The Stoning of Stephen – Acts 7

Pietro da Cortona, Stoning of Saint Stephen, 1...

Pietro da Cortona, Stoning of Saint Stephen, 1660. Acts 7:55 says that, as he was dying, Saint Stephen saw Jesus standing at the right hand of God. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As Stephen prepares to wind down and get to the ultimate point in his history lesson to the Sanhedrin, comes to the house of worship. He speaks of the tabernacle that Moses had built under God’s direction (verse 44, Exodus 25). He speaks of the Israelites bringing it into Canaan under Joshua, where it remained until David’s time. Then Solomon built a house for the Lord. But he reminds them in verses 48-50, that God does not dwell in the temple, and for all its glory, His own hands made everything in it.

He then addresses the council more personally, and speaks of their own vile rejection of “the cornerstone” and their betrayal of God and His son, saying:

“You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears,
you always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you.
Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute?
And they killed those who announced beforehand
the coming of the Righteous One,
whom you have now betrayed and murdered,
you who received the law as delivered by angels
and did not keep it.”

Stephen had not only turned the tables on his own accusers as having gone against God, but had called them the murderers that they were! Their fury had to have been something to see. Then verses 55-57 read:

But he, full of the Holy Spirit,
gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God,
and Jesus standing pat the right hand of God.
And he said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened,
and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”

I believe this is a literal account of what the Spirit showed Stephen before he died. It must have been a most comforting sight, knowing that he would be with the Lord soon. So they dragged him out of the city, and laid their garments at the feet of a man named Saul (stoning was hard, sweaty work) before they stoned Stephen to death.

(This year’s reading plan for Luke, Acts, and 1 and 2 Chronicles averages just 15 verses per day – 5 days per week!)
Schedule for this week

Read or listen to audio of today’s selection from Acts here
Read or listen to audio of today’s selection from 2 Chronicles here

/Bob’s boy
___________________
some images © V. Gilbert & Arlisle F. Beers

Please visit this site’s menu item “The Author’s Books” to find out about my published and upcoming books, and for a link to my Facebook Author’s Page.

All of my comments in this blog are solely my responsibility.  When reading ANY commentary, you should ALWAYS refer first to the scripture, which is God’s unchanging and unfailing word.

 

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Sovereign Lord – Acts 4

The Holy Spirit depicted as a dove, surrounded...

The Holy Spirit depicted as a dove, surrounded by angels, by Giaquinto, 1750s. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When Peter and John were released by the council, they went to their friends and told them all that had happened. What followed was what had to have been an incredibly uplifting experience, to say the very least. They start by praising God in a beautiful prayer, much of which is a wonderful model of prayer for us today as well.

When they finished, Luke tells us that the place where they were assembled actually shook! And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and and continued to speak the word of God with boldness. God was giving His people everything they needed to move forward with the Lord’s church – knowledge, the Holy Spirit, and the confidence of knowing that He was with them. Here is their prayer to God on that momentous occasion, which God answered with that physical sign to assure them that there prayer was both heard and answered. See how many phrases you recognize as being very appropriate to use in prayer today:

Sovereign Lord, who made the heaven and the earth
and the sea and everything in them,
who through the mouth of our father David, your servant
said by the Holy Spirit,

“Why did the Gentiles rage,
and the peoples plot in vain?
The kings of the earth set themselves,
and the rulers were gathered together,
against the Lord and against his Anointed’—

for truly in this city there were gathered together
against your uholy servant Jesus, whom you anointed,
both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentile
and the peoples of Israel,
to do whatever your hand and your plan
had predestined to take place

And now, Lord, look upon their threats
and grant to your servants to continue
to speak your word with all boldness,
while you stretch out your hand to heal,
and signs and wonders are performed
through the name of your holy servant Jesus.

Schedule for this week
Read or listen to audio of today’s selection from Acts here
Read or listen to audio of today’s selection from 2 Chronicles here

/Bob’s boy
___________________
some images © V. Gilbert & Arlisle F. Beers

All of my comments in this blog, however, are solely my responsibility.  When reading ANY commentary, you should ALWAYS refer first to the scripture, which is God’s unchanging and unfailing word. Reading schedules, as well as a link to the site where you can get the reading plan that I’m currently following for yourself can be found on the “Bible Reading Schedules” page of my website at http://graceofourlord.com.  

