Acts 2:11b “We hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!”


The description of the coming of the Holy Spirit in Acts 2 is a pretty wild affair.  The disciples are gathered together for the Jewish festival of Pentecost…the celebration of the giving of the Law to Moses on Mt. Sinai.  But on this day, 50 days after the Passover that was the Last Supper of Jesus, things take an incredible turn.  There’s a violent, rushing wind…inside the house!  Flames seemed to be hovering over each of the disciples, and then they all started to speak in different languages…the languages of all the foreign visitors to Jerusalem.


For most of us, all of that is not a common occurrence.  We’re not really told what the disciples thought about the situation, but it did create quite a buzz in the crowds in Jerusalem that were around for the festival.  The people watching were amazed.  They knew the disciples were, for the most part, simple fishermen from Galilee…not the sorts you would expect to be fluent in all the languages of the known world.  What did it all mean? Some of the people present decided that the disciples were just drunk, although I have yet to hear anybody who was drunk suddenly start to spout Mandarin, unless it was the language of their birth.  They often do spout a number of things, but it’s not generally a description of the wonders of God in another language.


Many people believe this is the phenomenon known as “speaking in tongues,” that is practiced in some churches today.  That’s why many of those churches have “Pentecostal” somewhere in the title.  Others believe that the miracle was not in the speaking but in the hearing…that the disciples spoke just as they always had and God allowed it to be heard in the language of each of those listening.  But whatever happened technically, the meaning of the event seems clear.  God’s message is not just for one people in one place at one time.  The Gospel of God’s love is meant to be shared in every tongue and in every land.


We’ve seen this from the very beginning.  When God called Abraham way back in Genesis 12, God’s intention was that through Abraham all the nations of the earth would be blessed.  Jesus’ parting command to his disciples in Matthew 28:19 is to “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations.”  God has never called people to stay put and let those who are interested come to them.  God sends those God has called.  We have to go out.  We have to go to where the crowds gather and we have to speak in their language, not make them speak ours.


Suppose we took this seriously in our churches.  Suppose church wasn’t focused on getting people in but in sending people out?  Supposed we really cared about speaking the language of the foreign visitors?  I don’t just mean those literally from other countries who speak other languages, although we aren’t very good even at that very obvious application.  But we also need to tell of God’s wonders in music that may sound foreign to our ears or through styles of worship that don’t have the same comfort to us as “home.”  Pentecost reminds us that it’s not about us.  The story doesn’t tell us how the disciples felt about all of this.  It simply tells us that the purpose of receiving the Holy Spirit was to give the disciples the ability to communicate the Gospel in a way that those native to other lands and cultures could relate to and receive.


It hasn’t changed.  The calling of Abraham wasn’t about Abraham.  It was about the nations of the world that were to be blessed by his faithfulness.  The calling of the disciples was not about them.  It was about the nations of the world that would learn about the wonders of God through their preaching and teaching.  God does not fill me or you or anybody with the Holy Spirit just so we can have an intense religious experience or miraculously pass a language exam.  God gives us the Holy Spirit on this Pentecost for the same reason the disciples got it back then—to declare the wonders of God to the world.  It’s been over 2000 years.  It’s high time we got back to doing our job…even if others do think we’re just drunk.


God of wind and flame, blow into our lives and burn in our hearts until we find ourselves speaking the language of your world.  Amen.



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