Sunday, September 23, 2012

Opening Acts (part 1 of 2)

Before He ascends in the opening passage of the book of Acts, which was a way of communicating the fusion of heaven and earth in Him and thus solidifying the conception of Him as the Temple, which was a thought that is heavily developed in Luke, Jesus tells His disciples that “John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now” (Acts 1:5).  In verse eight, as He answers a question regarding the kingdom of God, He continues His efforts to reshape and recast the vision of His mission as Messiah, saying “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be My witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the farthest parts of the earth” (1:8).  That which they were to serve as witnesses was the Gospel, proclaiming His Lordship and thus the advent of His kingdom.  Talk of being baptized with the Holy Spirit and of the Holy Spirit coming upon them, as we shall see shortly, were simply ways of communicating the pouring out of the Holy Spirit. 

On to chapter two, and beginning with verse one we read “Now when the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place.  Suddenly a sound like a violent wind blowing came from heaven and filled the entire house where they were sitting.  And tongues spreading out like a fire appeared to them and came to rest on each one of them.  All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit, and they began to speak in other languages as the Spirit enabled them” (2:1-2).  Now, we must not allow ourselves to get too hung up on the imagery and activities here presented.  This is the baptism.  This is the coming of the Spirit.  We can grasp whatever metaphor is useful, but we must realize that these are metaphors for something that has occurred at the hand and direction of Israel’s God.  To fit with the metaphor that Paul uses in Romans five, as he there chooses to use that particular metaphor for purposes that should become obvious to us, we can helpfully think of this as the pouring out of the Holy Spirit.  Since Acts essentially becomes a biography of Paul and the church, with the mission to Gentiles the significant end of the narrative, it is not difficult to imagine that Luke (a Gentile) purposely highlights “pouring out” as a preferred metaphor.   

This is reflected in the inclusion of Peter’s speech, as he gives us insight into what has taken place and how it was interpreted by the disciples themselves.  To explain what is happening, Peter reaches for the prophecy of Joel and says “’And in the last days it will be’, God says, ‘that I will pour out My Spirit on all people, and your sons and your daughters will prophesy, and your young men will see visions, and your old men will dream dreams.  Even on My servants, both men and women, I will pour out My Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy.  And I will perform wonders in the sky above and miraculous signs on the earth below, blood and fire and clouds of smoke.  The sun will be changed to darkness and the moon to blood before the great and glorious day of the Lord comes.  And then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (2:17-21). 

So not only do we here have a pouring out of the Spirit of God, but we also have a programmatic statement about the reach of the kingdom of God, in that “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”  This parallels well with the Apostle Paul’s ever-so programmatic statement when it comes to the direction of his ministry, in that “Everyone who believes in Him will not be put to shame” (Romans 10:11).  “Everyone” is to be heard against the limiting of saving and shame-avoidance, by Israel, to those that were physical descendants of Abraham or Gentiles who submitted to and bore the covenant markers of Israel (the works of the law).  From the outset of the church it would be the calling on the name of the Lord in conjunction with the pouring out of the Holy Spirit (the metaphor that is used to describe what took place to cause hearing and believing that results in an unswerving loyalty to the King), that would delineate the covenant people, advancing and expanding the kingdom that had clearly come. 

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