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05-09-21

Easter 6, May 9, 2021

Seeing as God Sees, Loving as God Loves

Text: Acts 10:34–48

"Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, 35 but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him…."Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?" 48 And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.”

V 34

  • Many of us want to believe that we are, in at least one way or another, better than others. No, we may never say it or expect preferential treatment, but in truth setting ourselves above someone else is a sin that clings closely. Moses warned the children of Israel, “Do not curse the deaf or put a stumbling block in front of the blind, but fear your God. I am the LORD. Do not pervert justice; do not show partiality to the poor or favoritism to the great; but judge your neighbor fairly. Do not go about spreading slander among your people” (Lev 19:14–16). 
  • Prosōpolēmptēs, “favoritism,” literally means “to accept a face.”
    • The reference is to a courtroom or a judge who isn’t swayed by the appearance of the person being tried.
  • “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism.” With those words, Peter swept away the racial prejudices that had accumulated over many centuries (F. F. Bruce, Commentary on the Book of the Acts [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1988] 211).
  • Setting ourselves above someone else is a sin and condemns us.
  • The polarization of the races was deeply rooted in the mind-set of the first-century Roman and Jew. One can only imagine how revolutionary the young church’s approach to interracial relationships must have been. Roman soldiers treated Jews terribly (Mk 15:16–20). The popular sentiment among the Jews toward the Romans wasn’t much better (Mk 12:13–17). And Peter, among others, spent the 40 days between Christ’s crucifixion and Pentecost hiding, immobilized by fear of the Romans.
  • God shows no partiality, for no one is “common.”
  • God does not have a favorite people, not Jew, or Moslem or white or black etc.
  • Yet all are common, for God sees all people as sinners in need of salvation.
  • So God delivers impartial divine intervention.
  • This divine love transforms us so that we can love others impartially as God does.
  • God has said there is only one way to have eternal life, to believe that Jesus Christ is true God and your personal savior! 
  • If you struggle with seeing people as God sees them and loving them as God loves them, join the club! Peter and the other earliest Christ-followers were Jewish believers, and God brought his Son, Jesus, the Messiah, first of all to the Jews in the region of Israel, in places like Judea and Galilee. It made sense to Peter, John, James, and the other Jewish believers that they, “children of Abraham” and members of the household of Israel, were part of God’s family through Spirit-given faith.
  • But for those earliest followers of Jesus, God’s grace toward those outside the chosen people of God, outside Judaism, was difficult to accept. 
  • Our playing favorites, our showing partiality, can result in feelings of superiority or inferiority, depending on the side we’re on. It can lead to an attitude of “this is my church, not yours,” with the result that others feel, “If this is your church, I don’t want anything to do with it!” or worse, “If that’s what your Jesus is about, I don’t want anything to do with him!”
  • Since God does not show favoritism or prejudice, then his followers should not either. 
  • Peter seems to have been able finally to bring together into his own comprehension the fact that the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God who claimed Israel as a people for his own possession, the God who sent his own Son into the world as a son of Abraham and a son of David, does not have a favorite among the nations of the earth. 
  • Few modern readers can appreciate the magnitude of this realization. 
  • The idea that God is not a respecter of persons, that he “shows no partiality” (v 34), is not, of course, a new idea. Already in Deut 10:12–22, a passage with many thematic connections to ours, God is revealed as one who shows no partiality and takes no bribes. Now, however, Peter is beginning to see clearly what that means for the way that he, Peter, should relate to other people.
  • God is an impartial judge who cannot be corrupted
  • Tucked away in the prophecy of Amos is a reminder that Israel was not the only people to experience God’s guiding. God brought the Israelites out of Egypt, but also the Philistines from Crete (Caphtor) and the Syrians from Kir (Amos 9:7). 
  • In the New Testament, the same basic points are reinforced. Three times in his letters, Paul reminds that God does not play favorites (Rom 2:10; Eph 6:9; Col 3:25). 
  • Jesus is the embodiment of God’s impartiality, as even his opponents realize (Mk 12:14; Mt 22:16; Lk 20:21). 
  • The Church is warned that it is a serious sin to show favoritism. James specifically mentions partiality based on riches (James 2:2–4), but a few verses later the warning is broadened against any playing of favorites (2:9).

V 35: 

  • It is very easy to make this verse say more than it says or less than it says. Peter does not simply say that everyone is acceptable to God no matter what nation he/she comes from, and he certainly does not say everyone is acceptable to God no matter what religion he/she comes from. 
  • The “anyone” is qualified by “who fears him and does what is right.” On the other hand, the phrase “in every nation” must be given its full weight. Peter’s vision and the events that followed it have brought him to the understanding that even people outside his cultural, national, racial group, even outside his recognized religious community, can genuinely fear God and live righteously and be accepted by God as his own.
  • This does not imply that people can earn their way into God’s good graces. 
  • It does mean, however, “that blood and soil, race and nation, class and family are unimportant” to God (Smith, 172). 
  • What it means to fear God from three perspectives: when we revere him alone as the highest being, honor him with our lives, and avoid what displeases him.
  • God desires “all nations” and “all people” to be his people is a recurring theme in the Old Testament (e.g., Gen 22:18; Is 2:2; 56:7; Jer 3:17).

V 36: 

  • The peace eirēnē that Peter proclaims is the peace associated with salvation through faith in Christ. God accepts sinners and remits their sin by the merit of Jesus Christ. 
  • Before they could hear that Jesus died for their sins, Peter’s hearers, including even Cornelius and his household, needed to take seriously what it meant for the whole world that Israel had not only rejected but also murdered the Messiah of God. 
  • We are the people who belong to the Church of the risen Lord Jesus Christ! He is alive, and his Spirit is active among us. The Spirit is moving to make us a community of believers who know and rejoice that we are dearly loved by God. But there’s more Good News. The love that saved us is the love that also transforms us! Living in that love of God, we can be different people, people who don’t play favorites, people who willingly and joyfully love and serve all types of people.
  • What can the transforming love of God for you and for all of us mean for our life together in our congregation? We live in an impersonal world, a harsh world. People yearn for community, a place to belong, a place where they are loved and accepted. This kind of church will listen. It will serve. This kind of church will attract others. This kind of church will connect others to the love of Christ, which knows no boundaries and forgives all sins. For God shows no partiality, and neither will we in our congregation.
  • Our Baptism powerfully equips us to identify with all peoples. Jesus’ death and resurrection were meant for all.
  • In our Baptism we are empowered by the Holy Spirit to face the demons of our hearts and overcome our fears much as Peter did and as Jesus did (2 Cor 1:21–22; Acts 10; Mk 1:12).

05-09-21 Video

Worship materials for Mother's Day weekend 2021:

https://stjohnsmarysville.360unite.com/news

05-02-21

Who Will Guide Me? Acts 8:26–40

Easter 5

May 2, 2021

V 37: - just because there may be a questionJ

  • is now almost universally omitted as a secondary, Byzantine reading (cf. KJV) as it “fills in” the dialogue: “Then Philip said, ‘If you believe with your whole heart, it is possible.’ He answered and said, ‘I believe that the Son of God is Jesus Christ.’”

Some Background:

  • The Ethiopian eunuch is certainly one about whom David speaks. He is among those “who seek the Lord” (Ps 22:26), who “will praise him.” 
    • South of Egypt African Lands (Ethiopian = Burnt Face)
    • The Ethiopian is caught in the tension between “what ought to be” and “what is.”
      • “What ought to be” is a life of joy, due to the Old Testament promises of God in the coming Savior.
      • “What is” is life as a second-class citizen in the kingdom of God, confusion over the intention of God and the meaning of his Word, and a return to the difficult (and pagan!) life that is his.
    • He certainly belongs to one of “the families of the nations” (v 27) who turned to the Lord. 
    • As with the Samaritans, the Ethiopian is one still connected to Israel, for he is returning from worship in Jerusalem.
    • If tradition can be trusted, future generations of Ethiopians were told about the Lord through his witness. (Region is known as the “birthplace of Christianity” – back to the Magi from the East)
  • Philip had been elected a deacon in Acts 6. In 8:4–25,
    • Philip preaches Christ in a Samaritan city, having left Jerusalem as a result of persecution, (Remember the Apostle Paul – “Saul of Tarshish” is still actively persecuting the church of Jesus). 
    • As a result, one Samaritan, Simon the Sorcerer, believes and is baptized by Philip.
    • Philip loved Christ and his neighbor “with actions and in truth” (1 Jn 3:18) by fulfilling his calling as an evangelist. 
    • His love for Christ and for the Ethiopian led/moved a response going into the chariot and to the witness that he gave to the Ethiopian.
    • Philip’s work with the Ethiopian official bore much fruit because he was in Christ (Jn 15:5). 
    • The Spirit of Christ led him to that encounter, and, in faith, Philip was obedient. 
    • His message bore fruit as the Ethiopian was baptized and confessed faith in the resurrected Jesus.
  • The various conversion accounts that Luke reports in Acts show the Gospel’s widening scope (BOW TIE), as anticipated by Jesus in 1:8. 
    • First, you are not a Hebrew; second, you are a eunuch.
    • May be connected as a fulfillment of Isaiah 56 - where eunuchs will be included in worship in Jerusalem
    • He may have not been able to join the Jewish church of Law but he is more than welcome into the Kingdom of the gospel of Christ! 
    • “What is to prevent my being baptized?” asks the eunuch (v 36 RSV). Nothing at all!

In both the book and movie versions of The Polar Express the train goes off its track and slides out of control across a frozen lake. With no track to guide it, the challenge is to get the engine and cars lined up at the point where the tracks reemerge from under the frozen lake on the other side. As Christians, our challenge is to stay on track too, to be guided on our journey. 

Into the Text:

V 26: 

  • If Philip had success in the city of Samaria (8:4–13), then going down to a “desert place” (erēmos), or an uninhabited, forsaken, empty land, must have felt like a sign of death. 
    • The angel’s word gave Philip life to arise, Anastēthi (imperative) EASTER He is RISEN!
    • The Gospel would prove to be a life-giving Spirit in the most unforeseen situation.
  • Translated both as “noon” and as “south.” If it means “noon,” this unlikely time to depart could have been part of God’s plan to arrive at the right moment to intercept the Ethiopian.

V 27: 

  • Philip caught up with the man. This was not a hard thing to do, considering that the eunuch’s vehicle had to be traveling slowly enough for him to be reading.
  • Candace: not a name, but a title like Pharaoh, given to the queen mother, who was the real head of state. 
    • Her husband, the king, was unimportant because the ruling king, her son, was considered the son of the Sun.

V 28: 

  • Most likely the Ethiopian was reading from the Septuagint (Greek), not only because Luke quotes it in the following verses, but because he wouldn’t have had access to Hebrew scrolls nor would he have been able to understand the Hebrew language.
  • The eunuch understands the meaning of the passage, but does not know the identity of the Servant (the “fourth song” in Isaiah’s prophecy).
    • Without the revelation of Christ, the Old Testament remains a mystery. 
    • The Ethiopian politely asks (Deomai) for an answer to his troubling question. 
    • Philip gives more than an answer; he uses the text to preach (euēngelisato) the Good News of Jesus’ death and resurrection. 
    • It was far from mere knowledge but was a life of faith by the power of God’s Word at work.

V 29: 

  • Here we see the nonthreatening way Philip entered into conversation with the man: by way of question
    • He has a personal reason to want to understand; the Law is driving him to the cross (something he doesn’t understand quite yet).

V 31:

  • odēgēsēi. The NIV’s “explains,” while adequate, misses wonderful connections to the travel imagery and the work of the Spirit that Jesus promises in Jn 16:13, better caught by “guide” or “lead.”
  • In The Pirates of Penzance, in a rousing chorus, the local constabulary pledges itself to fight and conquer the marauding pirates. Despite the music of victory, the constable’s men are scared and repeatedly delay their departure for battle, notwithstanding their brave words of “Away, Away! Forward on the foe!” The local authority (a major general) is thrown into despair, and tells them (more than once!): “Yes, but you don’t go!”
  • You may have your own “yes, but” when it comes to the Easter message. 
    • The brave proclamation of Sunday morning meets the reality of Monday morning, and you may find that you need something more than theoretical reassurance. Something needs to change!

