Thursday, April 15, 2010

Whoever Believes In the Son Has Eternal Life.

Thursday of the Second Week of Easter
Reading I
Acts 5:27-33
When the court officers had brought the Apostles in
and made them stand before the Sanhedrin,
the high priest questioned them,
“We gave you strict orders did we not,
to stop teaching in that name.
Yet you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching
and want to bring this man’s blood upon us.”
But Peter and the Apostles said in reply,
“We must obey God rather than men.
The God of our ancestors raised Jesus,
though you had him killed by hanging him on a tree.
God exalted him at his right hand as leader and savior
to grant Israel repentance and forgiveness of sins.
We are witnesses of these things,
as is the Holy Spirit whom God
has given to those who obey him.”
When they heard this,
they became infuriated
and wanted to put them to death.
After having been miraculously released from jail and returned to the Temple to continue their preaching in the name of Jesus, the apostles were re-arrested and brought again before the 71-member Sanhedrin, the ruling council of the Jews.

They were accused of two things:
          » they had continued to preach in “that name” (their accusers could not bring themselves even to mention the name of Jesus) all over Jerusalem, even though they had been strictly forbidden to do so; and
          » they were blaming the Jewish leadership for Jesus’ death (a contentious issue in our own day, although we do need to remember that those against whom the accusations were being made were themselves all devoutly religious Jews and whose Lord and Saviour was a Jew).

The apostles were not in the least fazed by these accusations. The men who were so fearful at the time of Jesus’ death and immediately after now spoke out boldly. “It is better for us to obey God than men!” they told their judges.

“The God of our ancestors raised Jesus, though you had him killed by hanging him on a tree.” Their accusers were undoubtedly accomplices in the death of Jesus; their motives a mixture of religious narrow-mindedness and political self-interest. But the apostles believed that Jesus was now in glory as Ruler and Saviour “to bring repentance to Israel [that is, all their fellow-Jews] and forgiveness of sin”. The title they give to Jesus corresponds to ‘Prince and Redeemer’, applied to Moses, as a prefiguring of Christ, by Stephen in his address to the Sanhedrin, where he said that Moses too was rejected by his people (Acts 7:35). There is an implicit comparison here of Jesus with Moses, something that the apostles’ judges would certainly not have liked.

But they were witnesses to all that they were saying. They could not say or do otherwise, no matter what others might tell them. And the Holy Spirit was with them. Their testimony was directed and confirmed by the Holy Spirit, who is given to all those who respond to God with “the obedience that comes from faith”.

It reminds one of Thomas More in England who refused to recognise King Henry VIII as head of the Church in England. “The king’s good servant but God’s first,” he said. For refusing to compromise his faith and integrity he lost his life. For Thomas, too, there was no other choice. And there have been many others like him down the ages. Many Christians today languish in jails and camps for no other reason.

Not surprisingly, the stance of the apostles infuriated their judges who wanted them put to death for what seemed blasphemous language.

Tomorrow we will see the completion of this story…
+++    +++    +++    +++
Psalm 32
The Lord hears the cry of the poor.
I will bless the LORD at all times;
his praise shall be ever in my mouth.
Taste and see how good the LORD is;
blessed the man who takes refuge in him.
The Lord hears the cry of the poor.
The LORD confronts the evildoers,
to destroy remembrance of them from the earth.
When the just cry out, the LORD hears them,
and from all their distress he rescues them.
The Lord hears the cry of the poor.
The LORD is close to the brokenhearted;
and those who are crushed in spirit he saves.
Many are the troubles of the just man,
but out of them all the LORD delivers him.
The Lord hears the cry of the poor.
+++    +++    +++    +++   
John 3:31-36
The one who comes from above is above all.
The one who is of the earth
is earthly and speaks of earthly things.
But the one who comes from heaven is above all.
He testifies to what he has seen and heard,
but no one accepts his testimony.
Whoever does accept his testimony
certifies that God is trustworthy.
For the one whom God sent
speaks the words of God.
He does not ration his gift of the Spirit.
The Father loves the Son
and has given everything over to him.
Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life,
but whoever disobeys the Son will not see life,
but the wrath of God remains upon him.
In rather abstract language, the Gospel today contrasts Jesus with those who see the world with purely worldly eyes. Jesus is the One who comes “from above” although he lives in the world. The “one who is from the earth” can mean any of us but here seems to refer to John the Baptist, who spoke of “earthly things” in the sense that he spoke simply as a human being as opposed to Jesus as the Word.

But the “one who comes from heaven” is above all. He testifies “to what he has seen and heard”. What Jesus has seen and heard comes through direct communication with his Father.

But “no one accepts his testimony”. Not literally every single person (obviously not true) but all those who are entirely immersed in this material world.

Yet there are some who do listen and who do accept what Jesus is saying and they know that what God says is trustworthy. When anyone fully accepts Christ’s witness, he accepts that Jesus is truly from God and that God acted (and continues to act) through him for the establishment of the Kingdom and the salvation of the world.

“For the One whom God has sent - namely Jesus - speaks the words of God.” He is the Word of God. But the sentence can be understood to apply to everyone who has consciously become a disciple and apostle for Jesus and his message. Jesus is the Light of the world but his followers are also called to be the light of the world (Matthew 5:14).

The Son, Jesus, is the perfect image of the Father and shares generously with us what he has received from his Father. Life without end awaits all those who believe in the Son, who believe his words and accept them as their way of life. “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life but whoever disobeys the Son will not see life but must endure the wrath of God.” Notice that one who believes “has” eternal life. Eternal life begins now with the response of faith.

Nor must we must think that God takes vengeance on those who disobey Jesus. God can never be angry in our normal sense of the word. But rather those who choose to go another way, the way of darkness and evil can only expect to meet death. They are the victims, not of God’s anger, but of their own determination to live in darkness.

With God’s help, the choice is ours to make.

1 comment:

Sarah in the tent said...

'The LORD confronts the evildoers,
to destroy remembrance of them from the earth.'

The Sanhedrin seem to think that, in forbidding the mentioning of Jesus' name, they are acting in the spirit of Psalm 32 here. However, if they really thought that Jesus was an evildoer, they would be proudly claiming the credit for bringing a blasphemer to justice. But instead, the expression 'bring this man's blood upon us' implies that they know he was innocent.

'to grant Israel repentance and forgiveness of sins'

This phrase links to the second reading and the Pharisees worries about baptism and purification. For the Pharisees, as far as I can make out, baptism was just to achieve ritual purity. But John's baptism was something more: a baptism of repentance. This was already slightly controversial, because repentance involves asking God for forgiveness whereas, according to Leviticus, God requires an offering before forgiveness is granted. When Jesus and the disciples turned up baptizing at the same place as John, perhaps with Jesus telling penitents that their sins were forgiven, the Pharisees must have imagined that their worst fears were being realized and the whole baptism movement was escalating dangerously.

Although it does not actually say that Jesus was forgiving sins during these baptisms, John the Baptist's words 'He who comes from heaven bears witness to the things he has seen and heard' might have been meant to confirm that Jesus knew whether God had forgiven someone's sins. Also, since the actual forgiveness of sins is the obvious culmination of John's own baptism of repentance, this would explain his readiness to step back without any of the jealousy his disciples seem to suffer from.

I'm not surprised the Pharisees were wary. However, once they realized that Jesus had offered his own life for the forgiveness of sins, perhaps things fell into place for them and they were able to believe.