Article telling the story that emerges from the set readings, discussed in detail in the Bible study post for May 9.
OT: Psalm 98 — Praise and joy celebrate God’s faithfulness, fairness and gift of salvation.
NT gospel: John 15:9-17 — Jesus tells us to keep on growing in love and transform our world.
NT narrative: Acts 10:44-48 — Peter steps out in faith and conquers his prejudices to tell his story in a Roman household.
NT letter: 1 John 5:1-6 — The faith and love of believers born of God puts Christ’s victory into the world.
I heard a story about a man who wasn’t a believer. He wasn’t keen on church at all. But his wife had recently become a Christian and wanted to find a church that would be good for her.
So her husband suggested: “Let’s drive round the town at the time people are coming out of church and see what they look like. If they come out smiling and chatting, that would be a good church to try. If they emerge solemn and solitary, give that one a wide berth!
It wasn’t the most spiritually-aware advice — but remarkably relevant. Who wants to go to a church where there’s no joy or mutual love? We want to go to the one where the people come out looking like they have got something good and want to share it.
And that’s pretty much what Jesus told His first disciples to be like, just before He left them. But our story starts further back.
1. Sing a new song to the Lord
The first scene in our story, from Psalm 98 (the OT reading), looks forward to a time when the salvation and goodness of God (which heaven celebrates with joy) will be known by everyone on earth. So earth will be a mirror of heaven with people shouting for joy, making music with all kinds of instruments and such jubilant song that the landscape itself seems to get caught up in the praise.It’s noisy, it’s joyful and everyone is involved.
We may have to wait until Jesus comes again to see such a universal release of praise and joy, but we can certainly create pockets of vibrant praise and places where the love for God and love of others is strong. And this takes us to the second scene where Jesus is giving His disciples a kind of final briefing just before being taken away.
2. Remain in My love and be fruitful
In this teaching in John 15 Jesus uses repetition to bang home His point:
“As the Father has loved Me, so have I loved you. Now remain in My love.John 15:9-10
If you keep My commands, you will remain in My love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in His love.
“Remain… remain…remain in My love”. What did He mean?
The Passion Translation, which leans a little to interpretation, helps us here:
“…Live in union with Me as your source.”
What does living in union with Christ mean? It means being in the flow of His Spirit (which He promised earlier in this same discourse) to relate to others the way He does.
The clues are there for all to find:
I have told you this so that My joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.John 15:11-12
My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.
He intends for us to be joyful in Him. You don’t have to turn extrovert if that is not you. You don’t have to act like everything is great when it isn’t. It is deeper than being happy-clappy, although people with His joy in them will show it in all sorts of ways! To refer back to the story at the beginning, they will be the ones coming out of church with a spring in their step and a smile on their faces!
It is more about an inner disposition of being secure and content because Christ loves you so much He died for you, and the joy of being given His love for others.
This, He says, is the pathway to bearing lasting fruit. The love and the joy work together. It is a cycle of giving, and receiving more to give away again.
And that leads us to the third scene where this love and joy were tested.
3. Go with love and joy where the Holy Spirit leads you
Peter, a Jew who has lived by the law and the prophets as best he knows how, has just had an amazing, challenging vision. He was on the roof having a time of prayer, and he was hungry. And in this vision he saw heaven opened and something like a canopy being lowered down with all sorts of creatures in it — many which he would know were classed as ‘unclean’. And as he tells God so, he hears the audible voice of God telling him not to regard as impure anything that God has made clean(Acts 10:9-16).
While he is still trying to process what he has seen and heard, three men, a soldier and two servants call out to him and ask Him to go back to a centurion’s house with them. And Peter senses the prompting of the Spirit, contrary to all his instincts, to go with them, knowing that God has sent them.
This is where our third scene opens. Cornelius turns out to be devout Roman who wants to know all about Jesus, and he invites Peter to speak to the whole household. And so he tells them his short version about Jesus from the time of His baptism and anointing with the Holy Spirit. He recounts some of the miracles and healings which helped so many people, but how this led to the accusations from the religious establishment that has Him sentenced to die on a cross> Not that the story ended, there, because on the third day the tomb was found open and Jesus was seen by his disciples and others and told them to proclaim the good news of the kingdom to all kinds of people far and wide. “And that’s why I am here,” he might have said, but events overtook his words:
While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message.The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on Gentiles. For they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God.Acts 10:44-46
This is a great example of the love and joy of the Holy Spirit carrying Peter through and taking him way out of where he was comfortable, into a household of poeople he would never normally have anything to do with. The memory of Roman soldiers flogging and then crucifying His Lord was still raw — and yet God’s love for these people and the joy of the Lord which Peter had in him communicated as powerfully as His words of testimony.
Peter has just been obedient to “go and bear fruit — fruit that will last” just as Jesus had instructed Him, and with the Spirit of Jesus enabling Him.
4. Show you love God by your love for others
Peter’s younger fisherman friend John had had most of a lifetime to take hold of this teaching. He had proved to himself what the priority was, before he wrote his letter to encourage believers in the circuit of churches that would hear it read:
Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves the Father loves His child as well.1 John 5:1-3
This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out His commands.
In fact, this is love for God: to keep His commands. And His commands are not burdensome…
What John is saying underlines Peter’s experience t hat we saw earlier. If we love God — and have come into a personal relationship with Him by deciding for Jesus as the Son of God and receiving Him into our heart — then a lot of things just follow. The Holy Spirit is active in us. He puts God’s love into us and raises faith in us.
Church tells us to live a good life. The Holy Spirit helps us to live a good life and that’s a difference. Being told we must obey is burdensome. Being led in a way of life, love and faith that is God’s way. It is keeping God’s commands because why wouldn’t we? As John notes, the born of God, or born again believer walks in Christ’s victory and overcomes the pull of the world and its values. In fact, we have become God’s transforming influence.