Archives for posts with tag: Acts

I am back from vacation and the Parish Life Conference, so I hope to keep this blog more regularly updated.  Today I will return to the book of Genesis, chapter 15.

Chapter 15 offers a pivotal moment in the Bible, primarily because in verse 6 Abram (later re-named and subsequently referred to here as Abraham) is “accounted righteous” by God.  Whether we like it or not, in a very real way this one verse has shaped the past 2,000 years of history.  The reason I make such a bold statement is simple: this verse is the cornerstone of the defense/apologia of the Christian movement as seen most explicitly in Acts, Romans, and Galatians.  And, of course, we know that history has been changed because of Christianity.

According to the teachings of Jesus Christ, as thoroughly outlined especially by St Paul of Tarsus, being accounted righteous by God is independent of being perfectly obedient to the Mosaic Law.  I believe it is important for Christians to understand that the teachings of Jesus and Paul–that righteousness is found apart from the Mosaic Law–is not a “new” concept, but one found in the Old Testament.  Put differently, in defending the teaching of Christ, Paul did not invent a new argument or concept, but simply referred back to Scripture to make his case.

In Paul’s time, as in our own, we are tempted to think (even if we profess something different with our mouths) we are righteous because we follow certain rules (insert the rules of a specific religion or denomination).  With religious Jews, it is easy to fall into the trap of righteousness by following the Mosaic Law.  However, as Paul correctly points out, Abraham is deemed righteous by God BEFORE the Mosaic Law even exists.  Therefore, if one is accounted righteous before the Law is given, then righteousness does not come through the Law.  Instead, as Genesis 15:6 indicates, it comes through belief in God.

Now it is important to keep in mind that the word translated “believe” in Genesis 15:6 is more than an intellectual ascent or a simple confession of faith.  Rather, biblical belief in God means you put your trust in God.  I often compare this to kids and their “belief” in gravity.  Give a 3-year old kid a balloon and take him outside.  Watch him let go of the balloon and cry when the balloon flies away.  The child has such a strong trust in gravity he believes whatever goes up will always come down.  The 3-year old in this example has a biblical “belief” in gravity–he behaves according to something unseen based on a trust in that principle.

Ultimately, putting this kind of faith, trust, or belief in God is what leads to us being accounted righteous.  It is our authentic admission that we are insufficient before God, and our recognition that only He can correct that, which leads us to holiness.  Certainly, if we have that sincere faith, action should follow; we should behave in a certain way.  As St James pointed out in his epistle, if our behavior does not match the confession of our lips then it proves we do not have a biblical belief in God, but only the kind of intellectual belief I mentioned previously–and one shared even by the demons (James 2:18-19)!  Yet, we should never permit ourselves to think our actions make us holy.  It is only God who can deem us holy, and only when we are willing to admit our deficiencies and inadequacies. 

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For those of us who follow the Orthodox Christian calendar, tomorrow is the 40th day of Easter, which is also known as Ascension.  We celebrate this great feast in honor and remembrance of Jesus being taken into heaven on the 40th day after His resurrection from the dead. 

Unfortunately, many Christians overlook the significance of Ascension.  Even we Orthodox often do that, especially after we have been celebrating the greatest feast of all, Pascha/Easter, for 40 days.  Ascension is the time when all of the Easter decorations come down and is when the church begins to return to what we might call ‘normalcy’–i.e. the way it looks pretty much every other time during the year.  But the significance of the Ascension should not be overlooked.

The feast of the Ascension should make clear to us how Christ’s resurrection was fundamentally and functionally different than any other resurrection recorded in Scripture.  In the case of the others who were resurrected, they all eventually died again.  But the celebration of the Ascension shows that Jesus’ resurrection was unique.  It is different than all of the others.  What makes His unique?

Unlike any other accounts of someone being raised from the dead, only Jesus is said to have been taken into heaven to be seated at the right hand of God.  To be seated at the right hand of God indicates at least two things.  First, to be at the “right hand” of God indicates Jesus has been raised in power and glory, for the right hand is biblically the hand of blessing and power and glory.  Second, and closely related to the first point, to be “seated” indicates Jesus is enthroned as a judge.  Even in a modern American courtroom we can see how the judge is the one who is seated.  When the judge enters everyone stands until he is seated; and when the judgment is announced by the judge, the defendant rises while the judge remains seated to announce the judgment.  This focus of Jesus as the judge is confirmed by St Paul’s sermon to the Athenians (Acts 17:31: “[God] has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained. He has given assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead.”). 

This second aspect of the coming judgment is often minimized today by Christians and non-Christians alike.  We prefer to view Jesus as a very nice, forgiving, meek man.  And certainly Jesus was nice and forgiving and meek when He walked the earth preaching.  But His promise, and the Scriptural promise, is that He will return in the same way in which He was taken (i.e. in power and glory); and when He returns this second time it will be “to judge the living and the dead,” as we proclaim in the Nicene Creed.  I jokingly refer to this scenario in baseball terminology.  It will be like when the closer enters the game from the bullpen to his music.  Jesus’ song would be something like, “No more Mr. Nice Guy.”

Without minimizing the severity of the judgment, I believe it is important to point out one thing.  The primary basis of the judgment, according to Jesus’ words, is not how ‘moral’ we are (which so often leads to self-righteousness, which Jesus strongly condemns).  It is not about how often we go to church or how many Bible verses we memorize.  When He returns, Jesus will check up to see if we have responded to His grace by acting graciously towards others.  In Matthew 25:31-46, Jesus laid out His criteria for judging: feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, housing strangers, clothing the naked, and visiting the sick and imprisoned.

Seeing that Jesus said nothing about blogging, I better get busy doing some of these other things…

Yesterday our parish hosted our annual Mediterranean Festival.  It was another great year for us.  I would like to thank everyone who worked countless hours to make our event a success.

Speaking of yesterday, I want to highlight an interesting aspect of yesterday’s Epistle reading (according to the Orthodox lectionary).  We read Acts 9:32-42.  This passage speaks of the healing of Aeneas and the raising from the dead of Tabitha by the holy apostle Peter.

Here is what I find most fascinating about the passage: Aeneas is the name of a Trojan hero in Greek mythology (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aeneas).  He left the city of Troy and helped start Rome.  According to the myth, Aeneas is considered a progenitor of the Romans.  He was no small figure as both Julius Caesar and Augustus traced their lineage to him.  He was also the subject of Virgil’s Aeneid. 

So what makes this interesting in relation to the Bible is that the original readers of Acts almost certainly would have made a connection between the Aeneas of mythology and the Aeneas of Acts 9.  Thus, when the original reader heard, “Aeneas, Jesus Christ heals you” in Acts 9:34, they heard much more than we hear (unless it is explained to us).  They hear, “Aeneas, a founder of the Roman Empire/dynasty, you are healed by Jesus Christ.” 

The healing of Aeneas in Acts is written as an invitation to all Romans–and by extension, all nations (i.e. non-Jews/Gentiles)–to accept the healing provided by the teaching of the Jewish messiah, Jesus of Nazareth.