Reading Ramblings – June 4, 2017

Reading Ramblings

Date: Pentecost Sunday – June 4, 2017

Text: Numbers 11:24-30; Psalm 25:1-15; Acts 2:1-21; John 7:37-39

Context: Pentecost is the Greek word for 50th and indicates the 50th day after Passover. In the Old Testament it is referred to as the Festival of Weeks (Exodus 34:22). Pentecost was the second of three annual holidays which required all able-bodied Jewish men to come into the Lord’s presence, either outside the Tabernacle or the Temple. Pentecost was associated with the end of the grain harvest, and was a time for celebration after hard work. This was the reason for so many Jews from so many places in Acts 2. It was the perfect opportunity for the Holy Spirit to witness in power to a great many Jews, many of whom would have been present in Jerusalem for Passover and would be personally familiar with Jesus’ execution and the proclamation of the empty tomb. So it is that this crowd will be convicted of their sin and respond to Peter’s call for repentance and baptism in the name of Jesus Christ (which isn’t technically part of today’s reading but is the highlight of his sermon that we begin to hear today!).

Numbers 11:24-30 – The Holy Spirit arrives on Pentecost and ushers in a new era, in which God the Holy Spirit dwells in the hearts of all of God’s people, beginning with the apostles. Until this time, the Holy Spirit only came to some people, such as the elders of Israel in this reading. Moses expressed his desire that all God’s people should be blessed with the indwelling Holy Spirit, but it wouldn’t be until 1500 years or so later that his prayer would be granted. We are blessed in a way that many of God’s people through time could only imagine. Earlier in this segment, (v.17), God indicates that He will share his spirit so that Moses does not have to bear the burden of God’s people alone. So the Holy Spirit is a means of strengthening the people of God, allowing us to share one another’s burdens. Although the Spirit’s presence is manifest by prophecy in v.25, it is important to note that this was a temporary reaction, perhaps intended as a demonstration of the newly appointed authority of these leaders. While the Holy Spirit undoubtedly still does provide prophetic insight and wisdom to some people still, it is not something that we should expect of all God’s people. God provides his good gifts according to his good will, not our personal preferences or expectations!

Psalm 25:1-15 – The psalmist expresses hope and trust in the Lord’s provision, so that he will not be overwhelmed by adversaries (vs.1-2). He bolsters this confidence by confessing that God never allows his people to be put to shame for his sake (v.3). Rather than focus on his own ways of saving himself, the psalmist asks for God to teach him, and to help him focus on God’s Word (vs.4-5) so that he is patient for God’s timing. He encourages God to answer his request based on God’s steadfast faithfulness which He has demonstrated with his people from of old (v.6). He also asks that God would forgive his sins and not hold them against him (v.7), something that might cause God to refrain from responding to his prayer. He then begins to extol the virtues of God, affirming that God does indeed lead and guide his people who seek him, and that wisdom is to be found in following God’s leading (vs.8-10). Perhaps burdened by his sins, he once again asks for forgiveness (v.11) before affirming the wisdom of following God’s leading, and the blessings that are to be found in such obedience (vs.12-14). He concludes this section of the psalm with the assertion that God will indeed rescue him from the predicament alluded to in the opening verses.

Acts 2:1-21 – I wish that we would read through all of Peter’s Pentecost sermon instead of breaking it into pieces! The Holy Spirit’s presence is indicated in ways reminiscent of God’s presence in the Old Testament, particularly Exodus 19. Luke’s description indicates a real event, with real manifestations that were both audible and visible to those gathered in the room with the disciples. We aren’t sure how many believers are there. It could be interpreted as just the twelve, based on the end of Acts 1. Or it could mean a larger assembly of all those who had come to faith in Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, though that seems like an unusually large number of people for a single gathering. There are more than a dozen different ethnicities mentioned in vs. 7-11 so perhaps it is more than just the twelve who are there and are gifted with the ability to speak in tongues. Verse 14 indicates only that Peter and the other eleven disciples stand up or are already standing, perhaps at the forefront of the group, during this event. As Jesus’ inner circle it would be most appropriate for them to stand in order to bear witness and answer the questions of the crowd. The main question to be answered is not how is it that the disciples can speak in these other languages, but rather, what is the meaning of this event? God’s people recognize that there must be a reason why these uneducated men are suddenly speaking in different languages, and it is this question that Peter seeks to address in his sermon.

John 7:37-39 – The presence of the Holy Spirit is indicative of life itself. This new life in Christ is not contained within the individual but naturally flows out as an expression of love towards God and towards others. The disciples, therefore, really don’t have an option. When the Spirit moves them, they respond. When people ask them what it means, Peter steps forward to speak. These are actions motivated by love for Jesus Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit. We often worry that we will be unprepared in the moment to give testimony to our faith, but we should trust that God the Holy Spirit himself will be there to give us the words!

What flows from us in faith is not simply evidence of our own life in Christ, but as we speak the Word of God and the Gospel to others, it is actually life-giving to them as well! The Word of God that goes out from us carries the power of the Holy Spirit to bring life to the one who hears. While we may find our words inadequate or awkward, the Holy Spirit can use them as the source of life.

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