All Together in One Place – Acts 2

Icon of the Pentecost

Icon of the Pentecost (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. – Acts 2:1

This verse is the subject of so very much misunderstanding, contention and disagreement. For now, we will focus on what this “one place” means. Some people are stuck on the “upper room” of Acts 1:13. But that just does not work. The attraction of attention that follows in the verses to come because of the sounds of voices indicates that they were present in some publicly accessible place. Some house with a large courtyard or very close to a large area of the temple compound is most likely where the maximum amount of pilgrims who speak other languages would be able to hear what happened.

The next question, of course, is who “they” refers to in the above verse. Again, there are many who are stuck, in this case on the 120 people mentioned in Acts 1:15. But that does not work either for more than one reason. It has now been 10 days since Jesus ascended to heaven. Before the early church fathers started putting chapter divisions in the Books of the New Testament, context for that first verse above would be easier. The comments of Don Dewelt and J.W. McGarvey do a good job of explaining this:

“The persons thus assembled together and filled with the Holy Spirit were not, as many have supposed, the one hundred and twenty disciples mentioned in a parenthesis in the preceding chapter, but the twelve apostles. This is made certain by the grammatical connection between the first verse of this chapter and the last of the preceding. (J.W. McGarvey, The Acts of the Apostles, Cincinnati, Standard Publishing Company,” 1892)

“The fact that the antecedent of any pronoun is found by referring back to the nearest noun (or pronoun) with which it agrees in number etc., clenches the argument of the baptism of only the apostle’s in the Holy Spirit.” (Don Dewelt, Acts Made Actual, Joplin, Missouri, College Press, 1958)

And the last verse of Chapter one says:

And they cast lots for them, and the lot fell on Matthias, and he was numbered with the eleven apostles.

English: The Pentecost Mosaic, in the center i...

What happened was the sound of a mighty rush of wind (not actual wind) filling the house, and divided tongues “as of fire” rested on each one of the apostles (not literal fire – but resembling fire). They were filled with the Holy Spirit and began speaking in other languages “as the Spirit gave them utterance.” Then we are told that (especially because of Passover) there were devout men from every nation dwelling in Jerusalem; and a multitude of them heard what was happening and came to see and hear for themselves.

Each of them heard the apostles speaking in their own language. Verses 9-11 name a laundry list of countries with different languages that the people hailed from. Of course, they were amazed; and then something important was said: “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language?

That is another clue that only the Apostles were baptized with the Holy Spirit on this occasion. The fact that all of them were Galileans could only fit with the Apostles themselves. Even if it were possible that the 120 people who others insist upon were all from Galilee, these people could not identify so many as being so!  Also, Jesus Himself made a promise only to the apostles that “the Helper” would come, and they would be baptized with the Holy Spirit (John 14:16, Acts 1:5).

Why is it important to understand that? This “Helper” that they receive will be with them forever (John 14:16), so they would have the power and understanding that the Lord intended for them to have to perfect the word of God and His church before they all are done on this earth. This was the responsibility of the Apostles, as His chosen messengers.

The ability at this time to speak in other tongues was no parlor trick either. It served to show many people from many nations that this was an act of God, and that these men were speaking for the Lord. Each of them would return eventually to their lands, and the gospel would literally spread like wildfire – getting its first big opening boost from this day.

(This year’s reading plan for Luke, Acts, and 1 and 2 Chronicles averages just 15 verses per day – 5 days per week!)
Schedule for this week
Read or listen to audio of today’s selection from Acts here
Read or listen to audio of today’s selection from 2 Chronicles here

/Bob’s boy
___________________
some images © V. Gilbert & Arlisle F. Beers

All of my comments in this blog, however, are solely my responsibility.  When reading ANY commentary, you should ALWAYS refer first to the scripture, which is God’s unchanging and unfailing word. Reading schedules, as well as a link to the site where you can get the reading plan that I’m currently following for yourself can be found on the “Bible Reading Schedules” page of my website at http://graceofourlord.com.  

