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Today’s Reading

Devotional: Acts 22

Reading Paul’s impromptu defense to the crowd (Acts 22), one is struck by the sparse simplicity of the narrative. But two details urge reflection here:

First, we must ask why the crowd turns nasty when it does. When Paul starts to address the people in their mother tongue, Aramaic, initially “they became very quiet” (Acts 22:2). They listen to the entire account of his conversion and call to ministry without breaking out in anger. But when Paul says that the Lord himself told Paul, “Go; I will send you far away to the Gentiles” (Acts 22:21), the unleashed malice of the mob will be satisfied with nothing less than his death. Why?

Inevitably, the answers are complex. Some of the pressures Jews felt to remain distinctive from the Gentiles were doubtless sociological: their self-identity was bound up with kosher food laws, Sabbath observance, circumcision, and the like, and a man like Paul, who was perceived to be reducing those barriers, was threatening their self-identity. But the heat of their passion cannot be explained by merely horizontal analysis. At least two other factors must be acknowledged. (1) For devout, conservative, Jerusalemite Jews, what was at issue was the Law of God, the exclusive primacy of the temple, their understanding of Scripture. From their perspective, Paul was destroying what God himself had set up. He was entangling the people of God in compromises with pagans. Not only was he jeopardizing their identity, he was blaspheming the Almighty, whose people they were and whose revelation they were appointed to obey and preserve. (2) At the same time, it is hard to miss the element of ownership: these people were acting as though God was so exclusively the property of ancestral Jews that Gentiles could not get a look in. From Paul’s perspective, this entailed a profoundly mistaken and even perverse reading of the Old Testament, and a sadly tribal vision of a domesticated God. Of course, their error is often repeated today, with less justification, by those who so tie their culture to their understanding of Christian religion that the Bible itself becomes domesticated and the missionary impulse frozen.

Second, we must ask why Paul stands on his Roman citizenship here, avoiding a flogging, while on occasion he simply takes the beating. At least one of the reasons is that he tends to appeal to his legal status when doing so is likely to establish a precedent that will help to protect Christians. One of Luke’s arguments in these chapters is that Christianity is not politically dangerous; rather, it is repeatedly legally vindicated. Paul, thinking of his brothers and sisters, acts, as usual, for their benefit.

Devotional: Matthew 22

The closing verses of Matthew 22 (Matt. 22:41–46) contain one of the most intriguing exchanges in the Gospels. After successfully fending off a series of tricky questions designed rather more to trap him or demean him than to elicit the wise answers he actually gives, Jesus poses a question of his own: “What do you think about the Christ [i.e., the Messiah]? Whose son is he?” (22:42). Some Jews thought there would be two Messiahs—one from David’s line (the tribe of Judah) and one from the tribe of Levi. But not surprisingly, the Pharisees here give the right answer: “The son of David” (22:42). Now Jesus drops his bombshell: “How is it then that David, speaking by the Spirit, calls him ‘Lord’? For he says, ‘The Lord said to my Lord: Sit at my right hand until I put your enemies under your feet’” (22:43–44).

Jesus is citing Psalm 110, identified by the superscription as a psalm of David. If a mere courtier had written the psalm, then when he wrote “The LORD says to my Lord,” he would have been understood to mean “The Lord [God] said to my Lord [the King].” In fact, that is the way many liberal scholars interpret the psalm—which means, of course, that they must ignore what the superscription says. But if David wrote the psalm, then the “my Lord” whom he addresses must be someone other than himself. The explanation offered by many students of the Bible, both Jewish and Christian, over the centuries, is correct: David, “speaking by the Spirit” (22:43), writing what is called an oracular psalm (i.e., an oracle, a prophecy immediately prompted by the Spirit), is referring to the Messiah who was to come: “The LORD [God] said to my Lord [the Messiah].” And what he said, in the rest of the psalm, establishes him as both universal king and perfect priest.

