The Third Sunday of Easter, 19 April 2015

Acts 3:12-19
Psalm 4
I John 3:1-7
St. Luke 24:36b-48

Background: Witnesses
In the readings today you will encounter the word “witness” several times. It might be good for us to realize the subtext of this word, that might not be apparent if we think of the word in English terms only. The Greek word is “Martyr”, and as we think about the connection of those two words, we begin to see that those who witness Peter’s healing, the appearance of Jesus, have the possibility of dire circumstances accruing to them. In its original usage in the Greek, a martyr was a “witness”. There was no threat of death or persecution – just bearing witness to something. It is the Christian experience in the ancient world that glosses the word with the additional meaning.

Acts 3:12-19

When Peter saw the astonishment of those who had seen the lame man healed, he addressed the people, "You Israelites, why do you wonder at this, or why do you stare at us, as though by our own power or piety we had made him walk? The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God of our ancestors has glorified his servant Jesus, whom you handed over and rejected in the presence of Pilate, though he had decided to release him. But 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. To this we are witnesses. And by faith in his name, his name itself has made this man strong, whom you see and know; and the faith that is through Jesus has given him this perfect health in the presence of all of you.

"And now, friends, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did also your rulers. In this way God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, that his Messiah would suffer. Repent therefore, and turn to God so that your sins may be wiped out."

Several commentators note how Luke, in the Acts of the Apostles, sees the actions of Peter and Paul, especially, as parallels of what Jesus had done in his ministry. Readers might want to look at St. Luke 5:17-26 to see the basis for the witnessing that Peter will do in this pericope. The apostles are in the Temple confines, which has several things to say to us, the presence of God, the piety of the disciples, and the place from which the lame man was excluded, and after his healing is included. The lame man (see Acts 3, especially the verses preceding the liturgical pericope) represents Luke’s oft presented agenda for the “lowly ones” – the poor, the sick, women, orphans, and such. What follows is Peter’s address to the witnesses that are present at the cure. Peter wants them to understand the healing they have witnessed as a sign – something that indicates the role of Jesus in God’s plan of salvation. The section following this invites repentance from the witnesses. That Luke describes the crowd as “astonished” indicates their receptivity to what Peter is about to tell them. He underscores the healing as an indication of the power of the name of Jesus. The three major points of this sermon are Jesus foretold, Jesus as fulfillment, and Jesus as a sign of the covenant.

Breaking open Acts:
  1. How do Peter’s acts replicate those of Jesus?
  2. What is the reaction of the people standing around them?
  3. How does healing happen in your life?

Psalm 4 Cum invocarem

Answer me when I call, O God, defender of my cause; *
you set me free when I am hard-pressed;
have mercy on me and hear my prayer.

"You mortals, how long will you dishonor my glory; *
how long will you worship dumb idols
and run after false gods?"

Know that the LORD does wonders for the faithful; *
when I call upon the LORD, he will hear me.

Tremble, then, and do not sin; *
speak to your heart in silence upon your bed.

Offer the appointed sacrifices *
and put your trust in the LORD.

Many are saying, "Oh, that we might see better times!" *
Lift up the light of your countenance upon us, O LORD.

You have put gladness in my heart, *
more than when grain and wine and oil increase.

I lie down in peace; at once I fall asleep; *
for only you, LORD, make me dwell in safety.

This psalm’s dialogue between a suppliant and God might well be the conversation in the first reading for this Sunday.  The quote from God speaks to the situation in ancient times, asking when they will return to the God of Israel. The psalmist learns quickly, adjuring his readers to act as a righteous people, similar to Peter’s request that the people repent. Shown the faithful God of Israel, the one who “does wonders,” the psalmist literally urges his readers to tremble in the presence of the almighty and then to keep a deep silence. The second to the last verse is probably an interpolation or an error. The final verse, however, returns to the theme, and to the quiet of sleep that awaits those who trust in God.

Breaking open Psalm 4:
  1. When do you feel truly safe?
  2. Does your faith make you feel safe? How?
  3. How do you make others feel safe?

1 John 3:1-7

See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are. The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God's children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is. And all who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.

Everyone who commits sin is guilty of lawlessness; sin is lawlessness. You know that he was revealed to take away sins, and in him there is no sin. No one who abides in him sins; no one who sins has either seen him or known him. Little children, let no one deceive you. Everyone who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous.

In the initial sections of I John, there is an emphasis on the human frailty of sin, but now in these verses and opposite position is takend, “no one who abides in him sins.”  The states of sinner and the sinless are compared. Those who abide in Christ are seen, and indeed act in righteousness. The opposite is so for those who indeed sin, for they neither see Jesus or know Jesus. The confusion is worthy of Luther’s description of the Christian as simil justus et peccator  (at the same time justified and sinner).

Breaking open I John:
  1. Why does the author of I John stress the importance of the Word as the Gospel proclaimed?
  2. How do you see your belief as light or darkness?
  3. What is the darkness of your life?
  4. How Christ a light in your life?

St. Luke 24:36b-48

Jesus himself stood among the disciples and their companions and said to them, "Peace be with you." They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost. He said to them, "Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have." And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, "Have you anything here to eat?" They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate in their presence.

Then he said to them, "These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you-- that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled." Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, "Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things."

Reginald Fuller, in his book on the resurrection appearances, comments on how the appearances become more and more complicated and detailed. As the faith grew, the stories of Jesus’ appearance were likely to be filled with details borne out of the lives of those who experienced them. The appearances begin with individuals, and then the twelve, and in this pericope with the twelve and their companions. The greeting is always, “peace be with you.” What follows is both terror and astonishment. There is a formula here: terror, the showing of the wounds, the recognition, and subsequent joy. In this pericope, Jesus has no disciple (Thomas) demanding physical evidence, “unless I put my hand in his side.” In a way Jesus preempts such a request by asking if there is something to eat. The eating becomes a sign to them, as it is to us each Sunday. Just as at Emmaus, “he opened their minds to understand the scriptures.” It is not only their experience of being in the presence of Jesus that ought to teach them but their very history as a people that bears witness to who and what Jesus is.  Here, Luke also outlines what is to come – the sharing of the Gospel to all nations, by witnesses – they themselves!

Breaking open the Gospel:
  1. How is Thomas’ doubt healthy?
  2. What power does Jesus bestow on the disciples?
  3. Is your confession of Jesus the same or different from Thomas’
After breaking open the Word, you might want to pray the Collect for Sunday:

O God, whose blessed Son made himself known to his disciples in the breaking of bread: Open the eyes of our faith, that we may behold him in all his redeeming work; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Questions and comments copyright © 2015, Michael T. Hiller


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