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Bible Tuesday for Easter 7, 2016

Bible Tuesday for Sunday, Easter 7, 2016

Acts 16:16-34

One day, as we were going to the place of prayer, we met a slave girl who had a spirit of divination and brought her owners a great deal of money by fortune-telling. 17While she followed Paul and us, she would cry out, “These men are slaves of the Most High God, who proclaim to you a way of salvation.” 18She kept doing this for many days. But Paul, very much annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, “I order you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.” And it came out that very hour. 19But when her owners saw that their hope of making money was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace before the authorities. 20When they had brought them before the magistrates, they said, “These men are disturbing our city; they are Jews 21and are advocating customs that are not lawful for us as Romans to adopt or observe.” 22The crowd joined in attacking them, and the magistrates had them stripped of their clothing and ordered them to be beaten with rods.23After they had given them a severe flogging, they threw them into prison and ordered the jailer to keep them securely. 24Following these instructions, he put them in the innermost cell and fastened their feet in the stocks.

25About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them. 26Suddenly there was an earthquake, so violent that the foundations of the prison were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened and everyone’s chains were unfastened. 27When the jailer woke up and saw the prison doors wide open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, since he supposed that the prisoners had escaped. 28But Paul shouted in a loud voice, “Do not harm yourself, for we are all here.” 29The jailer called for lights, and rushing in, he fell down trembling before Paul and Silas. 30Then he brought them outside and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”31They answered, “Believe on the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” 32They spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. 33At the same hour of the night he took them and washed their wounds; then he and his entire family were baptized without delay. 34He brought them up into the house and set food before them; and he and his entire household rejoiced that he had become a believer in God.

While this story about Paul and Silas, notice in the first sentence the word, “we”. The gospel of Luke and the book of Acts are believed by scholars to have been written by the same person, Luke the physician. Luke is thought to have been an early convert to Christianity by Paul and to have traveled with Paul for a while. This and a couple other sections of Acts are believed to be eye witness accounts of Paul’s adventures.

These events take place in the city of Philippi. Philippi was a center for the worship of Zeus, the most high god of the Roman pantheon of gods and goddesses. Zeus was believed to speak through thunder crashes, lightening bolts, tornadoes/hurricanes, and earth quakes. The Jewish community in Philippi is very small, as represented by Lydia and her fellow believers meeting for worship along side a river outside of town.

As Paul and Silas go about their business in Philippi, they are hounded by a fortune telling slave girl who is possessed by a divining spirit. Note that this is not the Holy Spirit, nor is her gift for fortune telling a gift from God. She does not proclaim Paul and Silas as prophets of Jesus or Christ or even Yahweh, but rather as “prophets of the most high god” which she, and the Roman citizenry believe to be Zeus. Paul heals this girl be casting this divining spirit from her.

An important point in this text: the English terms, “to be healed” and “to be saved” come from the same Greek word in this text and throughout the New Testament and the Septuagint. The word is “sozo” and it means “to be made whole, to be restored, to embody shalom.” When Paul heals the girl with the divining spirit, she is restored to herself before this spirit took possession of her. Her life is not necessary made better, but is instead restored to right relationship with God, the real Most High God.

The jailer, a Roman, worships the various Roman gods/goddesses. An earthquake hitting his jail would be interpreted as a judgment against him by Zeus, hence his almost suicide. When he asks Paul and Silas, “What must I do to be saved?” the jailer is not thinking, “What must I do to keep from going to hell?” but rather, “What must I do to keep Zeus from destroying me?” Paul’s answer, to believe into Jesus, the only real God, was a novel answer for this jailer. After the baptism of his whole household, one wonders if they joined Lydia and the other Jesus believing Jews by the river on the Sabboth.

Psalm 97

The Lord is king! Let the earth rejoice; let the many coastlands be glad!

2Clouds and thick darkness are all around him; righteousness and justice are the foundation of his throne.

3Fire goes before him, and consumes his adversaries on every side.

4His lightnings light up the world; the earth sees and trembles.

5The mountains melt like wax before the Lord, before the Lord of all the earth.

6The heavens proclaim his righteousness; and all the peoples behold his glory.

7All worshipers of images are put to shame, those who make their boast in worthless idols; all gods bow down before him.

8Zion hears and is glad, and the towns of Judah rejoice, because of your judgments, O God.

9For you, O Lord, are most high over all the earth; you are exalted far above all gods.

10The Lord loves those who hate evil; he guards the lives of his faithful; he rescues them from the hand of the wicked.

11Light dawns for the righteous, and joy for the upright in heart.

12Rejoice in the Lord, O you righteous, and give thanks to his holy name!

In the gospels, Jesus does not speak about God as sending judgment by way of earthquakes and severe storms, but the Hebrew Scriptures do. Note the images of verses 2-4. In Roman and Greek religions, both gods and goddesses and the statues of them were worshiped. Note how verse 7 depicts, “You shall not make for yourself graven images.” The Jewish understand of this commandment, as illustrated in verse 7, is that there are absolutely no artistic depictions of God or of the Holy Spirit. NONE! If you go into synagogues, you will see either Hebrew scripture verses or abstract designs decorating the worship space, narthex, offices, and classrooms. Absolutely no statues are allowed.

Revelation 22:12-21

2“See, I am coming soon; my reward is with me, to repay according to everyone’s work. 13I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.” 14Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they will have the right to the tree of life and may enter the city by the gates. 15Outside are the dogs and sorcerers and fornicators and murderers and idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices falsehood. 16“It is I, Jesus, who sent my angel to you with this testimony for the churches. I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star.” 17The Spirit and the bride say, “Come.” And let everyone who hears say, “Come.” And let everyone who is thirsty come. Let anyone who wishes take the water of life as a gift. 18I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to that person the plagues described in this book; 19if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away that person’s share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book.

20The one who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus! 21The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all the saints. Amen.

Martin Luther was not fond of the book of Revelation. The first verse of this pericope is a great example of why. The book of Revelation absolutely depicts life with God as a carrot and stick religion. And there are many Christians throughout the past two millennia who believe this as well. While such an approach to Jesus is not found in the writings of St. Paul, one does find it in a couple places in the gospels and one absolutely finds it in the pastoral letters, Hebrews, and Revelation. But one cannot just dismiss Revelation because the book also gives us the image of the “Lamb who was slain, whose blood sets us free to become people of God.”

Also, while there is the carrot and stick theology, there is also the completely free Grace of God as stated in verse 17 above.

John 17:20-26

”I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, 21that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, 23I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.

24Father, I desire that those also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory, which you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. 25“Righteous Father, the world does not know you, but I know you; and these know that you have sent me. 26I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.”

This is a passage from a section of the gospel of John called the High Priestly Prayer. It is a lengthy prayer that Jesus prays in the presence of the disciples and apostles just before he is arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane. In it we read Jesus praying for all his followers to be “sozo-ed”, restored to full relationship with God.

Jesus prays for unity between himself and all believers, and unity between all believers. Jesus prays that the love with which God loves Jesus may also be in all believers. This is what it means for believers to be healed/restored. To be healed is not to recover from illness but to be put into right relationship with God that is unimpeded by sin or lack of faith.