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Easter 4, Cycle C (2016)

God takes charge. Sermons on these lessons will highlight Providence and Justification.

Psalm 23
This famed psalm attributed to David (but not likely his work) expresses confidence in God the shepherd’s protection and extols the comfort of Providence. God is said to lead us in right paths [magal]. The reference to “soul” [nephesh] connotes vitality and the principle of life; not the endorsement of a Greek philosophical dualism (v. 3). Thus we need fear no evil [ra] (v. 4). Yahweh is compared to a gracious host (v. 5). Surrounded by goodness and mercy [chesed, lovingkindness], the psalmist pledges regular worship in the temple (v. 6). This is a psalm about gratitude to God.

Application: Sermons on this famed text will give thanks to God’s Providential care and the gratitude that follows from it (Sanctification).

Acts 9:36-43
Again as previously noted, we are remind ourselves that this book is the second half of the two-part early history of the Church attributed to Paul’s Gentile associate, Luke (Colossians 4:14; 2 Timothy 4:11; Philemon 24). It is particularly concerned to affirm the universal mission of the Church (1:8). This lesson is the story of Peter’s resurrection of Dorcas (Aramaic name Tabitha) while in Joppa (a town west of Jerusalem). She is identified as a disciple [mathetria], the only woman so titled in the New Testament (v. 36). Peter had been in Lydda (just ten miles southeast of Joppa) and is summoned to Joppa (vv. 37-38). He arrives where the grieving for Dorcas had begun. Widows [chera] who are reported to have grieved may refer to a group of women who held an office in the Church dedicated to the service of God (v. 39). The resurrection happens after Peter prays for privacy. Many in Joppa learn of it and come to believe (vv. 40-42). Peter stays in Joppa for a time with Simon a tanner (v. 43). Such an occupation forced workers to deal with ritually unclean animal carcasses. Peter’s willingness to stay with Simon indicates that he had begun to disregard Jewish practices.

Application: This lesson is an occasion to proclaim how God uses different means (the Spirit works differently in different contexts) to accomplish his ends (Providence). The role and equal status of woman might also be considered (Social Ethics).

Revelation 7:9-17
We read again in this lesson from an Apochryphal book written in the last part of the first century expressing hope for salvation after a world-ending new creation. Although parts of the book may predate the fall of Jerusalem, it is likely that it achieved its final form during the reign of Domitian (81-96 AD) who is said to have persecuted Christians for refusing to address him as lord and god. Written by John (1:1, 4, 9; 22:8), whose identity is not clear despite the tradition’s identification of him with the disciple, the book’s Semitic Greek style suggests that its author was Jewish. It is the report of seven (the mystical Hebrew number for fullness) dreams. It relies heavily on eschatological images of the book of Daniel and other Old Testament texts (see 1:7 [cf. Daniel 7:3]; 1:12-16 [cf. Daniel 10:5-9]).

In this lesson we read about a vision of the multitude of the redeemed, transpiring between the opening of the sixth and seventh seals (opened by the lamb [presumably Christ] in 6:1). The account begins with a vision of the multitude from every nation standing before the throne [thronos] (connoting God) and the lamb [arnion] robed in white. They carry palm branches (symbolizing righteousness and victory) (v. 9). A praise psalm is offered regarding salvation belonging to God and Christ (v. 10). Angels stood around the throne of God and also around elders and four living creatures. They worship God, singing a sevenfold ascription of praise to God (vv. 11-12). In dialogue with an elder, John learns that those robed in white are those who have weathered persecution and been washed in Christ’s sacrifice (vv. 13-14). Those who endured the persecution in the great ordeal are said to have a favored position, standing before the throne of God. They worship him day and night, receiving shelter (v. 17). They will also hunger and thirst no more, enjoying comfort from the heart (Isaiah 49:10; Psalm 121:6) (v. 16). The lamb at the center of the throne will be the shepherd of those who suffered, it is proclaimed. He will guide them, and it is said that God will wipe away [exaleipho, smear out] all their tears (v. 17).

Application: With this lesson, sermons should explore what heaven will be like and proclaim how that Eschatological vision of God who cares for us can orient our lives in the present (Providence and Justification by Grace).

John 10:22-30
Again we note that this book is the last of the four gospels to be written, probably not composed until the last two decades of the first century. It is very different in style in comparison to the other three (so-called Synoptic) Gospels. In fact it is likely based on these earlier gospels. The book has been identified with John the Son of Zebedee, the disciple whom Jesus loved, and this claim was made as long ago as late in the first century by the famed theologian of the early Church Irenaeus (Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 1, p. 414). It is likely that it was written by a disciple of John.

Recently, though, some scholars have suggested an alternative account of the origins of John’s gospel. Appealing to the writings of a late-first/early-second century Bishop Papias, who may have implied that John’s gospel was the result of eyewitness origins, such scholars have argued that the book is in fact an authentic historical testimony to Jesus (Richard Bauckham, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses, especially pp. 423ff; cf. Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 1, pp. 154-155). Regardless of its origins, though, most scholars agree that the book’s main agenda was probably to encourage Jewish Christians in conflict with the synagogue to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God (20:31).

This is a lesson, unique to John’s gospel, which relates Jesus’ teaching of his unity with the Father. At the Festival of Dedication (commemoration the rededication of the temple in Jerusalem by Judas Maccabeus in 164BC after its desecration by Antiochus Epiphanes in the Maccabean era), Jesus walks into the temple in the Portico of Solomon (a cloister on the east side of the buildings (vv. 22-23). Jews gather around him asking Jesus to tell them plainly if he is the Messiah (v. 24). Jesus responds that he has told them, and they did not believe and that the works he has done in his Father’s name [onoma] testify to him (vv. 25-26). Jesus next elaborates that his followers (his sheep [following up on his previous use of the image of the good shepherd in vv. 11-18]) hear him and follow him. He will give them eternal life he proclaims. Apparently teaching “eternal security,” Jesus asserts that they are his forever (vv. 27-29). Finally Jesus asserts that he and Father are one [heis] (v. 30).

Application: This text invites the proclamation that our lives are in God’s hands (Justification by Grace). This could receive further elaboration with reference to the Trinitarian character of God, who can be many (with many) and still one.

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Authors of
Lectionary Scripture Notes
Norman A. Beck is the Poehlmann Professor of Theology and Classical Languages and the Chairman of the Department of Theology, Philosophy, and Classical Languages at Texas Lutheran University
Dr. Norman A. Beck
Mark Ellingsen is professor at the Interdenominational Theological Center in Atlanta, Georgia
Dr. Mark Ellingsen