Opening The Old Testament
Promises Fulfilled: Reflections on Acts 2:14a, 36-41
The murderous Jews, or better said, a remnant of them, are now offered another chance to hear the good news of Jesus. When first they heard, they rejected the news and killed the bringer of the news. But now they can again hear the news, through the mouth of the chief apostle and friend of Jesus, Peter, and may now respond differently. And, Luke says emphatically, they do! "So those who welcomed his message were baptized, and that day about three thousand persons were added" (Acts 2:41). The church of Jesus got off to a roaring start, says Luke, as a large number of Jerusalem Jews took advantage of the second chance they were given by Peter and joined the community. They all decided that Jesus was in fact the long-awaited Messiah of Judaism, and they determined that a community, founded in his teaching and his resurrection by God, was what Judaism had been pointing to from the beginning.
In short, the promise to Abraham in Genesis 12 that he would found "a great nation" and "through him all the families of the earth would be blessed" has now its ripe beginnings in Jerusalem as thousands of Jews join together to begin to become blessings to all the families of the earth. Later in Acts Luke will offer important reflections on the incorporation of the Gentiles, non-Jews, into the Jesus community (see especially chapters 10 and 15), and in those reflections Luke will counter his sharp anti-Jewish attacks with an openness that suggests bigotry of any kind has no place in any community of Christ. I find great comfort and joy in those stories, though they do not, I fear, completely cover over the harshness of Acts 2 and its war on the murderous Jews.
It just may be that I will have to be satisfied with the Luke of Acts 10 and 15 in order to hear the promise of Acts 2. It is, I think, nothing less than tragic that Acts 2 has far outstripped in ongoing importance in the history of the church Acts 10 and 15. It might be termed ironic, and telling, that a chapter steeped in an "us against them" mentality is more easily remembered and celebrated than two chapters of rich inclusiveness. Such a fact surely speaks to our deeper connections as humans to exclusiveness, to a refusal to open ourselves fully to the "other" among us. Yes, I get the goal of Peter's sermon, but I decry its means of reaching that goal. I suggest that Acts 2 never be read apart from the broader goals of Acts enshrined in chapters 10 and 15. If the emerging communities of Christianity had done that, much hatred and death might have been avoided and some of the very darkest pages of human history may never have been written.
Author's Note: The Baltic cruise on which I will offer lectures on the book of Job draws closer, departing from your city on September 3 and returning on the September13. Full details may be found at eo.travel.com. I hope to meet you there.
John C. Holbert is the Lois Craddock Perkins Professor Emeritus of Homiletics at Perkins School of Theology in Dallas, TX.