Archive for April, 2018

Reading Ramblings – May 6, 2018

April 29, 2018

Reading Ramblings

Date: Sixth Sunday of Easter ~ May 6, 2018

Texts: Acts 10:34-48; Psalm 98; 1 John 5:1-8; John 15:9-17

Context: We continue our exploration of the effects of Jesus’ resurrection. It’s a little awkward to be reading from Acts and events that happen after the Ascension and Pentecost, without having dealt with those events yet. But thematically we are emphasizing the power of the Word of God – the Word made flesh who dwelt among us as well as the continued speaking of that Word by Jesus’ followers. Life-changing power comes from the Word of God. Peter speaks the Word and Gentiles receive the Holy Spirit and faith in Jesus as their Lord and Savior. Those who hear and receive the Word also gain divine power in the struggle to both identify sin (last week’s reading from 1 John) as well as to resist sin. And what does abiding in the Word like branches to the vine (last week’s reading from John 15) look like? Jesus says it looks like obedience. Like the struggle and desire to be obedient to the Word and to take comfort in the Word made flesh.

Acts 10:34-48 – It is truly fascinating, this encounter between Peter and Cornelius. While Cornelius is certainly not some hedonistic pagan (10:1-2), neither is he a Jew. Peter, in obedience to the visionary Word of God he received in 10:9-23 is able to actually sit down with this man and his household. And what does Peter choose to say? He doesn’t begin with a condemnation of this man or his life, or exhort him to receive circumcision and fully convert to Judaism. He doesn’t talk about how wonderful he, Peter, is in coming to spend time with someone no other Jew would want to be seen associating closely with. The content of Peter’s message is praise to God that accurately summarizes God’s intent as expressed through Scripture for all of humanity (vs.34-35). And then he moves on to summarize the key events of Jesus’ life and ministry. Peter acknowledges that Cornelius has some knowledge of these things already, so Peter builds on what is there rather than denigrating Cornelius and trying to start from scratch in his proclamation. Peter simply talks about Jesus and the events that Peter and the other Apostles witnessed. And as the Word is spoken, the Holy Spirit is present and at work and Cornelius and everyone else listening received faith. Peter is stunned by this (vs. 44-46) but doesn’t let that keep him from following the Great Commission (Matthew 28:16-20).

Psalm 98 – Like Peter’s sermon to Cornelius, this psalm praises the works of God, things that are not only objectively impressive (creation, etc.) but rather subjectively impressive (salvation). God is never to be worshiped as some distant and uninvolved creative force (deism) but rather as the deeply personal Creator who remains committed to his rebellious and wayward creation with the goal of saving us from ourselves. It is this personal and involved nature of God that elicits true worship and praise in every form and from every direction possible. And lest we rely too heavily on our rationalistic conceptions, even nature is capable of and therefore exalted to praise God. What an amazing day it will be when our Lord returns and we watch in amazement as the seas and rivers and mountains lift up praise to their creator just as we will!

1 John 5:1-8 – John continues his explanation of what love for God means, and in doing so, elaborates on Jesus’ summary of the Commandments (Matthew 22:38-39; Mark 12:31; Luke 10:27). Love seems straightforward enough, or perhaps it once did. Now we are presented with regular proclamations and reinterpretations about what constitutes love of neighbor and what doesn’t. Currently the basic formula is that to love your neighbor you need to completely affirm them in whatever it is they think or feel or do. Unless of course those things are bad or criminal, but those definitions are changing constantly and therefore complicated to say the least. John, echoing Jesus in the gospel reading this morning, understands that love of neighbor can in no way deviate from obedience to God. God the Creator alone knows what is best for each person, and therefore is uniquely equipped to tell us how to love our neighbor. If we want to love our neighbor in a way that contradicts how God has told us to be, then we aren’t really loving our neighbor, no matter if that’s our goal or if that’s how they perceive it. Love cannot be separated from obedience not to the fluctuating ideas and standards of the world but to God’s Word alone.

