This text is used for the Lectionary Year A on June 4, 2017.
The Lord Jesus always keeps his promises in his time and in his ways. He promised after he went away, the Holy Spirit would come to his disciples as a Helper to comfort, empower, and guide them in their gospel witness and work (John 16:5-15; Acts 1:1-8). On the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:1), the timing was right for the fulfillment of this eternity-altering promise to unfold. The symbolism intertwined with the fulfillment of this promise is worth noticing while watching this holy moment initiated “from heaven” and instituted “on earth” take place (cf. Matthew 6:10).
Luke tells his readers the effects surrounding the Holy Spirit’s entrance came “from heaven” that included sounds like “a mighty rushing wind,” sights of “divided tongues as of fire” and results of those in the room who “began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance” (Acts 2:2-4). This promise was fulfilled after Jesus had ascended to heaven. Once Jesus was present in heaven, the creative power of God’s Spirit came down “from heaven” to enable the next phase of God’s redemptive work to be done “on earth.” The presence of God could begin in a new way on this historically significant day “on earth as it is in heaven.”
This text is used for the Lectionary Year A on May 28, 2017.
After Jesus’ resurrection, he showed himself to be alive to the disciples and many of his other followers over the next forty days. Jesus continued to talk with them about the kingdom of God (Acts 1:3) as his time of departure approached. His final conversation with the remaining eleven disciples took place on a Thursday before he ascended from earth back to heaven. The main theme of the conversation still centered around the kingdom of God.
The disciples thought if their king had risen from the brutal death he endured, then their ideas of the coming kingdom must be alive once more. Perhaps now was the time Jesus would free them from the ongoing Roman oppression they had endured as Jews since 63 B.C. Now would be a wonderful time to put their occupiers out of their sights and cleanse their promised land of Israel of all foreign rule and idolatry that had crept in over the past half millennia plus. Thus, the final recorded question to Jesus from the disciples before his ascension is an important one that helps us understand their ongoing expectations.
“Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6)
Jesus tells them such timing is not the main issue for them to concern themselves and instead redirects their question to a promise and a purpose for them. The promise is that power is coming to them in the form of the Holy Spirit. The purpose is for them to be his witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. Luke groups his letter of Acts in this succession of chapters: Jerusalem (1-7), Judea and Samaria (8-12), the ends of the earth (13-28).
The theme of “witness” saturates Acts as the word “martures” in various forms is found thirty-nine times. We get our English word martyr from this Greek word for witness as the two became linked through the stories of persecution of the faithful ones who shed their blood as martyrs of the faith as they witnessed about their risen king named Jesus.
This text is used for the Lectionary Year A on May 21, 2017.
Many believe this passage in Acts to be a summary rather than a verbatim manuscript of a sermon Paul spoke to the leading philosophers gathered in Athens on the Areopagus. It is highly unlikely that a preacher like Paul would preach only about a two-minute sermon when given the opportunity to stand before the most highly recognized court of philosophical influencers and worldview shapers of his day. This message he spoke in Athens, while highly criticized by biblical scholars and theologians throughout history, is one that brilliantly shows Paul understanding his audience as he attempts to live by his own strategy to become “all things to all people.” (1 Corinthians 9:22)
After Paul had engaged with the people of Athens day after day in the marketplace sharing ideas about Jesus and the resurrection (Acts 17:17-18), he was brought before the Areopagus to explain his teachings (Acts 17:19-20). The Areopagus was an esteemed place and group who gathered as a sort of court of philosophical experts of that day based in Athens. From the 5th century BC Athens was the primary city of influence as it pertained to shaping the culture and the philosophical thought patterns of the ancient world with the Areopagus being the hub from where such influence emanated. When Paul was invited to share his case about Jesus and the resurrection to the Areopagus, this was a signal of honor for Paul, since only the most learned lecturers and scholars were invited to address the court, whose main job it was to determine religion and philosophy for the masses.
Paul’s sermon receives criticism by some because he never once explicitly mentions Jesus by name in this text. Some believe Paul later regrets his philosophical approach to his sermon among the Areopagus as the basis for what he wrote to the church at Corinth in 1 Corinthians 2:1-5. Nonetheless, Paul’s preaching in Athens was used by God to open doors and hearts for further conversation about the gospel that did lead both men and women to repentant saving faith in Jesus (Acts 17:32-34).
This text is used for the Lectionary Year A on May 14, 2017.
The conclusion of Stephen’s speech (Acts 7:1-54) became the tipping point that unleashed persecution against the church inside Jerusalem (Acts 8:1) and the spread of the gospel toward Judea, Samaria and the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8). The Jewish religious leaders listening to Stephen boiled over with anger. Some biblical scholars have likened that religious group to a pack of ravenous wolves ready to tear limb from limb this one full of the Holy Spirit (Acts 7:55; 6:3, 5, 10) who was standing before them with the face of an angel (Acts 6:15). Just a few years earlier this identical, angry, religious pack felt the same way when Jesus of Nazareth stood before them. They did whatever it took to end Jesus’ life outside the gates of Jerusalem in a bloody mess and were soon to make sure Stephen’s end would come to pass. As Yogi Berra is credited with saying, “It was déjà vu all over again.”
The details described in the Bible leading to the deaths of Jesus and Stephen parallel each other in many regards. There was an underground movement of secrecy that gained momentum toward both men as the angry Jewish leaders went to work on their plan towards removal and execution (John 11:45-53; Acts 6:11). The religious wolves accused both of blasphemy and speaking against the Temple (Matthew 26:59-63; Acts 6:12-14). Jesus responded to the accusations by telling the high priest, “But I tell you, from now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven” (Matthew 26:63; cf. Daniel 7:13-14). Stephen responded to the enraged accusers by seeing beyond them and into what awaited him and said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God” (Acts 7:56). Jesus mentions the posture of the Son of Man being seated while Stephen describes the Son of Man standing in heaven. Both were located at the ultimate position of ultimate power: the right hand of God.