Tag Archives: Lectionary

Acts 1-5

 

Drawing above: When the day of Pentecost came. Mark A Hewitt, Pastel & pen. 26 May 2012.

Things to watch for as you read these chapters.

Monday, February 10, Chapter 1

Writing sometime around 390 AD, John Chrysostom remarked, “To many people this book, both its content and its author, is so little known that they are not even aware it exists.”  He then did his best to bring the Acts of the Apostles to light.  Remember that he was writing only about 200 years after the last Apostle died and before the books of the New Testament were agreed upon.  Many did not accept Acts as scripture, only as an interesting read.

We will find it more than just interesting.  Luke, having written a Gospel, now describes events of the early church.  Beginning in verse 2, he stresses the importance of the Holy Spirit in that experience.

When we read the end of Luke and the beginning of Acts, we find no contradictions.  The Gospel account is a quick summary, expanded in Acts.  Now we see Jesus rising into a cloud, but not just any cloud, He rose into the Cloud of God, the Cloud that led the Israelites through the desert to the Promised Land.

In verse 14 we read that the 120 apostles met every day in prayer.  In the Gospel, Luke adds that they met continually in the Temple.  There was no other place indoors where that many people could gather, not even in Herod’s palace.

Since Jesus chose the Twelve to represent the Twelve Tribes of Israel and since Judas killed himself, the Eleven suggested two men to replace Judas: Joseph and Matthias.  We can speculate that Jesus treated both men with special favor, but we do not know anything about them.  Lots were cast and Matthias became an Apostle, much the way we decide which goal a team will defend.  Neither man appears again in the Bible.

Tuesday, February 11, Chapter 2

Pentecost deserves some explanation.  The word is Greek, meaning 50, because it took place 50 days after the Saturday following Passover.  In Hebrew it was, and is, called the Feast of Weeks (Shavuot), also sometimes Feast of Harvest or First Fruits.  On the first day of the festival, priest harvested wheat, ground it, made it into bread, and offered it at the Temple as the first fruit of the harvest.  An earlier first fruit harvest of barley took place earlier on the first Sunday after Passover.  We as Christians should celebrate it because Jesus rose from the grave that very day, becoming the First Fruit of the Eternal Harvest.

Forth-nine days later, the Holy Spirit filled 120 followers with a power that must have felt like fire.  Peter preached his best sermon and thousands of lives were changed forever.  All of the followers spread throughout the city like a flood, preaching and teaching through the power of the Holy Spirit.  They could speak Aramaic but be understood by a Greek speaker as speaking in Greek and a Syrian in his language at the same time.  The Holy Spirit became a universal translator.

In the days that followed, only the Twelve did the miracles, but all joined together in complete trust, sharing all that they had.  The phrase, ‘breaking bread’, simply means they ate together.  Spreading the Word all started just as Jesus said it would, in Jerusalem, then Judah, Samaria, Galilee, and the world.  It is fitting that the Romans aided the rapid spread of the Way, as it was first called.  Their transportation system was one of the best known before modern times.

Wednesday, February 12, Chapter 3

Peter and John healed a crippled man, well, not really.  Jesus through the Holy Spirit healed a man, a man who accepted the power of God on faith.  The message of this chapter is that everyone is crippled and in need of the healing power of Jesus.  Peter said, ‘Repent, then and turn to God that your sins may be wiped out.’  It is sin that cripples us; it is sin that we need to repent.  Understand though that God forgives sin and we are healed in that, but we still live in a world with worldly bodies that decay and die.  Asking God to cure a disease will only postpone the death all Christians look forward to.

Thursday, February 13, Chapter 4

Remember that the Apostles and disciples were preaching and teaching in the Temple and in the synagogues to Jews almost exclusively.  They were not peddling a new religion, but rather claiming that Jesus was the Messiah promised by the Scriptures and that he rose from the grave.  The religious leaders believed they were rid of the problem when they had Jesus killed, but his followers continued to spread the same message, adding the resurrection to what the leaders perceived as blasphemy.  When Peter and John healed the crippled man, the leaders decided to go on the attack once again.

A note on the high priest.  In the days of Jewish kings, the high priest was the second most powerful person in the land because the nation was ruled by the religion, somewhat like Iran today.  In the time of Jesus, the political rulers were Roman, so the high priest was the most powerful Jewish leader.  Annas had been appointed to the position at the time of Jesus birth and held it for 21 years when the Romans forced his removal.

However, Annas was rich and powerful and able to control the office through the next six office holders, five of whom where his sons and one his son-in-law.  In the years of Jesus ministry and the beginnings of the church, the high priest was the son-in-law, Joseph Caiaphas.

The Captain of the Temple Guard was the highest ranking officer of the small Jewish army, small because the Romans kept it that way.  He, none-the-less, held a powerful position, in part because he worked closely with both the high priest and the Roman legions.

