Connections 06.09.2019: All Flesh

Acts 2:1-4, 14-21

When the Holy Spirit fell on the gathered believers on the day of Pentecost, they began to speak in the languages of the people who had come to Jerusalem from many other countries for the festival. As a result, those people were able to hear the good news.

To explain what was happening, Peter preached a sermon based on Joel 2:28-32. He said that the event fulfilled the prophet’s words about how one day God would pour God’s 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. Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy” (Acts 2:17-18).

When Joel talked about God pouring God’s Spirit out “on all flesh,” he probably meant all the people of the Jewish post-exilic community that he addressed. On the day of Pentecost, all of the flesh that God poured the Spirit on was Jewish flesh. Later in Acts, God will pour the Spirit on Samaritan flesh (8:14-17) and on Gentile flesh (10:44-46a).

It appears that God really wants to pour the Spirit out on all flesh. Maybe God wants us to understand that there are no limitations on whom God can choose to pour God’s Spirit. God can pour God’s Spirit on whomever God wants. It’s God’s Spirit to give.

When the Spirit fell on the Samaritans and on the Gentiles, it was to prove that God indeed included them in the salvation available through Jesus.

But in our lesson text, the Spirit fell on the Jewish believers not to prove that they were saved, but rather to empower them to share the good news of Jesus with others.

It appears that God really wants as many people as possible to hear the good news of Jesus. It seems that God pours God’s Spirit on God’s people—whoever they are—so that more people—whoever they are—can hear the good news. Then they receive the Spirit so they can share the good news with others. And so on, and so on….

It was a radical thing for Joel to prophesy that women as well as men would receive God’s Spirit and would proclaim God’s word. Peter interprets the events of Pentecost as fulfilling Joel’s prophecy. It’s still a radical idea in some circles that God give God’s Spirit to both women and men to empower them to preach. It shouldn’t be.

Still, even those of us who know that God empowers both men and women to preach may need to keep thinking about what it means for God to pour God’s Spirit out on all flesh. We may need to keep thinking about how God’s Spirit continues to make it evident that God includes unexpected people—unexpected to us, not to God—in God’s family. We may need to keep thinking about how God’s Spirit works to make it possible for all people to hear the good news of the grace, love, and mercy available through Jesus Christ.

We may need to make sure we not try to stand in the way of what God is doing.

Actually, we should do more than get out of the way.

We should get on board.

Discussion

  1. How significant is it that all of Jesus’ followers “were together in one place” (v. 1)? Why?
  2. Why do you think the Holy Spirit came in such dramatic fashion?
  3. Peter connects the events of Pentecost with the words of the Old Testament prophet Joel. Why do New Testament preachers and writers connect what God did in Christ and through the Spirit with what Old Testament prophets and writers said?
  4. Peter sees the Pentecost events as a sign of “the last days” (v. 17). Two thousand years have now passed. In what sense have we been in “the last days” since the Holy Spirit came at Pentecost?
  5. How can we respond to the Spirit by speaking and living in ways that will encourage people to call on the name of the Lord so they can be saved?

Reference Shelf

Understanding vv. 19-20, which quote Joel 2:30-32a with editorial additions, is more difficult. Acts alters the text from Joel. Acts 2:19 quotes Joel 2:30 as follows (Lukan additions are in italics): “And I will show wonders in heaven above, and signs upon the earth below, blood and fire and vapor of smoke.” Acts 2:20’s quotation of Joel 2:31 is almost exact.

The addition of the word “signs,” coupling the word with “wonders,” may be due to the fact that the phrase “signs and wonders” had become a very common expression in the first century. Note also that Peter’s version of the Joel text draws attention specifically to signs and wonders both “above” and “below.” Four observations are in order:

1. The language of Acts 2:19-20 is eschatological, apocalyptic language. This is seen especially in Acts 2:20 with its talk of cosmic, heavenly portents and the day of the Lord.

2. Reference to heavenly portents preceding the coming of the day of the Lord (2:20) is very reminiscent of texts such as Luke 21:25-28, which speak of heavenly, cosmic signs preceding the Parousia of the Son of Man.

3. A few lines later, Peter talks of “signs and wonders” in reference to Jesus’ ministry. These “signs and wonders” that occur “upon the earth below” may be a referent of the words from Joel quoted in Acts 2:19b.

4. The followers of Jesus also perform many “signs and wonders” in the forthcoming narrative of Acts (see 2:43; 4:30; 5:12; 6:8; 14:3; 15:12). These too could serve as referents of “signs upon earth below.”

The signs and wonders performed by Jesus and his followers are part of a cosmic, apocalyptic drama that culminates in the cosmic, heavenly signs immediately preceding the coming of the Son of Man. In short, signs and wonders indicate that the last days are upon Israel. “In these last days” is precisely how Peter changes Joel as he begins his proclamation. With the coming of the last days come both the opportunity of restoration and the possibility of judgment. Thus the final appeal from Joel, “everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved,” is most appropriate. Peter will provide opportunity to call upon “the Lord” and experience the beginnings of restoration before he is finished preaching.

J. Bradley Chance, Acts, Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary (Macon GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2007) 53-54.

Michael Ruffin is husband to Debra, father to Joshua (Michelle) and Sara (Benjamin), grandfather to Sullivan and Isabella. A graduate of Mercer University and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, he has previously served as a pastor and as a university professor. He lives on the Ruffin Family Farm in Yatesville, Georgia. He is the Connections Series Curriculum Editor.

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