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Ten Days Until Pentecost – Acts 1

It is in verse 12 that Luke’s account of the time between the ascension of Jesus into heaven and the day of Pentecost seems to confuse a great many people. It begins with the apostles returning to Jerusalem after Jesus has gone from the mount called Olivet. The text says that it was a “Sabbath day’s journey.” According to rabbinic law, Jews were prohibited from walking anywhere that was beyond what would amount to a little more than a half mile. The generally accepted length of this Pharisaic law is about 2000 cubits. A more important point at this juncture is that from the day of Jesus’ ascension to heaven until the Day of Pentecost (next chapter) is 10 days. File that away for now.

English: Mount of Olives.

English: Mount of Olives. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Back in Jerusalem in verse 13, the apostles went up to the upper room, where they were staying. The text then names them – all eleven of the remaining apostles. Eleven apostles staying in one upper room. A little crowded perhaps, but not overwhelmingly so, especially for the times. The next verse tells of how they were “with one accord devoting themselves to prayer together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus and his brothers.”

Uncannily, some scholars have taken that to mean that all of those women, as well as Jesus’ mother and brothers were staying in that room as well! We find that utterly preposterous. Forgetting the impropriety of such an arrangement in the first place, this upper room was not a high school gymnasium, after all! It would have been cramped  for just the eleven.  They were staying there, but naturally they would not spend all of their time in that room. Jesus hadn’t commanded them not to leave their room. No, the verse was not saying they were doing all of those things in that small room. Luke is merely describing how they spent their days while waiting for this “power” from the Holy Spirit.

Then, in verse 15, Luke says  “In those days Peter stood up among the brothers (the company of persons was in all about 120)…” Even more incredibly, many scholars even place the entire 120 of them inside that upper room! One has to wonder just what sort of upper room these people are imagining – not to mention, just what sort of building! The term translated “in those days” merely means that the action being spoken of occurred during the time period contextually. So we are not talking about the apostles coming back from Olivet, doing some praying, and then Peter getting up to make a speech all in the same room and on the same day.

At this point, one might ask, “so what?” Indeed, why is any of this important? It will become quite important when we begin chapter 2 next week, and we will refer back to this. For now, it is enough to realize that the apostles were not sharing that upper room with half of a village, nor were they spending all of their time every day there for 10 days. It was a place to sleep and/or eat.

(This year’s reading plan for Luke, Acts, and 1 and 2 Chronicles averages just 15 verses per day – 5 days per week!)
Schedule for this week
Read or listen to audio of today’s selection from Acts here
Read or listen to audio of today’s selection from 2 Chronicles here

/Bob’s boy
___________________
some images © V. Gilbert & Arlisle F. Beers

All of my comments in this blog, however, are solely my responsibility.  When reading ANY commentary, you should ALWAYS refer first to the scripture, which is God’s unchanging and unfailing word. Reading schedules, as well as a link to the site where you can get the reading plan that I’m currently following for yourself can be found on the “Bible Reading Schedules” page of my website at http://graceofourlord.com.  

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O Theophilus – Acts 1

English: page of the Acts of the Apostles from...

English: page of the Acts of the Apostles from the last edition of the bible originally translated by Johann Dietenberger, published in Augsburg 1776 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Luke begins the book of The Acts of the Apostles by addressing Theophilus again. He summarizes what he had told him in “the first book” — the Gospel of Luke, emphasizing the charge Jesus had given to the apostles after his resurrection, and the fact that He spent 40 days speaking with them about the kingdom of God. He also made a point to say that Jesus provided “many proofs” during that time. It was an important point, and one that Paul also stressed at times (1 Corinthians 15:5-7). Peter also said plainly that they were “eyewitnesses of His majesty” (2 Peter 1:16).

He further told Theophilus that Jesus had ordered them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, “which you heard from me.” It was in Luke 24:49 that Jesus said “I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you ware clothed with power from on high.” Here, he says “John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”

It is that baptism which will ensure that Jesus’ apostles have all of the knowledge they need to grow the Lord’s church.