John 15:9-17 – We continue reading some of Jesus’ final words to his disciples at the Last Supper. The themes between 1 John and the Gospel are obvious. Further, Peter demonstrates obedience towards Jesus’ Great Commission in his interactions with Cornelius, despite tremendous cultural and cultic pressure to act otherwise. Abiding in Christ must mean obedience to him. And obedience to God will naturally result in love to our neighbor, love even that could lead us to sacrifice ourselves for them. Jesus presumes that this obedience is done willingly, not grudgingly. A servant or slave obeys out of the requirements of duty, but a friend or a family member obeys out of love for the master, out of a shared recognition of the true goodness and rightness of what is being commanded.

This is what God the Father does in God the Son, Jesus the Christ. He reconciles us to himself, and creates not slaves who chafe under his rule, but rather joyfully seek to obey him and in so doing expres love towards him and towards all of his creation. Certainly there will be times when obedience is difficult and we will struggle with it. Jesus struggled in the Garden of Gethsemane before his arrest, but He abided in the love of God the Father by committing himself to obedience, whatever that might mean for him. Likewise, despite our moments of doubt or fear or even irritation or anger, we are to constantly train and shape our thinking and speaking and doing to obedience to what God commands.

This is an active process, not something that simply magically appears in the lives of believers. We have an enemy whom we can expect to frustrate us and complicate things for us, who will use all of the weapons at his disposal to divert our eyes from Christ and therefore from obedience. But our Lord is stronger and greater, and we trust in his protection to shield us and restore our focus on him whenever we waver. The empty tomb is the evidence that Jesus has overcome the world and all temptation, all sin, and even death itself, and therefore can promise to us – and we can trust him! – that He will enable us to overcome these things as well. He is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Your Family Altar – April 29, 2018

April 29, 2018
A Weekly Devotional Resource
  • Sunday – Reflect on This Morning’s Service & Sermon
  • Monday – First Reading – Acts 10:34-48
    • What prompts Peter’s discourse (vs.30-33)?
    • What convinces Peter that the Holy Spirit is at work?
  • Tuesday – Epistle Lesson – 1 John 5:1-8
    • What is the definition of love (v.2)?
    • What is our victory that overcomes the world (v.4)?
  • Wednesday – Gospel – John 15:9-17
    • How does Jesus define love (v.10)?
    • What is the result of abiding in the love of God (v.11)?
  • Thursday Psalm 98
    • What marvelous things are specifically listed?
    • Are humans the only parts of creation capable of praising God?
  • Friday – Luther’s Small Catechism – The Lord’s Prayer 6th Petition
    • Does God tempt anyone?
    • Why might God allow us to be tempted?
  • Saturday – Hymn – Jesus, Savior, Pilot Me
    • Does this song seem to imply that Christians will be spared the tempests of life (v.1)?
    • On what basis should we trust and obey Jesus (v.2)?


Shepherds and Sheep

April 23, 2018

These things have been on my mind a fair bit the past week or so, since these were prominent themes in the readings  (John 10:11-18, Psalm 23) for this past Sunday, the fourth Sunday of Easter, sometimes referred to as Good Shepherd Sunday.

I’ve been trying to think of analogies that would be easier for people in America in the 21st century to link to then shepherds and sheep, but what I find is that there isn’t an easy one that comes to mind.  Particularly as Americans, we largely disregard and further reject any forms of such persistent leadership.  We may have bosses or supervisors or employers, but these are recognized to be temporary, and subject to our dismissal at any time (through quitting our job).  The leadership of the father in a family unit has been steady denigrated over the past 40 years to the point where it is not only widely viewed as irrelevant but inappropriate and even offensive.  I struggle to find any suitable replacement analogy in our culture today.

I suspect this is not a good thing.

