Lesson: Acts 16:9-15
9 During the night Paul had a vision: there stood a man of Macedonia pleading with him and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” 10 When he had seen the vision, we immediately tried to cross over to Macedonia, being convinced that God had called us to proclaim the good news to them.
11 We set sail from Troas and took a straight course to Samothrace, the following day to Neapolis, 12 and from there to Philippi, which is a leading city of the district of Macedonia and a Roman colony. We remained in this city for some days. 13 On the sabbath day we went outside the gate by the river, where we supposed there was a place of prayer; and we sat down and spoke to the women who had gathered there. 14 A certain woman named Lydia, a worshiper of God, was listening to us; she was from the city of Thyatira and a dealer in purple cloth. The Lord opened her heart to listen eagerly to what was said by Paul. 15 When she and her household were baptized, she urged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come and stay at my home.” And she prevailed upon us.
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.
The Gospel According to Luke and the Acts of the Apostles see the Holy Spirit as the driving force for all that happens. The events surrounding today’s reading exemplify this.
Today’s reading is one of the first stories from the second half of Acts which describes Paul’s missionary journeys. This trip is described as “Paul’s Second Missionary Journey” because it was a trip to “every city where we [Paul and Barnabas] proclaimed the word of the Lord” (15:36).
At the time of his vision (v.9), Paul was in the areas called Troas (the largest city in which was Troy), a part of what is now northwestern Turkey near the Strait of the Dardanelles. The trip from Troas to Philippi, an important Roman colony in Macedonia (northern Greece), was a sea voyage of about 75 miles from Troas with a stop at the island of Samothrace.
Somewhat curiously, in the verses preceding Paul’s vision, he was “forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia” (v.6) and “the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them” to go into Bithynia (v.8). Asia was a Roman province in western Asia Minor to the east of Troas and Bithynia was a Roman province to the east of Asia.
For the first time in Acts, the narrator became plural (“we immediately tried”), a usage that continued intermittently during the balance of the book. The Jewish Annotated New Testament suggests “it may reflect either Luke’s use of an eyewitness source or his desire to create that impression.”
According to The New Oxford Annotated Bible, Philippi was “populated by discharged Roman soldiers [the enlistment term of Roman soldiers was 20-25 years] who received grants of land and enjoyed the special civil rights that pertained to a Roman Colony (freedom from taxation, Roman legal procedures.”
Paul often went to synagogues as a likely place to make converts to the Jesus Follower Movement (the Way), particularly among Gentiles who were sympathetic to Judaism (called “God Fearers”) and would have been in synagogue for Sabbath worship.
In today’s account, Lydia was described as “a worshiper of God” and a dealer in purple cloth (v.14). The phrase “worshiper of God” is understood as equivalent to a “God Fearer.” Purple cloth was one of the most expensive (the color for rulers). As a dealer in purple cloth, Lydia was a person of means who had a “household” (v.15)
In saying that the “Lord opened Lydia’s heart” (v.14) – the author of Luke/Acts emphasized that the Holy Spirit was the force that brought about conversions to the Jesus Follower Movement. As was customary at the time, dependents followed the head of the household in religious matters, so Lydia’s household was also baptized (v.15).
Epistle: Revelation 21:10, 22 – 22:5
10 In the spirit the angel carried me away to a great, high mountain and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God.
22 I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. 23 And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God is its light, and its lamp is the Lamb. 24 The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it. 25 Its gates will never be shut by day– and there will be no night there. 26 People will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations. 27 But nothing unclean will enter it, nor anyone who practices abomination or falsehood, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life.
22:1 Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb 2 through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. 3 Nothing accursed will be found there any more. But the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him; 4 they will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. 5 And there will be no more night; they need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.
The Book of Revelation is also known as the “Apocalypse” (from a Greek word meaning an “unveiling” or “disclosure” of a new age or of heaven, or both). Apocalyptic writing generally described a dire situation ruled by evil powers that could be overcome only by the “in-breaking” of a force (such as God) to bring about a new age.
Like the apocalyptic writings in the Hebrew Bible, the Book of Revelation used extreme images and metaphors to describe the conflict between good and evil. Apocalyptic literature is often presented as a revelation from God conveyed by an angel or other heavenly body. Apocalyptic writings used symbolic language to convey God’s hidden plan.
The author identified himself as “John” but most scholars conclude that the author of Revelation was not John the Apostle because of the reference to the 12 apostles in 21:14. Because of the internal references in the Book, most scholars date the book to the late First Century.