(This year’s reading plan for Luke, Acts, and 1 and 2 Chronicles averages just 15 verses per day – 5 days per week!)
Schedule for this week
Read or listen to audio of today’s selection from Acts here
Read or listen to audio of today’s selection from 2 Chronicles here

/Bob’s boy
___________________
some images © V. Gilbert & Arlisle F. Beers

All of my comments in this blog, however, are solely my responsibility.  When reading ANY commentary, you should ALWAYS refer first to the scripture, which is God’s unchanging and unfailing word. Reading schedules, as well as a link to the site where you can get the reading plan that I’m currently following for yourself can be found on the “Bible Reading Schedules” page of my website at http://graceofourlord.com.  

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Good Gifts – (Luke 11)

This chapter begins with one of the many occasions when the gospel writers record that Jesus was praying. When he had finished, one of His disciples asked Him to teach them to pray “as John taught his disciples.” The example Jesus then gave them was an abbreviated version of what we have come to know as “the Lord’s Prayer,” found in Matthew 6:9-13. This is, however, a different occasion and a slightly different prayer. It is not a commandment to pray by rote, any more than that prayer in the famous Sermon on the Mount. But it does serve as a model for making reverent supplication.

The Lord's Prayer (1886-1896) from the series ...

The Lord’s Prayer (1886-1896) from the series The Life of Christ, Brooklyn Museum (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The example that Jesus gives of the persistent neighbor knocking on the man’s door at midnight often leads people to the conclusion that we sometimes have to just keep “bugging” God in prayer, and finally he will give in and let us have what we want.  But is that really what Jesus is telling us here? Please do not misunderstand. We are not saying that there is no value in persistent prayer. A good case can be made for the opposite, in fact, by reading the parable in Luke 18:1-8 and other passages such as Colossians 4:2, and Psalm 88:1.

But let’s look at the context of this passage. Jesus has just given an example of how to pray to our heavenly Father. Then he asks the people which of them has a friend that they would go to in the middle of the night for food for a traveling friend. Keep in mind that most families would be sleeping in the same room of a house in those times. What an inconvenience – especially for those with small children! The friend might very well call out for them to go away, but may give in – not out of friendship, but because of persistence. The friend may want to give them what they need to make them go away.

But the relationship we have with God is not like that of a friend. It is more like a father. God wants to give His children good gifts – especially those of the Holy Spirit.  That does not mean that He will give us anything we ask for. God is too wise for that. He knows what our needs are, and He will give us what we need. Sometimes that may be different from what we think that we want, however. A father whose child asks for an egg will not give him a scorpion, the text says. God knows how to give us gifts according to our needs. What He gives us, even if different from what we ask for, will be what we need.

(This year’s reading plan for Luke, Acts, and 1 and 2 Chronicles averages just 15 verses per day – 5 days per week!)
Schedule for this week
Read or listen to audio of today’s selection from Luke here
Read or listen to audio of today’s selection from 1 Chronicles here

/Bob’s boy
___________________
some images © V. Gilbert & Arlisle F. Beers

Please note: I did not design the reading plan that I am following in my blog.  All of my comments in this blog, however, are solely my responsibility.  When reading ANY commentary, you should ALWAYS refer first to the scripture, which is God’s unchanging and unfailing word. Reading schedules, as well as a link to the site where you can get the reading plan that I’m currently following for yourself can be found on the “Bible Reading Schedules” page of my website at http://graceofourlord.com.  

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A Man, the Son of God – (Luke 10)

Jesus' disciples followed Him wherever he went, listening to Him and learning from Him. When He returned to heaven, they would lead the building of His church.

Jesus’ disciples followed Him wherever he went, listening to Him and learning from Him. When He returned to heaven, they would lead the building of His church.

In this part of the chapter, we get to see a side of Jesus that we rarely are privileged to see – and so do the disciples! We see here a very real and human connection with these excited disciples. The seventy (or seventy-two) return from the mission Jesus had sent them on, “filled with joy.” They excitedly told Jesus how they had even had authority over demons they had encountered among the people. Jesus states that He “saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven.”

