Acts 2:1-21, “Wonders in the heavens above and signs on the earth below” (9/18/17)
Celestial and Earthly Events
Wonders and Signs – Part 1
Acts 2:1-21, “Wonders in the heavens above and signs on the earth below”
Genesis 1:14-19, God created the greater and lesser lights, and the stars.
Psalms 136:1-9, God’s creation of the sun, moon, and stars shows his steadfast love.
Isaiah 40:21-31, God’s creation of the sun, moon, and stars shows his uniqueness.
1 Kings 19:1-21, Created things are not God.
Deuteronomy 4:15-20, 17:2-3, Sun, Moon, Stars and Planets were forbidden as objects of worship...
2 Kings 17:1-18; ... but it happened anyway in Israel
2 Kings 23:1-11; Jeremiah 44:12-19, ... and in Judah also
Acts 14:8-18, Jupiter and Mercury – gods and planets are chickens and eggs.
Acts 17:15-34, Areopagus, the Hill of Mars
Joel 2:18-32, Solar and Lunar Eclipses
Luke 21:5-28, Solar and Lunar Eclipses
Luke 23:35-46; Acts 2:20, Solar and Lunar Eclipses
More Wonders and Signs
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Lunar eclipse, 9/27/2015, Albuquerque, NM.
Copyright 2015 Madison Link. Used by permission.
On August 21, 2017, a total eclipse of the sun was visible in 14 U.S. states from coast to coast, with a partial eclipse visible in the entire contiguous United States. Millions of people – mostly Americans but also from around the world – traveled to the zone of totality, and many millions more (including me and some of my friends and family) viewed the partial eclipse at home. Most of my family saw the total eclipse, including fellow-reader and idea-woman Terri L., who suggested our new study topic.
The Bible mentions a number of awesome celestial and earthly events. On Pentecost, tongues of fire landed on the heads of the new Christians, but that wasn’t the part worth commenting on. The awesome
part was that Jews and believers from all over the Roman Empire heard the gospel in their own language.
Peter says, “Why are you at all surprised? God himself said, ‘I will send out my Spirit on all flesh; and your sons and your daughters will be prophets ... And wonders will be seen in heaven, and signs on the earth. ... And whoever makes his prayer to the Lord will have salvation.’”
The Bible almost always takes celestial wonders and earthly signs as manifestations of or metaphors for God’s power, for the purpose of our salvation.
Genesis 1:14-19, God created the greater and lesser lights, and the stars (9/19/17)
The first and most important thing to remember about celestial events like an eclipse is that God is responsible for them all. There is nothing supernatural or magical about them. God made the sun and moon (the greater and lesser lights), and the stars, and commanded the rules that they would follow. Astronomers (even very ancient astronomers) figured out these rules and for thousands of years have been able to predict the occurrence of an eclipse with great accuracy, let alone the solstices, equinoxes, new moons, etc.
Astronomers can do this because God set down rules for the celestial bodies to follow. If their motion were magical or supernatural, no astronomer could tell you when the next eclipse would be.
Psalms 136:1-9, God’s creation of the sun, moon, and stars shows his steadfast love (9/20/17)
Another way to say “mercy” is “steadfast love,” “loving kindness,” or just “love.” God’s creation of the sun, moon, and stars shows his steadfast love for us. Love God; love your neighbor.
Isaiah 40:21-31, God’s creation of the sun, moon, and stars shows his uniqueness (9/21/17)
God and his prophet Isaiah are puzzled. God has made the heavens (vs. 22). God has made the earth (vs. 28). As a matter of fact, God has made everything (vs. 26), which proves that no one else is like God (vs. 25). So how is it that we just don’t get it (vss. 21, 28)?? Fortunately, our God gives strength to the feeble as well as structure to the universe.
1 Kings 19:1-21, Created things are not God (9/22/17)
Now, since you are reading this, you probably understand that there is only one God, who made everything, including you and me. This is a relatively new idea. The original idea about gods was that there were lots and lots of them, roughly one god for each place and thing, plus miscellaneous other gods for weather and whatnot. Eventually this settled down into the idea that there were maybe a dozen or so gods for each ethnic group or nation. The idea that God was the only God took a long time to get established, and in particular it took a long time to get established among God’s own people, the children of Israel.