In days when family hierarchies meant that the son was always viewed as in some ways inferior to the father, Jesus drives home the point he is making: “If then David calls him [i.e., the Messiah] ‘Lord,’ how can he be his son?” (22:45).

The implications are staggering. The Messiah from the line of David would, on the one hand, doubtless be David’s son, removed by a millennium from David but nevertheless in the throne succession. But on the other hand, he would be so great that even David must address him as “my Lord.” Any other conception of the Messiah is too small, too reductionistic. The Old Testament texts pointed in the right direction generations earlier. But there will always be people who prefer the simplifications of reductionism to the profundities of the revelation in the whole Bible.

Related Resources

Pay Your Taxes But Trust in Christ

If followers of Jesus could support Rome with their taxes, which government today—no matter how corrupt—can’t Christians support?

Neglect the Great Commandment, Hinder the Great Commission

Christians in America, let’s suffer because of integrity, not hypocrisy.

Genesis 23

Sarah's Death and Burial

23:1 Sarah lived 127 years; these were the years of the life of Sarah. And Sarah died at Kiriath-arba (that is, Hebron) in the land of Canaan, and Abraham went in to mourn for Sarah and to weep for her. And Abraham rose up from before his dead and said to the Hittites,1 “I am a sojourner and foreigner among you; give me property among you for a burying place, that I may bury my dead out of my sight.” The Hittites answered Abraham, “Hear us, my lord; you are a prince of God2 among us. Bury your dead in the choicest of our tombs. None of us will withhold from you his tomb to hinder you from burying your dead.” Abraham rose and bowed to the Hittites, the people of the land. And he said to them, “If you are willing that I should bury my dead out of my sight, hear me and entreat for me Ephron the son of Zohar, that he may give me the cave of Machpelah, which he owns; it is at the end of his field. For the full price let him give it to me in your presence as property for a burying place.”

10 Now Ephron was sitting among the Hittites, and Ephron the Hittite answered Abraham in the hearing of the Hittites, of all who went in at the gate of his city, 11 “No, my lord, hear me: I give you the field, and I give you the cave that is in it. In the sight of the sons of my people I give it to you. Bury your dead.” 12 Then Abraham bowed down before the people of the land. 13 And he said to Ephron in the hearing of the people of the land, “But if you will, hear me: I give the price of the field. Accept it from me, that I may bury my dead there.” 14 Ephron answered Abraham, 15 “My lord, listen to me: a piece of land worth four hundred shekels3 of silver, what is that between you and me? Bury your dead.” 16 Abraham listened to Ephron, and Abraham weighed out for Ephron the silver that he had named in the hearing of the Hittites, four hundred shekels of silver, according to the weights current among the merchants.

17 So the field of Ephron in Machpelah, which was to the east of Mamre, the field with the cave that was in it and all the trees that were in the field, throughout its whole area, was made over 18 to Abraham as a possession in the presence of the Hittites, before all who went in at the gate of his city. 19 After this, Abraham buried Sarah his wife in the cave of the field of Machpelah east of Mamre (that is, Hebron) in the land of Canaan. 20 The field and the cave that is in it were made over to Abraham as property for a burying place by the Hittites.

Footnotes

[1] 23:3 Hebrew sons of Heth; also verses 5, 7, 10, 16, 18, 20
[2] 23:6 Or a mighty prince
[3] 23:15 A shekel was about 2/5 ounce or 11 grams

(ESV)

Matthew 22

The Parable of the Wedding Feast

22:1 And again Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son, and sent his servants1 to call those who were invited to the wedding feast, but they would not come. Again he sent other servants, saying, ‘Tell those who are invited, “See, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding feast.”’ But they paid no attention and went off, one to his farm, another to his business, while the rest seized his servants, treated them shamefully, and killed them. The king was angry, and he sent his troops and destroyed those murderers and burned their city. Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding feast is ready, but those invited were not worthy. Go therefore to the main roads and invite to the wedding feast as many as you find.’ 10 And those servants went out into the roads and gathered all whom they found, both bad and good. So the wedding hall was filled with guests.

