Trinity Sunday, May 26
Galatians 3:26Ý4:7: Not least among the striking features of this text is the apostle’s use of exactly the same verb to speak of the sending forth of both the Son and the Holy Spirit. In each case he says, “God sent forth His Son . . . God sent forth the Spirit of His Son.” This is a summary of how we know God: We know Him because He has revealed Himself by His sending forth of His Son and Holy Spirit. God’s double sending forth is thus related to two orders of knowledge, the categorical, empirical order — in the historical events of the salvific ministry of His Son — and the internal order of immediate perception — the gift of the Holy Spirit. These are the two dimensions of the knowledge of God, two inseparable aspects of the Gospel, the sending of the Son and the sending of the Holy Spirit. These are also two essential dimensions of the Lord’s Supper. The first looks horizontal through history by way of “remembrance” (anamnesis), and the second looks vertical by way of “invocation” (epiklesis). The Cross is formed by the intersection of these two lines.
Monday, May 27
Matthew 22:23-33: We have seen, in our recent readings from the Acts of the Apostles, that the Sadducees did not believe in a doctrine of the resurrection. It was the Pharisees’ adherence to such a doctrine that rendered the latter party closer and more receptive to the Gospel (cf. Acts 23:6-9). The Sadducees’ disbelief in a resurrection is reflected in today’s reading from Matthew. Indeed, Matthew shows considerable animosity toward the Sadducees, mentioning them in contexts where they are not mentioned by the other gospel writers (cf. Matthew 3:7; 16:1,6,11,12; 22:34). The policy of the Sadducees to side with the Roman overlords (which the Pharisees did not) rendered them comparatively unpopular with the people. Alone among the gospel writers, Matthew tells of the crowd’s delight at their discomfiting (verse 33). After Jerusalem’s destruction at the hand of the Romans in A.D. 70, the prestige of the Sadducees disappeared completely, and, because they were a priestly party, their services were no longer required after the loss of the temple.
Tuesday, May 28
Acts 4:32-37: Here we have another summary, similar to the one in 2:42-47, both of them speaking of the mutual generosity of Christians with respect to material possessions. The example of Barnabas (elsewhere with a hand in congregational finances — cf. Acts 11:30) at the end of this chapter is placed to form a contrast with the selfishness of Ananias and Sapphira in Chapter 5. That communal sharing was especially important at Jerusalem, where the Church, partly composed of dispossessed Galileans who had come there specifically for Gospel ministry, was particularly impoverished (cf. Acts 6:1; 11:29; Galatians 2:10, Romans 15:3). In adopting this policy of mutual sharing, the Church was endeavoring to conform to an ideal of ancient Israel, which had been instructed: “There shall be no poor among you” (Deuteronomy 15:4), and it should remain the norm of Christians for all times. We know that it was the standard for the Church at Rome (cf. Justin Martyr, First Apology 14 & 67), in north Africa (cf. Cyprian of Carthage, On Almsgiving 25), and elsewhere (cf. The Letter to Diognetus 5).
Wednesday, May 29
Acts 5:1-11: The sin of Ananias and Sapphira, though doubtless motivated by selfishness, was characterized by a level of malice well beyond that motive. Their sin had to do with the “heart,” a word that appears in both verses 3 & 4. Their lie was directed at the Holy Spirit (verses 3 & 9). The verb nosphizein, “to hold back,” is found in only two places in Holy Scripture, here and in Joshua 7:1, a circumstance that should prompt us to read this account in Acts against the background of Achan’s punishment (cf Joshua 7:6-26; 22:20; First Chronicles 2:7). What happened to this Jerusalem couple inspired a “great fear” (phobos megas) in the congregation and elsewhere (verses 5 & 11), as well it should, for they had “insulted the Spirit of grace” (Hebrews 10:29). Sins directly against the Holy Spirit are a particularly grievous kind of offense, against which we are warned in the sternest of terms (cf. Mark 3:29).
Thursday, May 30
Acts 5:12-21: This section returns us to the porch of Solomon. Encouraged by the healing of the lame man in Chapter 3, a great number of sick and infirm are gathered here, hoping even that Peter’s very shadow may fall upon them (verse 15). This justified hope (verse 16), reminiscent of such scenes as Matthew 14:36, and to be replicated in the case of the apostle Paul (Acts 19:12), indicates the material, incarnational aspects of Christian salvation. This “apostolic success” infuriates, once again, the Sadducees (verse 17), who have the apostles arrested. (The “sect” or “party” of this verse, referring to the Sadducees, is hairesis in Greek, the source of our word “heresy.”) In jail the apostles are strengthened by angelic ministry (verse 19), much like their Lord in His sufferings (Luke 22:43). Luke portrays these early Christians as being on rather familiar terms with angels (Acts 8:26; 12:7-10). Meanwhile, unaware that the apostles have been freed from jail by the angels, the Sanhedrin summons them to a new trial. It is a scene of great irony.
Friday, May 31
Acts 5:22-32: Because of all the miraculous healings, the apostles have grown rather popular with the crowds, so the temple magistrates, when they come into the temple to arrest them again, must do so very carefully, lest the animosity of the people be aroused against the authorities (verse 26). The Sanhedrin realizes itself to be in some danger (verse 28). Peter again acts as the apostolic spokesman, giving a three-verse defense of the Christian faith. Rejecting once more the Sanhedrin’s prohibition against their preaching, Peter summarizes yet a second time his sermon of Pentecost, stressing the guilt of the Christ-killers and the power of God in raising Him from the dead. In verse 31 we particularly note the word “Savior,” used now by the Church for the first time with reference to Jesus.
Saturday, June 1
Acts 5:33-42: Brought to trial by the Sadducees, the apostles are now defended by a Pharisee, who rises to express a word of caution. This rabbinical teacher of the young Saul of Tarsus (cf. 22:3), though his counsel carries the day with the Sanhedrin on this occasion, was evidently not able to dissuade his most famous pupil from persecuting the Christians (cf. 22:4; 26:5,9-11). Gamaliel refers to two recent events to show that popular movements, once they lose their charismatic leader, tend to dissipate on their own. So, he reasons, if this new Christian movement is not of God, it will collapse without any help from the Sanhedrin. If, on the other hand, it is of God, then the Sanhedrin’s efforts would be wasted anyway. In Luke’s view, of course, Gamaliel has just enunciated the principle on which the Book of Acts is based — namely, this new Christian movement is most certainly of God. The apostles, whose very lives had been in danger just a few minutes before (verse 33), are released with a beating (verse 40). They rejoice at this beating and go right back to preaching in the temple and elsewhere.