Fifth Sunday of Easter: The Substituted Acts Passage – What was old becomes new

During the Sundays of Easter passages from Acts are substituted for the Old Testament passages. I have said this multiple times, and usually I say it to help you, beloved reader, know why it is a passage from Acts. Today I tell you because this passage from Acts is as informative about faithful practices as any Old Testament passage. Let me show you why.

“But filled with the Holy Spirit, he gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God.” (Acts 7:55)

The prophets from the Old Testament are said to have been filled with God’s Spirit, and acted according to that guidance and inspiration. Here we see a new believer who is filled with the exact same essence of God and testifies to it.

“Look,” he said, “I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!” But they covered their ears, and with a loud shout all rushed together against him.” (Verses 56 – 57)

But he is ignored and set upon just like any prophet from the Old Testament.

“Then they dragged him out of the city and began to stone him; and the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul.” (Verse 58)

Unlike the Old Testament, however, unbelievers do not stop at just threatening his life but actually take it. Remember, beloved reader, how many times the Lord’s prophets had to flee in fear of their lives? It as if the reactions of those times were exacerbated with the killing of Jesus Christ. Taking a life is no longer an unthought of act, but one that is gaining acceptance.

“While they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Then he knelt down and cried out in a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he died.” (Verses 59 – 60)

But just as Jesus’ death was the beginning of a wave of persecution, so was Jesus’ willingness to give up his life. And even in death remaining faithful to the Lord who was followed and served. It was one thing for Jesus the Son of God to be willing to give up his life, but such faithfulness in humanity was new and unheard of, except maybe in Old Testament times.

And do not think, beloved reader, I have overlooked who was present at Stephen’s death. Here we have the foundation of the Lord getting ready to call a new prophet who would carry forth the Lord’s word and Jesus’ work. No, beloved reader, we have missed out on nothing by not having an Old Testament passage. May we learn lessons from scripture where ever we may find them. Selah!

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Fourth Sunday of Easter: The Substituted Old Testament Passage – Wonders & Signs being performed

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles.” (Acts 2:42- 43)

“Wonders and signs” – I dearly wish I knew what the writer of Acts meant by that. I (or you) can look it up in the Greek, but that does not tell us what exactly is meant by it. Were they “wonders and signs” that “merely” confirmed faith in God – what I mean by that is words and acts of a vital faith. Or was it miraculous, out of ordinary human experience that even in our modern times would elicit awe? But is wondrous to our modern times is what follows in the writer of Acts description.

All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.” (Verses 44 – 47)

The early Christians were a vital and cohesive community. They lived and worked together in harmony and common cause. What one needed, another provided without hesitancy or thought for self – at least as it is described. And if that were true, that would be a “wonder & a sign” that something extraordinary was going on. It would be very attractive to those on the outside who were living in need and isolation. You have to understand, beloved reader, these were times when want and need were rampant, and very few people undertook for each other. Such radical community and care was rare and valuable.

The other thing to remember is that it did not last. Yes, perhaps for a healthy span of years, but eventually human willfulness eroded away the community. Thinking of self gradually became more of the norm than thinking of others. If you have doubts of this, read some of the letters that were written to the early Christian communities. The early church was a model of community and care, but that type of community without end. Certainly an example to succeeding generations but not easily replicated. For a time, a tiny slice of heaven but that eroded like fog on a warming day. The “heat” of the self-centered human heart can dissipate too easily the warming cloud of caring intent. So yes, it was a wonder and sign that the early Christians came together in such a community, and a hope that will true Christian intent we can replicate IF we keep Christ and our Lord God at the center of all our efforts. Selah!

Second Sunday of Easter: The Substitute Old Testament Passage – Peter, another man after the Lord Jesus’ heart

[Beloved reader, sometimes an Epistle Passage is used instead of an Old Testament Passage on certain occasions and certain reasons. This week is such an occasion. Read it as if it were an Old Testament prophet, but testifying to a new reality. ]

But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them,
“You that are Israelites, listen to what I have to say: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with deeds of power, wonders, and signs that God did through him among you, as you yourselves know- this man, handed over to you according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of those outside the law. But God raised him up, having freed him from death, because it was impossible for him to be held in its power.” (Acts 2:14a, 22 – 24)

It occurs to me that Peter is making good on identifying and claiming knowledge of Jesus Christ. How far Peter has come in his beliefs. It is one of the reasons I hold him in great esteem. Not one to shy away from anything, when he knows what is truth he speaks it with no restraint or hesitation.

