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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! 

For March 28, 2021

PALM SUNDAY

With Palm Sunday coming up, we have less than two weeks until Easter.  But for now, we have a little Lenten work to do.  Today’s readings all have a common thematic thread—humble obedience.  Let’s jump into these readings, and see how they might speak to us.

 

ISAIAH 50:4-9a

THE BACKGROUND

Most believe that this part of Isaiah was written during Israel’s exile in Babylon, around 550 BC.  They are the third of four song-poems that theologians have called Servant Songs. They describe the experiences of an unnamed servant of the Lord.  Who was this servant?  Some say it was God’s people, in this case Israel.  Some say it describes the prophets.  Christians want to conclude that these words refer to Jesus.  I would like to say yes and no to all three!  But before I do, here are all four song-poems*:

 

 

THE DETAIL

  • The first thing to note that this song is written in the first person (“me” instead of “he”).  It is a personal recounting.  Could this be Isaiah sharing his story?  (v.4)
  • So, the servant’s ears are opened, and He listens to God’s directives.  He obeys, and “did not turn backwards”.  (vv. 4-5)
  • Because of his conviction, he endures pain, suffering, and humiliation.  (v. 6)
  • Yet he is unmoved.  The words “I have set my face like flint…” are striking to me. Have you ever skinned a knee or cut your hand on a sharp rock?  This is determination!  (v. 7)
  • The remaining verses show dignity and resolve in the face of danger.  They seem to me to be like a boxer in a ring with his feet firmly planted.  “Bring it on!” the servant seems to say. (v. 8)
  • And finally, the servant proudly declares that “It is the Lord God who helps me…”  With God on his side, the others don’t stand a chance.

THE TAKEAWAY

So who was this servant?  The Bible doesn’t say!  Let’s look at two or three possibilities.

  • Early Christians were quick to see Jesus in these words.  The suffering described in Songs 3 & 4 is very descriptive of what Jesus endured.  But think about it for a moment.  These words were written over 500 years before Jesus walked the earth.  The people in exile would not have said “that’s Jesus!” Imagine going into a publisher today with a manuscript that does not make sense, and asking for it to be published. “No, it doesn’t make sense now, but it will in 500 years.”  Do you think they’ll publish it?  No.  These songs must have made sense to the people of Isaiah’s day.  These words were preserved for over five centuries before they applied to Jesus.  But they sure do apply to Jesus’ suffering…
  • Perhaps it applied first to God’s people, suffering for their faith in exile. They were in a foreign land which had weird religious beliefs, customs, and language.  The Jews most certainly were outcasts.  They were probably ridiculed, and perhaps at times even suffered physical pain for their faith.  These songs could have provided them with a spiritual strength to stand up to the opposition, and remain faithful.
  • Perhaps Jesus recalled these words during the final days of his time here on earth.  Maybe he also drew strength from these words.
  • Maybe we can also draw strength from these words, whomever they describe.  We are God’s people.  These words are also for us.  They can describe all of us who suffer for being steadfast in our faith to our Lord in the face of adversity.  Yes, I believe that these words were written for all of us.

 

 

*  Table from “Reading the Old Testament”, Bandstra, chapter 10.  Thompson Wadsworth Publishing
 

PHILIPPIANS 2:5-11

THE BACKGROUND

It is believed that this passage is actually the words to a hymn sung in the very early church.  Paul uses these beautiful words to instruct and encourage the church in Philippi.

THE DETAIL

Let’s divide this hymn into three sections.

  • The opening line instructs us to have the “same mind” that Jesus had.  The Greek word used here for “mind” is phronēte, which also means “thinking.**  So one could say that Paul is encouraging us to be so much like Jesus that we actually think like Him. (v. 5)
  • Next comes a very interesting point.  Jesus used to be in heaven with his Father, but he chose to set all that aside and take on human form.  Not only did he do this, he came in the most humble form—a poor carpenter’s son born in a barn.  Worse, he suffered a humiliating death for us.  (vv. 6-8)
  • The song concludes with a hymn of praise.  (vv. 9-11)

THE TAKEAWAY

Jesus gave up everything he had going for him, up there in heaven.  Yet, he obeyed the will of his Father, and became like us.  Not only that, he suffered and died a humiliating death. All this he did because of love. 

We are called to “have the same mind” as Jesus. As his disciples, we are to be like Jesus.  Just as Jesus was a humble servant for his Father, so should we.

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

Humility and servitude are not valued commodities today, any more than they were in Jesus’ time.  Are we truly prepared to be like Jesus, think like Jesus, and be willing to obediently suffer like Jesus, if called to do so?

 

** For the record, I do not know ancient Greek. This fact was taken from the commentary found for this Sunday, www.workingpreacher.com.

 

MARK 11:1-11

THE BACKGROUND

This is not the primary Gospel lesson for this Palm Sunday; it is the alternate Gospel lesson.  The primary Gospel lesson involves Jesus’ betrayal, trial, and death on the cross. 

THE DETAIL

  • Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem with his disciples in tow.  He sends two of them ahead to get a donkey colt.  The instructions are interesting, and match exactly what happened.  Was this yet another miracle, or something that had been prearranged?  We do not know.  (vv. 1-6)
  • Some put their garments on the beast, and Jesus climbs on.  A crowd forms.  Some throw down their garments into his path, others use palm branches.  They shout praises to Jesus, and say “Hosanna”. (vv. 7-10)
  • After the “parade”, Jesus checks out the temple.  It’s late.  He goes back to Bethany to spend the night.  (v. 11)

THE TAKEAWAY

  • What an odd way to end a passage!  “Party’s over, let’s go back to Bethany.”  Bethany shows up several times in the Gospels.  It is where Lazarus lived with his sisters Mary and Martha. Jesus healed a leper there.  Jesus’ feet were anointed there. Bethany, perhaps Lazarus’ home, must have been a sort of home base for Jesus and his disciples. It was only two miles from Jerusalem, about a 40 minute walk.
  • There are a few words that we use in frequently church, but many do not know their meaning.   Halleluiah is one.  I challenge you to define “glory” to me.  Hosanna is also one of those words.  I don’t think a worship service goes by that I don’t say or sing this word a half a dozen times.  What does it mean?  I looked it up (again!).  The Webster definition means “a cry of acclamation and adoration”.  More important to know is what it meant to the Jews of Jesus’ day.  In Hebrew, it meant “pray, save us!”  They also said “Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!”  Clearly, they were waiting for a political uprising, and the restoration of the kingdom of Israel.  Jesus did indeed save them, but he gave them something more precious than a political kingdom.
  • Why did Jesus ride on a young donkey?  A triumphant king should make his victorious entry on a war horse.  Jesus had the power and authority to do this.  But Jesus chose this animal, I believe, to demonstrate his humility.  You cannot sit tall and erect, chest puffed out in pride, and do it all atop a baby donkey! 
  • The road to Jerusalem also leads the opposite way.  Going towards Jerusalem meant pain, insult, humility, intense suffering, and death.  Jesus could easily have made a U-turn, and saved his hide.  But he went “uncomplaining forth”, to obey the will of his Father.

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

Jesus obeys the Father silently and humbly.  Fame and fortune were at his fingertips.  He could have had it all.  But he chose this path out of love for us. 

Putting God first in our lives is not an easy thing. But as Jesus’ disciples, we are called to think like him, and be like him.  Let us keep reminding ourselves of his obedience, and “let the same mind be in us that was in Christ Jesus…”.

 

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