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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

Acts 16:35-40

35 But when it was day, the magistrates sent the police, saying, “Let those men go.” 36 And the jailer reported these words to Paul, saying, “The magistrates have sent to let you go. Therefore come out now and go in peace.” 37 But Paul said to them, “They have beaten us publicly, uncondemned, men who are Roman citizens, and have thrown us into prison; and do they now throw us out secretly? No! Let them come themselves and take us out.” 38 The police reported these words to the magistrates, and they were afraid when they heard that they were Roman citizens. 39 So they came and apologized to them. And they took them out and asked them to leave the city. 40 So they went out of the prison and visited Lydia. And when they had seen the brothers, they encouraged them and departed.

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My last post was about the conversion and baptism of the purple goods seller Lydia and her household in Philippi. Lydia ‘opened her heart’ to Paul’s words. Lydia was the start of the church in Philippi, and that was the church Paul addressed in his letters to the Philippians.

Acts 16:16-34 is the Year C reading for the Seventh Sunday after Easter. A summary follows, because it provides the context for today’s verses. The four men — Paul, Silas, Timothy and Luke (the author of Acts) — were on their way to pray when a slave girl with divination powers approached them. Her owners made a lot of money from her divination:

17 She followed Paul and us, crying out, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to you the way of salvation.” 18 And this she kept doing for many days. Paul, having become greatly annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, “I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.” And it came out that very hour.

Paul was angry, because she had an evil spirit within her. John MacArthur explains (emphases mine):

a “spirit of divination.” The literal Greek…I want you to get this, a most fascinating thing…the literal Greek is, she had a spirit, a python. That’s the same as a python snake, the same term…a spirit, a python, or a python spirit. You say, well, what is a python spirit? Well, in Greek mythology…and this is all mythology…in Greek mythology, there’s a place called Pytho, and Pytho was at the foot of Mount Parnassus. Now, at Pytho, there was a dragon. The dragon guarded Pytho…that area…and the dragon’s name was Python. Stay with me. This dragon guarded the oracles of Delphi. Now you may have heard of that. Delphi was a place where oracles were given. Now, you say, what’s an oracle? I’ll give you the definition. The term “oracle,” which is an occult term, means either a place where mediums consult demons or it means the revelation the demons give themselves. So it can refer to the place or the demonic revelation. The oracles at Delphi…Delphi was a place that was a monstrous temple and in this temple were all these medium priestesses and these priestesses were conjuring up demons and giving out information. Now, you say, what about the dragon? Well, supposedly, long ago in Greek mythology, this dragon guarded these oracles. Apollo, who was the third son of Jupiter in mythology, came down and slew the dragon. All of the oracle power of the dragon was then transferred to Apollo and he took on the name Pythias. And so the python idea ties in with Apollo who received the dragon’s power and was able, then, to contact these demon spirits at Delphi. Now, let me say this just so you’ll understand. They believed, the people in this world believed, in that world of that day, they believed that the gods were alive. They believed in Apollo and Jupiter and Venus and Mars and all those people, Cupid and everybody else. Now, they believed that Apollo…that Apollo spoke through the oracles at Delphi. And so the term python means any kind of medium contact with the god Apollo. This girl, then, was one of the thousands of priestesses from Delphi who were called pythons because they were plugged into Apollo whose other name was Pythias. Now, if you’re confused, don’t feel bad; I am, too (laughter). But, nevertheless, people would consult this girl, or these priestesses…and they had temples all over the place. In fact, it got to be a universal kind of worship. They would consult these priestesses and they would then think that Apollo, the god, was giving them the information. Now, we know who it really was, right?…Satan and his demons. Let me give you another footnote that’s just absolutely fascinating. The term “python” then became synonymous with ventriloquist and is used as such. Ventriloquists were called pythons. You say, why. Do you know what a demon-possessed medium is? He is a dummy for a demon ventriloquist. She was nothing but a demonic Charlie McCarthy (laughter)…essentially the same thing…nothing but a mouth through which a demon spoke…and this is the word ventriloquist. In Isaiah 8:19, the Bible says that the people were to watch out for mediums that peep and mutter and the word in the Greek…it’s in Hebrew in the Old Testament, but the Greek translation, they use the word [engastrímythos]which means ventriloquist. They were to watch out for ventriloquist demons who used the voice of humans. You say, then that girl was a dummy and demons talked through her.

When her owners found out Paul had, via divine means, driven the demon out of her, they were furious. They had lost a steady stream of income. So, they dragged Paul and Silas into the marketplace in Philippi and denounced them. The crowd turned into a mob and magistrates joined in:

22 The crowd joined in attacking them, and the magistrates tore the garments off them and gave orders to beat them with rods.

