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A Practical Commentary On Holy Scripture by Frederick Justus Knecht D.D.

[Acts 13–14]

NOW there were in the Church which was at Antioch (Fig. 95, p. 782) prophets and doctors, among whom were Barnabas and Simon, who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manahen, who was the foster-brother of Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. And as they were ministering to the Lord and fasting, the Holy Ghost said to them: “Separate me Saul and Barnabas for the work whereunto I have taken them.” Then they, fasting and praying and imposing hands upon them, sent them away. So they, being sent by the Holy Ghost, went to Seleucia, and from thence they sailed to Cyprus. After they had preached throughout the whole island, the pro-consul, Sergius Paulus, sent for them, that he might hear from their mouth the word of God.

There was with Sergius a Jew, a magician, named Bar-Jesus. This man resisted them to the utmost, and endeavoured to dissuade Sergius from becoming a Christian. But Paul, full of the Holy Ghost, looked at him and said: “O thou, full of all guile and all deceit, son of the devil, enemy of all justice; thou dost not cease to pervert the right ways of the Lord. And now, behold, the Hand of the Lord is upon thee, and thou shalt be blind, not seeing the sun for a time.”

 

Fig. 95. Antioch. (Phot. Bonfils.)

Immediately a thick mist came before his eyes, and he went about groping for some one to take him by the hand. The proconsul, seeing this miracle, believed in the Lord Jesus Christ.

From Cyprus, Paul and Barnabas sailed for Asia Minor. Having come to Antioch, in Pisidia, they entered into the synagogue on the Sabbath-day, and preached to the people Jesus crucified and risen again from the dead, with the remission of sins through Him alone.

Paul’s discourse pleased the people so much that he was requested to come on the following Sabbath and preach again. But the Jews were filled with envy, seeing the multitude that came on the second Sabbath to hear Paul, and they blasphemed and contradicted all he said. Then Paul and Barnabas spoke boldly: “To you it behoved us to speak first the word of God; but seeing that you reject it, and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold! we turn to the Gentiles.”

The Gentiles, hearing this, rejoiced, and the Gospel was proclaimed throughout the whole land. The Jews, however, incited a persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and they were expelled from that country. The two apostles, shaking the dust from their feet, went to Lycaonia, where Paul preached the Gospel in a city called Lystra.

Among those who heard him was a man who had been a cripple from his birth, and had never walked. Paul, looking at him, perceived that he had faith, and said with a loud voice: “Stand upright on thy feet!” The cripple leaped up and walked. The multitude, seeing this, cried out: “The gods, in the likeness of men, are come down to us!” And they called Barnabas, on account of his height, Jupiter, and Paul they called Mercury, because of his eloquence. And the priest of Jupiter, bringing oxen with garlands of flowers to the gate, would have offered sacrifice with the people to Paul and Barnabas.

But they, seeing what was going on, rent their garments, and ran among the people crying out: “O men, why do ye these things? We also are mortals, men like unto you, preaching to you to be converted from these vain things to the living God, who made heaven and earth, and the sea, and all things that are in them: who in past generations suffered all nations to walk in their own way. Nevertheless, He left not Himself without testimony, doing good from heaven, giving rains and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness.”

Having heard this, many believed in the word of God. But some Jews who had come from Antioch and Iconium stirred up the people against Paul. They stoned him until they thought he was dead, and cast him out of the city.

But while the disciples of the city, who had gone out, stood weeping around him, he arose and went back with them to the city. Then he and Barnabas, having announced the Gospel in Derbe, returned to the cities where they had already preached. They exhorted the disciples to persevere, ordained priests for them in every church, and with fasting and prayer commended them to the Lord. Finally, they returned to Antioch, and related the great things which God had done through them, and how He had opened the door of faith to the Gentiles.

God the Creator of heaven and earth. “God”, in St. Paul’s words, “made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all things that are in them.”

The Justice and Mercy of God. The avenging hand of God (Acts 14:11) struck the sorcerer with blindness. He was deprived of the light of the sun, because he shut his eyes to the heavenly light of truth. God, however, showed mercy towards him as well as justice, for he was not deprived of sight for the rest of his life, but only “for a time”. His blindness was intended by God to be the means of his salvation, and, having served for his conversion, was removed.

