Updated: Jan 30, 2021
We have reached the seventh Sunday of the Easter Season.
In a way it is the last Sunday of Easter, as Pentecost is the bridge from Easter to the Ordinary, although it falls under the Easter heading. Like Pesach is one festival and Shavuot is another, so too do Easter and Pentecost reflect.
The last five Sundays we have incorporated a prayer into the service that represents a counting of the Easter Omer.
Today is the Seventh Sunday, meaning a complete fifty days have passed since Our Lord was offered to the Temple as a sacrifice to God. The Covenant of Moses has been delivered from the clouds atop Mount Sinai.
However, the Christian Omer counting awaits the delivery of the Covenant written into our hearts.
Let us pray:
Today is seven weeks and one day, as fifty days towards the Omer – our measure as fruits of the Lord Jesus Christ – which culminates with our receipt of your Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost.
Guide us this day to learn from your words and find insight from you … as the Word of Life … so we may be strengthened in our devotion to God our LORD and His Holy Son, through the Holy Spirit.
Since we have reached the 50th day, based on the omer of barley being taken to the Temple on the first day after the Day of Passover, rather than the 50th day, based on the discovery that Jesus was resurrected from death … 7 days into that count … next Sunday will be the Christian Pentecost.
Still, it is important to realize that next Sunday, May 24th, is the Jewish beginning of Shavuot, thus also their recognition of the Pentecost.
The first day of the 2015 Jewish Passover was April 4th, such that the day Christians would recognize as Easter Sunday would have been April 12th, based on that starting point. However, we celebrated Easter on April 5th.
This means, in the year 2015, Christian Easter coincided with Jewish Passover (Shabbat, April 4 / Sunday, April 5), as does both the Jewish and Christian designation of Pentecost (Shavuot Pentecost May 24-25 / Christian Pentecost May 25).
Next year that will not be the case. Most years that is not the case.
This difference as to when a commanded observance should take place is one of several found between two religions that share a common devotion to the One God. The differences in the Judeo-Christian religions become an issue because the two only occasionally meet and share traditions now, with the rest of the time the two branches being far apart and separate.
It is important to understand that no matter how friendly Christians are with Jews, there is a deep divide between those who believe Jesus was the promised Messiah – promised to the children of Israel – and those who do not believe that Jesus was truly the Son of God, for those who think they remain always God’s chosen people.
What is not always known by everyone is how the early Christians – both Jews and Gentiles as one – celebrated the exact same festivals as those found commanded in Leviticus. Jews and early Christians always celebrated the same festivals on the same days. The early Christians, who were predominately of Jewish lineage, never called the day of Jesus’ resurrection “Easter.”
It was this way for nearly four hundred years.
Today, we see how that constant has been changed … modified to attract more Gentiles, those who had similar festivals around the same times of year.
The name “Easter” comes from pagan roots, as a similar name, one used to mark a spring festival, belonged to a Proto-Indo-European goddess of fertility, who also was a representative of the dawn.
Awareness of this history of change and adjustment is important because it models the changes and adjustments that took place in the Kingdom of Israel, under Solomon (at first), which led to a split into Israel and Judah, then the loss of everything God had promised them.
The promise was based on conditions not being changed and adjusted.
But as the saying goes, “Give them an inch and they will take a mile.”
I remind you of all of this because in the Gospel reading today, from John, Jesus was heard to pray to God, asking for God’s help with those who would take Jesus’ place – the early Christians.
In that prayer, Jesus said, “I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me.”
When you hear those words in that prayer, knowing that Jesus was a Jew and all of his disciples were also Jews, you realize Jesus was not asking God to make everyone in the world a Christian … like an emperor conquers a part of the world and puts up signs saying, “Everyone must now consider themselves the nationality of the Emperor,” be that Roman, Greek, English or whatever.
Jesus was not asking God to help him decide what pagan festivals would best coincide with Jewish festivals, to make integrating people easier, so those who believed in many gods could change and adjust to believing in just one.
Keeping in mind that God IS All-knowing, who died and made some human the one to “perfect” God’s perfection?
Instead, Jesus prayed, “I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word.”
Think about those words for a moment.
Jesus was given Jews as disciples, because those Jews were God’s people AND those Jewish disciples “had kept God’s word,” having taken God’s laws to heart.
Now in those words in that prayer, Jesus does not name the Jews of the world specifically, as being a limitation on who God could give him. By now saying that, this prayer not only allows one to see Jesus praying for God to help his disciples and followers then – 2000 years ago – but it allows that prayer to extend from the day it was spoken to now, this very day.
We are of the world now, and if we are devoted to serving God, as shown by us keeping His word, then we can be given by God to Jesus – as true Christians.
