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Friday, April 24, 2015

Friday, April 24, 2015
Daniel 6:1-15; Psalm 49; 2 John 1-13; Luke 5:12-26

Today we begin the most well-known story from the Book of Daniel—Daniel in the Lions’ Den. King Darius, having conquered Babylon, has set up a system of governance that includes Daniel as one of his three overlords. Daniel excels to the point that the king decides to promote Daniel and appoint him over the whole kingdom. The other subordinate rulers of the land are jealous and try to find grounds for complaint against Daniel, to prevent this promotion, but they are unable to find any discrepancy. Consequently, they conspire against him. They go to the king to persuade him to issue an ordinance, enforced by interdict that not even the king can remove, which requires everyone in the kingdom to pray only to the king for thirty days. Violators are to be thrown into the lions’ den. Darius does so, and, of course, Daniel continues his practice of daily prayers—morning, noon and evening—facing toward Jerusalem as he prays from his upper room. The conspirators spy on him, find him praying and report it to Darius, who is trapped by his own interdict. In spite of all the king does to try to rescue Daniel, the law of the Medes and the Persians stands and must not be violated, even by the king.

Psalm 49 is a wisdom psalm addressed to all the inhabitants of the earth—both high and low, rich and poor—and warns against placing trust in one’s wealth, or boasting in the abundance of one’s riches. Why fear in times of trouble, when the iniquity of your persecutors surrounds you—those who trust in their wealth and trust in their riches? There is no ransom one can pay for one’s life; death comes to everyone. The rich and the poor alike, the wise and the foolish die together and leave their wealth to others. Mortals may be pompous, but, like all animals, we perish, whether foolhardy or prudently pleased with ourselves. Like sheep appointed for Sheol, death is their shepherd. In the midst of all of this doom and gloom, there is a surprising, even startling word—“God will ransom my soul from the power of Sheol, for he will receive me.” Here is one of the unusual places in the Hebrew Scriptures that witnesses to the belief that communion with God does not end at death (see also Psalm 73:24). And now, the psalm turns to comforting those who see others gaining riches while they do not. Do not be afraid; they will die and carry nothing away. Though they count themselves happy because of their riches—for those who do well for themselves are praised in this world—when they die, they will never again see light. Again, wisdom reminds us that, in spite of our pride and pomp, we are no better than the animals that perish. Trust in God, the only true source of confidence.

At first look, Second John appears to come from the same author as the first letter. However, a closer look reveals some parallel but also some significant differences. The author calls himself “the elder,” who writes a classic epistle: salutation, thanksgiving, body of the letter and a farewell. Scholars think it written by someone other than the author of the first letter of John or the gospel of John. The issue seems to be the same, doctrinal conflict: “those who deny Jesus Christ has come in the flesh” are disrupting the church and are deceiving others. Elders were overseers in the church of the first century and this one writes to “the elect lady,” using a feminine image for the church. Concern for the truth still dominates the letter, and the author is overjoyed that “some” of her children are walking in the truth, but others are not. The commandment to love one another is reiterated as the means of walking in the truth. However, there are many deceivers who have gone into the world who do not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh, and they are not only deceivers but antichrists. The members of the church must be on their guard that they not lose what they have worked for but may receive their full reward. Everyone who does not abide in “the teachings of Christ”—either Christ’s own or those of the church about him—but rather, go beyond those teachings, do not have God the Father abiding in them. Whoever abides in the teaching has both the Father and the Son. They are to exercise care not to welcome into their homes any who bring deceptive teaching, for to do so is to participate in their evil deeds. The letter ends quickly with the word that the elder hopes to come to them soon and speak with them face to face that their joy may be complete. In conclusion—notice there is no final blessing—the elder identifies his own people as “the children of your elect sister,” and sends their greetings.