The ordination of priests and bishops. Our Lord Himself called Paul to be an apostle, even as He had Himself directly converted him to the true faith. We have seen that, in spite of his conversion by the direct intervention of God, it was necessary that he should be baptized and received into the Church by one of her ministers; for which purpose our Lord sent Ananias to him. Now in the same way that Paul became a Christian only by the prescibed rite of Baptism, so could he become an apostle of Christ only through the rite of consecration, administered to him, at the command of the Holy Ghost, by the chief pastors of the Church of Antioch, whom the apostles had already ordained by prayer and the imposition of hands. By this consecration Paul was ordained to be a bishop, and received the power, in his turn, to consecrate other bishops, and to ordain priests. Thus we see Paul on his return journey exercising this power, and appointing pastors in all the various churches.

 

Ember-days. We read that the apostles who were to be consecrated, and those commanded to consecrate them, fasted in preparation for the holy rite. True to this apostolic practice, the Church still commands the bishop who is about to ordain priests, as well as those who are going to be admitted to the priesthood, to prepare themselves by prayer and fasting. She also commands all the faithful to fast on the ember-days, at which season holy orders are, as a rule, conferred, and she desires that on those days the faithful should be asked to offer up prayers to God, to send good priests into His Church.

The object of miracles. Holy Scripture says that “the pro-consul, when he had seen what was done (that is, the miracle worked on the sorcerer), believed, wondering at the doctrine of the Lord”. He had hitherto given ear to the sorcerer, because of his assumption of supernatural knowledge. Now, however, by means of the miracle worked by St. Paul, he perceived that God was with the holy apostle, and that what he taught came from God, and was, therefore, “the doctrine of the Lord”.

Faith is the primary condition of justification. This is shown to us in the words used by St. Paul in his first sermon at Antioch in Pisidia (Acts 13:39): “In Jesus Christ every one (whether Jew or Gentile) that believeth (in our Lord Jesus Christ and His doctrine) is justified.”

Sins against faith. This chapter puts before us several examples of the various ways of sinning against faith.

1. Idolatry. This sin was committed by the Lystrians, when they wished to offer sacrifice and pay divine honour to the two apostles.

2. Superstition. This was the sin both practised and taught by the Jewish sorcerer, who claimed supernatural knowledge for himself, and ascribed supernatural power to his magical arts.

3. Unbelief. After St. Paul’s first sermon the Jews of Antioch in Pisidia seemed inclined to accept the Christian faith; but when, at his second sermon, they perceived that the Gentiles were flocking into the Christian Church, they set themselves against the faith, and persisted in unbelief. The cause of their unbelief was jealousy, born of pride. Their Jewish dignity was offended, because the despised Gentiles were offered the same chances of salvation as the “children of Abraham”. They wanted to have a special redemption for themselves, and refused to have anything to do with a Redeemer who offered salvation to all alike. Many of the so-called enlightened men of our own time have rejected the saving faith preached by the Church, for the very same cause, namely, jealous pride, and have thereby made themselves unworthy of everlasting life.

4. Speaking against faith. The sorcerer sinned in this way by seeking, for his own interests, to set the pro-consul against the Christian faith. The Jews of Antioch in Pisidia committed the same sin when they contradicted the doctrine of St. Paul, and even uttered blasphemies against it.

Sacrifice can be offered to God alone. The two apostles were, therefore, justly indignant when the Lystrians wished to offer sacrifice to them. Filled with righteous anger they rushed into the midst of the idolaters, to stay them in their sin.

To convert the sinner, and prevent him from sinning, is one of the spiritual works of mercy. It is an act of love of God, because an offence against Him is prevented; and it is an act of love of our neighbour, because his soul is thereby saved from injury. Herod Agrippa complacently accepted his deification by his flatterers, whereas Paul and Barnabas were indignant at the attempt to pay them divine honour, and cried out: “We are mortals, men like unto you!”

Among the many great virtues of St. Paul, the following shine forth conspicuously in this chapter:

1. He was full of zeal for the glory of God, which made him oppose the Jewish sorcerer, and forbid the idolatry of the Lystrians.

2. Being armed with patience and fortitude, he did not shrink from the fatigue of his long journeys, nor did he fear the hatred of the Jews, or let even the fear of death restrain him from preaching faith in Jesus Christ.

3. His humility made him seek God’s glory in all things, and declare, after his return to Antioch, that it was God who had done such great things through him and Barnabas; thus giving God the glory, and taking none to himself.

APPLICATION. Do you seek God’s glory in all things? Do you perform the duties of your state of life faithfully, or neglect them from a slothful dread of exertion? Be careful to direct your intention to God every morning!








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