Hebrews 2

Overview

  • The author says:
  • Listen up, peeps, so that you don’t find yourself drifting away from the truth.
  • Because, if the Law of Moses was delivered by angels and had punishments built in for breaking the law, you can imagine how much important it is to pay attention to the way of salvation given to us now.
  • This way of salvation was announced to us by Jesus, and confirmed by those who knew him firsthand. God added his affirmation of it via signs, wonders, acts of power and the distribution of the Holy Spirit.
  • Besides, angels aren’t even supposed to inherit the world to come.
  • Remember how that old song says, “What is a man that you, God, would even think twice about him? What is lowly, ordinary man that you even care about him? For a little while you made him lower than the angels, but then you’ll elevate him, crown him, and make everything subject to him.”
  • And when it says “everything” it means everything, even though it doesn’t look like it yet.
  • But remember, Jesus is currently elevated and crowned, because for a little while he was made lower than the angels just so he could experience death on behalf of everyone.
  • In his plan to elevate all of his kids, God, through whom everything is made, made the trailblazer to glory (Jesus) fully complete through the experience of suffering.
  • Now the one that can make people holy (Jesus) and those he made holy (us) are family.
  • Jesus is not ashamed to call us brothers and sisters, because it’s like that other old song says, “After I was saved by God, I shared the story with my brothers and sisters.”
  • Or when Isaiah the prophet said, “When things look bad, I trust in God.” And, “The signs that what I said was true are me and my kids.”
  • Since we are just people, regular ol’ flesh and blood, Jesus became like us so that through his death he could break the power of the jerk who wields the power of death (the devil).
  • Jesus set us free from the fear of dying.
  • Jesus didn’t come to save angels, he came to help the children of Abraham – those with faith.
  • He became 100% human so that he could become the best high priest ever and forever get rid of our sins.
  • Jesus suffered and was tempted so that he would know exactly what you’re going through, and therefore would be awesome at helping you.

Historical Context

Psalms 8:4-6

This Psalm dwells upon the paradox of man’s physical insignificance contrasted with his spiritual importance.6

This Psalm is based theologically on Gen. 1 in which man is given dominion over the earth. Man was created to rule, but his sin turned the world upside-down. Now sickness, suffering, and death are signs that the world that is not subject to man.5

By quoting from Psalms 8, the author of Hebrews is saying that ultimately people, not angels, are destined to be placed over all of creation.6

In this Psalm the term “son of man” is in a parallel relationship with the term “man.” It is a Hebrew idiom for humanity.4

Psalm 22:22

This same Psalm was quoted by Jesus on the cross when he cried out “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”

Originally written by David at a moment when he felt overrun by his enemies and forsaken by God, but it’s meaning was taken to go beyond those events and imply a Messianic event in which God would ultimately subdue all his enemies.

Isaiah 8:18

Isaiah predicted that Israel would be overrun by Assyria. The sense in Isaiah chapter 8 is, that the prophet had closed his message to the people; he had been directed to seal up the testimony; he had exhorted the nation to repent, but he had done it in vain; and he had now nothing to do but to put his trust in the Lord, and commit the whole cause to him. His only hope was in God; and he calmly and confidently committed his cause to him.3

The writer to the Hebrews implies that just as Isaiah could include his sons among those who were “with him” in trusting God, so Jesus could include his spiritual children among those who, with him, trust in God even in the midst of trials and tribulations.5

The Devil and The Power of Death

The Devil in Greek (diabolos) means “slanderer” (from diabállein, “to slander”)This term is often interchangeable with the name Satan, and is used 32 times in the New Testament. “Slanderer” is also a word used for humans, such as Judas, and gossips.(Revelation 12:9).9

The original Hebrew term satan is a noun from a verb meaning primarily “to obstruct, oppose”, as it is found in Numbers 22:22, 1 Samuel 29:4, Psalms 109:6. Ha-Satan is traditionally translated as “the accuser” or “the adversary”. The definite article ha- (English: “the”) is used to show that this is a title bestowed on a being, versus the name of a being. Thus, this being would be referred to as “the satan”.9

The Devil is considered a prince of a kingdom. To be a prince means he has power to wield over his subjects. The “power of sin” or “power of death” is his power. The Devil introduced sin into the world and through sin death. His desire is to destroy and kill, and his use of temptations increase death in the world.10

According to the Gospel of John, Satan is “the prince of this world” (Jn 12:31; 14:30; 16:11). The word translated “prince” (archon) customarily referred to “the highest official in a city or a region in the Greco-Roman world.” While Jesus and his followers of course believed that God was the ultimate Lord over all creation, they clearly viewed Satan as the functional lord of the earth at the present time.11

Satan is depicted as possessing “all the kingdoms of the world” — to the point where he gives authority to rule these kingdoms to anyone he pleases (Lk 4:5-6). In fact, the various kingdoms of the world can be described as a single kingdom under Satan’s rule (Rev. 11:15, cf. Rev. 13). John goes so far as to claim that the entire world is “under the power of the evil one” (I Jn 5:19) while Paul doesn’t shy away from labeling Satan “the god of this world” (2 Cor 4:4) and “the ruler of the kingdom of the air” (Eph. 2:2).11

Satan does not have the absolute power over death (Job 2:4-6; 1 Cor. 5:5), but he does hold the power of the fear of death, which he holds over all mankind (cf. 1 Cor. 15:54-57). Jesus has abolished death (cf. 2 Tim. 1:10) and he holds the keys of hades and death (cf. Rev. 1:18).4

High Priest

The Jewish high priest was to be a decedent of Aaron, and was at the head of religion among the Jews. He was set apart with solemn ceremonies,  clad in his sacred vestments, and anointed with oil (Exodus 29:5-9; Leviticus 8:2). He was the general judge of all that pertained to religion, and even of the judicial affairs of the Jewish nation (Deuteronomy 17:8-12; 19:17; 21:5; 33:9-10). He alone had the privilege of entering the most holy place once a year, on the Day of Atonement, to make an offering for the sins of the whole people (Leviticus 16:2). When clothed in his proper vestments, and having on the Urim and Thummim (stones), he made known the will of God in regard to future events.3

Observations

  • The word translated “drift away” in Greek means “to flow by, to flow over; and then to go by, to fall, to go away.” It is used to mean to flow near, to flow by – as of a river; to glide away, to escape – as from the mind, that is, to forget; and to glide along – as a thief does by stealth.3
  • There are two objections the audience for Hebrews would have had: First, that Jesus was a man; and secondly, that he suffered and died. They would ask how he, a mortal man, could be superior to the angels? How could he have had the rank which was claimed for him? This the author answers by showing first, that Jesus’ condition as a man was “voluntarily” assumed – “he was made lower than the angels;” and secondly, by showing that as a consequence of his sufferings and death, Jesus was immediately crowned with glory and honor.3
  • The author now shows how the Son is superior to the angels in a very different way – by taking on humanity (the incarnation) in order to save lost men and women, and restore them to the place of dignity and authority for which they were originally created.5
  • “Taste” in Greek does not mean “sample a small amount” (as a typical English reader might infer), but “experience something cognitively or emotionally; come to know something.”1
  • The Greek word translated pioneer is used of a “prince” or leader, the representative head of a family. It also carries nuances of “trailblazer,” one who breaks through to new ground for those who follow him. It is used some thirty-five times in the Greek OT and four times in the New Testament, always of Christ.1
  • The warning of Hebrews 2:1-5 is linked by the phrase ‘for this reason’ with the entire argument of Hebrews 1. Because of the Son’s superiority to angels (1:1-5), the angels’ worship of and service to Him at His coming (1:6-7), His future rule and sharing of joy with His companions (1:8-9), and His future subjugation of His enemies (1:10-14), the readers would do well to heed these teachings.2
  • Verses 5-18 present eight reasons for the incarnation of the Son: 1) to fulfill God’s purpose for man (vv. 5-9a); 2) to taste death for all (v. 9b); 3) to bring many sons to glory (vv. 10-13); 4) to destroy the devil (v. 14); 5) to deliver those in bondage (v. 15); 6) to become a sympathetic high priest for men (vv. 16-17a); 7) to make propitiation for sins (v. 17b): 8) and to provide help for those tested.2
  • The term “perfect” means “to be complete, mature, equipped for the assigned task” (cf. Eph. 4:12). The author of Hebrews uses “perfect” three times to describe Jesus (cf. 2:10; 5:9; 7:28) and three times to describe Jesus’ followers (cf. 10:14; 11:40; 12:23).4
  • “Perfect” can be understood as meaning “to completely prepare.” In this sense, Jesus’ incarnation and sufferings “prepared” him for the work he would accomplish on the cross of Calvary.5
  • “Perfect” is often used to represent the consecration of the High Priest (Leviticus 21:10).8
  • God perfected Jesus by charting his path to glory through suffering. By having experienced suffering Jesus can more perfectly help us as we suffer (v. 18). He was “perfected” in this sense.2
  • The fear of death enslaves unbelievers in that fear of death leads them to behave in ways that please Satan (e.g., selfishly, living for the present, etc.).2
  • Since the sting of death is sin (1 Corinthians 15:55), Christ’s providing the remedy for sin has removed the most dreadful part of the fear of death, which is the fear of punishment afterward. Moreover, death with the resurrection to follow is not death in the former sense. It is the sure and certain hope of the resurrection that robs death of so much of its terror.6
  • “the seed of Abraham” probably refers primarily to believers, the spiritual descendants of Abraham (Gal. 3:29), rather than to Jews, the physical descendants of Abraham (cf. Isa. 41:8-10).2
  • Here the benefits of our Lord’s incarnation, according to the author of Hebrews: 1) Fallen man is restored to his former glory and authority through the incarnation of our Lord (2:5-18). 2) As a result of our Lord’s incarnation, all believers have become a family (2:11-13). 3) Because of the incarnation, Jesus defeated Satan and his colleagues, so that we are no longer paralyzed with the fear of death (2:14-15). 4) Because of the incarnation of our Lord, we have become Abraham’s seed, and thus are assured that we will enjoy the blessings God promised to Abraham (2:16). 5) Because of the incarnation, we now have a merciful and faithful High Priest (2:17-18).5

