“God Communicates Clearly”
Text: Acts 2:1-21
Grace, mercy, and peach be to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
God is a God of communication. He speaks to us, and He does so plainly. And because God desires all people to hear and to understand His Word, He makes sure that what He says is able to be understood by the hearer. We get this and so seek to make God’s Word available, even in the most obscure languages of our planet. Nowhere do we see this more clearly than at that first 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: “In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach.” God continues to do and teach, but now that work comes through the Church. And that work requires the ability to communicate Christ to the world in a way that’s clear and direct. So that everyone can hear and understand. God confused the language of the people at Babel because of their strivings to reach God on their own, and here God proves once again that it’s by His work alone that people will come to know Him.
This all sets up today’s text for us. Fifty days after Christ’s resurrection, the followers of Christ in Jerusalem, about 120 in number, gathered in a house. Some people think that it was the same house where they had celebrated the Last Supper. We don’t know that for sure. Our text doesn’t tell us why they’d gathered either, but it’s not a huge leap to suggest that this was the church gathering together to do what Jesus told the church to do. It could very well have been one of the first Divine Services, most likely including the Lord’s Supper. This is really what would have brought the whole Christian community together.
And then during the gathering, 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 the place where they were. The followers of Jesus were there praising God in loud voices. 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. 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. The Scripture doesn’t give us enough detail to fully know how it worked. But what’s 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 isn’t some special Holy Spirit language. The text is entirely clear on this point and even mentions several of the languages. “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 doesn’t 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. Our text is talking about existing human languages. What we see happening here on Pentecost is not the speaking in tongues we see in charismatic circles.
You might ask why this particular point is so important. It’s 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 God desires that all people would hear and know this message with all clarity. So they can understand it, take it to heart, and through it know the saving grace of Christ Jesus.
And so we see this at Pentecost. The crowd gathered because of the miracles that were taking place. The text says, “All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, ‘What does this mean?’ ” 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.’ ” Peter starts in the Old Testament and applies the Old Testament Scriptures to what Christ had done. Much in the same way that Jesus enlightened the disciples on the road to Emmaus. Peter preaches Law and Gospel to them in classic, textbook, Lutheran fashion. When they understood what God had done and that they, because of their sins, were responsible for it, their consciences were burdened, and they asked Peter what they should do. 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.” It’s like he’s saying to them, this amazing thing that’s happening here-if you want to be a part of this-all you have to do is believe-repent-be baptized-and it’s all for you too. We’re told three thousand were baptized that very day.
Meanwhile, we’re also told by many to be inspired by the power of the Word on that day, or the method Peter used, and we, too, can grow in the same way. Whole schools and departments are dedicated to the chasing of growth in this way. But what’s all too often forgotten is what we see on Pentecost. The one reason the Church grows because people hear the clear, unadulterated Word of God. It’s not a matter of some secret process. It’s about communication. God communicates to us through his Word, that is, through Holy Scripture. It worked that way for Peter. If Peter, an apostle, was used by God to bring 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, but for us who speak English, He articulates the reality of the Gospel to us in the language we can understand.
This is the focus of what Pentecost teaches us. Christ died on the cross and rose again from the dead to give us forgiveness of our sins and life everlasting. That’s the Gospel right there. Generally we need to prepare people for the Gospel by teaching the Law, as Peter did. They must see that they’re sinners who need a Savior. They need to see that they, by their sins, participated in the crucifixion of Christ. But once they see their sin, they’re ready to hear the message that their sins are forgiven. It’s a message we need to hear on a daily basis. Because none of us is any less a sinner than anyone else we might meet. We also need to be constantly reminded that we have a Savior, Christ the Lord. And we desperately need Him. And so, as this message is clearly communicated by the first apostles, 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.”
Thus, we see, from the beginning, from its very birth at Pentecost, the Church is about the Word. The Word, the Scriptures, are at the center of everything. It’s 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 the Message Clearly Communicated at Pentecost:
In Christ We Do Indeed Have a Savior Who Has Won for Us Forgiveness of Our Sins.
And it’s the same message the church clearly proclaims today by the power of the Holy Spirit through God’s Word. Amen!
The peace of God which surpasses all understanding guard our hearts and our minds in Christ Jesus.