Sunday, June 27
Acts 10:34-48: PeterŐs sermon covers the established time frame of the apostolic witness, "all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John to that day, when He was taken up from us" (1:22). This was the time frame for which the apostles were eye-witnesses (10:39-41). Some years later the Gospel of Mark, which all early Christians believed to embody the preaching of Peter, would cover that exact time frame. The apostle Paul, in his sermon at Pisidia, would also stick to that identical time frame (13:23-37).
Peter finishes his sermon by referring to the fulfillment of prophecy by Jesus (verse 43), a theme that Luke has been emphasizing since the day of the LordŐs resurrection (cf. Luke 24:27,45).
Peter had planned to preach at greater length Ń indeed, he felt he had barely begun his sermon (11:15) Ń but the Holy Spirit had something else in mind. While the apostle is yet speaking, there is a sudden renewal of the same charismatic outpouring narrated in 2:4. Indeed, that first outpouring, by introducing the diverse languages of the various nations, had foreshadowed this one, in which "the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles also" (verse 45), who are promptly baptized.
Normally, of course, the pouring out of the Holy Spirit is associated with the sacramental experience of baptism and the laying on of hands (as we saw in 8:12-17). Still, the Holy Spirit is the Holy Spirit, ever blowing where He wills, sovereign even over the order of the sacraments, and subject to no confinement. In the present instance, the Holy Spirit seems to be in a hurry and eager to remove every doubt.
Monday, June 28
Acts 11:1-18: From the perspective of those whose lives had been governed by strict adherence to the strictures of the Mosaic Law, Peter had played a bold hand at Caesarea, and they require an explanation from him (verses 2-3). His explanation permits Luke to tell once again the story of PeterŐs heavenly vision, along with the subsequent events at Caesarea. Thus, every aspect of this story is told twice. Indeed, more, because Peter even tells again the story of CorneliusŐs own vision (verses 13-14) Ń the third time this story has been included in the Book of Acts.
Obviously Luke is taking considerable pains to demonstrate that what was done at Caesarea was done under divine guidance. In this connection Peter comments that what happened at CorneliusŐs house reminded him of what Jesus had earlier asserted with respect to the Holy Spirit (verse 16; cf. 1:5). Moreover, one of the SpiritŐs chief gifts is that of reminding Christians of the teaching of Jesus and throwing further light thereon (cf. John 2:17,22; 14:26).
Tuesday, June 29
The Feast of Saints Peter & Paul: Both the East and the West, from the earliest centuries, has celebrated this double feast day of those two apostles are linked in a special way by their both being martyred in the city of Rome. Even though there seem to have been Roman Christians right from the day of Pentecost (cf. Acts 2:10), the origins of that local church were always associated with the two great men who there shed their blood for the name of Christ. Writing to the Christians at Rome in the year 107, Ignatius, the Bishop of Antioch in Syria, could say to them: "I do not give you commands, as did Peter and Paul." With respect to the ministry and martyrdom of Peter and Paul at Rome, the evidence from the dawn of Christian history is overwhelming, nor was there any dissenting voice on this matter from any source.
With respect to Paul, of course, we have the Book of Acts and the Second Epistle to Timothy. With respect to Peter, we are not entirely sure when he did reach Rome, but it must have been in the early 60's. If he were at Rome in the late 50's, it is impossible to understand why he was not mentioned among that long list of Christians who are named in Romans 16.
However, we do know quite a bit about the place, time, and circumstances of PeterŐs death. The fourth century historian, Eusebius, cites testimonies from the second and early third centuries to bolster his thesis that the chief of the Apostles was crucified in Rome during NeroŐs persecution (mid-60s): Tertullian, Caius of Rome, Dionysius of Corinth. From another writer of about 200, Clement of Alexandria, we learn that PeterŐs wife was also martyred and that the apostle was a witness to it. The African, Tertullian, speaks even more boldly of that crucifixion at Rome, "where Peter equals the LordŐs passion," he treats the information as though it were common knowledge.
