Acts 2:1 When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. 2 And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3 And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. 4 And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance. 5 Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven. 6 And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language. 7 And they were amazed and astonished, saying, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language? 9 Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, 11 both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians– we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.” 12 And all were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” 13 But others mocking said, “They are filled with new wine.” 14 But Peter, standing with the eleven, lifted up his voice and addressed them: “Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and give ear to my words. 15 For these people are not drunk, as you suppose, since it is only the third hour of the day. 16 But this is what was uttered through the prophet Joel: 17 “‘And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams; 18 even on my male servants and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy. 19 And I will show wonders in the heavens above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and vapor of smoke; 20 the sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the day of the Lord comes, the great and magnificent day. 21 And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.’
God is a God of communication. He speaks to us plainly. It is because of this that the Bible and other materials are translated into the most obscure languages of our planet by people such as Lutheran Bible Translators here in Aurora and the Lutheran Heritage Foundation. Nowhere do we see this more clearly than at that Pentecost, which we mark as the birth of the Christian Church. This is now the ongoing work of Christ, to which Luke alludes in his introduction to the Book of Acts where he says: “In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach” (Acts 1:1). The Book of Acts goes on to tell of the work that Christ continues to do now through the Church. And that work would require the ability to communicate Christ to the world in a manner that is clear and direct.
This sets up today’s text for our consideration. Fifty days after Christ’s resurrection, the followers of Christ in Jerusalem, about 120 in number, gathered in a house. Some think that it was the same house where they had celebrated the Last Supper. Our text doesn’t tell us why they’d gathered, but it’s not much of a leap to suggest that this was the Divine Service, including the Lord’s Supper. It was, after all, a Sunday morning, and the whole Christian community had gathered. It was also a mere 10 days after Jesus had ascended into heaven, and when he had told them, “Remain in Jerusalem until you receive the Holy Spirit who will empower you to be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” That is, to all nations, as he had commanded them to go and make disciples. All nations, all tongues and languages.
During this gathering around Word and Sacrament for the divine service, a special manifestation of the Holy Spirit was poured out on them. Tongues of fire rested on their heads. The sound of a great rushing wind drew the people of Jerusalem to that place. The followers of Jesus, or perhaps just the apostles, were there praising God in loud voices. They were praising God by speaking of all that God had done in Christ. And miraculously, everyone in the crowd heard them speaking in his or her own language, languages from nearby and from far away nations. Languages from all over the known civilized world at that time. We don’t know the mechanics of this, whether the apostles were suddenly speaking languages that they hadn’t previously known, or if the people’s ears miraculously translated the words into their own languages. We have no way to know this. But what is key is that they had perfect understanding. They were hearing about what God had done through Christ, and they were understanding it perfectly.
It’s important to make clear that the tongues or languages here in our text were existing human languages. This is not some special Holy Spirit language. The text is crystal clear on this point and even mentions several of the languages. V 6: “Each one was hearing them speak in his own language. And they were amazed and astonished, saying, ‘Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language? Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia’?” and all the rest. God is not a God of confusion. He does not want to create chaos. His desire is clear communication. This is very different from the supposed speaking in “tongues” that we see in Pentecostal or charismatic churches today. This is not a question of interpretation, but the clear reading of the text. Our text is talking about existing human languages and precludes this modern so-called speaking in tongues. The thing we see in charismatic circles was not what was happening here on Pentecost.
Why is this important? Because faith comes by hearing the Word of God. The Church is the people of God—the believers in Jesus Christ. But believers do not exist apart from the hearing of the Word of God. If people are not told about Jesus Christ and what Christ has done for them, they cannot believe it. So while the Church is the people of God, it never exists apart from the marks of the Church—Word and Sacrament. Without the message that Christ died on the cross for your sins, the Church does not exist. And so we see this at Pentecost. The crowd gathered because of the complex miracles that were taking place. The text says, “All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, ‘What does this mean?’?” (v 12). But the people do not come to faith until Peter has preached the Word of God to them.
“Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and give ear to my words. . . . This is what was uttered through the prophet Joel: ‘And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh’?” (vv 14, 16–17). Peter starts in the Old Testament and applies the Old Testament Scriptures to what Christ had done. Peter preached Law and Gospel to them in classic, almost textbook, Lutheran fashion. When they understood what God had done and that they, because of their sins, bore responsibility for it, their consciences were cut open, as though they were a blister with sand rubbed into it. They asked Peter what they were to do, and Peter told them: “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” (2:38). We are told three thousand were baptized that very day.
Meanwhile, today we are also told by many to chase after this gimmick or that method, and you, too, can grow your own mega-church. Whole schools and faculties are dedicated to this. But what’s all too often forgotten is what we see on Pentecost. The Church grows because people hear the clear, unadulterated Word of God. It is not a matter of some secret process. It is about communication. God communicates to us through his Word, that is, through Holy Scripture. It worked that way for Peter. If Peter, an apostle, brought people to faith using the Word of God, how much more so will this be true for us today, who are hardly apostles! God speaks to us in human language using words and sentences. God speaks in all languages. He is not like Allah, who can speak only in Arabic. Oh, yes, “Arabians,” were there that Sunday morning and they heard the word of God spoken in Arabic, but also the languages of “Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene” (vv 11, 9–10). All heard God’s word clearly.
This, then, is what Pentecost is to teach you. Christ died on the cross and rose again from the dead to give you forgiveness of your sins and life everlasting. That is the Gospel right there. Yes, generally we must prepare people for the Gospel by teaching the Law, as Peter did. You must see that you are sinners who need a Savior. You need to see that you, by your sins, crucified Christ, God the Son. Oh, yes, know for certain that this Jesus whom you crucified, God has made both Lord and Christ. It was on account of your sin that he died. It was for your sin that he was punished on the cross. But once you see your sin, you are ready to hear the message that your sins are forgiven. It’s a message you need to hear on a daily basis. It’s a message you must grab hold of and cling to and never doubt. It is your life. It is the message that saves you. For which of you is less of a sinner than anyone you see on the street? So lay your sins on Christ and never doubt that you have a Savior, Christ the Lord. And so, as this message is clearly communicated, the Church is established, built up, and sustained. “And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved” (v 21).
Thus we see, from the beginning, from its very birth in this world on Pentecost, the Church is about the Word. The Word, the Scriptures, are at the center of everything. It is that Word that clearly communicates to us all what God has done for us, that we have a Savior, Christ Jesus, by his death on the cross and his resurrection.
This Is Pentecost: Clear Communication That in Christ You Do Indeed Have the Forgiveness of Your Sins.