Discussion

  • The author warns agains neglect as a means of ruining our salvation. This implies that there must be active maintenance of our belief to keep it “alive.” What does this imply? What do we lose to neglect? How do we recognize when we’re drifting away?
  • How does death (or more specifically, the fear of death) effect our thinking about life? What actions do we take to avoid death, based on fear? What actions do we take to “get the most out of life now” based on our fear of death? How might we act differently knowing that Jesus promised us life eternal?
  • The forgiveness which God provided for man is absolutely unique, there being no precedent of any such thing in heaven or upon earth. Where, in all the universe, is there such a thing as the forgiveness of sins, apart from Christ our Lord? No forgiveness was provided for the angels when they sinned; none of the laws of God’s natural creation ever forgave either man or beast; no one ever fell off a cliff and received a reprieve from the law of gravity; no dog ever forgave the quarry; no poisonous serpent ever forgave the victim.6 How does this shape your thinking about grace? What is the difference between grace and justice? How does grace offend our natural sensibilities since we are surrounded by laws (natural and man made) and are born with an innate need for justice?

References

  1. Net Bible Notes
  2. Constable’s commentary
  3. Barnes’ commentary
  4. Utley’s commentary
  5. Deffinbaugh’s commentary
  6. Coffman’s commentary
  7. Cole’s commentary
  8. Cambridge commentary
  9. Devil – Wikipedia
  10. Power of Death
  11. Atonement – ReKnew
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Philippians 2

Scripture: Philippians 2:1-30

Overview:

  • In the previous chapter, Paul tells his peeps in Philly-pie to not get spooked and scatter in the face of opposition, but rather stay united.
  • He goes on to say that unity means being one in mind and spirit, not just looking out for “number one.” The Philippians need to be humble, putting each other’s needs over their own, just like Jesus did.
  • Paul tells them to think like Jesus thought. Afterall, Jesus was God, and had every right to all the privileges that came with being God, but he put all those privileges aside to become a man, no, a slave, a slave who died a humiliating death, no less. This self sacrificing, humble attitude, shows us who God really is and that he puts others (us!) first, which is why in the end everyone will come to praise the name of Jesus – the name by which God’s true character is known.
  • So, knowing this, Paul tells them to get the most out of what it means to be saved by being united as a community of people who put other people first. Work hard at being together in awe of the sacrificial attitude God has shown you through Jesus.
  • He reminds them not to grumble and complain about their circumstances like the Jews did in the desert with Moses. Instead, where the Israelites failed to be the children of God by being a generation of complaining jerks, the Philippians can truly embody what it means to be children of God and stand out from the world around them. In fact, their attitude of humble unity should contrast them from their surroundings as much as the shining stars contrast against the night sky.
  • Paul then says, “Even if I die here, it is but a small addition to the larger sacrifice you are making in your community.” Then reminds them that the circumstances they face are good to be in together, and that they should celebrate with him because they are on the winning side (even if it looks like they’re losing).
  • A bit of bad news that Paul has for them is that Timothy, one of Paul’s favs, and a guy who really exemplifies the others-first attitude Jesus has, is someone Paul can’t spare to send back to Philippi yet.
  • Instead, Paul tells them, he’s sending back their pal Epaphroditus (E-Paf for short). E-Paf is an awesome guy, and he exemplifies the martyr-like attitude everyone in Philippi should have, because he almost died just trying to help Paul.
  • “So give E-Paf a high five when he comes back,” Paul concludes. “He risked his life just to be the representative of all that your community has done to help me. That’s cool.”

Historical Context:

Kenosis

Kenosis is a Greek term that comes from the phrase “emptied himself” (2:7 – “made himself nothing” NIV). Kenosis is the word used to discuss what took place in Christ’s incarnation. There have been many different theories used over the centuries to describe this phenomena: 4

  • Apollinarianism: This view stated that the one person of Christ had a human body but a divine mind and spirit. It implied that being human is essentially sinful. This heresy was rejected at the council of Alexandria (362 AD) and the Council of Constantinople (381 AD). 4
  • Nestorianism: This view stated that there are two separate persons in Christ—a human person and a divine person. 4
  • Eutychianism/Monophysitism: This view stated that Christ had only one nature. His human nature was ‘absorbed into’ a divine nature and thus morphed into a third nature. This third ‘mix’ of natures is neither human nor divine.4
  • The Orthodox View: This view states that Christ was fully God and fully Man, one person with two unmixed natures. This perspective was approved by the Council of Chalcedon (451 AD).5

A key question in this debate is “of what did Christ empty himself?”

  • Emptied = Poured Out: Paul first emphasizes two realities: one that “being in the form of God” means being equal with God; two, that in Christ’s “being in the form of God/being equal with God” he displayed a mindset precisely the opposite of “selfish ambition” and empty glory. Paul then says Christ did not consider “equality with God” to consist of being “grasping” or “selfish”; rather he rejected this popular view of kingly power by pouring himself out for the sake of others. So, Christ did not empty himself of anything; he simply poured himself out; he “poured himself out by taking on the `form’ of a slave.” The narrative presents “the mind of Christ” in two major parts: his “humiliation” (vv. 6-8) and “exaltation” (vv. 9-11).  Paul shows that in all the self-emptying Jesus did, he never ceases to be God in his “humiliation”–indeed this is the full revelation of God’s essential character.1
  • Emptied = Humbled: Christ first “emptied himself” by stooping from God to humanity, then later “humbled himself” by stooping from humanity to death.7
  • Emptied = Setting Aside: This analogy may help – the “form” (or identity) of a king partially consists of the external marks which indicate a king–his sceptre, diadem, robes, attendants, throne, etc. Thus, Christ, before the foundation of the world, was in the “form” of God. Yet, when he came to earth he set aside these markers of kingship. This did not mean he was not king, rather it meant that he did not appear to be king because the hallmarks of kingship were not readily visible. Yet, one sees that through his death Jesus truly has the right to be king. Just like when the sun is obscured by a cloud, or in an eclipse, there is no real change of its glory, nor are his beams extinguished, nor is the sun himself in any measure changed, Jesus’ glory was only for a time obscured.8

Isaiah 45

When Paul says “every knee will bow” and “every tongue confess” he is referencing Isaiah 45:23. The context of the quotation from Isaiah is taken up with the uniqueness of Yahweh in contrast to lifeless idols (45:14 “he has no peer; there is no other god”). In the Isaiah passage, Yahweh, and Yahweh alone, is unique and the only god who creates, redeems, and sustains.10

What is notable here is that Isaiah 45:23 refers to the world acknowledging Yahweh as the one true god, but Paul substitutes in the name of Jesus. Paul is asserting that at Christ’s exaltation God has transferred this right to obeisance to the Son; he is the Lord to whom every knee shall eventually bow.1

Deuteronomy

Paul tells the Philippians to do everything without “grumbling and complaining” thus evoking images of the “grumbling” and “complaining” done by the Israelites in the desert (Exod 15:24, etc.). He then goes on to quote Deuteronomy 32:5 in which Moses talks about the Israelites being “a perverse generation, children who are unfaithful.”  However, here Paul designates the unsaved world in Philippi as “crooked and perverse” whereas Moses referred to the Israelites as “crooked and perverse,” and he contrasts the Philippians being “blameless and pure” children of God with the Israelites whom Moses called unfaithful children.

In Deuteronomy, Moses states that Israel “no longer” has the right to be called children of God. They are “blameworthy,” (Greek: moma) a term from the sacrificial system ( “full of blemishes”). Paul picks up this adjective, negates it (Greek: a-moma, “without fault”) and adds “in the midst of” before continuing the rest of the quotation. He thus converts the whole phrase into its opposite with regard to the Philippians. Over against Israel, they are God’s children, and by refraining from internal bickering they will be without fault.1

“Become blameless” is also the exact language used by God to begin the renewal of the covenant with Abraham (Gen 17:1). The word refers to conduct with which one (probably God in this case) can “find no fault.”1

Overall, Paul expects the Philippians to succeed where Israel failed. The underlying theology in all of this is that God’s own character can now be reflected in his children when they bear the likeness of Jesus.1

Daniel 12

The image of the Philippian congregation as stars shining in a black sky is reminiscent of Daniel 12:3 which reads, “But the wise will shine like the brightness of the heavenly expanse. And those who bring many to righteousness will be like the stars forever and ever.” Some have suggested that this figure of speech refers to evangelistic activity, in that the stars are shining Gospel light upon a dark world. However, Paul speaks of the unblemished congregation (like stars) being in the midst of the crooked generation (like the night sky). The stars do not illumine the night sky. They do just the opposite, showing how dark it is. Just as stars stand in contrast to the dark sky, so the unblemished congregation is to be in stark contrast to the perverted generation. This is not particularly about evangelism, it is about being utterly different from the sinful society around them.3

Drink Offering

Drink offerings were common in both Jewish and Gentile religions. It is unclear here which type Paul is alluding to, since he was Jewish and his audience was most likely Greek.

The Jews poured their gifts of liquid around the table, or beside the alter, on which they put their gift to God (Numbers 28:1-7).2

The Greeks poured their drink offerings over the sacrifice itself.

