Tuesday, May 22, 2007

First Pass at This Weekend's Bible Lesson: Acts 2:1-21

[Most weeks, I present as many updates on my reflections and study of the Biblical texts on which our weekend worship celebrations will be built as I can. The purpose is to help the people of the congregation I serve as pastor, Friendship Lutheran Church of Amelia, Ohio, get ready for worship. Most weeks, I hope, it's helpful to others as well, since our Bible lesson is usually one from the weekly lectionary, variations of which are used in most of the churches of the world. But, beginning Sunday, June 3, and continuing into October, I'll be doing a series of topical messages. Watch for those.]

The Bible Lesson: Acts 2:1-21
1When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 2And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. 4All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.

5Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. 6And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. 7Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? 9Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 11Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.” 12All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” 13But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.”

14But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. 15Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o”clock in the morning. 16No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel: 17‘In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams. 18Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy. 19And I will show portents in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and smoky mist. 20The sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day. 21Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’

General Comments:
1. Pentecost already was a festival on calendar of pious Jews. It was a harvest festival, falling fifty days after the Sabbath of Passover week. For more, see here. On the Christian calendar, Pentecost is one of the three great festivals of the Church Year, along with Christmas and Easter. The first Christian Pentecost happened fifty days after the first Easter and ten days after the risen Jesus ascended to heaven.

2. The they mentioned in verse 1 are presumably the group of 120 Christ-Followers mentioned in 1:15.

3. The events of Pentecost fulfill the promise Jesus made in 1:8, that He would send the Holy Spirit, Who would make it possible for them to boldly witness for God in spite of their fears. The gift of the Spirit would also fulfill Old Testament prophecy, Peter points out. We'll discuss that more in the verse-by-verse comments.

4. The events of Pentecost, in a way, reverse the conclusion of the Old Testament story of the Tower of Babel. There, filled with arrogance, the people of a city called Babel, decided to build a tower which, they thought, would make them as great as God. To save from themselves, God confused them by causing them to speak different languages. Their inability to communicate made working together impossible and soon, worked stopped and the people moved in every direction, establishing their own countries and customs. (For more, see here.)

Through the events of the first Christian Pentecost, the Holy Spirit made it possible for followers of Jesus Christ to communicate in ways that were understandable to the varied representatives of the Jewish disaspora gathered in Jerusalem for the festival. Instead of using their communication skills to glorify themselves, the first believers went around, "speaking about God’s deeds of power.”

5. The first Christian Pentecost introduces what might be called "the era of the Holy Spirit." The Spirit is the third Person of the Trinity and has always been present from eternity. But in the era in which we live now, it's the Holy Spirit who makes faith possible and who gave birth to the community through which God speaks to the world today, the Church. (For more see here and here.)

More tomorrow, I hope.

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