Connections 06.04.2017: The God of All People

Acts 2:1-21

This morning as I write, the screen is blurry through tears. I can’t stop thinking of an arena full of excited, joyful young concertgoers who had no idea of the horror that was about to unfold when their show ended. Last night (May 22) in Manchester, England, yet another terror attack claimed the lives of innocent people—this time following a concert by American pop singer Ariana Grande. As hundreds of people exited the facility, a suicide bomber detonated his explosive, killing twenty-two and wounding dozens more. Authorities are taking every possible measure to determine if the bomber had accomplices. The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has claimed responsibility for the attack to the glory of “Allah.”

If you’re like me, you can’t fathom a religion that sanctions murder and terror in the name of its god. This is one of those times when we may look on our Muslim brothers and sisters with mistrust, uncertainty, and even fear. But this is one of those times when we must understand the difference between Islam and ISIS. If, like me, you don’t feel that you know enough about them, I urge you to do some research using reputable sources and major news sites. All Muslims are not responsible for the crimes of one group, just as all Christians are not responsible for the crimes of the KKK.

Instead, let’s remember the God we love and serve. It’s the same God who, one glorious day, sent the Holy Spirit flaming into the hearts of Jesus’ followers, giving them the power to speak so that everyone in attendance could understand. The faithful disciples of Jesus spoke to “Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs” (vv. 9-11a). And everyone got the message in his or her own language.

Our God is the God of all people. There is no one whom God would ignore. God wants everyone to hear and understand who God is—and terror and murder have nothing to do with God.

Peter gives the crowd some sobering news: hard, frightening times are coming. But he also gives them great hope: God’s Spirit will be poured over men and women and will save everyone who calls on the name of the Lord. (See vv. 17-21.)

In times like these, we may be tempted to hide, to protect ourselves, to avoid people who are different. Instead, I encourage us to cling to the truth that God is bigger than terrorists. May we strive to understand our differences so that we can unite against those who threaten our way of life.

Source: Ceylan Yeginsu and Steven Erlanger, “ISIS Claims Responsibility for Manchester Concert Attack; Toll Rises to 22,” New York Times, 23 May 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/05/23/world/europe/manchester-arena-attack-ariana-grande.html?_r=0.

Discussion

1. It’s been nearly two weeks since the terror attack in Manchester, England. Has anything about the story changed in that time? If so, what has changed and how?
2. What does it mean to you that ISIS often claims responsibility for such attacks? How can you better educate yourself about this group and about Islam?
3. Imagine how it must feel to be a Muslim in times like these. How afraid must you be that friends, neighbors, and strangers will blame you and maybe try to hurt you because of these attacks? How could you help people understand the difference between Muslims and ISIS?
4. How does the Holy Spirit help us get across the barriers of different languages and customs?
5. In On Living in an Atomic Age, C. S. Lewis said, “If we are going to be destroyed by an atomic bomb, let that bomb come when we are doing sensible things—praying, working, teaching, reading, listening to music, chatting with friends over a pint and a game of darts—not huddled together like frightened sheep thinking about bombs. They may break our bodies (a microbe can do that) but they need not dominate our minds.” How might this quote be helpful as we navigate through the fear and uncertainty that arise after a terror attack?

Reference Shelf

Luke denotes the arrival of the day of Pentecost by saying, “And when the day of Pentecost was fulfilled.” While “fulfill” can denote the arrival of a specific date, the word “fulfill” offers the impression that something significant is about to happen. The time is approaching for the fulfillment of the prophecy of the coming of the Spirit (cf. Luke 24:49; Acts 1:4-5, 8). That time would be Pentecost, known in the Old Testament as the Feast of Weeks. The “all” in v. 1 can refer back either to the 120 of Acts 1:15 or only to the apostles. While the apostles are the focus of the ensuing narrative (see v. 14), the “gift of the Spirit” is for all believers. Luke is not specific with regard to “the same place” (epi to auto) at the end of v. 1. The next verse identifies this place as “the house,” and it may denote the “upper room” of 1:13. Few interpreters take it to mean the temple.

Luke describes the coming of the Spirit in something of an objective manner (cf. Luke 3:22). There is a sound like the rush of a mighty wind. “Wind” was a useful image for Luke, for the Greek word (pnoe) is formed from the same stem as the Greek word for spirit (pneuma). There appeared tongues as of fire. What is happening is something heard and seen, even if the narrator is compelled to use similes to offer a picture. What is happening has its origins in God, for it all came from “out of heaven” (v. 2). The heavenly origin and the precise similes place readers in the world of the biblical language of theophany (“appearance of the deity”). Wind or God’s “breath” could be used in the Bible to represent the divine presence (e.g., 2 Sam 22:16; Job 37:10; Isa 66:15). Compare also the storm language of God’s appearance at Sinai (Exod 19:16-19). Fire was a more common phenomenon to denote the divine presence (e.g., Exod 3:2 [the burning bush]; 13:21-22 [the pillar of fire in the wilderness]; 19:16-19 [Sinai]).

Luke’s use of the word “tongues” to describe the fire foreshadows the “speaking in tongues” that comes in vv. 4-12. Philo, the first-century AD Jewish philosopher, combines in his discussion of Sinai the image of fire and the phenomenon of language. Assuming such connections to be valid, Luke may be encouraging readers to compare Christian Pentecost with Israel’s being given the law at Sinai. Just as the law was central to Jewish identity as God’s people, the Spirit is central to Christians’ identity as God’s people of the new covenant (cf. Luke 22:20).

J. Bradley Chance, Acts, Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary (Macon GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2007) 47-49.

Kelley Land, a graduate of Mercer University, has been an assistant editor for Smyth & Helwys curriculum and books since 2001. She attends church and leads an adult Sunday school class in Macon, Georgia. She is also the office administrator for Jay’s HOPE, a local charity serving families of children with cancer. Kelley enjoys spending time with her daughters, Samantha (12) and Natalie (10) and her husband John. For fun, she tries to stay caught up on the latest amazing TV series (including Doctor Who, Sherlock, Gilmore Girls, and The Crown).

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