Today Luke reports two healings. Jesus is approached by a leper who begs Jesus to heal him. Jesus stretches out his hand and touches the leper, and, immediately, the leprosy leaves the man. Jesus then orders him to tell no one, but go and show himself to the priest for inspection, so he can be returned to the community, and at the same time make the sacrificial offering Torah requires for the healing. We assume the man does, for Luke tells us that now, more than ever, word about Jesus is spreading, to the point that he must regularly go away to deserted places in order to pray. The second healing is the familiar story of the paralyzed man let down through the roof by his friends. Jesus is teaching and Luke tells us the crowds are such that this is the only way they can get the man into Jesus’ presence. Within the crowd are the Pharisees and the teachers of the law who, having heard about Jesus, have come to check out his orthodoxy. Initially, they seem innocent observers. But, when the man is lowered before Jesus and Jesus says to him, “Friend, your sins are forgiven,” their ears perk up and they begin to question within themselves who Jesus thinks he is, suggesting that he can forgive sins. Only God can do that. Jesus, as always in Luke, knows precisely what they are thinking and so raises the stakes considerably by asking, “Which is it easier to do, say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or, ‘stand up and walk?’” Now, turning toward the Pharisees, Jesus says to them, “So that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins,”—the first time Jesus has used the term in this gospel to refer to himself—he now turns to the paralyzed man and says, “I say to you, stand up and take your bed and go to your home.” The man does, and the room breaks into pandemonium as the people who have witnessed this join the healed man in rejoicing and praising God. Filled with awe they are saying, “We have seen strange things today.” They will soon see and hear even more.

Posted April 24, 2015
Thursday, April 23, 2015

Thursday, April 23, 2015
Daniel 5:13-30; Psalm 68; 1 John 5:13-21; Luke 5:1-11

Daniel is brought forth to King Belshazzar and after an elaborate introduction that establishes Daniel’s relationship with Nebuchadnezzar, King Belshazzar’s father, Daniel is told about the writing and the inability of any of the other wise men to read or interpret it. The king repeats the promise of the prize to the one who can interpret it, but Daniel tells him to give the prize to another. Yet, Daniel will read and interpret the handwriting. It is mene, mene, tekel, parsin. Daniel tells the story of Belshazzar’s father, his greatness, his complete sovereignty and power. But his father became proud and acted as though all of his power was his own doing, and so was deposed from his throne to humble him. His glory was stripped from him and he was driven from human society, his mind made like that of an animal. He lived with the wild beasts, fed on grass and was bathed with the dew of heaven until he learned that the Most High God was sovereign over all, and that only this God gives the kingdom of mortal to whom he wills. King Belshazzar has not humbled himself, even though he knows his father’s story. Rather, he has exalted himself against the Lord of heaven! Having bought out and used the vessels his father had taken from the temple, to drink and pour out offerings of praise to gods of gold, silver, bronze, iron, wood and stone, they have failed to honor the Lord of Heaven. Therefore, the Lord of Heaven has sent this writing and its sentence. Mene, mene (a measure of weight): God has measured the days of Belshazzar’s reign and is bringing his kingdom to an end. Tekel (shekel): God has weighed, Belshazzar on the scales, to determine his value, and found him wanting. Peres (half a shekel): his kingdom is to be divided and given to the Medes and the Persians. Surprisingly, the king keeps his word and gives the robe, chain of gold and proclamation of rank to Daniel. But that very night, Belshazzar is killed. Darius the Mede receives the kingdom. Historical footnote: though no “Darius the Mede,” is known to history, in fact, the Babylonian Empire fell to the Persian king Cyrus, who had conquered the Median Empire, and took Babylon in 540 BCE. The following year he released the Jews and allowed them to return to Jerusalem.

