Reading Ramblings – April 25, 2021

Date: Fourth Sunday of Easter, April 25, 2021

Texts: Acts 4:1-12; Psalm 23; 1 John 3:16-24; John 10:11-18

Context: We continue with the after-effects of Easter, moving from related accounts of the first Easter day to broader considerations of life in light of the resurrection. If death is no longer the end, life takes on a very new meaning and scope. Our world struggles today in fear because trust in God and the anticipation of resurrection which were once commonplace throughout the West has been replaced by self-confidence and trust in whatever powers can provide us with the highest likelihood of personal happiness and long life. Science and the worship of science (scientism) has rapidly become the defacto God for many people. And any threat to the length or quality of our life takes on massive proportions as a source of fear. Against this fear people might be willing to cede great amounts of personal liberty or rights once cherished and unique (within the American context) solong as the exchange results in greater measure of self-satisfaction in the moment. For the Christian, our life here is a gift from God, who alone knows the details of our life and alone holds all these things not simply in his hands but in his hands for our ultimate good. The Christian is free to be sacrificial with his life- not because he does not value this life but because he knows this life is only the beginning. Our Good Shepherd has so much yet in store for us beyond the Valley of the Shadow of Death!

Acts 4:1-12 – The timidity and fear of the disciples so evident in the events of Holy Week through Easter Sunday is nowhere to be seen now. Emboldened by their witness of their Lord and Savior resurrected from the dead and equipped with the Holy Spirit of God there is now a boldness where before was only fear and confusion. This boldness is not a disregard for earthly authority or conduct but a greater confidence in the blessings through faith in Jesus as the Christ. So Peter can witness boldly, not to degrade or insult or mock the religious authorities but to make clear to them where his faith and trust now reside. In doing so he invites them to re-evaluate their actions and motivations both past and present, and to come to faith as well in the resurrected Son of God. The leaders cannot deny what the disciples are doing in terms of healing and preaching and teaching, but they need to discern the source of their power. The answer is simple – Jesus is the source. The Holy Spirit strengthens Peter and the others to give faithful witness to this even though they could be subjected to the same fate as Jesus. But once the tomb is shown unable to contain us, what confidence and joy fill their hearts and spill over into lives of loving service, obedience and witness!

Psalm 23 – Perhaps the most beloved and memorized passage of Scripture, this psalm describes the goodness of our one, true Good Shepherd as Jesus describes himself in John’s gospel. This shepherd leads us and cares for us and protects us not only in this life but leads us into the joy and security of life on the other side of death. The relationship of the Good Shepherd to his sheep does not end but continues on until our needs are met perfectly and eternally at the table set before us, where our enemies can only watch but never disrupt the celebration. In this context, the Valley of the Shadow of Death is seen to be just that – only a valley, rather than a pit. Our Shepherd accompanies us even here, leading us through it and to the other side, providing comfort when all seems lost. All has not been lost! Our lives should be lived with an eye on this approaching valley but more importantly with an eye towards what lies beyond.

1 John 3:16-24 – Love is sacrificial, and the love of Jesus Christ is made most manifest in his sacrifice of himself for us. But his tomb is empty – death has no power over him and by extension those who place their faith and trust in him. As such, the Christian not only can but should contemplate sacrificial love for brothers and sisters in Christ, emulating our Savior in being willing to sacrifice that others might live. However this level of sacrificial love is not all we are called to – we are called to live sacrificially as well as die (if so called to) sacrificially. We should have an active eye towards the needs of our brothers and sisters in Christ, willing to give in love to them who are in need. This is not a call to generic philanthropy or generosity but a specific word of encouragement and instruction to those in Christ. We must first love one another, or else our witness of love to anyone else is hollow at best.

John 10:11-18 – Jesus compares himself to others in this world who would seek the trust of God’s people. All others fall short, either out of malice (v.10) or out of human frailty (or perhaps malice here as well, vs. 12-13). Jesus is the one and only Good Shepherd, who can and does love his sheep both perfectly and sacrificially. His ability to be the Good Shepherd is rooted in the relationship between He and the Father, and his flock (the Church) should emulate this close relationship, trusting in our Shepherd even when things are difficult, as Jesus did in Gethsemane the night of his arrest. Against a world that demands comfort at any and all costs, we are called to faithful confidence that our Good Shepherd knows us and leads us rightly. This is not an easy call to heed, and Jesus understands this firsthand. Yet just as his trust and obedience to his Father’s plan was vindicated in his resurrection, so you and I as we are called to follow where we may not wish to follow will be vindicated on the last day as we too are resurrected and our faith and trust are shown to have been well-placed. All of this extends beyond narrow personal self-interest. Despite evangelicalism’s emphasis on a me-and-Jesus level of faith, the faith we are called to Biblically is always much larger. My own faith is bound to the faith of others, some very different from myself, separated by geography or time and at present all but unrecognizable. But one day we will all be gathered together into one fold! One day we will all be seated at the celebration feast on the far side of the Valley of the Shadow of Death. What an amazing experience that will be, hearing our Lord being praised in so many languages and dialects, with so many different instruments and rhythms and tones! All of which will blend perfectly togther in harmony for eternity, not because of our own skill or mastery but because of the loving and perfect orchestration of the one Good Shepherd.

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