Third Sunday of Easter

April 19, 2015
See Also: 
Reading 1: 
Acts 3:12-19
Reading 2: 
Psalm 4
Reading 3: 
1 John 3:1-7
Reading 4: 
Luke 24:36b-48
By Ron Allen

THIRD SUNDAY OF EASTER

April 19, 2015

Acts 3:12-19

A basic principle of exegesis is that the interpreter should mark the starting and ending of a text at natural division points. The lectionary violates this principle by ending the reading with Acts 3:19 which is mid-way through a sentence. The reading should be Acts 3:12-26.

The overarching theme of Luke-Acts is the apocalyptic notion that God is moving towards the full and final manifestation of the Realm of God through the ministry of Jesus. Jesus, the archetypal end-time prophet, witnessed to the coming of that Realm, invited others to join its movement through repentance and immersion, taught the way of the Realm, and appointed apostles and the church to continue the end-time prophetic witness. For Luke-Acts, the church is an end-time prophetic community that continues the ministry of Jesus, a motif much in evidence in Acts 3:19-26, especially 21b-27).

Jesus taught his followers that powers from the old age would crucify him and that his followers could expect conflict from others who resist the Realm (e.g. Luke 9:18-27; Acts 3:18). The reading from Acts plays on both of these themes, the latter (conflict) in a most unfortunate way.

Acts 3:1-11 sets the stage for today’s reading. In the same way that God healed people with health issues through Jesus in the Gospel of Luke, God now heals a person outside the Beautiful Gate who cannot walk and who must beg. The healing demonstrates the presence of the Realm and embodies what happens in the Realm: God heals the broken world.

In Acts 3:11-13a, Peter interprets this event to a Jewish crowd at Solomon’s Portico. Peter implies that the crowd attributes the miracle to John and him, so Peter clarifies that the apostles did not heal the person at the Gate. God did that. Indeed, the healing anticipates the universal restoration when sin is wiped out and times of refreshing come (Acts 3:19-21). A preacher could help a congregation recognize how God seeks to invite the world in such directions today.

Peter then blames the crowd for the death of Jesus (Acts 3:13b-15). Peter implies that those who do not embrace Jesus will be “utterly rooted out” of the community (Acts 3:23). These themes recur throughout Luke-Acts. Luke exaggerates the role of Jewish people in the death of Jesus in order to justify tension between the church and the synagogue in Luke’s time. Strictly speaking, these remarks are not anti-Semitic or anti-Jewish since Luke’s church was still a sect within Judaism. Peter’s remarks are more like those made in a family fight. Nevertheless, a preacher needs to help the congregation recognize that they contribute to anti-Judaism and anti-Semitism.

There is an irony here. Peter calls the Jewish listeners to repent so that times of refreshing might come (Acts 3:19-21). In end-time theology, the times of refreshing include a great reunion of fractured peoples. The preacher might call the church to repent of its history of complicity in anti-Judaism as a way towards participating with God in restoration.

Those who do not view the world through the lens of end-time eschatology will likely modulate the significance of the story through their (our) own perception of how God operates in the world. On the one hand, the sermon could help a congregation identify where and how God seeks the world towards restoration. On other hand, ta preacher needs to help the congregation recognize the reject the unfortunate picture of Jewish people and their actions in this text. The preacher might regard the latter motif as a lure to repair those relationships.

Psalm 4

This short psalm is an individual lament. Such prayers not only express grief in response to difficult circumstances but also often conclude (as does Psalm 4) with an indication of trust that God will help the individual make her or his way through difficulty.

The ancient notion of honor is behind Psalm 4. Honor, one of the fundamental values of antiquity, is the public recognition of the value of an individual in the life of a community. Honor includes such things as strength, courage, and wisdom. The honorable person represents the values and practices of the community. By contrast, an individual (or community) wants to avoid shame, public exposure that the individual does not live up to the best values of the community and includes such as weakness, fear, and foolishness.

According to Psalm 4:2, the psalmist’s problem is that someone made accusations that cost psalmist honor. However, in Psalm 4:3-5, the singer indicates that she or he has been exonerated. Apparently God (perhaps through the rites of the temple) heard the psalmist’s case and agreed that the psalmist’s honor should be restored. The psalmist exhorts the detractors to cease tormenting the psalmist (with their false accusations) and to make their own sacrifices (implying that they would then be in right community with God and even with the psalmist).

The restoration of honor was a work of God’s grace. In Psalm 4:6-8 the psalmist indicates that being vindicated by God is more important than generous supplies of grain and wine.

While honor is not as directly on the consciousness of people in contemporary North America as it was in the Ancient Near East, the notions of self-acceptance and of having a sense of belonging to a community are approximate analogues. The preacher can assure the congregation of God’s trustworthiness. As God vindicated and signaled acceptance of the psalmist through temple rites, so God accepts folk today. The sermon can be a comparable sign of acceptance.

Moreover, as God provided means to restore to community long ago, so God provides means to restoration today through such things as confession, forgiveness, reconciliation and restitution.

On one point, caution is needed. At one level, vss. 6-8 are true: consciousness of God’s presence and grace can be life-sustaining. In the midst of my secure middle class world, I can say that trusting God is more important than eating and drinking. Yet, at another level, human beings need food and drink to survive. Indeed, in Indiana, where I live, one out of six residents is food insecure. It is hard to rejoice fully in God when one is hungry. The community that truly accepts the fact that it is accepted will respond by seeing that all have adequate food and drink.