Today’s reading is from the last two chapters of Revelation and presented a vision of a New Jerusalem coming out of heaven (v.10). (Most of Jerusalem, including the Temple, was destroyed by the Romans in 70 CE, about 30 years before Revelation was written.)
The New Oxford Annotated Bible describes the phrase “in the spirit” (v.10) as “a state of prophetic ecstasy, a state of altered consciousness” similar to that found in the Book of Ezekiel. The tour of the heavenly city recalled God’s heavenly temple in Ezekiel 40-42.
The author of Revelation had extensive knowledge of the Hebrew Bible, and the New Jerusalem was presented as an “idealized” place.
It needed no Temple (v.22) because God and the Lamb are its “Temple.” It was a place of safety (its gates never need to close). It did not need the sun or the moon to give it light (v.23).The river of the water of life (v.1) was a reference to Eden in Genesis. The people see God’s face (are fully aware of God’s presence), just as Moses spoke with God face to face.
The phrase “nothing accursed shall be found there” (v.3) was a reversal of the curses (bad consequences) of the Disobedience Event in Eden (Gen. 3:14-19).
Gospel: John 14:23-29
23 Jesus said to Judas (not Iscariot), “Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. 24 Whoever does not love me does not keep my words; and the word that you hear is not mine but is from the Father who sent me.
25 “I have said these things to you while I am still with you. 26 But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. 27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid. 28 You heard me say to you, `I am going away, and I am coming to you.’ If you loved me, you would rejoice that I am going to the Father, because the Father is greater than I. 29 And now, I have told you this before it occurs, so that when it does occur, you may believe.”
The Fourth Gospel is different in many ways from the Synoptic Gospels. The “signs” (miracles) and many stories in the Fourth Gospel are unique to it, such as the Wedding at Cana, Jesus’ conversation with the Samaritan woman at the well, and the Raising of Lazarus.
The chronology of events is also different in the Fourth Gospel. For example, the Temple Event (“Cleansing of the Temple”) occurred early in Jesus’ Ministry in the Fourth Gospel, rather than late as in the Synoptic Gospels. In the Synoptic Gospels, the Last Supper was a Passover Seder, but in the Fourth Gospel, it occurred the day before the first day of Passover so that Jesus (who is described as “the Lamb of God” in the Fourth Gospel) died at the same time lambs were sacrificed at the Temple for the Passover Seder that was to be held the night he died.
Most scholars agree that the Gospel was written around 95 CE, at a time when the “parting of the ways” between the Jesus Follower Movement and Rabbinic Judaism was accelerating.
Today’s reading is part of the “Farewell Discourse and Prayer of Jesus” that begins at 13:31 and continues to 17:26. There are numerous themes in the Discourse, and a substantial amount of repetition. Scholars suggest that some of the themes in the Discourse reflect the situation when the Gospel itself was written in the late First Century. Most agree that the Prayer in Chapter 17 constituted a separate unit.
Generally, the lengthy Discourse is divided into four units: (a) announcement of the hour and farewell; (b) exhortation to the disciples about the community in the face of external hostility; (c) consolation for the sorrowing disciples; and (d) Jesus’ prayer for the disciples.
Today’s reading is part of the first section, and Jesus’ response was to a question posed by Judas (not Iscariot), “Lord, how is it that you will reveal yourself to us, and not to the world?”
The interpretation of Jesus’ response offered by Bishop John Shelby Spong in The Fourth Gospel: Tales of a Jewish Mystic is informative.
Jesus says: You must understand that this manifestation is an internal one, not an external one. The revelation of God comes with the ability to love beyond your limits. If you love me, you will keep my word to love one another and the Father will love you as the Father has loved me. Then the Father and the son will come to you and dwell in you. We will make our home in you – this is Jesus’ summation.
Jesus concludes this part of the discourse by saying, “I have spoken to you while I am still with you” (John 14:25). He then tries to prepare his disciples for his absence. The Holy Spirit will come when I am gone, he says. The spirit will teach you all things and will bring to remembrance all that I have said. I leave you with peace. It is not the kind of peace the world seeks, but it is the kind of peace that will enable you to grasp the reality you will have to endure. Rejoice, because I go to the Father and only when I depart can the spirit come to you . Please recognize that the world has no power over me. The world can not kill who I am. I am part of who God is and you will be also. I do what the Father commands because I love the Father. You do what I command because you love me. That is the pathway to understanding.