Sunday, April 12, 2015

Sunday 19 April 2015 - 3rd Sunday of Easter

Theme: Resurrection power / Evidence for the Resurrection / Beloved children of God / The best is yet to be

Sentence: ‘Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have’ (Luke 24:39)

Lord, help us to see;
To see what is eternally good and true,
And having seen, to go on searching
Until we come to the joys of heaven.


Acts 3:12-19
Psalm 4
1 John 3:1-7
Luke 24:36-48


Acts 3:12-19

We continue a kind of ‘tour’ through sermons in Acts which reference the resurrection. These references underline that the resurrection was understood by the apostles to be a raising from death to life, a defeating of death as a power over humanity, a part of God’s plan for Jesus (and thus for humanity), and the unleashing of life-giving power which continues to work in the world by transforming people’s lives.

In this sermon Peter speaks in stark terms. His fellow citizens handed Jesus over to be killed. ‘You rejected the Holy and Righteous One and asked to have a murderer given to you and you killed the Author of life whom God raised from the dead’ (14-15).

By referring to Jesus as ‘the Author of life’, Peter makes a significant claim about the ‘pre-existence’ of Jesus of Nazareth: the one who was present and involved in the creation of life itself had becomes incarnated in the flesh of the man Jesus.

A recurring theme we have noticed these last few weeks is that Peter and others are ‘witnesses’ of the resurrection (15). This is a solemn and sacred role: to ensure that the world knows what God has done by raising Jesus from the dead.

The message of the sermon as it relates to the crippled man who has just been healed (3:1-11) is that the same mighty, life-giving power at work when Jesus was raised from the dead has given new life through perfect healing to this man (16).

Finally, note how Peter moves from the healing of the man to the application of the message: the healing is not itself a cue for more people to come forward to be healed rather it is yet another sign of God at work in and through Jesus, validating all claims about Jesus as Son of God. Accordingly the appropriate response from hearers is ‘Repent therefore and turn to God’ (19).

Psalm 4

This psalm expresses confidence in God’s power to deliver the psalmist from enemies. The confidence includes verse 8 where the writer feels able to go to bed and sleep peacefully.

We can read this psalm as a psalm whose outcome has been demonstrated in the defeat of the enemies of Jesus when he was raised from the Great Enemy (Death). Thus our praise and joy as believers in the risen Jesus can be expressed in the sentiments of verse 7: ‘You have put gladness in my heart, more than when their grain and wine abound.’

1 John 3:1-7

These verses are best read very slowly in a reflective mood. Take verse 1 as an instance. ‘See what love the Father has given us’ makes us think about God as our Father, God’s love for us, and what kind of love it is that has been given to us; ‘that we should be called the children of God’ makes us think about how this expresses God’s love for us and about what it means that we are the children of God  (‘and that is what we are’) and thus what it means that we might not be the children of God.
Put another way: perhaps we have been taking our status as ‘children of God’ for granted. Verse 1 leads us to consider the privilege of being God’s much loved children.

Verse 1b is a little odd relative to the flow of thought through these verses though the theme of ‘the world’ as that which is outside of and even against ‘the children of God’ is a recurring one in the Johannine writings. The point made here is straightforward: if the world knew who the God of Jesus Christ is then it would understand and recognise who the children of this God are.

As children of God, verse 2, we look forward to a better future. In detail we do not know what it will be but in broad terms we know this, ‘when he is revealed, we will be like him’. That is pretty amazing. Actually, it is more than that, it is beyond words amazing!

We can get ready for our better future, verse 3. It is not be complacency, moral laziness, or casual discipleship. ‘Purify’ may not be an ‘in’ word in the church today but this word challenges us to focus on what matters: if we want to share in the glorious future of the children of God we will purify ourselves in order to align ourselves with the one who is pure.

Verses 4-7 take the theme of purity forward: we should not be deceived about the character of sin (= lawlessness), Christ came to take away sin, those who abide in Christ do not sin, and on these matters we should not be deceived.

The toughest issue in these last verses is the claim that those who abide in Christ do not sin. On the fact of it this is counsel of perfection which is unattainable. We should read the verse in the light of last Sunday’s reading (1 John 1:1-2:2): the writer expects that we will sin and need to receive forgiveness. So, what then is verse 6 saying? I suggest at least (a) no one who abides in Christ should be complacent about ongoing sin (b) the one who abides in Christ steadily eradicates sin from their life (c) when we find there is sin in our life we should clearly understand that that sin represents competing forces in our life and thus we should both eradicate sin and deepen our abiding in Christ.

Luke 24:36b-48

Gospel resurrection stories are often at pains to deal with an alternative explanation for the empty tomb and/or the character of the appearances of the risen Jesus. So Matthew in his last chapter deals to the possibility that people are explaining the empty tomb as due to the disciples stealing the body of Jesus.

Here Luke – telling a ‘common’ narrative of Jesus appearing, bringing a greeting of Peace to terrified disciples – nails down a specific point: Jesus is not a ghost (39). (He might even have written ‘Jesus is NOT a ghost.’)

For Luke, both in stories in chapter 24 prior to this one, and here through multiple means, it is important to describe the body of the risen Jesus as a physical body ‘for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have’ (39, also 40 and 43).

Luke also tells us enough about the appearances of Jesus, including here in verse 36, for us to realise that Jesus’ body is not a merely resuscitated body, for he can appear at will here and disappear there, in a manner unknown to ordinary ‘flesh and bones’ bodies. When we talk about ‘the physical resurrection body’ of Jesus we are always talking about (so to speak) a ‘physical plus new space-time possibilities resurrection body.’

Interestingly, Luke telling this story recognises twice (verses 38, 41) that the disciples were doubting and disbelieving that Jesus had risen from the dead. Perhaps we have doubts too: we are in good company!

The remaining verses of the passage, 44-48 move to a different topic or set of topics. First, Jesus underlines a great theme through Luke’s Gospel: Jesus is the fulfilment of past prophecy and thus (taking up a point we are finding in our Acts readings through these weeks) is fulfilling his destiny under God. Secondly, the Scriptures (i.e. the Old Testament) may be studied in order to understand who Jesus the Messiah is, what he came to achieve and what the future work of his disciples is.

The disciples are now and in the future utterly committed to a new and special work in the mission of God in the world: ‘You are my witnesses of these things’ (48).

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