Indeed, the early Christians seem to have been so familiar with the circumstances of PeterŐs martyrdom that Clement of Rome (writing from that city) and Ignatius of Antioch (writing to that city) had not felt the need to elaborate on the place and circumstances . The story of the ApostleŐs crucifixion was so widely reported among the churches that the Gospel of John, probably written at Ephesus, could simply refer to the stretching out of PeterŐs hands as "signifying by what death he was to glorify God" (John 21:18f). John did not have to explain the point; everyone knew exactly how Peter had died. That this Johannine passage ("thou shalt stretch forth thy hands ...... signifying by what death he was to glorify God") did in fact refer to PeterŐs crucifixion in Rome was perfectly obvious to Tertullian. Citing that Johannine verse, he wrote: "Then was Peter Ôbound by another,Ő when he was fastened to the cross" (Scorpiace 15.3). Moreover, the symbolic extension of the hands as signifying crucifixion is attested to in early Christian and even pagan writings (Pseudo-Barnabas, Justin Martyr Irenaeus, Cyprian of Carthage, Epictetus).
The Christians at Rome, however, have never clung to this special twofold grace any jealous or exclusive fashion. Throughout the years they have share this feast day of the two apostles with all other Christians, and this feast day is observed with equal solemnity throughout the Christian East. Indeed, in recent years it has become customary for Rome and Constantinople to exchange special delegations and greetings on this day, with the intention of maintaining those cordial relationships of charity that may, in God's time and by God's grace, bring the Christians of the East and the West back to full communion one with another.
Wednesday, June 30
The Word of the Cross in Mark: Along with the question of the identity of Jesus, the "word of the Cross" is one of the two major motifs of Mark's gospel, and it is to this theme that he now more particularly directs our attention.
After PeterŐs Confession of Jesus as the Messiah in 8:29, Mark :begins a new outline of three narrative cycles centered on the theme of the Cross. Each of these cycles commences with some prediction, or prophecy, of Jesus relative to His coming suffering and death (but always includes the resurrection too, of course). In each case there follows some story of the "apostolic resistance" on the part of the disciples. As in the first half of the gospel the apostles were obliged to be cured of blindness and hardness of heart in order to confess Jesus as Messiah, so now we find them inwardly unable to come to grips with the necessity of His suffering and death. They are still men of the world, after all, mindful of the things of men and not the things of God (8:33). They are still self-centered (9:34) and ambitious (10:37).
To counter this "apostolic resistance" to the message of the LordŐs suffering and death, Jesus three times preaches a more elaborate sermon on "the word of the Cross," the necessity that each Christian take up the Cross and its shame (8:34-38), imitate Christ in becoming the servant of all (9:35; 10:42-45), and commit themselves to live by the standards of the Cross implicit in their participation in the ordinances of Baptism and Holy Communion (10:38-40).
This section of Mark is structured geographically, in the sense that each of the three prophecies takes place in a location ever nearer to Jerusalem: Caesarea Philippi (8:27), Capernaum in Galilee (9:30,33), and the neighborhood of Jericho (10:46). The importance of this journey is emphasized by MarkŐs constant use of the word "way" or "road" (hodos in Greek, the root of our English word "odometerŐ) Ń cf Mark 8:27; 9:33f; 10:17,32,46,52. Each of these Markan passages may be contrasted, in this respect, to their parallels in Matthew and Luke. While Matthew 20:30 and Luke 18:36 do have the word hodos found in Mark 10:46, it is missing in every other instance of Synoptic parallels to those verses in Mark. This fact indicates clearly that we are dealing with a special Markan accent on the "way" of the Cross.
As in the two Bread cycles earlier, the Passion-Prophecy Cycles in Mark will also end with the curing of a blind man, to symbolize the enlightenment required to grasp the word of the Cross. The blind man, Bartimaeus, is described as "sitting along the way" (10:46), and when Jesus cures his blindness at the end of chapter 10, we are told that "he followed him along the way" (10:52). He is now fully a disciple, as, in chapter 11, Jesus enters Jerusalem to suffer and to die.
Here are Mark's three Passion-Prophecy cycles along the way of the Cross:
1) First Prediction of the Passion, 8:31
Apostolic Resistance, 8:32-33
The Word of the Cross, 8:34 Ń 9:1
Coming of Elijah, 9:9-13
The Afflicted Boy, 9:14-29
2) Second Prediction of the Passion, 9:30-32
The Word of the Cross, 9:35-50
Marriage and Divorce,10:1-12
Danger of Riches,10:17-31
3) Third Prediction of the Passion,10:32-34
The Word of the Cross, 10:41-45
2nd Healing of a Blind Man, 10:46-52
Thursday, July 1
Acts 12:1-19: From the perspective of chronology, Acts 12 is something of a "flashback." LukeŐs narrative so far has taken us up to the year 46. Now, however, he looks back to the reign of Herod Agrippa I (A.D. 37-44), and more specifically to the end of that reign. He will bring us back to A.D. 46 at the end of this chapter.
