Sermon series, “Don’t Leave Before the Miracle” Sermon title, ” What Language is That?” Acts 2:1-41- May 21, 2017

May 25, 2017
When I was expecting my daughter Bethannie, I read a lot about what to expect. One of the things I read was that the baby hears the sound of the mother’s heartbeat during pregnancy and a trick you can use when the baby is born to soothe it, is to play the sound of a heartbeat or to hold the baby close to your heart so they can hear it. The baby also hears the sound of the mother’s voice during pregnancy and so, once its born, will recognize its mother’s voice. I found that to be true when Bethannie and I were in the hospital after she was born. She was crying and to soothe her I held her up, made eye contact with her, because babies are also fascinated by faces, and started talking to her. She calmed right down because she recognized my voice and was fascinated with this talking face thing she was looking at. I used that trick several times to calm her down. I would also hold her close to my heart so she could hear it.
It turns out that a baby’s first language is literally a heart language – mother’s heartbeat and voice. We often speak of someone’s heart language as the first language they learn to speak. So mine would be English. For others here today it would be Spanish, Tagalag, Arabic, Creole, German, or maybe Pennsylvania Dutch even. And there are more languages than that represented by our church body. Here in Acts 2, with the coming of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost, people from all over the Middle East heard the disciples declaring the wonders of God in their heart languages. These people came from all different countries that spoke different dialects and languages. They were amazed and perplexed and wondered what this all meant when they heard the disciples speaking in their languages.
They had all come to Jerusalem for the feast of Pentecost and now something totally bizarre and wonderful is happening and they want to know what it’s all about. We know that the Jews of this time were expecting the Messiah to come at any moment. There was a great sense of anticipation about this and many of these Jews may have heard of Jesus and wondered if he was the Messiah. There were several people who appeared on the scene over the years that people thought might be the Messiah. But the people of Jerusalem would have known that Jesus was killed although they might not have heard of his resurrection, or if they had heard of it, might have thought it was too preposterous to be real. But the point is that people were expecting God to do something and now, with the disciples of Jesus speaking in all these different languages, they assume God has done something and want to know about it and what it means.
So let’s unpack this experience a little bit. Jesus had told his disciples to wait in Jerusalem for the gift the Father would send which he had promised them. So they did. And on the day of Pentecost, which was a harvest festival that happened 50 days after Passover, they were all together in one place and suddenly there was the sound like a strong wind that came from heaven and filled the house where they were. They saw what looked like tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages as the Spirit enabled them. These were people who all spoke the same language – Aramaic. They also probably spoke Hebrew, some Greek and maybe Latin. But their heart language was Aramaic. So why the need for them to speak in other languages – the languages of the Parthians, Medes, Elamites, Mesopotamians, Cappadocians, Egyptians, Arabs and so forth? Because God was doing something that would result in His glory being proclaimed throughout the whole earth. As part of the reconciling work of Jesus Christ, we see God healing something that had been broken way back in Genesis. The coming of the Holy Spirit is a healing event.
In Genesis 1 in the creation account, after God had created humans, he blessed them and said, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it.” This is called the creation mandate and speaks to the purpose for all humanity to take care of the earth and all that is on the earth. In Genesis 9, after the flood, God blessed Noah and his sons and said to them, “Be fruiful and increase in number and fill the earth.” He reiterated the creation mandate. Why did God want humans to increase in number and fill the earth? So they could spread the knowledge of His glory across the earth. They were to be His witnesses to the whole earth.
But in Genesis chapter 11, we see that Noah’s descendants failed to do that. It says beginning in verse 1, “Now the whole world had one language and a common speech. As men moved eastward, they found a plain in Shinar and settled there. They said to each other, ‘Come, let’s make bricks and bake them thoroughly.’ They used brick instead of stone, and tar for mortar. Then they said, ‘Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves and not be scattered over the face of the whole earth.” They wanted to settle in one place and make a name for themselves. They wanted to be famous, rather than making God famous. They didn’t want to be scattered like seeds across the earth, telling the glories of God wherever they went. They wanted to stay gathered into one place, making themselves strong and great so that their own fame would spread.
