The three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.
Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.
My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy have omitted — examines the passages we do not hear in Church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.
Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.
24 But the word of God increased and multiplied.
25 And Barnabas and Saul returned from[a] Jerusalem when they had completed their service, bringing with them John, whose other name was Mark.
Last week’s post was about the dramatic death of Herod Antipas. It was a just judgement on an evil ruler who beheaded St James the Great and wanted to murder Peter publicly.
As a result of Herod’s death, the early Church continued to grow and grow (verse 24). Matthew Henry explains:
When such a persecutor was taken off by a dreadful judgment, many were thereby convinced that the cause of Christianity was doubtless the cause of Christ, and therefore embraced it.
God’s purposes will not be foiled. John MacArthur says (emphases mine):
You know men have tried to destroy God, they have tried to burn Bibles, they’ve tried to wreck the church, they’ve tried everything and you know what, God’s work just keeps going on. Look at verse 24, just love it. After all of this the word of God did what? Grew and did what? Multiplied. Isn’t that terrific? For a man to think he’s going to stop the purpose of God is like taking a whiskbroom down to the beach and telling somebody you’re going to sweep back the tide. Doesn’t work. Can’t be done.
St Luke, the author of Acts, gives us verse 25 as the transition into Acts 13, which is about the ministries in Antioch and Cyprus.
Barnabas and Saul of Tarsus spent time in Antioch, preaching and teaching the people there.
Barnabas was the Levite in Acts 4:36-37 who gave all of his assets to the church in Jerusalem. In Acts 9, he convinced the disciples in Jerusalem that they should accept the converted Saul of Tarsus, their greatest persecutor — later Paul — into their church.
John Mark wrote the Gospel of Mark. We will read more about him and Barnabas in Acts. They were cousins who spread the Gospel message together. Barnabas also worked with Paul. These are the references to John Mark and Barnabas.
Barnabas and Saul were in Jerusalem for a brief spell. Henry tells us that they no doubt brought donations from the converts in Antioch to the church in Jerusalem. During their stay, it is possible that they lodged at Mary’s house, which Peter visited briefly after the angel released him from prison.
Then, they returned to Antioch, taking with them John Mark, Mary’s son. Henry explains:
It is probable that Barnabas lodged there [at Mary’s house], and perhaps Paul with him, while they were at Jerusalem, and it was that that occasioned the meeting there at that time (for wherever Paul was he would have some good work doing), and their intimacy in that family while they were at Jerusalem occasioned their taking a son of that family with them when they returned, to be trained up under them, and employed by them, in the service of the gospel. Educating young men for the ministry, and entering them into it, is a very good work for elder ministers to take care of, and of good service to the rising generation.
Those were three powerful ministers of the word of God, going out and increasing the numbers in the Church.
MacArthur reminds us:
Listen to what Jesus said: Jesus said, “I will build my church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.” When God sets His purpose in motion you can’t frustrate His purpose. It can’t be done. Oh in Psalms listen to these verses: Here’s a classic definition of all these kings we’ve talked about. “The kings of the earth set themselves and the rulers take counsel together against the Lord.” And you know what the Lord’s response is? Verse 4, “He who sits in the heavens shall laugh.” It’s stupid to fight God. Doesn’t make sense. Isaiah said this: “Woe unto him that strives with his Maker,” Isaiah 49:5. Man’s a fool to fight God.
MacArthur then has a word for unbelievers, who always say that they are not subject to God’s will:
And I say to you this morning if you’ve never come to Jesus Christ and accepted Him as Savior you’re fighting God’s only provision for your salvation and forgiveness of sin. If you’ve never come to Jesus Christ you’re not giving God the glory, and if you’re not giving God the glory then you’re fighting against His glory. And if you’ve not become a part of His church, a part of His body, you’re fighting against His purpose and all three are losers. You say, well I’m not fighting God. Jesus said, “He that is not with me is what? Against me.” You say, “Well I’d like to get on God’s side. How do I do it?” Jesus said, “No man come unto the Father but by Me.” You come to Christ, receive Him by faith and you’re on God’s side. You cease being an enemy. Are you ready for this? And you become a son, a son of God on whom He pours out all His love.
We are quickly approaching Advent and preparing for Christmas. In the coming weeks, let us pray that more people accept Christ as Saviour, so that Christmas becomes for them a time of holy awe and an increase in faith.
Next time — Acts 13:4-7