God was not created. God is not in any created thing. In particular, God is not in the wind. God is not in the earthquake. God is not in the fire. God is not even in the gentle breeze, but sometimes when we listen as carefully as we would have to listen for a gentle breeze, we can hear God’s voice.
Deuteronomy 4:15-20, 17:2-3, Sun, Moon, Stars and Planets were forbidden as objects of worship (9/25/17)
To summarize: God made everything; therefore the sun, moon, stars, and planets are created items. They are not gods and, other than their assigned tasks of regulating the days and seasons, they have no power. They are not worthy of worship, and the LORD’s people are forbidden to worship them.
2 Kings 17:1-18, Sun, Moon, Stars and Planets were forbidden as objects of worship, but it happened anyway in Israel (9/26/17)
According to John Wesley, the “host of heaven” mentioned in vs. 16 means the visible planets. Deuteronomy 4:19 and Daniel 8:10 mention both the stars and the host of heaven, so this is probably correct. Whether the “host of heaven” is planets or stars, however, God had forbidden their worship. The kingdom of Israel had also engaged in worshiping both the host of heaven and so many other idols for so long that God had stopped protecting them from the Assyrians (who were a very vicious enemy). You’ve heard of the ten lost tribes of Israel? This is how they were lost.
2 Kings 23:1-11; Jeremiah 44:12-19, Sun, Moon, Stars and Planets were forbidden as objects of worship, but it happened anyway in Judah also (9/27/17)
Note that vs. 5 mentions “the host of heaven” as distinct from stars, more evidence that Wesley is right about the host of heaven equaling the visible planets. The “queen of heaven” is the moon.
King Josiah was one of the later kings of Judah, quite some time after the fall of Israel. Remember that the northern kingdom, Israel (as in “the ten lost tribes of”), had started out by polluting the worship of God with golden calves (1 Kings 12), went downhill through the worship of the Baal of the Philistines (1 Kings 16), and ended up worshiping a whole flock of idols (2 Kings 17). They abandoned God for a long time, and eventually God abandoned them.
King Josiah decided to do some maintenance in the Temple, which turned up a dusty old book (2 Kings 22); it turned out to be either Deuteronomy or the Torah (i.e., Genesis through Deuteronomy). Josiah was appalled to learn that the Judeans had been breaking the covenant like crazy, and he began a thorough religious reform. We know what evil things had been happening primarily because Josiah stopped them during his reign. Among other practices, the Judeans were worshiping the sun, moon, stars, and planets in the Temple
and in the “high places,” which were illicit hill shrines.
After Josiah died, his son and grandson went back to the old nasty ways, and a few generations later, God sent them into exile. In today’s second passage the prophet of the Exile, Jeremiah, delivers a message from God that shows us that although the worship of the moon was especially prominent among the women of Judea, their husbands supported the practice as well.
Acts 14:8-18, Jupiter and Mercury – gods and planets are chickens and eggs (9/28/17)
Five planets are visible to the naked eye: Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn. Notice that they are all named after gods. Or maybe the gods are named after the planets. Or maybe
the planets were
gods for some ancient people – because the god/planet thing goes back at least to the Babylonians – and only gradually did the gods take on human form. (I suspect that the actual sequence of events is now unknown but that many people have an opinion.) The third option agrees best with God’s ancient prohibition of planet worship.
In any case, two of the planet-gods are named in this funny story about Barnabas and Paul in Lystra. Depending on the translation you read, vs. 12 may have “Zeus” and “Hermes,” which are the Greek names for the two god/planets, or it may have “Jupiter” and “Mercury,” which are the Roman and English names. Notice that Barnabas and Paul emphasize that the real, living God made everything, including the planets; therefore the god-planets are “vain” (that is, worthless) and not worthy of worship (vs. 15).