The meaning is the same both ways. In either case, Paul is comparing all of his own sacrifices to the drink offering (which was the tiniest part of the offering) to their labors (the main sacrifice).Paul is connect his circumstances with theirs, humbly.

Observations:

  • This chapter begins with a “therefore” ( “for this reason”), which connects Paul’s discussion about the Philippians’ struggle and suffering in 1:27-30 to his appeal for unity.1
  • A key word in Paul’s plea for unity is the Greek verb phroneo which indicates that one should set of one’s mind, or how one is overall disposed toward something. He uses it in 2:2, “be likeminded”, in 2:5, “have this same mindset, as Christ did” and in 4:2, where he urges Euodia and Syntyche to be of the same mindset.1
  • Grammatically, Paul set up “selfish ambition or vain conceit” against “one in spirit and one in mind.” It is also important to note that “selfish ambition” is precisely what Paul in 1:17 attributes to those who are trying to afflict him in his imprisonment, while “vain conceit” is conceptually related to their “envy and rivalry” (1:15).1
  • The Greco-Roman world of the First Century generally considered humility to be a shortcoming, not a virtue. In the Old Testament the term indicates lowliness in the sense of “creatureliness.”1
  • Paul thought of salvation not in terms of the individual, but in terms of the community. One was saved “into” a group of people by joining them in “rightness” with God. The concept of the individual being “saved” from themsleves was secondary, if considered at all. Thus, when Paul says the Philippians should “work out your own salvation” he meant “in your relationships with one another live out the salvation Christ has brought you.” This is therefore not a text dealing with individual salvation but an ethical text dealing with the outworking of salvation in the believing community.1
  • The Greek word translated “work out” that Paul uses when he tells the Philippians to “work out” their own salvation, comes in the works of Strabo, a First Century Greek, who uses the same word to describe the Romans “working out” the great silver mines of Spain. In other words, they were getting all the silver that they could from the mines. Thus, Paul implies that Christians must work hard to get all the wonderful riches that their salvation in Christ has for them.2
  • Paul uses the term “fear and trembling” to describe how the Philippians should “work out” their salvation. This does not mean the terror of a slave in front of a cruel master. It means the honor that we should give to our holy and powerful God.2
  • Why is Timothy mentioned before Epaphroditus? Chronologically, it is the reverse of what one would expect since Epaphroditus is going back to the Philippians before Paul sends Timothy. Structurally, however, it reinforces Paul’s point: he first urges the Philippians to look out for the interests of others (2:3-4) and then turns right around and gives them the example of Timothy, who looks “out for the interests of others.” Paul then talks about the sacrifice they are making for their faith (2:17), and uses Epaphroditus as an example of one of their own community who has already risked his life for the gospel.10 Thus, Paul uses Timothy as a model of one serving the gospel by selflessly caring for the needs of others, and Epaphroditus as a model for the suffering that accompanies serving the gospel.1
  • Epaphroditus was a brave man, for anyone who proposed to offer himself as an attendant of a man waiting trial on a capital charge was laying himself open to the risk of facing the same charge.9
  • It is possible that the Philippians wanted a visit from Paul (after his release) or Timothy (now). So they sent Epaphroditus to relieve Timothy so he could be freed up to come and see them. But Paul was not willing to send Timothy at the moment. The apostle, however, does not want the Philippians to think that Timothy is not interested in them. Therefore, he commends Timothy highly and explains that the latter has a genuine concern for their welfare. Timothy meant a lot to Paul and it seems that the apostle needed him present. Thus, he thought it better to send Epaphroditus back. Besides, Epaphroditus was longing to see the church because he knew that they had found out that he had been ill (2:26). The church, however, was not to think of Epaphroditus as second best. On the contrary, Paul considered him his “brother,” “fellow-worker,” “fellow-soldier,” and “their apostle and servant” (2:25). Indeed, they were to honor men like him because of his work in the gospel on their behalf which almost cost him his life.10
  • Paul said Epaphroditus “risked” his life. The Greek verb used here, paraballesthai, means to literally “to throw down a stake,” “to make a venture.” The noun form implies “gambling,” “rash,” “reckless.” It is a term that was used to describe persons who risk their lives to nurse those sick with a plague.10

Discussion:

  • How do the concepts of humility and community go together? In our individualistic culture, why do we see humility as an personal, inner virtue, separate from a social context? How do we make humility a virtue that only finds meaning in a communal context, as Paul implies Jesus did through his death on a cross, and as the Philippians need to do in their present circumstance?
  • Why do you think Paul might be worried that the Philippians wouldn’t welcome Epaphroditus back? What do you think their expectations where in sending him to Paul? What do you think their response was when they saw Epaphroditus return from Rome with a letter, not Paul or Timothy?
  • How does Paul’s explanation of Jesus’ “emptying himself” make you think differently about how God sees victory? How was Paul relating this view of God’s triumph to his own situation? To the situation of the Philippians? How can we apply this to our present circumstances?
  • How united–in one mind, one spirit–is the church today? What about in our local church? Our home community? Why? Why not?

References:

  1. IVP Commentary
  2. Easy English Commentary
  3. Hagelberg’s Commentary
  4. Wallace’s Commentary
  5. Buntin’s Commentary
  6. Musick’s Commentary
  7. McClain’s Commentary
  8. Barnes’ Commentary
  9. Coffman’s Commentary
  10. Herrick’s Commentary

Mark 9

Scripture: Mark 9:2-50

Overview:

  • Six days later, Jesus, James, John and Pete head up to a high mountain. On the mountain top, Jesus transforms into a shiny, white, glimmering dude.
  • Moses and Elijah then appear and chat with Jesus.
  • The disciples are (understandably) terrified and Peter blurts out, “Let’s set up little houses of worship for everyone!”
  • A cloud shows up and covers them, then a voice from the cloud says, “This is my son, listen to him!”
  • Suddenly it’s just James, John, Pete and Jesus again.
  • On their way down the mountain, Jesus tells the disciples to keep the whole incident under wraps until after his resurrection.
  • The disciples are confused by Jesus’ mention of his death/resurrection and ask him if it’s true that Elijah is supposed to come before the messiah.
  • Jesus replies that Elijah did come before the messiah, and that the way Elijah (i.e. John the Baptist) was treated (i.e. killed) would be how the Son of Man would be treated.
  • When they get back to the disciples, there’s a crowd and a commotion regarding a demon-possessed boy that the disciples can’t seem to heal.
  • Jesus is fed up with everyone and has the boy brought to him.
  • The boy goes into convulsions at the sight of Jesus. Jesus asks the dad about the symptoms.
  • The boy’s father tells Jesus that he’s been like this since he was little, and that the demon in the boy often tries to kill him.
  • The boy’s father begs Jesus to help… if he can.
  • Jesus says, “If I can?” [the disciples think, “Oh no you didn’t”]
  • The boy’s father says, “I do believe! Help my unbelief!”
  • Jesus casts the demon out and the boy looks like he’s dead. Jesus helps him up and everything’s cool.
  • The disciples ask Jesus why they couldn’t cast the demon out and he tells them that it can only be done with prayer and fasting.
  • Jesus continues on his journey and teaches the disciples more about his upcoming death and resurrection.
  • When they get back to Capernaum Jesus knows that the disciples have been talking about who among them would be the greatest, so he reminds them that the first shall be last. He then takes a child and says that the one who welcomes the lowest person in society (“Like this little kid”) is the one who welcomes him.
  • John pipes up and says, “There was this guy casting out demons in your name, but he wasn’t one of us, so we told him to stop.”
  • Jesus replies, “Leave him alone. If he does something in my name, he’s on my side. Whoever helps out a believer is cool with me. Whoever hinders a believer is in deep, deep doo doo–you might as well be drowned in the sea.”
  • Jesus then tells them that, “If anything is going to cause you to work against me, you’re better off ditching it than ending up in hell (the very, very unpleasant place God will put all his enemies in the end). Everyone is going to be tested, everyone is going to be purified. Don’t lose your purity, because then you’re good for nothing. Let your purity bring peace, not conflict/dissension/division between you.”

Historical Context:

Transfiguration

The Greek word means “to change in form” (morphe), and occurs only four times in the New Testament (9:2; Matt. 17:2; Romans 12:2; 2 Cor. 3:18). In each instance it denotes a radical transformation.[1]

Mark doesn’t usually give specific time references, but here he denotes that the transfiguration happens six days after Peter’s confession. This may be an allusion to Exodus 24:15-17 where Moses waited six days before being summoned by God for revelation on Mount Sinai. Six days is also the time period between Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) and Sukkot (Feast of the Tabernacles – which commemorates the Jews’ wandering in the wilderness for 40 years).[1]

Bright white garments are often signs of heavenly beings (ex. Dan. 10:5; Rev. 3:4; etc.). Matthew (17:2) and Luke (9:29) mention that Jesus’ face shone as well, which heightens the comparison with Moses whose face shone very brightly because it reflected the glory of God (Ex. 34:35).[1]

Peter, himself, wrote about this experience (2 Peter 1:16-18) reflecting how he was an eyewitness to Jesus’ majesty and how he heard God confirm him as his son.[3]

Moses and Elijah

Moses and Elijah are most often understood to represent the Law and the Prophets. How the disciples recognized the two individuals as Moses and Elijah is not explained.

It is also likely that the joint appearance of Moses and Elijah recalls the final verses of the Old Testament (Malachi 4:4-6), where Israel is commanded to remember the instruction of Moses, and where Elijah is introduced as the prophet who would turn the heart of the people to repentance on the Day of the Lord.[1]

Tents/Tabernacles

The primary reference here seems to be the booths or tabernacles set up by the people during the Feast of the Tabernacles.[1] These are small, walled structures set up and slept in to remind of the Jews of the fragile dwellings of their ancestors while wandering in the dessert for forty years with Moses.

