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For April 11, 2021

ACTS 4:32-45

THE BACKGROUND

Today, we get a glimpse of what it was like to be a Christian in the early years of the church.  This description seems almost fairy tale-like. But if you read chapter 5, it was not a perfect situation.  But let’s focus on the positive for now.

THE DETAIL

  • Verse 32a sets the tone for this whole passage.  “…the whole group… were of one heart and soul…”  My father-in-law tells a joke.  Actually, he tells many of them.  But this joke goes “Do you know how we know that Jesus and the apostles had cars?  The bible tells us that they were in one Accord.”
  • Verse 32b is where it gets very interesting.  We learn that they all pooled their resources.  Verse 34 & 35 explain further that land, houses and possessions were sold, and the proceeds given to the apostles to distribute.  “There was not a needy person among them.”  This sounds more like a hippie commune to me than a Christian church!  But it demonstrates the love and conviction of the church in those early years.  This concept of sharing not only is the enaction of Greek ideals, but also the Hebrew concept of Jubilee.  Details for that are laid down in Deuteronomy 15, the purpose being to achieve a poverty-free society.  Even though our passage states that they were of one heart, there were pockets of resistance to the sharing.  Chapter 5 offers one example of this resistance, and its consequences.
  • There was great energy and power in the early church, with apostles witnessing and sharing Jesus’ teachings.  (v. 33)

THE TAKEAWAY

It takes great conviction for people of faith to share their wealth with others.  It is not natural.  It is interesting to read that this was successful, at least for a time.  What I realize most after reading this passage was their sense of community.  They were one big loving, caring community of faith.  If you needed something, whether it was food, money, or a shoulder, it was there for you.  Jesus’ last commandment was for us to love one another.  These Christians were simply following orders, but doing it enthusiastically. 

These days, our faith walk is often a very individualistic one.  The emphasis today is on Jesus being our own personal savior.  It is more about “me and Jesus” than being a community of believers.  Many modern hymns contain more personal words (me, my, mine) than communal words (us, we, our).  St. Paul speaks of the Body of Christ being a group of individuals who pool their spiritual gifts to form one dynamic, very effective body.

 

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

Can one Christian be the Body of Christ all by themselves?  Don’t we need our brothers and sisters by our side, forming a strong Body of Christ? Isn’t that what the world needs? Isn’t that what we also need?

 

1 JOHN 1:11-2:2

THE BACKGROUND

This book reads more like a sermon, than a letter.  It does not follow the traditional form of a letter, with an opening greeting and such, as we see in Paul’s letters.  So let’s read this passage like it was one of John’s sermons, which was saved for our edification.  John makes many good points in this passage.

THE DETAIL

  • The very opening verses of this book go straight to the matter.  John is explaining what he and the apostles were doing; they were simply sharing with everyone all that they had witnessed.  They were spreading the Good News.  (vv. 1-3)
  • The second paragraph contrasts walking in light versus darkness.  Living in darkness is living our lives without Jesus as our guide.  We should be living in the true light of his teaching.  Early Christians called this The Way.  When we walk in The Way, the blood of Jesus cleanses us from all sin.  (vv. 5-7)
  • In my church, verses 8-9 are quoted often.  They are used as a preface in the rite of confession and absolution, which we do every week.  These words remind us that we should not try to kid ourselves into thinking that we are perfect, good, and sinless.  We all need Jesus!  (v. 10)
  • John concludes by telling us why he is writing this—so that we will not sin.  But he knows that we will, so he reminds us that Jesus is our advocate; he is our atoning sacrifice, as well as the whole world’s.

THE TAKEAWAY

  • Why did they witness? So that their joy would be complete. (v.4)  It gave them pleasure to share the Good News.  It should also be ours.
  • We like to tell ourselves that everything we do is right and correct.  We never like admitting that we are wrong.  We find excuses for our behavior.  We blame others.  John says that if we do this, then we are liars. (v. 8) We all fall short of God’s expectations. We need to be honest with ourselves.  We need Jesus!

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

When was the last time you admitted to someone that you were wrong?

 

JOHN 20:19-31

THE BACKGROUND

These are the closing lines of the Gospel of John, his conclusion to the gospel story.

THE DETAIL

  • This is Jesus’ first appearance to all the apostles, after his resurrection.  Well, except for Thomas, that is.  Somehow, Jesus infiltrates the room, in spite of the locked doors.  Yet, he is not a ghost, because the apostles are able to touch his wounds.  What an interesting event!  (vv. 19-20)
  • Next, he tells them that they must continue the work that had started.  He then breathes the Holy Spirit on them, to give them the power they need for the task.  (vv. 21-22)
  • He further explains that they have the authority to forgive or withhold forgiveness of sins. (v. 23)
  • Now we hear that Thomas was not present.  When Thomas returns, he doesn’t believe that Jesus was there.  He has to see for himself.  (v. 25)
  • Jesus appears the following week, and Thomas is there.  Jesus does not scold Thomas for being skeptical.  Instead, he is patient and understanding.  “Put your finger here… Do not doubt, but believe.”  Thomas doesn’t even need to touch Jesus, he believes on the spot.  (vv. 26-28)
  • What Jesus says next is more for us for Thomas.  “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”
  • In verses 30 & 31, John explains why he wrote this all down.  It wasn’t so that we would have a complete biography of Jesus’ life. He wrote down just enough for us to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the son of God…” 

THE TAKEAWAY

Let’s look at Jesus’ reaction to Thomas’ behavior.  Long before this, Jesus told them all that was going to happen.  That he was going to die and be risen from the dead.  Yet, Thomas doesn’t believe.  Jesus had every right to be angry with Thomas.  Instead, he has patience and understanding.  In my times of doubt, I am always comforted by this. I know that my Lord understands, and loves me in spite of my moments of  doubt.

