Sunday, May 19
Ezekiel 47: A secret spring, flowing from the holy place, sends fresh waters eastward, and Ezekiel is taken outside to see the growing stream. Since the eastern gate of the temple is forever locked and the southern gate lies in the area of the flooding water, he exits the temple by the north gate. The river deepens as it goes along through the Judean desert until it reaches the Dead Sea (verse 8). This stagnant pool is refreshed by the new living water flowing from the temple, so that fish can live in it and trees grow on its banks. This is the living water of which Jesus speaks to the Samaritan woman in John 4. This is the stream of Genesis 2:10-14 and Revelation 22:1-2. This living stream, flowing from God’s glory in the temple, is the life-giving water of Baptism. The rest of this chapter (verses 13-23) contains a detailed geographical outline of the Promised Land, which prepares for the distribution among the twelve tribes in the next chapter. One observes in this section (verse 22) an attitude toward non-Israelites far more positive than the attitude in the Books of Ezra and Nehemiah, which narrate Israel’s actual return to the Promised Land.
Monday, May 20
Ezekiel 48: This highly schematic distribution of the Holy Land (into long narrow strips running east/west) is marked by several features: First, it is based on the disposition of the temple and adjoining areas as described in Chapter 45. Second, it is completely theoretical, inasmuch as the majority of the twelve tribes of Israel no longer existed as such; most of the ten tribes deported by the Assyrians in 722 had long been assimilated into the peoples of Mesopotamia. Third, the division of the land differs very significantly from the ancient division from the time of Joshua. If the tribes of Gad and Zebulon had somehow managed to return, they would have been very surprised to find themselves living in the Negev Desert (verses 26-27) instead of the fertile fields of Galilee. In short, there are considerable difficulties attendant on interpreting this chapter of Ezekiel as a literal description of Israel’s return to the Holy Land in 538. Like the mystical waters of the previous chapter, this geographical disposition should be interpreted in the light of New Testament ecclesiology, the twelve tribes representing the whole people of God, which is the Church of Jesus Christ. These twelve tribes will each be honored with a gate entering the new Jerusalem (48:30-35; cf. Revelation 21:12). Instead of Yerushalaim (Jerusalem), the city will be called Adonaishammah (“the Lord is there”).
Tuesday, May 21
Acts 2:40-47: The summary of the response to Peter’s first sermon includes (in verse 42) the three constitutive components of the Church’s liturgical life: First, the authoritative proclamation of the Word of God (“the apostles’ doctrine”); second, the serving of the Sacraments (“the Communion, the breaking of the Bread”); third, common worship (“prayers”). It is in these three things that the “baptized” (verse 41) are to “continue steadfastly.” Their practice of “holding all things in common” should not be interpreted in a legal sense of ownership (cf. 5:4) but with respect to their operative attitude toward their possessions. It is significant that this attitude is mentioned in the immediate context of the Church’s liturgical life. It was from the beginning that the Church made “collections” of material resources at the common worship, particularly the Eucharist. All the components of the liturgical worship mentioned here are also found in our earliest extant description of the Eucharistic Liturgy by Justin Martyr (Apologia Prima 67) in the mid-second century. That first generation of Christians maintained their worship in the temple (Luke 24:53) as well as the Eucharistic communion in their homes (Acts 2:46). Like Jesus (Luke 2:27,49; 19:45; 22:53), they used the temple as a missionary forum (Acts 3:11; 4:2; 5:20-21,42).
Wednesday, May 22
Acts 3:1-11: Peter and John go up to the temple “at the hour of prayer, the ninth hour.” This was late afternoon, the time of the daily evening sacrifice for devout Jews and proselytes (cf. 10:3). As we see in Tertullian and Hippolytus at the beginning of the third century, this hour of prayer was also maintained by Christians, as is the canonical rule unto the present day. In the Christian practice, of course, the “evening sacrifice” is the death of Jesus on the Cross, which also took place at this very hour (cf. Mark 15:34-37). Peter heals the lame man in the powerful name of Jesus (cf. 2:21,38-39; 3:16; 4:7-10), of which we will soon be told that “there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (4:12). The healed man immediately enters the temple with the two apostles, making quite a scene by his enthusiastic worship. The fairly secular word “amazement” in verse 10 is actually “ecstasy” in Greek, which is a term descriptive of religious experience. The “porch” of Solomon in verse 11 is stoa in Greek, from which was derived the name of philosophers called “Stoics” (cf. 17:18), so named because they studied under Zeno at the Poecile, a colonnaded porch in Athens. As the Fathers of the Church observed in this connection, Luke is thus contrasting the Solomonic wisdom of the Bible with the pagan wisdom of the Hellenic philosophers. Peter will now preach wisdom from that “porch of Solomon.”
