[This sermon was part of a series on the Apostles’ Creed. It may be helpful to read the creed and its exposition in the Heidelberg Catechism, which were recited corporately prior to the sermon.]
In our journey through the core teachings of the Christian faith, we have arrived at God the Holy Spirit. The Spirit works in many ways in the world. It unites us to Christ, convicts us of sin, comforts us, sanctifies us, helps us to pray. It was there at Creation, hovering over the waters, and will be there at the new creation as well. All of this and more is true of how the Holy Spirit works. But this morning, I want to tell you a story – a true story from the book that we love. But before we do, please take a moment to pray with me.
Father, may your Word be our rule, Your Holy Spirit our teacher, and the glory of Jesus Christ our single concern. Amen.
Listen closely and listen well, for these are the very words of God.
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 of them heard them speaking in his own language. Utterly amazed, they asked, “Aren’t all of these men who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in our 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 supposed. It is 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 your daughters will prophesy.
Your young men will see visions
and 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 great and glorious day of the Lord,
and everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
Men of Israel, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man attested by God to you through 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. David said about him,
“I saw the Lord always before me,
because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken.
Therefore, my heart is glad
and my tongue rejoices,
my body also will live in hope,
for you will not abandon me to the grave,
nor will you let your Holy One see decay.
You have made known to me the paths of life,
you will fill me with joy in your presence.”
Brothers, I can tell you confidently that the patriarch David died and was buried, and his tomb is here to this day. But he was a prophet and knew that God had promised him on oath that he would place one of his descendants on his throne. Seeing what was ahead, he spoke of the resurrection of the Christ, that he would not be abandoned to the grave, nor did his body see decay. God has raised this Jesus to live and we are all witnesses to the fact. Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear. For David did not ascend to heaven and yet he said,
“The Lord said to my Lord,
‘Sit at my right hand,
until I make your enemies
a footstool for your feet.”
Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.”
When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?”
Peter replied, “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.”
With many other words he warned them and pleaded with them, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” Those who received his message were baptized and about three thousand were added to their number that day.
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the Apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and good, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.
This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
It had been a long, if wonderful week. After an early start and a long flight, Olga and I had arrived with our group in Chiapas, Mexico. This series of small communities in the mountains near the Guatemalan border had shown us incredible love and hospitality. They made sure we had meat at most meals, though it was costly to them. They boiled their water and every pot, pan, spoon, and fork so that none of us would get sick. They told us their stories – the struggles, the loss, the movement of the Spirit, and the spread of the gospel. They told us how God had been bringing the gospel to them and how they were sending out missionaries into places starved for the good news.
We heard all of this through a translator. Few of us had even a rudimentary understanding of Spanish and most of the people in Chiapas spoke a Mayan language called Tzotzil. For a week, we had heard of God’s work in these people, but only through a translator. We nodded and listened carefully, but at times it was exhausting.
Sunday came and we gathered for worship. We knew there would be singing, dancing, preaching, love, and gratitude. We expected everything to be in Tzotzil and we would strain our ears to catch the few words we had picked up in the last week. The local church choir stood up and something unexpected happened.
They began to sing “A Mighty Fortress is our God.” They sang it to God, for us. It took a couple lines before I noticed, but it was so refreshing. It was such an act of love and hospitality. “A Mighty Fortress” was not a song they sang, it was not in their native language, but it was ours. I could worship in a different way that morning, because those words were in the language of my heart. It was then that we knew the power of Pentecost.
The work of the Holy Spirit is writ large across the pages of Scripture and none more so than the story we heard this morning. Fifty days after Jesus rose from the dead, on the day the Israelites gathered in the temple to celebrate God giving the law on mount Sinai, the Spirit descended in power upon the disciples of Jesus. 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.
After this powerful display of the Spirit, a crowd began to gather. Pentecost was one of the three religious festivals where Jews from across the world would come and worship at the temple. There were people there from the ends of the known world and suddenly, instead of hearing Hebrew over and over again, they heard the language of their hearts. They heard these backwater Galileans telling the wonders of God in the language that spoke most deeply to their hearts.
Can we put the map up, Lee? Listen again to what the Spirit does: 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, “Aren’t all these men who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in our 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?”
This is the power of Pentecost: we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues. The Holy Spirit translates the gospel into many different languages so that all people can hear the wonders of God, can hear the good news in the language of their hearts. God’s mission is so big, so powerful that it breaks the boundaries of language. Christianity has no official language. In Islam, the Qu’ran must be in Arabic. You can read an English translation, but it is not truly the words of the Prophet, it is only a translation. The real thing must be in Arabic. Not so in the Christian faith. We do not say, “Well, it is nice that you read your Bible in English, but it is not a real Bible unless it is in Greek and Hebrew.” No, we believe that this translation is still the Word of God. God humbles himself to speak in all the many languages of the world.
Our worship in English is a product of Pentecost. It is the Spirit’s work to bring the Word of God into the language of our hearts. Long ago, the Spirit brought the Word of God into the language of the Egyptians, Romans, and Parthians. Today, it is also the people of Niger, Cambodia, and Papua New Guinea. Today, it is English, Spanish, Dutch, and German worship that is the product of Pentecost.
This is the power of Pentecost: we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues. Every time you open a Bible and read in English, it is a Pentecost moment. Every time we sing praise to God in English, it is a Pentecost moment. Every time you bow your head and pray in the language of your heart and know that God will hear it, it is a Pentecost moment. Every church is a Pentecostal church, because God speaks to us in our native language.
After this powerful display of the Spirit, where the Gospel is translated into the languages of the world, people wonder what has happened. Peter stands up and explains it to them. The Spirit God promised has come. Jesus Christ is the Messiah, crucified and risen from the dead.
When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?”
Peter replied, “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.”
Pentecost took place, not primarily for the disciples, but for the world. The gospel was brought into the language of the people in order that, by hearing the good news, they might be cut to the heart. The wonders of God were declared in every tongue under heaven in order that all whom the Lord our God will call would repent and be baptized.
The Spirit came and drew the church into the ongoing mission of God to redeem the world. Pentecost happened so that you and I might know the gospel in our language and so that we can go across the street and declare the wonders of God to our neighbor.
As the last words of “A Mighty Fortress” faded, the service switched back into Tzotzil. But something had happened. Thousands of miles from home, a group of people had loved me enough to tell me about God in the language I understood. Maybe I could cross, not vast oceans, but just a few paces to my neighbor and tell her of the wonders of God.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
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