Notice in verse seven the leaders get right to the issue of blasphemy.  The scriptures say that only God can heal, so it they claimed they did it or that Jesus did it, they would be guilty of blasphemy.  Peter threw it in their faces, ‘it is by Jesus the Messiah, the one you murdered.’  The leaders had a problem: healing comes from God and the man was clearly healed.  He was a man they had all seen before.  To claim it was faked was absurd.  In the end they warned Peter and John to stop preaching and let them go.

The response of Peter and John was to pray for even more of the Holy Spirit to speak the bold words they knew angered the authorities and put their own lives in jeopardy.

Luke reminds us of how the Followers of the Way lived.  It was a true commune, each sharing what they had as it was needed.  We are introduced to Barnabas who will later become one of Paul’s closest associates.

Friday, February 14, Chapter 5

What was the sin of Ananias and Sapphira?  The answer takes us back to Luke’s first book when Jesus spoke with the rich young ruler.

18:24 Jesus looked at him and said, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!  18:25 Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”  18:26 Those who heard this asked, “Who then can be saved?” 18:27 Jesus replied, “What is impossible with men is possible with God.”  

 

Note that in verses 4:35, 4:37, and 5:2, Luke uses the same phrase, ‘put it at the apostles’ feet.’  An important Greek word is used here, nosphizein, meaning to misappropriate. The difference is that Ananias tried to pass it off as the full amount.  All he had to do was announce, ‘Here is part of the sale. I can give you more as needed.’  Keep in mind what Jesus said in Matt 6:2-4.  Ananias was being a hypocrite.

The Greek word translated ‘died’ was used in ancient times only to describe a person struck down by God.  Why was the penalty so heavy?  Ananias and his wife were no longer controlled by the Holy Spirit but by Satan, by greed.  The Holy Spirit is Life, Satan is death.

In verse 11, the Greek word, ekklesia, is used for the first time.  In English it is church.

Solomon’s Colonnade or Portico, located along the eastern wall of the Court of the Gentiles, was used by many groups for teaching and meetings.  The followers of the Way seem to have taken control of a portion of it.

Verse 17 starts the first great escape.  We see the leaders filled with jealousy.  That tells us much about the true nature of their attacks on the still tiny Messianic movement.  Nothing is said about the jailers here, but remember that if a prisoner escaped, the jailer was killed.  Later, we are told they were still at their posts.

In verse 20, the angel tells the Twelve to ‘stand firm’ in the Temple.  They had to wait for sunrise when the gates were opened again.  While they were teaching, the captain took his men to bring them, carefully, to the Sanhedrin to be questioned.

Notice in verse 28 the leaders will not even speak the name ‘Jesus’, perhaps out of fear the very name contains powers they cannot control.  Peter speaks for the group and claims Jesus to be the Prince of God and the Savior of man.  The word for savior is used in the Old Testament only of God and of those defeating evil.

Gamaliel was important because he is still considered the greatest teacher of the Law.  He is important to the early church because Saul who became Paul was his student.  Later, in Acts 22:3, Paul claimed he was well trained by Gamaliel.  Here in chapter 5, Gamaliel, perhaps with Saul standing beside him, suggests that the Sanhedrin allow Peter and crew to destroy themselves as did all the other would be Messiahs.

Pay special attention to verse 39 and compare it to Deut 18:20-22.

They were flogged according to Deut 25:2-3.  We do not know how many lashes their ‘crime’ required.  It did not matter to the Twelve, they rejoiced for their bloody backs.

Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence

Why Galilee?

Isaiah 9:1-4
1 Corinthians 1:10-18
Matthew 4:12-23
Psalm 27:1, 5-13

If we look at a map of Israel and find the Sea of Galilee, the land to the west of it is where Jesus spent most of his three-year ministry.  In ancient times, Zebulun and Naphtali were located in that region.  Both Isaiah and Matthew make note of the towns and the region.  Why is it important?

Isaiah adds the detail that, In the future he will honor Galilee of the Gentiles; another clear reference to the coming Messiah.  Centuries later, in the time of Jesus, Judeans looked down on Galilee because there were so many Roman cities in the district.  In fact, Sepphoris, one of the finest examples of such a city, was just five miles from Nazareth.  In spite of that, Isaiah had the Messiah coming from such a place.  Think perhaps of a future President coming from a mountain in Montana.  Come to think of it, that might be reason enough to vote for him, but back to Jesus.

He very deliberately went to Capernaum on the north-western shore of the Sea of Galilee and used that city as his base of operations, later using Peter’s house as home-away-from-home.  When he first arrived in the city, he preached the same message John the Baptizer gave.

However, his call of Andrew and Simon is in marked contrast to the way John the Apostle recorded it in last week’s reading.  In John, we see Andrew as a disciple of John the Baptizer.  He and an unnamed disciple heard John call Jesus the Lamb of God and they went to investigate Jesus.  Andrew at once became a follower and brought Simon in as well.

