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Diocese of Charleston Bible Study + May 25, 2016

Acts 10:34-43
John 8:12-20

Acts 10:34-43 (NKJV) 
Then Peter opened his mouth and said: "In truth I perceive that God shows no partiality. But in every nation whoever fears Him and works righteousness is accepted by Him. The word which God sent to the children of Israel, preaching peace through Jesus Christ—He is Lord of all— that word you know, which was proclaimed throughout all Judea, and began from Galilee after the baptism which John preached: how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power, who went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with Him. And we are witnesses of all things which He did both in the land of the Jews and in Jerusalem, whom they killed by hanging on a tree. Him God raised up on the third day, and showed Him openly, not to all the people, but to witnesses chosen before by God, even to us who ate and drank with Him after He arose from the dead. And He commanded us to preach to the people, and to testify that it is He who was ordained by God to be Judge of the living and the dead. To Him all the prophets witness that, through His name, whoever believes in Him will receive remission of sins."

John 8:12-20 (NKJV)
Then Jesus spoke to them again, saying, "I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life." The Pharisees therefore said to Him, "You bear witness of Yourself; Your witness is not true." Jesus answered and said to them, "Even if I bear witness of Myself, My witness is true, for I know where I came from and where I am going; but you do not know where I come from and where I am going. You judge according to the flesh; I judge no one. And yet if I do judge, My judgment is true; for I am not alone, but I am with the Father who sent Me. It is also written in your law that the testimony of two men is true. I am One who bears wit-ness of Myself, and the Father who sent Me bears witness of Me." Then they said to Him, "Where is Your Father?" Jesus answered, "You know neither Me nor My Father. If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also." These words Jesus spoke in the treasury, as He taught in the temple; and no one laid hands on Him, for His hour had not yet come.

Commentary 

Though we may not use the term directly, most of us are evangelists. If we find a new restaurant that serves great food, we tell al of our family and friends about it. Likewise if we find a diet program that works for us and helps us feel healthier and lose weight. If we find a good deal at a store or chain on some quality product, we let the people we love know about it so that they can take advantage of the same deal. If we read a good book or see a film or television program we enjoy, we're quick to share this with others so that we can share the experience with them and discuss it with them. It's natural for us, when we feel we've benefitted from something or had a positive experience, to want other people whom we care about to be able to share in those benefits and experiences.

On the other hand, many of us as Orthodox Christians become very shy when it comes to our faith, and matters of religion in general. We tend to see religion as being somehow intensely private. Societal pressures tell us that religion is a divisive topic, that it drives wedges between people. We may have had bad experiences in the past where we were belittled or criticized for our beliefs. We may feel that praising our own belief to someone else is chauvinistic, or itself judgmental, as if our beliefs somehow by their very nature condemn the other person who does not share them.

Today's Scripture readings show us that this line of thinking is completely misguided. St. Peter reminds us, in the reading from the Acts of the Apostles, that Christ chose, after His Resurrection to appear openly (at one point to more than 500 people), but not to everyone. He did not present Himself alive to the Emperor in Rome. He did not appear to the tribes living in Germany. He did not appear and introduce Himself to the Chinese people. Rather, in His Providence, our Lord chose to present Himself to specific people and groups of people in Judea over the course of 40 days, with the express purpose that those witnesses to His Resurrection from the dead would then go forth into all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature. This applies not only to those who first encountered Christ in that period after His Resurrection, but to all of us who have come to know the Risen Christ, whether during those 40 days, months later like St. Paul, or centuries later like the Saints of the Church and us today. Our Lord has not chosen us to gift with the grace of salvation because He loves us more or because we are superior to the rest of the world's people. He has chosen us to receive His salvation so that through us His salvation may reach to all people. At the very substance of our own salvation is sharing our faith and the Truth of Christ with those around us.

Our Lord Jesus Christ makes it completely clear in today's Gospel reading that it is impossible to come to know the Father without coming to know Him. This means that it is impossible to come to know God, to come to share in His Life, and to find salvation in this life apart from coming to know Jesus Christ Himself. The greatest joy and peace we can experiences in this life are the joy and peace that come from the Holy Spirit. The greatest love we can experience in this world or the next is the love of God. If we as Christians have even begun to experience these things, we should, as with any of the things mentioned above, want to share these experiences with those whom we love. This becomes all the more true when we come to accept the reality that to experience these things outside of Jesus Christ is impossible. Our neighbor who does not know Christ does not know His love, His peace, His joy, His comfort in times of struggle, His forgiveness of our failings, or His gentleness, grace, and mercy toward our faults. Our neighbor will not come to know these things if those of us who have been chosen to witness of them to him choose not to do so.

Beneath our own fears and trepidation, there is sometimes another reason why we fail to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ with those around us, if we are honest enough to admit it. At some level we have decided that our Orthodox Christianity is only for a certain type or certain types of people, and that other either aren't worthy of it, or wouldn't be interested. If we're truly honest, part of what we fear may be that they might be interested, and might seek to join our community, and we aren't happy with that prospect. As St. Peter came to understand at the home of Cornelius, the love of Jesus Christ extends to every man and woman of every nation on earth in every time. He desires the salvation of every person regardless of race, gender, ethnicity, social status, citizenship, physical or mental handicap or ailment, and socioeconomic status. Christ Himself is the judge of the living and the dead, and we are called to pass judgment and issue condemnation to no one. It is we who are inferior to our calling, and are therefore called to bear witness to what Christ is doing in our world, and within us, with all humility, and with respect and love toward every person. We are called to reveal to them the love of Christ Himself.

Questions to Ponder 

  1. In today's epistle reading, after seeing the conversion of the centurion Cornelius, St. Peter realizes fully that God shows no partiality based on race or ethnicity, but that He gives salvation to those who seek it from all peoples. Any form of racial or ethnic prejudice, whether it be towards a particular group, or against particular people, is completely incompatible with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Does your pride in your own ethnic heritage ever cause you to look down on or avoid people who don't share it? Are you, your home, and your parish open to all sorts of people from all different backgrounds? Do you ever decline to share your Orthodox faith with someone because you've decided they not the 'type' of person who would be interested?
  2. In today's Gospel reading, Christ points out that it is impossible to know His Father without knowing Him as well. This means only Christianity holds and communicates the true knowledge of God. This is not said in order to demean non-Christians, but rather to remind us as Christians of our responsibility to witness to and share the Truth with everyone whom we meet. Do you actively tell people in your life about your Christian faith? Do they see a difference in the way you live your life that reflects your faith? Are you keeping Christ, the hope of all the earth, a secret from people around you?
  3. St. Peter says in today's epistle reading that he and his fellow apostles were chosen by God to be witnesses to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Do you have a sense of purpose in your life? Are you treading water, passing time or do you have a sense of the gifts that God has given you? Are you actively looking for ways to use your gifts and personality to further God's Kingdom?

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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