Posted by: St. Mark Lutheran Church | May 31, 2009

Sermon on Acts 2:1-21

The Spirit Speaks Your Language

In the Name of Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh.

Acts 2:1-21: When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place.  Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting.  They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them.  All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.  Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven.  When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard them speaking in his own language.  Utterly amazed, they asked: “Are not all these men who are speaking Galileans?  Then how is it that each of us hears them in his own native language?  Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!”  Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?”  Some, however, made fun of them and said, “They have had too much wine.”  Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: “Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say.  These men are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning!  No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel:  “‘In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people.  Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams.  Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy.  I will show wonders in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood and fire and billows of smoke.  The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord.  And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

Just days before Pentecost, Jesus told the disciples:  You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you. Then He ascended into heaven.  This was the sixth time since Maundy Thursday that Jesus said something like this.  At least four times during their last talk in the Upper Room Jesus said something similar.  To hear but one:  When the Counselor comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father, he will testify about me.  And you also must testify. Luke adds at least one post-resurrection occurrence: I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.

But when would the Spirit come?  How would He manifest Himself?  Would it be obvious to them only, to the whole group, to the whole city, to the world?  Would they know it when it happened or might they miss it?  As usual, there were many questions, and the only answer that had been provided so far was, “Wait.”  You can imagine disciples whispering to each other, “Have you got the Spirit yet?”

Praise Jesus, when it happened, everybody knew it.  Jesus didn’t keep His promise in some secret, cryptic, enigmatic way.  He sent the Holy Spirit to testify in plain and clear terms.  And from that Pentecost, we learn something about the Holy Spirit for this Pentecost:  THE SPIRIT SPEAKS YOUR LANGUAGE.

For Jewish believers, Pentecost was one of the three mandatory “Come to Jerusalem” festivals.  It was also called the Feast of Weeks, because it was celebrated seven weeks after the beginning of harvest, or, as Deuteronomy says, from the time you begin to put the sickle to the standing grain. Believers brought in the firstfruits of the harvest as a thank-you to God.  Hence, the book of Ruth was appointed for Pentecost worship.

Such a festival meant that Jerusalem was packed.  Josephus refers to tens of thousands of pilgrims in the city for Pentecost.  Perhaps many remained from Passover.  Some surmise that this feast was popular among the Jews dispersed among the nations because it was a good time for traveling.  Either way, secular history corresponds with Luke:  Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. His list of nations tells us that there were Jews in Jerusalem from every corner of the Roman world and beyond, from north, south, east, and west.  None of whom suspected what was about to happen among this small band of Christ-followers.  Luke writes that they were all together in one place as Pentecost began.  This seems to refer only to the twelve apostles.  What they were doing, we don’t know.  Were they pooling their money for the proper Pentecost sacrifices?  Were they reading together from the book of Ruth, stunned by the hand of God at work in history to take care of His people and to preserve the line of His Savior?  Or, were they waiting for the Spirit to come?

Whatever they were doing, the Spirit hijacked the agenda. A sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting.  They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them.  All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them. In a split-second the Spirit answered their questions.  The Spirit manifested Himself so that their eyes and ears and minds could not doubt.  The sound:  a tornado!  The sight:  tongues of fire!  The speech: unlearned languages rolling off their tongues!  All fulfilling the John the Baptist’s words:  He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.

And the disciples knew what to do.  What the Spirit told them, they told others.  And they didn’t have to look far, because the sound of wind wasn’t just for them.  It brought the Pentecost worshipers where the tongues-speaking disciples were.  And it amazed them.  Five times in our verses Luke calls the crowd amazed, stupefied, baffled, surprised, confounded, and astounded.  But, as baffled as they were, something was understandable:  We hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!

The disciples weren’t babbling gibberish.  They spoke the languages of the world.  And they weren’t forecasting weather; they declared the wonders of God. The Spirit spoke the world’s language.  He spoke their language so that they might know the truth that sets them free, as He had led Joel to prophesy:  In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people….And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. The purpose of this powerful outpouring was simple:  that they might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing have life in His Name.  That’s why Peter preached what He preached that day: Men of Israel, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know.  This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross.  But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him….Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.  The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.