The Christian life is one of sheep and shepherds.  Jesus is, of course, ultimately the Good Shepherd.  Yet Christian leaders from the apostles on down are charged to imitate Jesus’ shepherd role in regards to God’s people.  Jesus commissions Peter in John 21:15-17 to continue the work of shepherding God’s people, as an extension, no doubt, of how Jesus shepherded Peter and the other disciples.   They are to do for and with others what Jesus has done for and with them.  Their efforts of course will fall short of the perfection of Jesus’ work with them, but the spirit of the work is to continue, and this ultimately presumes a degree of authority.  And it is authority that Americans have problems with, including in the Church.

That this authority is intended not just for the Apostles but rather for all leaders of God’s people is made clear by Peter himself, in 1 Peter 5:1-11.  His appeal presumes multiple things:

  1. there are sheep the faithful in Jesus Christ, therefore
  2. there are and need to be shepherds which naturally
  3. exercise oversight – willingly rather than grudgingly and
  4. this oversight is for the benefit of the sheep, not the benefit of the shepherds and
  5. not as a means for satisfying personal desires for control, or as an excuse to insist on doing things your particular way but rather
  6. consists of leading in large part by example rather than coercion, a method that may be effective in the long-run but is not nearly as easy or simple as demanding obedience, and therefore requires that
  7. shepherds should exercise humility, even as they carry out their duties as shepherds

Sheep need shepherds.  Jesus acknowledges in his Good Shepherd discourse of John 10 that there are shepherds who are unfaithful or more concerned with personal gain than the welfare of the sheep.  But these realities of a sinful world full of sinful sheep and shepherds don’t alter the fact that sheep still need shepherds.  And the fact that the shepherds are also themselves sheep doesn’t seem to preclude Jesus and the Apostles for maintaining this motif.

How does this dynamic play out in a culture where everyone is expected to be or encouraged to be their own – and largely only – shepherd?  Certainly it can and does lead to a lot of confusion in the sheep pens and pastures that are the Church.  Certainly it will lead to the idea that shepherds in Christ are really no different than supervisors or employers – that people are free to reject their leadership in search of a preferred leadership style.  Or it may lead to the notion that the sheep are really the ones calling the shots – all of the shots, and that shepherds are only there to affirm and carry out the will of the sheep.  And certainly it does at times lead to shepherds who abuse their authority for their own benefit, or insist on a vision the sheep have no ability or interest in following.

But sheep and shepherds remain, 2000 years after Jesus observed them day in and day out and saw fit to utilize this motif, and despite the fact that sheep and shepherds are both equally scarce these days for the vast majority of people and Christians.  Which means we have to keep trying to figure out how to be faithful shepherds and sheep.  Together.

Reading Ramblings – April 29, 2018

April 22, 2018

Reading Ramblings

Date: Fifth Sunday of Easter, April 29, 2018

Texts: Acts 8:26-40; Psalm 150; 1 John 4:1-11; John 15:1-8

Context: Listening seems to be a dying art. Without a doubt people have always been more inclined to speak rather than to listen, but it was once considered a social grace to temper this with a willingness (feigned if necessary) to listen. The readings for today emphasize the importance of listening. We need to listen to those around us for clues and indicators as to how best to share our faith in Jesus Christ in a way that is both helpful and loving (Acts 8). We need to listen to those purporting to know and love God to be sure that what they say is consistent with the witness to Jesus of Nazareth as both the Son of God and the Son of Mary/Eve. And of course we most need to listen to what God says to us, whether through his creation (Psalm 150) or through his Son (John 15). If we are not listening, what do we really have to say that is either helpful or truthful?

