37:5 Commit your way to the LORD; trust in him, and he will act.

37:6 He will make your vindication shine like the light, and the justice of your cause like the noonday.

37:7 Be still before the LORD, and wait patiently for him; do not fret over those who prosper in their way, over those who carry out evil devices.

37:8 Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath. Do not fret–it leads only to evil.

37:9 For the wicked shall be cut off, but those who wait for the LORD shall inherit the land.

Epistle

Paul advises young Timothy, the son of Eunice and grandson of Lois (Acts 16), on his ministry by describing his own.

2 Timothy 1:1-14

1:1 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, for the sake of the promise of life that is in Christ Jesus,

1:2 To Timothy, my beloved child: Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.

1:3 I am grateful to God–whom I worship with a clear conscience, as my ancestors did–when I remember you constantly in my prayers night and day.

1:4 Recalling your tears, I long to see you so that I may be filled with joy.

1:5 I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that lived first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, lives in you.

1:6 For this reason I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands;

1:7 for God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.

1:8 Do not be ashamed, then, of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner, but join with me in suffering for the gospel, relying on the power of God,

1:9 who saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works but according to his own purpose and grace. This grace was given to us in Christ Jesus before the ages began,

1:10 but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.

1:11 For this gospel I was appointed a herald and an apostle and a teacher,

1:12 and for this reason I suffer as I do. But I am not ashamed, for I know the one in whom I have put my trust, and I am sure that he is able to guard until that day what I have entrusted to him.

1:13 Hold to the standard of sound teaching that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.

1:14 Guard the good treasure entrusted to you, with the help of the Holy Spirit living in us.

Gospel

Another famous saying of Jesus follows (verse 6). May we pray for divine grace that increases our faith.

Luke 17:5-10

17:5 The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!”

17:6 The Lord replied, “If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.

17:7 “Who among you would say to your slave who has just come in from plowing or tending sheep in the field, ‘Come here at once and take your place at the table’?

17:8 Would you not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, put on your apron and serve me while I eat and drink; later you may eat and drink’?

17:9 Do you thank the slave for doing what was commanded?

17:10 So you also, when you have done all that you were ordered to do, say, ‘We are worthless slaves; we have done only what we ought to have done!'”

What an excellent lesson in humility. As Matthew Henry’s commentary points out:

God is happy without us, but we are undone without him.

Something to ponder in the week ahead, unpopular though it might be in our egotistical world.

What follows are the readings for the Fifteenth Sunday after Trinity — the Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost — September 29, 2019.

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

There are two choices for the First Reading and Psalm. I have differentiated these by using blue in the headings for the alternative option.

Emphases below are mine.

First reading

Readings from Jeremiah continue. The Lord intervenes for Jeremiah via the prophet’s cousin. Although judgement would fall, it would not be permanent.

Jeremiah 32:1-3a, 6-15

32:1 The word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD in the tenth year of King Zedekiah of Judah, which was the eighteenth year of Nebuchadrezzar.

32:2 At that time the army of the king of Babylon was besieging Jerusalem, and the prophet Jeremiah was confined in the court of the guard that was in the palace of the king of Judah,

32:3a where King Zedekiah of Judah had confined him.

32:6 Jeremiah said, The word of the LORD came to me:

32:7 Hanamel son of your uncle Shallum is going to come to you and say, “Buy my field that is at Anathoth, for the right of redemption by purchase is yours.”

32:8 Then my cousin Hanamel came to me in the court of the guard, in accordance with the word of the LORD, and said to me, “Buy my field that is at Anathoth in the land of Benjamin, for the right of possession and redemption is yours; buy it for yourself.” Then I knew that this was the word of the LORD.

32:9 And I bought the field at Anathoth from my cousin Hanamel, and weighed out the money to him, seventeen shekels of silver.

32:10 I signed the deed, sealed it, got witnesses, and weighed the money on scales.

32:11 Then I took the sealed deed of purchase, containing the terms and conditions, and the open copy;

32:12 and I gave the deed of purchase to Baruch son of Neriah son of Mahseiah, in the presence of my cousin Hanamel, in the presence of the witnesses who signed the deed of purchase, and in the presence of all the Judeans who were sitting in the court of the guard.

32:13 In their presence I charged Baruch, saying,

32:14 Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: Take these deeds, both this sealed deed of purchase and this open deed, and put them in an earthenware jar, in order that they may last for a long time.

32:15 For thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: Houses and fields and vineyards shall again be bought in this land.

Psalm

This beautiful Psalm reflects the mercy and protection God gives to His faithful.

Psalm 91:1-6, 14-16

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

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

91:3 For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler and from the deadly pestilence;

91:4 he will cover you with his pinions, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness is a shield and buckler.

91:5 You will not fear the terror of the night, or the arrow that flies by day,

91:6 or the pestilence that stalks in darkness, or the destruction that wastes at noonday.

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

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

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

First reading – alternate

Readings from Amos continue. Here the prophet warns that those who blithely ignore warnings of the judgement to come will have a rude awakening indeed.

Amos 6:1a, 4-7

6:1a Alas for those who are at ease in Zion, and for those who feel secure on Mount Samaria.

6:4 Alas for those who lie on beds of ivory, and lounge on their couches, and eat lambs from the flock, and calves from the stall;

6:5 who sing idle songs to the sound of the harp, and like David improvise on instruments of music;

6:6 who drink wine from bowls, and anoint themselves with the finest oils, but are not grieved over the ruin of Joseph!

6:7 Therefore they shall now be the first to go into exile, and the revelry of the loungers shall pass away.

Psalm – alternate

This Psalm has one of my favourite verses. We can trust only God, not mankind, in this life.

Psalm 146

146:1 Praise the LORD! Praise the LORD, O my soul!

146:2 I will praise the LORD as long as I live; I will sing praises to my God all my life long.

146:3 Do not put your trust in princes, in mortals, in whom there is no help.

146:4 When their breath departs, they return to the earth; on that very day their plans perish.

146:5 Happy are those whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the LORD their God,

146:6 who made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them; who keeps faith forever;

146:7 who executes justice for the oppressed; who gives food to the hungry. The LORD sets the prisoners free;

146:8 the LORD opens the eyes of the blind. The LORD lifts up those who are bowed down; the LORD loves the righteous.

146:9 The LORD watches over the strangers; he upholds the orphan and the widow, but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin.

146:10 The LORD will reign forever, your God, O Zion, for all generations. Praise the LORD!

Epistle

Paul writes to young Timothy about his ministry. Note the context surrounding verse 10.

1 Timothy 6:6-19

6:6 Of course, there is great gain in godliness combined with contentment;

6:7 for we brought nothing into the world, so that we can take nothing out of it;

6:8 but if we have food and clothing, we will be content with these.

6:9 But those who want to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction.

6:10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains.

6:11 But as for you, man of God, shun all this; pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, gentleness.

6:12 Fight the good fight of the faith; take hold of the eternal life, to which you were called and for which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.

6:13 In the presence of God, who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus, who in his testimony before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, I charge you

6:14 to keep the commandment without spot or blame until the manifestation of our Lord Jesus Christ,

6:15 which he will bring about at the right time–he who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords.

6:16 It is he alone who has immortality and dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see; to him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen.

6:17 As for those who in the present age are rich, command them not to be haughty, or to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but rather on God who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.

6:18 They are to do good, to be rich in good works, generous, and ready to share,

6:19 thus storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of the life that really is life.

Gospel

The parable of Dives (i.e. ‘rich man’) and Lazarus is unique to Luke’s Gospel. The Lazarus here is not Mary and Martha’s brother from Bethany, incidentally. The feast day of this Lazarus is June 21 and that of Lazarus of Bethany is December 17.

Luke 16:19-31

16:19 “There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day.

16:20 And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores,

16:21 who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores.

16:22 The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried.

16:23 In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side.

16:24 He called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames.’

16:25 But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony.

16:26 Besides all this, between you and us a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so, and no one can cross from there to us.’

16:27 He said, ‘Then, father, I beg you to send him to my father’s house–

16:28 for I have five brothers–that he may warn them, so that they will not also come into this place of torment.’