11 “But when the king came in to look at the guests, he saw there a man who had no wedding garment. 12 And he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding garment?’ And he was speechless. 13 Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot and cast him into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ 14 For many are called, but few are chosen.”

Paying Taxes to Caesar

15 Then the Pharisees went and plotted how to entangle him in his words. 16 And they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that you are true and teach the way of God truthfully, and you do not care about anyone's opinion, for you are not swayed by appearances.2 17 Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” 18 But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why put me to the test, you hypocrites? 19 Show me the coin for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius.3 20 And Jesus said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” 21 They said, “Caesar's.” Then he said to them, “Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's.” 22 When they heard it, they marveled. And they left him and went away.

Sadducees Ask About the Resurrection

23 The same day Sadducees came to him, who say that there is no resurrection, and they asked him a question, 24 saying, “Teacher, Moses said, ‘If a man dies having no children, his brother must marry the widow and raise up offspring for his brother.’ 25 Now there were seven brothers among us. The first married and died, and having no offspring left his wife to his brother. 26 So too the second and third, down to the seventh. 27 After them all, the woman died. 28 In the resurrection, therefore, of the seven, whose wife will she be? For they all had her.”

29 But Jesus answered them, “You are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God. 30 For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven. 31 And as for the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was said to you by God: 32 ‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not God of the dead, but of the living.” 33 And when the crowd heard it, they were astonished at his teaching.

The Great Commandment

34 But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. 35 And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. 36 “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” 37 And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40 On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”

Whose Son Is the Christ?

41 Now while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them a question, 42 saying, “What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he?” They said to him, “The son of David.” 43 He said to them, “How is it then that David, in the Spirit, calls him Lord, saying,

44   “‘The Lord said to my Lord,
  “Sit at my right hand,
    until I put your enemies under your feet”’?

45 If then David calls him Lord, how is he his son?” 46 And no one was able to answer him a word, nor from that day did anyone dare to ask him any more questions.

Footnotes

[1] 22:3 Or bondservants; also verses 4, 6, 8, 10
[2] 22:16 Greek for you do not look at people's faces
[3] 22:19 A denarius was a day's wage for a laborer

(ESV)

Resources

Pay Your Taxes But Trust in Christ

If followers of Jesus could support Rome with their taxes, which government today—no matter how corrupt—can’t Christians support?

Neglect the Great Commandment, Hinder the Great Commission

Christians in America, let’s suffer because of integrity, not hypocrisy.

Nehemiah 12

Priests and Levites

12:1 These are the priests and the Levites who came up with Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, and Jeshua: Seraiah, Jeremiah, Ezra, Amariah, Malluch, Hattush, Shecaniah, Rehum, Meremoth, Iddo, Ginnethoi, Abijah, Mijamin, Maadiah, Bilgah, Shemaiah, Joiarib, Jedaiah, Sallu, Amok, Hilkiah, Jedaiah. These were the chiefs of the priests and of their brothers in the days of Jeshua.

And the Levites: Jeshua, Binnui, Kadmiel, Sherebiah, Judah, and Mattaniah, who with his brothers was in charge of the songs of thanksgiving. And Bakbukiah and Unni and their brothers stood opposite them in the service. 10 And Jeshua was the father of Joiakim, Joiakim the father of Eliashib, Eliashib the father of Joiada, 11 Joiada the father of Jonathan, and Jonathan the father of Jaddua.

12 And in the days of Joiakim were priests, heads of fathers' houses: of Seraiah, Meraiah; of Jeremiah, Hananiah; 13 of Ezra, Meshullam; of Amariah, Jehohanan; 14 of Malluchi, Jonathan; of Shebaniah, Joseph; 15 of Harim, Adna; of Meraioth, Helkai; 16 of Iddo, Zechariah; of Ginnethon, Meshullam; 17 of Abijah, Zichri; of Miniamin, of Moadiah, Piltai; 18 of Bilgah, Shammua; of Shemaiah, Jehonathan; 19 of Joiarib, Mattenai; of Jedaiah, Uzzi; 20 of Sallai, Kallai; of Amok, Eber; 21 of Hilkiah, Hashabiah; of Jedaiah, Nethanel.