It was the fact that they spoke one language that gave them the ability to work together and build this great city and tower. So when the Lord saw what they were doing he said, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.’ So the Lord scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city. That is why it was called Babel – because there the Lord confused the language of the whole world. From there the Lord scattered them over the face of the whole earth.”
The Lord had to scatter the people because they refused to do it themselves and the way he did it was to confuse their language. This was because of their disobedience to God’s will. So now on the Day of Pentecost, God is, in a sense, reversing things. He’s not instituting one language for everyone, but rather is gifting the disciples of Jesus with the ability to speak of His wonders in languages that they haven’t learned. The glory of the Lord and the wonders He has done are being declared in the languages of all the people who have come to Jerusalem to celebrate. And those people are going to go back where they came from, telling the story of Jesus and what they experienced at Pentecost. In this way, through the witness of God’s people, His glory is scattered across the earth as He originally intended way back in Genesis. That scattering continues to this day.
It’s important that we hear about God in our own language. It’s soothing to us. Here at OCMC we will at times read scriture in different languages. We don’t do that nearly often enough considering all the languages that are represented here. But for those of you who have a language other than English as your first language, it’s really nice to hear your own language spoken in your church. I for one, really appreciate hearing the different languages when we do that. I like when we sing in different languages and musical styles as well. It is one way for us to draw together as a body when we lift up the different cultures that are represented among us. On Saturday we will do that with food at the World Food Fair only we will be sharing that with the community at large and not just among ourselves. Whenever we do this, whenever we lift up the different cultures and gifts among us, we celebrate what happened at Pentecost.
As I said, Pentecost is a harvest festival. It celebrated the wheat harvest. It also was a commemoration of God giving the Law to Moses at Mt. Sinai. Now, here in Acts, we see echoes of that in what God does in giving the Holy Spirit. When the disciples declared the wonders of God in different languages, it resulted in people coming together to hear what was being said. Peter stood up to tell them about Jesus and how God had raised him from the dead and that this Jesus, who they crucified, God has now made both Lord and Christ. When Moses was given the law on Mt. Sinai, he came down and declared it to the people. Now Peter declares the fulfillment of the law in Jesus Christ who is Lord and Messiah and he pleads with the people to “save themselves from this corrupt generation.” About 3000 people are gathered in as a harvest into the church that day.
This was 3000 people representing people groups and nations from all across the Roman Empire. Some of these people would have been Jerusalemites who would have continued to meet with the disciples and been part of the Jerusalem church. But others lived in other places across the Middle East and they went back to their homes and told about what they experienced and heard about Jesus. And so God’s glory begins to spread across the world of the Roman Empire. Throughout the rest of the book of Acts we will read about how the declaration of Jesus Christ as Lord and Messiah spreads throughout the Roman world with a harvest of souls from different people groups and cultures, being gathered in everywhere the message goes.
When the Holy Spirit came, the disciples didn’t shy away from speaking out and telling the story of Jesus. Peter, who just the day before had been behind closed doors with the rest of the disciples, gets up in front of the crowd and preaches boldly about Jesus, not holding back on speaking about his crucifixion at the hands of these very people. He doesn’t hold back in declaring the outrageous fact that Jesus had been resurrected from the dead. In the face of some people making fun of them and claiming they were drunk, the disciples still proclaimed what they knew about Jesus.
