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Easter 5, Cycle A

What God’s love does to us. The lessons direct us to the impact grace has on everyday life (Sanctification and its relation to Justification by Grace).

Psalm 31:1-5, 15-16
The song is a lament prayer for deliverance from personal enemies, traditionally ascribed to David. As we said last week, scholars have noted that in most of the Psalms of David references to him may be a way of using the great king to represent the inner life of all his subjects and so of all the faithful (Brevard Childs, Introduction to the Old Testament as Scripture, p. 521). In that sense this song is about the agonies we encounter in life.

At the outset the Psalm includes instructions to temple musicians. The psalmist articulates a cry for help, calling on Yahweh not to have him be put to shame, but to be delivered in his righteousness [tsedaqah] (vv. 1-2). We have previously noted that although in its original Hebraic context this could connote legal, judgmental actions on the Lord’s part or a legalism, most Old Testament scholars believe that this attribute of God is not in any way punitive but more about the relationship. Indeed, the concept has to do with God’s loyalty to his covenant in saving us, and even at times later in the Old Testament era the righteousness of God is construed as something bestowed on the faithful (Gerhard von Rad, Old Testament Theology, Vol. 1, pp. 373, 376ff) in a manner not unlike what Paul teaches happens to Christians in Christ (Romans 3:21-26). God’s judgment, the psalmist seems to say, is one of mercy. In this context it is clear why the psalmist calls Yahweh his rock and refuge and begs the Lord to lead, guide, and take him out of the net (vv. 3-4). Yahweh is said to have redeemed us (v. 5-6). Because our times [eth] are in God’s hands, petitions are offered for deliverance from enemies and to be saved in his steadfast love (vv. 15-16). The reference in verse 6 to having God’s face [aph] shine [or] upon the psalmist is a plea that God would show his favor.

Application: The song invites us to identify with David and his despair over enemies in our lives, the sense of shame (v. 1) and adversity we encounter (v. 4) (Sin). But there is hope because we are in God’s hands and he shows us favor (Providence and Justification by Grace). This sermon could also provide an opportunity to explain God’s righteousness (see above second paragraph).

Acts 7:55-60
We continue to devote attention to this second half of a two-part history of the church traditionally attributed to Luke, a physician and Gentile associate of Paul (Colossians 4:14; 2 Timothy 4:11; Philemon 24). Because of the book’s openness to the universal mission of the church (1:8), it is not surprising that the openness to Gentiles would surface in an openness to Hellenized believers (those who had been socialized in the Greek culture and its ways). There is some dispute about the date of composition, whether it was composed before Paul’s martyrdom (in 65-67 AD) or much later, after the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple in 70 AD. In any case the author is concerned to stress the universal mission of the church (1:8) and so also makes an effort to validate Paul’s ministry.

In a sense the lesson’s account of the martyrdom of Stephen conveys vindication of the church’s universal mission. For Stephen, one of the seven deacons, was a Hellenized Jewish Christian who only came to leadership as a result of the first leaders of the church (traditional Jewish Christians who had not learned Greek and been Hellenized) being willing to share leadership with Jewish Christians not like them (Acts 6). An account of the heroic martyrdom of one from outside the inner circle of followers of Jesus seems to certify the validity of this inclusive character of the gospel.

Following a lengthy sermon before the high priest in Jerusalem (chapter 7) and filled with the Spirit, Stephen is reported as gazing into heaven and seeing the glory of the Lord with Jesus (whom he identifies as Son of Man [huios tou anthropos]) standing at his right hand (v. 55). This is a title used by Luke and other gospel writers in revelations of the Eschaton in fulfillment of Daniel 7:13 (cf. Luke 22:69; Mark 13:26). Stephen urges his persecutors to look (v. 56). They cover their ears and with a loud shout rushing against him (v. 57). They drag Stephen out of the city and stone him. Saul [later Paul] received many of the coats of those executing the martyr (v. 58). While being stoned Stephen prayed that the Lord would receive his spirit [pneuma], and then he knelt down and cried that the Lord would not hold this sin against his executioners (vv. 59-60, echoing Jesus’ words in Luke 23:34).

Application: In accord with Luke’s priorities, sermons could focus on the Holy Spirit’s work both in revealing Christ to Stephen and also giving him the courage to endure the suffering and even to forgive those torturing him. Get hearers to identify with Stephen, how the Spirit (Pneumatology) can reveal Christ by grace and so give them courage in facing trials and love to forgive (Sanctification). (Realized) Eschatology (the vision of Christ in his glory) might also be considered as a source of strength for coping with today’s trials.