The implication of Peter’s intent to build the tabernacles was possibly in a way to both glorify his visitors and enable them to stay a while.[2] Peter may have also been reflecting the long-held Jewish hope that God would once again “tabernacle” (dwell) with his people as in the time of the Exodus.[1]

Rising from the dead

Resurrection was a prominent belief held among Jews in the first century (especially the Pharisees). They believed that one day, God would give “life to the dead.” This belief finds its origins in the prophets Ezekiel and Daniel.[7] The Jews understood that both the righteous and wicked would rise from the dead on the day of judgment, the righteous to life eternal, the sinners to punishment and execution.[7]

The disciples would’ve surely known what rising from the dead meant.  They were probably more likely puzzled by Jesus’ insistence that he, an individual person, would die and rise from the dead before “the end of the age.” Resurrection of the righteous was generally understood to be a collective and eschatological (end of days) event.[1]

The Jews of Jesus’ day expected only one coming of the Messiah into history and this coming was related to the military victory and supremacy of national Israel on a global scale.[2]

Who is the greatest

Ancient rabbinic writings frequently commented on the seating in Paradise and argued that the just would sit nearer to the throne of God than even the angels (since people such as the just, righteous teachers or martyrs were considered to be “the greatest”). Earthly seating orders at worship and meals, or authority within or dealings with inferiors and superiors were seen as preparation for the future order (cf. Psalm 68:24-25).[1]

“Servant” is translated from the Greek word diakonos, or  “one who executes the commands of someone” and looks after his needs. It refers to personal devotion in service as opposed to service as a slave.[1]

Up to this point in history, the mark of success was always measured by service received; not by service given.[1]

Children

Children were essentially “non-persons” in ancient culture. This was likely due to the high infant mortality rate, the great demand for human labor, and the fact that children (along with women) were totally dependent on others for food, shelter and protection. Children hand no right for self-determination. A man could not expect to gain anything either socially or materially from kindness to a child.[1]

“Being like a child” means to forgo status and to accept the lowest place. The use of a child as a teaching aid is explicitly about social status, not any child-like character traits.[1]

Only in Mark’s gospel does Jesus embrace the child (“take into his arms”). Jesus is literally showing his disciples how welcoming they should be of the insignificant and the ignored.[1]

Since they are back in Capernaum, possibly in Peter’s house, this may have been Peter’s child.[2]

The Aramaic word ‘talya’ can mean both ‘child’ and ‘servant’, there was no distinction in their social status.[2]

Invoking Names in Exorcisms

First century exorcists invoked various formulas and ‘words of power’ (such as the names of God, the angels, King Solomon, etc.) in their exorcisms and their incantations. Their widespread influence can be seen through the appearance of various Hebrew names of God (ex. “Iao”, “Adonai”, “Eloai” or “Sabaoth”) in magical amulets and papyri.[1]

The name of a spiritual being presumed to be greater than the possessing spirit was invoked by exorcists as a way to overpower the demon and free the person’s soul.

Hell/Gehenna

“Hell” is literally translated as Gehenna and refers to the Valley of Hinnon near Jerusalem. In Jesus’ day it was the place where the city’s garbage was burned. It had come to be used in this way because the valley had an embarrassing and revolting history for the Jewish people– it was there that in the past they had worshipped the fertility fire god, Molech, through the practice of child sacrifice.[2]

The valley is mentioned five times in the book of Jeremiah (7:31,32 19:2,6 32:35) as the place in which the people would “burn their sons and daughters in the fire.”[6]

King Ahaz of Judah sacrificed his sons there according to 2 Chron. 28:3.  The same is recorded of Ahaz’ grandson Manasseh in 33:6.[6]

The book of Isaiah does not mention Gehenna by name, but the “burning place” (30:33) in which the Assyrian army is to be destroyed.

Jesus quotes three times the final verse of Isaiah which concerns the fate of those who have rebelled against God, Isaiah 66:24.[6]  Here, in the final section of Isaiah, the prophet is describing the great prosperity of the kingdom of the Messiah, and that the people of God shall go forth, and look upon the carcasses of men who have transgressed against God. The messiahs’ enemies shall be overcome. The people of God shall triumph. The prophet says that there will be heaps of dead, slain in battle, whose number shall be so great, that the worm feeding on the dead shall not die, shall live long–as long as there are carcasses to be devoured; and that the fire which was used to burn the bodies of the dead shall continue long to burn, and shall not be extinguished till they are consumed.[4]

King Josiah destroyed the shrine of Molech to prevent anyone from sacrificing children there in 2 Kings 23:10. Jeremiah would still later include a prophecy that Jerusalem itself would be made like Gehenna and Topheth (19:2-6, 19:11-14).[4]

Salt

In Jesus’ day, salt was an important means of healing, purification, and preservation. It also was used to seal covenants (Num. 18:19).[2]  The Jews put salt on a gift/sacrifice to God (Leviticus 2:13) as a sign of the agreement between God and his people.[3] 

The implication may be that the disciples, via trials, beatings, persecutions, etc., were to be prepared as a sacrifice and offering to God.[4]

The text may also be implying that just as salt preserves meat, so too will the wicked be preserved by fire in their sufferings. .[4]

The terms salt and fire seem to both represent purification in this context.[2]

Observations:

  • Luke says the Transfiguration happened “eight days” after Peter’s proclamation of Jesus as Messiah. This may be a contradiction, however, Luke admits that he is estimating (“Now it happened that about eight days after these sayings…”).[1]
  • Scholars are not in agreement on the location of the “high mountain” Jesus’ transfiguration took place on: some say that Mount Hermon is it due to its proximity to Caesarea Philippi and height (9,200 ft.), though many early Christian Fathers, place it on Mount Tabor (1,500 ft.), eleven miles west of the Sea of Galilee.[1]
  • Clouds were a sign that God was present. In Exodus, the cloud (God) led the people, and when Moses went up Mount Sinai to receive the Law a cloud covered the mountain for six days.[3]
  • When the voice in the cloud says, “listen to him” this is reflective of Deut. 18:15 in which God says he will raise up a prophet like Moses who should be obeyed.[2]
  • Jesus’ answer to the disciples’s question about Elijah is two fold: 1) He affirms that he, as Son of Man, is part of the same sequence of events as the return of Elijah; and 2) that Elijah’s experience has been one of rejection, which foreshadows what will happen to the Son of Man. Jesus links John the Baptist’s suffering and death with his own.[1]
  • The symptoms of the demon-possessed boy seem to describe an epileptic fit, however, Matthew, Mark and Luke all clearly state that the healing was done through an exorcism. Matthew includes the termselēniazetai (literally “moon-struck” or “lunatic”).[1]
  • Mark’s account of the epileptic/demon-possessed child focuses on the restoration of speech. Neither Matthew or Luke mention a speech defect.[1]
  • When Jesus takes the seemingly dead boy by his hand and raises him up, it echoes the healing of Peter’s mother-in-law (1:31) and the raising of Jairus’ daughter (5:41-42). The language of lifting up (egeirein) evokes the idea of a ‘resurrection’ – a motif confirmed by the addition of the verb anistēmi (“arose”) immediately afterward.[1]
  • When the boy’s father “cried out,” this can be interpreted more literally as he “said with tears.”[1]
  • When John, the apostle, says he wanted to stop the actions of a man “not following us,” it is implied that the person casting out demons didn’t have membership in the “authorized” circle of Jesus’ followers.[1]
  • Jews, as a rule, feared the sea (note how Revelation 21:1 describes heaven as a place where there would be no more sea). They regarded drowning as a horrible form of death – a symbol of utter destruction. When the rabbis taught that pagan and gentile objects were to be destroyed utterly, they say that it must be cast “into the salt sea.”[1]
  • The “little ones” Jesus warns the disciples not to make stumble seems to be young believers. The disciples were not to cause new believers to lose their faith by being exclusive or hierarchical.[3] Jesus issues a dire warning against his followers making it their business to monitor and pass judgment upon the works of others.[5]

Discussion:

  • What areas of our life do we need to ask Jesus to help us believe more?
  • What is the role of faith in soliciting Jesus’ help? How strong does it need to be? What happens if it’s not enough? How do we know it’s not enough?
  • Who is the lowest person in our society? How can Christians serve them?
  • Who do you consider to be outside of those who follow Jesus but invoke his name in their actions? Are they with God or against him? How do you know?
  • How do we exclude “little ones” from our belief? How are we hierarchical/exclusive in our thinking about who’s in and who’s out of the faith?