It is unknown to us whether Jesus saw something in a vision while the seventy were about their work, but clearly He knew that what they were doing had diminished Satan’s power on earth. For His own reasons, God had allowed these demons to have much power over people in the time leading up to Jesus’ ministry. But this is the turning point. There would still be demon possessions during the apostolic age, but they would become much fewer in number as the lives on earth of the twelve came to an end. There is much we do not know about this subject, and there has been much speculation. But we must trust that God has told us what is important for us to know about it for now.

Jesus acknowledges the authority He has given them, and promises that nothing will hurt them (verse 19). But He stresses that what is important is the place they will have in heaven. But Jesus is obviously excited as well, and verse 21 says hat he “rejoiced in the Holy Spirit.” In His prayer to God, He praises Him for revealing these things that the disciples have seen to them instead of “the wise and understanding.” These were common ordinary people from all walks of life, yet God had seen fit to reveal to them what no others would see.

Elijah put his mantle or cloak on Elisha, showing him that he would succeed Elijah in his prophetic work (1 Kings 19:19-21)

Elijah put his mantle or cloak on Elisha, showing him that he would succeed Elijah in his prophetic work (1 Kings 19:19-21)

Jesus then turns to them and tells them that very thing – that they were blessed to see and hear what any of the prophets would have loved to have the privilege of witnessing. But none had that privilege. That blessing had been saved for these “children.” Jesus told His apostles in chapter 9 that he who is least will be great. Not one of us should think that we are not as important as others in His kingdom.

Christians must use the talents that each one has to do the most good for others that we can do. The elderly couple who visits the sick…the soccer Mom who cooks meals for shut-ins..the woman who teaches preschoolers Bible class…and those who send cards of encouragement or sympathy to their brothers and sisters. All of these are just as important as one who serves as a missionary in a foreign land.

(This year’s reading plan for Luke, Acts, and 1 and 2 Chronicles averages just 15 verses per day – 5 days per week!)
Schedule for this week
Read or listen to audio of today’s selection from Luke here
Read or listen to audio of today’s selection from 1 Chronicles here

/Bob’s boy
___________________
some images © V. Gilbert & Arlisle F. Beers

Please note: I did not design the reading plan that I am following in my blog.  All of my comments in this blog, however, are solely my responsibility.  When reading ANY commentary, you should ALWAYS refer first to the scripture, which is God’s unchanging and unfailing word. Reading schedules, as well as a link to the site where you can get the reading plan that I’m currently following for yourself can be found on the “Bible Reading Schedules” page of my website at http://graceofourlord.com.  

 

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The Tempting of Jesus

As Luke chapter four opens, Jesus is just returning from the Jordan River and His baptism, filled with the Holy Spirit. And it was the Spirit, Luke tells us, that led Him into the wilderness for 40 days, where He was tempted by the devil. The 40 days reminds us of the 40 days that Moses went without food in Exodus 34:28, as well as the 40 years that the Israelites spent wandering in the desert before entering the Promised Land (Numbers 14:34). The parallel with this latter seems significant. God provided manna for them daily, teaching them dependence on Him. The Spirit, it would seem, was leading Jesus to depend on faith that God would provide for Him. It was this faith that the devil was determined to derail.

There are those who have expressed the opinion that Jesus could not truly have sinned, since He was the Son of God. This opinion refers to what is called peccability,” from the Latin verb “peccare” – meaning to sin. If He had not been able to sin, there would have been no real temptation. But we know this to be false, as the Hebrew writer tells us in Hebrews 4:14-16.

The Temptation of Christ (detail)

The Temptation of Christ (detail) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

John the baptist had indeed prepared the way for Him, and God knew that Jesus needed these tests. This was a great opportunity for Satan because he knew that Jesus’ ministry was about to begin. His hunger and weakness was very real after 40 days in the wilderness. The temptation to deviate from the Spirit’s direction and satisfy His own hunger would be great. Then Satan showed Jesus a large portion of what must have been the Roman Empire (the “kingdoms of the world” in verse 5) that could be under his authority if he would simply bow down to him. The last temptation would have made Jesus famous throughout the land, and nobody would have been able to doubt His greatness after throwing Himself down from the Temple. And after all, would God really allow harm to come to Him?

