Acts 3:17, 18“Now, fellow Israelites, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did your leaders. But this is how God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, saying that his Messiah would suffer.”
Peter is here giving a speech in the Temple courtyard to his fellow countrymen after the resurrection and ascension of Jesus. He is reflecting a passage from the gospel of Luke, who wrote the book of Acts as well, where Jesus says from the cross, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (23:34). Is it possible that our actions have far greater consequences than we are aware of? Google “the butterfly effect” and you will find numerous quotes about the ways small movements can have major outcomes. Some of these outcomes can be negative, like hurricanes. Some of the things we experience result in suffering. We lose loved ones. Relationships break apart. We experience illness, disease, and pain. Is it possible that suffering can be used to create good ends? That is the premise of Christianity, that despite all our misguided actions done intentionally or in ignorance, and despite the suffering that results, God is able and, in fact, has used these to bring redemption and good. We all suffer. Can God use such suffering for positive purposes?
Acts 2:39 “The promise is targeted to you and your children, but also to all who are far away—whomever, in fact, our Master God invites.” (The Message Bible)
Some Christian traditions baptize babies. Why is that? Babies can’t make a profession of faith. They can’t ask to be baptized. They don’t have proper theology. One of the verses, among others, that churches that baptize babies often point to is the one above. In it we see that God makes promises and that these promises extend to children. Infant baptism is not magic. It does not depend on “doing it right” or the power of the one placing the water. It has to do with the promise of God to “whomever, in fact, our God invites.” There is mystery here, as there is in much of life. We can’t always see how God is being faithful but we can trust that God is. Even an infant instinctively knows how to trust. So did the first believers after Pentecost. What about you?
Acts 1:14 They agreed they were in this for good, completely together in prayer, the women included. Also, Jesus’ mother, Mary, and his brothers. (The Message Bible)
In Luke 8, and remember Acts is the second volume of Luke’s work of which his gospel is the first, we find, “His mother and brothers showed up but couldn’t get through to him because of the crowd. He was given the message, ‘Your mother and brothers are standing outside wanting to see you’” (19, 20). We see that at this point Jesus’ family is on the outside looking in. Jesus’ response on that occasion was “My mother and brothers are the ones who hear and do God’s Word. Obedience is thicker than blood” (21). Now in the verse above we find them in the group of the first followers of Jesus after the first Easter. These are the folks who said that Jesus not only rose from the dead but that he was sinless and actually divine. How hard would it be to get family members, those who watched him grow up and knew him best, to come to such a conclusion? Something pretty dramatic, I would suppose. Maybe a resurrection?
Luke 24:6 The men said, “Why are you looking for the Living One in a cemetery?” (The Message Bible)
Don’t you love Easter Egg hunts? Before covid we had one each year with hundreds of plastic eggs scattered all around the grounds. Inside each egg was a piece of candy and children would seek them out, open them up and enjoy the treat. But this would only happen once a year for an hour. At no other time would children come nor would their parents bring them to look for eggs among the bushes. If they did, we would think it very strange. Even if they came the very next day, we would have to tell them the eggs are all gone and ask “didn’t you see the date and time on the signs or website?” In the above passage, the men (we later hear they are angels) tell the women who came to anoint Jesus’ body that they are too late. Jesus was no longer there. Had they missed the signs? They certainly had missed them! How about you? Where are you looking for Jesus this Easter?
Luke 19:36 As he rode, the people gave him a grand welcome, throwing their coats on the street. (The Message Bible)
The Sunday before Easter is referred to as Palm Sunday but I am not sure why. Of the four gospels, only John makes any reference to palms. Matthew and Mark use a word that gets translated as “leafy branches” but is not the same word John uses that gets translated as palms. Luke only mentions articles of clothing being thrown on the street as Jesus passes through on a donkey. The Old Testament talks about a general named Jehu who used military force to take the throne of the son of the hated king Ahab. 2 Kings 9:13 tells us that Jehu’s supporters “quickly took their cloaks and spread them under him on the bare steps. Then they blew the trumpet and shouted, ‘Jehu is king!’” Whether it is palms or leafy branches or clothing, the point was that the people were giving Jesus royal treatment as he came to Jerusalem on that Sunday before Passover. How will you give Jesus royal treatment this year?
