Acts 2. 37 – 47

All over the crowd, the truth was dawning on one after another – the miracle-worker who had been crucified truly was Messiah.  The shock was palpable. Eyes widened as jaws dropped open and nervous hands covered trembling hearts pierced by unseen arrows.  The dismay at once gave rise to a question: something must be done, but what?  What would avert God’s retribution for the rejection of His Messiah?

In anguish people grabbed hold of the apostles and begged them, “Brothers, what shall we do?”  It was another of those moments when Peter just overflowed with the Holy Spirit, and didn’t even have to think about the response that came tumbling out of him:

“Go beyond where you have been until now, and find a new mindset.  Be baptised, immersed in water, every one of you, to be freed from your shortcomings.  And you too will receive this Holy Spirit.  Because this promise isn’t just for us few.  It’s for you, and for your children, and for anyone who is far away from God – it’s for everyone whom God is calling to Himself.”

That was only the beginning of what he said.  He carried on, making it quite plain what they needed to do.  Concern was etched all over his face and gave gravitas to his words as he made his appeal to them: “Save yourselves out of this twisted generation.”  Those who were willing to listen and accept the truth of what he said were baptised, and about three thousand joined the followers of Jesus that day.

From then on their lives revolved around the teaching that the apostles gave them, and around becoming a community bonded in love, around breaking bread and praying together.  Life in those days in the community of believers was lived in a perpetual state of amazement.  Miraculous and astonishing signs done by the apostles became the norm.  They lived close by each other in community, and shared all their belongings between them.  If anyone was in need, people sold something that belonged to them and used the proceeds to meet that need.

They gathered every day in the temple courts.  They broke bread together in each other’s houses, and as they ate, the joy and the sincere love between them was evident to all.  Their days were passed in praise to God, and their little community was highly regarded by the whole of society. And every day they grew in number, as God kept bringing more people along to join them, people who had found salvation in Him.

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Acts 2. 25-36

They were starting to look at Peter as if he were drunk again – all this talk of raising Jesus from the dead.  So he turned to something familiar – their Old Testament Scriptures.  He reminded them that this was nothing new but simply what David had prophesied:

“You will not leave my soul in the place of the dead, nor will You allow your Holy One to experience decomposition.  Instead, You have made known to me the ways of life.  In Your presence what I experience is fulness of joy.”

Then he went on to point out that David, the great patriarch, couldn’t possibly have been writing about himself, since he is dead, buried and decomposed, and his tomb is nearby for anyone to visit.  So, being a prophet, and knowing that God had promised him with an oath that his descendants, especially in the person of Messiah, would occupy the throne for all time, David prophesied Messiah’s resurrection.  He knew, all those centuries before, that God would not leave Messiah’s soul in the place of the dead, nor allow his body to decompose.

Those who were with Peter at the time told me that you could see the expression of studied concentration on the faces of those who listened.  Some looked puzzled, some thoughtful and some as though the light was beginning to dawn in them.  Peter pressed on, making his explanation even more explicit:

“God has raised this Jesus back to life, and we’re all first-hand eye witnesses of the event.  And he has been promoted to God’s right hand on high, and from that position he has poured out what you have been seeing and hearing – the promised Holy Spirit.  After all, David didn’t ascend up into heaven.  And yet he himself said, ‘The Lord said to my Lord, sit at My right hand until I make your enemies into a footstool for you.’  So if he wasn’t saying this about himself, he must have been looking ahead to the person of Messiah.  So let the whole house of Israel know that God has made this Jesus, the one you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.”

Acts 2. 14-24

It was Peter – Peter, who just six weeks earlier had been too scared to acknowledge that he even knew Jesus! – who stepped forward to explain.  He addressed his fellow countrymen and all the visitors by saying, “These people aren’t drunk, as some of you are suggesting.” I can imagine the playful wink that I’ve come to know as I’ve become acquainted with him, as he added, “It’s only nine o’clock in the morning!”

And then he went on to quote Joel’s ancient prophecy, how God had pledged to pour out His Spirit on all the world’s people, and the result would be prophecy, visions, dreams, wonders and signs in heaven and on earth. Then, with a boldness that staggered everyone who knew him, he went on to proclaim, “Fellow Israelites! Listen to me: God proved to you who Jesus of Nazareth really was by the miracles, wonders and signs that He carried out through him.  You know this, you all witnessed it at first hand.

“And we could argue about who was responsible for his death – was it you?  Was it the Romans who wickedly helped you to carry it out?  But the reality is, it happened because of God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge.  And if there should be any doubt about that, God removed it by raising him from the dead, liberating him from the death pangs, because there was no way in hell or earth that death could keep him in its grip.”

He paused and looked around.  You could have heard a feather drop from a sparrow.  The entire crowd was silent, transfixed, spellbound.

Acts 2. 5 – 13

I can tell you, it caused quite a stir.  Religious Jewish people had gathered in Jerusalem from all over the world for the Feast of Weeks. When they heard a hundred and twenty people praising God in many different languages, they dropped everything and stopped to listen.  As they listened, each one could hear his own language being spoken by uneducated peasants from an obscure region of the country, untutored labourers and fishermen speaking the languages of the Far East, of Persia and beyond, speaking Greek and Arabic, and the languages of Egypt and Libya.