Acts 8:26-40 – We continue with readings from the Book of the Acts of the Apostles to see the continued effects of the resurrection in the lives of those closest to Jesus. The good news of Jesus resurrected from the dead as vindication of his identity and purpose as the incarnate Son of God continues to be preached. From the beginning it has been preached to people from a variety of places and backgrounds (Acts 2:1-13). Here we see yet another foreigner – albeit a foreigner who worships the one true God – struggling to understand the word of God in Scripture. Prompted by the Holy Spirit, Philip seizes upon this as an opportunity. He hears the eunuch’s dilemma and is willing to engage with him on that topic, rather than changing the topic to something else. In a culture where listening continues to decline in respect, one of the greatest signs of love Christians can offer is to truly listen and hear another person, and then to respond to what has been expressed rather than trying to drive another agenda or topic into the picture. We can and should trust that God the Holy Spirit is willing and able to work in any and all of our interchanges with other people, whether we see that interchange as evangelistic or not. This is how we love our neighbors as ourselves – we listen to them and pray that God will direct our conversations towards his glory and the mutual blessing of all those speaking and hearing.

Psalm 150 – A raucous, rowdy call to praise and worship of God the creator. A call to praise God in as many different ways and means as God has gifted us with. Is this an exhaustive list of the appropriate instruments of praise (there are some who might claim this!)? Hardly! Rather it reads as a spur to creativity! Can you conceive of a way to praise God, whether through electric guitar or Gregorian chanting, through polka music (I know a congregation who does this!) or through guitars or an organ? God is to be praised! This is the point and purpose, the reason for which we were created, that we might praise God for and in and as his marvelous creation!

1 John 4:1-11 – Listening is hard work, but essential work. If we don’t listen, we’re apt to hear what we expect or want to hear rather than what is actually being said. And contrary to the popular self-improvement or self-image or self-validation or tolerance mantras of today, not everything said is either good or helpful or true, either for the person(s) saying it or the person(s) hearing it. Those Christians (and others) who demand that Christians not judge, not evaluate others as some sort of cardinal sin would do well to listen to the Apostle John in this passage. Just like St. Paul, he calls and warns his hearers and readers to do exactly what so many Christians think is unkind or unloving – judge. Evaluate. Listen. Hear. Decide. We are limited in our ability to perceive truth, but we can determine the basics. It is possible that St. John is dealing with the early appearance of what will later be called docetism – a heretical idea that Jesus was not truly the incarnate Son of God, but rather that He simply pretended to be truly human and physical. The name is based on the Greek word for seeming or appearing, and implies that what is seen is not true reality, or that what is seen is mistaken in its essence. Perhaps St. John is dealing with early instances of this in Christian communities (the term is first identified in a late 2nd century letter from Bishop Serapion of Antioch, but of course there might have been earlier references that have been lost to history). St. John’s point is that the essence of the Gospel – that Jesus of Nazareth is also the Messiah and the divine Son of God – cannot be compromised or tweaked. It is the reality experienced firsthand by John and the other apostles, and anyone who would prefer to alter that reality to suit their predisposed philosophical or theological preferences is not faithful in so doing and is actually speaking contrary to the Holy Spirit of God (regardless of their self-identified motivations). John furthermore exhorts Christians to practice love amongst themselves. If we are unable to love our brothers and sisters with whom we will share eternity, how can we truly say that we love our neighbor?

John 15:1-8 – It isn’t all about you and Jesus. It’s just about Jesus. Without Jesus, there is no you. Not really. Not in the most important of way – the eternal relationship with the God who created and died and rose again for you. Either you are connected with this God through faith and trust and obedience to the incarnate Son of God, Jesus the Christ, or you have cut yourself off from the only source of life. You are either alive in Christ or not. And what makes us alive is not our personal piety or the approbations of those around us, but whether we have heard or the saving Word of God, the Word made flesh that dwelt among us (John 1:14). To hear and receive that Word is life. Anything else is not life, no matter how much we may like it or prefer it or wish it to be true. John’s strong warnings and admonitions in 1 John 4 stem from the very straightforward word of Jesus himself. Truth is truth. It is real and objective and not subject to our redefinition or our renegotiation of terms and conditions. We either receive truth as it is and in doing so, receive all of the attendant blessings that this reality confers, or we live outside that truth. And just as in every other aspect of our lives, when we try to create a reality that does not match the objective truth of reality around us, we are liable to hurt ourselves. If we say that the fire is not hot and will not burn us and that we can create and summon our own reality to this effect simply by wishing or thinking it so, we are going to get burned. Perhaps just a little or perhaps tremendously, corresponding to the amount of faith and trust and confidence we place in the lie rather than the truth. So it should not surprise us that in trusting our entire selves to the reality and truth of the Son of God, we benefit tremendously, eternally! He is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