References:

  1. Catholic Answers
  2. Utley’s Commentary
  3. Free Bible Commentary
  4. Barnes’ Commentary
  5. Coffman’s Commentary
  6. Gehenna – Wikipedia
  7. Resurrection – Wikipedia

 

Mark 7

Scripture: Mark 7:1-37

Overview:

  • Some Pharisees and teachers of the law come down from Jerusalem to check out this Jesus guy
  • They observe that some of Jesus’ disciples aren’t following their rules for ritual hand washing
  • They ask Jesus about it and Jesus responds by telling them that they are hypocrites (yeouch!)
  • Jesus quotes a passage from Isaiah in which God condemns the Jews for giving him lip-service only because they are more interested in following their own rules rather than his
  • Jesus then reminds the Pharisees of a rule they created in which someone can dedicate something (like say a goat) as a gift to the temple, but in doing so are then unable to use that thing to help their parents (like say, sell or slaughter that goat). Jesus then points out how their man-made rule blocks God’s original commandment to “honor your mother and father”
  • Jesus turns to the crowd and tells them that external things don’t defile people, internal things do. What you put into your body isn’t important. It’s what comes out of your heart that matters
  • Jesus and his disciples then head to the vicinity of Tyre, but they can’t keep their presence secret and a Greek woman finds them and asks Jesus to heal her demon-possessed daughter
  • Jesus tells the woman that he came to help the Jews first, that “it’s not right to toss the children’s bread to the dogs”
  • The woman is persistent and says that even the dogs are allowed to eat the crumbs that spill over the edge of the table
  • Jesus grants her request and the woman’s daughter is healed
  • Heading into the region of the Decapolis, Jesus and crew run across a deaf and mute man whose friends want him to be healed
  • Jesus takes the afflicted man aside, touches his ears and tongue and says, “Be opened” and the man is healed
  • Amazement ensues

Historical Context:

Ritual washing

The ritual washing that Mark refers to is most likely the cleansing of the hands (up to the elbows) done by the Pharisees after they had been in the market. In an abundance of caution, the Pharisees attempted to wash away any exposure they may have had to possible sources of ritual impurity in the market to purify themselves before eating.[1]

In some religious sects, ritual bathing, or immersion of the whole person, was constantly practiced (such as the Essenes who  immersed daily and were thus called tovelei shaharit “dawn-bathers” or hemerobaptists “day-immersers”). A group thought to be connected to the Pharisees called the chaverim also immersed themselves fully before communal meals.[1]

William Barclay tells of a rabbi who was imprisoned by the Romans and who “used the water which was given to him for handwashing rather than for drinking, and in the end nearly perished from thirst, because he was determined to observe the rules of handwashing.”[2]

Isaiah 29:13

It is significant that Mark mentions that the Pharisees are from Jerusalem (7:1) because it directly relates to the passage in Isaiah that Jesus quotes, a passage in which God condemns David’s city to destruction for it’s inhabitants’ infidelity.

Jesus quotes this passage to emphasize that the Pharisees’ fear of God is coming from the over-emphasis of God’s wrath instead of God’s love. The Jews had created their own rules and are thinking that God won’t notice that the people are no longer listening to him, but to their man-made rules instead. This passage in Isaiah emphasizes that God’s commands are being treated like human orders, which we must obey out of fear of punishment, instead as instructions given to us out of love so we could live our life ‘to the full’.[1]

Corban

In Judaism, korban is the term for a variety of sacrificial offerings described and commanded in the Torah. Such sacrifices were offered in a variety of settings by the ancient Israelites, and later by the Jewish priesthood, the Kohanim, at the Temple in Jerusalem. A korban was usually an animal sacrifice, such as a sheep or a bull that underwent shechita (Jewish ritual slaughter), and was often cooked and eaten by the offerer, with parts given to the Kohanim and parts burned on the Temple altar. Korbanot could also consist of turtle-doves, grain, incense, fruit, and a variety of other offerings.[1]

Anything dedicated to the Temple under the pretense of korban forthwith belonged to the Temple, but only ideally; actually it might remain in the possession of the person who made the vow. Since a person’s offering may have been accompanied by a solemn oath, the offerer was no longer permitted from ever using the property offered to the Temple for the support of himself or anyone else even if the gift remained in his possession; so a son might be justified in not supporting his old parents simply because he designated his property or a part of it as a gift to the Temple, that is, as korban.[1]

Thus to say that something is korban is to say both that it is a gift to the Temple and that it is forbidden to others.[1]

In Jerome’s commentary, he says “The Lord commanded that poor parents should be supported by their children and that these should pay them back when old those benefits which they had themselves received in their childhood. The scribes and pharisees on the other hand taught the children to answer their parents by saying: It is Corban, that is to say, a gift which I have promised to the altar and engaged to present to the temple: it will relieve you as much there, as if I were to give it you directly to buy food. So it frequently happened that while father and mother were destitute their children were offering sacrifices for the priests and scribes to consume.”

Corban indicates how complexity had replaced simplicity in Judaism. Their elaborate laws had replaced the most basic of God’s commands.

Dogs

The term “dogs” used by Jesus (kynaria) does not refer to wild and unkempt street dogs, but to small dogs taken in as house pets (this, the diminutive form of the word kyōn “dog” originally referred to puppies or little dogs, then later extended to lap dogs). Thus, it is not a derogatory term per se, but is instead intended by Jesus to indicate the privileged position of the Jews (especially His disciples) as the initial recipients of Jesus’ ministry.[1]

In first century Palestine, street dogs were regarded as scavengers and therefore unclean, but in well-to-do households influenced by Greek custom, dogs were sometimes considered as pets. Jesus is thus making an illustration here: the children of the house must be fed before the pets.[1]

The word “bed” used to describe where the young girl was found lying after she was healed (7:30) may also be translated “dining couch” which suggests a higher social level for the woman and her daughter. They may in fact have been owners of pets therefore the inspiration for Jesus’ analogy.[1]

Spit

In both the Greco-Roman and Jewish worlds, saliva was considered to have therapeutic properties. Early Roman historians, Tacitus and Suetonius, record a time when the emperor Vespasian was begged by a blind man to anoint his eyes with spittle. Also, in the Talmud, as a part of the law concerning the preparation of salt water on the Sabbath, the rabbis discuss in passing a prohibition on using saliva to heal eyes.[1]

Sighing was also part of a technique used by ancient healers, trying to exude their life force to give power to the words spoken so they could accomplish their task (the life force being breathed into a diseased or dormant person of object was itself the heart of various ancient magical rituals).[1]

Many magicians in antiquity recited strings of syllables, words, or phrases when performing their healings (ex. abracadabra); some of these formulas were even written and worn as amulets. Jesus, by contrast uses a common Aramaic word, “Ephphatha” which means “be opened.” Jesus is unique amongst healers in his day in that He does not use gibberish incantations when performing miracles, but rather makes a simple command in His own intelligible native speech.[1]

It is likely that Jesus touches the man’s ears and his tongue as a means of  communicating with the deaf, mute man that he was going to be healed. These signals would’ve been culturally acceptable gestures, and possibly necessary means of communication, to indicate to the man that healing was now available.[4]

Observations:

  • Scribes are not a distinct sect from the Pharisees or Sadducees, but rather a type of profession that is common to both sects (though many scribes generally belonged to the Pharisaic sect); not all Pharisees were scribes and not all scribes were Pharisees.[1]
  • The presence of the scribes and Pharisees should be understood as the result of the hierarchy’s monitoring Jesus’ teachings with a view to finding fault. These were, in effect, spies sent out from Jerusalem.[2]
  • Only some of the disciples are accused of not washing themselves ritually. This may mean that the other disciples, and even Jesus himself, obeyed the Jewish food laws. It is interesting that the actions of a few of the disciples evoke opposition over religious obligations, yet Jesus still comes to their defense.[1]
  • The only hand washing required in the Old Testament for purposes of ritual impurity is that of priests before offering sacrifices (Exodus 30:18-21; 40:30-32).[1] The Pharisees, in their zeal to replicate temple holiness outside the temple, had extended this law to apply to all people before all meals.
  • Jesus calls them hypocrites (7:6), a compound Greek word (from two words “under” and “to judge”) used to describe actors playing a part behind a mask.[4] Jesus is accusing them of being like actors–hiding their real character behind a mask.[3]
  • The word translated as “defile” can also mean “communicate” and “share.” The idea is that the things coming out of a person ‘communicates’ or ‘shares’ (i.e. reveals) what he truly is. Thus Jesus’ words have another layer of meaning: one cannot see what goes inside another person’s body so how can it say anything about what that person is truly like?[1]
  • Though Mark comments parenthetically that Jesus had lifted the bans on food with this comment, this lifting of restrictions on diet was slow to be accepted. Up to a decade after Jesus said this Peter affirmed that he had never eaten “anything that is common and unclean” (Acts 10:14).[2]
  • The word translated as “envy” literally means “giving one the evil eye.” The idea of the evil eye is widespread in many cultures. The basic concept is that certain beings have the power of casting an evil spell on others or causing mishap to fall upon them by merely gazing at them, since the eye was believed to be the window on the heart or the soul and the channel through which one’s thoughts, emotions, desires or intentions could be conveyed. This concept is usually chiefly connected to envy or jealousy.[1]
  • “Folly” is from the Greek word “aselgeia,” which refers to the undisciplined soul–one who acknowledges no restraint, dares to perform any act of shame or lawlessness, and who lives in arrogant insolence without regard to considerations of decency or honor.[2]
  • The “vicinity of Tyre” refers to the lands bordering Galilee that were under the jurisdiction of Tyre. First century Jewish historian, Josephus, claims that Tyrians were “notoriously our bitterest enemies.” It is interesting that Jesus enters a territory that is not only primarily Gentile but also potentially hostile to him.[1]  This may speak to how desperatley Jesus sought relief from the crowds.
  • In the conversation with the Greek woman about the children and the bread, Jesus uses the word teknon (biological children) when referring to the “children’s bread,” while the woman uses the word paidion, a more inclusive word implying both ‘children’ and ‘servants’.[1] Note how she is immediately pushing back against the wall she’d come up against.
  • A few interesting notes about the Greek woman’s response to Jesus: (1) By placing herself under the children’s table, she laid claim to a place, lowly as it was, in the household of God. (2) She appealed not to the children, but to the master. The children, as represented by the apostles, had stood adamantly by, not interceding on the woman’s behalf, actually demanding that the Lord get rid of her (3) She identified the table as not belonging to the children but as “their master’s table.” God’s mercies did not derive from the chosen people but from himself.[2]
  • Jesus may have taken the deaf/mute man away from the crowd so that none would’ve considered the Lord’s healing to be accomplished magically.[2] The healing of someone in private would’ve also been contrary to the typical behavior of a miracle worker of the day who would’ve hoped to make money from the crowd for such an event.