There were visitors here who had been born Jewish, and others who had converted to Judaism, all hearing God eloquently praised in fluent speech delivered in languages that these unschooled country folk could scarcely be expected to have heard before, let alone learned.  They pressed in to see and hear this strange phenomenon, touching those who were speaking, pulling at their robes, even turning them round to see what was the source of this clever trick.  But no magician could be found controlling them.

“Even women!” murmured one elderly gentleman in wonder. For indeed, illiterate women were speaking as if they had great book learning and extensive travel under their belts, and yet everyone knew it was not possible.  And so the more the assembled crowd observed and pondered, the more their amazement grew.

Those who didn’t care to question it too deeply resorted to mocking, accusing them of being drunk. But meanwhile this torrent of praise, beyond their own words and needing new words to express it, continued to flow out of the followers of Jesus, and no curiosity or mocking could extinguish or even diminish their joy.

Acts 2. 1-4

Passover came and went, and then the Feast of Weeks.  That day dawned the same as any other.  They gathered together in one place to celebrate the harvest, as had been done every year since the time of Moses.

Suddenly, the whole air was filled with a sound like a hurricane, and yet not a leaf of a tree nor a hair of anyone’s head stirred.  They looked at each other wide-eyed, some of them trembling with fear, everyone on high alert, no one sure what was happening.  And then without warning flames appeared, licking above the heads of everyone present, and just stayed hovering above each one.

And to each one, something happened that they couldn’t exactly put into words.  It was a transformation somehow akin to Jesus’s transfiguration on the mountain, except that it wasn’t their appearance that changed, but rather something deep in the essence of who they were.

Each one felt it, a newness of life, like a spring of water bubbling up within, and each one saw it in the inexpressible joy radiating from the faces of all the others.  It was Jesus among them again, just not visible or tangible, and not only among them but within every one of them.  Never again would they have to wait for him, as they had done these past forty days.  From now on everywhere they went they would carry Him, His presence, with them.

Unable to contain themselves any longer, they raised their voices and began to overflow with joy and praise to God, and to their astonishment they found themselves doing so in other languages which they had never learned.  It was as though they had to break out of the limitations of their own vocabulary, because what they were experiencing was beyond anything their own words could express.

And so they sat looking at each other in wonder and ecstasy, raising their voices and giving praise to God in strange languages as this Holy Spirit of Jesus overflowed out of them.

Acts 1. 12-26

They descended the mountain slopes and walked the eight or ten minutes back to Jerusalem, although in truth they were still somewhat in shock from what they had just witnessed, and the yards vanished behind them as they talked it over.  It seemed He really had gone for now, and had left them to be His witnesses.  The task of spreading His message and His kingdom lay in their hands.  There wasn’t one among them who felt equal to it.

Back in the city centre, they made their way to the upper room.  The eleven disciples were there (minus Judas, of course) along with the women, and Mary, Jesus’ mother, and even His brothers, who had come to see the truth of who He really was.

All told, about a hundred and twenty people gathered together, and Peter spoke to them about the absence of Judas.  He’d been searching the Scriptures and realised that Judas’ betrayal, like everything else in Jesus’ life, had been foretold by the prophets, if only they’d had eyes to see and hearts to understand.  Even Judas’ tragic and gory death had resulted in Scripture being fulfilled – the Psalms which spoke of his home being desolate and deserted and his office given to another had come to pass.

So it was decided that they should appoint that other person to take his place, and that it must be one of those who had known Jesus from the outset of His ministry and had witnessed His resurrection.  They had no idea, of course, that God had another apostle lined up, the last person they would have expected, who would join them a year or two down the line.  But more of him later.

For now, they prayed for God to guide them, cast lots between Joseph and Matthias, and Matthias was chosen to be added to the eleven.  So once again there were twelve disciples to lead this fledgeling movement.

Acts 1. 9-11

There were more unimaginable things to come.  Not only did Messiah have His sights set on much bigger goals than restoring the Kingdom to Israel, but His methods were beyond anything anyone had conceived of.  After He’d finished His explanation and His instructions about carrying their testimony of Him to the farthest corners of the earth, He took off!  No one had been expecting that.  He just shot up into the air as if something were lifting Him, not like a bird, more like an arrow fired straight upwards.  He just ascended, growing smaller and smaller to the eyes until He was nothing but a distant speck and they squinted to see Him against the sunlight.  Finally even the speck disappeared as the clouds closed over Him.

Everyone was mystified.  What was He doing? Where was He going?  When would He be back?  Was He going to descend again?  They had been told to await the promise of the Father, the Holy Spirit.  Maybe He had gone to fetch this Spirit and would be back in a moment.  They stood peering into the sky, watching for signs of Him descending again and bringing the promise with Him.  They watched and waited in vain.  No trace of Him could be seen.

They were gazing so intently, they didn’t see or hear anyone approaching.  When someone suddenly asked, “Why are you all just standing there, staring into the sky?” everyone nearly jumped out of their skin.  They looked round and saw two men in white looking at them with a half-smile of amusement.  “This same Jesus, who has been taken from you not just into the sky but into heaven itself, will return in the same way that you’ve seen Him go into heaven.”  They turned and began to walk away, pausing occasionally to look back at the waiting group, shaking their heads with that same look of kindly amusement.

And so it began to dawn on everyone that His return, certain though it was, would not be imminent.  With that they left, to do what He had instructed them, which was not to leave Jerusalem but to wait until the Father sent them what He had promised.