YFA – April 22, 2018

April 22, 2018
A Weekly Devotional Resource


  • Sunday – Reflect on Today’s Sermon & Service
  • Monday – First Reading – Acts 8:26-40
    • Why might Luke have included the last part of v.26?
    • How does the last part of v.26 relate to v.27?
  • Tuesday – Epistle Lesson – 1 John 4:1-11
    • Why must Christians be discerning about what and who they believe?
    • Are we to fear these false prophets?
  • Wednesday – Gospel – John 15:1-18
    • Why is it inevitable that followers of Jesus will bear fruit?
    • How is it that we are to abide in the love of Jesus?
  • Thursday Psalm 150
    • What is a lute?
    • Where is God to be praised?
  • Friday – Small Catechism – The Lord’s Prayer, 5th Petition
    • Read Matthew 18.  How does it relate to this petition?
    • According to Luther, does God answer prayer on the basis of our merit?
  • Saturday – Hymn – Listen, God Is Calling
    • What is the good news we are commanded to share (v.1)?
    • Who is the good news intended for (v.2)?


Looking for Angles

April 19, 2018

A curious read, this.

Noting the publication, it’s not surprising that the piece is critical of gun ownership and a congregation or pastor’s attempts to make sense of Second Amendment rights in a contemporary context.  And I believe I at least understand and can perhaps even sympathize with those who think that banning some or all guns will fix the problems in our culture that more and more regularly express themselves in violence.  And I can further understand an uneasiness with this particular congregation’s advertisement of guns on site.  The conversation about guns and the risks that gathering groups of Christians seem to increasingly face in our society is one being had in many congregations and gatherings of church leaders and workers.

I wouldn’t personally advocate for such a sign on site, even if I lived in a place where such a sign wouldn’t likely be legally challenged.  It reads too much like a challenge, a dare of sorts.  I could understand better an article that wanted to deal with the tone and the repercussions a sign like that might generate.

But the  article wants to be theological.  It wants to imply that this congregation, this pastor, is a lesser form of Christianity.  Unfaithful, even.  Specifically because of their stance on guns.  I think it would be more interesting if the author cast a wider net, addressing some of the other pastoral statements that the author refers to with a not-very-veiled derogatory perspective.

But the attempt to focus simply on gun control falls flat, theologically and otherwise.  The author wants to talk about Jesus and speculate on how He might have dealt with the issue, personally.  Without referring or offering an interpretation of Luke 22:36 (perhaps understandably, it is a very confusing statement!).  But also without referencing parables and other sayings of Jesus that seem to at least tacitly acknowledge the understanding of self defense (Luke 11:14-21, for instance).  Further, the author disregards passages in Scripture (such as Exodus 22:2-3) that do deal specifically with the issue of reasonable self-defense.  Not gun control per se, but what many opponents to revising or eliminating the Second Amendment point to – the right to protect themselves.

I often hear opponents to the Second Amendment claim that you can’t be Christian and support the Second Amendment.  I don’t often hear opponents of gun control arguing that it is unChristian to argue for gun control. But I do hear them arguing – along with non-Christian opponents of gun control – that gun controls or banning gun ownership is not wise.

As the author notes, things were already scary.  I don’t see a division between Christians and non-Christians as to whether things are scary these days.  I don’t see a division between gun control advocates and Second Amendment supporters as to whether things are scary today or not.  I’m pretty positive that most people would admit that there are some seriously scary things going on in our culture.

What we disagree on is firstly what those things are, and secondly how to deal with them.  I’d rather see pastors and theologians talking about that, rather than trying to vet another person’s faith through a political or social filter.  In the long run, changing our approaches is going to be a blessing to everyone.