John 12:3 The fragrance of the oils filled the house. (The Message Bible)
Mary, the sister of Lazarus and Martha, has just dumped some expensive perfume on Jesus’ feet and wiped them with her hair. Smells are amazing things. A scent can elicit a feeling or thought that can connect you with a moment from your past in a way that is even stronger than an image. The smell of a special meal cooking can do that or flowers in the air or home. I think the writer of this passage knew how impactful smells can be and perhaps was even calling upon the memory of this fragrance or a similar one that might connect the reader with a powerful occasion. We sometimes hear people ask, “What does God look like?” Perhaps another question raised here is “What does Jesus smell like?” In the context of the whole story from verses 1-8 the answer might be that he smells of love. What does love smell like to you? For Mary and Jesus in this moment it smelled like this special perfume that reflected Jesus’ upcoming death on the cross and his burial. When was the last time the fragrance of Jesus enveloped you?
Luke 15:30 ‘Then this son of yours who has thrown away your money on whores shows up and you go all out with a feast!’ (The Message Bible)
This line is insightful because in the very next passage the father responds “This brother of yours was dead, and he’s alive!” (32). They are both referring to the same person. Of course, many of us are both children to parents and siblings at the same time, but we may not always acknowledge the relationship for one reason or another. Back in the ‘60s there was a popular song titled “He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother.” Wikipedia informs us, “James Wells, Moderator of the United Free Church of Scotland, tells the story of a little girl carrying a big baby boy in his 1884 book The Parables of Jesus. Seeing her struggling, someone asked if she wasn’t tired. With surprise she replied: “No, he’s not heavy; he’s my brother” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/He_Ain%27t_Heavy,_He%27s_My_Brother). Who is the person next door, down the block, in your office or class, across from you at the dinner table? Are they someone else’s concern/responsibility/problem? Or are they God’s opportunity for you?
Luke 13:2 Jesus responded, “Do you think those murdered Galileans were worse sinners than all other Galileans? Not at all. (The Message Bible)
Most of us grew up in school systems where grades were given regularly on report cards and we knew they were important. The better the grades the more likely you were to get privileges around school, get into a better college, and end up with a more lucrative job. If you were on the other end of the spectrum, you were likely to have a much harder time, or at least we feared so. Many people came to view God in a similar manner, dispensing rewards to those who performed in a superlative way while punishing those who didn’t make the grade. The above verse is one place among several where Jesus says that is not an accurate picture. We don’t know why some people seem to get a greater degree of suffering than others, but Jesus assured us that there was not a one-to-one correlation between being bad and having bad things happen to you. That is not necessarily good news. Most of us take comfort in believing that we can manipulate the system to our advantage, that we can be good enough to avoid tragedy, that if we are vigilant all will be well. Without such a system we are helpless in the hands of a God who we cannot totally comprehend. Well, yes, maybe there is more going on with God and God’s ways than we can completely understand. What do you think?
Luke 13:35 Just then some Pharisees came up and said, “Run for your life! Herod’s got your number. He’s out to kill you!” (The Message Bible)
The person these Pharisees are warning is Jesus. Of course, Herod is a mortal threat. After all, he had John the Baptist arrested and beheaded. But when did the Pharisees become so concerned for Jesus’ well-being? Maybe these were a special few that weren’t as antagonistic towards Jesus as their other representatives are portrayed in the gospels. Maybe they just wanted Jesus out of their territory and thought this was a good way to make that happen. Maybe they wanted to be against Herod and, well, for the moment at least, the enemy of my enemy can be my friend. We simply don’t know. But the statement above allows Jesus the opportunity to explain that he is not about to change his course in response to outside influence. He knows what he is about, what he is called to do, and plans to see it through no matter what the threats or consequences may be. Can you say the same?
Luke 4:3, 4 The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.” Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone.’”
One of the interesting things about this temptation is that, at another time, Jesus is recorded as having produced a lot of bread. In Luke 9:10-17 there is a story of Jesus feeding 5,000 people with five loaves of bread and two fish. Where did all that bread come from? I guess this isn’t breaking news, but sometimes it is not the action alone that makes something right or wrong, good or bad, but the attitude or motivation behind it. In the above passage he may have been tempted to satisfy his own hunger in a non-traditional way. But perhaps he was tempted to prove his status as Son of God by changing a stone into bread. Prove it to whom? To the devil? Maybe. But maybe the temptation was to prove it to himself, to not trust his inner connection to God but to rely on outward confirmation. We can easily dismiss this temptation if we only think of the action involved. How many of us will ever consider turning a stone into bread? But if we think in terms of our attitudes and motivations, of whom we truly trust, of what assurance we require or demand…. Well, that could be a Lenten journey.