Acts 2 – The first fruits of the Church

 

Pentecost_mosaic
Mosaic representing Pentecost in the St. Louis Cathedral

 

When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting.  Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them.  All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.  Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven in Jerusalem.  (Acts 2:1-5)

Jerusalem was full at this time because Jews had travelled in from all around to celebrate Pentecost.

For a first-century Jew, Pentecost was the fiftieth day after Passover.  It was an agricultural festival. It was the day when farmers brought the first sheaf of wheat from the crop and offered it to God, partly as a sign of gratitude and partly as a prayer that all the rest of the crop, too, would be safely gathered in.  

But, for the Jew, neither Passover or Pentecost were simply agricultural festivals.  These festivals echoed the great story of their forefathers.  The Passover remembers the exodus from Egypt when God fulfilled his promises to Abraham by rescuing his people.  They sacrificed a lamb just like they did the night they left Egypt and crossed the red sea into the Sinai desert.

50 days after days after Passover, after crossing the red sea, they came to Mount Sinai, where Moses received the law, on the stone tablets.   Pentecost then isn’t just about the first fruits, the sheaf of wheat which says the harvest has begun. it’s about God giving to his people the way of life by which they must now life, giving them the 10 commandments.  

So as we hear about what happened to the first disciples as the holy spirit came upon them at Pentecost, Luke, the writer of the book of acts takes it for granted that we would remember that Pentecost is about the first fruits of the harvest and the giving of the law on stone tablets.  

Now we see the first disciples being filled with spirit and then going on to bear powerful witness to Jesus and his resurrection to win converts from the very first day, this like the sheaf of wheat which is offered to God is a sign of the great harvest to come.  

And whereas Moses and Israel were given the law written on Stone tablets, here the disciples receive the holy spirit into their hearts.

Pentecost then is the first fruits of the Kingdom of God, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, the moment when we move from stone tablets to God dwelling within us.    

Jeremiah tells us this was God’s plan when he said:

The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with my people.  It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt—a covenant that they broke, says the Lord.

But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.  No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, “Know the Lord,” for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more. (Jeremiah 31:32-35)

We are God’s forgiven people through the power of the cross and we can know God because His holy spirit lives within us.

Acts 1 – The Acts of the …

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I have often wondered why the ‘Acts of the Apostles’ is called ‘The Acts of the Apostles’. In my mind it is not the best name for the book, it is not the most accurate name. I think if I were able to change the name I would make it ‘The Acts of the Holy Spirit’.  The opening verses of Acts are about Jesus ascending into heaven and the promise of the coming of the Holy Spirit.  

For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with[b] the Holy Spirit.” …  After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight. (Acts 1:5,9)

The book of Acts has no one human as its main character we see a lot of Peter in the first half and a lot of Paul in the second half.  There are many others who we hear about in the book of Acts. The one person present throughout is the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is moving and working in the lives of the early church as the good news starts to spread.

Many scholars think that Luke the writer of the Gospel of Luke and the book of Acts, intended to write a third book, to make a trilogy but perhaps died before he was able. His first book, Luke’s Gospel, starts in Judea and in the town of Bethlehem. We see Jesus travel and preach in Galilee. Eventually, Jesus arrives in Jerusalem the capital and the heart of Israel.  Jesus dies on the cross and on the third day rises again. The Gospel of Luke ends with the ascension of Jesus in Jerusalem. The book of Acts picks up in the same place, in Jerusalem. And from there the coming of the Holy Spirit the good news spreads around the Mediterranean and ends up in the capital and centre of the known world Rome.  So we have in the Gospel of Luke the coming good news which starts in the countryside and ends in the capital of Israel a small country in the Roman empire and then in the book of Acts we have the good news spread from the capital of Israel across  much of the Roman empire ending up in the capital Rome.  The third book would see the message ripple further from Jerusalem and Rome all the way to ends of the earth. Perhaps that third book wasn’t written because we are living that book. We are spreading the Good news of Jesus to ends of the earth, we are spreading the Good news into every community.

you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8)