For a proper understanding of this story of PeterŐs imprisonment, it is important to make note of the time when the event happens. Peter is delivered from prison at the Passover, the very night commemorating IsraelŐs deliverance from bondage in Egypt. As the angel of the Lord came through the land that night to remove IsraelŐs chains by slaying the first-born of IsraelŐs oppressors, so the delivering angel returns to strike the fetters from PeterŐs hands and lead him forth from the dungeon. And as IsraelŐs earlier liberation foreshadowed that Paschal Mystery whereby Jesus our Lord led all of us from our servitude to the satanic Pharaoh by rising from the dead, so we observe aspects of the Resurrection in PeterŐs deliverance from prison. Like the tomb of Jesus, PeterŐs cell is guarded by soldiers (verses 4,6). That cell, again like the tomb of Jesus, is invaded by a radiant angelic presence, and the very command to Peter is to "arise" (anasta Ńverse 7). It is no wonder that in regarding RafaelŐs famous chiaroscuro depiction of this scene in the apartments in the Vatican (over the window in the Stanza of Heliodorus), the viewer must look very closely, for his first impression is that he is looking at a traditional portrayal of the LordŐs Resurrection.
And what is the Church doing during all that night of the Passover? Praying (verses 5,12); indeed, it is our first record of a Paschal Vigil Service. PeterŐs guards, alas, must share the fate of EgyptŐs first-born sons (verse 19).
Friday, July 2
Acts 12:20Ń13:3: This scene of Herod meeting with the Phoenician delegation is also described by another writer contemporary to the event, Flavius Josephus, who includes a gripping depiction of HerodŐs silver robe glistening in the sunlight. Like Luke, Josephus mentions their addressing him as a "god."
The action of the angel who kills Herod Agrippa I in verse 23 stands in contrast to the angelic liberation of Peter, narrated earlier in this chapter. The description of HerodŐs death is usefully compared to the death of the blaspheming Antiochus Epiphanes IV in 2 Maccabees 9:5-28.
Immediately after telling the story, Luke takes us forward again to A.D. 46. Barnabas and Saul, having delivered the collection for the famine to the church at Jerusalem (11:30), leave to return to Antioch, taking with them John Mark, a younger kinsman of Barnabas (12:25; cf. Colossians 4:10).
Then begins the story of PaulŐs three missionary journeys, which will occupy the next several chapters. We observe that Antioch has now risen to the status of a missionary center (which it has remained unto this day!).
Indeed, the very severe political climate at Jerusalem in the late 60s, culminating in the destruction of the city by the Romans in the year 70, caused Antioch to surpass Jerusalem as a missionary center in the East, rather much as Rome became in the West, and, somewhat later, Alexandria in Egypt. In the year 325, these three churches (Rome, Alexandria, and Antioch) were made the patriarchal churches, each having oversight of the other churches in those three continents that shape the Mediterranean Sea.
Saturday, July 3
Acts 13:4-12: Chapters 13-14 of Acts narrate PaulŐs first missionary journey during the years 47-48, also mentioned in 2 Timothy 3:11.
The apostles depart from the port of Seleucia, which, sitting sixteen miles west, served the city of Antioch. They first visit the homeland of Barnabas, the island of Cyprus, which had a good number of Jewish inhabitants (cf. 1 Maccabees 15:23). The ruins of the ancient city of Salamis, on the east coast of the island, can easily be reached by taxi from the nearby modern city of Famagusta, and, if the visitor is as fortunate as myself, the taxi driver will include a private tour and some local fresh oranges for a reasonable price.
It will be standard practice for the apostle Paul, when he comes to evangelize any new city, to pay his first visit to "the synagogue of the Jews" (13:5,14; 14:1; 16:13; 17:10,17; 18:4,19; 19:8; 28:17,23). (Indeed, this expression, "synagogue of the Jews," is preserved on a small marble plaque that once adorned the synagogue at Corinth; it may be seen today in the small museum in that city.)
Traversing the length of Cyprus, the apostles arrive at Paphos on the islandŐs southwest coast. Here they make the right impression on the local proconsul, Sergius Paulus, by putting a false prophet in his proper place. Sergius Paulus, of the illustrious Roman family Paula, was well known in his day and is mentioned by name in inscriptions from Cyprus, Antioch in Pisidia, and Rome. Easily ranking the Centurion Cornelius of Caesarea, Sergius Paulus becomes the most highly placed Roman official to join the Church.