“For David says concerning him, ‘I saw the Lord always before me, for he is at my right hand so that I will not be shaken; therefore my heart was glad, and my tongue rejoiced; moreover my flesh will live in hope. For you will not abandon my soul to Hades, or let your Holy One experience corruption. You have made known to me the ways of life; you will make me full of gladness with your presence.’ “Fellow Israelites, I may say to you confidently of our ancestor David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. Since he was a prophet, he knew that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would put one of his descendants on his throne. Foreseeing this, David spoke of the resurrection of the Messiah, saying, ‘He was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh experience corruption.’ This Jesus God raised up, and of that all of us are witnesses.” (Verses 25 – 32)

For the rest of his life, Peter spoke of Jesus, spread the word about his life, death, & resurrection, and did not fear the consequences of it. He clearly followed the path that Jesus Christ lays out for all of the Lord God’s followers. May we do so also. Selah!

Fourth Sunday of Easter: The substituted Old Testament Passage – The Word spreads and believe grows

Now in Joppa there was a disciple whose name was Tabitha, which in Greek is Dorcas. She was devoted to good works and acts of charity. At that time she became ill and died. When they had washed her, they laid her in a room upstairs. Since Lydda was near Joppa, the disciples, who heard that Peter was there, sent two men to him with the request, “Please come to us without delay.” So Peter got up and went with them; and when he arrived, they took him to the room upstairs. All the widows stood beside him, weeping and showing tunics and other clothing that Dorcas had made while she was with them. Peter put all of them outside, and then he knelt down and prayed. He turned to the body and said, “Tabitha, get up.” Then she opened her eyes, and seeing Peter, she sat up. He gave her his hand and helped her up. Then calling the saints and widows, he showed her to be alive. This became known throughout Joppa, and many believed in the Lord. Meanwhile he stayed in Joppa for some time with a certain Simon, a tanner.” (Acts 9:36-43)

The book of Acts, beloved reader, at times functions as a listing of signs and wonders establishing the founding of the early Christian church, and what brought many to faith. Even today, when something amazing happens people flock around eager for the details and ready to believe. It is not just issues of faith that spread like this; stories of lotions and medications that heal fly around the internet, newspapers, magazines . . . and people believe it whole sale!

Now, you ask, did I just compare the spreading of the gospel and the good news of Jesus Christ to spreading of stories on the internet?! Well, yes, I guess maybe I did. Am I saying the good news of Jesus Christ and the gospel nothing more than an infomercial, you ask?! No, not exactly . . . . but would that be such a bad thing? I may have to think about that.

We may call the bible “The Holy Book” and say it was divinely (or Divinely) inspired. It is filled with the stories of ordinary people coming to faith, or fleeing from faith, and some being dragged back to faith (I could go on, but I hope you are getting my point). The bible was never meant to be placed on a pedestal and never be consulted or used except for special and specific occasions. It is an instruction book for daily life. Which is why I am bothered a bit about people coming to faith simply because of the miracles they hear that are associated with some people’s faith story. The story of Tabitha/Dorcas is a good example.

Did those people come to faith simply because someone was raised from the dead? Or did they hear about the good woman that Tabitha/Dorcas was and came to faith because of her example? Infomercials are notorious for having slightly exaggerated information designed specifically to draw one in so they will believe and buy. The Christian faith should not be like that, because (trust me on this one beloved reader) one’s faith does not necessarily produce miracles that get one out of difficult situations. And a faith based on the telling of miracles may not survive a testing from persecution and suffering.

It is no secret that for many in our modern world life is tough. And faith can help one get through. The true miracle of faith is that we get through difficult situations in life WITHOUT miracles! Something to consider as Easter gets further away. Shalom!

Second Sunday of Easter: Scripture from the Book of Acts – In the days that follow Easter

For reasons I do not quite understand, the first Sunday after Easter is actually called the “Second Sunday.” I am telling you this, beloved reader, because I do not want you to think I skipped a week, or a cog!

Something else you need to be aware of is that during “Eastertide” (the Sundays that follow Easter for a while) passage from Acts are substituted for Old Testament passages.

“When they had brought them, they had them stand before the council. The high priest questioned them,
saying, “We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and you are determined to bring this man’s blood on us.” But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than any human authority. The God of our ancestors raised up Jesus, whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior that he might give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey him.” (Acts 5:27-32)

Filled with exuberance for the Lord, Peter and the other apostles has been preaching throughout Jerusalem about Jesus, who he was (the Son of God) and the example and instructions that he taught to his disciples. They also preached concerning who had put Jesus to death.

Imagine, beloved reader, Peter who had three times denied Jesus was now risking all to preach about Jesus. It is one of the reasons I like Peter so much. He staked everything on what he believed was true and right, not caring about the consequences. One of the gospels relates Peter’s “rehab” from his thrice denial in which Jesus asks Peter to watch over and nurture Jesus’ followers. From Peter’s confession of his missteps to his doing penance to his forgiveness by Christ, Peter’s story is one that stirs my soul.

But it is not Peter as a man that I am taken by so much as Christ and the Lord molding and using Peter. It is what I yearn for myself; in confessing where I have gone wrong I would be given the opportunity to make amends, and then be forgiven and be called to ministry as Peter was.

In the days that follow Easter may Christ and the Lord call you to the purpose that the Divine has for you. Selah!