For an introduction to this series, click here.
May 23, 2007
This is a controversial chapter and one of the main reasons the whole book of Acts is misunderstood.
This chapter begins with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. He came down and manifested Himself as "mighty rushing wind" and as a tongue of fire that appeared on every believer. Then they all began to speak in other languages.
Here is something I had never noticed before: the manifestation of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost is what drew the crowd that day. I always pictured this first part of the chapter happening the night before or something, or at least in a private setting. But look at the text: "And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language. And they were amazed and astonished, saying, 'Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language?'" (2:6-8)
So the commotion created by the Holy Spirit is what drew the crowd to hear God's word. And yet some of them were skeptical, saying, "They are filled with new wine." (2:13) At this, Peter responds and defends his brothers: "For these men are not drunk, as you suppose, since it is only the third hour of the day." (2:15) I've always thought that was a funny remark. This is not the argument a self-righteous tee-totaler makes. Peter basically said these people aren't drunk, it's 9 o’clock in the morning.
But Peter is not done. He preaches a very profound sermon, reaching back into the Old Testament and proving that Jesus was the fulfillment of the Old Testament. And he did this in Jerusalem, the very city where Jesus had been crucified less than two months ago.
As rich as Peter's sermon is, it's honestly not that controversial, so let's move ahead to a very controversial verse. As many in the crowd fell under conviction, they asked Peter what they needed to do. He responded: "Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit." (2:38)
It seems that Peter is equating repentance and baptism as playing equal parts in salvation, but let's step back into the first century and see what that meant to the crowd. I know I discussed this earlier when we talked about the ministry of John, but it is worth repeating. Baptism was very common among Jews at that time. The Jews were busy proselytizing Gentiles into their religion, and baptism was the symbol of their renunciation of their old religion and acceptance of a new way. Then John came and started baptizing Jews who repented. Now Peter is demanding the same thing. He is appropriating the symbol of baptism for the church. All that was and is and ever will be necessary for their salvation was for people to believe. But they would need to publicly acknowledge their change of belief through baptism. The clear teaching of scripture is that baptism is not a necessity of salvation, but it is an outward public confession of Christ and an affirmation of the believer's faith on the part of the church.
The chapter ends up with a description of how the church in Jerusalem lived: "And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved." (2:44-47, ESV)
Some use this passage as a justification for governmental socialism or communalism within a local assembly. Like I said before, the book of Acts was never intended to be an absolute guide how the church is to be run. It is a reflection of the times and it is a record of what happened. I think the Western church has a lot to learn from the way the early church handled this, but it's written as a description instead of a command for how the church is to be run.