Reading Ramblings – April 15, 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.

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