16:29 Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.’

16:30 He said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’

16:31 He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.'”

How true!

Pray for those who mock Scripture; may they come to believe it or suffer eternal judgement.

What follows are the readings for the Fourteenth Sunday after Trinity — the Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost — September 22, 2019.

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

There are two choices for the First Reading and Psalm. I have differentiated these by using blue in the headings for the alternative option.

Emphases below are mine.

First reading

We return to Jeremiah. Although the prophet knows that God’s judgement on His people is righteous, he is deeply saddened. Matthew Henry’s commentary says, ‘Mercies abused are forfeited, and it is just with God to take the forfeiture’. Gilead was a place not far from them, but even its balm could not heal their spiritual wantonness. Henry says that Christ is our spiritual physician and His blood our balm of Gilead. He came to save sinners, not bring about temporal rescue.

Jeremiah 8:18-9:1

8:18 My joy is gone, grief is upon me, my heart is sick.

8:19 Hark, the cry of my poor people from far and wide in the land: “Is the LORD not in Zion? Is her King not in her?” (“Why have they provoked me to anger with their images, with their foreign idols?”)

8:20 “The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and we are not saved.”

8:21 For the hurt of my poor people I am hurt, I mourn, and dismay has taken hold of me.

8:22 Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there? Why then has the health of my poor people not been restored?

9:1 O that my head were a spring of water, and my eyes a fountain of tears, so that I might weep day and night for the slain of my poor people!

Psalm

This Psalm was likely written by Asaph or one of his sons. Interestingly, Matthew Henry says that Jeremiah borrowed verses 6 and 7 (Jeremiah 10). We do not know the exact circumstances surrounding the Psalm other than to pray it in times of desperation which call for repentance.

Psalm 79:1-9

79:1 O God, the nations have come into your inheritance; they have defiled your holy temple; they have laid Jerusalem in ruins.

79:2 They have given the bodies of your servants to the birds of the air for food, the flesh of your faithful to the wild animals of the earth.

79:3 They have poured out their blood like water all around Jerusalem, and there was no one to bury them.

79:4 We have become a taunt to our neighbors, mocked and derided by those around us.

79:5 How long, O LORD? Will you be angry forever? Will your jealous wrath burn like fire?

79:6 Pour out your anger on the nations that do not know you, and on the kingdoms that do not call on your name.

79:7 For they have devoured Jacob and laid waste his habitation.

79:8 Do not remember against us the iniquities of our ancestors; let your compassion come speedily to meet us, for we are brought very low.

79:9 Help us, O God of our salvation, for the glory of your name; deliver us, and forgive our sins, for your name’s sake.

First reading – alternate

The Lord was angry with His people for their idolatry and for cheating the poor.

Amos 8:4-7

8:4 Hear this, you that trample on the needy, and bring to ruin the poor of the land,

8:5 saying, “When will the new moon be over so that we may sell grain; and the sabbath, so that we may offer wheat for sale? We will make the ephah small and the shekel great, and practice deceit with false balances,

8:6 buying the poor for silver and the needy for a pair of sandals, and selling the sweepings of the wheat.”

8:7 The LORD has sworn by the pride of Jacob: Surely I will never forget any of their deeds.

Psalm – alternate

May we always remember to praise and glorify God, our Maker and giver of all good things in this transitory life.

Psalm 113

113:1 Praise the LORD! Praise, O servants of the LORD; praise the name of the LORD.

113:2 Blessed be the name of the LORD from this time on and forevermore.

113:3 From the rising of the sun to its setting the name of the LORD is to be praised.

113:4 The LORD is high above all nations, and his glory above the heavens.

113:5 Who is like the LORD our God, who is seated on high,

113:6 who looks far down on the heavens and the earth?

113:7 He raises the poor from the dust, and lifts the needy from the ash heap,

113:8 to make them sit with princes, with the princes of his people.

113:9 He gives the barren woman a home, making her the joyous mother of children. Praise the LORD!

Epistle

Paul explains to Timothy that God desires our prayers for those in authority over us.

1 Timothy 2:1-7

2:1 First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone,

2:2 for kings and all who are in high positions, so that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity.

2:3 This is right and is acceptable in the sight of God our Savior,

2:4 who desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.

2:5 For there is one God; there is also one mediator between God and humankind, Christ Jesus, himself human,

2:6 who gave himself a ransom for all–this was attested at the right time.

2:7 For this I was appointed a herald and an apostle (I am telling the truth, I am not lying), a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth.

Gospel

We return to Luke’s Gospel. This parable is much better in the older translations, e.g.:

13 No servant can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.

Everything we have in this life is on loan; we are but stewards of it. We cannot rely on them and God. God should always be foremost in our hearts and minds. Matthew Henry has an excellent explanation of the finer details of this parable.

Luke 16:1-13

16:1 Then Jesus said to the disciples, “There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was squandering his property.

16:2 So he summoned him and said to him, ‘What is this that I hear about you? Give me an accounting of your management, because you cannot be my manager any longer.’

16:3 Then the manager said to himself, ‘What will I do, now that my master is taking the position away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg.

16:4 I have decided what to do so that, when I am dismissed as manager, people may welcome me into their homes.’

16:5 So, summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he asked the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’

16:6 He answered, ‘A hundred jugs of olive oil.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it fifty.’

16:7 Then he asked another, ‘And how much do you owe?’ He replied, ‘A hundred containers of wheat.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill and make it eighty.’

16:8 And his master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly; for the children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light.

16:9 And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes.

16:10 “Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and whoever is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much.

16:11 If then you have not been faithful with the dishonest wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches?

16:12 And if you have not been faithful with what belongs to another, who will give you what is your own?

16:13 No slave can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.”

I hope that everyone reading this has a blessed Sunday.

What follows are the readings for the Thirteenth Sunday after Trinity — Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost — September 15, 2019.

This particular day is also known as Holy Cross Sunday. Note in particular the event in the reading from Numbers and our Lord’s citation of it in the Gospel.

Readings follow for Year C in the three-year Lectionary used in public worship.

There are two choices for the Psalm. I have differentiated these by using blue in the headings for the alternative option.

Emphases below are mine.

First reading

The Israelites grow impatient with the way God is leading them, via Moses, to the Promised Land. He has given them everything according to His will, e.g. more than enough manna, but they complain. As a judgement, He sends serpents to bite some of them but gives Moses the antidote via the mounted brass serpent. Those who look at it are healed, perhaps because they need to gaze towards Heaven. Note the Gospel reading wherein Jesus cites this event.

Numbers 21:4b-9

21:4b but the people became impatient on the way.

21:5 The people spoke against God and against Moses, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we detest this miserable food.”

21:6 Then the LORD sent poisonous serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many Israelites died.

21:7 The people came to Moses and said, “We have sinned by speaking against the LORD and against you; pray to the LORD to take away the serpents from us.” So Moses prayed for the people.

21:8 And the LORD said to Moses, “Make a poisonous serpent, and set it on a pole; and everyone who is bitten shall look at it and live.”

21:9 So Moses made a serpent of bronze, and put it upon a pole; and whenever a serpent bit someone, that person would look at the serpent of bronze and live.

Psalm

This beautiful Psalm prophesies the Messiah, God’s only begotten Son. Let us be glad and rejoice of His victory over sin and death for our sakes.

Psalm 98:1-5

98:1 O sing to the LORD a new song, for he has done marvelous things. His right hand and his holy arm have gotten him victory.

98:2 The LORD has made known his victory; he has revealed his vindication in the sight of the nations.

98:3 He has remembered his steadfast love and faithfulness to the house of Israel. All the ends of the earth have seen the victory of our God.

98:4 Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth; break forth into joyous song and sing praises.

98:5 Sing praises to the LORD with the lyre, with the lyre and the sound of melody.

Psalm — alternate

This Psalm recalls the times when the Israelites tried God’s patience to the extreme. Yet, in His mercy, He forgave them.

Psalm 78:1-2, 34-38

78:1 Give ear, O my people, to my teaching; incline your ears to the words of my mouth.

