JESUSí FOLLOWERS: TRUE WITNESSES OR WISHFUL THINKERS?

 

Week of April 19, 2009

 

Bible Verses:Acts 1:4-8; 2:1-4,12-16.

 

Lesson Focus: This lesson can help you realize your witness is credible and powerful as you faithfully testify to Scriptural truth.

 

Commissioned by Jesus: Acts 1:4-8.

 

[4]And while staying with them he ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, "you heard from me;[5]for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now."[6]So when they had come together, they asked him, "Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?"[7]He said to them, "It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority.[8]But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth."†† [ESV]

 

[4-6] In addition to speaking to the disciples about the kingdom of God, Jesus gave them certain instructions. They were not to leave Jerusalem but to wait for the Fatherís promise to be fulfilled. Not until God has fulfilled His promise and they have been clothed with power from on high, can they fulfill their commission. During the forty days in which the risen Lord showed Himself to the apostles, Luke indicates that Jesus taught them two things. First, He spoke to them about the kingdom of God which had been the burden of His message during His public ministry and indeed (judging from the present participle, speaking about the kingdom of God [1:3]) continued to be after His resurrection. Secondly, He told them to wait for the promised gift or baptism of the Spirit, which they would now receive in a few days. It appears that Jesus related these two things (kingdom and Spirit) to each other, for certainly the Old Testament prophets had often associated them. The mistake the apostles made with their question in verse 6 was to misunderstand both the nature of the kingdom and the relation between the kingdom and the Spirit. Their question must have filled Jesus with dismay. Were they still so lacking in perception? As Calvin commented, ďthere are as many errors in this question as wordsĒ. The verb, the noun and the adverb of their sentence all betray doctrinal confusion about the kingdom. For the verb restore shows that they were expecting a political and territorial kingdom; the noun Israel that they were expecting a national kingdom; and the adverbial clause at this time that they were expecting its immediate establishment.

 

[7-8]In His reply Jesus corrected their mistaken notions of the kingdomís nature, extent and arrival. (1) The kingdom of God is spiritual in its character. In the English language, a kingdom is usually a territorial sphere which can be located on a map. But the kingdom of God is not a territorial concept. Yet this is what the apostles were still envisaging by confusing the kingdom of God with the kingdom of Israel. The apostlesí hope had evidently been rekindled by the resurrection. They were still dreaming of political dominion, of the re-establishment of the monarchy. In His reply Jesus reverted to the topic of the Holy Spirit. He spoke of the Spirit coming upon them and giving them power to be His witnesses [8]. It is important to remember that His promise that they would receive power was part of His reply to their question about the kingdom. For the exercise of power is inherent in the concept of a kingdom. But power in Godís kingdom is different from power in human kingdoms. The reference to the Holy Spirit defines its nature. The kingdom of God is His rule set up in the lives of His people by the Holy Spirit. It is spread by witnesses, not by soldiers, through a gospel of peace, not a declaration of war, and by the work of the Spirit, not by force or arms, political intrigue or revolutionary violence. At the same time, in rejecting the politicizing of the kingdom, we must beware of the opposite extreme of super-spiritualizing it, as if Godís rule operates only in heaven and not on earth. The fact is that, although it must not be identified with any political ideology, it has radical political and social implications. Kingdom values come into collision with secular values. And the citizens of Godís kingdom steadfastly deny to Caesar the supreme loyalty for which he hungers, but which they insist on giving to Jesus alone. (2) The kingdom of God is international in its membership. The apostles still cherished narrow, nationalistic aspirations. In His reply Jesus broadened their horizons. He promised that the Holy Spirit would empower them to be His witnesses even to the remotest part of the earth. (3) The kingdom of God is gradual in its expansion. The apostlesí question included a specific reference to time: at this time. The Lordís reply was twofold. First, it is not for you to know times or seasons, which together make up Godís plan. The apostlesí question betrayed either curiosity or impatience or both. But the Father Himself had fixed the times by His own authority. So they must curb their inquisitiveness and be willing to be left in ignorance. Secondly, although they were not to know the times or dates, what they should know was that they would receive power so that, between the Spiritís coming and the Sonís coming again, they were to be His witnesses in ever-widening circles. In fact, the whole interim period between Pentecost and the Parousia is to be filled with the world-wide mission of the church in the power of the Spirit. Christís followers were both to announce what He had achieved at His first coming and to summon people to repent and believe in preparation for His second coming.

