Lesson: Acts 10:44-48
44 While Peter was still speaking, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who heard the word. 45 The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astounded that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles, 46 for they heard them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter said, 47 “Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” 48 So he ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they invited him to stay for several days.
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 Acts of the Apostles see the Holy Spirit as the driving force for all that happens. The events surrounding today’s reading exemplify this.
As background to today’s reading in Chapter 10, Peter fell into a trance (v.10) and saw a sheet filled with foods regarded by Jews as profane or unclean. A voice admonished him that what God made clean shall not be called profane (v. 15). Soon after, Peter converted a Gentile, Cornelius the Centurion, at the behest of the Spirit (v.19). Peter then gave a speech that was a synopsis of the major themes in the Gospel According to Luke (vv. 34-43).
In today’s reading, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who heard Peter’s speech. The “circumcised believers” (v. 45) were Jewish Jesus Followers. They were astounded that the Holy Spirit had been poured out upon Gentiles (v. 47). Peter baptized these Gentile Jesus Followers.
These three events – the sheet of “unclean foods,” the conversion of Cornelius, and the baptism of the Gentiles upon whom the Holy Spirit was poured – are presented in Acts as critical “precedents” to the spread of the Jesus Follower Movement to Gentiles. This expansion was “ratified” at the so-called Council of Jerusalem in 49 CE (Acts 15). At this “Council,” Peter and Paul testified about the Spirit’s coming upon Gentiles. James (the brother of Jesus and head of the Jerusalem Jesus Follower Community) made the decision that Gentiles did not have to convert to Judaism by observing a strict kosher diet and by being circumcised to become Jesus Followers.
Following the Council, Acts of the Apostles turned its focus to Paul’s missions to the Gentiles.
Epistle: 1 John 5:1-6
1 Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the parent loves the child. 2 By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. 3 For the love of God is this, that we obey his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome, 4 for whatever is born of God conquers the world. And this is the victory that conquers the world, our faith. 5 Who is it that conquers the world but the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?
6 This is the one who came by water and blood, Jesus Christ, not with the water only but with the water and the blood. And the Spirit is the one that testifies, for the Spirit is the truth.
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 until 70 CE) and the Pharisees (from 70 CE until the “parting of the ways” around 100 CE).
The author of 1 John was likely an individual speaking on behalf of a community of followers of the author of the Fourth Gospel.
Today’s reading emphasized themes found in the Fourth Gospel – belief in Jesus as The Messiah accompanied by love of others are the hallmarks of a Jesus Follower. This belief and action allow one to “conquer the world” (v.4). As used in the Fourth Gospel and in this letter, the “world” is better understood as “the System” – the systems of human power, ego, and self-interest.
The Fourth Gospel is the only gospel in which a soldier lanced Jesus’ side with a spear, producing blood and water (Jn. 19:34). Today’s reading repeated this unique theme (v.6).
Gospel: John 15:9-17
9 Jesus said to his disciples, “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. 10 If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. 11 I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.
12 “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 13 No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command you. 15 I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. 16 You did not choose me, but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. 17 I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.”
The Fourth Gospel is different in many ways from the Synoptic Gospels. The “signs” (miracles) and many of the 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”) died at the time lambs were being sacrificed at the Temple for the Passover Seder to be held that night.
Today’s reading is also unique to the Fourth Gospel and is part of “the Farewell Discourses” (Chapters 14 to 16) in which Jesus gave insights and instructions to his disciples at the Last Supper.
Once again, the author of the Fourth Gospel used the word “abide” in the phrase “abide in my love” (vv. 9, 10). The word “abide” has numerous meanings, but the one generally accepted in the context of this reading is to maintain such a close relationship as to be integrated into the other or to “live in and with the other.”
The commandment in verse 12 is considered the most central of the exhortations in the Fourth Gospel.