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Diocese of Charleston Bible Study + June 15, 2016

Acts 25:13-19
John 16:23-33

Acts 25:13-19 (NKJV)
And after some days King Agrippa and Bernice came to Caesarea to greet Festus. When they had been there many days, Festus laid Paul's case before the king, saying: "There is a certain man left a prisoner by Felix, about whom the chief priests and the elders of the Jews informed me, when I was in Jerusalem, asking for a judgment against him. To them I answered, 'It is not the custom of the Romans to deliver any man to destruction before the accused meets the accusers face to face, and has opportunity to answer for himself concerning the charge against him.' Therefore when they had come together, without any delay, the next day I sat on the judgment seat and commanded the man to be brought in. When the accusers stood up, they brought no accusation against him of such things as I supposed, but had some questions against him about their own religion and about a certain Jesus, who had died, whom Paul affirmed to be alive.

John 16:23-33 (NKJV)
"And in that day you will ask Me nothing. Most assuredly, I say to you, whatever you ask the Father in My name He will give you. Until now you have asked nothing in My name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full. These things I have spoken to you in figurative language; but the time is coming when I will no longer speak to you in figurative language, but I will tell you plainly about the Father. In that day you will ask in My name, and I do not say to you that I shall pray the Father for you; for the Father Himself loves you, because you have loved Me, and have believed that I came forth from God. I came forth from the Father and have come into the world. Again, I leave the world and go to the Father." His disciples said to Him, "See, now You are speaking plainly, and using no figure of speech! Now we are sure that You know all things, and have no need that anyone should question You. By this we believe that You came forth from God." Jesus answered them, "Do you now believe? Indeed the hour is coming, yes, has now come, that you will be scattered, each to his own, and will leave Me alone. And yet I am not alone, because the Father is with Me. These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world."

Commentary 

All of us desire to live a calm and peaceful lifedoing those things which we enjoy doing, surrounded by those whom we love, at peace with our neighbor and with God. Unfortunately, due to the sinful state of this present world in which we live, as well as the sin that dwells in each of our hearts, it is rare, to say the least, for someone to truly have this experience of life from beginning to end. Certainly, God graciously gives us many moments of peace, and joy, and beauty, and love in our lives. But our lives in this world are also marked by troubles and sorrows and sufferings of all kinds. At the very least, none of those good and beautiful and true moments of our life here last forever, they all come to an end.

Unfortunately, many of us have come to believe that such a peaceful life is 'normal'. It is what life is supposed to be like. We feel that we are entitled to have that kind of life. If we don't have it, and instead we face struggles of all kinds, we become angry. If we blame some other person for our life not being the way it 'should' be, we blame them and become angry with them, and so marriages collapse, families are torn apart, and friendships end. But no matter what we do to punish, or simply get away from, those whom we blame for our unhappiness, the result is never the happiness we are seeking. If we can't find another human being to be angry at over our troubles, if what we face is sickness or events out of our control, then we become angry at God, because He has failed to give us what we deserve in life.

The reason this kind of happiness that we chase is so elusive is that our pursuit is based on false premises. The truth is that we are not entitled to anything, to any kind of life, or even life itself. We are not owed, nor do we deserve anything. We have been taught by God that because this world is not supposed to be the way it is, because in turn we are not the men and women whom we were created to be, but have shipwrecked this world on our own sinfulness. Therefore, for as long as we live in this world distorted by our own desires, we will know suffering and loss and pain. This is what has become 'normal' due to our wickedness. And because this wicked world is opposed to God, we have been warned that the godly will suffer even moreso. When Jesus Christ came into our world, revealing the love of the Father and offering it to all, we murdered Him. After this, however, He rose again, and ascended into Heaven, returning to His Father.

Those of us who seek to follow after and draw close to God can expect to spend our lives engaged in a struggle, a wrestling match, with the evil that dwells within our hearts. We can expect to be lonely, to be tired, to be afraid, to suffer pain, and to be unable to understand the world around us and what is going on inside of us. At the same time, we have witnessed the fact that Jesus Christ overcame all of the evil that we have to offer and more besides. Because He has already won the battle which we all fight, the peace that we seek, the simply joy and contentment that we hope for in life, all lie with Him. If we are following Christ down the path which He walked, which includes His journey to the Cross, then we have no need to ever fear or worry, because we know that no matter how desperate or dark any hour may seem, we have seen how this story ends. We know the point toward which we are journeying, and it is eternal life with our Lord.

Without a shadow of a doubt, for as long as our life is in this world, we will face trials and tribulations, struggles and difficulties. All of the pleasures and joys we experience in this world, as beautiful as they may be, will last only a short time and inevitably be mixed with grief. We have never been promised anything else, and we live in a world of our own making. But the promise which Christ makes to us in today's Gospel is that even in the midst of those hardships and struggles, no matter how sever they may be, that we can have peace when we rest in Him, as He rests in the Father. If we do not have this sense of peace in our lives as Christians, it is not because Christ has refused to give it to us, but because we have not consistently sought after it, nor pursued it. We know that our God is a rewarder of those who earnestly seek Him, and gives generally to all without finding fault.

Questions to Ponder 

  1. In today's epistle reading, St. Paul is preparing to stand trial for his life once again, this time before Herod's successor. Previously, as a Roman citizen, he had stood trial before Felix and then his successor Festus, but the latter, as he admits in today's reading, doesn't know enough about the Judeans and their religion to judge the case. At this point, St. Paul has had several trials, and has several more to go, not to mention stonings, beatings, and attacks by angry mobs. None of this, however, deterred St. Paul in preaching the Gospel. As we see today, he even tried to teach it to the Roman governor who was trying him. When you face opposition or discrimination for being a Christian, do you continue with your Christian witness, as St. Paul did, or do you hide your faith in order to better 'get along' with those around you? When being a Christian or living a Christian life causes you to miss out on something, are you thankful that you've had the opportunity to suffer for Christ, or angry? Are you committed enough to Christ that you have missed out on things, or is it Christ and His Church that you sacrifice in order to have and do other things?
  2. In today's Gospel reading, Christ tells His disciples that because He is returning to the Father, if they ask anything in His Name, they will receive it from the Father. He is not, of course, referring to material possessions or power in this world, but rather the good things of God which He gives generously. When you pray, what are the kinds of things for which you ask God? Is it material things, or success or respect in this world, or is it the Spirit of God and His fruit, things like joy, peace, wisdom, patience, kindness, or holiness? Are you reading God a list of demands for things you want, or striving with His help to become the best possible servant in His Kingdom?
  3. In today's Gospel, Christ promises us that in this world we will have tribulation, but that despite the trouble and suffering and persecution that come our way, we can also have peace in this world when we are in Christ, who has overcome this world. All of the suffering, pain, temptation, rejection, sorrow, and loneliness that this world has to offered, Christ endured for us. He not only endured, He rose from the dead, vindicated. If we believe in Christ, and we spiritually dwell with Him, then we can have a sense of peace regardless of our circumstances, because we know how our story will end. When you face suffering and trials in this life, do you have a sense of peace from knowing Christ, or do you become impatient and short-tempered that things aren't going more smoothly? Do you expect your life to be easy, and blame God when it isn't, or do you expect it to be difficult, and thank God for helping you get through?

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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