Book Review – Searching for Jesus

April 18, 2018

Searching for Jesus: New Discoveries in the Quest for Jesus of Nazareth – and How They Confirm the Gospel Accounts by Robert J. Hutchinson

A member suggested (and loaned) this book to me a few months ago, complimenting it as a helpful and easy read.  This is a really good assessment of this book.  For the person who has been fed a rather unhelpful diet of the The History Channel or the National Geographic Channel, this book could be  very helpful glimpse into Biblical scholarship spanning the last 200 years or so, and how research and archaeology and historical inquiry have dealt serious blows to the circumstantial reasoning and absence-of-evidence arguments which defined liberal Biblical scholarship for the last century.

As such, it serves as an apologetic of sort.  It’s not a disinterested apologetic as Hutchinson definitely has a bias for a revision of the pop-theology academia of the last two centuries.  Hutchinson is not a professional theologian but he does a serviceable job of summarizing key perspectives both old and new, and prompting the reader to  honestly reconsider the Gospel accounts of the life of Jesus in light of very compelling evidence.

But while it is apologetic, there has been some criticism that Hutchinson presents material in a way that leaves evaluation ultimately to the reader’s evaluation.   At times he is less effusive than I would like in his presentation of data.  But I also believe firmly that this is intentional on his part.  He is writing to present information to skeptics, as a skeptic himself.  A believing skeptic, but a skeptic all the same.  He is trying to speak from a common base, and allow the evidence to speak for itself.  I think he does a good job of this.

Of course, his research cannot be inclusive and exhaustive.  But he does deal with a lot of the names that make big splashes currently in Western culture as naysayers of the Bible and the Christian faith, names like Bart Ehrman.  At the very least, readers are challenged with information that, if they truly are skeptics willing to investigate further, will prompt further exploration that ultimately – as the purpose of apologetics can only be – might pave the way for someone to actually listen to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Christians should also be interested to read books like this to counteract the effect of a constant cultural narrative that attempts to minimize, hide, or discount archaeology and historical records.  It is very readable and accessible, so you don’t need to be a scholar  or a theologian to benefit.  There are a lot of resources which contain the information this book does.  But this is a good book for what it attempts to do and who it intends to reach.

Book Review – Being Dad

April 17, 2018

Being Dad:  Father as a Picture of God’s Grace by Scott Keith

I purchased this book on a whim a few weeks ago at a conference.  I’ve met Scott a few times and was interested to hear what he has to say.

This book is encouraging in several ways.  Firstly, it stands rather starkly against the mainstream insistence that mothers and fathers are interchangeable and optional.  For those who are used to this steady stream of nonsense, and have perhaps begun to buy into it, this book will be a cold splash of water to the face.  Unexpected and perhaps unpleasant initially, but I argue ultimately refreshing.

As such, it is encouraging to both fathers and mothers.  To mothers, because they have to (get to?  should?) be partnering with their spouse and father of their children, but may be perplexed or frustrated by differences in subconscious parenting styles.  To fathers it should be encouraging because it is also a challenge to the notion that dad’s ultimate authority derives only from his strength and ability to enforce the Law.  Rather, Scott argues, father is a role of Gospel rather than Law.  He utilizes (loosely) the Prodigal Son parable (Luke 15).  But the book is far less a theological treatise than both a paean to an influential mentor and a celebration of the joy of fatherhood.  Towards these ends Scott enlists perspectives and inputs from moms and dads who also happen to be colleagues and friends.

This wasn’t the book I was expecting, but I think perhaps it is a book that I needed.  Knowing Scott’s interest in catechesis and faith transmission, I’m hoping that this first book (second edition) will serve as a launching pad for more in-depth study and struggle to regain the dignity and value of fatherhood in the Church as well as the larger culture.