 

Filled with the Spirit: Acts 2:1-4.

 

[1]When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place.[2]And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting.[3]And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them.[4]And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.[ESV]

 

[1] Luke describes the miracle of the coming of the Holy Spirit, with its accompanying signs, in four short verses, remarkable for their nuances. The miracle occurred on the festival known as Pentecost, the fiftieth day after Passover. It was originally the festival of the firstfruits of the grain harvest [Ex. 23:16; Lev. 23:17-22; Num. 28:26-31]; and it was called the Feast of Weeks because it came after a period of seven weeks of harvesting that began with the offering of the first barley sheaf during the Passover celebration and ended with the wheat harvest. By the time of the first Christian century, however, it was considered the anniversary of the giving of the law at Mount Sinai and as a time for the annual renewal of the Mosaic covenant; and it was therefore looked upon as one of the three great pilgrim festivals of Judaism (along with Passover preceding it and Tabernacles some four months later). Whereas Pentecost was for Judaism the day of the giving of the law, for Christians it is the day of the coming of the Holy Spirit. By his stress on Pentecost as the day when the miracle took place, Luke is suggesting (1) that the Spiritís coming is in continuity with Godís purposes in giving the law and yet (2) that the Spiritís coming signals the essential difference between the Jewish faith and commitment to Jesus, for whereas the former is Torah centered and Torah directed, the latter is Christ centered and Spirit directed.

 

[2-4] God in his providence often accompanies his Spiritís working by visible and audible signs. In verses 2-4 three signs of the Spiritís coming are reported to have appeared, each of them Ė wind, fire, inspired speech Ė being considered in Jewish tradition as a sign of Godís presence. Wind as a sign of Godís Spirit is rooted linguistically in the fact that both the Hebrew word ruah and the Greek word pneuma mean either wind or spirit, depending on the context, and this allows a rather free association of the two ideas [cf. John 3:8]. Ezekiel had prophesied of the wind as the breath of God blowing over the dry bones in the valley of his vision and filling them with new life [Ezek. 37:9-14], and it was this wind of Godís Spirit that Judaism looked forward to as ushering in the final Messianic Age. Lukeís main point is that this noise like a mighty rushing wind that came from heaven and filled the entire house symbolized to all present the presence of Godís Spirit among them in a way more intimate, personal, and powerful than they had ever before experienced. Fire as a symbol of the divine presence was well known among first-century Jews. Compare the burning bush [Ex. 3:2-5], the pillar of fire that guided Israel by night through the wilderness [Ex. 13:21], the consuming fire on Mount Sinai [Ex. 24:17], and the fire that hovered over the wilderness tabernacle [Ex. 40:38]. The tongues as of fire here are probably not to be equated with the other tongues of verse 4 but should be taken as visible representations, given in the context of the appreciation of those there gathered, of the overshadowing presence of the Spirit of God. Also significant is Lukeís statement that these tokens of the Spiritís presence rested on each one of them. This seems to suggest that, though under the old covenant the divine presence rested on Israel as a corporate entity and upon many of its leaders for special purposes, under the new covenant, as established by Jesus and inaugurated at Pentecost, the Spirit now rests upon each believer individually. In other words, though the corporate and individual aspects of redemption cannot actually be separated, the emphasis in the proclamation of redemption from Pentecost onward is on the personal relationship of God to the believer through the Spirit, with all corporate (i.e., the Church) relationships resulting from this. In Old Testament times prophetic utterances were regularly associated with the Spiritís coming upon particular persons for special purposes. Judaism also expected that with the coming of the Messianic Age there would be a special outpouring of Godís Spirit, in fulfillment of Ezekiel 37, and that prophecy would once again flourish. The coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost was of utmost significance both theologically and practically for the early church since it indicated the fulfillment of prophecy.

