A Strange Tale of Suspected Intoxication

A group of drunks would certainly attract a crowd.

There is a pretty famous story, actually, of some suspected drunks talking in different languages. The suspected drunks did speak other languages, but they weren’t drunk at all.

It’s no surprise that intoxication was the original reason for the anomalous activity. The larger crowd just couldn’t tolerate the idea that anything supernatural could occur.

And humanity still seems to want to explain phenomenon that can’t, or won’t, be explained. I mean, what would you think if you saw a crowd of people inexplicably begin speaking in languages you had never heard before?

See.

We just don’t like the idea of seeing or hearing something we can’t explain.

Which makes Acts 2 seem more like fantasy than reality, more like inebriation than sobriety. That intolerance still keeps many believers stale and sterile, because there is something “more,” but it doesn’t look anything like our idea of “normal.”

This is the third post in Acts: The Aftermath of Redemption discipleship group conversations, by the way. You can read the previous posts here.


Acts 2:1-47

It was Pentecost, the feast at the end of harvest, and the first great Jewish feast day after the Passover (Acts 2:1).

The Passover, by the way, was the celebration, fifty days earlier, when unleavened loaves of bread were eaten during their Aftermath of Redemptioncommemoration meal. Unleavened bread was the meal of the Passover because the Hebrews were required to eat unleavened bread, or bread without yeast, during their exodus from Egypt. They were told to make their bread without yeast because their exodus would happen suddenly, and they would have no time to wait for the bread to rise (Exodus 12:7-13).

But Pentecost, fifty days after the Passover, was the celebration when the Hebrews offered the wheat of their first harvest to God (Exodus 34:18-24). The haste of the Exodus, remembered with the bread of haste (the bread without yeast) during Passover, gave way to the feast of the promise, in Pentecost, which featured bread with yeast — because there was no need to escape anymore.

Pentecost, then, was the celebration of peace. Practically, they could wait for their bread to rise, because they weren’t going anywhere — ever again.

So, realize something as you keep reading. Pentecost was a celebration with lots of food, full bellies, laughter, joy, and celebration, because God had rescued his people and given them a bountiful harvest. There was no more need to escape, nor to eat in a hurry, because they were in the promised land, and God had rescued them. This small bit of information frames what happens in the coming verses.

So, let’s begin again.

It was Pentecost, the feast at the end of harvest, and the first great Jewish feast day after the Passover (Acts 2:1).

There were 120 disciples (Acts 1:15), celebrating Pentecost, but also waiting, in essence, for the promise of the Holy Spirit. They had no way to know, though, that Pentecost would be the day they would also receive the only gift that would ever matter.

So, in the midst of their own celebrations, something spectacular happened.

A sound, like a violent wind, filled the house where they were — but it wasn’t wind. And what looked like tongues of fire filled the house and rested on each of them — but it wasn’t fire (Acts 2:2, 3). And all 120 people experienced this (Acts 2:17ff). They were aware that this was the moment the Holy Spirit filled each of them.¹

Outside, in the city of Jerusalem, perhaps 180,000 Jewish pilgrims from some 15 different nations — from the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8) — celebrated Pentecost in the streets. Thousands of these pilgrims knew something spectacular happened to the small group of people, though, but these street-walking pilgrims couldn’t understand it. The only explanation they could offer was that Peter and his friends were intoxicated (Acts 2:5-12).

The first public response toward those filled with the Holy Spirit, then, was doubt and confusion. Perhaps it’s enough to wonder if people, filled with the Holy Spirit, still elicit this kind of response from others.

So Peter addressed the crowd, and the rumors of his intoxication (again, Luke 12:11, 12). And he did so with the Twelve Apostles, not Eleven. He spoke to the Twelve Tribes of Israel (Luke 22:28-30; Acts 2:36), as they celebrated the peace of God during Pentecost, in spite of their own Roman occupation, and he told them that a new age had dawned (Acts 2:17ff).

And that this new age began with a countdown toward its own demise.