Thursday, May 23
Acts 3:12-26: The philosophy imagery continues. The “walk” in verse 12 is literally “walk around,” in Greek peripatein, the root of “Peripatetic,” meaning the philosophy of Aristotle, who “walked around” the Lyceum at Athens discussing thorny questions with his students. Thus, Luke presents us with a Peripatetic on the Stoa! Now Peter, like a good philosopher, sets himself to clear up a misunderstanding (verse 12). Relating his remarks immediately to the theme of his Pentecost sermon, the glorification of Jesus, Peter summarizes the Lord’s trial (verses 13-15) in a way that reflects Luke’s narrative of that trial (cf. Luke 23:4,14,16,20,22). In Acts 3:22, where Peter quotes Deuteronomy, the context provides a subtle word-play in “the Lord God will raise up (anastesei) for you a Prophet.” This “raising up” of Jesus (cf. verse 26 too) is, of course, the unifying theme of these first two sermons of Peter. After his citation from Moses, he goes on to announce that “all the prophets, from Samuel and those who follow,” had borne witness to the very message that he was preaching. This note again fits Luke’s motif of biblical fulfillment in the death and resurrection of Jesus (cf. Luke 24:27,45), a motif that had so dominated Peter’s sermon on Pentecost. He finishes by quoting Genesis 22:18, clearly understanding the “seed” (sperma) of Abraham as referring to Jesus (as does Paul in Galatians 3:16).
Friday, May 24
Acts 4:1-12: We now come to the first arrest of Christians and their first trial before the Sanhedrin. There was surely reason for concern on the part of the Sanhedrin, because the number of Christian converts, as a result of Peter’s brief sermon, had grown dramatically (verse 4). There will ensue a mounting local persecution, leading to the dispersal of the believers at the beginning of Chapter 8. The Sadducees, direct successors of those “sons of Zadok” that we read about in Ezekiel, are the first to be offended (verses 2,3,5,6; cf. also 5:17). Unlike the Pharisees, they did not believe in a doctrine of resurrection, so when the apostles are brought to trial, the Sadducees were careful not to mention why they had been arrested! The whole affair having begun, as we saw, in late afternoon, it is now too late for court business, so the apostles are thrown in jail for the night (verse3). The chief leaders of the Sadducees, the priests Annas and Caiphas, had been the instigators of the trial of Jesus, and now two of His apostles will appear before the same group. As on Pentecost day, Peter is “full of the Holy Spirit” (verse 8), and his brief testimony, which includes the exegesis of a Psalm verse (cf. Luke 20:17 as well), summarizes his Pentecost sermon. It was also a Psalm verse, by the way, to which Peter would return several years later (cf. 1 Peter 2:7).
Saturday, May 25
Acts 4:13-22: What a difference in Peter! How little he resembles the weakling who, when he was previously at the house of Caiphas, had quailed before the questioning gaze of a serving maid and thrice denied his Lord. Peter is now speaking with “boldness” (parresia — cf. 2:29; 4:29,31; 9:27-28; 13:46; 28:31). Strengthening the testimony of Peter and John is the presence of the man healed of his lameness. Verse 14 observes that he is “standing” with them. Just standing, not jumping all over the place as he was doing in the previous chapter; by this time he is perhaps a bit tired. The Sanhedrin is tired too, caught in a quandary about what to do with the two offenders. There being no prosecutable statute against the healing of the lame, and an agitated crowd now having gathered outside, the Sanhedrin must somehow save face. The two apostles are finally released with a warning, which they promptly announce their intention to ignore. Thus ends the first legal trial of Christians. Things will steadily get tougher.