MacArthur says this was no ordinary beating:

Now, the magistrates had a group of guys that were local police. They were called lictors … and they were a kind of policeman. They carried around, for the purpose of punishment in these places where Greek people live, like, a pile of rods wrapped together. They were like birch rods, very hard. And they would wrap them all together. And in the middle they would insert an axe. And the axe was for the purpose of capital punishment when it was needed. On the spot, they could execute. When they didn’t need the axe, they laid the axe aside, take the bundle of rods and just flail people with them. Well, that’s what they decided to do. This was a Roman punishment. Incidentally, Paul got it three times. “Thrice was I beaten with rods,” II Corinthians 11:25…three times. It’s a fantastic thing to even conceive of this kind of a beating. And Paul says in II Corinthians 11:23, he says “in stripes above measure.” There were so many wounds inflicted by this mass of sticks flailing away that you couldn’t count them. No trial, no nothing!

Paul and Silas were then thrown in the inner prison and put in the stocks under constant guard.

Around midnight, the prisoners listened to Paul and Silas sing hymns and pray when a mighty earthquake shook the foundations of the prison. The doors opened and the shackles unfastened. The guard was terrified, because if any prisoner escaped, he would be executed. He considered killing himself before that happened:

28 But Paul cried with a loud voice, “Do not harm yourself, for we are all here.”

Once the cell was lit again, the guard trembled with fear and fell down in front of Paul and Silas, asking what he must do to be saved:

31 And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.”

During the earthquake, the guard had been asleep at home, which MacArthur says would have been next to the prison. He was beside himself in rushing to the prison only to find it in such a state. Then, of course, there were the consequences he would face from the Roman governor if anyone had escaped. The guard had those uncontrollable shakes from extreme fear that take time to dissipate.

Paul and Silas spoke ‘the word of the Lord’ to the guard and his household. The guard washed their wounds — no doubt many — after which, Paul and Silas baptised him and his household:

34 Then he brought them up into his house and set food before them. And he rejoiced along with his entire household that he had believed in God.

What an amazing story.

At that point, the church in Philippi had two groups that could then meet: Lydia and her household and the guard and his. God had a plan.

Now on to today’s verses.

When daylight broke, the magistrates sent the police to the jailer saying that Paul and Silas could walk free (verse 35). The jailer relayed the news to Paul (verse 36).

Paul expressed his indignation at the treatment that he and Silas — both Roman citizens — received. That beating was meant for Greeks, non-Romans under Roman rule. Paul stood on principle and told the guard that the police could release him and Silas themselves (verse 37).

MacArthur tells us more:

You see, it was forbidden under Roman law to ever corporeally inflict a wound on a Roman citizen. That was against the law. All a Roman had to do was say, I am a Roman citizen and they couldn’t put one wound on his body. That was the right of Roman citizenship. You know what happened? They had violated Roman law. You say, well, why didn’t Paul say it earlier? God didn’t want him to, because if they hadn’t got beaten, they wouldn’t have got to jail. If they hadn’t got to jail, this whole family wouldn’t have gotten saved. But here, Paul now says, I am a Roman. Now, he says, they threw us in prison, now are they gonna thrust us out so quietly and privately? “Nay, verily”…well, he is really in control…he says, “let them come themselves and fetch us out.” He says, you go tell those boys I got something to say to them.

This is why the magistrates were afraid when the police reported back to them (verse 38). They could have lost their jobs or worse. So, ‘they’ in verse 38 refers to the magistrates, who personally apologised to Paul and Silas before escorting them away with a request to leave Philippi (verse 39).

Before they left the city, they stopped by to meet with Lydia and her fellow converts to encourage them in the faith (verse 40).

MacArthur makes interesting points about this story. One is that Timothy and Luke were not jailed because they fit a Gentile profile. Another is that, when Paul returned to Philippi, the authorities never bothered him again. Another interesting point is this:

Isn’t that beautiful to see Paul care for his flock? And incidentally, he left Luke there to care for them, too.

Acts 17 returns to the third person, meaning that Luke was no longer with Paul, Silas and Timothy.

The establishment of the church in Philippi followed the same fascinating pattern as many of the churches featured in Acts: emotionally moving conversions, demons (although not always), persecution and strengthened faith.

In closing, this is what Matthew Henry had to say about Philippi, with words of encouragement for present-day clergy:

Though the beginnings here were small, the latter end greatly increased; now they laid the foundation of a church at Philippi, which became very eminent, had its bishops and deacons, and people that were more generous to Paul than any other church, as appears by his epistle to the PhilippiansLet not ministers be discouraged, though they see not the fruit of their labours presently; the seed sown seems to be lost under the clods, but it shall come up again in a plentiful harvest in due time.

Next time — Acts 17:16-21

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

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

He lives and reigns forevermore.

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

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

Easter: the greatest feast in the Church year

Easter Sunday: Thoughts on this greatest of days

Happy Easter — He is risen!

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

Easter poems from an inspired Anglican, the Revd George Herbert

George Herbert: 17th century poet and priest

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

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

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

Holy Week and Easter — the two-part story

The road to Emmaus — a great Easter story

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

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

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

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

The Old Testament reading foretells the joy:

Isaiah 25:6-9

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

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

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

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

The post below discusses the Psalm:

Psalm 118, Christ’s Passion and Eastertide

Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There is a choice of two Epistles.