1 John 3:1-7

1 John 2:18-29 is the background for1 John 3:1-7. The former passage focuses on the tension between John’s congregation and former members. “They went out from us but they did not belong to us” (I John 2:19). John writes to his own people “not because you do not know the truth, but because you do know it” (1 John 2:21). John writes to reinforce their conviction.

John interprets those who have exited the congregation as believing in the anti-christ, that is, an interpretation of Christ that runs counter to John’s interpretation. Those who believe in the anti-christ deny that “the Son has the Father.” 1 John 4:2 says that the miscreants do not believe that Christ came in the flesh. While the writer does not further specify the theological contents of the anti-christ, this much seems unacceptable to John: (a) a few that Jesus inadequately revels God and (b) a view of Jesus that leads to the fracturing of the ecclesial community.

Against this background, John’s main purpose in 1 John 3:1-7 is to affirm the identity of the community as authentic disciples of Jesus and God. The author does this in several ways. We note what John intends to effect without going into technical discussions of John’s language.

Despite the claims of the followers of the anti-christ that they have true insight, John assures listeners that they are indeed children of God (1 John 3:1a, 2a). This designation echoes the “children” language for Israel in the Torah, Prophets, and Writings. Moreover, the notion of a father and children figuratively applies the notion of a Mediterranean household to the church in which the parent was not only the protector/provider but also the source of identity. The children were to manifest the characteristics of the parent.

Jesus is pure. Consequently Jesus’ followers are pure (1 John 3:3). God revealed Christ in order to take away sin. Indeed, “in him there is no sin,” and so that those who abide in him do not sin (1 John 3:5-6). Christ is righteous so that “everyone who does what is right is righteous” just as Christ is righteous” (1 John 3:7).

From the standpoint of John’s two story view of existence (heaven above/world below) discussed on Easter Day and the Second Sunday of Easter (April 5 and 12, 2015), to be impure, to sin, and to be lawless are all forms living in the ways of the world (the lower story).

As long as John’s community lives in the midst of the world, “what we will be has not been (fully) revealed” (1 John 3:2a). That will happen only when they are fully present to Christ and God in heaven (1 John 3:2b). In the meantime, they live on the basis of God’s promise.

Today’s church is also fractured. Going from congregation to another can mean going from one world view and set of beliefs, values and actions to another world view with another set of beliefs values and actions. Indeed, it can be like going from “A” to “not-A.” 1 John 3:1-7 gives the preacher an opportunity to think with the congregation about how to assess different sets of theological, ecclesial, and ethical prescriptions. For John, the more trustworthy are those that align more closely with the sphere of heaven whereas the less trustworthy are the ones that continue the beliefs, values, and behaviors associated with the world.

Luke 24:36b-48

In ancient literature, the last words of a character often indicated the character’s legacy. In Luke 24:36b-53 Jesus’ last words point to the mission of the church.

The event recounted in today’s text takes place in a post-resurrection community meeting in Jerusalem. As they were talking about the reports of the resurrection, Jesus stood among them (Luke 24:36). The preacher might note such developments continue to occur today: when the community talks about the resurrected Jesus, they become aware of that presence with them.

Despite the facts that Jesus had told them three times to expect the crucifixion and resurrection (Luke 9:21-27; 9:43b-45; 18:31-34), and that they had already received reports of the resurrected Jesus, some were “startled and terrified,” and evidently some were frightened and doubted (Luke 24:37-38). If Luke does not hesitate to narrate that people in the very presence of the risen one responded in these ways, we can hardly be surprised at similar reactions today. The preacher might use these responses as important contact points for people struggling similarly.

In Luke 24:39-43, Jesus re shows them that that he is not a ghost nor an ordinary body brought back to life. From the perspective of end-time theology, he is now a resurrection body, that is, a material body but one that will not decay. That is the point of the physical manifestation, including eating the fish. H would soon ascend from earth to heaven in this point.

Luke’s community was likely in tension with other Jewish groups (and with people within its own community) over the degree to which Luke’s community, especially welcoming gentiles, was sufficiently respectful of its Jewish heritage. Luke 24:44-45 is intended to show that the ministry of Jesus and the church are in continuity with Jewish tradition. This part of the text could launch a sermon on the relationship of the Torah, Prophets, and Writings to Jesus and to the Gospel, Letters, and the church.

From Luke’s point of view the essence of the mission of Jesus and, by extension, the mission of the church, is stated in Luke 24:47-49. Jesus instructs the disciples to stay in Jerusalem until they receive the Holy Spirit (Luke 24:49). The Spirit enables them to continue the ministry of Jesus from Jerusalem through Judea and Samaria to the end of the earth. Indeed, they do everything that Jesus did—announce the Realm, encourage people to repent and consequently be released from the power of sin. In the Spirit, they teach the ways of the Realm, they embody it through miracles (including raising the dead) and table fellowship, and they have conflict over the Realm with agents of the old age. Yet, as promised, God proves faithful. A distinctive element is the commission to preach to all nations, i.e. to gentiles. The end-time vision of the Realm includes the great reunion of Jewish and gentile peoples.

A preacher might take the occasion of this text to help a congregation think about the degree to which its actual mission (the things in which it actually invests its time and resources) is consistent with the mission of the church as the Luke articulates it here and dramatizes it in Acts.

The ascension itself is the single most important event in Luke-Acts (Luke 24:50-51; Acts 1:9-11). We discuss it in detail on the Seventh Sunday of Easter (May 17, 2015)