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Introduction To The Scripture For The Third Sunday of Easter - Year B
Acts 3:12-19; Psalm 4; I John 3:1-7; Luke 24:36-48

The following material was written by the Rev. John Shearman (jlss@sympatico.ca) of the United Church of Canada. John has structured his offerings so that the first portion can be used as a bulletin insert, while the second portion provides a more in depth 'introduction to the scripture'.

INTRODUCTION  TO THE SCRIPTURE 	
Third Sunday of Easter (B)


ACTS 3:12-19.  All the sermons recorded in Acts are recollections of what all 
the apostles preached rather than verbatim reports of what Peter may have 
said. They all contain essentially the same elements. Some, like this one, 
may reflect a somewhat earlier and more basic tradition than others. Like all 
the New Testament, this passage interprets Jesus as fulfilling a prophecy of 
a suffering Messiah. Such a person was unknown in the Hebrew tradition.
	
Though his own people rejected him, this sermon declares, the resurrection of 
Jesus is the proof that he is the promised Messiah.  Through repentance and 
faith in him all sins are forgiven.


PSALM 4.  An attitude of confident trust in God permeates this psalm.   
Accordingly it does not become a bitter lament, but a song of faith from 
someone suffering great distress.


1 JOHN 3:1-7.  The real benefits of faith in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, 
are clearly stated in this passage.  Believers are regarded as the children 
of God who at Christ's second coming will be like him.  Those who do not 
believe do not share kinship with Christ and fellowship with God.  A life of 
sin and the life with Christ are totally incompatible.


LUKE 24:36-48.  The post-resurrection appearances of Jesus recorded in the 
four gospels have a common purpose: to prepare the faithful for life in the 
world as witnesses to the resurrection.
	
Luke's closing narrative tells how Jesus revealed himself to his disciples to 
prove to them that he really was alive. He urged them to touch the wounds in 
his hands and feet, and then asked for something to eat.
	
Luke also wished to show that Jesus himself had initiated the early Christian 
belief that the Old Testament prophesies of the Messiah had now been 
fulfilled.  The church could now proclaim that repentance and forgiveness of 
sins, i.e. a whole new life, were now available through faith in the risen 
Christ.

************

ACTS 3:12-19.  All the sermons recorded in Acts are recollections of what all 
the apostles preached rather than verbatim reports of what Peter or other 
apostles may have said. As the apostle most regarded as the leader of the 
Apostolic Church, the author of Acts usually has Peter proclaim what all of 
them almost certainly would have said. This formula, discovered by the 
British scholar, C. H. Dodd circa 1930, is known as the *kerygma,* from the 
Greek word for *preaching.* 

Thus all the sermons in Acts contain essentially the same elements. Some, 
like this one, may reflect a somewhat earlier and more basic tradition than 
others. As elsewhere throughout the New Testament, this passage interprets 
Jesus as fulfilling a prophecy of a suffering Messiah. Such a Messiah was 
unknown in the Hebrew tradition.  The Apostolic Church reinterpreted OT 
passages, particularly Isaiah 52:13-53:12, in that way after the crucifixion 
and resurrection. Many biblical scholars, particularly in the British 
schools, believe that this reinterpretation may have come from Jesus himself. 
There are other passages like Luke 24:13-27 which appear to confirm this.  



This particular sermon emphasizes a favourite New Testament theme. Although 
his own people rejected him, the resurrection of Jesus proves that he is the 
promised Messiah.  Through repentance and faith in him all sins are forgiven. 

As in most sermons in Acts, there are frequent references to the Hebrew 
scriptures.  That should not be surprising since the first Christians were all 
Jews and the only scriptures they had were those of their own Hebrew 
tradition. They were also preaching primarily to other Jews during the 
earliest days of the post-resurrection period. So they probably spent a great 
deal of time working through a new interpretation of what those scriptures 
meant now that Jesus had been crucified and raised from the dead. As many 
people do today, they latched onto texts and passages which originally had no 
reference whatsoever to Jesus. In doing so, they really tried to show that 
there was a direct relationship between God's covenant with Israel and the 
"new covenant' instituted by God in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. 
Indeed, they held firmly to the conviction that Jesus fulfilled all that God 
had promised to Israel as recorded in the Hebrew scriptures.