He quoted to this crowd a prophecy from one of their own prophets, Joel, who wrote at least 400 years prior to this moment in Acts 2 (Joel 2:28-32). I encourage you to click the link to Joel and read it. You should immediately notice that the introductory words are different from what Peter quoted.

Joel wrote “In those days,” while Peter said “In the last days.” And that, dear reader, is a pretty significant detail.

Luke, Peter, and the first-generation believers actually believed that the last days had begun, and had begun with cosmic events (events, by the way, not reserved for the “end of time,” but rather when the Spirit was given). The Holy Spirit — the very Presence of God — was given to the world, and everyone could receive this gift, from the least to the greatest, both women and men.

These were not the last days of their Roman occupation, though. Peter had no way to know that. Jesus had already said that specific times and dates were reserved for God alone (Acts 1:7). So these weren’t “the last days” of being occupied.

Instead, they were “last days” filled with the very Presence of God. The pilgrims weren’t losing anything, but were instead gaining everything.

So, obviously, Peter told these Jewish pilgrims that he and his friends weren’t intoxicated, but were filled with the very Presence of God, and this Presence would obviously produce things in their lives not necessarily described as “normal,” could even possibly be confused with intoxication, and would give anyone access to the dreams and visions of God.

But Peter wasn’t finished.

Having dealt with the rumors of his inebriation, he turned his attention, and his words, to Jesus. There are four notable themes to his speech.

  • First, Peter did not hide Jesus’ hometown of Nazareth. He squarely dealt with any doubt that God would allow the Messiah of Israel to come from a dirt-poor, out-of-touch town like Nazareth (see John 1:46). Yes, Nazareth was an unlikely, even scandalous place, from which the Messiah could emerge, but Nazareth was also completely acceptable in God’s plan.
  • Two, Peter did not defend the resurrection of Jesus. He simply proclaimed it.
  • Three, Peter said that Jesus was, at that very moment, exalted at the right hand of the Father, where Jesus had received the Holy Spirit – only to give it to his disciples (Acts 2:32, 33). Jesus, then, was alive, even though he had been killed!
  • Four, God had made Jesus to be both Lord and Christ (v 36). He was both the Master and the Messiah of the world.

Peter’s message stunned and convicted the crowd (Acts 2:37), and three thousand of these Jewish pilgrims were baptized “in the name of Jesus Christ” (Acts 2:38) for the forgiveness of sins. But be careful here. Baptism for the forgiveness of sins has been traditionally interpreted as meaning that forgiveness can’t be given until baptism occurs. But it’s equally possible to see Peter’s statement as asking the crowd to be baptized because their sins had already been forgiven. The Greek word translated as for in English translations can also be translated because of, and, if done so in this particular verse, would change the way many of us have learned to understand Peter’s appeal.²

As Acts 2 closes, then, we find these believers sharing life together in a distinct form of fellowship. Most English translations list the word “fellowship” in v 42 as what this group enjoyed. In fact, the word could be better translated as “communal form of life,” and, once translated such, becomes Luke’s first description and title of the church. In fact, this is probably what early believers actually called themselves, before they called themselves “the church.”

This group also had an expectation of the supernatural (Acts 2:43).

And finally, we find the second of Luke’s accounting of the number of believers. The group had grown from 120 to 3,000, and continued to grow because of daily addition (Acts 2:47). Soon, though, mere addition would not be enough, and the Lord would begin to multiply the number of believers (Acts 6:7).


A Few Discussion Questions:

