Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Believing In Him (part 33)

With Peter having pulled the Gentiles into the story of Israel (the story that began with Abraham) via talk of belief and forgiveness of sins, which are distinct covenant terms, the story receives its climax as Luke reports “While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell on all those who heard the message” (10:44).  This metaphorical falling had witnesses.  Indeed, “The circumcised believers who had accompanied Peter were greatly astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles” (10:45).  Luke’s construction of this passage inside the narrative is obvious, as the pouring out of the Holy Spirit, here linked to Peter and his preaching, also links back to the second chapter and Peter’s explanation of the strange events that utilized the prophet Joel and the pouring out of the Holy Spirit that was to accompany the last days. 

This clues us in to the fact that Peter and Luke, along with Paul (because he seizes on these metaphors), believed that the last days (the eschaton) had begun with the Resurrection of Jesus and was being carried forward into the world via the activity of the Holy Spirit.  Likewise, this is as a reminder that the original community of Jesus believers, employing a Jewish eschatology that would have been shared by Jesus Himself, did not view the “last days” as an end-of-the-world conflagration in which the world would cease to exist.  Rather, they viewed the “last days” as the time when the loving reign of the Creator God over His creation would be implemented.  They believed that this state of affairs had sprung into factuality in the resurrected Christ and in His church, with this being the natural accompaniment of Jesus’ repeated declaration that, in His presence and person, the kingdom of God was at hand. 

Highlighting the connection to the second chapter of Acts and to the events of Pentecost, not only do we have the pouring out of the Holy Spirit, but we also have the fact that the circumcised believers heard the Gentile believers “speaking in tongues and praising God” (10:46).  This had been the experience of those that composed the assembly of believers in chapters two and four.  With this, Gentiles were now experiencing the power of God via the Spirit.  As far as Israel’s story was concerned, this experience of being empowered by the Spirit of God had been the exclusive domain of the specially chosen people of God.  So when it comes to the story of the operation of God’s covenant, what is here reported to have taken place is groundbreaking.  Undoubtedly then, this plays into the presentation of groundbreaking theological and covenantal premises in Paul’s letter to the Romans. 

With his own witness to the pouring out of the Spirit, the speaking in tongues, and the praising of God, which would be an explicit reminder of Pentecost, Peter says “No one can withhold the water for these people to be baptized, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we did, can he?” (10:47)  Peter uses the inclusive language of “we,” as we have heard Paul use repeatedly.  We are also reminded of chapter two’s informing us that “those who accepted his message were baptized, and that day about three thousand people were added” (2:41).  Along with that, as we hear the telling of this story and the words of Peter in the context of the story of Israel, it is impossible to disconnect the concept of baptism from the crossing of the Red Sea and the crossing of the Jordan River (both on dry land).  These are pivotal events within Israel’s story, and they are told as tales of God’s faithfulness to His people.  Also, the baptism in chapter two would have been exclusively Jews, in Jerusalem, during a great Sabbath, whereas that of chapter ten was a baptism of Gentiles.  Thus, because both Jews and Gentiles experience baptism, both stand before God in a state of equality. 

Baptism, when connected to Jesus as Messiah of Israel, allows those that undergo the experience to participate in that tale of God’s faithfulness, symbolically crossing from a state of exile to a state of exodus.  Because the baptism that stems from a belief in Jesus is also rooted in the understanding that the Resurrection of Jesus brought an end to the old age and ushered in the new age, baptism becomes the picture of the believers deliverance from the exile of the old age/creation, into the new age/creation.  We can comfortably presume, based on his writing, that such thoughts found a home in the mind of Paul as well.    

This series of events caused no little consternation amongst the circumcised believers in Jerusalem (11:2).  Those that took issue with what Peter had done, accusing him of going to uncircumcised men and sharing a meal with them (11:3).  These are the same issues at work, against which Paul stridently speaks, in Galatians two, though the setting was Antioch rather than Jerusalem.  This is nothing short of a clear disavowal of the covenant markers of Judaism, as Peter has, by confirming the presence of the Holy Spirit in the uncircumcised and by violating food laws (though Sabbath is not in view), has transgressed and effectively repudiates the marks that had previously been the means by which one was identified as a covenant member in good standing.  Though they can certainly be practiced, they are of no particular use or value, when set against the new covenant marker of belief in Jesus as the crucified and resurrected Messiah of Israel and Lord of all (the Gospel).  Again, all this is stressed, though it seems to not necessarily have any bearing on Romans, because Paul will be more than aware of all of these things, and would most likely heavily rely on Peter’s experience and telling of the experience in formulating his positions about Gentile inclusion under the covenant and their participation in the promises of Israel’s God.         

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