One of the lessons we can learn from these temptations that Jesus was able to overcome can be seen by looking at how Jesus answered the devil. In each case, he used the Scriptures to answer (Deuteronomy 8:3, Deuteronomy 6:13, and Deuteronomy 6:16). Jesus showed us that our best defense against temptations is a thorough knowledge of God’s word. By reading and studying the Bible, we come closer to God, and His word gives us the answers – the knowledge and understanding to get through the trials of this world.

(This year’s reading plan for Luke, Acts, and 1 and 2 Chronicles averages just 15 verses per day – 5 days per week!)
Schedule for this week
Read or listen to audio of today’s selection from Luke here
Read or listen to audio of today’s selection from 1 Chronicles here

/Bob’s boy
___________________
some images © V. Gilbert & Arlisle F. Beers

All of my comments in this blog, however, are solely my responsibility.  When reading ANY commentary, you should ALWAYS refer first to the scripture, which is God’s unchanging and unfailing word. Reading schedules can be found on the “Bible Reading Schedules” page of my website at http://graceofourlord.com.

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The Wheat and the Chaff

The baptisms performed by John the baptist, the truth in his preaching, and the authoritative warnings of the urgency of repentance were just some of the things that made the people who witnessed it all (and, no doubt, many who simply had heard about him) wonder if he was the Messiah that had been promised to come since the beginning (Genesis 3:15). Indeed, Luke 3:15 points out that many must have desperately wanted him to be “the one.” But verse 16 tells us how John answered that question:

“I baptize you with water, but he who is mightier than I is coming, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”

Winnowing grain by tossing it into the wind so the chaff will blow away

Winnowing grain by tossing it into the wind so the chaff will blow away

The concept of being baptized with the Holy Spirit is fairly straightforward to us as Christians – followers of Christ, who have been baptized with true repentance have had their lives changed, and can be guided by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. But what is meant by the statement that He will baptize with fire? The answer can be found in the following verse:

“His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

Rather than being something positive for Christ’s followers, the baptism by fire is the judgment for the unbelievers, with the unbelievers represented by “chaff” in that verse. Chaff is the dry, scaly, inedible casing of seed or grain. Before the invention of the threshing machine in the latter part of the 18th century, threshing was often done by placing the sheaves on the threshing floor and beating them or running over them. It was the most labor intensive part of the harvest. Afterward, the wheat would be separated by winnowing, often done with a winnowing fork by tossing the grain into the wind so that the chaff would be blown away. The chaff was often burned then to dispose of it.

The Baptism of Jesus

The Baptism of Jesus (Photo credit: Travis S.)

Luke then speaks in verse 18 of John’s distinction of being the first preacher of the “good news” of the kingdom of heaven – a very different sort of prophet from those who had come before him in the Old Testament. But not everyone was happy with the preaching of John the baptist (verse 19). Herod the Great’s son, Herod Antipas, had the title of “tetrarch,” which means “ruler of a quarter” (his father had divided Judea into districts, and he was given Galilee and Perea). He had divorced his first wife, and taken his brothers wife, Herodias. John’s condemnation of this and many evil acts done by the ruler resulted in Herod having him thrown in prison.

Verses 21-22 tell of Jesus submitting to the baptism, and of the sign of the Holy Spirit and God’s pleasure in His Son. Though these verses come after the verse about John’s imprisonment, one should not infer that Luke did not know of John’s role in Jesus’ baptism, as he acknowledges John’s role in Acts 1:22.

(This year’s reading plan for Luke, Acts, and 1 and 2 Chronicles averages just 15 verses per day – 5 days per week!)
Schedule for this week
Read or listen to audio of today’s selection from Luke here
Read or listen to audio of today’s selection from 1 Chronicles here

/Bob’s boy
___________________
some images © V. Gilbert & Arlisle F. Beers

All of my comments in this blog, however, are solely my responsibility.  When reading ANY commentary, you should ALWAYS refer first to the scripture, which is God’s unchanging and unfailing word. Reading schedules can be found on the “Bible Reading Schedules” page of my website at http://graceofourlord.com.

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Preparing the Way

John the Baptist preaching repentance - polych...