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

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

Acts 10:34-43

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1 Corinthians 15:1-11

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mark 16:1-8

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

John 20:1-18

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

20:10 Then the disciples returned to their homes.

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

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

20:13 They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.”

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

20:15 Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.”

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

20:17 Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.'”

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

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

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

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

He is risen!

Have a blessed Easter!

A new film — Paul, Apostle of Christ — is now showing in cinemas across the United States and parts of Canada.

Although St Paul is the principal character, it tells the story of how St Luke came to write Acts. If you’ve been following my Forbidden Bible Series on Acts, one of the most recent entries discussed when Luke joined Paul, Silas and Timothy in Troas (Acts 16).

The film looks at Paul’s imprisonment in Rome before his martyrdom and Luke’s reaching him there (excerpted):

PAUL, APOSTLE OF CHRIST is the story of two men. Luke, as a friend and physician, risks his life when he ventures into the city of Rome to visit Paul, who is held captive in Nero’s darkest, bleakest prison cell … Before Paul’s death sentence can be enacted, Luke resolves to write another book, one that details the beginnings of “The Way” and the birth of what will come to be known as the church.

Bound in chains, Paul’s struggle is internal … Alone in the dark, he wonders if he has been forgotten . . . and if he has the strength to finish well.

Two men struggle against a determined emperor and the frailties of the human spirit in order to live out the Gospel of Jesus Christ and spread their message to the world.

The content as well as costumes, acting and lighting look terrific:

James Faulkner of Downton Abbey fame plays Paul. Jim Caviezel plays Luke. He played Jesus in the 2004 Mel Gibson film, The Passion of the Christ. Although Gibson was not involved with this film, Andrew Hyatt the director appears to have taken a few leaves out of his notebook in general, including an international cast and a dramatic soundtrack.

The film is rated PG-13, because there are violent persecution scenes.

The film’s website has more videos, resources and clergy endorsements.

Easter is a perfect time to see a depiction of what happened in the earliest years of the Church in Rome thanks to one of the greatest Apostles that ever lived. If anyone has seen it, please feel free to comment below. I would be most interested in reading what you have to say.

Forbidden Bible Verses will return after Easter.

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

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

Readers might find these posts of interest:

Holy Week begins  (Lazarus Saturday and Palm Sunday)

Holy Week begins tomorrow – today is Lazarus Saturday

Psalm 118, Christ’s Passion and Eastertide

The greatest reality story of all time begins on Palm Sunday

Palm Sunday and the Jesus watchers

Palm Sunday: Why palms?

Palm Sunday: Why a donkey?

If this is the first time you have received palms

Liturgy of the Palms

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

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

Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One of the two Gospel passages is read, either:

Mark 11:1-11

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Or:

John 12:12-16

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

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

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

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

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

Liturgy of the Passion

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

Isaiah 50:4-9a

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Psalm 31:9-16

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Philippians 2:5-11

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

Acts 16:11-15

The Conversion of Lydia

11 So, setting sail from Troas, we made a direct voyage to Samothrace, and the following day to Neapolis, 12 and from there to Philippi, which is a leading city of the[a] district of Macedonia and a Roman colony. We remained in this city some days. 13 And on the Sabbath day we went outside the gate to the riverside, where we supposed there was a place of prayer, and we sat down and spoke to the women who had come together. 14 One who heard us was a woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple goods, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul. 15 And after she was baptized, and her household as well, she urged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come to my house and stay.” And she prevailed upon us.

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Last week’s entry was about the travels of Paul, Silas and Timothy in Asia Minor and the vision Paul received one night of a call to Macedonia. Luke, the author of Acts, joined the three in Troas. It is likely he lived there.

The four were on their way across the Aegean Sea to Samothrace (Thracia in the map below). From Troas, the journey would not have been far. This map by Caliniuc — ‘Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=58363914’ — on Wikipedia will help understand their travels. Those needing a larger image can click on the map, which will open in a new window:

They then went to Neapolis (verse 11) and on to Philippi, home to the Philippians and an important city of Macedonia (verse 12).

The map below shows the area centuries before Paul, Silas and Timothy travelled through it, but we get an idea of geographical location nonetheless. This file comes from Wikipedia and was created by Marsyas (French original); Kordas (Spanish translation) derivative work: MinisterForBadTimes, CC-BY-SA-3.0 via Wikimedia Commons:

In the map, Philippi is inland in the southern part of Thrace.

Luke wrote that the four stayed in the Roman colony of Philippi for several days. Matthew Henry’s commentary gives the rationale for beginning the Macedonian ministry there (emphases mine):

they began with the first city, because, if the gospel were received there, it would the more easily spread thence all the country over. (2.) It was a colony. The Romans not only had a garrison, but the inhabitants of the city were Romans, the magistrates at least, and the governing part. There were the greatest numbers and variety of people, and therefore the most likelihood of doing good.

