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Bible Tuesday for Easter, 2018

Bible Tuesday for Easter Sunday, 2018

Acts 10:34-43

Then Peter began to speak to them. “I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. You know the message God sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ. God is Lord of all. That message spread throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John announced. God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. Jesus went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. We are witnesses to all that Jesus did, both in Judea and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree; but God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear, not to all the people but to use who were chosen by God and witnesses, and who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one ordained by God as judge of the living and the dead. All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”

This is Peter’s speech to a Roman Centurion. Cornelius, and his family, and three Jewish Christians who have accompanied Peter to Cornelius’ house. Cornelius, the Centurion, though Roman, believed in Yahweh and was charitable to the Jews with whom he dealt. While praying to Yahweh, Cornelius had a vision that he should send for Peter to hear Peter’s message. He did so, and, in trepidation, Peter came with three companions. Peter and company were received warmly and invited to share their message, the gospel of Jesus. Peter shared his message with Cornelius’ whole household, who were cut to the heart and begged to be baptized. After being baptized, they began to speak in tongues, a sign of their reception of the Holy Spirit.

Two very important points are being made in the telling of the story of Peter and Cornelius. First, there was a great divide in the early church between the originals and the Johnny come latelys. On the one hand were those who believed that all who would “believe into Jesus” must first be Jewish and then be baptized into the one true Jewish messiah and lord. This line is represented in the gospel of Matthew, where Jesus says, “I did not come to abolish the Law but to fulfill it!” Matthew’s gospel states that Jesus came “for the children of Israel” first. People in this camp were Jesus’ brother, James, Peter, many of the original apostles, and the other “elders in Jerusalem”. On the other hand were Pual, Barnabas, Silas, and others who personally observed the Holy Spirit coming upon pagans who confessed faith and were baptized into Jesus. In this story, Peter’s great reluctance to visit and proclaim the gospel to Cornelius shows Peter’s take on this conflict. But, the Holy Spirit challenges Peter’s beliefs when it fills every member of the household of a Roman Centurion.

The second very important point is that it is the Holy Spirit that will spread the gospel, whether believers want it or not. The Holy Spirit spoke to Cornelius in a vision and told him to send for Peter. The Holy Spirit filled all of Cornelius’ family and slaves. The Holy Spirit sends Paul, Silas, Barnabas, Phillip, Thomas, and others all over that part of the globe, proclaiming and living out God’s love. Even if we try to keep God in our own little enclave, in our own favorite pews, with our own favorite hymns, the Holy Spirit blows through with a wind from a whole different direction.

Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24

Praise the Lord for He is good. His steadfast love is eternal.

Let Israel declare, “His steadfast love is eternal.”

Let the house of Aaron declare, “His steadfast love is eternal.”

Let those who fear the Lord declare, “His steadfast love is eternal.”

The Lord is my strength and might, He has become my deliverance.

The tents of the victorious resound with joyous shouts of deliverance, “The right hand of the Lord is triumphant! The right hand of the Lord is exalted! The right hand of the Lord is triumphant!”

I shall not die but live and proclaim the works of the Lord.

The Lord punished me severely, but did not hand me over to death.

Open the gates of victory for me that I may enter them and praise the Lord.

This is the gateway of the Lord—the victorious shall enter through it.

I praise you, for You have answered me, and have become my deliverance.

The stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone.

This is the Lord’s doing; it is marvelous in our sight.

This is the day that the Lord has made—let us rejoice and be glad in it.

This psalm is brimming with quotes of other psalms. Jewish scholars speculate that it was a victory song that may have been reworked to be a post exilic song for entering the Temple. The call and response nature of the psalm, coupled with its repeating verses, give it a liturgical feel.

The first three verses call for praise to flow from the tribes of Israel, through the priesthood, to all the world that all become “those who fear the Lord.” This seems to be a foreshadowing of the movement of the Holy Spirit in the above Acts reading.

The tradition that the right hand of the ruler is the seat of power is referenced in this psalm.