The locale where Peter preached this sermon had special meaning in that 
Solomon's Portico was a gathering place for all who came to the temple. It was 
not the vestibule of the temple, but the eastern range of a columned and 
roofed part of the temple precincts extending around the outer court. While 
named in honor of Solomon, it was almost certainly built when Herod the Great 
renovated the temple during the two decades just prior to the birth of Jesus. 
Everyone who came to the temple, Jews and Gentiles, Jerusalemites and pilgrims 
alike, would have assembled there. The Beautiful Gate through the east side of 
the portico gave access to the temple courts from the Kidron Valley and the 
Mount of Olives.  The poor and disabled would come there begging for alms from 
the multitude. This was the occasion for Peter's sermon to the amazed crowd 
after healing the man lame from birth (vss. 2-8).


PSALM 4.  An attitude of confident trust in God permeates this psalm.   
Accordingly it does not become a bitter lament, as one might expect from 
someone suffering great distress, but a song of enduring faith. The psalmist's 
anguish has been subdued by his confidence in God's blessing because of his 
continued dependence on God.

No one can say just what may have caused of the psalmist's distress, nor who 
he may have been. Vs. 5 indicates a close association with temple sacrifices, 
a common practice in distressing times; but that is all the identification the 
text offers. He appears to have lived at a time when many others were in 
distress too, but there are no clues as to why this had occurred. Some 
scholars have suggested that the reference in vs. 7 points to plentiful 
harvest of grain and wine after a devastating famine.

The closing lines in vs. 8 could indicate that this as a psalm for the end of 
the day. Whatever the difficulties each day brings, the psalmist's faith gives 
him the confidence to rest in the security that all is well under God's 
control. One is reminded of repeated assurance of Julian of Norwich, the 14th 
century mystic, that "all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner 
of things shall be well."

The text includes two other notable features: the superscription reference to 
"the leader: with stringed instruments" and the strange word *Selah.* Best 
scholarly guesses believe that the former caption  refers to musical 
accompaniment when used in temple worship. "Selah" appears seventy times in 
the Psalter and three times in another psalm in the Book of Habbakuk 3:3, 9, 
13. It would appear to be some kind of direction to the musicians, the exact 
significance of which remains hidden. Some scholars hypothesize that it 
indicated the point at which a special musical chord would be struck.
This would indicate that the psalm may not have been composed as a personal 
prayer, but for special use at the time of the evening sacrifices in the 
temple.  


1 JOHN 3:1-7.  This passage clearly states the real benefits of faith in Jesus 
Christ, the Son of God.  It also deals with the issue of the return of Christ, 
something which appears to have been a source of serious trouble in John's 
community. The author also clarifies the implications of faith and the 
rejection of faith. All of this rests on the love of God the Father.

Believers know that they are, the children of God because they know God. They 
have this assurance now and they also know that at Christ's return they will 
be like him (vs. 2). Because of this knowledge, they "purify themselves" so as 
to be like Christ. In an unique way, John relates to both the Greek "gnosis" 
so dear to Gentile members of the community attracted to the special 
"knowledge" of Gnostic sects and the ritual purification common to devout 
Jews.

 Vs. 4 reiterates the Jewish element of this thinking in regarding sin as 
"lawlessness." Throughout the letter there is a dualism in John's conception 
of good and evil, a kind of ethical dialectic expressed in such antitheses as 
light and darkness, truth and lie, the world and God. This may well have been 
characteristic of 1st century Christian belief, for it appears in many other 
parts of the NT, including the gospel record of Jesus' teaching. Lawlessness 
was seen as evidence of the enormity and blasphemy of sin and apostasy during 
the eschatological time of the Antichrist (2 Thess. 2:7-8; Matt. 24:12). While 
this letter draws extensively on Jewish eschatology, we must also understand 
that the NT was written in the latter part of the 1st century when the Greek 
thought had permeated the culture of the whole Mediterranean region and 
especially the Greek cities where most of the NT authors lived.