John MacArthur tells us more about Philippi:

One of the reasons it was important was it was located on what was called the Egnatian Highway Now the Egnatian Highway was one of those massive Roman accomplishments, it was a road 490 miles long. Now that would have been built by hand … The Romans had built this road as a military access to the east. It ran from the western coast of Macedonia on the Adriatic Sea to across Macedonia to the Aegean Sea up and then right across the top area there and it went right through Philippi. So Philippi was a very important area. It was an area where there was much traffic and trade and military movement. Incidentally that road was built in about 146 B.C. Another footnote on that, if you took the Egnatian west you’d finally hit the Adriatic Sea. You take a boat across the Adriatic Sea and it would connect up with another road in Italy called the Appian Way which you may be familiar with. Well, that was one long extension of highway just separated by two of those little, that little sea the Adriatic and the Aegean. And so they were well-known geographical areas.

On the Sabbath, the four men went outside the city gates to the riverside to talk to women who had gathered for prayer (verse 13). Henry’s commentary says there was no synagogue and they were not going to preach in a pagan temple. Also note that the man who appeared in Paul’s vision was not to be found in Philippi. Hence the ministry among the women. MacArthur makes an important point:

You say, – You mean that the whole gospel spread in Europe is going to begin with a bunch of women? Listen, my dear friend, the gospel spread all over the world has been beginning with women for years. Just check out the nearest list of missionaries that you have and find out. In Christ there is neither male nor female.

He says that the women were probably exiled Jews:

There’s a sad thing, you know, they loved their temple, they didn’t have that. And you remember when they had been carried off into Babylon they founded those places called synagogues, remember Psalm 137, they sat by the rivers of Babylon and yes, we wept, it says in Psalm 137. And here were some exiled and only women, no men to lead them, no men to teach them. But they faithfully met.

MacArthur surmises that Paul found out where these women worshipped. A waterside location would have also been important for them for ritual cleansing purposes.

One of the women listening to the four was Lydia from Thyatira, later home to one of the churches in Revelation. Lydia sold purple goods (verse 14). Purple goods refers to dye and/or cloth. Thyatira was a long way from Philippi. Lydia probably moved there for better business opportunities.

MacArthur tells us:

Incidentally, Thyatira was famous for purple dye. Homer in the Iliad says the art of the women in Thyatira and the area is the art of dyeing with purple. So we have historical evidence that this woman came from the right place and she did what the women in that area did.

Proper purple was reserved for the wealthiest people in those days, and there was a cheaper kind of dye for everyone else. MacArthur explains the dyeing process and thinks Lydia was involved with the cheaper dye:

There were two kinds of dyes they used. The first kind was for the rich people. You know, most of the purple stuff was for, you know, royalty and all that. And they used to extract this purple dye drop by drop from a little thing called a murex which was a shellfish. And they would catch these shellfish and they would extract drop by drop this precious purple dye and really super rich people would have purple dye from the murex shellfish for their garments. And like everything, once the elite get it all of us peons want to get in on the thing, so the next thing you know they had to come up with a second class dye and they got it from an extraction from a madder root and they used that for the commoner’s dye. Well, she was in this business. And she was the one that the Lord had in mind, unbelievable, as Paul’s first convert in Europe. God was going to begin the work with a woman

Luke included two spiritual details about Lydia: she worshipped God and she opened her heart to Paul’s words.

MacArthur thinks that Lydia was probably a Gentile who became a God-fearer, the name the Jews gave to Gentile worshippers who did not fully convert or follow all aspects of Mosaic law.

Divine grace was working in her as she took in Paul’s words. She and her household were baptised (verse 15). She then invited the four to stay at her house, provided, she said, they judged her as being faithful to the Lord. They must have been reluctant, because Lydia ‘prevailed upon us’, meaning that she insisted they be her guests.

No doubt, she wanted to learn more from them. Henry has this:

She desired an opportunity of receiving further instruction. If she might but have them for awhile in her family, she might hear them daily (Proverbs 8:34), and not merely on sabbath days at the meeting. In her own house she might not only hear them, but ask them questions; and she might have them to pray with her daily, and to bless her household. Those that know something of Christ cannot but desire to know more, and seek opportunities of increasing their acquaintance with his gospel.

MacArthur says the church in Philippi was in Lydia’s home and tells us what happened later when Paul wrote his letters to the Philippians:

Lydia’s house became the place where the church meets. Look at verse 40; “They went out of the prison and returned entered into the house of Lydia and when they had seen the brethren they comforted them and departed.” Now the church met in Lydia’s house. So Lydia became a leader in the church. The little prosukee by the river became God’s ekklesia, God’s church in Philippi. You say, – But it was only womenYou say, – Well, where are the men? Ah, they’re there, verse 40. I don’t know – they must have been in Lydia’s household and the jailor and maybe his household. They [our four preachers, referring to the next part of Acts 16, coming next week] went out of the prison and went into the house of Lydia where they had seen the what? The brethren, there’s got to be some men, that’s a collective term but if it was only women they wouldn’t have used brethren. So there were some men there. But you know, what’s interesting. In later date, that little church that began with that group of women, some of those women still wanted to run things. They did … Phil. chapter 4, you know Paul loved the church at Philippi, he just loved them so much. Look at chapter 1 for a minute verse 3; he says, Phil. 1; “I thank my God upon every remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making request with joy.” He says, I’m just so excited about all of you, “For your fellowship in the gospel from the first day“, what was the first day? We’ve Just been there, haven’t we? For that first day by the river. Oh, did he love them. But he says, You’ve got one problem named Euodias and Syntyche, both ladies. Verse 1, pardon me, verse 2 of chapter 4, “I beseech Euodias and beseech Syntyche that they be of the same mind in the Lord.” Now he says, I’m going to ask you true-yoke-fellow, the Greek is suzugos and it is likely a proper name so he says, Suzugos, help those ladies, get that issue straightened out. Here were a couple of women who were problematic. Now there’s no hierarchy in the body of Christ, men and women, male and female are one in Christ. But in the church the men are set to put things in order. So he says to this man, Suzugos, you take charge over these women and get them together. They are dear women who labored with Clement and with me in the gospel.

