The 3rd Sunday after Pentecost

Each time you read the Bible, new things can be seen or thought about. New questions can arise from something previously known but now noticed. It is part of the dynamic work of the Holy Spirit.

Often described as ‘I hadn’t noticed before’, I recently had a chat about the priests who became obedient to the faith as recorded in Acts chapter 6. It is mentioned in one verse between the appointing of deacons and the account of Stephen leading to his arrest and martyrdom. And the word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith (Acts 6:7 ESV).

Yes, it is not something we hear much about. It is not overall a common experience that when people become Christians, that they have to change their occupation, as we imagine happened here. Yes, it brings home quickly even just thinking about it that the Christian Faith affects our behaviour. Jesus is the pearl of great price; he is our greatest treasure. There are consequences following Jesus.

As we chatted about the verse, many questions came to mind. Why are they coming to faith then? Why not before especially when Jesus was alive? What happened to them and their families? Did they find Jesus worth considering when they saw the persecution meted out on the apostles by the religious leaders, many of whom we assume, were their superiors?

We can imagine answers, speculate, but we should remain careful that what we believe and teach stays within the boundaries given to us in the Bible. Nevertheless the questions raised in this brief discussion have modern equivalents and again the Holy Spirit leads us through reading God’s Word to consider things today. Why do people still come to faith? Why does it happen, at times, that people can know about Jesus possibly for decades before they follow Jesus? Why is it that not all children of Christian families having received the same nurture in the Faith, follow Jesus, and parents pray for a long time hoping their now adult children will trust Jesus?

Each situation, of course, has its personal context. We need to be careful not to say or imply that it is God’s fault that people keep Jesus at a distance just as we want to be careful about saying or implying that following Jesus is simply a human choice. When talking about a man who lived, who died, and who lives again we are talking about something wonderful and mysterious. When talking about God as a Trinity to help us understand and focus on Jesus, there is a mystery there. When we hear the story of Jesus and his followers and are confronted with our own sin and God’s grace and forgiveness, we can understand that we are followers as well but centuries later.

What is central is always – should be always – Jesus. Christians return to Jesus each day knowing Jesus comes to them and loves them. And individuals in the world are introduced to Jesus and told that Jesus comes to them and loves them. And in these personal encounters the Holy Spirit is working to strengthen the faith of the disciple and to give faith to people so they can follow Jesus. This is not a pre-packaged programme but a living reality centred on Jesus and words, water, bread and wine used as Jesus told us. And there is a profound truth when people follow Jesus that they know, in their heart of hearts, deep down that is by God’s grace alone that they do so. Faith is God’s gift to us. Our sin and pride resist but God is loving and patient and faithful.

So encountering God’s Word can bring new insights to us about all sorts of things which can have all sorts of consequences. And this is true for believer and non believer. All of the Bible conveys Jesus and his goal is always to save and that adventure – life with him – is something worth having and God has made it possible and wants everyone to have the best adventure in the world – following Jesus. GS