  1. Read Acts 2:1-4.
    1. Why do you think this happened on the day of Pentecost? What do you know about Pentecost, anyway?
    2. Imagine being in that room. How would you have described what happened?
    3. Why, exactly, did God choose to give the gift of the Spirit this way?
    4. Why do you think Luke had trouble reporting exactly what happened?
  2. Read Acts 2:5-6, 12-13.
    1. Does the gift of the Holy Spirit provide a physical change? All the time? Explain.
  3. Read Acts 2:14-21.
    1. Peter described this event as the beginning of “the last days.” Why? How did he know?
    2. What were the things that would happen in “the last days”?
    3. Are we still in “the last days”? If we are, do these things still happen? Should they? What happens if they do occur, but we don’t see them? 5.
  4. Read Acts 2:22-24.
    1. How did Peter describe Jesus?
    2. Did Peter defend Jesus’ resurrection? Why not? Should we need to defend the resurrection? Explain.
  5. Read Acts 2:42-47.
    1. How did the first group of believers live? Is this just a utopian society, or should believers still live this way?
    2. The early believers had a sense of awe. What does that mean?
    3. They called themselves “the fellowship.” That was an early title for “the church.” What does that kind of title imply?

A Prayer:

Father, it is no wonder that these people accepted, as fact, that the supernatural workings of your Spirit were accepted and expected. We pray for that same sense of awe. We pray for a renewed sense of wonder, that you are alive and are working in unbelievable ways.


¹It’s worth mentioning that no other New Testament writer mentioned this moment. Paul wrote of the gift of the Spirit (Gal 3:2; Rom 8:4-11; Eph 1:13), but said nothing about Pentecost. And John wrote that the apostles received the Spirit the day of Jesus’ resurrection (John 20:22), fifty days before Pentecost.

²For a much, much more detailed explanation, click here. Read, too, Acts 10:43; 13:38-39, 48; 15:11; 16:30-31; 26:18.

Acts of the Apostles: The Aftermath of Redemption

I will be posting an on-going short commentary on the New Testament book The Acts of the Apostles.

Aftermath of RedemptionI am currently reading, writing, and teaching my way through this book, fascinated by the constant story and presence of the resurrection of Jesus. So, because of its insistence on the resurrection, I tend to see it as a book of witness, rather than a book of history. It is Luke’s sequel — it is the aftermath of his story of redemption.

It just seemed right, then, as I’ve prayed, to post some of the things I’ve learned, and I do believe that someone within the reach of this tiny site will need to see this.

On a more personal note, though, there is a considerable and obvious vacuum of believers in our world who know about Jesus, but who don’t know Jesus. The bible has become a book relegated to the teaching of pastors and ministers, while many believers tend to gravitate to other mediums to be spiritually fed. I have grown tired of such, and feel there is a great vacuum of accessible materials for those who lead small groups or discipleship groups, or even for those who wish to learn on their own.

Continue reading

We Just Aren’t That Special (Day Twenty-Two)

Today’s reading has hit me hard.

Today is day twenty-two of reading through the New Testament in 90 days. It’s been an intriguing journey for me. Spending twenty-two straight days in the gospels has opened my eyes to Jesus. I hope it has done the same for you.

Today’s reading is Luke 16 through Luke 18.

And, for the most part, Jesus is teaching his disciples some rough stuff. And, again, I feel that American Christianity has been all too willing to turn a blind eye to it.

To give us some perspective, Luke, in his narrative style, places Jesus turning and speaking to the disciples, and then to the Pharisees, and sometimes to the crowds, almost in succession.

It’s an interesting style, especially since Jesus, in Luke’s gospel, is now on his way to Jerusalem. He teaches one group, only to teach against the other group, all while “walking.”

It’s important to know that, too. Jesus is teaching his disciples to follow him, while they literally follow him to his death in Jerusalem. While he knows this way will lead to suffering and death, he teaches the same to his disciples, as they all walk this way together.

Here’s what I learned today, through these three chapters:

I am not that special.

Look closely at these teachings. Jesus is doing something here that I just didn’t see coming.

In Luke 16, there is the “parable of the shrewd manager.” It’s a tough read, but there is a great truth here. Jesus encourages his disciples to be as shrewd when their Lord comes, as the manager was when he was approached by his lord. This is serious business, and Jesus just tells them to be ready to accept truth when it shows up.

But commending this manager because of his crafty response to being fired can be tricky. Look, though, how this story is framed. It comes after Jesus answers the Pharisees’ claims that he eats with sinners (15:2), and before Luke’s claim that the Pharisees love money (16:14).