I enjoy reading about Lydia, a great female role model from the ancient world: a good businesswoman, a good hostess — and a good Christian. The world could certainly use more Lydias.

Next time — Acts 16:35-40

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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

Acts 16:6-10

The Macedonian Call

And they went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia. And when they had come up to Mysia, they attempted to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them. So, passing by Mysia, they went down to Troas. And a vision appeared to Paul in the night: a man of Macedonia was standing there, urging him and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” 10 And when Paul[a] had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go on into Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.

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Last week’s post introduced Timothy, who was from the area around Derbe and Lystra, where Paul and Silas were visiting the churches that the Apostle and Barnabas had established. They showed the churches the letter from the Council of Jerusalem about not having to be circumcised and follow Mosaic law.

Now the men were going into Asia Minor. John MacArthur tells us:

Paul was there, Silas was there, Timothy was there …

This map by Caliniuc — ‘Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=58363914’ — on Wikipedia will help understand their travels. Those needing a larger image can click on the map, which will open in a new window:

The preachers went to Phyrgia and Galatia (see the centre of the map), but the Holy Spirit forbade them from going further eastward (verse 6). Matthew Henry’s commentary explains why (emphases mine below):

They were forbidden at this time to preach the gospel in Asia (the country properly so called), because it did not need, other hands being at work there; or because the people were not yet prepared to receive it, as they were afterwards (Acts 19:10), when all those that dwelt in Asia heard the word of the Lord; or, as Dr. Lightfoot suggests, because at this time Christ would employ Paul in a piece of new work, which was to preach the gospel to a Roman colony at Philippi, for hitherto the Gentiles to whom he had preached were Greeks.

As for Phyrgia and Galatia:

it should seem, the gospel was already planted, but whether by Paul’s hand or no is not mentioned; it is likely it was, for in his epistle to the Galatians he speaks of his preaching the gospel to them at the first, and how very acceptable he was among them, Galatians 4:13-15.

They then travelled northwest to Mysia and tried to go northeast from there to reach Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus would not allow it (verse 7).

John MacArthur explains that the men — Paul, in particular — would have accepted these divine decisions and sought to know where to go instead:

if you understand something of the persistence of Paul, you will know that he managed to wiggle a fine line between Bithynia and Asia and go along like that. And here was the persistence of a man that made him what he was. And in a sense we may believe that God actually closed all the visible doors in order to prove the faithfulness and the determination of this man Paul which would make him, really, the kind of man that God was really going to use. And it’s a great thing for us, you know, when you see doors slam, keep moving that may be God’s test of your faithfulness and out of that test may grow your capacity to do the job that really needs to be done. If you find yourself balking and folding when the first door closes it may be that you’ll never see much of a door again after that. But if you’re persistent as they were God will open some marvelous things.

So they ‘passed by’ — or through, probably preaching in — Mysia on their way westward to Troas, on the coast (verse 8). Henry gives us some insight about Mysia, which was not the nicest of places:

They came to Mysia, and, as it should seem, preached the gospel there; for though it was a very mean contemptible country, even to a proverb (Mysorum ultimus, in Cicero, is a most despicable man), yet the apostles disdained not to visit it, owning themselves debtors both to the wise and to the unwise, Romans 1:14.

Troas’s major city was Troia, or Troy, home of the Trojans. MacArthur explains:

Now Troas was named Alexander Troas for Alexander, Alexander the Great. It was a town that became somewhat well-known, ten miles away from Troas was the city of Troy and I’m sure we’re all aware of Trojans which comes from that.

Now this particular place had been a Greek city, a free Greek city until Caesar Augustus made it a Roman Colony. So Troas became a Roman Colony. This whole territory along the coast there on the eastern seaboard of the Aegean Sea was very famous. Helen of Troy, the great heroes of the Trojan War, Homer, Pythagoras, Hippocrates, Thales, Heraclitus a lot of very, very famous Greek names came from that area there. It was as Greek really as the land of Greece just across the Aegean Sea. It had been saturated and infiltrated by these Greek people.