Psalm 68 is a battle hymn remembering and celebrating the victories of the Lord on behalf of his people. It is complex in that it uses virtually all of the biblical names for God: Elohim, El, Yah, Adonai, El Shaddai, Yah Elohim and Yahweh. It opens with the plea that those who hate the Lord will be driven out like smoke driven by the wind, as wax melts before a fire, that the wicked may perish. The righteous will be glad and rejoice in God and will sing to the Lord a new song. The prayer then turns to extolling God’s justice and righteousness—a father to the orphan, an honest judge for the widow, a home for the lonely, one who leads prisoners to freedom. It is a mixture of high praise for the Lord who dwells in his sanctuary among his people executing justice. It is also a description of various moments in Israel’s life when the Lord has intervened to give them victory—from their release from captivity in Egypt, their travels through the wilderness, to their settling into the land of promise, and various wars and skirmishes thereafter. The land quaked at Sinai at the presence of the Lord. Rain clouds opened to give drink to his people. Kings fled before the Lord, giving the people peace and prosperity among the sheepfolds. The mountains of Bashan are celebrated (a place in the Transjordan, famous for raising cattle). The number of God’s chariots is myriad—thousands upon thousands—and the Lord leads the people and is among them, while he imprisons those who have been taken captive. Ascribed to David, the psalm recalls a moment when the Lord has given the enemy into his hand. Verses 21 to 23 indulge in that language of battle that is graphic (evidently why those who developed the daily lectionary excluded it from today’s reading), but it reminds us of the brutality of war in any age. It then returns to blessing the Lord, as a festival procession makes its way to the temple to celebrate God’s presence in Jerusalem. Envoys come from far and wide to pay tribute. The kingdoms of the earth sing praises to the Lord who rides above Israel with strength and victory. The psalm ends with one final ascription of praise: the Lord gives strength and power to his people. Blessed be God.

John the Evangelist brings his letter to a conclusion, reiterating his theme of believing in the name of the Son of God so that they may have eternal life. He reminds them of the boldness they have in Jesus: whatever they ask, according to his will, he hears and will give them. John then turns to the subject of sin and introduces a new idea: two kinds of sin. There is sin that is mortal and leads to certain death and there is sin that is not mortal and can be forgiven. They are to pray for brothers and sisters who sin through error, but whose sin is not mortal—God will forgive these and give them life. There is no reason to pray for those whose sin is mortal for it leads to certain death. Though all wrongdoing is sin, there is a sin that is mortal. John never defines the difference, but given the context of the argument, it may be that the mortal sin is denial that Jesus is the Christ and God’s son. John assures them that those born of God do not sin, but the one who is born of God (Jesus, the Son), protects them so that the evil one does not touch them. Though the whole world lives under the power of the evil one, the Son of God has come so that they might know what is true and belong to God in him. John ends with one final admonition: “Keep yourselves from idols.”

Having preached throughout the region, Jesus now begins to call disciples to follow him. Standing by the lake of Gennesaret (another name for the Sea of Galilee), as the crowd is pushing in on him, Jesus sees two boats beached, while their owners wash out their fishing nets. He steps into the boat owned by his friend Simon and asks to be put out a little way from the shore. Simon obliges, and Jesus sits down and teaches the crowd from the boat. When Jesus is done teaching, he tells Simon to put out into the deep water and let down his nets for a catch. Simon objects, saying, “Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing.” Yet, at Jesus’ command Simon does, and they catch so many fish that the nets begin to break. Simon signals his partners, James and John, the sons of Zebedee, who are still on shore. They quickly come to help, and, soon, the boats are filled with so many fish that both are to the point of sinking. When this happens, Simon falls to his knees and says, “Go away from me Lord, for I am a sinful man.” As all are marveling at the catch, Jesus says to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.” Luke tells us that when they finally reached the shore, all three fishermen left everything and followed Jesus. It is sinners like Simon that Jesus has come to call to discipleship.