78:2 I will open my mouth in a parable; I will utter dark sayings from of old,

78:34 When he killed them, they sought for him; they repented and sought God earnestly.

78:35 They remembered that God was their rock, the Most High God their redeemer.

78:36 But they flattered him with their mouths; they lied to him with their tongues.

78:37 Their heart was not steadfast toward him; they were not true to his covenant.

78:38 Yet he, being compassionate, forgave their iniquity, and did not destroy them; often he restrained his anger, and did not stir up all his wrath.

Epistle

This reading is very apt for our times. I know many unbelievers, most of whom think the Cross implies that Jesus died and that was the end. They do not understand the full import of the Crucifixion, the one perfect sacrifice for our sins. They think believers are stupid. They, wilfully or otherwise, also refuse to accept that He rose from the dead.

1 Corinthians 1:18-24

1:18 For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

1:19 For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”

1:20 Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?

1:21 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who believe.

1:22 For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom,

1:23 but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles,

1:24 but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.

Gospel

Speaking of the aforementioned judgement in Numbers (in the first reading) Jesus says that He came to heal sinners. The serpent is sin and Satan. Jesus provides an analogy. His forthcoming death on the Cross will serve for believers as the brass serpent did for the Israelites: deliver them from the ravages of sin and death. On the third day, He rose from the dead. Forty days later, He ascended into Heaven, where He sits at the right hand of the Father.

John 3:13-17

3:13 No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man.

3:14 And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up,

3:15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.

3:16 For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.

3:17 Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.

I hope that Sunday’s sermons around the world will be powerful ones, as that Gospel reading is essential to Christian belief. May those with hardened hearts read it and meditate carefully on our Lord’s words.

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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

Acts 28:30-31

30 He lived there two whole years at his own expense,[a] and welcomed all who came to him, 31 proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance.

———————————————————————————————————

Last week’s entry discussed Paul’s discourse to the Jews of Rome.

Some translations of Acts 28 have a verse 29:

And when he had said these words, the Jews departed, and had great disputing among themselves.

One can imagine that, verse 29 or not, they no doubt parsed Paul’s words and debated his message intensely.

Now we come to the end of St Luke’s Book of Acts, a tremendous Spirit-inspired account of the growth of the early Church after the first Pentecost. Those who have not followed the passages excluded from the three-year Lectionary can find the relevant entries and exegeses on my Essential Bible Verses page beginning with Acts 2:12-13, which is nearly three years old now. It’s amazing how time flies.

Returning to today’s verses, Luke tells us that Paul remained in Rome for two years, living at his own expense, even though he was a prisoner of Caesar’s, and welcomed all who came to him (verse 30).

It is possible that he did have his case heard before Nero, who, at that time, did not have a particular issue with Christians preaching. His prohibition on such preaching came later.

Our commentators have diverging views on what happened during these two years with regard to Paul’s case.

Matthew Henry offers the possibilities that the Roman justice system either forgot about him or that he was indeed tried more than once (emphases mine):

Two whole years of that good man’s life are here spent in confinement, and, for aught that appears, he was never enquired after, all that time, by those whose prisoner he was. He appealed to Cæsar, in hope of a speedy discharge from his imprisonment, the governors having signified to his imperial majesty concerning the prisoner that he had done nothing worthy of death or bonds, and yet he is detained a prisoner. So little reason have we to trust in men, especially despised prisoners in great men; witness the case of Joseph, whom the chief butler remembered not, but forgot, Genesis 40:23. Yet some think that though it be not mentioned here, yet it was in the former of these two years, and early too in that year, that he was first brought before Nero, and then his bonds in Christ were manifest in Cæsar’s court, as he says, Philippians 1:13. And at this first answer it was that no man stood by him, 2 Timothy 4:16. But it seems, instead of being set at liberty upon this appeal, as he expected, he hardly escaped out of the emperor’s hands with his life; he calls it a deliverance out of the mouth of the lion, 2 Timothy 4:17, and his speaking there of his first answer intimates that since that he had a second, in which he had come off better, and yet was not discharged.

John MacArthur thinks that the Roman justice system was merely slow:

So, I did a little research, and I found some interesting things. Historians note that long delays were very common in first-century trials in the Roman government, because of the tremendous backup of trials that they had. They had a court system something like ours, and people kept getting stacked up, and trials were put off; only they didn’t let them out, they kept them in jail. Also, isn’t it likely that the records of all of the information about him that must have been sent from the Roman governor in Judea had been lost in the shipwreck?

And sending back to get more records, and then sending the records back again, was a many-month problem. In addition to that, Roman law required that the accusers, or those that were prosecuting the case, be in Rome to accuse him. And I told you before that I have serious doubts whether any of those Jews would have come to Rome to persecute Paul, because of the fact that they knew they had no case. Now, it is most likely that there was eighteen-month or a twenty-four month statutory period in which the prosecution must state his case.

At the end of that time, if the case had not been stated, the prisoner would be released. It is my conviction, at the end of those two years Paul was released, and for a period of time, ministered yet. Then was made a prisoner again, for the final time, and that was the time in which he was beheaded. Roman law dealt very very, very harshly with unsuccessful prosecutions, and so, there just never was one. And so, for two years he was free to minister. Those were busy two years. You know what he did in these two years? Led a whole bunch of people to Christ.

Luke ends Acts by saying that Paul preached about Jesus Christ and the kingdom of God boldly and without hindrance (verse 31).

Paul also wrote letters to the churches.

Henry tells us:

During these two years’ imprisonment he wrote his epistle to the Galatians, then his second epistle to Timothy, then those to the Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and to Philemon, in which he mentions several things particularly concerning his imprisonment; and, lastly, his epistle to the Hebrews just after he was set at liberty, as Timothy also was, who, coming to visit him, was upon some account or other made his fellow-prisoner (with whom, writes Paul to the Hebrews, Hebrews 13:23, if he come shortly, I will see you), but how or by what means he obtained his liberty we are not told, only that two years he was a prisoner.

MacArthur does not think that Paul wrote Hebrews, which I will discuss more this week, as it is the next book I intend to write about.

However, MacArthur has a bit more, including the names of people who were with him at least some of that time:

He wrote the book of Colossians, he wrote the book of Philemon, he wrote the book of Ephesians, and he wrote the book of Philippians. Everybody came and went. In Colossians, he tells them that Aristarchus is with him, Luke is with him, Mark is with him, Jesus Justus is with him, Epaphras is with him, Demas is with him. He was having a terrific time. In Philippians, he tells about what was going on. Philippians 1, he tells about the salvation that’s going on, and he’s just having a great time.

He further talks about his blessing, and how the gospel is spreading. Chapter 2, verse 24, he says, “It’s not going to be long; then I’ll come and see you Philippians.” And he apparently is realizing that the imprisonment is kind of winding down. His bonds – verse 1 – chapter 1:13 – are being manifest in all the palace. Chapter 4, the saints of Caesar’s household greet you. So people were being saved, and great things were happening. He was then likely released, had a ministry of travel, came back as a prisoner.

In his final imprisonment, he wrote 1-2 Timothy and Titus. Probably about four years later, and outside, on the road to Ostia, he was finally beheaded.

Henry says that Paul might have realised his goal of evangelising in Spain, although we cannot be certain:

Tradition says that after his discharge he went from Italy to Spain, thence to Crete, and so with Timothy into Judea, and thence went to visit the churches in Asia, and at length came a second time to Rome, and there was beheaded in the last year of Nero. But Baronius himself owns that there is no certainty of any thing concerning him betwixt his release from this imprisonment and his martyrdom

As for Nero’s volte face, Henry tells us what two of the early Church fathers — Tertullian and Chrysostom — wrote. The latter gave an account of one of the emperor’s mistresses who became a Christian and renounced her wicked ways, which enraged Nero:

… it is said by some that Nero, having, when he began to play the tyrant, set himself against the Christians, and persecuted them (and he was the first of the emperors that made a law against them, as Tertullian says, Apol. cap. 5), the church at Rome was much weakened by that persecution, and this brought Paul the second time to Rome, to re-establish the church there, and to comfort the souls of the disciples that were left, and so he fell a second time into Nero’s hand. And Chrysostom relates that a young woman that was one of Nero’s misses (to speak modishly) being converted, by Paul’s preaching, to the Christian faith, and so brought off from the lewd course of life she had lived, Nero was incensed against Paul for it, and ordered him first to be imprisoned, and then put to death.