In Troas, Paul had a vision of a man from Macedonia urging him to ‘help us’ (verse 9) and recognised this as divine intervention. MacArthur elaborates:

God immediately gave them direction in verse 9. “A vision appeared to Paul. He saw a Macedonian man” perhaps he recognized him because of his attire or maybe the man said he was from Macedonia, apart from what he did say. “He said, Come over into Macedonia and help us.” There was the call of God in a dream, in a vision, at night.

The men prepared to go to Macedonia. The map below shows the area centuries before Paul, Silas and Timothy travelled through it, but we get an idea of geographical location nonetheless.

This file comes from Wikipedia and was created by Marsyas (French original); Kordas (Spanish translation) derivative work: MinisterForBadTimes, CC-BY-SA-3.0 via Wikimedia Commons:

It is interesting to look at the cities on the map. We find some of the names or people in the New Testament, specifically in Paul’s letters (e.g. Ephesus, Philippi, Corinth) and in Revelation (Smyrna).

In closing, note a change of person in verse 10: ‘we’, meaning that Luke, the author of Acts, joined the men in Troas. It is likely he lived there.

MacArthur tells us:

Here, somehow, Luke joins up. Now we don’t know the circumstances. We do know that Luke was a doctor, he was a physician, and it may have been that Paul had one of his chronic ailments act up in Troas and they managed to find a local doctor. When this local doctor plugged into Paul they had a house physician from then on because he went with them. But here, apparently, Luke joins up and it becomes a ‘we’ so the author is indicating himself in the situation.

It isn’t much of a journey by boat from Troy to reach Thrace.

More on their mission next week.

Next time — Acts 16:11-15

The Fourth Sunday in Lent is Laetare Sunday, which is Mothering Sunday in the United Kingdom.

Mothering Sunday relates not only to mothers but to the Church:

Laetare Sunday, Mother’s Day and the Golden Rose

Laetare Sunday is Mothering Sunday

My posts explain that Laetare Sunday is when clergy used to wear rose coloured vestments instead of purple. (Some still do.) It is traditionally the happy Sunday in Lent, as laetare means ‘rejoice’. The name comes from the opening words of the traditional Latin Introit, which in English translate to ‘Rejoice, Jerusalem’. Salvation is coming.

This week’s readings from the Vanderbilt Divinity Library express the themes of liberation, forgiveness and salvation.

The following are readings for Year B in the three-year Lectionary for public worship. Emphases mine below.

The Old Testament reading has to do with the complaints of the Israelites in the desert, God’s punishment of such complaints in light of their liberation from Egypt, followed by His loving forgiveness:

Numbers 21:4-9

21:4 From Mount Hor they set out by the way to the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom; 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.

The Psalm follows this theme of God’s loving forgiveness — His healing and deliverance from death and destruction:

Psalm 107:1-3, 17-22

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.

107:17 Some were sick through their sinful ways, and because of their iniquities endured affliction;

107:18 they loathed any kind of food, and they drew near to the gates of death.

107:19 Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble, and he saved them from their distress;

107:20 he sent out his word and healed them, and delivered them from destruction.

107:21 Let them thank the LORD for his steadfast love, for his wonderful works to humankind.

107:22 And let them offer thanksgiving sacrifices, and tell of his deeds with songs of joy.

Paul’s Epistle discusses the deliverance from sin thanks to God’s grace and salvation through His Son Jesus Christ:

Ephesians 2:1-10

2:1 You were dead through the trespasses and sins

2:2 in which you once lived, following the course of this world, following the ruler of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work among those who are disobedient.

2:3 All of us once lived among them in the passions of our flesh, following the desires of flesh and senses, and we were by nature children of wrath, like everyone else.

2:4 But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us

2:5 even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ–by grace you have been saved

2:6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus,

2:7 so that in the ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.

2:8 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God

2:9 not the result of works, so that no one may boast.

2:10 For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.

John’s Gospel mentions the serpent of the Israelites and, just as that healed them, faith in Jesus Christ brings us to salvation:

John 3:14-21

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.

3:18 Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God.

3:19 And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil.

3:20 For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed.

3:21 But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.”

In closing, I wish all my British readers who are mothers a very happy Mothering Sunday.

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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

Acts 16:1-5

Timothy Joins Paul and Silas

16 Paul[a] came also to Derbe and to Lystra. A disciple was there, named Timothy, the son of a Jewish woman who was a believer, but his father was a Greek. He was well spoken of by the brothers[b] at Lystra and Iconium. Paul wanted Timothy to accompany him, and he took him and circumcised him because of the Jews who were in those places, for they all knew that his father was a Greek. As they went on their way through the cities, they delivered to them for observance the decisions that had been reached by the apostles and elders who were in Jerusalem. 5 So the churches were strengthened in the faith, and they increased in numbers daily.

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Last week’s post discussed the point at which Paul and Barnabas went their separate ways after a heated quarrel over whether to take John Mark with them. Paul did not want to make the same mistake twice. The post mentions the verses from Paul’s letters wherein he wrote, some years later, good words about both John Mark and Barnabas. Outside of that, we read no more of Barnabas or John Mark, both of whom went to Cyprus to strengthen the churches there.

Acts 16 is rather exciting as we read of Timothy and Lydia for the first time. Paul and Silas ended up in prison, Paul drove an evil spirit out of a woman and a jailer converted.

