Easter 6 theme: Knowing God personally, and telling others
Psalm 66:8-20 — Praise for God who is known through His faithful love
John 14:15-21 — The promise of the Holy Spirit, the continuing presence of Jesus, who makes the reality of God known
Acts 17:22-31 — The Athenians discover how God is not “unknown” but known personally
1 Peter 3:13-22 — Baptism is a sign of coming to know God personally in rebirth, and opportunity to tell others why we belong to Christ
See also a short message on this theme: How God helps us know Him
Psalm 66:8-20 — Praise for God who is known through His faithful love
The psalmist’s testimony to what God has done in his life
8-9 Praise our God, all peoples, let the sound of His praise be heard; He has preserved our lives and kept our feet from slipping.
“Preserved our lives” – praise, identifying God as the source of deliverance, beginning with the Red Sea miracle, Exodus 14, then more generally.
10 For You, God, tested us; You refined us like silver.
“Tested us” – God allows difficulties to refine faith, separating out the dross of our lack of trust and other sin.
• For further study see Psalm 17:3, 26:2, Proverbs 17:3; Jeremiah 9:7.
11-12 You brought us into prison and laid burdens on our backs.You let people ride over our heads; we went through fire and water, but you brought us to a place of abundance.
People ride over our heads” – a picture of submission to a foreign ruler.
13-14 I will come to your temple with burnt offerings and fulfill my vows to You — vows my lips promised and my mouth spoke when I was in trouble.
15 I will sacrifice fat animals to you and an offering of rams; I will offer bulls and goats.
16 Come and hear, all you who fear God; let me tell you what He has done for me.
“What He has done for me” – notwithstanding the testing of vv.10-12 the psalmist’s focus is on God’s goodness.
17 I cried out to him with my mouth; His praise was on my tongue.
Cried out to Him… His praise” – prayer and praise went together in the OT but see Phil. 4:6; 1 Tim. 2:1.
18-19 If I had cherished sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened; but God has surely listened and has heard my prayer.
“Cherished sin” – or (lit.) aimed for sin: selfish prayer does not get heaven’s attention. This is not saying that sinless perfection is a condition, but that sincerity of heart is important.
20 Praise be to God, who has not rejected my prayer or withheld His love from me!
The psalmist looks back on the great deliverances that tested the nation’s faith, and resolves to give praise and testimony for prayers mercifully and faithfully answered. The call, “Come and hear… let me tell you what He has done for me” headlines our theme this week.
How have we separated prayer, and praise, v.17? How might we better integrate prayer with praise?
John 14:15-21 — The promise of the Holy Spirit who makes God known
Jesus promises to be will be a continuing, living presence
15 “If you love Me, keep My commands.
“If you love Me” – Jesus uses the familiar language of the covenant, Deut. 5:10, 6:5-6, 10:12-13 but in the new context of the enabling of the Holy Spirit, v.16.
16-17 “And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Advocate to help you and be with you forever — the Spirit of Truth. The world cannot accept Him, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him. But you know Him, for He lives with you and will be in you.
“The Father… will give you” – first in a series of important passages about the Holy Spirit to be given, making v.15 more of a joyful consequence than a hard command.
“The Spirit of Truth – the Holy Spirit “who leads into all truth”, or communicates the truth about God.
“You know Him” – Judaism viewed the Holy Spirit as an aspect of God; now Jesus presents Him as a distinct spiritual person.
• For further study, see John 14:26, 15:26, 16:7-15.
18-19 “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Before long, the world will not see Me any more, but you will see Me. Because I live, you also will live.
“I will not leave you” – like Moses’ parting words to Israel, Deut 31:6; see also Joshua 1:5.
“You will see Me” – with the resurrection in mind. And see in the sense of strongly perceive, at Pentecost.
20 “On that day you will realise that I am in my Father, and you are in Me, and I am in you.
“On that day you will realise” – at Pentecost, what He had taught would fall into place for them, and the indwelling He refers to would become a reality. Here he rounds off His reply to Philip who had asked, “Show us the Father”, John 14:8.
21 “Whoever has My commands and keeps them is the one who loves Me. The one who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I too will love them and show Myself to them.”
“Has My commands” – as v.15, the evidence of the “who loves Me” relationship is having taken to heart Jesus’ way of living and showing it in everyday life.
In this discourse, Jesus combines two different ideas which are actually closely related.
One is the evidence of knowing and loving Jesus being shown in lives that reflect Jesus’ teaching.
The other is the disciples knowing the Advocate and Helper, the Spirit of Truth, who leads us into the truth and reality of God.
So the reality of loving Jesus and keeping His commands – showing the evidence of being His – is what the Holy Spirit leads and enables. We come to Scripture after the resurrection, when everything changed. The letters to church were written in this context. For us, as for them, discovering the reality of living the way Jesus taught is a lot easier with the divine Coach working with us.
What are the most important commands for us to keep (hint, Jesus answered this, Matthew 22:36-40). How does knowing the Holy Spirit enable this?
Acts 17:22-31 — The Athenians discover God who is known and personal
Paul comments on having found an altar “to the unknown God”
22 Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: “People of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious.