 

There are at least four ways in which we may think of the Day of Pentecost. First, it was the final act of the saving ministry of Jesus before the Parousia. He who was born into our humanity, lived our life, died for our sins, rose from the dead and ascended into heaven, now sent His Spirit to His people to constitute them His body and to work out in them what He had won for them. In this sense the Day of Pentecost is unrepeatable. Secondly, Pentecost brought to the apostles the equipment they needed for their special role. Christ had appointed them to be His primary and authoritative witnesses, and had promised them the reminding and teaching ministry of the Holy Spirit [John 14-16]. Pentecost was the fulfillment of that promise. Thirdly, Pentecost was the inauguration of the new era of the Spirit. Although His coming was a unique and unrepeatable historical event, all the people of God can now always and everywhere benefit from His ministry. Although He equipped the apostles to be the primary witnesses, He also equips us to be secondary witnesses. Although the inspiration of the Spirit was given to the apostles alone (i.e., writing down God's Word), the fullness of the Spirit is for us all. Fourthly, Pentecost has been rightly called the first revival, using this word to denote one of those altogether unusual visitations of God, in which a whole community becomes vividly aware of His immediate, overpowering presence. In looking at the Day of Pentecost we must be careful not to relegate to the category of the exceptional what God may intend to be the churchís normal experience. The wind and the fire were abnormal, and probably the languages too; the new life and joy, fellowship and worship, freedom, boldness and power were meant to continue.

Confirmed by the Scripture: Acts 2:12-16.

 

[12]And all were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, "What does this mean?"[13]But others mocking said, "They are filled with new wine."[14]But Peter, standing with the eleven, lifted up his voice and addressed them, "Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and give ear to my words.[15]For these men are not drunk, as you suppose, since it is only the third hour of the day.[16]But this is what was uttered through the prophet Joel:[ESV]

 

[12-13]The miraculous is not self-authenticating, nor does it inevitably and uniformly convince. There must also be the preparation of the heart and the proclamation of the message if miracles are to accomplish their full purpose. This was true even for the miracle of the Spirit's coming at Pentecost. All of the devout men [5], whose attention had been arrested by the signs at Pentecost and whose own religious heritage gave them at least some appreciation of them, were amazed and asked, What does this mean? Others, however, being spiritually insensitive only mocked, attributing such phenomena to drunkenness. All this prepares the reader for Peter's sermon, which is the initial proclamation of the gospel message to a prepared people.

 

[14-16]Peter's sermon is addressed to Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem. Here Peter apparently wanted to include particularly those who had been most bewildered by the multiplicity of the languages spoken. Peter begins negatively by arguing that the apostles could not be drunk, for it was only nine in the morning. Positively, Peter explains the phenomena taking place among the early Christians at Pentecost as being the fulfillment of Joel 2:28-32. The way Peter uses this passage is of great significance (1) for an appreciation of early Christian exegetical practices and doctrinal commitments and (2) as a pattern for our own treatment of the Old Testament. For Peter, what Joel said is what God says. And while what God says may have been somewhat mysterious when first uttered, when seen from the perspective of eschatological fulfillment a great deal of what was unclear is clarified. Thus Peter can proclaim from the perspective of the Messiah's resurrection and living presence with His people (1) that this that he and the infant church were experiencing in the outpouring of God's Spirit is what was prophesied by Joel, (2) that these are the last days of God's redemptive program, and (3) that the validation of all this is the fact of the return of prophesying. In other words, he is proclaiming that this is the time for the fulfillment of prophecy and that these are the long-awaited last days of the divine redemptive program. He is also suggesting by his inclusion of the prophet's call for response that through the apostles' proclamation there will go out from Jerusalem a prophetic message of salvation and a call for repentance.

 

Questions for Discussion:

 

1.†† What did Jesus teach the disciples during His forty days on earth between His resurrection and ascension? Why do you think He concentrated on these truths?

2.†† What did Jesus teach about the Kingdom of God? What role should this teaching play in our being witnesses for Christ?

3.†† What was the significance of the three sings of the Spirit's coming in 2:2-4?

4.†† What are the four ways we may think of the Day of Pentecost? What aspects of Pentecost should be the church's normal experience?

 

References:

The Message of Acts, John Stott, Inter-Varsity Press.

Acts, Darrell Bock, Baker.