Paul and Barnabas had established churches in Derbe and Lystra (Acts 14, also see here). Timothy was from that area (verse 1). He was the son of a Greek Gentile and a Jewish woman who converted. Her name was Eunice, and her mother’s name was Lois. Matthew Henry’s commentary says:

Paul speaks of them both with great respect, as women of eminent virtue and piety, and commends them especially for their unfeigned faith (2 Timothy 1:5), their sincerely embracing and adhering to the doctrine of Christ.

If, like me, you are puzzled by a Jew and Gentile marrying so long ago, Henry explains (emphases mine):

The marriage of a Jewish woman to a Gentile husband (though some would make a difference) was prohibited as much as the marriage of a Jewish man to a Gentile wife, Deuteronomy 7:3. Thou shalt no more give thy daughter to his son than take his daughter to thy son; yet this seems to have been limited to the nations that lived among them in Canaan, whom they were most in danger of infection from.

The congregations at the churches in Lystra and Iconium — also in the area — spoke highly of Timothy. Timothy was another part of God’s plan to increase the Church. John MacArthur tells us:

What a perfect choice. Here’s a guy that’s from the Roman Empire. He’s got an in with the gentiles and he’s got the potentiality of having an in with the Jews. He’s the perfect man, the kind of the man of the world that can go both ways, and again God’s selection of personnel is just remarkable as he selects out this one young man.

Now people say, “How old was Timothy when this started?” The best guess would be between 16 and 25 years old. He was a young man and I think Paul enjoyed the opportunity to disciple young men. He hadn’t had great success with John Mark. I think he looked forward to success with Timothy. I think this is a great way to teach incidentally.

Henry has more:

he was well reported of by the brethren that were at Lystra and Iconium; he had not only an unblemished reputation, and was free from scandal, but he had a bright reputation, and great encomiums were given of him, as an extraordinary young man, and one from whom great things were expected. Not only those in the place where he was born, but those in the neighbouring cities, admired him, and spoke honourably of him. He had a name for good things with good people.

Paul wanted Timothy to minister alongside him and had him circumcised because everyone knew him as a Greek Gentile (verse 3). That verse made me pause. Acts 15 was all about the Jerusalem Council, which determined that converted Gentiles did not need to be circumcised.

Both Henry and MacArthur emphasise that Timothy was half Jewish and half Gentile. In order for Timothy to minister effectively to Jews as well as Gentiles, he would have to have a sign that he was indeed Jewish, even if he was seen to be a Gentile because of his patrilineal side.

MacArthur breaks this down for us:

You know what? Some people have read this and Ramsey in his book just goes bananas at this point and accuses Paul of all kinds of things. He says, “Paul was a Judaizer here. Paul has fallen into the circumcision air. He was down there in Jerusalem and the circumcision came and said, ‘Well you’ve got to be circumcised’ and what does he do? He goes and circumcises some guy. That isn’t necessary for salvation” but beloved, that isn’t the point. It doesn’t say he circumcised Timothy so he could get saved. It says he circumcised him because of what? The Jews in those quarters.

Now watch this. Timothy was a half-Jew and half-gentile. IF he was not circumcised the Jews would assume then that he had accepted his gentile identity. True? Because circumcision was the very mark of Judaism. So the Jew would’ve assumed that he accepted gentile characteristics, and so Paul recognizing that the key to reaching the Jewish people and that was the first place he went in every new town wasn’t it, the Synagogue? The key was that Timothy had all this Jewish character. He had been brought up in a synagogue situation. All he needed to do was just get circumcised and he would have full entrance and full acceptance among the Jews and it wouldn’t hinder his work among the gentiles. And so it was for expediency’s sake; it was not for salvation’s sake. It was just to allow the ministry to function more smoothly.

Paul explains this manner of thinking in 1 Corinthians 9. MacArthur tells us Paul wanted to reach Jews and Gentiles on equal terms, which is why he wrote:

To the Jews I became as a Jew. To those that are under the law as under the law though I myself am not under the law.” He says, “I become all things to all men that” what? “That by any means I might win some.” Now that’s 1 Corinthians 9:19-20 and following. Paul is looking at expediency.

However:

Titus came along and Paul forb[ade] Titus to be circumcised. Absolutely no, and some people are confused why he let Timothy get circumcised and not Titus simple answer. Titus was a gentile. To circumcise a gentile would then have been to impose legalism but to circumcise a Jew already a Jew was simply to allow him the liberty to be more effective. He would’ve been wrong to circumcise Titus. He would’ve been wrong not to circumcise Timothy for the sake of effectiveness.

MacArthur explains that this principle of being all things to all men still applies today. Some mistakenly look at it as meaning wishy-washy unity at all costs. No, it means the ability to reach people on their own cultural and/or religious terms when giving them the Good News:

If you’re going to witness to Jews you’re going to need to know be able to know a little bit about Judaism. If you’re going to witness to somebody who’s in the Roman Catholic church you ought to be able to know a little bit about them so that you can approach them on a tactful basis and the same is true with other religions and other systems of religion and so forth. If you’re gonna talk to a man who happens to be a fanatic on this and this, maybe if you know a little about what he knows about you can gain an entrance into his heart.