John the Baptist preaching repentance – polychrome, Amiens cathedral (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If this writer kept a “top ten list” of the most important chapters of scripture in the Bible, Luke Chapter 3 would almost certainly be in that list, for reasons that will hopefully become apparent by the end of this blog. In verse 7, John the Baptist is speaking to the crowds that came out to be baptized. In Matthew chapter 3, we are told that Pharisees and Saduccees were among those who had come. The impression that is most natural to take away from John’s harsh-sounding words here are that they are meant for those two groups. But just as likely, they are aimed at any of those who had come without true repentance on their minds. That is what John had been preaching – a baptism of repentance.

Referring to them as a “brood of vipers,” the question he poses is “who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” Judging from the verses that follow, it seems that what he meant was “where did you get the idea that you can avoid the wrath that is to come simply by baptism – that is, without repentance?” “Bear fruits in keeping with repentance” means that they must not only repent, but they must show the change in their lives by how they live, and by how they treat others from this day forward. He then admonishes them not to have the idea in mind that because they are descendants of Abraham, they have nothing to fear. God, he tells them, can raise up children of Abraham from the stones present around them. In other words, it is not enough – God is not so impressed with their pedigree.

Jesus warned His disciples that the Temple would be completely destroyed. His prophecy was fulfilled in 70 A.D. by the Roman general Titus (Matthew 24:1-2)

Jesus warned His disciples that the Temple would be completely destroyed. His prophecy was fulfilled in 70 A.D. by the Roman general Titus (Matthew 24:1-2)

In verse 9, John tells them that already “the axe is laid to the root of the trees.” They do not know it, but the imminent destruction that this alludes to is the coming destruction that will result from the Jews’ rejection of Jesus. And “every tree,” he says, “that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” So when the various people asked what they were to do, everything that he tells each of them in verses 10-14 has to do with a complete change in the way John knows (from the Spirit) that they are living – mostly how unjust they are to others, especially the poor and down-trodden. That part is the same story throughout the Old and New Testaments – God has always cared very deeply about how those two groups of people are treated.

All of these things together make up the crux of what John’s commission by God is all about, as far as “to prepare the way” is concerned. This is part of what makes this chapter of Luke one of the most important in the New Testament. There has been no word from God for 400 years – since Malachi foretold the coming of John the Baptist in Malachi 3:1 and 4:5. Now comes John the Baptist, filled with the Holy Spirit and preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.

Although baptism in some form did exist before John the Baptist received his calling from God, it was not a baptism of repentance, nor was it for the forgiveness of sins. There was no real forgiveness of sins under the Law of Moses because, as Paul said, it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins” (Hebrews 10:1-4). There was washing for purification, as first implemented with Aaron and his sons (Exodus 29:4, Leviticus 16:23-24), and for remedy of defilement (Numbers 19). And at some point (though not Biblically required), baptism (immersion in water) was added to circumcision as a requirement for Gentile proselytes to be converted to Judaism.

But now it was different. John the Baptist did not come up with the idea of this baptism on his own. It was part of “the word” that came from God (Luke 3:2-3). John the Baptist “prepared the way” for Jesus in three important ways that we can clearly see: 1) by proclaiming and practicing the baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins (Luke 3:3) 2) by proclaiming that the kingdom of heaven (and, necessarily, the Messiah’s arrival at last) was at hand (Matthew 3:2, Matthew 3:11-12), and 3) by clearly pointing his followers to Jesus as that long-awaited Messiah – the Son of God (John 1:29-34).

(This year’s reading plan for Luke, Acts, and 1 and 2 Chronicles averages just 15 verses per day – 5 days per week!)
Schedule for this week
Read or listen to audio of today’s selection from Luke here
Read or listen to audio of today’s selection from 1 Chronicles here

/Bob’s boy
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some images © V. Gilbert & Arlisle F. Beers

All of my comments in this blog, however, are solely my responsibility.  When reading ANY commentary, you should ALWAYS refer first to the scripture, which is God’s unchanging and unfailing word. Reading schedules can be found on the “Bible Reading Schedules” page of my website at http://graceofourlord.com.

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