The unique Christian interpretation of the work of Christ comes to the fore in 
vs. 5. As the sinless one, he takes away the sin of the world. This may refer 
to the scapegoat sacrifice as a sin offering on the Day of Atonement described 
in Leviticus 16. One of two goats was slaughtered and its blood sprinkled on 
the mercy seat, the slab of gold on the top of the ark supporting the two 
cherubim representing the Presence of Yahweh. The other goat was sent away 
into the wilderness after the sins of the people had been confessed over its 
head. 

In vs. 6 we find once again the phrase "abiding in him" which picks up the 
main theme of this segment of the letter (2:28-3:24) and also recalls the vine 
metaphor of John 15:1-11. Assimilation into and acquiring through grace the 
nature of Christ the sinless one is the essence of this phrase. Those whose 
behaviour does not meet that standard really has not "seen him or know him." 
Obviously, this was a direct attack on those who believed that because they 
had been baptized and so were now "in Christ," they did not need to give any 
attention to how they lived as they waited for Christ's return. This 
particular failing marked many of the Gnostic sectarians. Vs. 7 suggests that 
this was indeed a problem in John's community where some were being deceived 
by this false teaching. 

In effect, John is reaffirming that those who do not believe do not share 
kinship with Christ and fellowship with God.  Their behaviour shows exactly 
what they believe. "Every sound tree bears good fruit" (Matt. 7:17). A life of 
sin and the life with Christ are totally incompatible. In contrast, those who 
live a righteous life do so because they believe in Jesus Christ and have been 
formed in his image, the only truly righteous person.


LUKE 24:36-48.  The post-resurrection appearances of Jesus recorded in the 
four gospels have a common purpose: to prepare the faithful for life in the 
world as witnesses to the resurrection.

Luke's closing narrative tells how Jesus revealed himself to his disciples to 
prove to them that he really was alive and not just a ghostly apparition. 
Skepticism came naturally to people in those days as it does to us. Appealing 
to their ordinary human senses, Luke tells how Jesus urged the disciples to 
touch the wounds in his hands and feet, and then asked for something to eat 
(vss. 39-43). Luke included this detail to make sure that his audience, five 
decades removed from the actual event, really understood the true nature of 
the resurrection. It was no mere fantasy or hallucination; it was a physical 
return from the dead, as scary and as incredible as it may have seemed, then 
and now.

Luke also wished to show that Jesus himself had initiated the early Christian 
belief that the Old Testament prophesies of the Messiah had now been 
fulfilled.  The church could now proclaim that repentance and forgiveness of 
sins, i.e. a whole new life, were now available through faith in Jesus.
Reinterpretation the messianic tradition of Judaism and a divinely endowed 
capability of forgiving sin characterized the mission of the Apostolic Church. 
Luke made this claim even more distinctively in the sequel to his gospel, The 
Acts of Apostles. The words attributed to Jesus vss. 44-49 provide a natural 
transition from one book to the other. The same theme is picked up in Acts 
1:1-5.

Note that Luke ends his narrative with the disciples still in Jerusalem. 
Before leaving them, Jesus led them out to Bethany, a village less than two 
miles from the city, just over the ridge on the eastern slope of the Mount of 
Olives. One might wonder why this minute detail, except that it relates to an 
earlier comment that Jesus appears to have made his headquarters there, 
possibly at the home of Mary, Martha and Lazarus, during the final days 
between his triumphal entry and crucifixion (21:37).

Luke also includes a brief statement of the ascension (24:51) which he 
repeated in a more elaborate form in Acts 1:6-11. This assumes, of course, 
that Luke is the author of both books, which is a subject of dispute among 
scholars. The repetition of such details may do no more than serve as a 
literary device that intentionally links the two. 

Joyful worship of the apostolic community ends the Gospel; but continually 
gathering in the temple also emphasizes the fundamentally Jewish character of 
the community. We can never minimize the historical fact that the Christian 
Church has its origins as a new cult of Judaism and adopted for itself, albeit 
with a new interpretation, all the scriptures of the Jewish tradition. 

                                              
copyright  - Comments by Rev. John Shearman and page by Richard J. Fairchild, 2006
            please acknowledge the appropriate author if citing these resources.



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