Bible Tuesday for the 5th Sunday of Easter, 2016
Now the apostles and the believers who were in Judea heard that the Gentiles had also accepted the word of God. 2So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers criticized him, 3saying, “Why did you go to uncircumcised men and eat with them?” 4Then Peter began to explain it to them, step by step, saying, 5“I was in the city of Joppa praying, and in a trance I saw a vision. There was something like a large sheet coming down from heaven, being lowered by its four corners; and it came close to me. 6As I looked at it closely I saw four-footed animals, beasts of prey, reptiles, and birds of the air. 7I also heard a voice saying to me, ‘Get up, Peter; kill and eat.’ 8But I replied, ‘By no means, Lord; for nothing profane or unclean has ever entered my mouth.’ 9But a second time the voice answered from heaven, ‘What God has made clean, you must not call profane.’ 10This happened three times; then everything was pulled up again to heaven. 11At that very moment three men, sent to me from Caesarea, arrived at the house where we were. 12The Spirit told me to go with them and not to make a distinction between them and us. These six brothers also accompanied me, and we entered the man’s house. 13He told us how he had seen the angel standing in his house and saying, ‘Send to Joppa and bring Simon, who is called Peter; 14he will give you a message by which you and your entire household will be saved.’ 15And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them just as it had upon us at the beginning. 16And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ 17If then God gave them the same gift that he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could hinder God?” 18When they heard this, they were silenced. And they praised God, saying, “Then God has given even to the Gentiles the repentance that leads to life.”
There are two strains of thought regarding being Jewish in the Hebrew scriptures. One says, “You will be my voice to the peoples. All nations shall come to you that they may know the Lord your God.” Israelites are chosen to be magnets in the world, drawing all peoples unto Himself. The other line of thinking is present most obviously in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah and says, “Stay away from all foreign peoples. Do not intermarry. Cast away your non-Jewish spouses. Shun the alien and the foreigner for they corrupt you and lead you to idolatry.” Indeed, in the book of Joshua, when the Israelites are given marching orders to cross the Jordan River into Canaan and take the Promised Land for themselves, they are told to slaughter every man, woman, and children, and even all livestock so as to prevent religious corruption.
At the time of Jesus, the strongest of these two strains of thought was the one calling for a circling of wagons and shunning all foreign powers and peoples. No surprise that this was prevalent since at that time Israel was an occupied land and the perversity of Rome and its many conquered peoples was corrupted Temple leadership and wealthy society.
In the gospels, Jesus himself says, “I came for the lost sheep of Israel,” and “It is not right to take food from the children and give it to the dogs.” Yet, Jesus speaks to the Samaritan woman at the well, praises the Syro-Phonecian woman for her faith (after he called her a dog) and welcomed the Greeks who told Philip and Nathaniel, “We want to see Jesus.”
With both welcoming and shunning the goyim/ethnos (anyone who isn’t Jewish) being commanded in Hebrew scriptures and Jesus’ teaching, it is no wonder that Peter and the early Christian elders in Jerusalem were so conflicted about who gets to follow Jesus, be baptized, and receive the Holy Spirit. Jesus’ Jewish followers for the most part believed that only Jews could be Jesus’ disciples and therefore “sozoed” (restored, completed, but most frequently translated “saved”). But in this lesson, Peter explains how he was called by the Holy Spirit to the house of a Roman Centurion and ended up baptizing this military commander and his whole household, all of whom received the Holy Spirit in the process. This completely unexpected and seeming heretical behavior of the Holy Spirit challenged all that these disciples believed, and moved them into the direction of the abundant life Jesus came to give.
1Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord from the heavens; praise him in the heights!
2Praise him, all his angels; praise him, all his host!
3Praise him, sun and moon; praise him, all you shining stars!
4Praise him, you highest heavens, and you waters above the heavens!
5Let them praise the name of the Lord, for he commanded and they were created.
6He established them forever and ever; he fixed their bounds, which cannot be passed.
7Praise the Lord from the earth, you sea monsters and all deeps,
8fire and hail, snow and frost, stormy wind fulfilling his command!
9Mountains and all hills, fruit trees and all cedars!
10Wild animals and all cattle, creeping things and flying birds!
11Kings of the earth and all peoples, princes and all rulers of the earth!
12Young men and women alike, old and young together!
13Let them praise the name of the Lord, for his name alone is exalted; his glory is above earth and heaven.
14He has raised up a horn for his people, praise for all his faithful, for the people of Israel who are close to him. Praise the Lord!
The book of Psalms has exactly 150 Psalms. The last few are glorious hymns of praise. Note the more inclusive strain of thought present in verse 11.
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. 2And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. 3And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them as their God; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; 4he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.” 5And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.” 6Then he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give water as a gift from the spring of the water of life.
Various revivalist and evangelical preachers have, over the past 200 years, developed a theology called “The Rapture”. It is a belief that at some point all of the God fearing chosen people will transported, or raptured, from the earth into heaven, while the rest of the peoples of the earth get to duke it out for a while and try to get themselves “saved” before Jesus’ second coming. Then Jesus will judge the remaining peoples of the earth, sheep from goats, and then God will destroy the earth and all creation while the raptured and newly saved sheep remain with God in heaven forever. This theology is based on a few verses in the book of Daniel and on a few verses in Revelation. These are Christians who tend to talk about how late it is and how you need to repent now because the end is very near, nearer than you think.
It is ironic that this theology uses the book of Revelation to support Jesus sucking all the chosen out of earth and then destroying earth, while completely ignoring the last three chapters of Revelation. In the above passage, no one is raptured off of earth to the golden city with the pearly gates. Rather, the city descends to earth. Then, with the Holy City of God, the New Jerusalem populated with people of each tribe and race, descended upon earth, the earth and heavens are made new. Only then does the old earth pass away, or fade from the renewed creation.
There is no rapturing in Revelation. Ultimately, there is renewal and healing for the peoples of each tribe and language, where Christ will be all.
When he had gone out, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. 32If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once.33Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come.’ 34I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. 35By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
It is Maundy Thursday, Jesus has just washed the disciples’ feet and handed a piece of dipped bread to Judas Iscariot, thus identifying him as the betrayer. Judas leaves the dinner early and the above text begins.
In the gospel of John, Jesus is always calm, cool, collected, and in control. Jesus’ response to Judas leaving to betray him is not anger or sadness or frustration. No, instead Jesus describes this first domino to fall as his glory. Indeed, if one’s glory is one’s reputation, one’s accomplishments, the highpoint of one’s career, then truly Jesus’ crucifixion as sacrifice for all creation is His glory. That God would define Jesus through the cross so profound and backward so as to also be glory.
Then Jesus interprets this new kind of glory as the most profound act of love, a love so new and uncommon that when practicing it, lovers will be identified with Jesus. Selfless, undeserved, unconditional love…love as of a Father to his only Son, full of Grace and Truth.