This means it is important to realize that when Jesus prayed, “I am not asking on behalf of the world,” this relates to the message we heard two weeks ago, from the first epistle of John, which stated, “Those who say, “I love God,” and hate their brothers and sisters, are liars.”
Those “who say “I love God,” and hate their “brothers and sisters” were the Jews of Jesus’ and John’s day, those related through a devotion to their religion. Jews then “hated” the Jews who believed Jesus of Nazareth was the Messiah. They persecuted them, stoning them to death … crucifying them.
This means that Jesus was not praying for God to help the whole world, with all of its Jewish descendants, whose blood could make them believe they were God’s chosen people, with a birthright of favor. Instead, Jesus was praying for those who truly were priests, who desired to serve God through their faith that Jesus was indeed the Messiah … the Son of God.
This is important to grasp, because if Jesus was not praying for God to help the whole world, and not for God to help the Jews who hated Christians, then Jesus was praying only for true Christians – those who he would fill with God’s Holy Spirit … and no one else.
Now, in the story from the Book of the Acts of the Apostles, we read about the selection of Matthias to be one of a group of twelve. On the day before Pentecost, after the Ascension of Jesus, we see how “Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd.”
The filling of the position that was vacated by Judas’ betrayal of Jesus, with his subsequent suicide reducing twelve to eleven, this act in itself means twelve is a sacred number … a symbolic number, meaning that it was important to take the number that had been reduced to eleven back to twelve.
Now, both numbers – 11 and 12 – have mystical meaning that requires some study, and I recommend everyone look deeper into the symbolism of each number, 11 and 12, as both reflect a choice to become elevated spiritually, while still on the physical plane.
However, it is more important to focus your minds now on the Acts reading, as to who was capable of filling that vacant position, and as well as to who is never allowed to be considered for such a role of responsibility.
The reading today begins by stating, “Peter stood up among the believers (together the crowd numbered about one hundred twenty persons).”
This “election” to the “high counsel” of the earliest state of Christianity’s Church took place on the forty-ninth day in the Jewish counting of the omer, which was the Seventh Sabbath from the Passover (also a Sabbath) – the day before Pentecost (a Sunday) – when “all of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues.”
It is important to see “the believers” as being disciples of Jesus, because Peter said the choice had to come, “of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John until the day he was taken up from us.”
The forty-ninth day was when Lord Jesus was “taken up,” meaning the Ascension took place on a most holy Sabbath. The forty days prior to that Ascension, “about one hundred twenty” believers, who had all assisted in Jesus’ ministry – learned from their Lord for three years – they too spent their time with the risen Jesus. As such, Peter could then say, “one of these must become a witness with us to his resurrection.” One of those had to rise and become the twelfth man at the table of Christ.
Jesus did not just appear risen and spend forty days with only eleven disciples. He appeared and taught 120 disciples for 40 days, with 11 of those being his “inner circle.”
You might note that “about one hundred twenty” is ten times ‘about twelve’. With Judas missing, the “number of persons” among who Peter stood to address might well have been 121, so that when one of that number was selected to become one of the twelve, there were then twelve counsel disciples and ten times twelve priestly disciples.
There is that number twelve again … just not as clearly stated.
The point to grasp firmly here is Peter addressed “believers” of Jesus as the Christ, who had witnessed the Rabboni Jesus, the trial and death of the man Jesus, and the risen Lord Jesus, as well as his Ascension. The “believers” had dedicated the past three years of their lives to reach that point of being called “believers.”
Thus, when it came time to select a “high counsel” disciple to replace Judas, they didn’t run an ad in the Jerusalem Gazette, saying, “Professional organizer needed. Must be Jewish and have good people skills. Apply in the city where a man carrying a jar of water will meet you and lead you to an upstairs room.”
Peter was not seeking a replacement for Judas “from the world” of Jews.
To use an analogy from athletics, in particular football – where injuries are most frequent and replacements are always needed – they have the “next man up” philosophy.
This means that when a starting player is injured and cannot play, the coach does not ask for the microphone and then address the spectators, announcing, “Anyone who thinks he or she can play quarterback, please go to the equipment room now and put on a uniform.” Instead, a reserve player is already dressed, already trained in the plays, and ready, willing, and eagerly able to get on the field of play.
Practice and conditioning is always necessary before one can expect to get in the game.
This same philosophy filled the early Christian Church, and it was repeated all through Jesus’ prayer to God, stated as “I have made your name known to those,” “they have kept your word,” “protect them in your name,” “so that they may have my joy made complete in themselves,” and “so that they may be sanctified in truth.” “They” were not generalities meant for the whole world.
Jesus prayed to God about his “team of players,” who had been coached, trained, practiced, and prepared to “get in the game” of priesthood, when game day came.
John remembered Jesus saying that prayer soon before he was arrested and turned over to the Temple as the sacrificial lamb – the first day in the counting of the omer.