Discussion:

  • The Pharisees saw ritual washing as a way of declaring their holiness, and were offended when Jesus didn’t agree with how they publicly identified themselves as holy. In which ways do we publicly define holiness today (ex. no smoking, no drinking, no swearing, etc.)? What “traditions” have we added to our faith to ensure we appear to be holy? What is the difference between internal holiness and external holiness and how can we tell the difference? What does this say about those who don’t follow Jesus but display exceptional morality anyway?
  • Jesus called the Pharisees hypocrites, or actors, and says (via Isaiah) that they are even trying to fool God with their false holiness. What masks do we wear today? What pretense do we put on in an attempt to fool God into thinking that we’re holy?
  • The Greek woman is called a dog after asking Jesus for healing for her daughter, but pursues her original request anyway. How persistent are we with God? This is the second such story (see the healing of the bleeding woman in chapter 5) in which Jesus seems to have another priority in mind, but is waylaid by an instant woman and grants her request. What do you think Mark wanted to communicate to his audience with these stories?
  • Jesus’ healing seem to follow no predictable formula. Some people he touches, some he heals from a distance. Some he seems to enact some of the healing/medicinal rituals of his day (e.g. the deaf/mute man), whereas others have no ritualistic precedent. What does this say about Jesus’ actions in relation to those he healed? What does this say about how God acts towards those in need? What does this say about what we should expect from God?

References:

  1. Catholic Answers Forum
  2. Coffman’s Commentary
  3. Free Bible Commentary
  4. Utley’s Commentary

 

Acts 13

Scripture: Acts 13:1-52

Highlights:

  • From Antioch, Barnabas and Saul set out on their first missionary journey
  • They go to Cyprus where they run into a sorcerer named Bar-Jesus
  • The head guy in the region (the proconsul) wants to hear what Barney and Saul have to say, but ol’ Bar-Jesus isn’t having any of it
  • Saul (now officially Paul) lays the smack-down on the sorcerer and blinds him via a miracle
  • The proconsul is wowed and believes
  • From Cyprus they go to Perga then Pisidian Antioch and get invited to speak at the local synagogue
  • Paul starts off his speech with a partial review of Old Testament history beginning with the Exodus and breezing on through to the establishment of David as king
  • Paul then points out that Jesus is from the line of David and that even John the Baptist thought Jesus was the Messiah
  • Paul goes on to show that all those who attempted to stop Jesus were actually just helping him fulfill scripture
  • Paul also emphasizes that Jesus was raised from the dead, which uniquely qualifies him to be the promised Messiah, and that he is able to offer people a level of forgiveness that even the law of Moses can’t attain
  • Paul wraps it up with a warning that if you don’t believe what is being preached then you’ll find yourself on the wrong end of God’s anger
  • The people like Paul’s sermon, but the Jewish establishment feels threatened by Paul and Barn-o’s popularity so they kick the missionaries out of town
  • Paul and Barn say to the Jews, “You had your chance, now we’ll go to the Gentiles”
  • The disciples shake the dust from their feet and move on to the next town

Historical Context:

Synagogues:

Synagogue is a transliteration of the Greek word synagogē, meaning “assembly”. When broken down, the word could also mean “learning together” (from the Greek συν syn, “together”, and αγωγή agogé, “learning” or “training”). Synagogues in the first century served as a meeting place, schoolhouse, library and court.  Synagogues existed for a long time prior to the Babylonian Captivity (586–537 BC), but they became a staple of Jewish culture afterwards. The idea of creating individual houses of worship in whatever locale Jews found themselves  contributed to the continuity of the Jewish people and their faith by providing a way of maintaining a unique identity and a portable place of worship despite the absence of the Temple. (Wikipedia)

The first century Jewish worship service stated with the Shema, summarized in the phrase: “Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one” (Deuteronomy 6:4). Prayers followed the Shema. Then came two readings, one from the Law and a second from the Prophets.  The readings were done in Hebrew then interpreted into the Aramaic or the Greek Koin for the people. A sermon of explanation and exhortation would then be drawn from the second reading. It was the duty of the rulers of the synagogue to select the readers and the speakers for the service. After the instruction period was over, the synagogue service closed with a blessing. (GCI & Robertson)

Paul’s Sermon:

Paul starts his sermon much like Stephen did in Acts 7, with a survey of the history of the Jewish people. This is a way of establishing common ground with his audience, as well as ensuring that he’s “recognizing God’s mighty and merciful hand in the nation’s history.” (GCI) Unlike Stephen, Paul starts with the exodus (rather than Abraham), and never mentions Moses (whereas Stephen emphasized that Jesus was Moses’ true successor). Instead, Paul focuses on King David and the promises God made to David regarding his kingdom. Both speakers position Jesus as the culmination of God’s saving history.

There are some interesting differences and similarities between the sermons recorded in Acts by Peter, Stephen and Paul. Peter emphasized Jesus’s actions and ministry, and how Jesus was exalted (via resurrection) despite all his detractors’ efforts to shame him (namely by crucifixion); with Stephen, Jesus was the one greater than Moses who had come to establish a true way to connect with God, and all those who tried to stay connected through the old ways (i.e. those who worshipped in the temple, under the law of Moses) were essentially idolators; Paul sought to show that Jesus was the promised Savior/Deliverer from David’s line, and that his kingdom (a spiritual one) was now eternally established, and any who didn’t follow him would be overtaken by disaster. Similar to all of them was that Jesus’ death was necessary, that his resurrection was triumphant and that as a result the forgiveness of sins was now available to all.

Paul’s speech in Acts 13 uses several Old Testament texts to prove his point:

Psalm 89:20 and 1 Samuel 13:14

Paul quotes God’s testimony of King David: “I have found David son of Jesse a man after my own heart; he will do everything I want him to do” (13:22). This seems to be a composite quote from at least two Old Testament Scriptures: 1) “I have found David” (Psalm 89:20) and, 2) “A man after his own heart” (1 Samuel 13:14). (GCI)

King David is used as a contrast to the first king of Israel, Saul. Saul was asked for by the people to be their leader, whereas David was eager to do God’s will. David “is the model for all those who would receive God’s covenant blessings of salvation.” (IVP)

Psalm 2:7

In Psalms 2:1-3, the psalmist records the combination of the rulers of the earth against the Messiah, and their efforts to cast off his reign. In Psalms 2:4,5, the psalmist shows that their efforts should not be successful; that God would laugh at their designs; that is, that their plans should not succeed. InPsalms 2:6,7, he knows that the Messiah would be established as a King; that this was the fixed decree, that he had begotten him for this. (Barnes)

Both Paul and Peter use this text as proof that this sequence of events lines up with Jesus’ experiences and ultimate exaltation.

Isaiah 55:3

“I will give you the holy and sure blessings promised to David” is quoted by Paul as a set up for the fact that God raised Jesus from the dead and therefore he is the messiah. Paul is quoting from the 55th chapter of Isaiah, in which the prophet is giving the people an assurance that God would keep his promises to David by making an everlasting covenant with them through the Messiah. Paul’s argument is that if God had promised David that he should have a successor who should sit forever on his throne, and that Jesus was that successor (i.e. the Messiah), then Jesus’ resurrection was proof that he had conquered death and fulfilled the promise because the promised successor of David, the perpetual occupier of his throne, could not remain under the power of death.

Psalm 16:10

Paul quotes Psalm 16:10: “You will not let your holy one see decay” (13:35). Paul understands this to be a prophecy about someone other than David. After all, David died an ordinary death and his body decayed. But Jesus’ body does not suffer corruption. His tomb is empty and his body has not been found. This is the argument Peter used at Pentecost, even citing the same scripture (2:24-32). (GCI)

Habakkuk 1:5

The original reference in Habakkuk is to the destruction of the temple by the Babylonians–a thing which the Jews would not suppose could happen. The temple was so splendid; it had been built by the direction of God; it had been so long under his protection, that they would suppose that it could not be given into the hands of their enemies to be demolished. And even though it were predicted by a prophet of God, still they would not believe it. The same feelings the Jews would have respecting the temple and city in the time of Paul. Though it was foretold by the Messiah, yet they were so confident that it was protected by God, that they would not believe that it could possibly be destroyed. The same infatuation seems to have possessed them during the siege of the city by the Romans. (Barnes)

The warning issued by Habakkuk and Paul are essentially the same: “Take heed lest you miss what God is doing,” (IVP) and that if the audience “held in contempt the doings of God, they would perish.”  (Barnes)

Isaiah 49:6

Lastly, Paul and Barnabas quote Isaiah 49:6 in support of their efforts to preach the good news to the Gentiles. Isaiah says that the Servant of Yahweh will be made “a light for the Gentiles” that he “may bring salvation to the ends of the earth”.  In his gospel, Luke speaks of how Simeon pronounced Jesus to be the fulfillment of this promise at his birth (Luke 2:32). “Now Paul applies [this same scripture] to the missionaries who are bringing the good news of Jesus, the Servant. Thus, Paul is saying that the mission of Jesus (the Servant) is also the mission of the followers of Jesus. It is the task of the new Israel (the church) as the servant of God to bring the light of the gospel to all peoples.” (GCI)

Observations:

