The crowd gathered and were bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each (Acts 2: 6)
It must have been an amazing experience. Several years ago, we worshipped in a very international community and every year the church sought to repeat this moment. Using as many tongues as we could muster (French, German, English, Italian; less familiar Eastern European and Baltic tongues, African languages; biblical Greek, Hebrew and Latin). Acts 2 was read. Members of the congregation stood up, one at a time, joining in with their own tongue. It was an impressive piece of theatre; each heard the word of God in their native tongue – or did they?
With so many different voices speaking at once, hearing was a serious challenge. Had we not known the story, I doubt we would have been much the wiser. In truth, it sounded more like the infamous incident at Babel (Genesis 11:1-9). Yet Luke tells us that devout Jews from every nation under heaven in Jerusalem for a major festival, were hearing the word of God in their own language. To find a group of Galilean fishermen suddenly becoming so multi-lingual amazing enough; for the crowd to hear a sort of multi-lingual simultaneous translation, even more so. What is going on?
The time is right. Almost the last thing Jesus tells his disciples before his Ascension, is that they are to be his witnesses, starting in Jerusalem, then through the neighbouring territories and on to the ends of the earth. (Acts 1: 8). Here we see that work beginning, and it is immediately clear they can’t do it alone. They will need to speak new languages, speak into different cultures and, most challenging of all as we shall see, learn to let go of some cherished ideas. Meanwhile, the Holy Spirit of God speaks through them to men from across the known world; men who will take this word back home with them.
Effective communication is two-way; a messenger and a hearer. Here, at Pentecost, we see the Spirit at work in both; equipping the disciples to speak and the crowd to hear. Both have a lot to learn, as we see when Peter is called to Caesarea, to the household of the Roman centurion, Cornelius (Acts 10, 11); but that is for another day.
Rev Philip Pentecost 2023