By Brian Reader
Acts 4.5-12; Ps 23; 1 John 3.16-end; John10.11-18
Good Morning to you all. Although this the fourth Sunday of Easter,
I promise I won’t mention anything about chocolate eggs, or Easter bunnies!
Today should also be St. Mark’s Day but because the Church considers his day to be less important than the message for Easter 4, his festival day is moved to tomorrow. To me this seems unfair, so I will be mentioning St. Mark later in the sermon.
I wonder if any of you have noticed that all the readings after Easter have included a passage from Acts which describes the work of Jesus’ followers after the Resurrection.
At first, today’s reading may seem a little out of context unless you also know something about what went on before.
At the start of the chapter we can read how a lame man came to be cured by Peter and John in the temple. They then explained what had happened and spoke to the people about the risen Christ. The priests, the chief of the Temple police, and the Sadducees then arrived and they were extremely annoyed that they were preaching to the people and proclaiming that ’the resurrection of the dead’ had begun to happen through Jesus.
So they arrested them and put them into prison. So that explains why they were under arrest, and why the Chief Priest thought it necessary to go mob handed the next day to interrogate the disciples.
Why was the high priest so angry? You would have thought that it would be great news to know that God was alive and well and was providing a wonderful rescue operation for all through his chosen Messiah? But, NO, not if you were one of the people who had rejected and condemned that Messiah. And certainly not if you were in charge of the central institution that administered God’s law, God’s justice and the life of God’s people.
To understand all this we need to get inside what these people believed on the one hand and what the news of Jesus’ resurrection actually meant on the other. In a similar way we will see how this relates to the world today.
As we know from other passages, the Sadducees were Jewish aristocrats, including the high priest and his family, who wielded great power in Jerusalem and among the Jewish people. They guarded the Temple, the most holy place in Judaism. There the system of animal sacrifice had been practised for a thousand years and it was where the one true God had promised to meet with His people. In so doing the priests exercised great power economically, socially and politically.
The Roman governor would normally do business with and through the high priest and his entourage. They could get things done, or stop things happening; and that is why they strongly disapproved of the idea of ‘resurrection’.
So why doesn’t the Gospel message make such an impact today? Well today, the Gospel story is old news. It has been discussed, debated and denigrated for at least the last 200 years in the Western world. People have laughed at ‘resurrection’, whether that of Jesus or that of anyone else. But resurrection always was a radical, dangerous doctrine, an attack on the status quo and a threat to existing power structures.
Because Resurrection, is the belief which declares that the living God is going to put everything right once and for all, He is going to ‘restore all things’, to turn the world the right way up at last. And those who are in power, within the world the way it is, are quite right to suspect that, if God suddenly does such a marvellous, drastic thing, they can no longer expect that they will stay in power in this new world that God is going to make.
Resurrection, whichever way you looked at it, was not what the authorities wanted to hear about. So what made the authorities angry wasn’t just Peter’s announcement that God had raised Jesus from the dead. It was, as Luke puts it, a much larger thing: that Peter was preaching the resurrection of the dead, and also announcing this revolutionary doctrine ‘In Jesus’.
In other words, Peter was saying not only that Jesus himself had been raised, but that this was the start and the sign of God’s eventual restoration of everything.
This may have been bad news for the chief priests and the Sadducees, however it was exactly what plenty of others wanted to hear. (About this time, St. Luke, recorded in The Acts of the Apostles that a further 5,000 came to faith on the spot).
But the really sinister thing about this section is the further question the authorities ask. ‘What name did you use to do this? This reminds us of the accusations that were hurled at Jesus himself: was he, after all, in league with Beelzebub? Was Jesus – and were the disciples, – the kind of people that they had been warned about in Deuteronomy, telling people to guard against false prophets leading them astray from the one true God.
Jesus answered that question by reference to the Holy Spirit, at work in and through him to launch God’s kingdom project. So Peter, himself filled with the holy spirit, announces boldly that the ‘name’ in question is that of Jesus, the Messiah, from Nazareth’.
The last verse also reminds us: –
There is Salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved.
Referring now to St. Mark who was the writer of the earliest Gospel and the first Bishop of Alexandria in Egypt, and we use his Gospel as the main source of our Gospel reading this year.
St. Mark is mentioned as John Mark in Acts, and simply as “Mark” in the epistles St. Paul and St. Peter.
He accompanied St. Peter on his journey to Rome, and it is said he wrote his Gospel at the urgent request of the faithful of Rome, who were anxious to have an enduring record of what St Peter had taught them by word of mouth.
The Gospel is simple and direct, and, it is the primary source of information about the ministry of Jesus, parts of which can be found in the Gospels of Mathew and Luke. As St. Mark may never have heard our Lord, he does not exactly follow the order of events in his narrative. He follows the order in which he heard them from St. Peter, who adapted his preaching to the requirements of his hearers, without following the exact order of the discourses or actions of Jesus.
St. Mark, however, took care to write nothing except what was strictly true, as he heard it from the lips of St Peter, and he committed all to writing under the inspiration and impulse of the Holy Ghost. There is however a problem as there appears to be a missing column or a page at the end of the Gospel regarding the resurrection and the events which followed.
It is obvious that two later writers have added text to try and fill this gap in order to give the Gospel a conclusion.
This absence of Mark’s resurrection story could be the reason why his day is not celebrated on a Sunday in this post Easter period. Mark was not one of the twelve close apostles of Jesus, but he did leave a short but gripping account of the life, and death of Jesus Christ which represents the heart of the Christian story and the truth of our faith.
I will finish by reading the collect for St. Mark’s Day.
who enlightened your holy Church
through the inspired witness of your evangelist Saint Mark:
grant that we, being firmly grounded
in the truth of the gospel,
may be faithful to its teaching both in word and deed;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, AMEN