Weekly Bible Reflection
Luke: Signs of the Kingdom
Second Sunday of Easter
Text: Acts 5. 27-32
Begin by using the Bible Study method as outlined
Are there things we can still learn from the first Christian communities, or is there too big a gap of time and culture between their world and ours?
A Window on the Text
For the next few weeks we are reminded of the early life of the church following Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension. Luke continues the story by taking us on a journey from Jerusalem to Judaea to Samaria to Rome – the very ends of the earth! We learn about what happened to Peter and John, to Saul who became Paul, to Stephen the first martyr and all the new Christians that followed in their footsteps.
Peter and John have again been arrested; this time the other disciples are with them. They are jailed but miraculously released: when the Sanhedrin sends for them their cell is locked, the guards are still there at the doors, but no-one is inside. Luke says that the captain of the temple guard and the chief priests were ‘puzzled’ – something of an understatement!
The experience of the resurrection and the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost have turned the group of frightened disciples into fearless witnesses. They are eager not only to describe what they had seen and experienced of God in Jesus Christ but to explain the meaning of it to others. Many of them gradually came to sacrifice their lives to truth: ‘martyr’ is the Greek word for witness.
Four features of the first Christian community challenge us across the centuries: they were happy together; they were excited by what God was doing; the ordinary people liked them; and people were impressed enough to join them.*
Responding as a community
- The apostles were given strict orders not to teach in Jesus’ name – yet the High Priest accuses them of “filling Jerusalem with your teaching”. Are we afraid to fill the place in which we live with our teaching about Jesus?
- Peter and the other apostles say “We must obey God rather than men!” When would it be right for us to disobey authority in the name of God?
- Those four features of the first Christian ‘church’ took effort. They worked at being a community with a shared life; they focussed on addressing the needs of the poor; they welcomed each other into their homes hospitably; and they worshipped joyfully together. Think about your own community – are there things you could share? Are the world’s poorest communities better off right now because of your church? How many of your church know what colour your front door is? What would happen to your church’s worship if you made a personal effort to be enthusiastic? *
Spend a few moments in silence. Reflect on those situations where the church is persecuted and Christians are still jailed for their beliefs and actions.
Then meditate for a while on these words of Hildegard of Bingen (1098 – 1179):
Be not lax in celebrating;
Be not lazy in the festive service of God;
Be ablaze with enthusiasm.
Let us be an alive, burning offering before the altar of God! *
- * With acknowledgment to 365 Ways to Make a Difference, by Peter Graystone for Christian Aid.
- The Sanhedrin was composed of members of the Sadducees, a Jewish sect who were the aristocracy of the priestly class – and included the High Priest himself and his associates. They had great political and economic power through the Temple activities and their relationship with the ruling class – local despots and Roman overlords. Once the Temple was destroyed in AD 70 they disappeared and were never replaced. The Pharisees were the ones to save Judaism after AD 70.
- Peter and the other apostles state that the authorities had killed Jesus “by hanging him on a tree”. This punishment of a man guilty of a capital offence, according to Deuteronomy 21: 22 – 23, symbolised divine judgement and rejection – yet God has exalted Christ Jesus to his own right hand as Prince and Saviour that he might give repentance and forgiveness of sins to Israel. This was a scandalous and incredible claim to make – and shows the immensity of the change brought about in the disciples’ minds that they are not afraid to make it.