Acts 17:15-34, Areopagus, the Hill of Mars (9/29/17)
What does your Bible have in vs. 19? The two main choices are “Mars Hill” and “Areopagus,” which means “Hill of Mars.” Several translations elaborate by inserting something like “city council” or “court.” The Areopagus is a big rock outcrop in Athens, and apparently there was a court there, although Paul doesn’t seem to have been on trial. You may think it’s a stretch to include this passage in a study of biblical planets, and you’re probably right.
There is a strong but ironic connection, however, with the idea that the god-planets were idols and people shouldn’t be worshiping idols. Paul’s argument (vss. 22-23), which was well-suited to the Athenian philosophers, was that they already had
a monument to the real God, they just didn’t know it! Nevertheless, man-made idols were unworthy of worship (vs. 29).
By the way, what’s up with vs. 18?? Paul was saying that salvation is through Jesus and the resurrection, that is “Yesous” and “Anastasia.” The Greeks, who as we saw back in vs. 16 have many gods, take both of these as names of some new “foreign divinities.”
Joel 2:18-32, Solar and Lunar Eclipses (10/2/17)
So, bearing in mind that God created all the heavenly bodies and set down their rules, and bearing in mind that they are inanimate objects with no thoughts or powers of their own, let’s think about eclipses (which is what got us onto this topic in the first place).
God has laid out the timetables for the solar and lunar eclipses, and when God says, “I will show wonders in the heavens .... The sun shall be turned to darkness, and the moon to blood,” you can bet that it will happen on schedule. God regularly uses scheduled events to mark liturgical events; for example, the new moon marks special festivals in both the Jewish and Christian liturgical calendars. We should not be surprised when God says that he is going to use other types of heavenly events to mark special occasions. In this passage from Joel, God says that solar and lunar eclipses will be used as one of the signs of the great and terrible day of the LORD.
Luke 21:5-28, Solar and Lunar Eclipses (10/3/17)
Important Notice: Lots of events are not
signs! Ordinary waxing and waning of the moon, normal eclipses, tides, weather, and so on are not signs of anything other than God’s orderly running of the universe. Jesus says, in particular, that the collapse of important buildings is not a sign. People claiming to be the Messiah is not a sign. Wars and tumults are not a sign. Persecution of the Church is not a sign. Only when you see “signs in sun and moon and stars, and on the earth distress of nations in perplexity because of the roaring of the sea and the waves” should you get excited about the Day of the LORD and the second coming of Jesus, the Son of Man.
However, here is a second important notice: you personally need to be ready at all times for your meeting with God. As one of my bosses used to say, “Half the people in the obituaries didn’t expect to be there today.” I’d put it even higher than that, because most people who are alive today expect to be alive tomorrow. Some of us won’t be; don’t wait for a sign. Please make your peace with God and man before
the great and terrible Day of the LORD!
Luke 23:35-46; Acts 2:20, Solar and Lunar Eclipses (10/4/17)
Did you know that when the moon is eclipsed, it’s red? Back in 1983, Colin J. Humphreys and W. G. Waddington, both from Oxford, used Peter’s reference to the blood-red moon – along with historical data about Pontius Pilate and Tiberius Caesar, the Jewish calendar, the dates and requirements for Passover, information from the Gospels, etc. – to date the crucifixion on April 3, A.D. 33. On that date, a partially eclipsed moon rose over the horizon in Jerusalem on its regular schedule. (Their paper was published in Nature
, vol. 306, pp. 743-746, 22 Dec. 1983. Dietrick E. Thomson summarized the paper in Science News
, Vol. 125.)
Good Friday was a dark day in more ways than one. The darkened sun, however, must have had some other cause than an eclipse, because a lunar eclipse happens on the night of the full moon, and a solar eclipse happens on the day of the new moon. As you know for yourself, there are many possible causes for a dark day, like clouds or dust storms.
I said yesterday that not every event is a sign. Some events are signs, however, even when they occur naturally. We read from the book of the prophet Joel to begin this study about wonders and signs. Peter quotes the prophet to show that just as astronomers can be relied on for accurate predictions of eclipses, prophets can be relied on for accurate predictions of God’s actions in history.
More Wonders and Signs
Wonders and Signs – Part 1
Wonders and Signs – Part 2
Wonders and Signs – Part 3
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