22 In the days of Eliashib, Joiada, Johanan, and Jaddua, the Levites were recorded as heads of fathers' houses; so too were the priests in the reign of Darius the Persian. 23 As for the sons of Levi, their heads of fathers' houses were written in the Book of the Chronicles until the days of Johanan the son of Eliashib. 24 And the chiefs of the Levites: Hashabiah, Sherebiah, and Jeshua the son of Kadmiel, with their brothers who stood opposite them, to praise and to give thanks, according to the commandment of David the man of God, watch by watch. 25 Mattaniah, Bakbukiah, Obadiah, Meshullam, Talmon, and Akkub were gatekeepers standing guard at the storehouses of the gates. 26 These were in the days of Joiakim the son of Jeshua son of Jozadak, and in the days of Nehemiah the governor and of Ezra, the priest and scribe.

Dedication of the Wall

27 And at the dedication of the wall of Jerusalem they sought the Levites in all their places, to bring them to Jerusalem to celebrate the dedication with gladness, with thanksgivings and with singing, with cymbals, harps, and lyres. 28 And the sons of the singers gathered together from the district surrounding Jerusalem and from the villages of the Netophathites; 29 also from Beth-gilgal and from the region of Geba and Azmaveth, for the singers had built for themselves villages around Jerusalem. 30 And the priests and the Levites purified themselves, and they purified the people and the gates and the wall.

31 Then I brought the leaders of Judah up onto the wall and appointed two great choirs that gave thanks. One went to the south on the wall to the Dung Gate. 32 And after them went Hoshaiah and half of the leaders of Judah, 33 and Azariah, Ezra, Meshullam, 34 Judah, Benjamin, Shemaiah, and Jeremiah, 35 and certain of the priests' sons with trumpets: Zechariah the son of Jonathan, son of Shemaiah, son of Mattaniah, son of Micaiah, son of Zaccur, son of Asaph; 36 and his relatives, Shemaiah, Azarel, Milalai, Gilalai, Maai, Nethanel, Judah, and Hanani, with the musical instruments of David the man of God. And Ezra the scribe went before them. 37 At the Fountain Gate they went up straight before them by the stairs of the city of David, at the ascent of the wall, above the house of David, to the Water Gate on the east.

38 The other choir of those who gave thanks went to the north, and I followed them with half of the people, on the wall, above the Tower of the Ovens, to the Broad Wall, 39 and above the Gate of Ephraim, and by the Gate of Yeshanah,1 and by the Fish Gate and the Tower of Hananel and the Tower of the Hundred, to the Sheep Gate; and they came to a halt at the Gate of the Guard. 40 So both choirs of those who gave thanks stood in the house of God, and I and half of the officials with me; 41 and the priests Eliakim, Maaseiah, Miniamin, Micaiah, Elioenai, Zechariah, and Hananiah, with trumpets; 42 and Maaseiah, Shemaiah, Eleazar, Uzzi, Jehohanan, Malchijah, Elam, and Ezer. And the singers sang with Jezrahiah as their leader. 43 And they offered great sacrifices that day and rejoiced, for God had made them rejoice with great joy; the women and children also rejoiced. And the joy of Jerusalem was heard far away.

Service at the Temple

44 On that day men were appointed over the storerooms, the contributions, the firstfruits, and the tithes, to gather into them the portions required by the Law for the priests and for the Levites according to the fields of the towns, for Judah rejoiced over the priests and the Levites who ministered. 45 And they performed the service of their God and the service of purification, as did the singers and the gatekeepers, according to the command of David and his son Solomon. 46 For long ago in the days of David and Asaph there were directors of the singers, and there were songs2 of praise and thanksgiving to God. 47 And all Israel in the days of Zerubbabel and in the days of Nehemiah gave the daily portions for the singers and the gatekeepers; and they set apart that which was for the Levites; and the Levites set apart that which was for the sons of Aaron.

