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In this blog, there will be a variety of material: thoughts on Bible books, book reviews, historical characters, aspects of Scottish church history and other things.

Thursday, 7 May 2015

Acts 2:14-21 – The sermon of Peter

Luke’s account of what Peter said is probably a summary of his address. It contains a great deal of important issues, and we will take several more readings to consider it. In this reading, we will look at Peter’s explanation of what had taken place in Jerusalem. His answer reveals that the coming of the Spirit took place about nine in the morning (the third hour of the day).
In response to the words of the crowd, Peter elucidates to them what has happened. In order to explain the various phenomena, he turns to the Old Testament, a reminder to us where to find the explanation of all God’s work.  The best way to appreciate the ways of God is to search the Word of God for his answers.
This explanation is a marvellous example of how quickly Peter grasped the significance and meaning of Old Testament predictions. Perhaps the passage from Joel had been expounded by Jesus during the forty days he spent with his disciples. In any case Peter turns to the prophet Joel to explain what took place at Pentecost. Joel had predicted a future outpouring of the Spirit (Joel 2: 28-32). It is important to note that Peter adjusts the words of Joel because the time of their fulfilment has come. For example, Joel’s prophecy says that the fulfilment will take place after certain events have taken place (Joel 2:28)). Peter replaces ‘After this’ with ‘in the last days’ because the message of Joel is being fulfilled as Peter speaks.
The first detail to note is that Joel’s prophecy is probably an Old Testament reference to the deity of Christ. If we look at verse 33, we will see that Peter says it was Jesus who poured forth the Spirit from heaven. In verse 17, which is a quotation from Joel, it says that it is God who pours out the Spirit. Verse 33 clarifies for us that it is Jesus who is speaking in verse 17. This means that Joel’s prophecy is a prediction of what the divine Messiah would do in the future.
The second detail to note is that Pentecost belongs to the ‘last days’.  This phrase, ‘the last days,’ does not refer to the period just before the second coming of Christ, although people often use it in such a way. Biblically, time can be divided into two: there are the former days, which describes the period before the coming of the Messiah; there are the last days, which describes the whole period between the ascension of Christ to heaven and his return from heaven.
The words of Joel point to three important features of the last days. The first feature is that every believer will be a prophet (2:17-18). This is what is meant by seeing visions and dreaming dreams – in the Old Testament these were two of the ways by which prophets received their messages from God. It does not mean that these will be the ways by which believers will receive messages from Jesus; instead it is a prophetic picture of the universal ministry of God’s people in the last days. Concerning this prophetic ministry, it will be common to those who are young, to those who are old, to males and to females, to Jews and Gentiles. 
Sometimes, when we think of the task of a prophet, we think only of predicting the future. Yet prediction was not the usual work of a prophet. The common duty of a prophet was to convey God’s word to others. Peter here is saying that throughout the last days, and not just at Pentecost, every believer will receive help from the Holy Spirit to confess the name of Jesus and tell others about who he is and what he has done. He is not referring to preaching, but to the common activity of every Christian.
The second feature of the last days will be social upheaval (2:19-20). We are not meant to understand the image of cosmic shaking in a literal sense. It was common for Jewish teachers to use this type of imagery to depict turmoil in human governments, hostility and war among different nations, disaster in the natural world, and distress in human populations. In other words, alongside the spiritual activity of the church, Jesus is also going to work as the King of the nations, ruling and over-ruling through his providence. When such things happen, Peter is saying to his hearers, remember that Jesus is in charge, even when things seem to be going out of control.

The third feature of the last days that Peter mentions is the universal offer of the gospel: ‘And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved’ (2:21).  In this verse, we see the simplicity of salvation (call upon the name of the Lord in faith and repentance), the consistency of salvation (each person who will be saved is delivered in the same way), the confession that is the essence of salvation (a recognition of the sovereignty of Christ), and the certainty of salvation (every person who truly calls on God will be delivered from the judgement that his or her sins deserved.

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