Matthew says that Jesus saw the two of them in their fishing boat and called them to follow him.  This is one of many such confusions that occur among the four Gospels.  Such things are the stuff of attacks on the validity of Christianity.  Generally, the people who make the attacks have not bothered themselves with such things as the backgrounds of the authors, the style of writing in the First Century, the purpose of the individual Gospel, and many other important matters.

To keep it short, none of the Gospel writers were writing history.  They all had a theme, a message that was foremost in their minds.  They used loosely collected stories told and retold over 30, 40, 60 years.  They did things that would have a modern historian blacklisted for life.  They made up things that fit their theme, things that were like stories they knew, but needed to be changed to fit the theme.

I am a historian by training and it is alien to my creed, but if I wrote history in the First Century, I would make up things to fit the story.  That is how the ancients wrote history.  Remember that the Gospels are not history anyway, they tell the Good News of The Messiah Who Has Come to Save Everyone Who Lives or Has Ever Lived.

Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence

Behold, The Lamb Of God

Isaiah 49:1-7
1 Corinthians 1:1-9
John 1:29-42
Psalm 40:1-12

David cries out, “For troubles without number surround me; my sins have overtaken me, and I cannot see.”  He also says, “I speak of your faithfulness and salvation.”

Even as David sank deep into the sins of adultery and murder, failing God on a grand scale, he never doubted God’s faithfulness to him.

Paul reminds the church at Corinth that God remains faithful even as we fail him.  He gives us gifts to use for good.  We must strive to do as He commands us.

We sin when we lose sight of God, of Jesus.  Sometimes we know we choose to sin and we do it anyway, but mostly we sin without realizing it.  I might say something encouraging to a friend, but he hears it as a criticism.  We live in sin.

There is no way to describe the Lamb of God without is sounding mystical.  It is not science, it cannot be proven.  I have to accept it on faith.  It is not, however, without evidence.  Millions of lives changed by accepting that faith.

When John spoke of Jesus as the Lamb of God, everyone who heard him knew that he was referring to the sacrificial lamb offered every morning and evening in the Temple as well as the Passover Lamb once a year to make them clean so they could approach God.

By accepting my sin as his own, Jesus died taking that sin to the grave.  He came out of the grave, but my sin stayed buried.  I believe that.

Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence

Here Is My Servant

Isaiah 42:1-9
Acts 10:34-43
Matthew 3:13-17
Psalm 29

Key verses:

I, the Lord, have called you in righteousness.

God does not show favoritism but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right.

Jesus replied, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.”

The Lord blesses his people with peace.

In the first century the difference between a servant and a slave hardly recognizable to 21st Century eyes.  True, a servant could quit, but that was seldom done because no one else would hire someone who quit.  Day-to-day, both did what their master said and both ate the same food, wore the same clothing, and worked the same long hours.

Isaiah records the words of God in speaking of the Messiah by starting with, “Here is my servant.”  Jesus lived the life of a slave.  He did nothing that God did not give to him to do.  He fulfilled all the prophecies about the Messiah, especially the one about bringing justice and righteousness to the world.

John was reluctant to baptize the Son of God, but Jesus insisted it was necessary.  He symbolically took on our sins with that act and carried them into death so that we would not have to do it ourselves.  That is not just important, it is essential.  You and I cannot go to the grave with our sins and expect to live with God.  Only if we are sin-free can we expect to see God.

Peter summed it up by preaching the same Good News that Jesus preached.  God loves all of us and Jesus made it possible for us to die and die sin free.

Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence

Better A Day In Your Courts

Pharaoh

Jeremiah 31:7-14
Ephesians 1:3-6,15-19a
Matthew 2:13-15,19-23
Psalm 84

 Key verses from each of today’s readings:

For the LORD will ransom Jacob and redeem them from the hand of those stronger than they.

For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight.

And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called my son.”

Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere; I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of the wicked.

When churches do the Christmas pageant, we seldom include the run to Egypt.  We like the cozy pictures of the baby in the manger visited by shepherds and astrologers from the East.  We forget that those Easterners told Herod about the birth of the new King.  Herod was so determined to keep his position of power that he murdered several members of his own family, so killing a baby was a no-brainer.  Because the astrologers failed to tell him where the child was, Herod ordered all males two and under executed, believing the future King would be among them.

We cheer that God was able to save Jesus, but are sickened at the loss of so many lives.  If we stop to ask why God didn’t intervene and save all the boys, we miss the point.  The Messiah, Jesus, was the only way for those boys to be saved, and all the rest of us for that matter.

Our lives and deaths in this world will occur with or without God.  Being an adopted child of God gives us no special protection in this world.  It does protect us from death.  Not from dying, from death.  When these bodies surrender to all the bacteria, viruses, insects, animals, fellow humans, and aging, we get new bodies that will never be under attack or wear out.  We will be gathered in as the remnant to spend all of time praising God and living the lives God made us for.

A few verses ahead of the Jeremiah text is:

I have loved you with an everlasting love.

Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence