John 14:15-21 • Psalm 66:8-20 • Acts 17:22-31 • 1 Peter 3:13-22
Our gospel passage for this week takes up where we left off last week in the final discourse to his disciples prior to his arrest and crucifixion. Remember that Jesus and the disciples have just celebrated the passover meal together, he has instructed them about the Lord’s Supper and remembering him, he has also confronted Judas and cautioned Peter. One other moment that is important, especially in reference to the passage for this week is that prior to the meal and all the events just mentioned, Jesus washed the feet of all twelve of the disciples. The significance of this moment is that the feet of Judas, who was in the midst of betraying Jesus even in that very moment, and Peter, who was soon to deny he even knew Jesus – three times, were washed with the other ten disciples. It is a major statement of the servanthood and love of Christ in that while they were ‘sinners’ Jesus still served and loved them.
During this section of the discourse, Jesus promises the disciples that he is not abandoning them, he will not leave them ‘orphaned’. A promise is made by Christ that he will ask the Father to send an advocate. You bible may use another word instead of advocate which is understandable because the Greek word used here is ‘Paraclete” which encompasses everything that Jesus was, and did, with and for his disciples. Jesus was their advocate, helper, constant companion, intercessor, comfort, the one that comes alongside, truth, and many more. Jesus is defining who he is, and has been, and promises the followers that there will be another sent to fill all these roles when Jesus is gone.
This promise harkens back to the initial prophesy, and promise, of Jesus – ‘He will be called Emmanuel, which means, God is with us.’
While the first words of this discourse (as seen last week) are a comfort and encouragement for the disciples in the coming hours, the words he gives in this section are comfort and encouragement for all that lies ahead.
This Psalm is a praise to God (the opening word should probably be ‘praise’ instead of ‘bless’ as some translations have) from a people, a community, who have come through a crisis and survived. It is essential to see the communal aspect to this praise, especially in a time where our notion of faith is very individually perceived. The Psalm is talking about a community of faith who have survived. The crisis is described as a time of ‘fire’ and ‘water’ – a time of refinement (silver) and judgement (net). Interestingly, the act of praise is very personal, very individualistic. The burnt offering (act of praise), made by a “I’ (an individual) is the most expensive sacrifice that can be made in the temple. The offering, a fatling is a one year old calf, the most valuable which had be expensively fed for an entire year. As this offering is totally burnt in the act of sacrifice there is not even any remainder to eat or share. The individuals makes the praise sacrifice knowing there will be not return on the money spent to raise this one year old calf. It is a totally unselfish, as well as totally void of any personal agenda, offering of praise.
Think of the pandemic we have been through, and are still in the midst of, how have you seen God ‘bring your community of faith’ through the fire and water’?
We now look beyond the ascension of Jesus to the early years of the New Testament church when the apostles were beginning to feel the work of the opposition to the message of Jesus Christ. Paul, along with Silas, have felt that opposition in very obvious ways. It also is important to understand that as Paul and Silas experienced hostility, prison, and near death, those believers who supported Paul and Silas were targets of the anger as well. Most of the overt hostility came from those connected with the Jewish religious institution, who would often be able to manipulate the crowds to oppose the teachings about Jesus. In our Acts reading for this week we see Paul speaking to a largely Greek, gentile, crowd which includes many of the leaders of Athens. As Paul was in Athens he taught as he usually did when entering a city. He was disturbed by the increasing presence of idols and idol worship. As his teachings began to create interest and controversy, the leaders called the two men (Paul and Silas) to come before them and explain.
Our passage begins with ‘Paul stood in front of the Areopagus’ which would be similar to the town hall concept of governing a city, a place where the citizens gather to make decisions and voice concerns. However, this also refers to the official leaders who were sincerely investigating after hearing negative rumors probably circulated by the Jewish religious institution. Paul, nor Silas, seem to have been forced to appear, nor were either under arrest, this was a sincere effort to understand and explain.
Paul’s words to the council of leaders demonstrates a respect of the people and leaders of the city. He comments on their faith searching and journey. He also identifies with the audience finding common ground between his message and their beliefs. The listeners would have probably been impressed with his understanding of their culture especially as he quoted two of their poets. He also garnered the support of many int he council as he insisted that God is not present in man made things (idols, etc.).
While his speech resulted in interest and converts, he most defiantly lost the support of most when he spoke of the resurrection of Jesus. Resurrection, along with the idea of God in the flesh, was too much for the intellectual leaders of the city.
Paul’s unabashed effort before the Areopagus holds many insights into his respect for others as well as his refusal to eliminate or compromise the truth he was called to proclaim.
1 Peter 3:13-22
This is our next to last week in I Peter, his letter to small faith communities of faith that were far away from other believer communities, causing Peter to refer to them as exiles. This community was persecuted for their faith, often times a persecution that was a ‘shunning’ from and by the non-believing community – sometimes the persecution was even more intense however.
In the last verse of our Acts passage, we see ‘he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.’ This word assurance, which is probably better worded as ‘confident faith’ – presents the ‘how’ of surviving in their current bad situation. Their faith has proof – Jesus was resurrected from the death. It is that knowledge and reality that they can stand on a withstand the forces of hatred that was coming at them continually. This encouragement and instruction also reminds the believers that, even though they feel isolated and abandoned, they are not, the very Christ that was raised from the dead remains present in the ‘Paraclete’ (refer back to John passage context). Emmanuel, God is present, is present even though he is unseen.