First Thoughts on Year A First Reading Acts Passages from the Lectionary

Easter 3

William Loader

Easter 3: 30 April Acts 2:14a, 36-41

Following last week's excerpt from Peter's speech at Pentecost according to Acts, this week brings another excerpt, skipping 2:33-35. It is worth, however, reading these verses because they show the basis on which Luke has Peter make his statement in 2:36. God has made Jesus Lord and Christ at his resurrection in accordance with Ps 110:1. "The Lord said to my Lord, 'Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies the footstool for your feet'". No other OT text is alluded to or cited in the NT more than this text. It refers originally to a royal coronation where the psalmist reports what God said to his master at the point of enthronement. As with some other royal psalms, notably Psalm 2, 45 and 89, Christians applied these texts to the hope for a king like David, messianic hope, and in this they reflected Jewish interpreters before them.

Accordingly, one of the earliest interpretations of Jesus' resurrection was that God had raised Jesus from the dead in order to appoint him the Messiah, the Christ, the Anointed one. Royal ideology also described the king as God's adopted son, and we see this, too, applied to Jesus. Luke will later use the royal adoption declaration of Psalm 2:7, "You are my Son; today I have begotten you" and apply it to Jesus (13:33), as did the author of Hebrews (1:5; 5:5). Paul. too, knows this early tradition, when he writes of Jesus being appointed Son of God at his resurrection (Rom 1:3-4). Very soon Christians found alternative ways of hailing Jesus' significance, which would have more relevance in a non-Jewish environment. These included speaking of Jesus as Son of God from his birth or even from eternity. Luke, however, true to his attempt to recreate Christian beginnings, brings one of its earliest acclamations about Jesus, summarised in 2:36.

As noted last week, to claim that Jesus was the Messiah, the Christ, was fraught with ambiguity. In many senses it was simply not true. He was not a military king who might win battles like David and expel the Roman oppressors from the land. To complicate matters further: how could he be Messiah when no longer alive on this earth, but with God! What could that possibly mean? According to Luke no further explanation was required. Peter's hearers surrendered. What should they do? Peter's response is simple: change (repent) and be baptised in the name of Jesus to be forgiven and to receive the gift of the Spirit. 3000 did just that.

Peter's simple response needs some unpacking. To repent entailed not only acknowledging guilt about what was done to Jesus - assuming the 3000 would all have felt such guilt, which one might question - but more significantly it meant "changing one's mind". That is the core meaning of the word metanoia, translated "repentance". It is about much more than being sorry or feeling sorry. Believing that God had raised Jesus from the dead and made him Messiah entailed believing that Jesus was right in what he did and said. Luke has given us an account of Jesus' ministry. It fills out what Jesus was about. So repenting meant turning to embrace what Jesus was about, taking on a big agenda.

Being baptised meant doing what John the Baptist asked people to do. In the face of God's impending intervention into human history, people should already let themselves be overwhelmed by God, represented by being immersed in the river. Christians adapted John's baptism and fundamentally it meant the same: come and be submerged and submitted to what you believe God will do. The Christian version modifies John's vision somewhat - at least as w have it reported. Now the focus is on God's coming reign which will bring justice and peace. Immerse yourself symbolically in it now! So it was baptism according to Jesus, in his name, reflecting his version of the vision of change. A standard Jewish expectation had been that on that great day of God's intervention, God's Spirit would descend upon human beings in wonderful ways. Christians claimed that this aspect of future hope already happened at the moment when you let yourself be immersed by baptism in what God was doing.

Luke has probably developed his Pentecost scene on the basis of early experience of speaking in tongues in Christian communities as people felt overwhelmed by the presence of God's Spirit. He has adapted such memory so that it now serves his symbolic narrative of the coming of the Spirit as like a second Sinai and a reversal of Babel. Luke is not really promising that believers from this time forward would have instant multilingual skills. That would be to misread his account too literally. But Luke does imply that the people who change their minds about Jesus being wrong and acknowledge him as vindicated, a new kind of Messiah, will do more than embrace an ideal. They will participate already in the present in the transforming action of God in the world. They have not "arrived". That is why baptism is retained: it symbolises future fulfilment. But baptism also now symbolises being immersed already now in God's life in the world through the Spirit. And that means joining the community of believers, the church.

The 3000 is impressive, but should not subvert us from the real focus so that we become captivated with numbers-based church growth, as though membership recruitment is the meaning mission. Rather it is all about who Jesus was and is and what he did and said and becoming involved in being the good news he proclaimed. The issue is quality rather than quantity. Paul is our best witness to what life in the Spirit and the community of the Spirit looks like: it bears the fruit of the Spirit, the first of which is love (Gal 5:22-23; 1 Corinthians 13). Luke's Jesus hailed the compassion of a Samaritan as the manifestation of eternal life. So Luke's wider context, including his gospel, gives the substance to what it means to hail Jesus as God's Messiah and change one's mind in his direction. Ultimately it means also to bear the Spirit as he did, and also in word and deed to declare hope for the poor, the hungry, the alienated, and the empty rich hiding in their trees.

Gospel: Easter 3: 30 April Luke 24:13-35
Epistle: Easter 3: 30 April 1 Peter 1:17-23