Posted April 23, 2015
Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Wednesday, April 22, 2015
Daniel 5:1-12; Psalm 9; 1 John 5:1-12; Luke 4:38-44

Today we begin the legend of Belshazzar’s feast. Nebuchadnezzar has died and his son Belshazzar is on the throne. He hosts a great feast for all of his lords, ladies and concubines. It includes drinking great amounts of wine. In order to accommodate that, Belshazzar has brought forth the vessels of gold and silver that his father had taken from the temple in Jerusalem. These are used by everyone at the banquet as they continue their drinking fest, and they use the vessels to pour our libations from them to praise to the various gods of gold, silver and so on—an obvious sacrilege and abuse of the temple vessels. As the drinking continues, suddenly, a hand appears writing words on the plaster wall and King Belshazzar is terrified—his limbs grow limp and his knees knock together. (Again, hear the sarcasm and belittling humor built into the story to ridicule the power of the throne that has taken the Jews into exile.) Belshazzar calls on all of his magicians, enchanters, seers, diviners and other wise men from Babylon to translate the writing, promising the rank of third in the kingdom to the one who can do so, but none of them is able. The king’s mother enters the banquet hall, overhears what is going on and tells the king that there is a man in the land “endowed with a spirit of the holy gods.” In the days of his father, Nebuchadnezzar, this man was made chief of the magicians, enchanters, and diviners, because of his ability to interpret dreams, explain riddles and solve problems. His Hebrew name is Daniel, who Nebuchadnezzar renamed Belthshazzar. Call him, and he will give the interpretation.

Psalm 9 is an acrostic psalm that gives thanks to the Lord for continuing protection and salvation. Though it might appear a royal psalm, the enemies being other nations, we never hear the voice in the prayer identified as the king’s, as it would be in a royal psalm. Rather it simply focuses on God’s ability to respond, whether “present” or afar, to scatter the wicked and maintain the just person’s cause. The text moves from thanksgiving for God’s wonderful deeds, to thanks for deliverance from particular enemies, to praise for the rebuke of other nations and the wicked, to the affirmation that the Lord is enthroned forever and his throne is a throne of judgment. Then, it affirms that the Lord is a stronghold for the oppressed who seek him. These he will not forsake. After calling for praise in Zion, the psalmist turns to personal intercession and deliverance from those who hate him. Again, there is recollection of God’s judgment on the nations that have been caught in their own net. The wicked are consigned to Sheol, while the needy shall “not always be forgotten, nor the hope of the poor taken away,” one of the high and memorial phrases from this psalm. Finally, God is called upon to “Rise up,” judge the nations, and put them in their place—they are only human. “Se’lah,” is a word that appears to now call upon the temple musicians for a chorus of praise, whether instrumental or vocal. Because this is an acrostic psalm, beginning each successive section with the next letter of the Hebrew alphabet, the flow of ideas can seem a bit jumbled. It can seem that two psalms have been joined into one: the first, a psalm of thanksgiving; the second, a petition for help. And because Psalm 10 has no introductory material, some believe Psalm 9 and Psalm 10 were originally one. In fact, they appear as one in both the Septuagint (Greek translation of the Old Testament) and the Roman Catholic Vulgate Bible, which used the Septuagint to make the Latin translation.

1 John 5 centers on the controversy(ies) dividing the church: was Jesus born of God or not? It may be that the issue was not simply Gnosticism, and that there may also have been a faction insisting that Jesus was simply a good man that God rewarded with resurrection because of his faithfulness. Consequently, the message is: everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the parent loves the child. The theme of obedience to God’s commandments is repeated, and the readers are reminded that this is not burdensome for those born of God, because, as such, they have conquered the world through their faith. And now, faith is identified as more than simple trust in God, it picks up a doctrinal component—believing that Jesus is God’s unique child. What follows has a rich and multivalent history of interpretation. There are three witnesses to who Jesus is: the water, the blood and the Spirit. At the most basic level, “water” can refer to Jesus’ human birth just as blood refers to his human death. At a secondary level, water can be understood as the waters of his baptism and blood as his crucifixion. The witness of the Spirit ranges from his baptism through his resurrection and passing on the Spirit to his followers (in John’s gospel, Jesus breathes the Spirit upon them following his resurrection, John 20:22). However one reads the signs, they all witness to the same thing. But the two—water and blood—are human witnesses; whereas the witness of the Spirit is divine, and therefore even greater. In this, God has given testimony to his Son, and those who believe Jesus is God’s Son have God’s testimony in their hearts. Those who do not believe this have made God a liar by not believing God’s testimony that he gave to his Son at Jesus’ baptism. And what is this testimony, ultimately? It is that God gave us eternal life in his Son. “Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.”