Jesus is making a rather serious point, here, even in a very interesting story. While the manager of the parable “gives away” money (even by reducing various amounts owed), Jesus is essentially saying that possessions and money matter very little. We shouldn’t be attached to it. It’s just stuff.

Here’s how The Message interprets this Luke 16:8, 9:

Now here’s a surprise: The master praised the crooked manager! And why? Because he knew how to look after himself. Streetwise people are smarter in this regard than law-abiding citizens. They are on constant alert, looking for angles, surviving by their wits. I want you to be smart in the same way—but for what is right—using every adversity to stimulate you to creative survival, to concentrate your attention on the bare essentials, so you’ll live, really live, and not complacently just get by on good behavior.

The way of the disciple, then, is to not be attached to stuff. When we are, when we are enslaved by our own pursuit of more stuff, we are committing idolatry. Seriously. The next iPhone, the next bit of clothing, the next car, the next home, the next travel destination, the next Groupon deal. If that’s what we want, then we really want very, very little. We want something that will always leave us empty. We want an idol.

We should rather be willing to part with all of it. And we should concentrate our attention on the bare essentials, so we can fully experience life.

Next, in Luke 16, we find the story of “the rich man and Lazarus.” The rich, wealthy man ignored the diseased Lazarus. The only attendants to Lazarus, in this story, were the dogs, who would come to lick his sores (16:21)

The wealthy man dies, and finds himself in Hades, while Lazarus dies, and finds angels, not dogs, caring for him.

But the wealthy man is in torment. And he still hasn’t learned his lesson. While in this torment, he still sees Lazarus as a lesser person, as a servant — he asks that Lazarus bring water to cool his tongue. He would’ve given the same command to his own servants, while he was alive.

(And by the way, this story isn’t about the afterlife. Don’t rob this story of its power by trying to figure out what happens when we die.)

So Lazarus is in the presence of the divine. The wealthy man is in extreme agony. And yet the wealthy man wants Lazarus to come to him. Yet, this wealthy man, and his brothers, were taught, their entire lives, through Moses and the Prophets, to have a different view of their wealth and possessions — to see them only as ways to care for others.

In life, this wealthy man ignored Lazarus’ constant pleas for help. Even though he was taught better.

Wealth, then — stuff, possessions, and money — is only useful for how it can bless others. Jesus is making this crystal clear.

Jesus ends this story with a pretty cool addendum, too: even one who was resurrected from the dead couldn’t change the minds of this wealthy family. They would still hoard their possessions at the expense of others.

And they couldn’t even fathom all that Jesus said with that statement.

Then Luke 17 comes. Jesus turns back to his disciples. And this is where my heart started to hurt.

Jesus ends this brief section with a comment about “unworthy servants” (17:10). But look what these unworthy servants are called to do:

  • To not use the kingdom as a vehicle for controversy. (17:1, 2). Make no demands on piety, like the Pharisees.
  • Forgive completely, without demand for personal justice (17:4).
  • See faith as a gift, not as a right (17:6).
Jesus just tells his disciples that they aren’t that special. Instead, disciples willing endure self-sacrifice.

Be humble. Forgive every offense. Accept the gift of faith as a gift, not as a right. And do them all without expecting anything in return.

The requirements of discipleship should never be seen as a guarantee for special rank or position in the lives of people. Disciples just do what they’re asked.

Man, that’s tough. Especially for someone, like me, who is a minister. I’m just not that special. My intersection in the lives of people, even if I am used as a blessing in their lives, is not a special calling.

I should not expect fame. I should not expect notoriety. I shouldn’t even expect a special parking place. And none of us in ministry should ever expect those things. If we do, we are doing all of this for the wrong reasons. Nor will we be following the way of a disciple of Jesus.

Think the man in Hades.

But even for those who aren’t ministers, it’s still the same. And Luke uses the healing of ten lepers to hammer this point home.

Faith can be easy to have. It took faith for all of ten of those lepers to be healed.

But gratitude is harder to find. Only one returned to praise and thank Jesus.

