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.”
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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.
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