Jesus leaves the synagogue and goes across the street to Simon Peter’s home where Simon’s mother is suffering from a high fever. Jesus goes to her, stands over her and rebukes the fever, as he had done with the evil spirit of the man in the synagogue, and the fever leaves her. Immediately, she gets up and begins to serve them. As the sun begins to set, the sabbath comes to its end and people begin to bring their sick to Jesus so that he can lay hands on them and heal them. He does, and Luke tells us that many demons also came out of many, shouting as they did, “You are the Son of God.” But again, Jesus rebuked the demons to silence, not wanting that publically known. When the night is over, Jesus leaves Simon Peter’s home and goes to a deserted place to be alone. But the crowds go looking for him, and upon finding him, try to prevent him from leaving Capernaum. Jesus tells them he must proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God to other cities as well. This is the mission God has given him, and it is for this purpose, not simply healing, that he has been sent. So, Jesus continued proclaiming the message in the synagogues of Judea.

Posted April 22, 2015
Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Tuesday, April 21, 2015
Daniel 4:28-37; Psalm 66; 1 John 4:7-21; Luke 4:31-37

The story ends with a brief epilogue in which we see the king walking in his magnificent roof garden admiring all that he has done by his mighty power and royal majesty. His hubris is about to be undone. The king has not taken Daniel’s advice to atone for his sins with righteousness and his iniquities with mercy to the oppressed people, Israel. Twelve months later, King Nebuchadnezzar is walking on the roof garden of the royal palace, congratulating himself on all that he has accomplished in “magnificent Babylon” and his glorious majesty, when, suddenly, “while the words were still in the king’s mouth,” a voice comes from heaven saying, “the kingdom has departed from you! You shall be driven away from human society, and your dwelling shall be with the animals of the field. You shall be made to eat grass like oxen, and seven times shall pass over you, until you have learned that the Most High has sovereignty over the kingdom of mortals and gives it to whom he will.” Immediately, the sentence was fulfilled. The king is driven away, he eats grass, is bathed with the dew, his hair grows long as eagles’ feathers and his nails like birds’ claws. At the end of seven years, Nebuchadnezzar is restored, just as the Most High God had declared to him through Daniel. And so, the passage ends with a psalm of praise on the king’s lips, blessing the Most High, praising and honoring the One who lives forever. Nebuchadnezzar’s health, mental acuity, strength and reign are returned to him, and he now acknowledges and praises the King of Heaven. Historical footnote: there was a Babylonian King Nabonidus, who reigned near the end of the exile, who went into a self-imposed exile in the Arabian Desert for a period of time. Scholars think that incident lies behind the development of this story, with the events transposed onto the greatest of Babylon’s kings, Nebuchadnezzar, as a means of affirming their hope and trust in the Lord’s sovereignty.

Psalm 66 calls upon the entire earth to make a joyful noise and sing to the glory of God’s name, telling God how awesome he is. The whole earth is called to worship God. Then, all are invited to “come and see what God has done among mortals.” The psalm then remembers God’s acts of redemption out of Egypt and deliverance at the Red Sea. God has kept us among the living and does not allow our feet to slip. But, God also tests. And so, the people have known the burdens that come with subjugation by other peoples. But, in the end, God “brought us out into a broad and spacious place.” The psalmist now vows to enter the temple with burnt offerings to fulfill the promise that his lips have made, making an offering of bulls and goats. Finally, the psalmist calls on all who fear God to listen as he tells them what God has done for him. He cried aloud and extolled God and God listened because the psalmist was innocent. Had he cherished iniquity in his heart, God would not have heard his voice. But truly, God has listened. Blessed be God, who has neither rejected his prayer nor removed his steadfast love.