As for takeaways from Paul’s ministry in Rome — and elsewhere — MacArthur says:

Let me sum this up this way. What does this teach us about evangelism? Just note these things, will you, on your outline? Let me make a statement about. What do we learn about his effective evangelism? … Where did he preach? Anywhere.

And how did he preach? I’m going to give you three thoughts. Number one, he preached lovingly. Notice verses 17 to 20. Remember how conciliating he was to the Jews, how loving he was? How he said, “I have no accusation against my nation – in spite of all that’s been done to me?” He preached lovingly. Second, he preached biblically. He expounded and testified the kingdom of God, as it was recorded in the law of Moses and out of the prophets, verse 23. He preached biblically. It wasn’t his opinion; it was biblical truth applied and fulfilled in the Messiah.

He also preached doctrinally. That is, he taught the great doctrines of the kingdom – verse 31. The things concerning the Lord Jesus Christ. Verse 23 indicates he taught concerning the kingdom of God. He preached lovingly, biblically and doctrinally. When did he preach? When? Number one – promptly. Give you four thoughts. He preached promptly; verse 17, after three days he began. Second thing, tirelessly; verse 23, he preached from morning till evening, tirelessly. Thirdly, he preached incessantly; for two whole years he preached, verse 30 and 31.

And I like it at the end of verse 31: “with all confidence” – he preached boldly. When did he preach? Promptly, tirelessly, incessantly, and with great boldness. That’s just kind of an addition. To whom did he preach? Verse 17, to the Jews; verse 28, to the Gentiles; to anybody. And what did he preach? What was Paul’s message? Verse 23, persuading them concerning Jesus. Verse 31, teaching the things concerning the Lord Jesus Christ. He preached Jesus, that’s who he preached.

People, what does that say to us? Where are we to preach? Wherever we are. How are we to preach? Lovingly, biblically, doctrinally. When are we to preach? Promptly, tirelessly, incessantly, and with boldness. To whom are we to preach? Jew or Gentile; anybody. And what are we to preach? Jesus Christ. And what are the results? The results are exciting. Verse 24, some believed; some believed. Verse 29, some argued and went away. Some believe and some do not.

There is another important point. Rome then was not unlike some of the world’s great cities today. It was degenerate. It had a few rich people and a lot of poor people. The Romans also owned slaves. Yet, Paul never preached a social gospel.

MacArthur describes the city and Paul’s approach:

As Paul entered the city, he would have seen the temple of Jupiter, which stood out and dominated the city. There was no Coliseum in Rome at the time of Paul. He would have seen on the Palatine hill the three houses of Augustus Tiberius and Caligula, which now had been tied together to make one formidable and massive palace, the home of Nero. He would have seen the great temple of Mars.

And all of this would have spoken to him of the degeneracy, and the idolatry and paganism, of this great city. Rome had become the center of paganism, and the center of decadence, and it was on its way down. The population of Rome at the time when Paul arrived would be approximately two million people; two million people confined to a very small area. Historians tell us that one million of them were slaves, and the other million of them were known as citizens. That is, they were legitimate citizens.

The vast majority of them were absolutely penniless, paupers who slept in the street, and who slept upon the parapets, and whatever else they could find, outdoors in the city of Rome, because they had absolutely nothing. But they were citizens, and they had citizenship, and consequently, they lorded it over the slaves. But nearly all of the two million people were absolute paupers – both the slaves and the citizens – and all of the money resided in the hands of a very few. There were 700 senators – once there was a thousand, but that had begun to degenerate.

There were 10,000 knights, 15,000 soldiers, and then a handful or so of dignitaries, and that was pretty much it. And all of the finances, and all of the power, rested with those people, and the mass of the two-million people existed in abject poverty. This bred all kinds of decadence. The great mass of paupers, who were even proud of their citizenship, held the slaves in contempt beneath them, and of course, there were constant slave revolts. Thousands of these poor people had no homes, and their lives were totally amoral.

Into this melee of depraved and deprived humanity came the apostle Paul, the messenger of the Lord Jesus Christ. And his interest in Rome was not sociological, it was not economic, it was not cultural; it was purely evangelism. He desired to win them to Jesus Christ and to mature the Christians.

Paul’s example demonstrates why today’s focus on the social gospel is wrong.

Paul did not preach about revolt.

Paul did not advocate reparations.

Paul preached the Good News of Jesus Christ and the promise of eternal life to those who believe.

May we, therefore, learn from his ministry and do likewise ourselves.

Next time — Hebrews 1:13-14

What follows are readings for the Seventh Sunday after Trinity — Eighth Sunday after Pentecost — August 4, 2019.

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

There are two choices for the First Reading and Psalm. I have differentiated these by using blue in the headings for the alternative option.

Emphases below are mine.

First reading

Last week’s reading was from Hosea 1. This one is near the end of the book, with the Lord explaining why He will not abandon Israel, despite the people’s unfaithfulness. Again, Judah remained faithful. It would have helped if the Lectionary compilers had included verse 12, which adds more context:

12 [a] Ephraim has surrounded me with lies,
    and the house of Israel with deceit,
but Judah still walks with God
    and is faithful to the Holy One.

Now on to Sunday’s reading:

Hosea 11:1-11

11:1 When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son.

11:2 The more I called them, the more they went from me; they kept sacrificing to the Baals, and offering incense to idols.

11:3 Yet it was I who taught Ephraim to walk, I took them up in my arms; but they did not know that I healed them.

11:4 I led them with cords of human kindness, with bands of love. I was to them like those who lift infants to their cheeks. I bent down to them and fed them.

11:5 They shall return to the land of Egypt, and Assyria shall be their king, because they have refused to return to me.

11:6 The sword rages in their cities, it consumes their oracle-priests, and devours because of their schemes.

11:7 My people are bent on turning away from me. To the Most High they call, but he does not raise them up at all.

11:8 How can I give you up, Ephraim? How can I hand you over, O Israel? How can I make you like Admah? How can I treat you like Zeboiim? My heart recoils within me; my compassion grows warm and tender.

11:9 I will not execute my fierce anger; I will not again destroy Ephraim; for I am God and no mortal, the Holy One in your midst, and I will not come in wrath.

11:10 They shall go after the LORD, who roars like a lion; when he roars, his children shall come trembling from the west.

11:11 They shall come trembling like birds from Egypt, and like doves from the land of Assyria; and I will return them to their homes, says the LORD.

Psalm

The Psalm praises and thanks the Lord for delivering the faithful from trouble and distress.

Psalm 107:1-9, 43

107:1 O give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever.

107:2 Let the redeemed of the LORD say so, those he redeemed from trouble

107:3 and gathered in from the lands, from the east and from the west, from the north and from the south.

107:4 Some wandered in desert wastes, finding no way to an inhabited town;

107:5 hungry and thirsty, their soul fainted within them.

107:6 Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress;

107:7 he led them by a straight way, until they reached an inhabited town.

107:8 Let them thank the LORD for his steadfast love, for his wonderful works to humankind.

107:9 For he satisfies the thirsty, and the hungry he fills with good things.

107:43 Let those who are wise give heed to these things, and consider the steadfast love of the LORD.

First reading — alternative

Many readers will be familiar with this reading, which chides those who put faith in earthly riches rather than the life to come. Solomon refers to himself as ‘I, the Teacher’.

Ecclesiastes 1:2, 12-14; 2:18-23

1:2 Vanity of vanities, says the Teacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity.

1:12 I, the Teacher, when king over Israel in Jerusalem,

1:13 applied my mind to seek and to search out by wisdom all that is done under heaven; it is an unhappy business that God has given to human beings to be busy with.

1:14 I saw all the deeds that are done under the sun; and see, all is vanity and a chasing after wind.