1 Peter 2:2-10
Again we note that this pastoral exhortation (circular letter) was probably written between 70 AD and 90 AD. It was probably written by an elder in Rome claiming to be Peter to a Gentile church at the lower levels of the socio-economic spectrum in Turkey. The latter date and high-quality Greek make it unlikely to have been a work of the apostle. The lesson is part of the epistle’s appeal for holiness, in this case a discussion of the living stone (Christ) and a chosen people.

The author urges the faithful to long for pure spiritual milk like newborn infants, so that they may grow into salvation. (The word of Christ is like a mother’s milk.) The Lord is good, he adds (vv. 2-3). He urges the faithful to come to Christ, a living stone though rejected (an apparent reference to Isaiah 28:16), yet precious in God’s sight (v. 4). He further exhorts the faithful like living stones to let themselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Christ (v. 5). Isaiah 28:16 is quoted regarding the laying in Zion (the oldest and highest part of Jerusalem) of a cornerstone which is precious and that whoever believes in him will not be put to shame (v. 6). It is noted that to those who believe, he is precious. But for those who do not believe, the stone rejected becomes the head of the corner, a stone [lithos] that makes them stumble (Isaiah 8:14-15 is quoted) (vv. 7-8). The author tells readers that they are a chosen race [genos elekton], a royal priesthood [basileios hiera], a holy nation, in order to proclaim the mighty acts of the one who called them out of darkness (v. 9). This is a word that speaks to the oppression experienced by the epistle’s audience. Hosea 2:23 is quoted in closing, teaching that though once not a people, the faithful have become God’s people [laos theou], receiving mercy (v. 10).

Application: A sermon on this text invites consideration of the Priesthood of All Believers (Sanctification), how God in Christ has made us precious somebodies (a chosen people — Justification by Grace and Predestination). We have vocations — for all tasks in life are sacred callings providing us with occasions to practice holy activities that serve God and others.

John 14:1-14
We have previously noted the well-known fact that this is the last of the gospels to be written, probably not until the last decade of the first century, and so not likely by the apostle John but by a follower of his. It was probably written for a Jewish Christian community in conflict with the synagogue, one in which Christians had been expelled from Jewish society. The gospel’s aim was to encourage its readers to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God (20:31). In line with this overall agenda, the lesson is part of Jesus’ Farewell Discourse after the Last Supper. In these verses he offers teaching on the believer’s relation to the glorified Christ, comforting words following his previous prediction of Peter’s denial of him (13:36-38).

Jesus begins by exhorting the faithful not to let their hearts be troubled and to believe in God and him (v. 1). He notes that in his Father’s house there are many dwelling places; Jesus says he goes to prepare a place for them (v. 2). If he goes he promises to return to take the faithful to him, so that where he is they may be also (v. 3). He claims that his followers know where he is going (v. 4). This discussion typifies John’s commitment to presenting a direct identity between the earthly Jesus and the glorified Christ of the Eschaton (Brevard Childs, The New Testament as Canon: An Introduction, p. 135).

Thomas objects that the disciples do not know where he is going and wants to know the way (v. 5). Jesus responds that he is the way, the truth, and the life, and that no one comes to the Father but through him (v. 6). To know him is to know the Father (v. 7). This use of the phrase “I am” [ego eimi] by John’s Jesus is a way of identifying him with Yahweh (which literally means “I am who I am”).

Philip asks Jesus to be shown the Father (v. 8). Jesus responds that whoever has seen him has seen the Father (v. 9). He claims to be in the Father and the Father in him. His words are not spoken on his own, Jesus claims, for the Father in him does his works (v. 10). Jesus says that he is in the Father and the Father in him. If this is not believed, he should be believed because of his works (v. 11). He proceeds to note that those who believe in him will do the works that Jesus does, even greater works as he goes to the Father (v. 12). He adds that he will do whatever they ask in his name so that the Father may be glorified in the Son (v. 13). If anything is asked in his name, Jesus says he will do it (v. 14).

Application: A sermon on this text should concern itself with Christology (and Trinity), the relation between Father and Son, and the peace of mind and security in facing what lies ahead that this word offers (Justification by Grace). There is no judgmental, harsh God hidden behind Jesus’ love and compassion. We get the God we see in Jesus. He prophesies that this will get us to do great works (Sanctification).

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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