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Showing posts from March, 2008

Meeting Jesus on the way

Acts 2.14a, 36-41
The interesting thing about the early history of the Christian Church is the speed with which it grew, and the influence which it exerted even in the most unlikely places. We are now used to the idea that the mission to the Jewish nation, begun by Jesus himself and continued with great passion and enthusiasm by his first disciples, was a failure. The Jewish faith continued unaltered and most Jewish people rejected the Christian message that Jesus was the expected Lord and Messiah.

However, if the mission was a failure, it was a glorious failure. When they first heard the Gospel, Peter's Jewish hearers were cut to the heart and - as a result - three thousand were converted to the Christian faith on the Day of Pentecost alone.

Perhaps we expect failure too readily and perhaps we put too little confidence in the story of Jesus. If we allowed the Gospel story to speak for itself, perhaps more people would be as moved as were the visitors to Jerusalem who listened to Pet…

More About Resurrection

Acts 2.14, 22-32
This passage from Peter's sermon on the day of Pentecost is the closest that the first Christians come to mentioning the empty tomb, and then Peter does so only by implication. Assuming that David is the writer of Psalm 16, Peter reflects on David's celebration of God's power to rescue him from death. Clearly, David himself was not rescued because - says Peter - his tomb is with us to this day, so the psalm must be prophetic. David must have been looking forward to a time when his royal House would be able to triumph over death through his descendant Jesus. Setting aside the fact that modern scholars think the psalmist is not talking about actual resurrection from death, but about being rescued from the brink of death, the obvious implication of Peter's words is that - in contrast to the tomb of King David - Jesus' tomb is empty. Then Peter concludes, however, not by emphasising the fact of the empty tomb but by stressing once again that the first d…

Resurrection

Acts 10.34-43
The key thing about this passage from Peter's sermon to Cornelius and his companions is his assertion that Jesus' first disciples were witnesses to all that he did. It is their testimony which is the bedrock of the Christian faith and especially of the Easter story and Peter senses immediately that the message of Jesus' resurrection and vindication by God is so extraordinary that people will struggle to believe it unless they can be convinced of the utter integrity and honesty of the testimony they are hearing.

The first part of his proclamation, that Jesus went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed before being put to death by hanging, is a matter of public record. Everyone listening to the sermon knows it is true. But the second part of Peter's message, that God chose this happy band of followers to witness Jesus' resurrection appearances and to eat and drink with the risen Jesus, is something which has to be taken on trust. The only alt…

Self-Emptying

Isaiah 50.4-9a, Philippians 2.1-11
This is a passage about God's Suffering Servant. But the Servant is portrayed not as a victim, but as a decisive figure who offers encouragement to the weary, listens attentively to God's will and who suffers only because he steadfastly confronts God's opponents instead of turning back. He knows that he will not be disgraced or put to shame because the Lord will help him, and therefore he sets his face like flint to those who are abusing him. He urges like-minded people to stand alongside him and defies his adversaries to 'bring on' the moment of confrontation because he is confident that he will soon be vindicated. No one will be able to pronounce him guilty when the cavalry arrives to rescue him.

Is this the Suffering Servant whom Christians would identify with Jesus? Not quite. For Jesus did suffer disgrace and shame when he was betrayed and killed upon the cross. God did still vindicate him, but not before his death.

When the Kin…

New Life

Ezekiel 37.1-14
This passage is probably about spiritual renewal and the rediscovery of hope in the face of overwhelming despair, rather than about the promise of resurrection from the dead. But, of course, what Ezekiel describes is a kind of resurrection. He was addressing the nation of Israel. Can we reapply this famous passage to the New Israel of the Church? Often the Church despairs of the possibility of resurrection and new growth, but with the Spirit there is always hope. Similarly, there is still hope for our nation, despite its secularisation and the spread of cynicism and doubt. Slaves in the American South took comfort in this story and composed the famous spiritual about 'Dem Bones' because of its promise that God can snatch victory even after defeat. The Easter story renews the same theme.

Romans 8.6-11
Paul develops the same theme as Ezekiel. Human nature by itself cannot submit to God's will and is, he claims, actively hostile to what God wants. The kind of rad…