Reading Ramblings – April 19, 2015

Reading Ramblings

Date: Third Sunday of Easter – April 19, 2015

Texts: Acts 3:11-21; Psalm 4; 1 John 3:1-7; Luke 24:36-49

Context: The Old Testament reading continues to be replaced by excerpts from the book of Acts depicting the life of the early Church and the Apostles, contrasting their boldness after the resurrection (and after Pentecost) with their timidity and confusion prior to both of these events.

Acts 3:11-21 – Peter has just healed a lame beggar in front of a sizable crowd (vs.1-10) that grows rapidly as word of this miraculous act spreads. Finding himself again as the focal point of a large crowd, Peter, begins to preach as he did in Chapter 2 at Pentecost. Peter’s first goal is to make it clear that this miracle has not been performed by his own power or authority, but rather it is Jesus’ power (v.16). The power of the resurrected Christ changed the lives of early Christians in amazing ways as last week’s reading from Acts testified to. But the power of Jesus poured out through the Holy Spirit continues to have miraculous effects as well.

Peter’s ultimate goal is the same as in Chapter 2 – he calls the people listening to him to repentance. Repentance that in ignorance (v.17) they crucified the Son of God. Repentance is in order for them to receive forgiveness (v.19), and that they might be refreshed and that the Son of God might return (vs.20-21). The goal of preaching the Gospel is never simply informational, but transformational. It calls the hearer not simply to intellectual enlightenment but to a changing of the heart, an opening of the heart to the work of the Holy Spirit that faith might be received.

Psalm 4 – This psalm is similar to Peter’s speech in Acts 3 – it calls the hearer to a change of heart. The speaker begins with a plea to God for response, and based on God’s response in previous situations, the speaker has hopes for another rescue. The speaker is evidently being beset by others – something easily imagined knowing of David’s life. His antagonists listen to lies rather than truth, but David himself, the speaker, has placed himself in the Lord’s care, and the Lord will hear him.

In verse 4 David seems to call upon his adversaries to change their ways. Perhaps they are to be angry with themselves for their foolishness and willingness to follow lies. But they are exhorted now to righteousness (vs 4-5). The implication is that while their actions thus far have been unrighteous, forgiveness is available still to them. Perhaps though, they are inclined to ask God for proof of his intentions towards them (v.6). David disdains such tests, knowing that his reliance upon the Lord is in itself a source of joy greater than any miracle others might call on the Lord to deliver to them. This is somewhat ironic though, given David’s initial pleas in v.1. Verse 8 concludes with confidence and peace. All things are in the Lord’s hands, and so is the speaker and the present situation.

An elderly couple I used to make house calls on with a previous parish were beautiful testimonies of faith. She was fond of telling me that she didn’t need the alarm clock to wake her in the morning. The Lord would decide whether or not she was going to be getting up again for another day or not, and it was in that peace of faith that she laid herself down in her bed each night for the Lord to close her eyes in sleep!

1 John 3:1-7 – Continuing our reading from the Apostle John’s letter, we are directed once again to the love of God the Father that we are to be called, in faith, his children! This truly is amazing, but it has consequences – one of which is that the world no longer recognizes us. Why is this? Because we no longer conform to the world’s values and expectations. This is disconcerting without a doubt, but hardly surprising. The world did not understand or recognize Jesus either. We are in Christ now, and therefore children of God, and therefore no longer of the world and unrecognizable to the world. Yet what we are as God’s children is not yet fully visible to the world (or ourselves). We look forward to the time when our Savior reappears, when we see him in fullness and truth, where our own identities in him are made equally clear. Towards this end we seek each day to live Godly lives in anticipation of that total perfection we will one day inhabit.

This is serious business. Sin is unhealthy, dangerous, and reckless. While we acknowledge that we will deal with sin until the day we die, we are not to take this struggle lightly, or resign ourselves (somewhat happily, even) to the persistence of uncontested sin in our lives. We will one day be revealed in all purity! We must take this seriously because it truly is who we are, even though we cannot see it fully yet. Failure to do so puts us in real danger of becoming enslaved once again to sin and Satan rather than righteousness and Christ. We confess our sins not simply out of routine but with the genuine prayer that even as these sins have been forgiven before we could even ask, we might be given the strength of will to not sin in such ways again. If we take the grace we have in Christ too lightly, it may well be because we are in danger of Satan.

Luke 24:36-49 – Jesus appears to the disciples on Easter evening. He assures them of his identity through his physicality. While Jesus simply appears among them, He appears physically, capable of being seen and touched, and able to eat food. Jesus understands that they will more readily accept the idea of a ghost or spirit, and so He is specific and emphatic that this is not what they are encountering. Rather, they are in the presence of the bodily resurrected Jesus of Nazareth.

Jesus gives the disciples wisdom and understanding, things that they were not always privy to (or demonstrative of) during Jesus’ ministry. But now that He is resurrected, they are given the ability to see how the Old Testament points to this resurrection and course of events. Just as in the Gospel from John last week, forgiveness is central to the message that the Apostles and the Church are to carry into the world. Forgiveness of sins. Amnesty from the God we are in active rebellion against through our sinfulness. Forgiveness that is ensured and guaranteed not merely with a word, but with Jesus resurrected bodily from the dead. This is the certainty the Apostles and early Church received. It is the source for the message they preached, and that the Church is still charged with preaching today.

The Church can and may do many things, but the unique thing it must do is preach the forgiveness of sins available through the life, death, and resurrection of the incarnate Son of God, Jesus the Christ. No other organization on earth exists to do this. If the Church succeeds in social justice but neglects the preaching of the Gospel, the Church has failed. The Gospel must always be first and foremost. The impetus to acts of mercy and love, but never to be lost in the midst of those acts of mercy and love.

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