Bible Tuesday for Easter 6, 2018
4While Peter was still speaking, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who heard the word. 45The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astounded that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles, 46for they heard them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter said, 47“Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” 48So he ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they invited him to stay for several days.
These are the culminating verses of a chapter long story which is pivotal to the spread of the gospel. While Jesus regularly spoke of spreading the gospel of “Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth”, most of the first disciples, who were of course all Jews, did not think of spreading the gospel beyond Israel. That is, until they were redirected. In last week’s first lesson, the Holy Spirit led Philip to the Ethiopian Eunuch. In this story, God gives Peter a vision which is repeated three times for emphasis and confirmation that it is from God. Then Peter takes a couple Jewish friend with him when sent to a Roman centurion’s house. (There is no way God wants the gospel of Jesus spread to Roman soldiers, right?) The centurion gathers his whole household, kin and slaves, to hear Peter speak. The trepidation Peter felt entering the house of a goya (non-Jew) oppressor was heightened as Peter began to explain how Jesus was the savior of all creation. But trepidation gave way to shock when the Holy Spirit suddenly came upon the whole Roman household just as it did the disciples on Pentecost! As stated in the text above, the whole household began to speak in tongues and praise God. Peter was so astounded that he wondered aloud, “What reason do we have for not baptizing these goyim? I know they are not circumcised, nor do they know Jewish Law, but the Holy Spirit has filled them! What do we do here?!” Then, Peter and his companions actually ate and slept in this home of the uncircumcised!
O sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord, all the earth.
2Sing to the Lord, bless his name; tell of his salvation from day to day.
3Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous works among all the peoples.
4For great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised; he is to be revered above all gods.
5For all the gods of the peoples are idols, but the Lord made the heavens.
6Honor and majesty are before him; strength and beauty are in his sanctuary.
7Ascribe to the Lord, O families of the peoples, ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.
8Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name; bring an offering, and come into his courts.
9Worship the Lord in holy splendor; tremble before him, all the earth.
10Say among the nations, “The Lord is king! The world is firmly established; it shall never be moved. He will judge the peoples with equity.”
11Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice; let the sea roar, and all that fills it;
12let the field exult, and everything in it. Then shall all the trees of the forest sing for joy
13before the Lord; for he is coming, for he is coming to judge the earth. He will judge the world with righteousness, and the peoples with his truth.
New Song – Not an old song that recalls what happened in the past, but a new song that praises God for what is happening right now! This new song is to praise God for the saving God is doing right now, new people are recognizing God’s love for them. We are to thank God for these new people, this new blood infusing our old ways.
“All the gods of the people are idols, but the Lord made the heavens.” – Many of the pagan gods were anthropomorphisms of the sun, the moon, the oceans, the miracles of fertility. The psalmist reminds his/her audience that God, Yahweh, made all of that! Why worship the creation as little gods when you can worship the Creator as The God?!
All creation should celebrate because its creator will judge, setting everything right.
1 John 5:1-6
Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the parent loves the child. 2By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. 3For the love of God is this, that we obey his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome, 4for whatever is born of God conquers the world. And this is the victory that conquers the world, our faith. 5Who is it that conquers the world but the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?
6This is the one who came by water and blood, Jesus Christ, not with the water only but with the water and the blood. And the Spirit is the one that testifies, for the Spirit is the truth.
At first glance, this text smacks of works righteousness; that is that we work our own way into heaven by obeying God’s law. However, that is not what the writer of John is trying to convey. This writer is trying to answer some basic questions about how a person is to know if he/she is doing what God wants. Remember, the people who were reading this epistle were living in the first 100 years after Jesus, without the benefit of a structured church with Sunday school teachers and catechisms, much less formally trained pastors. There was little coherence of beliefs between the various little congregations of Christians throughout the Roman world and beyond. Therefore, very basic questions of how to follow Jesus were important and valid.
How do you become “born of God” or a “child of God?” By believing in Jesus.
How do I know if I am a child of God? Well, how are you acting? Are you striving to live within God’s commandments?
I have heard I am suppose to have God’s love within me. How does that work? You will see God’s love working in you when you obey God’s commandments.
I am just one person, and yet I am told I am to be able to move mountain with great faith. How does that work? Believing in Jesus, living within his commandments brings God’s love to bear on the world, and God’s love conquers all that is evil in the world.
“Water and blood” – This coupling could refer to many things: the separated blood that flowed from Jesus’ side when he was speared between his ribs after he died but still hung on the cross, the water of Jesus’ baptism and the blood of his death, or the water of our own baptism and the blood of Jesus’ death.
As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. 10If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. 11I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete. 12“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 13No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14You are my friends if you do what I command you.15I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father.16You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. 17I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.
Once again, if read a certain way, this could sound like Jesus is suggesting works righteousness, or possibly even conditional love. Rather, Jesus is explaining things are they are. Abide – to act in accordance with, as in “abide by the rules of the game”. Jesus is here explaining that God’s love, which is also Jesus’ love, looks and acts a certain way. In order to live within that love, your thoughts and behaviors stay in concert with that love. This is not to say that when you sin, you fall out of God’s love. St. Paul writes, “Nothing can separate us from the love of God that is ours in Christ Jesus.” But it is to say that when we sin, especially if we chose to perpetuate ways of sin, such as habitual lying, habitual gossiping, embezzling, grudge holding, etc., we make it harder for ourselves to feel and to trust God’s love. We do not feel or trust God’s joy in us either, nor is God’s joy in us complete, because we are withholding certain portions of our lives from God, from the light of God.
We are Jesus’ friends, his coworkers, when we strive to live and work within the rules, the parameters, God in Jesus has set. When we fail to do so, we are acting as babes in the Kingdom, not as coworkers. Because we are sinful, and are forever vacillating between our own ends and God’s invitation out of them, this is not a ladder of “abiding with God” to be climbed. Rather, our life with God is one of living, loving, succeeding, failing, and marveling at the Holy Spirit bringing about the kingdom of God through all of it.