Message from Sunday, May 31st, 2020
"Communicating the Gospel in the Language of the People"
Acts 2: 1 - 21
It must have been an amazing sight—the Holy Spirit descending on believers gathered in Jerusalem and giving them the gift of speaking in different languages. I personally enjoy hearing and working with languages other than English. It’s interesting to see the similarities between some languages. For example, German and Dutch are very similar. Words that mean the same thing are spelled slightly differently but are recognizable. In German the word for visitor is besucher and in Dutch it’s bezuiker. I like looking for the similarities in different languages. It’s fun to do.
But the one thing I like most about languages is that they give us a glimpse into the mentality of those who speak a language other than our own. When we study a foreign language and begin to communicate with people who speak that language, we realize they are human too and probably aren’t that much different than we are. We also begin to understand why they do what they do. So much of the misunderstanding between nations today in our world is a result of not knowing the language of other nations.
When we went to war in Iraq, one of the biggest complaints of the Iraqis was that we didn’t know their language and culture and weren’t interested in learning about them. That probably explains why we experienced some tough years there. Perhaps our losses and the loss of many civilian lives could have been avoided.
Now I’m not suggesting that we all need to become language experts. What I simply want to stress is the importance of knowing a language to reach others. And this is made evident in our text.
We’re told that quite a few followers of Jesus were gathered in Jerusalem on the fiftieth day after His ascension into heaven. We call this day Pentecost which is the Greek word for “fiftieth.” Pentecost corresponds to the Jewish festival known as the Feast of Weeks. This was a celebration in which the Jews brought the firstfruits of their harvest to the temple. It was an offering in thanksgiving to God for having provided for them.
It is so fitting that the Feast of Weeks became Pentecost. Both have to do with harvests. The Feast of Weeks has to do with the harvesting of food while Pentecost has to do with the harvesting of people.
It was on the day of Pentecost that the Holy Spirit descended upon believers gathered in Jerusalem. The sign of the Holy Spirit’s presence was the sound of different languages being spoken. Jews from different parts of the Roman Empire had come to Jerusalem to celebrate the Feast of Weeks and heard these believers speaking in their language.
It’s apparent that it was in God’s plan to reach the entire world with the Gospel. It was His intention to reap a big harvest. But in order to do this, He needed people who could speak the languages of the people He intended to reach. The Holy Spirit gave the gift of languages to those in Jerusalem. It was from Jerusalem that the Gospel went out into the entire world. And just think, we are the beneficiaries of this. The Gospel has come to us because of God’s desire to reach the world with the Gospel in the languages of the world.
I think most of us are familiar with Lutheran Bible Translators. Their mission is to translate the Bible in the language of the people they are serving. They go to places where God’s word hasn’t been translated. They do this because they want to reach that people with the saving message of the Gospel. But there is nothing like hearing and reading the Gospel in one’s native language.
We at Zion support the mission of LBT. We take the command of Jesus to preach the Gospel very seriously. In this way, we are participating in the harvest of people for the Lord. The Holy Spirit has nudged our hearts to promote and support God’s mission. Let’s not ever think that this is all a waste of time and serves no purpose. Anything couldn’t be further from the truth. People’s eternal destiny is at stake here. God uses us to in His mission to reach the lost with the message that Jesus died and rose again from the dead for the forgiveness of sins. We may not be able to speak in different languages but we still play an important role in spreading the Gospel. The mission is the same today as it was at Pentecost. Nothing has changed in that respect.
Now going back to languages. At Pentecost, it was a special gift that was bestowed upon the believers gathered in Jerusalem. The church had just begun. It was still relatively small. But Jesus had commissioned it to go out into the world right away. Do we remember after Jesus had ascended into heaven how an angel told the disciples to get going? They had been staring in the sky when the angel said let’s get a move on it. Spreading the Gospel starts now. If this was the urgency set on the apostles, they needed the gift of languages to go to different parts of the world. And so in a miraculous way, the Holy Spirit gave them the gift of tongues.
As I said before the mission of the church hasn’t changed since then. The church still sends people out into the world with the Gospel. But unfortunately, the Holy Spirit doesn’t just give someone the gift of languages. A person doesn’t go to sleep one night and wake up the next morning knowing a foreign language. It doesn’t work that way. Could the Holy Spirit do that to a person? Of course. The Holy Spirit is God, so of course He can do anything. But He has decided not to work that way today.
The gift of suddenly knowing a foreign language seems to correspond with apostolic times. After the apostles had all passed away, that gift from the Holy Spirit disappeared as well. There really is no mention of this gift ever again. Some ancient Christian writers make reference to a heretical group of people who claimed to have had the gift of tongues. But these Christian writers considered these people heretics or propagators of false teachings.
Today, missionaries go through the long process of learning a language because the mission of the apostles hasn’t ceased. It can take years before someone can truly master a language. But that hasn’t stopped Christians from spreading the Gospel. Technology has helped tremendously in the area of translation. It can cut the time it takes to translate religious materials from one language to another.
Now this doesn’t mean that the Holy Spirit is no longer involved. He simply bestows different gifts upon His servants today. To some He gives the ability and desire to learn a foreign language. To others, He gives the gift of administration. Missionary activities must be highly organized to be effective in reaching people. To yet others, He gives the gift of teaching and preaching. So we see that the Holy Spirit is still highly involved in spreading the Gospel. We could say He is the impetus behind it.
So what does all of this have to do with us? Well, it’s quite simple. The mission of the church lives on. It didn’t cease once the apostles passed away. They appointed others to take their place. And that process has continued down to our time. The church has been entrusted with the mission of spreading salvation in Jesus Christ. We are the church today. So we do what we can to promote the mission of the church.
I realize that many people don’t see a need for the Gospel of Jesus Christ nowadays and so the mission of the church seems irrelevant. Everyone does what is right in one’s own eyes, just like in the days when the judges ruled in Israel. The Israelites worshipped other gods and redefined morality, and they thought they got along in life okay. Not too different than what we have today. But don’t be deceived by what we see. I think this pandemic is a wake up call from God. He wants to wake up everyone from slumber and complacency.
This is where we come in. This is an opportunity for us to promote the mission of the church which is to preach a message of repentance and salvation in Jesus Christ. May the Holy Spirit give us the desire and power to do His will.