For April 4, 2021

EASTER SUNDAY

For the Sundays beginning with Easter and following, the first lesson does not come from the Old Testament; it comes from the book of Acts.  We shift our focus from the old promise to the actions of the apostles, with the help of the Holy Spirit, to spread the Good News.

 

ACTS 10:34-43

THE BACKGROUND

The Holy Spirit has called Peter to go to the house of Cornelius in the city of Philippi. Cornelius is an officer in the Roman army, and a Gentile.  But he is a “god-lover”.  This is what they called non-Jews who worshipped Yahweh, but did not fully convert to all the Jewish practices, namely the dietary laws and circumcision. The Holy Spirit called Peter to bring the Good News to Cornelius’ household.  At this point in time, most of the Christians were Jewish, and kept all the Laws of Moses.

THE DETAIL

  • Peter begins his speech by making a bold statement.  He says that “…God shows no partiality.”  Because of what the Holy Spirit has revealed to him early in this chapter, Peter now knows that Yahweh is not interested in a relationship with His “chosen people”; God loves everyone, showing no partiality to the Jews. (This is very good news to all us Gentiles!)  (v.34)
  • He then says “You [already] know his relationship with the people of Israel, but wait!  There’s more!  Jesus [the] Christ was sent to preach peace.  By the way, Jesus is Lord of all “.  (This is my personal paraphrase of verses 35 & 36.)
  • Peter goes on to concisely explain the life and ministry of Jesus.  (vv. 37-39)
  • He concludes with Jesus’ death and resurrection, adding that he and those who came with him that day were witnesses to all of this.  (vv. 40-41)
  • Now comes the clincher.  Jesus not only commanded them to spread the news.  Jesus is the one ordained by God who will judge us all.  Not only that, everything you know about the prophets—they all testify about him.  (vv. 42-43)
  • The rest of the story, not included here, is that Cornelius and his entire household believed in Jesus, and were baptized that day.  The Holy Spirit came, and caused them all to speak in tongues, just like those at Pentecost.

THE TAKEAWAY

No longer do the Jews have exclusive access to God’s love.  God sent Jesus to gather us all in, even Roman army officers.  He commands us to preach the Good News of Christ crucified for the forgiveness of sins.  
 

1 CORINTHIANS 15:1-11

THE BACKGROUND

This reading is really the tip of a huge iceberg.  Chapter 15 is 58 verses long.  After the 11th verse, Paul shifts into a long discussion on the resurrection—its truth and meaning.  Apparently, some believers in Corinth were questioning whether or not the resurrection actually happened.  This would be a wonderful study and basis for a sermon, but who wants to hear 58 verses of the bible read on Easter Sunday?  I do recommend that you at least skim over the entire chapter, if you have time. But let’s focus on what Paul says in these eleven verses.

THE DETAIL

  • In verses 1-4, Paul reminds them what he had previously taught them, that Jesus lived, died, was buried, and rose on the third day.
  • Paul provides a long list of Jesus’ appearances. (vv. 5-8)
  • Paul gets around to humbly including himself in the list in verses 9 & 10.
  • He concludes this section by saying that they all did this for our benefit.  (v. 11)

THE TAKEAWAY

These verses are good for me to read during times of doubt.  It wasn’t just a couple of people making this up—there were many witnesses and many appearances.  We can rest assured that Jesus not only died for our sins, but rose on the third day. He truly is Lord of All!
 

MARK 16:1-8

THE BACKGROUND

For the Jews, the Sabbath begins on Friday evening, and ends on Saturday at sundown.  You are not allowed to do any work on the Sabbath, so completing the burial operations on Jesus’ body had to wait until the first day of the week—Sunday morning.

THE DETAIL

Three women who were close to Jesus are assigned the task of caring for Jesus’ body.  But they had a big surprise waiting for them.  The body was gone!  A young man in a white robe explains that Jesus was raised from the dead, and was no longer there.  The women fled in terror and amazement.

THE TAKEAWAY

Those poor women went to the tomb in grief and left in terror.  It took some time before the apostles believed them.  After all, who ever heard of anyone rising from the dead?

But it is Jesus’ resurrection that is the whole key to his life’s mission.  Without the resurrection, he would have been just another preacher who got on the wrong side of the religious authorities.  But because of the resurrection, we know that Jesus truly is Lord of All.  He his God’s son, come to earth to put the Law in our hearts, set us free from sin, and give us eternal life.  Amen! 

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