Last week we heard the story of how Jesus finished out his physical presence on earth. Brutally killed, risen from the dead, Jesus had been appearing in numerous places for about six weeks. And to his disciples he said, “Stay where you are (in Jerusalem – away from their home in Galilee up north – and the place of the most danger). Just before he ascended into the sky, he said to them…
“You will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.” (Acts 1:5)
“You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:7)
The Book of Acts is formally called the Acts of the Apostles and the Gospel writer Luke wrote it – it’s a continuation of his Gospel. It’s all about how God used believers to fulfill the words of Jesus.
You could call Acts the Gospel of the Holy Spirit. Try to picture this story….
Acts 2. When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 2And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. 4All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.
5 Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. 6And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each.7Amazed and astonished, they asked, ‘Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? 9Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 11Cretans and Arabs— (a wheel around Jerusalem with a 600-mile radius) in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.’ 12All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, ‘What does this mean?’ 13But others sneered and said, ‘They are filled with new wine.’
Pentecost, by the way, is a Jewish festival of first fruits – it celebrates the first crops of the growing season. Means something here, right? That passage is so important that we’ll hear it again in a few weeks and the story will continue.
As you pictured this, what did you see? What did you hear?
The sound of wind. But not destructive wind.
Fire. They could see this over each other’s heads.
Other languages. Have you ever been able to speak another language?
Let’s unpack this and look at what happened….
The sound of wind. What does that mean? It’s the creating “ruah” of God.
In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep,while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. Then God said… ‘Let there be light’; and there was light. (Genesis 1:1-3)
God uses words to create, uses language to bring things into being. Isn’t that amazing to think about? God said. And made life happen. Does God still speak? Yes. That means God still creates.
God will speak into you and make a new creation right now. You open that door by believing in the risen Jesus. “God, I am yours.”
God breathes and speaks. In fact, God is the Word. Jesus is the Word.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. John 1:1
Through the Holy Spirit, God and Jesus are speaking to you and me, and God the Spirit uses us to speak to others. Those new believers were becoming mouthpieces for God.
Fire. How about that fire? Fire destroys and fire cleanses, right? Where else in scripture is fire an important thing? In Exodus, God is a pillar of fire keeping the enemies of the Hebrew people away. Looking toward this moment, there was a time when Jesus said…
“I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled!” Luke 12:49]
When he said that, he saw a time when some people would have faith and others wouldn’t. This Holy Spirit coming would be awesome for people who believe. Cleansing. Freeing. But in their relationships, the fire might feel like something else. If you have faith, some of your relationships may burn.
Other languages. And how about those believers suddenly having the ability to speak in languages that they didn’t know? Do you speak another language? Ever been able? I have but only with practice. God, I could use some Spanish right about now! I want to show you some amazing things that were happening in that moment, when people started speaking in other languages, talking about God’s deeds of power.
It wasn’t just random talking (words are important, right?). God’s deeds of power. What would that have been? About Jesus risen from the dead!
If you want to communicate important, life-saving truth to someone else, you have to find the language that they speak.
Kathy and I haven’t traveled as much as other people we’ve met, but we’ve gotten around, regularly used our passports, and learned one huge thing. In most places people commonly travel to, everybody, that is, everybody who wants to do business, especially with tourists, and make a living – speaks English. It’s a polite thing for Americans to learn some words in other languages, but most people who sell food or run hotels, etc., speak English. They have to. Not just for us. It’s because English is a way for them to overcome their own language barriers. People from other countries speak English to each other.
The “language barrier” is no longer a reason to not travel. English is the world language of business.
In that same way, at the time of Jesus and the early Christians, if you wanted to do business across borders, if you wanted to be able to communicate with people from other countries, you had to speak Greek. Common people in the Palestine area spoke Aramaic, but the general language for the Roman Empire was Greek. Greek was the language of business. There’s a reason the New Testament was written entirely in Greek.
In order for the disciples to talk to this crowd, they may have only had to speak Aramaic or Greek. But if that’s true, Lord, why bother with these other languages?
The buzz goes through the crowd, “Are these people drunk?” They’ve lost all sense appropriate behavior! Let’s look at that.
Do people who are drunk naturally speak in other languages? It was a weird thing to say, so, there must be something else that they’re seeing.
First, they must have been having some kind of ecstatic experience. Some kind of amazing happiness, expressing themselves with joy. Laughing?
Secondly, the place where the believers are speaking, the only place that makes sense for a crowd like this, is the Temple courtyard. They must be at the Temple. This was high, holy ground, which you could see plainly in the rituals and robes, and the language that was spoken there. The language of worship for the Hebrew people has always been Hebrew, which Jews call “the holy tongue.”
At the Temple, all other languages were replaced by Hebrew – despite the fact that for many Jews, especially the Jews living in other countries, Hebrew was incomprehensible.
If the Temple was where the followers of Jesus were first experiencing the power of the Holy Spirit, it must have come as a shock to hear words of praise, words of worship about God’s deeds of power in common languages. Inappropriate! No joy here, you guys! God is always having to get past some form of inappropriateness. Cultural filters we need people to pass through, even though appropriateness is lacking in our culture, yes? I’m talking about the unnecessary expectations we may have for younger people in particular.
Thirdly, God was using the personal languages of the people who needed to hear the message about Jesus. When God speaks, God speaks your personal language. We also need the Spirit of God in us – to live the life God wants us to live and to give away the good news to people who don’t all speak the same language.
We have important traditions to keep as a church, but the language we speak needs to change with time, it needs to change for those we want to reach.
There are many people who desperately need good news, who need the Spirit, who need the new life God wants to give them. They might speak other languages. Maybe they speak Elderly. Maybe they speak Teenager. Maybe they speak Music. Maybe they speak Food or Cooking. I’ve known people who spoke Motorcycle. We speak many languages. Using the language God has given you, think of how God can use you to give good news to someone else.
God, give us courage. Give us the courage to believe in you and the courage to act on that belief.
Renew your Spirit in us. Give us your eyes to see those around us who need new life, who need to know you. Help us communicate your love for them in ways they understand.
Give us all a new sense of purpose, with you at the controls of our lives, and with you making a new creation in us and in our church. Amen.