We’ve. All. Been. Healed. And our healing is a gift that should require us to give thanks, rather than to receive thanks, regardless of who we are, or what we do.

Oh, and that leper that returned? He was a Samaritan. An outsider.

And Jesus wasn’t even finished, as if we haven’t been squeezed enough.

Discipleship requires us to recognize the apparent, real, here-it-is kingdom of God. It’s among us. And we must give it all for this kingdom.

There is no time to look back for, or hold on to, our pleasures (17:27).

There is no time to look back for, or hold on to, our relationships (17:27).

There is no time to look back for, or hold on to, our possession, investments, and stuff (17:28).

If we are disciples, we must lighten our load. We aren’t special. We willingly follow a path that leads to sacrifice.

And we can’t follow by thinking of our own holiness, or by the stuff in the grip of our hands.

And he tells them this, as they continue to follow him to his death, in Jerusalem, by the way.

All I can say with today’s reading is what the disciples said in 16:5:

“Increase my faith.”

Return of the Hero (Day Sixteen)

Today is day sixteen in the ninety days of reading through the New Testament, and it is the final day in the Gospel of Mark. The reading is Mark 16, the last chapter in the gospel.

And it is the return of the hero.

One sort of scholarly note, though. Most of your bibles will indicate that Mark 16:9-20 is not found in early manuscripts, which would mean that what is available, and originally from Mark, ends with 16:8.

That is a true assessment, but what is truer is that if this is the case, 16:9-20 were probably not written by Mark. But there’s a lot of research done on this subject, and lots of dispute. Here is an excellent clearinghouse site, which, in great detail, lists various scholars and their thoughts from this passage. For us, here, though, it matters little.

Because for me, and this blog today, Mark’s story, as he told it, ends with 16:8.

Mark probably did not want his gospel to end this way, though, and it’s assumed that somewhere, through the long scope of history, the final bit of his writings have been lost to us. Whatever the case, there is a certain charm in these eight verses.

Because it’s raw. As raw as life. As raw as our own experience with Jesus.

There are only three women present at the end of this story. Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome. No other disciples. No other friends.

But these three women are special in this story. They are the string Mark uses to tell the final part of his hero gospel. Here they are, in three different verses:

With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last. The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. And when the centurion, who stood there in front of Jesus, heard his cry and saw how he died, he said, “Surely this man was the Son of God.”

Some women were watching from a distance. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome. In Galilee these women had followed him and cared for his needs. Many other women who had come up with him to Jerusalem were also there. (Mark 15:38-41)

And here, at his burial:

So Joseph brought some linen cloth, took down the body, wrapped it in the linen, and placed it in a tomb cut out of rock. Then he rolled a stone against the entrance to the tomb. Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses saw where he was laid. (15:46,, 47)

And, finally, as they discover an empty tomb:

When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome brought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body. (16:1)

These women saw Jesus die, watched his body being placed in a tomb, but did not see Jesus walk out. Nor did they expect him to. They brought spices to care for his corpse.

We draw the fact, from Mark and Luke (two gospels which borrowed heavily from Mark), that these two women did, later, see Jesus. But here, in verse 8, they do not.

They did see a young man, though. Angelic in appearance. His first words were for them to not be afraid. And that sort of sentence is only said by a representative of the divine — before anything else is said.

Jesus has risen, and now he is returning to Galilee, this man tells them. The Christ is returning to the very place where his ministry began in the gospel of Mark. And he wants to see the disciples.

Jesus, the hero, is on the move, with no time to wait for these ladies. There are things he must accomplish.

And, so, Mark ends with action, yet leaves us in suspense with these women, who, as Mark writes, were “trembling and bewildered.” They “fled from the tomb” without talking to anyone, “because they were afraid.”

In spite of their witness to his death and his burial, and an angel in the tomb, we see, in them, our own failures.

Because how much evidence is really enough? How much of God do you really need to see?

And while we sit and ponder and study and translate the Greek, Jesus is on the move.

