• When and Where
Notes from the Wesley Study Bible: “The first major section of Acts focuses on the fulfillment of Gods promises to Israel. All action occurs in Jerusalem. Like most stories, Acts has numerous emphases and themes interwoven to form its plot. These themes direct attention to Gods saving work. Central is Gods initiative, thereby fulfilling Gods promises to Israel through the resurrection of Jesus and the coming of the Holy Spirit. However, Gods work of salvation also extends to all as prophesied in the OT. This new picture of the people of God extends beyond Jewish and social categories of the past, with God creating a faithful community described in terms of Gods presence, care for one another, unity among believers, and the unstoppable proclamation of the gospel.”
• Key Insights
The way Jesus ascension is told alludes to the departure of significant prophetic figures, especially Elijah (see 2 Kings 2: 1- 12) and Moses.
Pentecost, meaning fiftieth day after Passover, was a harvest celebration associated with covenant renewal. Note the 120 persons mentioned in 1:15, thus the “they” in chapter 2 likely refers to a large group, not just the 12 and the setting is not a “locked room” but likely the Temple courtyards. How does that influence your vision of the scene?
The list of nationalities moves geographically from east to west with Jerusalem at the center, exhibiting the world’s salvation through Israel’s restoration.
A series of stories, some troubling, some comforting, chart the struggle to grow in a new form of community. Look at what’s at stake in each. Note that Stephen’s witness contrasts looking for God in action among the people (the new spirit led community) with looking for God in a place (temple, built by human hands). The assertion is idolatry. Where might we struggle with similar temptations in our day?
• Big Picture
Wesleyan Core Term: World as Parish
The whole world is our congregation? When Wesley writes that he looks upon all the world as my parish (Works, Journals, June 11, 1739), he is offering an expansive view of ministry. Wesley reminded us not to be stuck thinking that God only shows up inside the church or inside the four walls of whatever box we put God in. Gods presence and activity encompass the whole world, indeed, the ends of the earth, so ministry and mission are possible everywhere. Church structures help us do ministry, but ministry is not confined to those structures. Wesley insisted that we share the good news of Gods love and do good in all places. God is pulling us to participate in Gods work in the world. God is always ahead of us in ministry, down the block, across the country, and around the world. The church as the body of Christ is never holed up inside a building but is sent to the world to proclaim good news.
(I would add this is also a challenge to the institutional structures of the church of his day, which restricted pastors’ activities to their designated parishes. It’s a claim that God’s call is larger and “meddling” may be where God is leading.)
Blessings on your reading!