Sunday, November 27, 2011

Believing In Him (part 31)

Peter, still speaking in the second chapter of Acts, continues the use of the pouring metaphor, saying “This Jesus God raised up, and we are all witnesses of it.  So then, exalted to the right hand of God, and having received the promise of the Holy Spirit from the Father, He has poured out what you both see and hear” (2:32-33).  The correct response then, is to “Repent, and each one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins” (2:38a).  The result?  “You will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (2:38b). 

It is not exactly a groundbreaking idea to put forward the thought that whereas the Gospels as we know them are the story of Jesus’ ministry, that the story of Acts is that of the ministry of the Holy Spirit, and thus Jesus’ ministry by a different means, that being His church by the Spirit.  The unique twist in what we are here doing is to point out that the pouring out of the Holy Spirit that Paul mentions in chapter five of Romans, as it is linked to the conclusions that he is drawing from his understanding of Gentile participation in the covenant (justification) based on the believing example of Abraham, is based on the understanding of that ministry of the Holy Spirit that we see recorded in Acts (though Acts would not yet have been composed and promulgated, so Paul is relying only on what he has learned) and the regular use of the “pouring out” metaphor. 

Obviously, Joel’s vision of God’s “last day” actions was looked upon quite favorably.  The fact that Peter picks up on this, and that Paul, by his adoption, in Romans of the language of pouring, picks up on Joel’s language as well, allows us to grasp a yet deeper sense of Paul’s ideology concerning the “last days.”  Putting the pieces together, it is not at all difficult to see that Paul believes that the “last days” have begun in the Resurrection of Jesus, and that these “last days” have little if any comprehension of time or its duration.  Rather, the last days are those days in which God has become King, and this is marked by the expansion of His covenant people as just one piece of His plan for the restoration of creation, which is a mark of the advent of the kingdom of God. 

In chapter four of Romans, Peter, having been arrested and released, speaks to his fellow believers.  As belief is so elemental to covenant, and is quite demonstrably the key covenant marker, having been so from the earliest part of the narrative that details God’s dealings in His world, it may be useful to train ourselves to think of “believers” as “sons of Abraham.”  At the conclusion of his speech, Luke records “When they had prayed, the place where they were assembled together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak the word of God courageously” (4:31).  Here again, we have “filled” as the metaphorical vehicle, communicating God’s gracious activity.  Luke could just as easily have again spoken of the Holy Spirit begin poured out, as it would have communicated the same message. 

Not too long after this another arrest takes place.  There is a reminder that the disciples were given “strict orders not to teach” in the name of Jesus (5:28a).  Another speech is offered to those responsible for the arrest.  In that speech, Peter (presumably, though the text says “Peter and the apostles replied” – 5:29a) says “We must obey God rather than people.  The God of our forefathers raised up Jesus, whom you seized and killed by hanging Him on a tree.  God exalted Him to His right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins.  And we are witnesses of these events, and so is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey Him” (5:29b-32).  Here, it is the giving of the Holy Spirit that stands in for the pouring out of the Holy Spirit.  Crucially for us, this giving is linked to obedience, which hearkens the hearer to Abraham, his belief, and his obedience that demonstrated itself as unswerving loyalty to the faithful, covenant God.

In the seventh chapter of Acts we encounter the story of Stephen.  He offers an impassioned speech that has, as its subject, God’s covenant activity beginning with Moses, concluding with “You stubborn people, with uncircumcised hearts and ears!  You are always resisting the Holy Spirit, like your ancestors did!  With of the prophets did your ancestor not persecute?  They killed those who foretold long ago the coming of the Righteous One, whose betrayers and murderers you have now become!” (7:51-52)  Naturally, it is the poured out Holy Spirit that is being resisted.  To this Luke adds, “But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked intently toward heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God” (7:55).  This cannot help but take us back to Romans five and Paul’s talk of the pouring out of the Holy Spirit, the hope of God’s glory, and peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.  Might Paul also have this story of Stephen in mind, together with what comes before and after it in Acts, having presented, in a very Stephen-like manner, the story of Abraham?  

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