We have come to the heart of John the Evangelist’s letter: “Beloved, love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.” However, a word of explanation is in order. The Greeks had four words for love: sexual, familial, friendship and divine. The word consistently used here is agape—love borne out of divine fullness that is sacrificial—love as Paul describes it in 1 Corinthians 13:1-13. This is the love that was revealed to us in Jesus, God’s only Son, sent into the world so that we might live through him. Here, the term “only Son,” is used to mean that Jesus was not one among many, but “one of a kind,” and is employed in a culture in which emperors and other heroic figures regularly called themselves “sons of God.” This is love: not that we love God, but that God loved us and sent his son to cover the distance that separates us from God—sin—and atone for it, that we might know God’s love and live in it. Since God loves us this much, ought we not love one another as well? Though no one has seen God, if we live in such love with one another, God lives in us, is revealed in us, and his love comes to perfection in us. Again, how do we know we are abiding in this love? We know because God has given us his Spirit, which leads us to testify that the Father sent the Son to be the savior of the world. (Behind this confession lies the fundamental issue that had divided the churches, as the Gnostics did not believe Jesus to be a true human come to redeem humanity, but rather a divine spirit who came as a teacher of secret knowledge. As such he could not suffer, much less die, which is why the confessional material makes so much of his atoning sacrifice.) Now we hear the central theme of all of John’s theology: “God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God and God abides in them.” This kind of love makes us bold on the day of judgment because, like Jesus, we are “not of this world.” This kind of love not only makes us bold, when perfected, it drives out fear; it convinces us we have nothing to fear in the judgment. Moreover, this love does not come from us, but from God: we love because he first loved us. Finally, those who say they love God but hate their sisters and brothers are simply lying to themselves; for, how can we love someone we have not seen when we can’t love those whom we see? His commandment is this: love one another.

Jesus leaves Nazareth and makes the two-day journey to Capernaum, a vibrant fishing village on the Sea of Galilee, which will become his new home and base of operations. On the following sabbath, he is again in the synagogue, as was his custom, and he is teaching. Like those in Nazareth, the people of Capernaum are astonished at what they are hearing from him, and the authority with which he speaks. In the synagogue with them is a man possessed by an unclean spirit, who cries out with a voice loud enough for all to hear, “Let us alone! What have you to do with us Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.” Jesus rebukes the man, but more, he not only silences the demon within him, but demands that the demon leave the man. The demon obeys, throwing the man to the floor but leaving him unharmed, as he departs. Everyone listening to Jesus has seen this and is amazed. They keep saying, “What kind of utterance is this? For with authority and power he commands the unclean spirits, and they come out?” Little wonder then, that word about Jesus begins to spread throughout the region.

Posted April 21, 2015
Monday, April 20, 2015

Monday, April 20, 2015
Daniel 4:19-27; Psalm 124; 1 John 3:19-4:6; Luke 4:14-30

Daniel is severely distressed because he truly understands the meaning of the dream and is aware that kings do not take bad news lightly and are known to vent their anger on the messenger. The king senses this and, calling Daniel by his Chaldean name—Belteshazzar—tells him not to let the dream terrify him. Daniel responds with proper deference—“may the dream be for those who hate you”—and describes the dream in elaborate detail, complete with its interpretation. The king is going to be changed into an animal that is driven into and lives in the wild for seven years. He will be bathed with dew and his lot will be with the other wild animals. That is the end of the dream given to the king. It has been decreed by “the Most High” who has sovereignty over the kingdom of mortals and gives it to whom he wills. But, Daniel quickly adds, as it was commanded to let the stump remain, Nebuchadnezzar’s kingdom shall remain for him until the time when the king learns that Heaven is sovereign. Though Daniel does not say it, the implication is clear: it is time for Nebuchadnezzar to learn who truly is the Sovereign One. Daniel quickly turns from interpretation to preaching, telling the king to atone for his sins with righteousness and his iniquities with mercy to the oppressed (Daniel’s people), so that his prosperity may be prolonged.

