Where to begin? These readings are packed to bursting with powerful images and lessons. The message is, as always, His holy arm, has won Him victory. JSB
When in doubt, begin with Jesus. His words, This is my command: that you keep on loving each other just as I have loved you, CJB is the center of today’s readings.
We often twist Jesus’ next words in our understanding. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. ESV We too often imagine the description to apply to one who jumps on a grenade to save others or rushing into a burning house to save a child. While the application fits Jesus’ words, it is far from what he intended us to understand.
Remember that this passage of John is part of a lengthy talk Jesus gave to his disciples. He was telling Andrew, Peter, James, and John that they would not go back to fishing. James would be the first to be killed, and Matthew would never collect any more taxes. All of them would spend the remainder of their lives teaching people about the Love of God. They would lay down their former lives to imitate Jesus.
Think of the woman who takes care of her enfeebled mother, or the man who goes home for lunch to feed his bedridden wife, or the parents who work five jobs so their children can go to school. Think of all the every day greater love.
The reading in Acts comes at the end of the chapter which describes Peter’s dream of unclean foods being offered for him to eat, followed by an invitation to visit the home of Cornelius, a centurion. It is important to remember that Peter was a guest of Simon, a tanner. On the long list of unclean people, those who tanned animal hides were the lowest. The Bible does not explain why Peter was staying there, but it does show us that he was becoming more willing to accept people of all stripes.
Cornelius sent for Peter because an angel told him to do so. When Peter arrived, Cornelius asked him to tell his household all that God had given him. Peter began with; God has shown me that I must not consider any person ritually unclean or defiled. GNT The lesson of staying with Simon, most likely at God’s insistence; the lesson of the being urged to eat unclean food in the dream; and the invitation to visit a Roman centurion.
Peter likely remember the hundreds of times the scriptures indicated that God was the God of all people, that God loved all people, that God would bring all people to Himself. If you can eat pig and shrimp, you can hang out with people from anywhere.
Sadly, there are a lot of hate groups calling themselves Christians that have not learned that lesson. I had no control over who gave birth to me. I had no control over what they taught me in the early years of my life. I had no control over where we lived. As is the case for most of us, I gradually exerted more control as I aged. Yet, even now I am bombarded with efforts to control my thinking. Media, friends, church, all play a role in shaping who I am this day.
Please note that church does not necessarily mean Jesus. I have yet to see or hear of a church that imitates Jesus perfectly. Look how long it took Peter to learn it was safe to meet a Roman. Paul wrote nasty things about Mark, his former helper. John was witnessed relaxing in a Roman bathhouse when a certain man entered whom John could not stand. John left in a huff. If the First Twelve could be so human, don’t imagine we can do any better.
Speaking of John, verse 5 of the reading from his letter is a favorite quote for many. Who can defeat the world? Only the person who believes that Jesus is the Son of God. ESV It is easy to be certain there is only one path to Heaven, especially when we are on that path and have some control over who else gets to use the path. We tend not to invite people we don’t like. You know it’s true.
Read on to verse 6: He it is who came by water and blood, Jesus Christ, not with water alone but with water and blood, and it is the Spirit that bears witness, for the Spirit is Truth. NJB Water is associated with life, and Jesus gave us baptism to remind us of new life in him. But water is also present in human birth. We spend nine months floating in a sac of water before we enter this world. Jesus did as well. When the time is right, the water sac breaks, and we become little air-breathing humans. Jesus made that transition.
Blood is part of human birth because the mother’s blood brings oxygen and food to the unborn baby. That supply must be broken at birth. Jesus—like us—went from a passive parasite to an independent human able to breath and sleep, while needing help for nearly everything else. Meanwhile, the mother’s body must expel everything associated with the infant, and that is mostly blood.
The stronger image for blood is at the cross. Jesus bled perhaps as much as half of his blood before death. That loss is what killed him so quickly. His heart gave out.
In John’s Gospel we read: one of the soldiers pierced his side with a lance; and immediately there came out blood and water. NJB Here again is the blood and water, witness to the Messiah. John along includes this detail, but we know that John was the only apostle who dared to stay near the site. He laid great stress on this by adding: This is the evidence of one who saw it—true evidence, and he knows that what he says is true—and he gives it so that you may believe as well. NJB
How does the presence of both blood and water prove that Jesus is the Messiah? It goes back to birth and baptism. There is also an important medical note to add. With so much blood loss, Jesus heart and whole body struggled to survive. The heart is encased in a sac called the pericardium. In times of great physical stress, water builds up in the pericardium putting pressure on the already struggling heart. In the end, water and blood did not give Jesus life but death.
Jesus came to live with us through water and blood. He gave us water baptism as a reminder of our new birth, and he gave us his blood to complete that new birth. It is the Holy Spirit of God that tells us of this Truth. We cannot believe it on our own. When we accept the Spirit, we accept both God and God’s Son, the Messiah.
Read my earlier comments on this theme here.
Be righteous and do good.