  • Up to now, Jerusalem and Judea have been the center of the story with Peter being the most prominent leader. Now, Luke shifts his interest to the church at Antioch and to Paul.
  • Interesting that Paul started his ministry as an outcast (Acts 9), then in Antioch he’s the last one listed among the prophets and teachers, and within a few months on the road Paul is recognized as the group’s leader, and by the end of his career he’d be called an apostle.
  • Simeon has the Latin nickname Niger, or “the Black.” His name is Jewish, so it is unlikely that he is African, though he may have had dark skin. The nickname may distinguish him from other Simons in the church, such as Simon Peter. (GCI)
  • Manaen is the Greek form of the Hebrew Menahem, which means “comforter.” Saying he was “brought up with Herod the tetrarch”  means that  that as a child he was taken to the royal court to be a companion of the prince; such boys were then called “foster brothers.” The Herod mentioned here is the one who was responsible for the imprisonment and death of John the Baptist. “What a commentary on the mystery and sovereignty of divine grace that, of these two boys who were brought up together, one should attain honor as a Christian leader, while the other should best be remembered for his inglorious behavior in the killing of John the Baptist and in the trial of Jesus! “(Bruce)
  • Cyprus is most likely chosen as their first location because it is Barnabas’ native land.
  • John Mark (as in the Mark who wrote the gospel, and who’s mother, Mary, owned the house Peter went to after being freed from prison in Acts 12) accompanies Barnabas and Paul on the journey as their assistant. He has a family connection with Barnabas which is why he may have been taken along. “Luke describes him as the ‘helper’ of Barnabas and Paul. ‘Helper’ translates the Greek word hyperetes, which is used of a synagogue attendant.” (GCI) It is not known why Mark left them later in the trip, but his leaving would eventually cause a rift between Barnabas and Paul.
  • This first missionary journey establishes Paul’s pattern of beginning his missionary work in a city by starting within the synagogue, then reaching outward to the Gentiles.
  • Luke often shows that Roman officials were sympathetic to the gospel message. Sergius Paulis “wanted to hear the word of God.”  Though this may have been more of “an official inquiry into the nature of what the missionaries were proclaiming in the synagogues so that the proconsul might know how to deal with the charges already laid against these wandering Jewish evangelists and head off any further disruptions within the Jewish communities. Like a ‘command performance,’ the invitation could not have been refused.” (Longenecker)
  • Bar-Jesus means “Son of Jesus” (most likely because his father’s name was Jesus or Joshua). However, Paul does a play on words with his name and calls him the Son of the Devil (Bar Satan). Elymas (the man’s other name) means “wise” in Arabic, but Luke infers that it really mean’s he’s a man using his wisdom and skills to be a deceiver.
  • This chapter is where Saul starts officially going by the name Paul.
  • During the trip to Perga Luke no longer speaks of “Barnabas and Saul.” From now on, Paul is usually in first place, ahead of Barnabas. Luke speaks of “Paul and his companions,” which literally means “those around Paul.” This expression indicates that Paul is the leader of the group. Luke appears to be signaling to his readers that Paul has become the dominant partner in the missionary team. (GCI)
  • To reach Antioch of Pisidia the missionaries have to cross the Taurus mountains — a difficult and dangerous journey. The Pisidian highlands are subject to sudden flooding. Another danger is from brigands, as the Romans have not yet fully suppressed the robber clans that lived in these mountains. Why make such a hard trip? Some commentators speculate that Paul or someone in the party became ill while in Perga, perhaps a victim of malaria that plagues the marshy coastal strip of Asia Minor. In Paul’s later letter to the churches in Galatia he says that he came to them because he was ill. Another view is that Paul has a practical reason for going to Pisidian Antioch: The town sits astride the Via Sebaste, the Roman road from Ephesus going to the Euphrates. (GCI) Some commentators speculate that they went to Pisidian Antioch because Sergius Paulis had relatives there and sponsored the next leg of their journey. (Witherington)
  • Why did Paul and Barnabas have a chance to speak at the synagogue?  First, this was not necessarily their first Sabbath at the synagogue. Paul and Barnabas may have known to the synagogue rulers or officials. Secondly, Paul’s dress may have identified him as a rabbi and Pharisee, thereby giving him some authority.
  • Paul’s declaration that Jesus provided better “justification” than the Law meant that through Jesus a person is finally and permanently declared to be righteous (made right with God). Forgiveness of sins through the Law needed to be perpetually sought.
  • “God-fearing women of high standing” meant Roman women who are attracted to Judaism. These women were leveraged to influence their husbands, the leading men or magistrates of the city, to help drive Paul and Barnabas out of town. (IVP)
  • It was customary for Jews to shake off the dust of a pagan town from their feet when they returned to their own land, as a symbol of cleansing themselves from the impurity of sinners who did not worship God.  (Marshall) It was also something Jesus had told his disciples to do in the face of rejection.

Discussion:

  • What do you think Paul and Barnabas’ view of their own success was? They met with a high official, bested a sorcerer, won converts, yet were driven out of town. How would you feel if your missionary trip began with such promise and ended in such turmoil?
  • What do you make of Paul’s emphasis on using Old Testament scriptures to show Jesus as the heir to the throne of David? Why did he emphasis these particular points with his audience? Why threaten them with the prophecies of Habakkuk at the end? Is this still a legitimate line of reasoning when discussing the gospel with 21st century Americans? What establishes Jesus’ legitimacy as Lord and Savior in today’s context? What warning can be given to someone for not listening to the gospel?

References:

Post Discussion Perspectives:

  • How do we hear the Holy Spirit?  How many days/weeks/years did the Christians at Antioch fast before they heard something?
  • Paul took a text that didn’t appear to be about Jesus and showed his audience how Jesus was part of that narrative. The Jews didn’t necessarily see their history or their scriptures pointing to Jesus (or the type of Messiah he was). Jesus could only be seen in those things by applying a new perspective. What truths/texts/histories can we point to today to show Jesus to our own culture? For the last century or show Christians have shied away from science, psychology, philosophy and other religions as sources of truth in our culture that Jesus can be found within. If there’s a truth somewhere, isn’t it God’s?

Acts 8

Scripture: Acts 8:2-38

Highlights:

  • After Stephen’s death, Saul leads the charge in persecuting the church
  • As a result, Christians flee Jerusalem
  • Philip ends up in Samaria and gets everyone’s attention with the signs he is able to perform
  • Simon the Sorcerer is amazed by what Phil can do, so he converts to Christianity and starts hanging around (a lot)
  • The apostles (in Jerusalem) get wind of Philip’s success and come down to check out the conversions themselves
  • The Holy Spirit is delayed in coming onto the Samaritan converts until after Peter and John lay hands on them (more on this anomaly below)
  • Sorcery lovin’ Simon wants the power the apostles have and asks Peter if he knows where he can buy some–big mistake
  • Simon gets a verbal beat down from Peter
  • Philip gets instruction from God to intercept the path of an Ethiopian eunuch
  • Phil helps the eunuch understand a passage from Isaiah that he’s reading, which leads to the Ethiopian’s conversion
  • After baptizing the eunuch, Philip is “taken away” to another area where he keeps preaching the good news

Historical Context:

Samaria

To put it simply, the Jews and Samaritans didn’t like each other. To put it bluntly, they despised each other with a burning hatred. “Both Jewish and Samaritan religious leaders taught that it was wrong to have any contact with the opposite group, and neither was to enter each other’s territories or even to speak to one another.”

Their dislike for each other originated when the Jews first returned from the Babylonian exile (c. 530s BC) and refused to allow the Samaritans to help rebuild the temple. According to Ezra, the local inhabitants (Samaritans) were the cause of the delay in the building of the temple. However, the Samaritans considered themselves pure Israelite descendants of the northern tribes (Ephraim and Manasseh), who had survived the destruction of the Northern Kingdom by the Assyrians. Yet the Samaritans were “viewed as ‘half-breeds,’ both religiously and racially, by the Jews.” (GCI)

When the Samaritans weren’t allowed to help build the temple in Jerusalem, they  built their own rival temple on Mount Gerizim–a place they considered to be the original Holy Place for Israelites. This belief comes from Deuteronomy 11 where Moses told the people to use Mount Gerizim to proclaim blessings, and to use Mount Ebal for curses. The two mountains symbolized the significance of the Law and where meant to serve as a warning to whoever disobeyed them. Additionally, the Samaritans believed that Mount Gerizim was the place Abraham took Isaac to be sacrificed.

To make matters worse, the Samaritans claimed that their version of the Pentateuch was the original. They believed the Jews had a fake text made during the Babylonian exile. In fact, the Samaritans claimed their name was from the word “Samerim” which means “Guardians.”  They considered themselves the guardians of the Torah. They would protect it from alteration by the Jews.

However, the Samaritans did have a hope in a messiah. They looked forward to the coming of the taheb, “the restorer” (Deut 18). They believed that he would be “a herald of the last day–a day of final judgment, of vengeance and reward, when the temple of Gerizim would be restored, the sacrifices reinstated and the heathen converted.” (R. T. Anderson)

It’s interesting to note that “there are many references to Samaria in the Old Testament, the prophets of which considered it a center of idolatry (Isaiah 89Jeremiah 23Ezekiel 23Hosea 7; and Micah 1).” (Coffman)

Simon the Sorcerer

Simon was most likely a Magus–one of the order of the Magi (the plural of magus, our root word for “magic”).  “The Magi were the priestly order in the Median and Persian empires and were supposed to have been founded by Zoroaster.” (Robertson)

Simon would’ve held similar beliefs as the Magi (often translated “wise men”) that visited Jesus after his birth, but in Acts, Luke seems to emphasize this particular magus’ inclination towards sorcery.

