Sunday, June 6
Matthew 28:16-20: This text may be regarded as the key to the interpretation of Matthew. It is best regarded as standing in relationship to two earlier passages in the same Gospel.
First, as the commission to "make disciples of all nations," it completes the mission to the Gentiles introduced in the story of the Magi early in the story. The Gentile mission, that is to say, stands at the beginning and at the end of Matthew.
Second, and very much related to the same theme, this final part of Matthew stands in relationship to the Lord’s temptations at the beginning of His public ministry, as Matthew records them. The final temptation, we recall, took place on a mountain, where Jesus was able to see all the nations of the earth. Satan invited Him to bow down and adore him, in return for which Satan pledges to give Jesus all those nations. Now, a the end of Matthew, once again on a mountain, Jesus lays claim to those same nations as part of the truth all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Him.
Monday, June 7
Psalm 2: The early Christians knew the meaning of this psalm, and they included part of it in one of their earliest recorded prayers: "Lord, You are God, who made heaven and earth and the sea and all that is in them; who by the mouth of Your servant David have said: ‘Why did the heathen rage, and the people imagine vain things? The kings of the earth took their stand, and the rulers were gathered in counsel, against the Lord and against His Christ." And about whom are these things being said? The prayer goes on: "For truly against Your holy Servant [pais, also meaning ‘servant’ or ‘boy’] Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the people of Israel, were gathered together" (Acts 4:24-27).
The context of this prayer was the persecution of the Church by the authorities at Jerusalem (cf. all of Acts 3-4). That is to say, the psalm’s meaning, to those Christians, was not something in the distant past; it was something contemporary to on-going Christian history.
This psalm is not impressed by all the sinful revolution against the reign of God and his Christ. Like the first psalm, Psalm 2 will finish on the theme of the divine judgment, which blesses the just and condemns the wicked. Both psalms end much like the Creed: "He will come again in glory to judge."
Indeed, the parallels of Psalm 2 with the "last days" described in the Bible’s final book, the Apocalypse, are quite remarkable: the anger of the nations and the wrath of God (11:18), the political conspiracy against God (19:19), the Messiah’s "rod of iron" inflicted on his enemies (2:27; 12:5; 19:15).
Tuesday, June 8
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). T
he verb nosphizein, "to hold back," is found in only two places in Holy Scripture, here and in the Greek text of Joshua 7:1, a circumstance that should prompt us to read this account in Acts against the background of Achan’s and punishment (cf Joshua 22:20; First Chronicles 2:7).
What happened to this 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). Up to this point in Acts, the Holy Spirit has been portrayed in entirely positive and encouraging terms. Now, however, the reader is warned that receiving the Holy Spirit is a very serious business, involving grave responsibilities. Sins directly against the Holy Spirit are a particularly grievous kind of offense, against which Christians are warned in the sternest terms (cf. Mark 3:29).
Wednesday, June 9
Acts 5:12-32: 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.
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 one 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.
Thursday, June 10
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.
Friday, June 11
Acts 4:32-37: We are reading this text out of sequence today, because it speaks of the Apostle Barnabas, the missionary to Cyprus, and June 11 is the Church’s traditional day commemorating the martyrdom of Barnabas,
In this 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).
Saturday, June 12
Acts 6:1-15: In this very significant chapter, the word "disciples" appears for the first time in this book.
Also, for the first time in Christian history, the ordered ministry of the Church has become tripartite: apostles, elders (prebyteroi, whence "priests"), and "assistants" (diakonoi, whence "deacons").
Likewise in this chapter the city of Antioch, so important to this book and to the rest of Christian history, is mentioned for the first time.
In the initial five chapters of this book Luke has stressed the unity and communion of the first Christians, their unselfish devotion to one another’s well being. In the present chapter, however, we discover the first indications of conflict, which has arisen between two culturally different groups of Jewish Christians, those who speak Greek and those who speak Aramaic, the first European and the second Semitic. This early conflict, which immediately leads to a decisive and death-dealing encounter between the Church and the Sanhedrin, foreshadows worse tensions to come, eventually expressed in the historical rupture between the Church and Judaism.
This chapter also introduces the chief spokesman for the Greek-speaking ("Hellenist") Jewish Christians, Stephen. He is one of the seven men, all with Greek names, chosen for their administrative skills, in order to deal with certain practical problems in the Church related to the distribution of material resources to the widows dependent on the congregation. The "tables" in this chapter should better be translated as desks or accounting tables, for these seven men are ecclesiastical administrators, assisting the apostles. (This will be the defining function of "deacons" for many centuries to come.) Nonetheless, as we see in the ministries of Stephen and Philip, this work will also include considerable evangelism, and the Church immediately realizes a greater growth, including converts from the Jewish priesthood (Sadducees!).
Then more trouble starts, once again from the Sanhedrin. Abandoning the sound counsel of Gamaliel, the Sanhedrin responds to charges brought against Stephen by certain international groups of Jews living in Jerusalem.