Real World Education

April 10, 2018

I  awoke this morning, the first full day of vacation, to the sounds of our kids inquiring about breakfast.  It was about 8:30am.  We instructed them to start getting breakfast ready and we would be up and out shortly.  The routine is fairly consistent.  Heat the water for tea (and my daughter’s coffee).  Start toasting the bread.  Set out the hard boiled Easter eggs.  Wash the fruit.

I emerged groggily a few minutes later.  The kids were in action and everything was going well.  I noticed that they had the gas stove apparently turned up to high and there were some flames on the outside of the kettle.  I told them to turn down the burner a bit as I went to the bathroom.  Whilst there, I ruminated on the blessing of having older, responsible children.  I suppose I could have mused about the wonderful job of parenting and educating we’ve done, but of course that task is not finished yet.  Instead, I pondered how we should prepare the kids better for the real world by teaching them to use a microwave.  We haven’t owned one in over a decade now.  We know we’re an anomaly, but our kids ought to at least know the basics.

I emerged and was puttering with the kids to get things ready.  The kettle was still flaring up at the bottom and now it was smoking as well.  What’s wrong with it?  the  kids wanted to know.  Why is it dripping oil? they wanted to know.  I went to take a closer look.  Something about the kettle didn’t look right.  What’s that odd tab at the bottom?  Wheels and gears cranked angrily and fuzzily into gear.  I lifted up the kettle and peered under it.  The bottom had separated.  Odd.  If the bottom was separated, why didn’t the water all pour out?  And what was that mess of smoldering wires in between?

It was at this point that I realized the kids had mistakenly placed an electric water pot onto the gas stove.


(In defense, the kids *do* know how to operate an electric water pot – we have one at home!  But this one looked very much like an actual tea kettle!)

So I did have the chance to give some microwave lessons after all.  And to purchase a new electric water pot for the owners of the Airbnb we’re staying at.  What a wonderful learning opportunity!



Reading Ramblings – April 15, 2018

April 8, 2018

Reading Ramblings

Date: Third Sunday of Easter – April 15, 2018

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

Context: As we continue in the liturgical season of Easter the readings continue to highlight the resurrection and the effects of the bodily resurrection of Jesus. So instead of Old Testament readings we have selections from the Acts of the Apostles (the book of Acts). However we have to jump around a bit to avoid the texts traditionally associated with Pentecost Sunday. The readings from 1 John focus on the inward changes that are now possible through the atoning work of Jesus. The resurrection is a singularity as an objective act in time and space, but the effects are abundant in the individual, subjective realm (as well as the objective realm of reality and creation in general).

Acts 3:11-21 – The third miraculous event described in Acts (the first being Jesus’ ascension in Acts 1 and the second being the Holy Spirit’s arrival in Acts 2) is the healing of a lame man. The healing is described in vs.1-10. Apparently the man is expected to be somewhat known by some of Luke’s hearers/readers, as he was a daily fixture at this particular gate to the Temple area. Peter and John would both have seen Jesus perform many healings, and they themselves would have experience with this also on the small missionary trips Jesus sent them out on (Mark 6:7-13; Luke 9:6). Yet it seems surprising that Peter and John should be so bold here, that they should assume such things to be normal and even to be expected. The emphasis of Peter’s message is to divert the awe being directed towards he and John back to God the Father through God the Son, Jesus. Further identification would be unnecessary since Jesus was undoubtedly a commonly known person between his ministry, execution, and widespread reports of his resurrection. Peter chastises his hearers but calls them to repentance and the promise of forgiveness that comes through such repentance through the intercession of Jesus. Peter then goes back to Moses (Deuteronomy 18:15-22) as further justification for his claims. Once again, Peter is encouraging his hearers to compare what they know of Jesus with what is prophesied in God’s Word, rather than simply accept Peter’s claims at face value. The amazing thing about the resurrection is its very public and disprovable nature. Yet despite how easy it should have been to disprove or renounce the resurrection as a hoax, no one did, or has.