The ancient Magi studied philosophy, astronomy, medicine, etc. They would’ve used their studies to “predict future events by the positions of the stars, and to cure diseases by incantations.” (Barnes)  Luke indicates that Philip healed many people, particularly those possessed with unclean spirits/demons (“shrieks” heard when spirits were cast out was a common way for exorcists to claim success), so it is possible that this was the line of work Simon had excelled in, and was eventually bested in by Philip.

Simon would’ve thought his “power” was a piece of God in himself.  By using this “power” Simon believed himself to be impersonating God. However, Simon saw a power in Philip that astounded him.  He was most likely impressed by the ease (and possibly the high success rate) by which Philip was able to heal. Ancient exorcisms were often long, ornate affairs and required the exorcist to call on one or more ancient, well established names (such as Abraham or Moses) that would be greater in power than that of the demon in order to cast it out.  If Philip’s healings were anything like those performed by Peter, or the many healings and exorcisms performed by Jesus, then the “exorcism ceremony” would’ve consisted of little more than a simple command given in the name of Christ–a recent, contemporary, singular individual. In modern terms, this would be like one surgeon seeing another surgeon perform a four-hour heart surgery in less than a minute with a single scalpel as his only tool.

Simon’s attempt to purchase this power may have come from several different motivations. The first is that bribery was a common way to attain positions of power in the ancient world. Secondly, Simon may have previously made his living selling his skills to the public, so he might have though Peter was a performer like himself and that the apostle would “reveal his secret tricks” for enough money.  Lastly, Simon may have placed his own financial status in jeopardy by acknowledging that someone was better at wielding the “power of God” better than he was. So, he may have been simply trying to buy enough power back to maintain his previous income and infamy.

Regardless the intent, Simon would go down in history for his actions. In the Second Century, the church fathers would typecast him as the progenitor of Gnosticism and all other heresies, and today Simon’s request to “buy” the power of God is where we get the term “simony.”

The Ethiopian Eunuch

The Ethiopian eunuch was the “chief treasurer of a kingdom wealthy from its iron smelting, gold mining and trading position.” (IVP). He worked for the Kandake (or Candace), the queen of the Ethiopians, who actually ran the country, since the “king was regarded as a god, ‘child of the sun,’ too sacred to engage in administration.” (IVP)

The Ethiopian eunuch would’ve had to travel nearly fifteen hundred miles to get to Jerusalem, so he truly was devout. And, it is quite possible that the eunuch had been in Jerusalem at the time of the crucifixion of Christ. He may have been familiar with the uproar caused by Pentecost, the early church’s preaching and the subsequent persecutions.

Lastly, “eunuchs were forbidden the enjoyment of full religious privileges by the Jews ( Deuteronomy 23:1.)” (Coffman). Perhaps Luke included this story to show how God was now opening doors to the Kingdom that had previously been shut.

Observations:

  • Jewish law required that one who had been stoned for blasphemy would have had no funeral honors. No lamentation or other sign of mourning was permitted for one who suffered execution, the Jewish rule on this being derived from God’s command to Aaron in Leviticus 10. The Christians probably further provoked the Sanhedrin’s hatred for recognizing Stephen’s death as a result of injustice, not blasphemy.
  • The death of Jesus on the cross (vs. being stoned for blasphemy) may have been an intentional strategy on the part of the Sanhedrin to try and have Jesus die under a curse (Deut. 21). The fact that his disciples kept proclaiming he’d been exalted (despite his form of death) was more than just a proclamation of the resurrection, it was a mockery of their efforts to put Jesus under a curse. The Sanhedrin must’ve been even more frustrated to see that Stephen’s burial and subsequent notoriety showed that no matter how they killed these people, the movement only gained momentum.
  • The apostles may have remained in Jerusalem despite the persecutions because of duty. It is also possible that Saul’s persecution was aimed at the Hellenistic Jews (due to the prominence of Stephen as a leader in that group, and his railing against the temple and the law) rather than the apostles and Hebraic Jews (who gathered in the temple daily, and may have had more respect for the Jewish law).
  • “Saul began to destroy the church” carries the implication that he was out to dishonor, defile, devastate, ruin. “Like the laying waste of a vineyard by a wild boar ( Psalms 79 ).” (Robertson) “Saul raged against the church like a wild beast.” (Barnes)
  • The fleeing Christians may have run off to Samaria knowing that highly devout Jews, like the Pharisees and Saduccees of the Sanhedrin, wouldn’t have dared to follow them there. Also, the Christians’ alienation from Jerusalem, rejection by the Jewish religious elite, and their belief that God could act outside of the Temple in Jerusalem, may have been especially welcomed discussion points.
  • Why didn’t the Holy Spirit come on the Samaritans immediately? It should be noted that this is a highly unusual instance, rather than the norm. Nowhere previously in Acts does Luke separate a person’s belief and the coming of the Holy Spirit onto that person. It is possible that God specifically withheld his Spirit from the Samaritans to force the Jews’ recognition of God’s acceptance of them. “If God had not withheld his Spirit until the Jerusalem apostles came, converts on both sides of the cultural barrier might have found Christ without finding each other.” (IVP)
  • Interesting to note that John went with Peter to Samaria because “John had once wanted to call down fire from heaven on a Samaritan village ( Luke 9:54 ).” (Robertson)
  • When Peter says Simon the Sorcerer is “full of bitterness and captive to sin” he is describing  Simon as still being connected to his past, quite literally, with a “poison and a chain.” (Robertson)
  • When Philip explains Isaiah 53 to the eunuch, he is discussing the same passage of scripture Jesus himself had used to describe his upcoming role as the suffering/sacrificial messiah (Luke 23). Notice how Luke often draws a direct parallel between the work/teachings of Jesus’ disciples and what Jesus himself said and did (ex: the apostles in front of the same group of leaders who condemned Christ (the Sanhedrin) using the same scripture about the rejection of the cornerstone that Christ used (Acts 4:11 and Luke 20:17); Stephen using the same phrasing to describe the glorification of the messiah (“the son of man…” Acts 7:56 and Luke 22:69), as well as the same final words as Christ at his death (Acts 7:59-60 and Luke 23: 34, 46; etc.))
  • The words “caught away” to describe Philip’s departure does not necessarily imply that there was a miracle. “The [original Greek] word properly means, to seize and bear away anything violently, without the consent of the owner, as robbers and plunderers do. The Spirit so forcibly or vividly suggested the duty to his mind, as to tear him away, as it were, from the society of the eunuch. He had been deeply interested in the case. He would have found pleasure in continuing the journey with him. But the strong convictions of duty, urged by the Holy Spirit, impelled him, as it were, to break off this new and interesting acquaintanceship, and to go to some other place. But Philip was found. That is, he came to Azotus; or, he was not heard of until he reached Azotus.” (Barnes)

Discussion:

  • Why didn’t the Samaritans get the Holy Spirit right away? What were the indicators that they didn’t have it? What were the indicators that they did have it after Peter and John laid hands on them? How do we know we have it today?
  • Did persecution increase evangelism? Does the church thrive more in times of persecution? Why? Is today’s church conflict adverse? Why?
  • The Samaritans are already impressed with Simon’s “signs” and seem to be doubly impressed with Philip’s “signs.” Philip seems to be building upon the foundation of belief Simon had cultivated to lead people to Christ. In the past, how has the church used an existing culture’s belief to point to Christ? What things do people put a lot of stock in today that the church can leverage to show Jesus as the true answer, the true power?
  • There is a theme developing in Acts of God’s opinion of people trying to buy their way into the kingdom (first Ananias and Sapphira, then Simon the Sorcerer). Why do yo think Luke included these stories? Which stories does Luke use as a contrast to show legitimate entry points into belief? Are people still trying to buy their way into belief? How so? What currency do we use?
  • Simon was converted because he was impressed with God’s power (as displayed through Philip). Are people today impressed with God’s power? Why/why not?
  • How legitimate was Simon’s conversion? Did he ever really believe? What reasons do people convert for today that ultimately prove shallow?
  • How does Luke’s account of the spreading of the  gospel beyond Jerusalem in Act 8 support Stephen’s depiction of a proactive and unconfined God in Acts 7? Is this still happening? Where?

Interesting side note: Luke probably obtained valuable information from Philip and his daughters about these early days when in his home in Caesarea ( Acts 21:8 ). (Robertson)

References:

Post Discussion Perspectives

  • Why was Peter’s response to Simon so much less harsh than his condemnation of Ananias and Sapphira?
  • To simplify the narrative, the Samaritans were the heretical neighbors of the Jews, and the eunuch was the devout seeker of truth who wasn’t allowed to “get close” to God in the temple. Who are our heretical “neighbors” today (those that believe basically what we do, but we think they’re not like us)? The Mormons? The Catholics? The snake handlers? The liberal academics? And who are the devout seekers still being “kept away” from God? The homosexual believers? Prisoners/convicts? What frontiers does God want us to push? Where would we be surprised to find him moving and acting (so surprised we’d feel compelled to send some of our leaders out to validate that it was real)?
  • The eunuch sought God so openly that Philip could hear him seeking the truth by just walking next to him. Who do we need to stand next to and just listen to what they say? Are people still seeking God this overtly?
  • What’s the difference between “experiencing the Holy Spirit” in a highly emotional worship service, and feeling great after seeing a moving concert/play/movie? What is genuinely from God and what is simply our human ability to get “wrapped up in the moment”? The presence of the Spirit in Acts seems more intentional than emotional. God’s presence is made known to validate that he is in that moment and moving the kingdom forward. Is this how we see/experience the Spirit of God today? Have we manufactured a feeling and called it God to reassure ourselves? To remain comfortable/inactive?
  • How do we know we have the Holy Spirit?