V 32: 

  • The quotation is direct from the LXX, Is 53:7–8. 
    • For us, Isaiah 53 stands as one of the clearest and most important prophecies about the suffering servant fulfilled in the passion of Christ
    • Yet the messianic connection was abandoned by Jews, so much so that this section of Isaiah was omitted from their public reading, though the sections before and after were read. 
    • No doubt this was because the Christians had applied it to Jesus successfully.
    • The officer in Acts 8 was simply reading what the text says and asking the right questions.
    • A powerful messianic prophecy. God provided!
  • In our land today, in our culture, even here in Union County, there are many folks just like the Ethiopian: foreigners, strangers, people who don’t look like us and talk like us, folks who don’t know our traditions and worship our God. 
  • There are a great many men and women out there who are disenfranchised and alone due to their ethnicity, due to their sexuality, due to their religion or lack of it.
  • They’re not mainstream, so many of us struggle to know how to minister them. 
    • The Ethiopian needed someone to simply sit beside him and answer a few questions about who Jesus is!
    • COULD THIS BE YOU? THIS WEEK?
  • The ministry of Christian Education is not just about helping our own kids know Jesus. As a congregation, we are called to do more than make sure that the members of this church know their Bibles. I believe that God is calling us today to consider the Christian Education needs of people outside these walls too!
  1. Because God loves you, he sent the Spirit of his Son into your heart and is determined to keep you firm in the only faith that saves. 
  2. Because God has made you his child, his Spirit also equips you to fulfill your calling as a Christian witness.
  • Christ shines during this Easter season with his sacrifice as triumph. Righteousness won by the Savior is now life for any branch baptized into his name. The fruit is simply a benefit for others to share in the same blessing we all have in Christ. Amen.

05-02-21 Video

Worship materials for the weekend of May 2:

https://stjohnsmarysville.360unite.com/news

04-25-21

Easter 4, April 25, 2021

A Very Good Shepherd

Text: Acts 4:1–12

  • The context preceding Acts 4 is the same as we talked about last weekend -  Was this healing GOOD thing or a BAD thing?
  • The question concerned the power or the name by which this deed had been done, and by implication, its nature. If it had happened by an evil power or in the name of another god, then it would be an evil deed and could not be “salvation.” But if it happened by the power of God of Israel and in his name, then it would be a good deed and would be “salvation.” 
  • Peter and John invoke the powerful name of Jesus to heal a lame man. 
  • They are disturbed to find that Jesus has not been swept under the rug of history as neatly as they had hoped.
  • How can they compel to silence men who claim to have seen death defeated? They cannot, for Peter and John frankly declare: “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:19–20).

V 1: 

  • The intervention of the temple authorities (Police/Military) points to the size of the crowd now gathered around Peter. 
  • Intervention would have seemed necessary to the captain of the temple to avoid further disruption (Violent Protest) and to forestall a Roman intervention, which could quickly follow, as seen in Acts 21:27–36.

V 2: 

  • The religious leaders were eager to be done hearing about Jesus of Nazareth, whom they had killed. He is not only still being talked about but also proclaimed as alive. 
  • Further, Sadducees did not believe in resurrection (Mt 22:23–33; Acts 23:6–10) and are perturbed to find this doctrine being proclaimed at all, especially about Jesus.
  • ESCPECIALLY that (as per the Greek in the text) not only Jesus but ALL people will be resurrected in Jesus!
  • V6: 
  • Though these apostles are now bound, the Word of God is not bound but has gone out in power and brought many more believers into the fold.

V 7:

  • The emphatic pronoun hymeis at the end of the question “You [nobodies!] did this?!” 
  • The disciples never protest that they ARE nothing but gladly point away from themselves and toward Jesus, as John the Baptist did (Acts 3:12; Jn 3:30).
  • There is a “math” word in the text – “the number came to about 5,000” – again these “nobodies “could not change 5,000 men’s minds – Only the Holy Spirit can call, gather and enlighten!
  • I’m so thankful for that reality. I stand with Ananias and Sapphira the deceivers, Peter the denier, the crowds who cried out “Crucify Him!” and even Judas the betrayer. 
  • I just pray that my countless mistakes, misdeeds, misjudgments will do nothing less than serve God’s purposes and the salvation of many!

V 8: 

  • Peter is standing before the Sanhedrin - Though formerly he had cringed before a young woman in a courtyard, now he is filled with the Holy Spirit and testifies before the Jewish leaders.

V 9: 

  • The confusion of a “GOOD” Shepherd?
  • Peter respectfully points to the irony of the situation in which he finds himself: arrested because a man had been healed. 
  • “Have you ever got in trouble for doing the RIGHT thing!?!
  • Yet Peter understands that the good deed is not at issue. The real issue is by whose power.
  • "Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.  (Matt. 5:11-12 ESV)

V10: 

  • The Law is let loose to convict by crediting the miracle to “Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead.” 