2:18 I hated all my toil in which I had toiled under the sun, seeing that I must leave it to those who come after me

2:19 –and who knows whether they will be wise or foolish? Yet they will be master of all for which I toiled and used my wisdom under the sun. This also is vanity.

2:20 So I turned and gave my heart up to despair concerning all the toil of my labors under the sun,

2:21 because sometimes one who has toiled with wisdom and knowledge and skill must leave all to be enjoyed by another who did not toil for it. This also is vanity and a great evil.

2:22 What do mortals get from all the toil and strain with which they toil under the sun?

2:23 For all their days are full of pain, and their work is a vexation; even at night their minds do not rest. This also is vanity.

Psalm — alternative

This Psalm is an exhortation to stop focussing on the world and turn to God instead.

Psalm 49:1-12

49:1 Hear this, all you peoples; give ear, all inhabitants of the world,

49:2 both low and high, rich and poor together.

49:3 My mouth shall speak wisdom; the meditation of my heart shall be understanding.

49:4 I will incline my ear to a proverb; I will solve my riddle to the music of the harp.

49:5 Why should I fear in times of trouble, when the iniquity of my persecutors surrounds me,

49:6 those who trust in their wealth and boast of the abundance of their riches?

49:7 Truly, no ransom avails for one’s life, there is no price one can give to God for it.

49:8 For the ransom of life is costly, and can never suffice

49:9 that one should live on forever and never see the grave.

49:10 When we look at the wise, they die; fool and dolt perish together and leave their wealth to others.

49:11 Their graves are their homes forever, their dwelling places to all generations, though they named lands their own.

49:12 Mortals cannot abide in their pomp; they are like the animals that perish.

Epistle

Paul exhorts the Colossians to put away all worldliness and turn to Christ, thereby turning to God.

Colossians 3:1-11

3:1 So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.

3:2 Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth,

3:3 for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.

3:4 When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory.

3:5 Put to death, therefore, whatever in you is earthly: fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed (which is idolatry).

3:6 On account of these the wrath of God is coming on those who are disobedient.

3:7 These are the ways you also once followed, when you were living that life.

3:8 But now you must get rid of all such things–anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive language from your mouth.

3:9 Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have stripped off the old self with its practices

3:10 and have clothed yourselves with the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator.

3:11 In that renewal there is no longer Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free; but Christ is all and in all!

Gospel

In this parable, Jesus warns against a life full of unshared possessions instead of preparing for the life to come.

Luke 12:13-21

12:13 Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.”

12:14 But he said to him, “Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?”

12:15 And he said to them, “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.”

12:16 Then he told them a parable: “The land of a rich man produced abundantly.

12:17 And he thought to himself, ‘What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?’

12:18 Then he said, ‘I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods.

12:19 And I will say to my soul, ‘Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’

12:20 But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’

12:21 So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.”

These readings can easily be turned into Social Justice Warrior sermons, which, no doubt, they will be in many churches.

However, the more pertinent message is to ignore the trappings of this world, including vulgar appetites, and prepare for eternal life through Jesus Christ.

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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

Acts 28:23-28

23 When they had appointed a day for him, they came to him at his lodging in greater numbers. From morning till evening he expounded to them, testifying to the kingdom of God and trying to convince them about Jesus both from the Law of Moses and from the Prophets. 24 And some were convinced by what he said, but others disbelieved. 25 And disagreeing among themselves, they departed after Paul had made one statement: “The Holy Spirit was right in saying to your fathers through Isaiah the prophet:

26 “‘Go to this people, and say,
“You will indeed hear but never understand,
    and you will indeed see but never perceive.”
27 For this people’s heart has grown dull,
    and with their ears they can barely hear,
    and their eyes they have closed;
lest they should see with their eyes
    and hear with their ears
and understand with their heart
    and turn, and I would heal them.’

28 Therefore let it be known to you that this salvation of God has been sent to the Gentiles; they will listen.”[a]

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Last week’s entry discussed the Roman Jews’ request for more information on Christianity, which they called a ‘sect’.

Before delving into today’s passage, John MacArthur makes an excellent observation not only about the content of Acts 28 but also about the entire Book of Acts (emphases mine):

the whole book of Acts is the story of God’s final striving with the Hebrew people. From the time that God called Abraham and founded the nation, He has been striving with Israel.

Historically, throughout all of the Old Testament, Israel failed to live up to the information and the revelation that they had. They grieved the heart of God, they wounded His heart, they broke His heart, and judgment after judgment after judgment after judgment came. There were several captivities that came. One tragic note in the history of Israel was when the entire northern kingdom just disintegrated. Israel was just continually failing to live up to the covenant with God. And yet God was gracious, and Christ finally came.

And first, John the Baptist announced it to Israel. Then, Christ came first to Israel. Then, at the day of Pentecost, when the church was born, the Spirit of God was sent to the midst of Israel. As the church scattered, the apostle Paul went into town, and he went first to Israel, into the synagogues. And finally, now we come to Rome; the last solemn abandonment of Israel. It was only 10 years later – or less – from the record of this passage, that the Roman eagles stormed into Jerusalem, and destroyed Judaism, for good.

What we have today that is called Judaism is only a faint shadow of what Judaism was. It was destroyed in 70 A.D. This is the last solemn, biblical warning to Israel. This is the last time God ever went to the Jew first, right here. Now, the words that Paul quotes in this passage are taken from Isaiah 6. Isaiah spoke them at a time when Israel was in sin. Our Lord Jesus spoke them in Matthew 13, showing the kingdom would be taken from Israel. John quotes the same words in John, chapter 12, and now Paul quotes them.

The prominent Jews in Rome went to Paul’s lodgings on an appointed day to hear what he had to say about Christianity (verse 23). In his love for them, which he had for all Jews — even those who wanted to kill him, as Luke documented throughout Acts — Paul spent hours trying to persuade them that Jesus is the Messiah. He cited the Pentateuch — the first five books from Moses — and he cited the prophets.

I cannot imagine how passionately yet rationally Paul, a converted Pharisee, laid this out. He would have felt duty bound from his heart. He wanted so much to persuade these Jews, his brothers, to believe.

He succeeded with some, but not with all (verse 24).

They left after Paul cited Isaiah 6:9-10 (verses 26, 27), which Paul prefaced by saying that the Holy Spirit was correct about those to whom Isaiah prophesied (verse 25).

In effect, Paul asked them to really consider that one last message. Paul was saying that what had happened to their forefathers will happen to them if they do not heed his discourse. God would make them spiritually blind with no way back.

Matthew Henry’s commentary says:

He perceived by what they muttered that there were many among them, and perhaps the greater part, that were obstinate, and would not yield to the conviction of what he said; and they were getting up to be gone, they had had enough of it: “Hold,” says Paul, “take one word with you before you go, and consider of it when you come home: what do you think will be the effect of your obstinate infidelity? What will you do in the end hereof? What will it come to?”

1. “You will by the righteous judgment of God be sealed up under unbelief. You harden your own hearts, and God will harden them as he did Pharaoh’s’; and this is what was prophesied of concerning you. Turn to that scripture (Isaiah 6:9,10), and read it seriously, and tremble lest the case there described should prove to be your case.” As there are in the Old Testament gospel promises, which will be accomplished in all that believe, so there are gospel threatenings of spiritual judgments, which will be fulfilled in those that believe not; and this is one. It is part of the commission given to Isaiah the prophet; he is sent to make those worse that would not be made better. Well spoke the Holy Ghost by Esaias the prophet unto our fathers. What was spoken by JEHOVAH is here said to be spoken by the Holy Ghost, which proves that the Holy Ghost is God; and what was spoken to Isaiah is here said to be spoken by him to their fathers, for he was ordered to tell the people what God said to him; and, though what is there said had in it much of terror to the people and of grief to the prophet, yet it is here said to be well spoken. Hezekiah said concerning a message of wrath, Good is the word of the Lord which thou hast spoken, Isaiah 39:8. And he that believes not shall be damned is gospel, as well as, He that believes shall be saved, Mark 16:16. Or this may be explained by that of our Saviour (Matthew 15:7), “Well did Esaias prophesy of you. The Holy Ghost said to your fathers, that which would be fulfilled in you, Hearing you shall hear, and shall not understand.” (1.) “That which was their great sin against God is yours; and that is this, you will not see. You shut your eyes against the most convincing evidence possible, and will not admit the conclusion, though you cannot deny the premises: Your eyes you have closed,” Acts 28:27. This intimates an obstinate infidelity, and a willing slavery to prejudice. “As your fathers would not see God’s hand lifted up against them in his judgments (Isaiah 26:11), so you will not see God’s hand stretched out to you in gospel grace.”

