Lesson: Acts 2:1-21
1 When the day of Pentecost had come, the disciples were all together in one place. 2 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. 3 Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.
5 Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. 6 And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. 7 Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? 9 Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 11 Cretans and Arabs– in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.” 12 All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” 13 But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.”
14 But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. 15 Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. 16 No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:
17 `In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams.
18 Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy.
19 And I will show portents in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and smoky mist.
20 The sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day.
21 Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’ “
The book called “The Acts of the Apostles” was written around 85 to 90 CE by the anonymous author of the Gospel According to Luke. The first 15 chapters of Acts are a didactic “history” of the early Jesus Follower Movement starting with the Ascension of the Christ and ending at the so-called Council of Jerusalem where it was agreed that Gentiles did not have to be circumcised and keep all the Kosher dietary laws to become Jesus Followers.
Chapters 16 to 28 of Acts are an account of Paul’s Missionary Journeys, his arrest, and his transfer to Rome – and the stories are not always consistent with Paul’s letters.
The Gospel According to Luke and Acts of the Apostles see the Holy Spirit as the driving force for all that happens. The events surrounding today’s reading exemplify this.
Pentecost (also known in Judaism as Shavuot and the Feast of Weeks) celebrated the Spring Harvest 50 days after Passover. It was observed in Ancient Israel from at least the Fifth Century BCE and was one of three feasts in which Jews came to the Temple in Jerusalem to make offerings. It is therefore not surprising that Acts reported that there were large numbers of devout Jews in Jerusalem (v.5) for Pentecost.
After the Destruction of the Temple in 70 CE, offerings could no longer be made there. The feast of Pentecost n Judaism then became a celebration of the giving of the Torah 50 days after (according to the Book of Exodus) the Israelites celebrated the First Passover and left Egypt.
Today’s Pentecost Story contains images of fire and wind – common “descriptions” of the Spirit of God that knows no boundaries. For example, the presence of YHWH is in the Burning Bush in Exodus 3 and tongues of fire are present in Isaiah 5:24.
Many Bible scholars note that persons’ hearing the disciples speaking their own languages (v.11) can be seen as the Spirit’s reversal of the Tower of Babel Story in which YHWH intentionally confused the languages of the earth (Gen.11:9). The Babel Story is generally considered an “etiology” (a myth-story of origins) rather than a literal account about the multiplicity of languages on earth.
The verses quoted from the prophet Joel 2:28-31 described an eschatological event in which Israel would be delivered from its sufferings. Using some the existing traditions about the Day of the LORD, Joel prophesied that God’s people would never again be put to shame (v.27).
The author of Acts used the images in these verses and added the words “In the last days it will be, God declares” (v.17). In this way, he used the verses from Joel to support a claim that God’s plan was being fulfilled by the giving of the Spirit in Pentecost. The author of Acts presented the day as “glorious” (v.20) rather than “terrible” (Joel 2:31).
Epistle: Romans 8:22-27
22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; 23 and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.
26 Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. 27 And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.
Paul’s letter to the Romans was his longest, last and most complex letter. It was written in the late 50s or early 60s (CE) – about ten years before the first Gospel (Mark) was written – to a Jesus Follower community that Paul did not establish. Among other messages in the letter, Paul sought to encourage respectful and supportive relationships between the Gentile Jesus Followers and the Jewish Jesus Followers in Rome.
Paul died in 62 or 63 CE. Accordingly, the Temple in Jerusalem (which was destroyed in 70) was in full operation all during Paul’s life. As a Jew who was also a Jesus Follower, Paul continued to have expectations about the fullness of the Coming of the Messiah. This is the “glory about to be revealed to us” (v.18).
Paul’s views were “apocalyptic” in that he anticipated a breakthrough from the current time to a new and better age. In today’s reading, he used the image of the “freedom of the glory of God” to represent the new age, and metaphors of labor pains (v.22) and waiting for adoption and redemption (v.23) as characteristics of the transitional time to this fullness.
Like most apocalyptic writers, Paul saw God as the moving force for this change (v.27) by God’s willing that the Spirit help us to pray (v. 26) and to intercede for the “saints” (believers).
Gospel: John 15:26-27, 16:4b-15
26 Jesus said to his disciples,” When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who comes from the Father, he will testify on my behalf. 27 You also are to testify because you have been with me from the beginning.
16:4b “I did not say these things to you from the beginning, because I was with you. 5 But now I am going to him who sent me; yet none of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’ 6 But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your hearts. 7 Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. 8 And when he comes, he will prove the world wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment: 9 about sin, because they do not believe in me; 10 about righteousness, because I am going to the Father and you will see me no longer; 11 about judgment, because the ruler of this world has been condemned.
12 “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13 When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. 14 He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you. 15 All that the Father has is mine. For this reason, I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.
The Fourth Gospel is different in many ways from the Synoptic Gospels. The “signs” (miracles) and many of the stories in the Fourth Gospel are unique to it, such as the Wedding at Cana, Jesus’ conversation with the Samaritan woman at the well, and the Raising of Lazarus.
The chronology of events is also different in the Fourth Gospel. For example, the Temple Event (“cleansing of the Temple”) occurred early in Jesus’ Ministry in the Fourth Gospel, rather than late as in the Synoptic Gospels. In the Synoptic Gospels, the Last Supper was a Passover Seder, but in the Fourth Gospel, it occurred the day before the first day of Passover so that Jesus (who is described as “the Lamb of God”) died at the time lambs were being sacrificed at the Temple for the Passover Seder to be held that night.
Today’s reading is also unique to the Fourth Gospel and is part of “the Farewell Discourses” (Chapters 14 to 16) in which Jesus gave insights and instructions to his disciples at the Last Supper.
The Advocate promised in verse 26 is the Holy Spirit, that will only come to the disciples if Jesus “goes away” (v.7). The Greek word “parakletos” is sometimes translated “Paraclete” and is understood as “one who stands beside” another, or a supporter or comforter.
In the Fourth Gospel, the Resurrected Christ “breathed” on the disciples (gave them “new life”) in the locked room late in the day of the Resurrection (when Thomas was not there) and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” Jn.20:22. This event is sometimes called “Little Pentecost.”
The verses that speak of the Father, the Spirit and Jesus (vv. 13-14) anticipate the doctrine of the Trinity developed at the Council of Nicea in 325 CE.
The omitted verses (16:1-4a) spoke of the Jesus Followers being “put out of the synagogues” and the idea that a time is coming when “those who kill you … think…they are offering worship to God.” The notion of the Jesus Followers being put out of the synagogues would have been anachronistic in Jesus’s own time. Some Jewish scholars question whether expulsions of Jesus Followers from the synagogues have an historical referent.