Reading Ramblings – April 3, 2016

Reading Ramblings

Date: Second Sunday of Easter – April 3, 2016

Texts: Acts 5:12-20; Psalm 148; Revelation 1:4-18; John 20:19-31

Context: The readings continue with the account of Easter, but also with the implications of Easter. Jesus rose from the dead and this is miraculous enough. But by the power of the resurrected Christ additional wonders were being performed in Jerusalem. The disciples who hid for fear of their lives are now living testimonies to the resurrected Savior through whom they receive divine power.

Acts 5:12-20 – For the duration of the liturgical season of Easter the Old Testament lessons will be replaced with excerpts from the book of Acts. The Book of the Acts of the Apostles was written by Luke, the second half of the Gospel of Luke. Whereas the Gospel focuses on the ministry of Jesus, Acts focuses on the early Church in the aftermath of the resurrection and ascension.

Signs and wonders continue to fill Jerusalem as the disciples are empowered by God the Holy Spirit to perform signs and wonders, including healings. Their testimony, supported by their miracles, win many converts and convince many people that Jesus is indeed resurrected and the promised Messiah. It wasn’t that the disciples had no opposition, but rather that the opposition could not stand against them. The resurrection of Jesus had turned the tables decisively, and in those first weeks and months afterwards, the Holy Spirit made it clear to many the truth of the disciples’ claims.

Psalm 148 – God is to be praised, and this psalm worthily leads the charge in this respect. The psalm elicits praise from all of creation, beginning with the highest beings and moving down to the lowest. The heavenly realms and angelic beings are summoned to praise first (vs.1-2), followed by the celestial lights (vs.3-6). After this earthly creation is summoned to worship, beginning with those creatures first made – fish (v.7), and continuing on to the beasts of the ground (v.10). Along the way the elements are exhorted to praise God (v.8) as well as creation in general (v.9). Finally humanity is called upon to praise the Lord, beginning with royalty and moving to those considered least among mankind – the elderly and the very young (vs.11-12).

God is to be praised because He has raised up a “horn of salvation” for his people. This is a term that denotes strength and protection. Literally, a horn would be thought of in terms of an ox horn – a symbol of strength and power. The altar of the Lord had four horns on it, which were to provide sanctuary and protection to anyone who held on to them. In terms of Easter, Jesus is the horn of our salvation, our source of strength and hope and power. His resurrection from the dead is our source of strength as we live our lives and look forward to eternity.

Revelation 1:4-18 – John introduces this writing to his audience, seven congregations in Asia Minor. The beginning of the letter indicates the recipients – the seven churches to be named in the coming chapters – as well as those who are sending the letter – John himself but also from the Trinity of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Verses 5-7 break into praise of God the Son, the firstborn of the dead and the ruler of all creation. He is worthy of honor because he has saved us from our sins, conveying to us a heavenly inheritance that will last forever. This savior will be returning – an issue that perhaps some Christians were beginning to doubt after decades of waiting for Jesus’ return. They had assumed He would have returned by now, but John assures them that He is coming still.

John then goes on to describe his encounter with the resurrected and glorified Christ (vs.12-18). Some of the description should bring to mind Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration – particularly references to white and shining aspects of Jesus. This is not the Jesus of the post-resurrection appearances. This is Jesus at the end of days, in full glory and honor. He is a terrifying sight, but He assures John that he is not to fear. Having died and been raised again, Jesus now holds the keys to death itself.

John 20:19-31 – We continue reading John’s account of that first Easter Sunday. Jesus has first appeared to Mary Magdalen in the garden outside of his tomb (vs.11-18). Now later that day, Jesus appears to his disciples. He has instructed them to meet him in Galilee but it seems that He can’t wait that long. He can’t wait to see them again, to show them that He is alive and to infuse them with hope and joy. He does not leave them to suffer in grief and doubt. He comes to them quickly.

Doubting Thomas gets a bad rap, and this episode should also make it clear to skeptics today that the disciples were not the sort of people to just assume any fanciful idea that was pitched to them. Thomas remains skeptical despite the unified testimony of the other 10 disciples, plus the women. He remains skeptical despite their claims of angelic announcements and empty tombs and Jesus himself alive and in their midst. He will not fall prey to wishful thinking!

But he does not give up meeting with the apostles either. And so it is that the next time they are all together – this time with Thomas – Jesus appears again. His instructions to journey to Galilee have apparently been postponed as they are in the same small room a week later. When Thomas encounters the risen Christ his response is immediate: he confesses Jesus to be his Lord and his God. Yes, Thomas is blessed to have seen this with his own eyes. But such visual confirmation is also not necessary, and Jesus makes it clear that there will be many who believe without such an encounter. In other words, the accounts that the Holy Spirit will cause to be written about Jesus’ life and ministry, his death and resurrection, are themselves sufficient. They are intended to function as reliable eye-witness testimony capable of bringing others to faith.

John clarifies this at the end of the chapter. He has not written down everything he could, but he has written down enough – guided by the Holy Spirit – so that the reader or hearer can reasonably be convinced of the divinity of Jesus. This belief is not idle or intellectual – it is a belief that conveys life.

There are many uncertain things in life. But we are called to put our faith and trust in a man who is more than a man, and who predicted his resurrection as proof of our reconciliation, our forgiveness by God the Father. By trusting that Jesus’ death is for us, we receive the same life that Jesus demonstrates on Easter and the weeks following that lead to his ascension.

We have been given reliable testimony. Were it not for the amazing nature of the claims – that a man rose from the dead who claimed to be the Son of God – we wouldn’t think twice about accepting the Gospels as reliable historical documents. In and of themselves there is nothing that suggests they aren’t true. It is only the remarkable claim that Jesus rose from the dead – a claim that flatly contradicts our modern secular insistence that death is the end, that there is no God, that there is no life to come, and therefore that we are free to live as we please here and now.

He is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia! For you! Today and for eternity!

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