MacArthur has this analysis:

Isaiah, Jesus, John, and Paul all quote the very same words. What do they say? Look at verse 25: “And when they had agreed not among themselves, they departed.” Boy, that is so tragic. That is the last Biblical abandonment of Israel, after Paul had spoken one word. Here’s what drove them away: “Well spoke the Holy Spirit by Isaiah the prophet unto our fathers.” There’s a note on inspiration, the Holy Spirit speaking through Isaiah.

This is what He said: “Go unto this people, and say, ‘Hearing you shall hear, and shall not understand; and seeing you shall see, and not perceive: For the heart of this people is become fat’” – or obtuse – “‘and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes have they closed; lest they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them.’” You’ll notice verse 27 says: “They closed their ears, they closed their eyes, they sealed up their understanding.”

Verse 26 says: “Now they can’t hear, now they can’t understand.” What began as a willful act turned into the sovereignty of God. Israel rejected, willfully blinded themselves, willfully deafened themselves, willfully did not understand, and consequently were tied to that kind of destiny, as God sealed their ears, their eyes, and their minds. Turn for a minute with me to John 12, and I just want to show you the similar passage here, and point some things out to you.

… Now, what began as willful blindness turned into sovereign blindness; frightening. They did not in verse 37; they could not in verse 39. He who will not believe may find some day that he cannot believe.

Paul closed by saying that the Gentiles would hear the Gospel message and, therefore, salvation is theirs (verse 28).

MacArthur explains, still citing John 12:

Verse 30: “The Gentiles who followed not after righteousness, have attained to righteousness.” Verse 31: ”But Israel has failed.” Now, all of that to show that God turns to the Gentiles, but notice carefully, chapter 11, verse 17: “And if some of the branches be broken off” – now, the branches here are Israel, and the root or the trunk is the blessing of God. “If some of the branches are broken off, and thou, being a wild olive tree, were grafted in among them.”

In other words, the Gentile is the wild olive tree grafted into the trunk of God’s blessing; the Jews are the ones cut off. Verse 18: “Boast not against the branches.” In other words, just because the Gentiles have been grafted in is no cause for us to boast against the Jews. Verse 19: “Thou wilt say then, ‘The branches were broken off, that I might be grafted in.’” You think you’re better than the Jews? Well, because of unbelief they were broken off, and you stand by faith. “Be not highminded, but fear: For if God spared not the natural branches, take heed lest He also spare not you.”

You see? Now, be careful that you don’t become overmuch proud, or God may just cut you off. “Behold therefore the goodness and severity of God: on them who fell, severity; and toward thee, goodness, if you continue in His goodness: otherwise thou shalt also be cut off.” And here he’s talking about the total of the Gentiles. “And they also, if they abide not still in unbelief, shall be grafted in.” Now, notice that? Israel will be re-grafted in if they believe. “For God is able to graft them in again.

“For if you were cut out of the olive tree which is wild by nature, and grafted contrary to nature into a good olive tree” – you’re not even a normal olive tree, you’re a wild one – “how much more shall these, who are the natural branches, be grafted into their own olive tree?” Listen, the end of verse 25: “blindness in part has happened to Israel, only until the fullness of the Gentiles be come in” – until the completion of the church. “And so all Israel shall be saved.” Listen, God will graft in Israel again.

And so, we see that He’s not ultimately through with them, because that would be to break His eternal covenants. But for the time being, God has set Israel aside, the kingdom is postponed, and the Gentiles are drawn to Him. Verse 28: “Be it known therefore unto you, that the salvation of God is sent to the Gentiles, and they will hear it.” Now, this has happened over and over again in the book of Acts: chapter 11, verse 18; chapter 13, verse 46 and 47; chapter 14:27; 15, verses 14 to 18; and chapter 18, verse 6; we see this move to the Gentiles.

Does this ruin God’s plan? No. It didn’t ruin His plan. God will restore Israel. So, we see the inversion, the reversal; and we are the recipients of the blessing of that reversal: Gentiles who believe.

Pray that all unbelievers — not only the Jews — come to believe that Jesus Christ is Lord. I often wonder if some atheists have had a sovereign judgement placed on them. I hope not, but the thought of such a judgement is, as MacArthur says, ‘frightening’.

Next week’s post ends this study of Acts and discusses the rest of Paul’s time in Rome.

Next time — Acts 28:30-31

What follows are the readings for the Sixth Sunday after Trinity — Seventh Sunday after Pentecost — July 28, 2019.

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

There are two choices for the First Reading and Psalm. I have differentiated these by using blue in the headings for the alternative option.

Emphases below are mine.

First reading

For this Sunday and next, readings are from the first chapter of Hosea, a minor prophet in terms of writings left behind rather than preaching, according to Matthew Henry. Hosea preached for 70 years and lived at the same time as Isaiah. He was the first to prophesy of the destruction of the ten tribes, an event he lived to see. Here the Lord gives Hosea instructions on his family. Matthew Henry’s commentary is excellent. This is a judgement not on Hosea personally but on his tribe, who turned adulterous in preferring idolatry to worshipping the Lord God. Gomer, the name of Hosea’s wife, means ‘corruption’. Her surname, Diblaim, means ‘two cakes’ or ‘two figs’ which are so rotten that they cannot be eaten.

Hosea 1:2-10

1:2 When the LORD first spoke through Hosea, the LORD said to Hosea, “Go, take for yourself a wife of whoredom and have children of whoredom, for the land commits great whoredom by forsaking the LORD.”

1:3 So he went and took Gomer daughter of Diblaim, and she conceived and bore him a son.

1:4 And the LORD said to him, “Name him Jezreel; for in a little while I will punish the house of Jehu for the blood of Jezreel, and I will put an end to the kingdom of the house of Israel.

1:5 On that day I will break the bow of Israel in the valley of Jezreel.”

1:6 She conceived again and bore a daughter. Then the LORD said to him, “Name her Lo-ruhamah, for I will no longer have pity on the house of Israel or forgive them.

1:7 But I will have pity on the house of Judah, and I will save them by the LORD their God; I will not save them by bow, or by sword, or by war, or by horses, or by horsemen.”

1:8 When she had weaned Lo-ruhamah, she conceived and bore a son.

1:9 Then the LORD said, “Name him Lo-ammi, for you are not my people and I am not your God.”

1:10 Yet the number of the people of Israel shall be like the sand of the sea, which can be neither measured nor numbered; and in the place where it was said to them, “You are not my people,” it shall be said to them, “Children of the living God.”

Psalm

This Psalm was written after the Jews were delivered out of Babylon. The petitions are for release of God’s remaining judgement upon them.

Psalm 85

85:1 LORD, you were favorable to your land; you restored the fortunes of Jacob.

85:2 You forgave the iniquity of your people; you pardoned all their sin. Selah

85:3 You withdrew all your wrath; you turned from your hot anger.

85:4 Restore us again, O God of our salvation, and put away your indignation toward us.

85:5 Will you be angry with us forever? Will you prolong your anger to all generations?

85:6 Will you not revive us again, so that your people may rejoice in you?

85:7 Show us your steadfast love, O LORD, and grant us your salvation.

85:8 Let me hear what God the LORD will speak, for he will speak peace to his people, to his faithful, to those who turn to him in their hearts.

85:9 Surely his salvation is at hand for those who fear him, that his glory may dwell in our land.

85:10 Steadfast love and faithfulness will meet; righteousness and peace will kiss each other.

85:11 Faithfulness will spring up from the ground, and righteousness will look down from the sky.

