Bible Tuesday for Easter 4, 2018
The next day their rulers, elders, and scribes assembled in Jerusalem, with Annas the high priest, Caiaphas, John, and Alexander, and all who were of the high-priestly family. When they had made the prisoners stand in their midst, they inquired, “By what power or by what name did you do this?” Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “Rulers of the people and elders, if we are questioned today because of a good deed done to someone who was sick and are asked how this man has been healed, let it be known to all of you, and to all the people of Israel, that this man is standing before you in good health by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead. This Jesus is ‘the stone that was rejected by you, the builders; it has become the cornerstone.’ There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved.”
This is a continuation of the story in the first lesson from last week. Peter and John are in Jerusalem after Pentecost. They go to the Temple every day to worship God and proclaim the Good News that the Messiah came, died, and rose again. They saw a crippled man begging next to the Beautiful Gate Temple entrance. Peter proclaimed him healed in the name of Jesus, the Christ, and helped the man to his feet. The man was ecstatic and started jumping and calling out praises to God while following Peter and John. A crowed gathered around the healed man and the apostles. They recognized the man formerly crippled and were astonished to learned that the man was healed through the gospel Peter and John were sharing. Peter then gave a sermon to the crowd, proclaiming God’s love revealed through Jesus of Nazareth, and admonishing them to repent of the sin of rejecting and crucifying Jesus.
Sadducees overheard Peter and John, and engaged them in argument because Sadducees were the Jewish religious/political party that did not believe in any kind of life after death. They thought they had silenced Jesus by crucifying him, and were greatly distressed to see followers of Jesus bolding proclaiming him raised from the dead.
Salvation – When we hear this word, we think “saved from our sins and going to heaven.” When Peter and John’s Jewish audience heard this, they were likely thinking about the Law God gave Moses. The word generally translated as “saved” is the Greek “sozo” which means “restored to one’s right place”, “made right”. In the Hebrew Scriptures, sin is the act of turning away from God’s Law, God’s desires for the individual, the “tribe”, the world. The Law not only identifies sins but also remedies which “sozo”, that is remedies which put one back in one’s right place before the sin ever occurred.
“The stone which the builders…” – from Psalm 118:22. How it must have galled the High Priest and his family and the Jewish Temple authorities to hear some hick fisherman quote scripture to them so as to show how badly they missed the point of the scripture!
“There is salvation in no one else…” – In our effort to get along with everyone, a common thing more liberal Christians have said is “We Christians and everyone else are all praying to the same God anyway. Let’s just all get along.” While I appreciate the sentiment to co-exist peacefully, There are passages in the Bible like this, which state very clearly that faith in Jesus Christ, who is God, is the only way to salvation. I very much appreciate and support ecumenism, both inter Christian and inter religious. And I firmly believe that being made right with God only comes through faith in Jesus.
From you comes my praise in the great congregation; my vows I will pay before those who fear him.
The poor shall eat and be satisfied; those who seek him shall praise the Lord. May your hearts live forever!
All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the Lord; and all the families of the nations shall worship before him.
For dominion belongs to the Lord, and he rules over the nations.
To him, indeed, shall all who sleep in the earth bow down; before him shall bow all who go down to the dust, and I shall live for him.
Posterity will serve him; future generations will be told about the Lord,
and proclaim his deliverance to a people yet unborn, saying that he has done it.
This psalm is always read on Maundy Thursday as the altar is being stripped. It is the psalm Jesus quotes from the cross: “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabbachthani?” The above verses are at the end of the psalm. The psalmist begins in agony, pouring his heart and soul out to God. Complete despair is a breath away, yet After his is cried out, words of gratitude and praise to God flow from his wounded heart. This transformation can only come by faith, given by the Holy Spirit.
The psalmist commands that all should praise God, the soon to die and the already dead (defying the belief of the Sadducees that there was no life after death), the nation of Israel and all the peoples of the world. Why? Because “all dominion belongs to the Lord.” No matter what religions people practice, God created all that is and God is still God over all people, whether they recognize God or not.
1 John 4:7-21
Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us. By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit.
And we have seen and do testify that the Father has sent his Son as the Savior of the world. God abides in those who confess that Jesus is the Son of God, and they abide in God. So we have known and believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them.
Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness on the day of judgment, because as he is, so are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love. We love because he first loved us. Those who say, “I love God,” and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.
Love: The English word “love” is the translation for six different Greek words: “eros” or sexual intimacy, “philia” deep friendship, “ludus” or playful love such as the affection small children show to dogs, cats, favorite toys, “agape” or selfless love, “pragma” or long lasting love such as love between husband and wife of 60 years, “philautia” healthy love of self, as opposed to narcissism.
The love that Jesus commands and that this reading explains is “agape” or selfless love. God’s completely selfless love for humans and all creation is exemplified by God’s complete self sacrifice. God gave up being God to become one of us, knowing that he would be completely rejected and abandoned by all, even is friends/disciples. God’s pure, selfless love seeks to makes it home in us and seeks to flow through us to all. God desires that we live in harmony with his love flowing through and around us.
“Fear has to do with punishment” – Generally fear has to do with pain, whether from punishment or from rejection, etc. Faith in God’s love for us grows and replaces fear. We know that because God loves us, we have no reason to fear God.
”I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower. He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.
In Greek, both prune and cleanse have the same root.
Christianity has taught in farious forms throughout the centuries, that God tests his children, tires them with fire. Verses such as these in First John are used to support such beliefs. But in these verses, the metaphor is not God causes disease or temptation to attack the vine. Rather, in this metaphor, God prunes away the little dried up shoots and starts that will not grow into anything. God prunes away bad habits from which we have turned, warped or self centered ideas which we find hard to shake off.
Abide: As Christians, we are not to march off on our own and proclaim our certain view of the gospel. That would be the opposite of abiding. Rather, we stay attached to Jesus and be a branch through which his love flows and flowers. How do we abide in Jesus and not warp into our own self centered views of who God is and what we want God to do for us? We must stay in community where the Holy Spirit can speak through each of us to one another. Martin Luther called this “the mutual conversation and consolation of the brothers and sisters.” Our time in community must include time for us to sit quietly and allow our whole selves to listen to God, whether during the silences in worship services, or through prayer groups. It is almost impossible to abide in God without listening to God. I say “almost”, because in God all things are possible.