The Spirit speaks their language so that they might know Jesus and live!  But not everyone was amazed.  Some said, “These guys are drunk!”  Incredible, isn’t it, how stubborn the sinful nature is?  Peter and his friends weren’t stumbling around, vomiting, slurring their words, singing ribald songs.  They were speaking in intelligible languages to people who could understand what they were talking about, the wonders of God.

Incredible that the case remains the same today.  Despite what millions of Pentecostals say, we aren’t waiting for the Spirit to come down among us, slay us with His power, and give us the ability to babble in ecstatic languages.  No, as Paul said, I would rather speak five intelligible words to instruct others than ten thousand words in a tongue. What the Spirit did on this Pentecost was a powerful display, a clear sign of His presence, His arrival, and His inspiration of those men and the Church that was born that day.  The events of this Pentecost fulfilled the prophecy of John the Baptist and the promises Jesus made on Maundy Thursday, Easter Sunday, and Ascension Day.  Specific promises fulfilled in a specific way.

But that doesn’t mean that the Holy Spirit doesn’t speak today.  In fact, just as He did then, the Spirit speaks your language now.  Through the God-given gift of translation, the wonders of God are declared around the world in almost every language there is.  The Pentecost Spirit speaks in tongues as new translations in new languages are prepared, printed, and distributed, so that more hear and more know about Jesus – the risen and ascended Lord.  You don’t need to know Greek and Hebrew to know about Jesus.  In your own native language, you have Pentecost hope:  But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.  For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man.  For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.

And the Spirit doesn’t just speak the language of your lips.  He speaks the language of visible and tangible.  He attaches His Word of promise to earthly items: water, bread, and wine, to communicate to you this same message, to distribute God’s grace, because He knows that there is almost nothing stronger on earth than having words attached to something you can see, taste, touch, hold, and do.  And so He says, “Wash, and be clean.”  He says, “Eat, drink, and be forgiven.”  The wonders of God in your own native language.  He speaks your language.

Yet we call Him a drunkard.  What else is it but calling the Spirit of God drunk and stupid then to ignore the message He’s put in front of you in such readily understandable ways?  Isn’t it treating Him like a drunk to shun the places where He speaks, that is, the places where the Word of God is laid before you – whether that place is worship on Sunday mornings, Bible classes, your family devotions, your own personal devotions?  “Oh, I have to listen to this guy again?”  Isn’t it treating Him like a foolish drunk to let His Baptism be something done at your own convenience, not at His urging?  “What does He know?”  Isn’t it treating Him like a drunk to spurn His Meal, to say, “Yeah, yeah, thanks, none for me today!”  In whatever ways we despise preaching and the Word, we find ourselves echoing the sentiments of the Pentecost crowd, “This guy is drunk!  Why should I waste my time on Him?”  Pharoah played that game.  The Spirit spoke to him again and again through Moses, “Repent of your sinful behavior!  Turn and live!”  Time and time again Pharoah turned His back.  Until one day the LORD said, “Fine, that’s the way you want it, your will be done.”  To despise the Spirit as He speaks your language is to confirm your reservation in hell.

But praise God His Spirit speaks among us still.  Isaiah says, Seek the LORD while He may be found! He is here!  The Spirit’s Pentecost wind blows among us!  Make Psalm 51 your own, Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me!  Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me.  Restore to me the joy of your salvation! Hear Ezekiel:  Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off.’ Therefore prophesy and say to them: ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: O my people, I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them; I will bring you back to the land of Israel.   Then you, my people, will know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves and bring you up from them.  I will put my Spirit in you and you will live. The Lord has spoken!  He has done it!  Easter Sunday saw the firstfruits of the resurrection!  Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  He is who He said He is – the Son of God!  He did what He said He’d do – die for our sins, rise for our salvation!  He gives us what He said He’d give – life everlasting!  And today we marvel that the Spirit would declare these wonders in our native tongues.  Wonder of wonders, He makes us wise for salvation through the Word.  Wonder of wonders, He drowns that sinful nature in Baptism’s water.  Wonder of wonders, He brings us up from the grave, He knits together tendons, ligaments, sinews, and bones through the nutrition of His Holy Supper.  The Spirit speaks your language.  And what He says is glorious:  Everyone who calls on the name of the LORD will be saved!  Amen.

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Responses

  1. Thanks for feeding me with the Law and Gospel today. I have to say that I have not seen that from a WELS preacher in a while. May you continue to proclaim the gospel faithfully.


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