Psalm 124 gives thanks for the Lord’s deliverance saying, “Had not the Lord been on our side—now let Israel say—had it not been the Lord who was with us when our enemies rose up against us, we would not have survived.” This is a communal psalm of thanksgiving following a war that was just barely won, in which Israel survived, in spite of its lack of strength or might, and now gives thanks where it understands thanks is due. The Lord is blessed for not giving them into the enemies’ teeth as prey. Israel escaped destruction as the bird escapes the fowler’s broken snare. The psalm ends with the theme recurrent, not only in the psalms, but throughout the Bible: “Our help is in the name of the Lord who made heaven and earth.” A paraphrase of this psalm was sung in Coventry Cathedral in England, at the conclusion of World War II, as recognition of the country’s own deliverance.

How will we know that God abides in us? When we put our love for one another into action—this is how we will know that we are from the truth, and it will not only assure us that God abides in us, but also reassure us before God—even when our hearts condemn us! For God is greater than our hearts and knows everything. If our hearts do not condemn us, then we have boldness before God and receive from God whatever we rightfully ask, because we obey his commandments, and, thus, please him. John would not say that such pleasing behavior earns us these gifts, but rather, it puts us into a relationship with God in which we can receive God’s good pleasure. The commandment to love is expanded to believe in Jesus and take him at his word, just as he has commanded. Scholars point out that, in the Greek text, the word “in” is missing, but has been included here because John regularly speaks of “believing in” Jesus. If that is the case, the meaning of the sentence shifts from “believing in” to simply “believing” Jesus—taking him at his word. That is enough. All those who believe him and obey his word truly abide in him, and he in them. Such believing obedience results in a time when we finally know that God abides in us, because of the Spirit that God has given to us. But, we must beware; not every spirit in the world is the Holy Spirit. They must be tested to ensure that they are from God. How do we know? The test is the spirit’s ability to confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh from God—the issue the Gnostics were contesting. If the spirits can so confess, they are from God. If not; the spirits are the antichrist, the one they have heard is coming into the world. Again, invoking his term of endearment, John tells them they are not to fear, for the One who is in them is greater than the one who is in the world. For, they are not of the world, but are from God, know God, listen to God, and, from this, they know the Spirit of truth and can tell it from the spirit of deception and error.

Jesus has begun teaching in the synagogues in Galilee, and Luke records for us Jesus’ inaugural sermon in the synagogue where Jesus worshipped when growing up in Nazareth. Jesus has returned home, and on the sabbath, as was Jesus’ custom, he goes to the synagogue where they give him the scroll of Isaiah to read. (What Luke reports is a combination of Isaiah 58:6 and 61:1-2.) After reading the text, Jesus rolls up the scroll, gives it to the attendant, sits down and begins to teach, saying, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your own hearing.” Those in the synagogue are pleased with his gracious words, but also wonder, “Is this not Joseph’s son?” Recognizing their doubt, Jesus quotes an aphorism that, in effect says, “Show us!” and reminds them that no prophet in Israel has ever been accepted among his own people, why should things be different here? But, he tells them, like Elijah and Elisha before him, he and his message, is being sent not to them, but to those on the margins of life. When those in the synagogue hear this, they take great offense, are filled with rage, and rise up to take him out to the edge of town, to the brow of the hill, in order to throw him off its cliff and then stone him. Somehow, Jesus simply passes through all of them and continues on his way. It is not yet time for this prophet sent to Israel to die. There are others in the land who need to hear what it is he has to say on God’s behalf—especially in Jerusalem.

Posted April 20, 2015
The Rev. Dr.       Fred R. Anderson

Author: The Rev. Dr.       Fred R. Anderson
Created: June 21, 2012

The Rev. Dr. Fred R. Anderson, Pastor of Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church, offers thoughts on today’s lectionary readings.

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