Reading Ramblings – April 17, 2016

*sorry for the delayed post!*

Reading Ramblings

Date: Fourth Sunday of Easter – April 17, 2016

Texts: Acts 20:17-35; Psalm 23; Revelation 7:9-17; John 10:22-30

Context: Who we entrust our faith to is a matter of life and death. The plain fact of the matter is not everyone who asks for our faith and trust is worthy of it. Even ministers of the Gospel and brothers and sisters in Christ can have ulterior motives – often well-intentioned – that threaten our good. Others are deliberately dishonest or seek to speak where they should be silent, or stay silent where they should speak, with the result that the people of God are put at risk, or burdened unnecessarily. Jesus is the one, true, Good Shepherd, as evidenced by what He does and what He offers. The best we can do is seek to emulate his truly selfless obedience to God the Father on behalf of God’s creation.

Acts 20:17-35 – This is an interesting passage. Paul is bypassing Ephesus, a place he visited on two occasions (Chapters 18& 19) and spent multiple months in preaching and teaching the Gospel to Jews and Gentiles. Paul’s intention is to celebrate Pentecost in Jerusalem (v.16), but he knows that doing so will mean he won’t get to be with the Ephesians again. So he writes them this letter, encouraging them and affirming to them his clean conscience in regards to his time with them. He was not a burden to them; he did not go to them in order to exploit them and live off of their generosity, but rather worked to support himself and others, and on top of that shared the Gospel of Jesus Christ with them.

In a day and age where televangelists and other ministers of the Gospel live in luxury – owning multiple homes and private jets, media outlets and other valuable assets – Paul’s near-desperation to make clear his honest dealings with the Ephesians seems old-fashioned. Paul’s understanding of human nature and of Satan are level-headed: not everyone who follows him in the name of Christ will be doing so selflessly. Paul’s warnings certainly can be taken as warnings about false doctrines, but given the overall point of his letter, seem also to warn against those who will exploit the sheep of Christ for their own pleasure and benefit. The line on what is fair and proper compensation to the leaders of God’s people will always be a subject of debate, and humility on all sides in recognizing that we are sinful people is undoubtedly a healthy way of handling that tension.

Psalm 23 – The beloved study on the truly good nature of our Shepherd. Our Shepherd is selfless, always minding the needs of his sheep. Providing the necessities of life is not just what the Shepherd does, it characterizes who He is. So that in providing for his sheep, it is a glory and testament to the character of the Shepherd. He is a comfort and support in all situations, even in danger and in the face of death, never expecting the sheep to go where He himself is not willing and able to go. Such commitment is not simply until the sheep’s usefulness has expired, or until it is time to sell the sheep and make a profit. Rather the ultimate benefit to the sheep is eternal and boundless. No shepherd is so good as Jesus, and each should humbly bear in mind that the seeds of sinful selfishness are buried even in the most selfless human heart.

Revelation 7:9-17 – How good is our Good Shepherd? So good that not one of God’s people, not one sheep will be lost. I personally think this passage is stronger when vs. 5-8 are taken into account, though it makes for tedious reading! While some people have presumed that these numbers are literal, I think they are better understood as numbers of perfection and their multiples. The twelve tribes of Israel are listed out – and most of those tribes have not existed for over 500 years as of John’s vision. But are they forgotten or left out? No! So we can trust that not one of Christ’s sheep will be lost. Nobody is too small or overlooked, to inconsequential or powerless. All will be present and accounted for in this, the great Family Portrait (as I like to call it) – and that means you and I as well! St. John sees you and I and every person of faith in Christ gathered around the throne to receive the eternal blessings won for us by our Good Shepherd.

John 10:22-30 – Because of our great familiarity with the kind of self-seeking people that Paul may be warning about in Acts 20, we can be naturally distrustful of good news, of a person who seems too good to be true. So the Jews question Jesus, pestering him with questions. An affirmative answer to their questions would seem to be cause for celebration. Wouldn’t it naturally be good news that the Messiah has come? The long-anticipated redeemer? The one Job was confident he would one day see? The one foretold by Moses? The one the prophets pointed towards?

The danger with being cautious and skeptical, always looking for the wolf in sheep’s clothing, is the very real danger of mistaking an actual sheep for a wolf. The Jewish leaders can’t be blamed for being cautious. But they are held accountable when, despite what Jesus preaches and the signs and wonders He performs, they continue to reject him, to insist that He cannot be who He has already claimed to be. They ask not in order that they might believe, to validate the Word of God and their own experiences with Jesus, but rather to justify their misconceptions. Jesus’ repeated assertion of his divinity elicits the same violent response from the Jews as it did in Chapter 5 of John.

Not everyone will accept what Jesus offers, will be able to accept the claim He makes to being God himself. But God’s people will hear and follow. We the sheep aren’t able to discern who believes and who doesn’t, so we attempt not to take things for granted. Pastors continue to preach the Gospel to the baptized, to believers, so that their faith might be firmly grounded, so that all truly would hear and believe, and in believing, be saved. Hearing the Good News over and over again should be a constant call to marvel, to kneel in amazement and gratitude to the Good Shepherd.

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