John also recalled, although it is not read today, how Jesus not only prayed for the disciples numbering “about one hundred twenty persons,” but for others coming later. Jesus prayed, “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message.”
We are “those who will believe in Jesus through the message” of all the earliest Christians.
This means that just like the disciples Peter stood up before, in order to choose one who would become one of the hierarchical replacements of the Church of Christ, ALL candidates – all members of the Church – must be seasoned, trained, and vested in their belief that Jesus was the Son of God.
That means you are either on the team or you are not on the team; and even though there are many more fans of a team than there are team members, a fan is not on the team.
The game always seems easier from a sideline seat.
Now, anyone who has sat at this bus stop before and heard me preach for any length of time has probably heard me refer to the “big brain syndrome.” Let me explain that once more.
We live in an age when intellect is king. We see ourselves – as Americans – as the latest, greatest, smartest human beings ever to be a part of this world. Many American Christians have read the Bible and even studied what others have written to explain all about the Bible, but therein comes a flaw. Instead of Christ as our King, we let our big brain rule over us.
With a big brain, when one reads the Bible, after 2000 years of “thinking about all that,” one immediately begins identifying with God, with Jesus, with the Apostles, and with all the “good guys” – prophets and Patriarchs – because our big brains tell us, “I know how the story goes. Since I know some things, I am a fan of their team.”
The problem that comes when one contracts “big brain syndrome” is one becomes blind to just how much one needs to see the need for the Holy Bible to be read as a warning not to allow yourself to become the villain in the story. Until you realize that need, you reflect the problem… not the solution.
You are the dreaded Pharisee that Jesus spoke to. You are the lame beggar who could do nothing for himself. You are the one filled with demons that need to be exorcized. You are the Romans who sentenced Jesus to death, flogged him, nailed him to a tree, and pierced his side with a spear.
You are part of the world that Jesus did not pray to God to help become priests, if you do not do what it takes to truly be a believer that Jesus was prophesied by the prophets, foretold in the psalms of David, and predicted in the Books of Moses.
The way to see the reading today, from the Acts of the Apostles, is with you being Judas Iscariot, who turned Jesus over for silver, committed suicide and lost his position of pride. You are he “who became a guide for those who arrested Jesus,” even though Judas was “numbered among us and was allotted his share in this ministry,” as Peter stated.
If you call yourself a believer – a Christian – but you do nothing to show love to your brothers and sisters in Christ, you do nothing to spread the word of Jesus to the children you influence, you instead hate certain members of a church that you do not think are true Christians, ones who you are too afraid to confront directly, preferring more than talk behind their backs – never to their face – then you betray Jesus Christ.
Today, in John’s first epistle, we heard him echoing those remarks he made two weeks back, saying, “Those who do not believe in God have made Jesus a liar by not believing in the testimony that God has given concerning his Son.”
That testimony is “believe in Jesus Christ and receive the Holy Spirit, by becoming a holy priest – a saint – in the commission of the Church of Christ,” where eternal spiritual life is the reward from a sacrificed physical life.
Judas heard those promises, but he kept his hand on the purse of the church. He loved the feel of money … the power of gold and riches. Judas was also considered to be an “intellectual, ” a “thinking man,” who loved to pick Jesus’ brain.
As such, Judas could not see beyond the material plane, to the heavenly plane, so he wasted his time alive in this realm plotting and thinking about how he could get ahead, thinking he was as smart as Jesus. Judas thought his brain was as good as – if not better than – the Mind of Christ, which came to Jesus through the Holy Spirit of God, by which Jesus was allotted that grace.
If only Judas’ big brain hadn’t gotten in his way.
As John wrote, “If we receive human testimony, the testimony of God is greater.”
No matter how big a big brain gets, it always pales in comparison to God’s knowledge.
Today is Sunday, a day Christians see as when God rested, as when God changed and adjusted his commandments about when the Sabbath should be remembered and kept holy.
But on this day of rest and holiness, how many will leave here today and go the next six days, twenty hours and however many minutes not spending more than a few fleeting moments in prayer, in reflection on the Scriptures, towards living as a priest in a ministry for Jesus Christ?
It is our big brains that keep the Holy Spirit from coming into us. Our mental disease keeps God out of our hearts and Christ away from our minds, so there is nothing holy about our life’s direction.
Next Sunday is the Day of Pentecost, when the 120 disciples of Jesus became Apostles and spread the Holy Spirit to the world, to those who would first believe … through their readiness and practice …leading them to take actions based on faith.
The Easter Season … these past seven weeks … have been counting down the days until we should be filled with the Holy Spirit. For forty-nine days we should have been seeking the risen Lord Jesus to show us the proof we need to lay our big brains aside and receive the Spirit.
Are we ready?
Have we done our preparations?
Are we ready for the call: “NEXT MAN UP!”
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