In Acts 2 we are right at the start of stage 1 of the birth of the Christian church. The Holy Spirit has come from heaven to forge the Jewish followers of Christ into God’s community on earth (v1-3). As he does so, he enables them to speak of what God has done in a range of languages which they’ve never learned (v4). This miracle shocks the foreign-speaking Jews who are in the city for the festival of Pentecost (v5-12). Some even put it down to drunkenness (v13) But Peter stands to explain what’s happening and he does so with parts of the Old Testament in mind.
He starts with the prophet Joel, who lived hundreds of years earlier. Joel spoke at a time when the Israelites lived for themselves in greedy self-centredness. He told his hearers how God would judge them with a plague of locusts devouring their whole land (Joel 1). He then took the picture further in Joel chapter 2, speaking of the devastation coming Israel’s way (Joel 2:3), an attack so terrible it would seemingly shake creation itself (Joel 2:10). God would do this because of Israel’s wickedness (Joel 2:11). In our time, we don’t receive such precise explanations of why God harms this country or that people. But the disasters and invasions we see always remind us of God’s anger with the sinful mess we have got ourselves into. However, in Joel there’s also a way of escape. If Israel will return humbly to God, he’ll grant them an amazing new life (Joel 2:12-)
Well as Peter examines his own situation, he sees Joel’s words coming alive. So he stands as leader among the apostles to address the crowds (v14). The Christians aren’t drunk – it’s 9am (v15)! The accusers are behaving like people in Joel’s day: they love to indulge food and drink and assume the Christians are the same. But they ought (v16) to remember Joel’s warnings of judgement for this, and the need of rescue. And what did Joel say would mark those who are rescued? The Holy Spirit coming on them in great, transforming power. Which is precisely what these Christians have received! Joel spoke of a community of all types of people empowered by God’s Spirit (v17,18) and that’s these believers! The crowd need to take all this very seriously. After all, Joel said that such Spirit activity would come to those being saved from punishment (v19, 20). So Peter’s hearers need to recognise they are in danger and cry out for mercy (v21).
But why should they think themselves in danger? Because of Jesus of Nazareth (v22). God clearly did miracles in him which marked him out as special. Yet they put him death just a few weeks earlier at the hands of lawless leaders and godless Gentiles (v23). God, however, was at work in the whole situation and had planned to bring about a great salvation through Christ’s death (v24). God raised Jesus and thus defeated death for ever. This is the great salvation which Jesus has brought into the world and Peter preaches it with power to the Jerusalem crowds.
What can we learn from this remarkable, one-off moment in history? (1) It’s important for us to try to understand the times we live in. We should pray that Christian leaders will help us to do this using Scripture as their guide. (2) But whatever we make of our time and place, we should always want to stand out as different, by the power of the Spirit. The church should display a life changed by Him. (3) As the world notices that difference, we should speak of Christ who made it happen. In the ordinary situations of life, we should pray for grace to be faithful to our Lord.