Things would get worse for the disciples. In Acts 4 Peter and John are arrested and forbidden by the religious leaders from speaking about Jesus. But they respond, “Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God. For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.” In Acts 5 the Sadducees arrest the apostles and put them in prison. But during the night an angel of the Lord opens the doors of the jail and brings them out. The angel tells them, “Go, stand in the Temple courts, and tell the people the full message of this new life.” So at dawn, the apostles go to the Temple courts and start teaching the people there. When the high priest arrives and calls the religious court together, they sent to the jail for the apostles to be brought to them. The report comes back that the apostles are not there. Then someone comes in saying that the apostles are all at the Temple teaching the people, the very thing that had gotten them arrested in the first place. At the end of chapter 5 it says, “Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Christ.”
We see, in the early band of disciples after the day of Pentecost, that it was the norm for them to publicly witness about Jesus. They did it every day in the Temple courts and from house to house. You see, at the Temple, different people could go into the courts and start teaching and people would gather around to listen and learn. Jesus did this. But they also went from house to house. Whether that meant they were like Jehovah’s Witnesses canvassing the neighborhoods, or whether they were going around to the houses of believers to teach, I don’t know. But they were committed to telling the Jesus story every day. And the number of disciples grew daily because of this.
What about us? Are we committed to telling the Jesus story to the people around us? We should be. We should be committed to communicating with others about who Jesus is and what He has done. Sometimes we’re even intimidated to do this among ourselves let alone share with someone who may not believe yet in Jesus. We hold back from telling each other the things that Jesus is doing in our own lives. And I have to admit, at times when we’ve been told to turn to the person next to you and tell one thing God has done for you this week, my mind usually goes blank. I just don’t do well with those type of things. But there are times when I’m having a conversation with someone and I’m reminded of how God has worked something out in my life or taught me something and I should be free to share that with whoever I’m talking with, whether they are a Christian or not. I have done that with friends in the past and I’ve seen how God can take those conversations and use them to help that person grow in faith.
When I was in the Holy Land last November, I talked with a shopkeeper who told me his mother’s family could trace their faith conversion back to the first century. When we read about the disciples preaching and teaching about Jesus, and about Paul going on missionary journeys across the Roman world preaching Jesus, it was this man’s family who heard one of those messages and became believers in Jesus and that family has been faithful in following Jesus for 2000 years. We met another woman who I later found out comes from a family that can trace their faith conversion to the Day of Pentecost. Her ancestor was one of the 3000 who accepted Peter’s message and was baptized in Acts 2. If we could look back across history and actually see how the message spread, we would find a line from Pentecost to each one of us even though we come from people groups from all over the world. We wouldn’t be gathered together today as believers in Jesus Christ, if it wasn’t for the disciples’ commitment to witness publicly about him.
Who is depending on our public witness? When it comes to telling others about Jesus, we stand in direct line from the apostles with a mandate to spread the glory of God across the earth. Stuart and Amaris are preparing to go to East Africa to do just that through medical work, joining with Peter and Christy who are already there. Baby John and Ponnamma are in India doing that now. It’s not easy in these areas of the world to talk about Jesus. You can’t just go out in the streets and start up a conversation with someone about Jesus. It could get you killed in some places. But we don’t have to worry about that here. We could get ridiculed or rejected but we most likely won’t be martyred. How are we carrying out the mandate to spread the glory of God across the earth?
It’s an important question to ask ourselves. Perhaps the best way is to just be open to whoever God might bring into our lives that we can have a conversation with. If each one of us were to pray each day, “Lord bring someone my way today that I can talk to about you and help me to recognize them when I meet them” what might happen? I actually missed an opportunity this past week. We were having the Healing Hearts Club on Wed. afternoon and a couple came by looking for help for their daughter’s family who had a fire. They were looking for food and clothes for their granddaughters. I put an announcement on Facebook about that. I talked with them and took their information, but because I needed to get back to Healing Hearts Club, I neglected to offer to pray with them. Sometimes we miss simple opportunities because we just aren’t mindful. So as we go out this week let’s be more mindful about who God is bringing across our path and how we might share the Jesus story with them. If we ask, God will bring people into our lives and give us the ability to speak about Jesus to them in ways that they can hear and receive.