85:12 The LORD will give what is good, and our land will yield its increase.

85:13 Righteousness will go before him, and will make a path for his steps.

First reading — alternative

Abraham asks if the Lord will spare Sodom and Gomorrah provided a faithful remnant is present.

Genesis 18:20-32

18:20 Then the LORD said, “How great is the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah and how very grave their sin!

18:21 I must go down and see whether they have done altogether according to the outcry that has come to me; and if not, I will know.”

18:22 So the men turned from there, and went toward Sodom, while Abraham remained standing before the LORD.

18:23 Then Abraham came near and said, “Will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked?

18:24 Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city; will you then sweep away the place and not forgive it for the fifty righteous who are in it?

18:25 Far be it from you to do such a thing, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous fare as the wicked! Far be that from you! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?”

18:26 And the LORD said, “If I find at Sodom fifty righteous in the city, I will forgive the whole place for their sake.”

18:27 Abraham answered, “Let me take it upon myself to speak to the Lord, I who am but dust and ashes.

18:28 Suppose five of the fifty righteous are lacking? Will you destroy the whole city for lack of five?” And he said, “I will not destroy it if I find forty-five there.”

18:29 Again he spoke to him, “Suppose forty are found there.” He answered, “For the sake of forty I will not do it.”

18:30 Then he said, “Oh do not let the Lord be angry if I speak. Suppose thirty are found there.” He answered, “I will not do it, if I find thirty there.”

18:31 He said, “Let me take it upon myself to speak to the Lord. Suppose twenty are found there.” He answered, “For the sake of twenty I will not destroy it.”

18:32 Then he said, “Oh do not let the Lord be angry if I speak just once more. Suppose ten are found there.” He answered, “For the sake of ten I will not destroy it.”

Psalm — alternative

It is unclear at what point in his life David wrote this Psalm, one of thanksgiving and praise to the Lord.

Psalm 138

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Epistle

Paul tells the Colossians to stand firm in the faith and to support each other, because Christ’s death on the Cross for our sins and His Resurrection surpass everything known to mankind.

Colossians 2:6-15, (16-19)

2:6 As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, continue to live your lives in him,

2:7 rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.

2:8 See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the universe, and not according to Christ.

2:9 For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily,

2:10 and you have come to fullness in him, who is the head of every ruler and authority.

2:11 In him also you were circumcised with a spiritual circumcision, by putting off the body of the flesh in the circumcision of Christ;

2:12 when you were buried with him in baptism, you were also raised with him through faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead.

2:13 And when you were dead in trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive together with him, when he forgave us all our trespasses,

2:14 erasing the record that stood against us with its legal demands. He set this aside, nailing it to the cross.

2:15 He disarmed the rulers and authorities and made a public example of them, triumphing over them in it.

2:16 Therefore do not let anyone condemn you in matters of food and drink or of observing festivals, new moons, or sabbaths.

2:17 These are only a shadow of what is to come, but the substance belongs to Christ.

2:18 Do not let anyone disqualify you, insisting on self-abasement and worship of angels, dwelling on visions, puffed up without cause by a human way of thinking,

2:19 and not holding fast to the head, from whom the whole body, nourished and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows with a growth that is from God.

Gospel

Jesus directs His disciples to pray the Lord’s Prayer.

Luke 11:1-13

11:1 He was praying in a certain place, and after he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.”

11:2 He said to them, “When you pray, say: Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come.

11:3 Give us each day our daily bread.

11:4 And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us. And do not bring us to the time of trial.”

11:5 And he said to them, “Suppose one of you has a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread;

11:6 for a friend of mine has arrived, and I have nothing to set before him.’

11:7 And he answers from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door has already been locked, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything.’

11:8 I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, at least because of his persistence he will get up and give him whatever he needs.

11:9 “So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you.

11:10 For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.

11:11 Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish?

11:12 Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion?

11:13 If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”

I pray that everyone has a blessed Sunday.

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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

Acts 28:17-22

Paul in Rome

17 After three days he called together the local leaders of the Jews, and when they had gathered, he said to them, “Brothers, though I had done nothing against our people or the customs of our fathers, yet I was delivered as a prisoner from Jerusalem into the hands of the Romans. 18 When they had examined me, they wished to set me at liberty, because there was no reason for the death penalty in my case. 19 But because the Jews objected, I was compelled to appeal to Caesar—though I had no charge to bring against my nation. 20 For this reason, therefore, I have asked to see you and speak with you, since it is because of the hope of Israel that I am wearing this chain.” 21 And they said to him, “We have received no letters from Judea about you, and none of the brothers coming here has reported or spoken any evil about you. 22 But we desire to hear from you what your views are, for with regard to this sect we know that everywhere it is spoken against.”

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In last week’s entry, Paul had arrived in Rome at long last, greeted by Christians who met him along the way and journeyed with him into that great city.

Three days after his arrival, Paul sought to speak to the Jews to discuss his case (verse 17).

Wherever he went during his ministry, he sought his fellow Jews first. Not only were the Jews God’s chosen people, but Paul also wanted to set out to explain why Jesus is the Messiah.

Before delving into these verses further, it is worth looking into the history of Jews in Rome around this time in history. Nero was emperor when Paul was in Judea and in Rome. Before Nero, Claudius ruled.

Claudius had banned all Jews from Rome, but now that Nero had succeeded him, they returned.

Matthew Henry says they probably were not allowed synagogues yet, even though there were religious congregations of sorts with rabbis (emphases mine):

It was not long since, by an edict of Claudius, all the Jews were banished from Rome, and kept out till his death; but, in the five years since then, many Jews had come thither, for the advantage of trade, though it does not appear that they were allowed any synagogue there or place of public worship; but these chief of the Jews were those of best figure among them, the most distinguished men of that religion, who had the best estates and interests. Paul called them together, being desirous to stand right in their opinion, and that there might be a good understanding between him and them.

John MacArthur, on the other hand, thinks that there were synagogues at the time of Paul’s stay:

He introduces himself, first of all, to the Jews. “And it came to pass, that after three days” – you’ll notice he doesn’t ever let any grass grow under his feet – “Paul called the chief of the Jews together.” Now, that is not one person; that is many of them. All of the important leaders of the synagogues, and historians have told us there’s anywhere from 12 down to 7 synagogues operating in Rome at this time in history. Each of those synagogues would have some chief men.

MacArthur also says that there were laymen who were wealthy and influential among the Jewish communities. Paul addressed them as ‘brethren’, and in older translations, ‘men and brethren’:

There were also wealthy trade merchants and other people who were of an official character in the city of Rome who were Jewish, who would have been in on this. So, “Paul called the chief of the Jews together: and when they were come together, he said unto them, ‘Men and brethren, though I have committed nothing against the people, or customs of our fathers, yet was I delivered prisoner from Jerusalem into the hands of the Romans.’” And here is Paul’s pattern, as always; we see that whenever he has gone to a city previously, to whom did he go first? To the Jews.

Paul began by stating that he had never done anything against the Jews. Yet, the Jews in Jerusalem had him taken prisoner by the Romans.

Paul went on to say that the Romans found him guilty of no crime, therefore, no punishment — including the death penalty (verse 18). Now Paul was a Roman citizen, but when the Romans took him prisoner, the Jews had accused Paul of being an infiltrator from Egypt, one who had stirred up riots in Jerusalem. This, of course, was false, but took time for the Romans to establish and for Paul to set straight himself directly to the Jews afterwards.

Paul then said that the Jews objected to the Romans’ intention of setting Paul free and, because of that, he wanted to appeal to Caesar (verse 19). Once again, he said he had no complaint against the Jewish people, or ‘nation’.

Henry says:

It is true Paul did not impose the customs of the fathers upon the Gentiles: they were never intended for them. But it is as true that he never opposed them in the Jews, but did himself, when he was among them, conform to them. He never quarrelled with them for practising according to the usages of their own religion, but only for their enmity to the Gentiles, Galatians 2:12. Paul had the testimony of his conscience for him that he had done his duty to the Jews.