Henry posits that Paul confirmed Timothy in the Holy Spirit after his circumcision:

It is probable that it was at this time that Paul laid his hands on Timothy, for the conferring of the gift of the Holy Ghost upon him, 2 Timothy 1:6.

Timothy joined Paul and Silas as they travelled to the churches in the various cities. Remember that Paul wanted to go back and visit the churches that he and Barnabas established (Acts 15:36):

And after some days Paul said to Barnabas, “Let us return and visit the brothers in every city where we proclaimed the word of the Lord, and see how they are.”

Also important during these visits was to show each church the decision about circumcision that the Jerusalem Council reached (verse 4). Recall that the Judaisers had followed Paul and Barnabas after they established churches and gave the Gentile converts false teachings about having to be circumcised. Now Paul returned to prove to them that that the Judaisers were wrong. MacArthur reminds us:

The decision of the Jerusalem Council, and what did they decide? Go back to verse 11, chapter 15. Here’s their message. “We believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved.” That was their message wasn’t it? Salvation by grace through faith, but there was something else to it. Oh yes. You remember they had said, “We want to add this, that you abstain from blood and things strangled and fornication and things offered to idols.” Why? So you don’t offend.

As a result of these visits, the churches were strengthened in the faith and their numbers grew (verse 5).

We shouldn’t confuse that increase with the modern day false teaching of ‘church growth’. These churches grew because they maintained purity in doctrine, worship and behaviour. They were Spirit-filled. They did not need to have coffee mornings or children’s playtime in the afternoon. These were people who, first and foremost, loved God through His Son Jesus Christ. They had the love, they had the doctrine and, because of these things, through the Holy Spirit, it grew from there.

Churches with pure doctrine do not need growth gimmicks or formulaic programmes! John MacArthur’s is a case in point.

It is apposite at this point to find out more about Timothy. MacArthur explains the use of ‘was’ regarding Timothy’s father in verse 1:

As an interesting footnote the particular imperfect tense that is used in relationship to Timothy’s father indicates that Timothy’s father was perhaps dead. It would be that he was a Greek with the emphasis on the “was” indicating that perhaps at the point it was written he was dead, so he may have been just the son of a widow, but Paul saw something good in him, something potential.

He also gives us an interesting insight into verse 3 — Paul’s desire to have Timothy join him — and what happened years later:

The last time Eunice and Lois saw Paul you know where he was? He was blood-soaked and he was lying on the city dump. He had just been stoned. And here he was saying, “I’d like to invite your son to come along on our missionary efforts. How about it, Mom?” That’s quite a sacrifice, right? They don’t know what’s gonna happen but they let him go, and you know they had a little official meeting? They sure did.

1 Timothy 4:14 this gives us a little indication of that meeting. Paul says to Timothy, “Neglect not the gift that is in thee, which was given to thee by prophecy with the laying on of the hands of the presbyters or the elders.” In other words they had a little commissioning and they laid their hands on them. Here Paul was reminding Timothy not to forget that they had ordained them. Same things in 2 Timothy 1 verse 6 he says, “I want to put you in remembrance. Stir up the gift of God which is in thee by the putting on of my hands” so they had a little commissioning service ordaining him, laying hands on him, praying for him, standing behind him, and they sent him out as a representative of the church right there in Lystra and Derbe, and the Lord had filled up the ranks of his team – Paul, Silas, Timothy.

If Timothy’s father was dead, Paul stepped in as spiritual adviser and mentor. He loved Timothy as if he were family:

Paul called Timothy, “My true child in the faith” verse Timothy 1:2. He called him “My son” he called him “my beloved and faithful child in the Lord” 1 Corinthians 4 and he called him “my beloved child” in 2 Timothy 1. Now many people for many years have read those and have said, “Now that means that Paul led Timothy to Christ” but you know something? You cannot find that in Scripture. Nowhere does it say that Paul led Timothy to Christ. You say, “But he calls him his spiritual son.” Ah, but watch this beautiful fact. I just love this.

2 Timothy 1:5 he says, “I’m running to you, Timothy. I call to remembrance the unframed faith that is in you, which dwelt first in your grandmother, Lois and your mother, Eunice and I am persuaded that it’s also in you” which indicates that he really did not necessarily know about Timothy, all the facts. You know who I believe Paul led to Christ? Lois and Eunice the first time through. You know who I believe led Timothy to Christ? Lois and Eunice.

Looking at all of those verses together, we see that another beautiful part of God’s plan came to fruition. What blessings for Paul, Timothy, Eunice and Lois.

More to come next week.

Next time — Acts 16:6-10

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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

Acts 15:36-41

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MacArthur explains:

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

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

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

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

MacArthur says (emphases mine):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next time — Acts 16:1-5

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

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

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

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

Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Psalm 22:23-31

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Romans 4:13-25

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mark 8:31-38

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mark 9:2-9

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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