Lesson: Acts 3:12-19
12 Peter addressed the people, “You Israelites, why do you wonder at this, or why do you stare at us, as though by our own power or piety we had made him walk? 13 The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God of our ancestors has glorified his servant Jesus, whom you handed over and rejected in the presence of Pilate, though he had decided to release him. 14 But you rejected the Holy and Righteous One and asked to have a murderer given to you, 15 and you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses. 16 And by faith in his name, his name itself has made this man strong, whom you see and know; and the faith that is through Jesus has given him this perfect health in the presence of all of you.
17 “And now, friends, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did also your rulers. 18 In this way God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, that his Messiah would suffer. 19 Repent therefore and turn to God so that your sins may be wiped out.”
The book called “The Acts of the Apostles” was written around 85 to 90 CE by the anonymous author of the Gospel According to Luke. The first 15 chapters of Acts are a didactic “history” of the early Jesus Follower Movement starting with the Ascension of the Christ and ending at the so-called Council of Jerusalem where it was agreed that Gentiles did not have to be circumcised and keep all the Kosher dietary laws to become Jesus Followers.
Chapters 16 to 28 of Acts are an account of Paul’s Missionary Journeys, his arrest, and his transfer to Rome – and the stories are not always consistent with Paul’s letters.
Today’s reading is one of Peter’s two lengthy speeches given in the Temple. Immediately before this speech, Peter healed a lame man at the Temple and the people followed him and John (3:1-11).
“Peter’s speech” largely exonerated the Romans for Jesus’ death (v.13) and followed Luke 23:13-25 in blaming the Jewish Authorities and “the people” (v.13). In the historical context of the late First Century, this shifting of blame by the Jesus Followers to these “other Jews,” while questionable as a matter of history, is understandable in the context of the controversies between the Jesus Followers and the Pharisees at that time.
The Jesus Followers and the Pharisees were the only Jewish sects that survived the disastrous Jewish Revolt in 66 CE that led to the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE. The Sadducees and the scribes had become irrelevant after the destruction of the Temple. The Zealots, Herodians and the Essenes were all eliminated by the Romans by 73 CE.
In the Christian Scriptures written after 73 CE, to avoid offending the ruling Romans, the Jesus Followers largely exonerated the Romans for Jesus’ death. Simultaneously, they separated themselves from “those other Jews” who were responsible for the Jewish Revolt in 66 CE.
As the conflict between the Jesus Followers and the Pharisees for control of post-Temple Judaism intensified after 80 CE, the last three canonical Gospels (Matthew, Luke, and John) minimized Roman responsibility for the Crucifixion, blamed the Temple Authorities and the Pharisees for Jesus’ death, and portrayed the Pharisees as hypocrites enslaved by the Law. Matthew had “the crowd” shout “His blood be upon us and our children.” (Matt. 27:25). Luke blamed “the people” and John put responsibility on “the Judeans” which is translated in the NRSV as “the Jews.”
Epistle: 1 John 3:1-7
1 See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are. The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. 2 Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is. 3 And all who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.
4 Everyone who commits sin is guilty of lawlessness; sin is lawlessness. 5 You know that he was revealed to take away sins, and in him there is no sin. 6 No one who abides in him sins; no one who sins has either seen him or known him. 7 Little children, let no one deceive you. Everyone who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous.
There are three letters attributed to “John” – an attribution given in the late 2nd Century about the same time that the four canonical Gospels were attributed to Mark, Matthew, Luke, and John. (We do not know the actual authors of any of the Gospels.)
Scholars also conclude that the three letters attributed to “John” were written after 100 CE because they do not reflect the tense relationships found in the Fourth Gospel between the Jesus Followers and the Temple Authorities (in Jesus’ lifetime and up until 70 CE) and the Pharisees (from about 70 CE until the “parting of the ways” around 100 CE).
Today’s reading emphasizes the close relationship between God and humans as “children of God” which enables us to become like the Christ through the Resurrection, even if the content of that fullness has not yet been fully revealed (v.2).
Gospel: Luke 24:36b-48
36b Jesus himself stood among the disciples and said to them, “Peace be with you.” 37 They were startled and terrified and thought that they were seeing a ghost. 38 He said to them, “Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? 39 Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” 40 And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. 41 While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” 42 They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43 and he took it and ate in their presence.
44 Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.” 45 Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, 46 and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things.”
The Gospel According to Luke was written around 85 CE and drew upon three sources: (1) Mark’s Gospel; (2) a “Sayings Source” (known as “Q” for the German word “Quelle” which means “source”) that is shared with the Gospel According to Matthew; and (3) materials that are unique to Luke such as the shepherds in Bethlehem, the Holy Family at the Temple, the Good Samaritan, and the Prodigal Son.
Today’s reading is placed between two stories that are also unique to Luke: (1) the story about the two disciples on the road to Emmaus (a town whose location is uncertain) who encountered a “stranger” who “opened the scriptures” (v.32) to them, was revealed to them in the breaking of the bread, and who vanished as soon as they recognized him as the Resurrected Christ (v.31); and (2) the Ascension in which the Jesus was “carried up into heaven” (v.51), a story that is recounted somewhat differently in Acts 1:9-11.
Today’s story occurred after the two disciples reported to “the eleven and their companions” what had occurred on the road to Emmaus and at the village (v.35). There are parallels in this story with the stories in John 20 (the suggestion to the disciples to look at the wounds) and in John 21 (which is regarded as a later addition) about Jesus’ eating a piece of broiled fish (v.42).
Today’s reading includes one of the first recognitions of the three parts of the Hebrew Scriptures: the Torah (the law according to Moses – reflecting the notion that Moses was the author (with God) of the Torah, the prophets, and the psalms (v.44). It also contains an “echo” of the idea of “opening the Scriptures” (vv. 32 and 45) to assert that the Hebrew Scriptures were a “prediction” of Jesus as Messiah (v.44). While there are no Hebrew Scriptures that say the Messiah will suffer, Luke (v.46) appeared to rely on Isaiah 53 (the “Suffering Servant” which was Israel) and Hosea 6:2 (which spoke of Ephraim – Northern Israel – being raised up again after the conquest in 722 BCE by the Assyrians).
Luke’s Gospel included Jesus’ direction to the disciples remain in Jerusalem – which the disciples did through Pentecost and led them to worship in the Temple (v.53 and Acts 3). In Mark and Matthew, the disciples were directed to go to Galilee (Mark 16:7 and Matt.28:16). In John, the appearances of the Resurrected Christ were in Jerusalem in Chapter 20 and in the Galilee in Chapter 21.
The conflicting reports in Paul and in the gospels about the corporeality of the Resurrected Christ are not reconcilable. In 1 Cor.15:44, Paul speaks of the resurrected Christ as a “spiritual body.” In many Gospel accounts, persons who knew Jesus in his lifetime did not recognize him as the Resurrected Christ or recognized him only after he broke bread or showed them his wounds. The Resurrected Christ vanished when the two disciples recognized him in the breaking of bread in Emmaus, and passed through locked doors when he encountered the disciples in John 20.
Tending toward an understanding of physical corporeality is the eating of broiled fish in Luke 24 and John 21. Whether or not the Resurrection was bodily, the key theological point of Paul and the Gospels is that the perceived presence of Jesus the Christ even after his death was unmistakably real for the Jesus Follower community.