Footnotes

[1] 12:39 Or of the old city
[2] 12:46 Or leaders

(ESV)

Acts 22

22:1 “Brothers and fathers, hear the defense that I now make before you.”

And when they heard that he was addressing them in the Hebrew language,1 they became even more quiet. And he said:

“I am a Jew, born in Tarsus in Cilicia, but brought up in this city, educated at the feet of Gamaliel2 according to the strict manner of the law of our fathers, being zealous for God as all of you are this day. I persecuted this Way to the death, binding and delivering to prison both men and women, as the high priest and the whole council of elders can bear me witness. From them I received letters to the brothers, and I journeyed toward Damascus to take those also who were there and bring them in bonds to Jerusalem to be punished.

“As I was on my way and drew near to Damascus, about noon a great light from heaven suddenly shone around me. And I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?’ And I answered, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ And he said to me, ‘I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom you are persecuting.’ Now those who were with me saw the light but did not understand3 the voice of the one who was speaking to me. 10 And I said, ‘What shall I do, Lord?’ And the Lord said to me, ‘Rise, and go into Damascus, and there you will be told all that is appointed for you to do.’ 11 And since I could not see because of the brightness of that light, I was led by the hand by those who were with me, and came into Damascus.

12 “And one Ananias, a devout man according to the law, well spoken of by all the Jews who lived there, 13 came to me, and standing by me said to me, ‘Brother Saul, receive your sight.’ And at that very hour I received my sight and saw him. 14 And he said, ‘The God of our fathers appointed you to know his will, to see the Righteous One and to hear a voice from his mouth; 15 for you will be a witness for him to everyone of what you have seen and heard. 16 And now why do you wait? Rise and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on his name.’

17 “When I had returned to Jerusalem and was praying in the temple, I fell into a trance 18 and saw him saying to me, ‘Make haste and get out of Jerusalem quickly, because they will not accept your testimony about me.’ 19 And I said, ‘Lord, they themselves know that in one synagogue after another I imprisoned and beat those who believed in you. 20 And when the blood of Stephen your witness was being shed, I myself was standing by and approving and watching over the garments of those who killed him.’ 21 And he said to me, ‘Go, for I will send you far away to the Gentiles.’

Paul and the Roman Tribune

22 Up to this word they listened to him. Then they raised their voices and said, “Away with such a fellow from the earth! For he should not be allowed to live.” 23 And as they were shouting and throwing off their cloaks and flinging dust into the air, 24 the tribune ordered him to be brought into the barracks, saying that he should be examined by flogging, to find out why they were shouting against him like this. 25 But when they had stretched him out for the whips,4 Paul said to the centurion who was standing by, “Is it lawful for you to flog a man who is a Roman citizen and uncondemned?” 26 When the centurion heard this, he went to the tribune and said to him, “What are you about to do? For this man is a Roman citizen.” 27 So the tribune came and said to him, “Tell me, are you a Roman citizen?” And he said, “Yes.” 28 The tribune answered, “I bought this citizenship for a large sum.” Paul said, “But I am a citizen by birth.” 29 So those who were about to examine him withdrew from him immediately, and the tribune also was afraid, for he realized that Paul was a Roman citizen and that he had bound him.

Paul Before the Council

30 But on the next day, desiring to know the real reason why he was being accused by the Jews, he unbound him and commanded the chief priests and all the council to meet, and he brought Paul down and set him before them.

Footnotes

[1] 22:2 Or the Hebrew dialect (probably Aramaic)
[2] 22:3 Or city at the feet of Gamaliel, educated
[3] 22:9 Or hear with understanding
[4] 22:25 Or when they had tied him up with leather strips

(ESV)