“The stone that the builders rejected…” – “A metaphor of reversal of expectations; once rejected, Israel is now the chief cornerstone. The architectural imagery links with ‘gates’ and ‘gateways’ in the previous verses.” (Jewish Study Bible)

“This is the Lord’s doing; it…” – The psalmist marvels at all that God has wrought in and through Israel.

“This is the day that the Lord has made—let us rejoice and be glad in it.” – I recently saw on PBS a documentary about an early 19th century expedition that ended tragically. One of members of the expedition was a Christian doctor. He tended to the injured and dying team members as they one by one succumbed to illness and starvation, leaving him the last man to die. Search party members later sent to find the expedition party found their remains. Among the items found around the dead was the diary of the doctor. In it, as he recorded the desperation of the tragic team, he resolved to voice his gratitude every day. Even as he waited to die alone, starving, he wrote beautiful verses of heart felt gratitude up to his very last diary entry. How well that doctor embodied this psalm verse!

1 Corinthians 15:1-11

Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. 2 By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.

3 For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance[a]: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas,[b] and then to the Twelve. 6 After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, 8 and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.

9 For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me. 11 Whether, then, it is I or they, this is what we preach, and this is what you believed.

Here Paul uses some self disclosure as an attempt to persuade the congregation in Corinth to cling to the gospel. While the other apostles were often bungling fools when with Jesus, at least they did not actually persecute early disciples as Paul did. Paul seems to stating that because he was so much farther away from God than the other apostles, he had to work much harder to gain credibility as a preacher of Christ crucified.

This text is included in the pericope for Easter Sunday because it enumerates Jesus’ resurrection appearances. And there are a few we don’t hear of, other than in this writing. Notice, Paul does not mention that the women were the first to see Jesus, nor does he mention the Road to Emmaus event. But Paul does say that Jesus first appeared to Peter alone! That does not appear in any of the gospels. The appearances to the apostles (the twelve) on Easter evening and then a few days later when Thomas was with them, is recorded in the gospels. No breakfast on the beach mentioned here. Paul’s mention of the appearance to the 500 brothers and sisters may be a reference to the ascension of Jesus, but also may not. Jesus’ appearance to Paul on the road to Damascus is the last biblical recording of Jesus present on earth.

Mark 16:1-8

When the sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. 2 And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. 3 They had been saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?” 4 When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back. 5 As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. 6 But he said to them, “Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. 7 But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.” 8 So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.

In Mark’s gospel, the apostles are frequently antithetical role models, while the women disciples are the genuine role models. While the disciples, including the apostles, all fled from Jesus when he was arrested, even on guy wriggling out of his loin cloth, the women watched Jesus die from a distance. Then Mary from Magdala, Mary, the mother of James (who could be Mary, Jesus’ mom, since Jesus had a brother named James who became the head of the church in Jerusalem), and Salome went home and worked out their grief by preparing the burial spices. Because Jesus was entombed right before sundown on the sabbath, and because no work can be done on the sabbath, the women get out to the tomb as early as they can safely travel with no male companions, sunrise the morning after the sabbath. They are going to the tomb expecting to wash Jesus’ body and dress it with the traditional spices. This is the traditional work of the female relatives of the deceased. Genuine role models though they be, these women behave exactly the opposite of what real disciples of Jesus should do!

The greatly grieving women shuffle to the tomb in the faint, first morning light, only to find no dead body. Instead there is a college age guy dressed in white, sitting opposite from where Jesus’ body should be. All the other gospels say there is at least one angel sitting in the tomb, Matthew says two angels. But Mark, who says that angels tended to Jesus during his 40 days in the wilderness, says that this messenger is a young man. His message for the women is clear, “Go tell the disciples, even denier Peter, that he is raised from the dead and will meet up with you in Galilee.” But what do these role model women do? They allowed themselves to be silenced by fear and amazement.

This is the original end of the gospel of Mark. The “Shorter ending of Mark” and the “Longer ending of Mark” were additions to the gospel. Scholars have determined this by the writing styles and vocabulary of these two different endings, as well as their absence from the earliest and best extant manuscripts.

Christ is Risen!