Hearts are in need of restoration. Jesus’ first thought, as he breathes new breath, is that his disciples need to see him. In spite of their desertion, he still needs to make sure they know he is alive, and well.

And our own hearts are in need of restoration, even while we stay content in the circumstances of our own relationship with Jesus. And in our own frailty, these last few verses prove to us that, really, we can’t have enough evidence. Like these women, we will always find our own moments of fear and confusion with Jesus. We’ll all find our own moments when we refuse to share this extraordinary experience.

I’m sure God isn’t content with that.

But, as Mark writes in 16:7, “He is going ahead of you …”

And if you need more proof, then you better follow where he’s going.

Because the hero has returned, and he is on the move. And you don’t want to miss what’s next.

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Thanks for reading today! You can find all posts here. Tomorrow we begin the gospel of Luke!

A Very Different Life (Day Four)

This is day four of a summer reading journey through the New Testament. You can begin today by getting the schedule here. Today’s reading is Matthew 10 through Matthew 12.

The first thought I had, today, was while reading Matthew 10, where Jesus calls the twelve disciples, naming them, and then giving them very intense instructions.

Matthew doesn’t give us much personal information on these twelve men. Most of what we know of them comes from other gospels. Matthew doesn’t seem to have much time for that, and instead focuses on their future mission, more so than their past identities.

But just a casual reading through Matthew 10 is almost frightening. Jesus tells them they will “raise the dead,” that they will go out “like sheep among wolves,” that they will be handed over to “local councils” where they will be beaten and flogged and arrested. They will be hated, and will endure multiple persecutions. Families will be divided because of their mission, and, ultimately, they will be accused of following the prince of demons.

Would you agree to this?

Which begs the next question: who would willingly agree to this?

Our simple little children’s song, which names the twelve apostles, is nice and sweet. Perhaps we should add a second verse that includes the horror of their calling.

Though Matthew doesn’t tell us much about these men, we do know that a few were fishermen. Consider the life they left.

Fishermen, in the Roman world, were part of a state-controlled enterprise. They paid large amounts of revenue back to the state, which would then pay revenue back to the Roman Empire. Every person in the chain of taxation received their due share. Ancient records indicate these rulers, from the Herods, to the Caesars, were incredibly wealthy, due, in great part, to the taxes paid by smaller industries in varying regions. Fishing was but one of those industries.

Yet there were probably guilds, or cooperatives, where groups of family fishing industries could withstand, together, the local taxes imposed. It is safe to assume that Peter, Andrew, James, and John were part of something like this.

Had they remained in their profession, their lives would have remained incredibly controlled, ordered, and predictable. They would have been bound by the seasons of the year, and dependent upon weather. They would have known which months would be best, and which months would be wet and rainy. They would have attended guild meetings, to battle price-fixing. They would have made agreements with local tax-collectors concerning their revenue. They would have either bought their own boats, or leased them from the government-controlled harbors. And they may have made enough money to hire a servant or two along the way.

In other words, they would have been businessmen for life. And without a great amount of social mobility, they would have never done anything different. Add to this the fact that, through the Jewish education, they were, for the most part, already overlooked for a rabbinical position. They weren’t intelligent enough, according to those schooling standards, to become a Jewish rabbi, and were sent back home, and back to the family business, by the time they were twelve-years-old.

So Jesus offers them something different. The substance of their lives is no longer about money and business, but about something far greater, and far more terrifying. They will travel, speak, be abused, neglected, hungry, arrested, beaten, and divisive. They were called to exchange comfort and predictability for a far greater mission. This is when they become fishers of men.

It is a very different life.

There is one more consideration, though. Matthew never tells us, at the end of Matthew 10, that they actually begin this mission. We assume they do, because we see these twelve disciples again in Matthew 12. Matthew leaves this calling open, and he does so on purpose.

He is telling every reader of his gospel that this is the mission for every one of Jesus’ followers. Not just these twelve.

Which means this is the same mission for both me and you.

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Thanks for reading. Click here for a list of all the blogs through these ninety days.