V 11: 

  • Peter turns from defendant to judge. His quotation of Ps 118:22 is one of the earliest messianic ascriptions and is cited by Jesus in Mt 21:42; Mk 12:10; and Lk 20:17–18. 
  • To “reject” Jesus is to “Treat Him as nothing/no one”
  • The literal translation reads “head of the corner” - Christ is the indispensable part of the structure. 
  • The name that brought healing is also the name that brings salvation!

V 12: 

  • There is salvation in Christ for even the worst offenders. 
  • He does not wish to leave even these in despair, but holds out hope for repentance in Jesus, the only “name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”
  • Christ himself says:

Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock (Mt 7:24)

  • Jesus is, the Good Shepherd who loves the sheep, who pursues the sheep, who lays down his life for his sheep—sheep like you and sheep like me.

04-25-21 Video

Worship materials for the weekend of April 25th:

https://stjohnsmarysville.360unite.com/news

04-18-21

Easter 3, April 18, 2021

“Resurrection Affirmation” Text: Acts 3:11–21

  • This is Peter’s 1st miracle
  • Then text is how Peter explains the miracle
  • The focus of the explanation is the reason for Easter – Jesus!
  • Remember that immediately after Jesus died, the disciples thought the crucifixion meant that Jesus had failed. In Luke 24, that is precisely why the two men are traveling from Jerusalem to Emmaus. 
  • Peter’s speech focuses particularly on the fact that “God glorified his servant Jesus” (v. 13)!!
  • The resurrection worked!! There is now NO MEMORY of sin in Christ!!
  • Unfortunately, the message of sins forgiven in Christ DOES need Re-Affirmation – we forget the wrong things!
  • Samuel was instrumental in the rise of the Davidic monarchy which culminated in Christ. 
  • He anointed David asking (1 Sam 16:13). 
  • All the prophets who followed, not just those who uttered the well-known “Messianic prophecies,” spoke of Christ (cf. also Luke 24:25–27).
  • Peter sees in Jesus the living link between the Old and New Testaments. 
  • Peter interprets the noun zera, “seed, offspring,” as a reference to the individual Jesus, just as Paul does in Gal 3:16. 
  • Jesus was God at Creation (the one by whom all things were made)
  • Jesus is the source of the blessing promised five times in Genesis (12:3; 18:18; 22:18; 26:4; 28:14; Acts 3:25 quotes Gen 22:18).
  • Peter speaks a penetrating condemnation, using three phrases that hit home. 
  • “You handed him over [paredōkate]. . . . 
  • You disowned [ērnēsasthe] the Holy and Righteous One. . . . 
  • You killed the author of life [ton . . . archēgon tēs zōēs apekteinate].” 
  • At the same time, he holds out the implicit Gospel in the lame man’s healing: “By faith in the name of Jesus, this man whom you see and know was made strong” (v 16). 
  • Our text opens in the “portico called Solomon’s,” 
  • where John’s Gospel records that similar crowds had recently gathered around Jesus himself to ask if he was indeed the Christ (Jn 10:22–24). 
  • Immediately Peter redirects everyone’s attention away from the apostles as pious individuals and toward Christ, in whose name the man was made well (v 16).
  • The lame man is a small restoration that anticipates the one Christ will bring when he comes again.
  • Peter gives his testimony as an eyewitness of this fact that Christ is Risen!
  • Peter now answers the question about who healed the lame man. 
  • Jesus did! 
  • Peter heads off complete despair in his hearers; they acted in ignorance (as did their rulers). This echoes Jesus’ word from the cross “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Lk 23:34).
  • The people’s ignorance apparently extends even to the Scriptures many of them presumed to know. 
  • The death and resurrection of Jesus were foretold there, and what God had spoken by the prophets he has also faithfully fulfilled. 
  • It is not too late, Peter assures them, to repent.
  • Turning to God in repentance will bring kairoi anapsuxeōs. The NIV translates this phrase as “times of refreshing.” 
  • “Spiritual strengthening and invigoration that gives comfort”
  • Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees. Say to those who have an anxious heart, “Be strong; fear not! Behold, your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God. He will come and save you.” Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then shall the lame man leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute sing for joy. (Is 35:3–6b)
  • This is the “Resurrection Affirmation”

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