MacArthur rightly points out that if the Romans had freed Paul in Judea, the Jews would have retaliated violently. A Roman governor did not want disorder in the territory he governed, because he could be recalled.

MacArthur provides this analysis:

… even though he was innocent all the way down the line, here he is a prisoner in Rome. It is not because he is guilty that he is a prisoner; it is because the Romans were being blackmailed by the Jews. In other words, if the Romans did not keep him in prison, if they did not prosecute him, the Jews would lead an insurrection against Rome in Judea, and that would be very bad. So, the Roman governor succumbed to the pressure of the Jewish leaders, and kept Paul a prisoner.

Now, verse 18 takes us a little further into his introduction, as he talks to the elders of the Jews, the chief ones. Talking about the Romans, “Who, when they had examined me” – the Romans examined him; repeatedly they examined him, Felix, Festus and Agrippa – “Who, when they had examined me, would have let me go, because there was no cause of death in me.” He establishes right at the very beginning that in the eyes of Roman government, he is innocent. What he is saying is, “This is a Jewish problem. The Jewish people have sent me here, but in the eyes of the Roman law, as I faced it there, I am innocent.”

Through all that series of examinations – in chapter 24 with Felix, in chapter 25 with Festus, and in chapter 26 with Agrippa – he was innocent. Why was he not freed? Verse 19: “But when the Jews spoke against it” – or against me – “I was constrained to appeal unto Caesar.” In other words, he says, “Even though I was innocent, the Jews kept the pressure on me. So much so that my only escape was to appeal to Caesar and have this thing transferred to Rome, with the hope that I might get a fair trial.”

They recognized, you’ll remember, that he wasn’t going to get any justice in Judea because of the Jewish pressure, and so he did what every Roman citizen had the right to do: he appealed his case to Rome. And he was then transported to Rome, where his case was to be heard; and he felt, perhaps, that justice could be attained there. Now, having said all of this might be kind of a bad thing, because he really lays the onus on the Jews, and he may be just sort of X-ing himself out of any ministry.

So, in order to kind of neutralize what he’s just said, he adds the bottom half of verse 19. “Not that I had anything to accuse my nation of.” Now, notice, this is really a very important thing. He hastens to show that his defense is only that. It is only a defense. It is not offensive against the Jews. He’s saying, “I’m not condemning the Jews. I’m not attacking the Jews. I’m only defending myself. I have nothing against them. I’m not attacking back,” is what he’s saying.

He was no traitor to the natural cause of Judaism; he was a Jew in nationality, and he was a Jew in interest, certainly he was a Jew in his special love for them. You’ll notice that he says, “I have nothing to accuse my nation of.” What he’s saying is, “I am the accused, not the accuser. I have no bitterness toward Israel. I draw no accusation against them. I only defend myself.” And you remember back on all five of the defenses that we have heard of Paul, Paul has leveled no accusations against them. He has merely defended himself.

In verse 20, Luke, the author of Acts, cites Paul, giving us a mention of chains. The ‘hope of Israel’ to which Paul refers as the cause of said chains is Christ Jesus — the Messiah — and the resurrection of the dead, with the life of the world to come.

So why did the Jews not want to believe that Jesus was the Messiah? Henry answers the question perfectly, which is why we must not get caught up in today’s social justice warrior (SJW) Christianity — a huge theological error:

Because he preached that the resurrection of the dead would come. This also was the hope of Israel; so he had called it, Acts 23:6,24:15,26:6,7. “They would have you still expect a Messiah that would free you from the Roman yoke, and make you great and prosperous upon earth, and it is this that occupies their thoughts; and they are angry at me for directing their expectations to the great things of another world, and persuading them to embrace a Messiah who will secure those to them, and not external power and grandeur. I am for bringing you to the spiritual and eternal blessedness upon which our fathers by faith had their eye, and this is what they hate me for,–because I would take you off from that which is the cheat of Israel, and will be its shame and ruin, the notion of a temporal Messiah, and lead you to that which is the true and real hope of Israel, and the genuine sense of all the promises made to the fathers, a spiritual kingdom of holiness and love set up in the hearts of men, to be the pledge of, and preparative for, the joyful resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.”

They responded that they had no written or oral remarks from Judean Jews about Paul (verse 21).

That sounds amazing, but MacArthur gives us two possible reasons why.

Here is the first:

You say, “How could this possibly be?” Remember this: Paul’s ship was probably the last ship, right? to come from Judea to Rome. Why? Because it left really later than it should have left. And by the time it got through all of the terrible storms, and was smashed on Malta, and everything, there wouldn’t have been any other ships but that one, very likely. Why?

Because when Paul was finally going to be sent to Rome, it was only a matter of days before he grabbed the first ship and was on his way. So, Paul would have been on the first ship to Rome from that area. There couldn’t have been anybody getting there any sooner. And of course, then when they had to spend the winter, he probably picked up the closest ship, and would have been there, again, before any messenger could have come; that’s very possible. 

Now the second:

But in addition to that, I think it’s important to remember, too, that the Jews were probably not real anxious to pursue the case to Rome, because they didn’t have a case, right?

And they were probably somewhat satisfied just to have him out of Judea, and so, they didn’t bother to send anybody with any word about it. And the attitude of these Jews is very diplomatic. They deny any knowledge of his case. No one had come and told them these things, and they were saying, “We’re open to hear what it is that you have to say.” The leaders of the Sanhedrin, as I say, probably didn’t bother to come. They had been such miserable failures in front of the provincial rulers, they weren’t about to come across as a total flop in front of Caesar.

And, incidentally, I think that an interesting thing to note is that the Roman government looked very, very harshly on somebody who prosecuted a case without strong evidence. And it would have been a very difficult thing to prosecute Paul, who was a Roman citizen, in the city of Rome, especially when they didn’t even have a case. And then, to add to that, a favorable information from Festus and Felix; there was no way they were going to come to Rome. There was no way they were going to make a stand against this man.

But, then, they wanted to know more about Christianity — ‘this sect’ — because it came in for so much criticism (verse 22).

Both Henry and MacArthur see the Roman Jews’ views as being suspect.

Henry tells us that they were both right and wrong:

“We desire to hear of thee what thou thinkest–ha phroneis what thy opinions or sentiments are, what are those things which thou art so wise about, and hast such a relish of and such a zeal for; for, though we know little else of Christianity, we know it is a sect every where spoken against.” Those who said this scornful spiteful word of the Christian religion were Jews, the chief of the Jews at Rome, who boasted of their knowledge (Romans 2:17), and yet this was all they knew concerning the Christian religion, that it was a sect every where spoken against. They put it into an ill name, and then ran it down. (1.) They looked upon it to be a sect, and this was false. True Christianity establishes that which is of common concern to all mankind, and is not built upon such narrow opinions and private interests as sects commonly owe their original to. It aims at no worldly benefit or advantage as sects do; but all its gains are spiritual and eternal. And, besides, it has a direct tendency to the uniting of the children of men, and not the dividing of them, and setting them at variance, as sects have. (2.) They said it was every where spoken against, and this was too true. All that they conversed with spoke against it, and therefore they concluded every body did: most indeed did. It is, and always has been, the lot of Christ’s holy religion to be every where spoken against.

MacArthur sets us up for next week’s passage:

So, they say – “We haven’t heard anything of you, and we’re interested in what you have to say about this sect, that we hear everywhere spoken against. It has a bad reputation among us Jews.” And I think they moderated that; I think they could have said, “which we despise and hate,” because they knew all about Christianity, believe that, folks. The church had already been established in Rome. They were playing a little diplomacy here.

All right, that leads us to the third section in our paragraph, or really two paragraphs, and that is the invitation. Having seen their openness and interest, Paul then proceeds to give them a message and an invitation. He establishes a time for a great meeting, a day to make his presentation. All the Jewish leaders gather to hear him speak. And I think it’s kind of the fulfillment of Romans 1, where he said in verse 14, “I am debtor to the Greeks, and the Barbarians; to the wise, and to the unwise.

This is a more complex set of verses than it first appears. The story unfolds further next week.

Next time — Acts 28:23-27

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