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Diocese of Charleston Bible Study + May 11, 2016

Acts 4:23-31
John 5:24-30

Acts 4:23-31(NKJV)
And being let go, they went to their own companions and reported all that the chief priests and elders had said to them. So when they heard that, they raised their voice to God with one accord and said: "Lord, You are God, who made heaven and earth and the sea, and all that is in them, who by the mouth of Your servant David have said: 'Why did the nations rage, and the people plot vain things? The kings of the earth took their stand, and the rulers were gathered together against the LORD and against His Christ.' For truly against Your holy Servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the people of Israel, were gathered together to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose determined before to be done. Now, Lord, look on their threats, and grant to Your servants that with all boldness they may speak Your word, by stretching out Your hand to heal, and that signs and wonders may be done through the name of Your holy Servant Jesus." And when they had prayed, the place where they were assembled together was shaken; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and they spoke the word of God with boldness.

John 5:24-30 (NKJV)
The Lord said, "Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life. Most assuredly, I say to you, the hour is coming, and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God; and those who hear will live. For as the Father has life in Himself, so He has granted the Son to have life in Himself, and has given Him authority to execute judgment also, because He is the Son of Man. Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His voice and come forth—those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation. I can of Myself do nothing. As I hear, I judge; and My judgment is righteous, because I do not seek My own will but the will of the Father who sent Me."

Commentary 

In today's Gospel reading, St. John continues to meditate on many of the themes that are important throughout his account of the Gospel. From the very beginning of his account, St. John the Theologian has spoken to us of the power of the Word of God. In the reading from the beginning of the Gospel According to St. John on Pascha night, he has already told us that it is through God's Word that all of Creation has taken place, and that Jesus is that Word made flesh. Here, in today's reading, the Lord Himself tells us that it is through His word, the sound of His voice, that the Resurrection will soon take place. He Himself will call all of the dead forth from their tombs and they will rise again. It is therefore the Word of God that created all things, and it is the Word of God that will resurrect, restore, and recreate all things in the end. Jesus Christ is therefore, as St. John will articulate in his Revelation, the Alpha and the Omega; the beginning and the end.

Christ's point, however, in the saying that is recorded in today's Gospel reading is not so much about what the Word has done in the past, or what the Word will again do in the last days. Rather, through showing the supreme power of the Word from beginning to end, He shows us the power that His word has at this moment. Christ's words, his sayings, his teachings, his parables, are not simply pearls of wisdom. They are not like the sayings of wise men, or good principles to live by, or subjects for pondering and meditation. These are words that are charged with the power of God Himself to create and to recreate. Therefore, as Christ says, the one who hears His word and believes will have eternal life, having already been resurrected, recreate, renewed, and transformed by the Word.

In today's epistle reading from the Acts of the Apostles, we see an example from the life of the early Church showing us what this means in concrete terms. After Christ's suffering and death at the hands of the Judean and Roman authorities, His followers were threatened with the same torture and death by the same Judean leaders. We see, however, that rather than being threatened into silence of submission by the authorities and the threat of violence, Jesus' first followers are emboldened by the power of the Holy Spirit working within them to proclaim the Word all the more. This is not because they believe that God will necessarily protect them from the authorities, that they will not face persecution and suffering and even death for the sake of Christ. The early disciples acknowledge Christ's own suffering and death, and that it was a part of the plan of God, in their prayer here recorded. Rather, by means of the Psalm which they quote and the very nature of their prayer, they believe that God has, in Christ, already been victorious over all of those forces which opposed Him, chief of all death, and so they now have nothing to fear.

This points us to the truth that no one can harm someone who is righteous. As Christ tells us today, if we hear His words and believe, though we may be judged by men, we will not face the judgment of God. If we hear His words and believe, men may injure, torture, or even kill us, but we will not face death, because we have already passed from death to life in the renewal of the Holy Spirit. Human beings can inflict suffering, pain, and even physical death upon those who follow Christ, but as with Christ Himself, even these sufferings end up being a part of God's plan for our salvation. They therefore do not harm us, but in their intent to do us evil, they do us good. Through suffering we learn patience and endurance. Through abandonment and loneliness we learn to depend upon and be satisfied with the Lord. By being denied and impoverished, we learn to separate ourselves from the desire for material things. By killing us, they send us gloriously into eternal life in the Kingdom.

Once we understand this, how all things work for good for those who love Christ, and that no one has the power to truly harm us, regardless of their intent, we are set free from all kinds of fear. We do not need to fear the future because our eternal future is already assured, because it has already begun in us. We do not need to fear illness, pain, suffering, or hardship because we know that these will only aid us in our lives of repentance, and help perfect us as followers of Christ. We do not need to fear death, because we have already seen Jesus Christ rise from the dead as the firstfruits of our own Resurrection. Our belief in these truths gives us a peace that passes all understanding, a joy regardless of our circumstances, and as we read in today's epistle a boldness to proclaim these truths to the whole world until all people come to share in the great hope which we have.

Questions to Ponder 

  1. In today's reading from the Acts of the Apostles, the members of the early Church pray not that God would prevent them from suffering for the sake of Christ or deliver them out of the hands of the chief priests and elders, but rather that He would give them the boldness to preach the Gospel of Christ despite those threats. They even acknowledge that the suffering and death of Christ was part of God's plan, meaning that suffering might lie in their future as well. When you come before God in prayer, do you pray for your life to be easy, and for you to be free of sickness and suffering and trouble, or do you, like the Holy Apostles, pray rather that God would grant you the strength and courage to face the sufferings and troubles of life? Do you accept that the negative things that happen in your life are there for the sake of your salvation, or do they make you question God?
  2. In today's Gospel reading, Christ speaks the great truth of this Paschal season, that the day is now near when all those who are dead will be raised, either unto eternal life or unto condemnation. When you examine your life, how much of your time do you spend preparing for the future in this world, compared to preparing for the day on which we stand before the Lord? How much of your time and money and effort goes toward retirement plans and insurance policies and a future that may or may not exist, as opposed to time spent in repentance and confession and prayer? Which is a greater reality in your life: worry about tomorrow, or the peace and joy that come from knowing that if you die today, you will live?
  3. Christ says that for us to have eternal life, we must hear His word and believe in He who sent Him. It is easy to say that we believe in God and to hear Scripture read, but to truly hear, and truly believe will transform how we live our lives. If we truly believe that God's promises are true, we will not fear death. If we truly listen to what Christ has to say, we will keep His commandments and love one another. How is your life different because of Christ's Resurrection than it would be if you didn't believe? Are the way you interact with your friends and family, the way you carry out your job, the way in which you spend your private time, different because you are a Christian? Would someone watching you in these venues, if they didn't know, come to the conclusion that you are a follower of Christ?

Questions or Comments? FrStephen@stgeorgecharleston.org

Note from the Author – No rights reserved. If you find anything good, or helpful, or worthwhile in these Bible studies from week to week, feel free to take and use it as you see fit. I do not need credit.


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