“People of Athens! I see…” – Paul, a Jew, shows respect for his Gentile hearers and a familiarity with the prevailing Stoic and Epicurean philosophies.
23 “For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. So you are ignorant of the very thing you worship — and this is what I am going to proclaim to you.
“To an unknown God” – centuries before, when sacrifices to all the known gods had failed to avert a plague a Cretan poet, Epimanedes advised the Athenians to build altars to (any) unknown god: there were many that Paul could have noticed.
“This is what I am going to proclaim” – Paul presents the gospel by starting where his hearers are.
24 “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands.
“Does not live in temples” – a personal creator challenges the Stoics’ diversity of deities.
25 “And He is not served by human hands, as if He needed anything. Rather, He Himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else.
“He Himself gives” – God the creator and sustainer of all needs nothing from humans, but simply seeks relationship – and gives life.
26 “From one man He made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and He marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands.
“From one man” – Adam
27-28 “God did this so that they would seek Him and perhaps reach out for Him and find Him, though He is not far from any one of us. ‘For in Him we live and move and have our being. As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’
“Your own poets” – Paul also quotes Greek poets in 1 Cor. 15:33 and Titus 1:12.
29-30 “Therefore since we are God’s offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone — an image made by human design and skill. In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now He commands all people everywhere to repent.
“In the past God overlooked” – and stayed judgment, but now full revelation has come with Jesus it is time to turn to Him, Acts 2:38, 3:19-21; Luke 3:7-9.
31 “For He has set a day when He will judge the world with justice by the man He has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising Him from the dead.”
“He has set a day” – Greeks had no concept of a coming day of judgment.
The man He has appointed” – Jesus, the Son of Man, Daniel 7:13-14; Matthew 25:31-46.
“By raising Him from the dead” – Jesus was not just a religious teacher; His resurrection and ascension to the place of authority sets Him apart.
What is the difference between all the world religious system and temples, and our coming to know God personally through faith in Jesus?
There is nothing unknown about our God, who is brought close to us by the Holy Spirit, changing from someone we know ABOUT, to One with whom we KNOW in an enjoyable, intimate relationship.
Paul points out another key difference: God does not have demands or needs that are served by us — it is the other way round, as He delights in giving us, His children, spiritual life and everything else.
Do we see our worship as something we ought to do to satisfy God’s needs, or part of our thanksgiving and relationship in which He draws close to meet our needs?
1 Peter 3:13-22 — Ready to tell others why we belong to Christ and call Him Lord
Baptism is a sign of coming to know God personally in rebirth
13-14 Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. “Do not fear their threats; do not be frightened.”
“Eager to do good” – even a hostile, pagan world generally has respect for those who are kind and caring. Ultimately if doing what is right does bring harm, God’s reward will be in it as well, Matt. 5:10-12, Romans 8:31.
15-16 But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behaviour in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.
“Revere Christ as Lord” – over and above Jesus Christ as Saviour. To be a disciple is to put yourself willingly under the master – and “give an answer” humbly, thoughtfully and biblically about why you have taken this step of commitment.
17-18 For it is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil. For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit.
“Suffer for doing good” – not encouraging believers to seek situations which will bring them suffering, but to be sure that if they do it is through having been faithful to God, not a lapse into evil.
19-20a After being made alive, He went and made proclamation to the imprisoned spirits — to those who were disobedient long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built.
“Proclamation to the imprisoned spirits – difficult verses, usually understood as Christ declaring His victory on the Cross to the fallen angels of Hades (view supported by v.22); or Christ reaching through Noah to the disobedient unbelievers of his day.
20b-22 In it only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water, and this water symbolises baptism that now saves you also — not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a clear conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at God’s right hand — with angels, authorities and powers in submission to Him.
“Baptism… the pledge of a clear conscience” – the act and the water cannot save, as Peter says, it is not about “the removal of dirt”. But what is represented – inward faith appealing to God for forgiveness of sin and therefore regeneration – makes baptism an outward sign of salvation and new life. Christians have long disagreed about the mode of water baptism but have generally agreed across denominations that water baptism is the outward sign of the inward reality of regeneration, received through grace by faith.
Early on in the Reformation, Swiss and Dutch believers who took seriously the teaching to be baptised publicly as a testimony “of clear conscience toward God” were cruelly persecuted, and so put to the test of suffering for “doing good”.
Here and now, it takes some courage to stand up on the occasion of baptism and tell why, on life’s journey, you have come to receive Jesus as Lord and Saviour and turn from the old, independent life to the new life that comes from rebirth.
These days some larger C of E churches have emulated Baptist and Pentecostal assemblies by gaining baptismal pools. People who find Christ want to mark the occasion, often by baptism, which gives them the opportunity before they go into the water to “give the reason for the hope that they have” by telling others how they came to know Him – our theme for this week.
How would you revere Christ by giving “the reason for the hope you have”?
Lord, I am so grateful I can know You through Jesus.
And I am thankful for You giving Your Holy Spirit so we are not left struggling on our own to live this new life.
Thank you that I can tell others what you have done, and are doing for me, through good times and difficult.
Thank you that knowing You makes all the difference in the twists of turns of life; give me opportunities to revere Christ and share my story with others, to Your glory. Amen.
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Also published on Medium.