REFLECTION Sunday 19th April 2020 (Acts of the Apostles ch 2 v 14(a), 22-32 and Psalm 16

It was in Jerusalem at Pentecost, that, with a sound like a rushing wind, the Holy Spirit came in tongues of fire to the apostles.  They began to speak in other languages about God’s deeds of power.  This drew a crowd of people, all the different nationalities visiting Jerusalem at the time, as well as the Israelites themselves.  While they could all understand the words that were being spoken, they were amazed, and couldn’t understand what was going on.  So Peter, with great confidence and boldness, explained it, not at all put off by sneering remarks about the effects of new wine.  First of all, Peter quotes from the prophet Joel.  This quotation explains for the crowd the meaning of what is going on.  This event now happening to them had been predicted by the prophet Joel.  And ecstatic speech, such as they were hearing, is part of the gift of prophecy which comes from the Holy Spirit of God.  The Spirit will be poured out on everyone, regardless of age, gender, social class, nationality and salvation will be offered to “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord” (2:21).  This is something which will happen in “the last days”, says the prophet, but before “the day of the Lord”, the end of the world, though no one knows when that will be. It is still to come. Joel’s prophecy, says Peter, is being fulfilled.  The Holy Spirit is being poured out.  That is what the crowd is witnessing.

Then Peter turns to the question behind all this:  who was Jesus?  The person who had been so recently on everybody’s minds as a troublemaker executed as a criminal, in spite of all his followers among the people.  And now his followers were saying that he had risen from the dead and then returned to heaven.  What has Jesus to do with the “end time” and the salvation offered by God?”  Peter explains that the miracles performed by Jesus indicate the divine nature of his ministry, and that it was through him that God was working among his people.  Then Peter turns to the matter of the crucifixion of Jesus.  The immediate cause of Jesus’ death was the people – lawless he calls them – who with their own hands put Jesus to death.  Then the next cause was the pressure of those who witnessed Jesus’ ministry, and who rejected it and wanted it done away with.  Finally, behind all this, says Peter, there was the divine plan:  “the definite plan and foreknowledge of God” (2:24).  This was the fulfilment of God’s promise.  God gave Jesus his Son to the world, and raised him from the dead to accomplish our salvation.  And the scriptural authority Peter quotes for this is Psalm 16, which we said earlier in the service.  Peter understood the psalm as a prophecy referring to the Messiah.  He saw in it a meaning and significance which had a wider application than King David knew when he composed it.  And we know from our own experience of them that the psalms, whatever their original context, can speak very directly to our own circumstances today.

Psalm 16 is a confident, joyful song of the hope and faith in God which comes from living in fellowship with him, focussing one’s whole life on him and believing him to be the highest good for humankind. ” Protect me, O God, for in you I take refuge.  I say to the Lord, ‘You are my Lord; I have no good apart from you” (16:1-2).  Peter’s quotation focuses on vv 8-11 of the psalm.  The thought he picks up on here is that this close relationship with God which brings such joy and hope must mean that God will not allow it to be broken by death.  We matter to God for eternity, not just for the brief span of our lives.   “You do not give me up to Sheol, or let your faithful one see the Pit” (16:10). Peter uses these words to explain to the crowds that Jesus was the Messiah, he was the salvation promised by God.  Through his own death and resurrection Jesus brings the certainty of life after death and continued fellowship with God to “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord” as the prophet Joel puts it.  And this assurance of life after death is expressed in the final verse of the psalm:  “You show me the path of life.  In your presence there is fullness of joy;  in your right hand are pleasures for evermore” (16:11).  Life and joy in God’s presence, for ever.