Psalm 4 – Certainly this psalm is selected because it could easily have been the prayer of the lame man begging in Acts 3. However any such connection is pure speculation. The man would most certainly have been Jewish and therefore likely familiar with the psalm, but no supplication beyond the request for alms is noted in Acts 3. Moreover, the occasion for the psalm appears to be shame based on lies, rather than on a need for physical healing. Rather, the psalm asserts that ultimately our honor comes from God and our relationship to him, rather than the arbitrary feelings or assessments of those around us. When we are falsely accused, we are to take hope in our relationship with God and what He declares to us (v.3). The response then is anger and indignation at the false accusations, but not to allow such anger and indignation to boil into sin, imagining vengeance against the accusers. Rather, one is to focus on continuing to maintain the relationship with God which will be our ultimate vindication of this world’s assessment of us.

1 John 3:1-7 – John’s letter echoes some of the sentiments from the psalm. What matters most, what is most amazing, is the relationship God has made possible through his Son, where we can approach him now not as rebellious ingrates but rather as children approach a loving father. Unfortunately this relationship, made possible by the holiness and righteousness of Christ conferred upon us through our faith and baptism, is not obvious either to those around us or ourselves. Not fully or completely, to be sure. Yet in faith we strive to live as He calls us to. This creates a tension within the believer, a battle between sinful desires and our new identity in Christ that calls us to holiness. We are therefore called to struggle against our sin, to battle it intentionally. It is no longer possible to mindlessly, carelessly sin. To do so is a demonstration that we haven’t really met Jesus, and that we have no real knowledge of what He has done for us or how we are called by God’s Word to live. Does this mean that we are expected to live without sin once we have come to faith? Some Christians have leaped to that conclusion based on John’s powerful words here. But the greater witness of Scripture cautions against this overly simplistic interpretation. The practice of righteousness mentioned in v.7 might easily refer to the struggle against sin – a struggle that we will not always win, to be certain, but a struggle that we engage in nonetheless. A struggle only possible possible because of the Holy Spirit of God now within us.

Luke 24:36-49 – As we should expect, eye-witnesses report slightly different aspects of the same event. Luke was not present on Easter evening, but as he says in the preface to his gospel (1:1-4) he has talked to and gathered together information from those who were in order to make his report. Likewise John reports his own experience as we read last week in John 20. Luke reports what the disciples were doing before Jesus appeared among them – they were discussing the reports of the men on the road to Emmaus who encountered the resurrected Christ. He also verifies that Jesus bade them peace, and that this was necessary because of their fear, fear which only could turn to gladness when, as John reported, Jesus showed them the marks in his hands and side, verifying both his identity and his corporeality. Further, Luke reports that Jesus also asked for and ate a piece of fish as further evidence that he was real and not a spirit. These are important details, as many have attempted to say that the bodily resurrection of Jesus was a later teaching of the Church and not the belief – let alone experience! – of the apostles and the early Church. However Luke’s account makes it clear that Jesus is very much bodily resurrected. Luke does not specifically say that Jesus gives them the Holy Spirit, but that actuality is implicit. John records (14:16-17, 26-27) how Jesus promises his disciples the Holy Spirit, who will both be the source of their peace as well as the means by which they will be able to see clearly in Scripture (the Old Testament) all the prophesies and writings concerning Jesus.

Luke and John’s accounts of the disciples first group encounter with the resurrected Christ reinforce key details – Jesus’ physicality and his giving of the Holy Spirit to his disciples so that they could better understand Scripture. Jesus’ resurrection has immediate effects and benefits to those who believe, whether they have seen him directly or accept the testimony of those who did. We believe those same blessings and benefits extend to all who place their faith and trust in Jesus as the Son of God made man in order to die for our sins. While some might take this as an excuse for avoiding Church and the gathering of believers, it actually makes it all the more important, as this is where forgiveness can be proclaimed in Jesus’ name, and where the exploration and study of Scripture can be informed, guided, and strengthened through the combined gifts of God’s people.