The God Who Speaks Our Language

The God Who Speaks Our LanguageActs 2:1-4  

Pastor Steve Schantz

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.

Acts 2:1-4

A precocious group of young teens looked forward to coming together in one place to square off with these words:  Auslaut. Erysipelas. Bougainvillea. Aiguillette. Pendeloque. Palama. Cernuous. Odylic.  While most of us do a google word search, eighth grade contestants in the Scripps Spelling Bee are going for the gold! (I took a stab at Bougainvillea but left out the first ‘i’ – Bzzzzzzzz… “Incorrect Schantz- sit down.”)  Like many other public events, this year’s National tournament scheduled for the last week of May had to be cancelled due to COVID-19.

At last year’s competition this National event boasted eight co-champions.  It’s interesting that seven of them were Indian Americans. In fact, for the past 12 years a South-Asian American has come out on top in this contest. Why the extraordinary success?  It’s not in the water, nor the DNA, although a nurturing family of origin is certainly a major factor.  Recent Model Minority studies push back against over simplified explanations such as, “Educational opportunities being equal, they just work harder to achieve the results.”  It’s true that many immigrants to the United States from South Asia are well-educated, success-driven professionals who want to instill in their children values like dedication, hard work, and how to handle oneself in defeat or success.  They have lived in a culture that affirms the value of family. They work together as a family unit and strive to create a bond between parent and child.  Spelling becomes a family sport.  Children look to their parents as role models and coaches, and their siblings often play assistant coach.  But another factor also influences their knowledgeable vocabulary.  Many of these families are multilingual, which helps in facility with spelling.

Languages are made-up of words – symbols with attached meaning.  Without these symbols, loaning a book to a friend and asking him to return it might sound like this: “I want that small item on your shelf that you borrowed from me with a title, cover, table of contents, numbered pages with information and a story printed on them written by my favorite author.”   Or, we can simply say, “I’d like my book back.”  Words carry a commonly understood meaning and nuance for a specific people group.  The world hasn’t spoken the same language since a time shortly after the flood.  A one-languaged people built a tower to reach to the heavens.  Filled with ego and pride, they used the incredible gift of human intellect and communication to replace their creator.  They saw God as an unnecessary player in achieving a manmade success, unity, and purpose.  So God confused their language, (perhaps to slow man’s own progress towards self-destruction?).  Try to imagine a hydrogen bomb in the hands of Genghis Khan!  Our world remains thankful that nuclear technology was just out of Hitler’s reach as well. So we are given the story of the tower of Babel and a multi-lingual world in Genesis chapter 11.  But God’s intent for His people is a new identity and a new kind of unity brought to us in Christ through His incarnation, life, ministry, death, resurrection, and ascension.

That first Pentecost probably took place in one of the temple courtyards, which would have been like an airport on a Jewish high day.  Each one was hearing them speak in his own language. Different languages, different dialects, a cacophony of different human sounds. And suddenly there is the sound of one message in many languages. They begin to hear the gospel of Christ meeting them right there where they are.  The miracle of Pentecost is that, with the coming of the Holy Spirit on earth, God opened the ears of all so that everyone could hear God speaking to them. Not one was excluded. Each one could say, “God is speaking my language.” Each one could see themselves as part of God’s widening circle, part of the growing momentum toward the only and ultimate reunion of humankind made possible in Christ. All could see themselves as fulfilling God’s promise: old and young, men and women, slave and free—all shall see visions and dream dreams. God’s Holy Spirit comes upon all God’s servants. Christ has kept his promise and continues to be with his disciples in a new and powerful way!

“And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever…”

John 14:16 

That’s the Good News of Pentecost. The Holy Spirit continues the ministry of Jesus. It’s a ministry of salvation, a ministry of hope, a ministry of renewal and refreshment. Jesus is in heaven, but his ministry empowered by the Spirit continues through Peter, John, Thomas, Paul, and to this very day.  Jesus’ ministry continues through young men who dream dreams and sons and daughters who see visions. The ministry of Jesus continues through prayer warriors, worship leaders, and Sunday school teachers but also as teachers, doctors, nurses, van drivers, and accountants live faithfully as Christians.  It continues with a Christian couple sharing their faith with a neighbor, and a housewife listening to the plight of her friend. It continues when a child gives a Christmas gift to another child who has gone without, and when a person donates one of his kidneys to someone who needs it. Jesus’ ministry continues through all of God’s people embrace prayer and justice and grace from assembly lines to the shopping malls.  A new era has been ushered in. It’s an era of grace and salvation, of mission and evangelism.   How badly our world needs to speak the language Jesus’ has given us!

The church becomes irrelevant when it becomes purely a human creation. We are not all we were made to be when everything in our lives and churches can be explained apart from the work and presence of the Spirit of God.

– Francis Chan