Wednesday, January 30

What We Have Here is a Failure to Communicate

4 Then they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in different languages, as the Spirit gave them ability for speech.

 5 There were Jews living in Jerusalem, devout men from every nation under heaven. 6 When this sound occurred, a crowd came together and was confused because each one heard them speaking in his own language. 7 And they were astounded and amazed, saying, "Look, aren't all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 How is it that each of us can hear in our own native language? 9 Parthians, Medes, Elamites; those who live in Mesopotamia, in Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 11 Cretans and Arabs-- we hear them speaking the magnificent acts of God in our own languages." 12 They were all astounded and perplexed, saying to one another, "What could this be?" 13 But some sneered and said, "They're full of new wine!" 

14 But Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice, and proclaimed to them: "Men of Judah and all you residents of Jerusalem, let me explain this to you and pay attention to my words. 15 For these people are not drunk, as you suppose, since it's only nine in the morning. 16 On the contrary, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel: 

17 And it will be in the last days, says God, that I will pour out My Spirit on all humanity; then your sons and your daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, and your old men will dream dreams. 18 I will even pour out My Spirit on My male and female slaves in those days, and they will prophesy. 19 I will display wonders in the heaven above and signs on the earth below: blood and fire and a cloud of smoke. 20 The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the great and remarkable Day of the Lord comes. 21 Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.  (Act 2:4-21 CSB)

If you hang around church long enough, you’ll eventually hear the phrase spiritual gifts. This phrase is the Christian-ese way of referring to the teaching in the New Testament that God, through His Spirit, bestows each believer with various gifts for the good of the Church and the building of His kingdom. In his first Spirit-filled address, Peter immediately tells the crowd that this manifestation of power is the fulfillment of prophecy. Peter provides just a primer on spiritual gifts here, but the first ones he mentions are prophecy, visions, and dreams. 

And, of course, there is the other obvious spiritual gift in this chapter. The elephant in the room that no one likes to talk about (except Pentecostals). The first act of the Holy Spirit is not to heal the sick or raise the dead. He doesn’t even send a check to pay off the mortgage for a new church building. Instead, every single person in the newly-founded church is. . .speaking in tongues.

{And every Baptist squirmed uncomfortably.}

Some people don’t believe in ‘speaking in tongues.’ Some Christians don’t believe in spiritual gifts at all anymore, arguing this particular gifting was only for the early Church. However, all of these conversations (and all too often heated arguments), focus on the gifts themselves, rather than the purpose. The Spirit’s gifting is never about the individuals or the means, but the end result: the edification of the Church.

The tongue-speaking at Pentecost was not the incoherent prayer language often associated with the gift, but a miraculous gift of real-world language, to meet the real-life need of declaring the Gospel. Luke mentions a handful of the crowd’s homelands. These geographical locations represented every direction of the compass for hundreds of miles beyond Jerusalem. All of these travelers were Jews or converts to Judaism, but the Exile hundreds of years earlier had scattered them across the known world. Still Jewish, though, they had journeyed to Jerusalem for the holy festival of Pentecost. Despite being Jewish, their homes were far from Jerusalem and the historic borders of Israel, and so they likely only knew basic Hebrew. The language of commerce and learning in the Roman Empire (which ruled all of these lands) was still largely Greek, so they likely spoke passable Greek (much like English serves as an international language today). For all these people, though, their primary native languages were as varied as the lands Luke mentions. Basic communication and communal worship was possible, but deep theological conversations would have been impossible.

Language is a powerful and necessary tool for accomplishing group tasks. When communication breaks down, so does the work. That is why, at the Tower of Babel, God foils the tower-building by confusing the language. Babel was motivated by the people’s arrogance and pride, an attempt to manipulate God and make themselves great. Pentecost, though, is the reversal of Babel. Jesus’ followers did not formulate a plan and immediately head out to build this new movement. Instead, as instructed, the waited. In repentance and humility, they waited for the power from God, preparing through prayer, until motivated by repentance and humility God would send the tools to build His Church, in order to make great the name of Jesus. One of the most essential tools needed, provided by the power of His Spirit, was the ability to communicate.


Reflection

For most of us, our primary language is English, so we do not need the gift of foreign language like they did at the first Pentecost. That does not mean communication does not continue to be a barrier to fulfilling God’s purposes for us as His Church. How has a breakdown in communication caused a breakdown in your life, your church, or your community? In what areas do you need to repent of pride and selfishness, in order that the Spirit might be able to work? What fruit or gifts of the Spirit do we need most so that we can reverse our Babels and turn them into Pentecosts?

Prayer

Lord, we confess that we, like those at Babel, too often act out of pride and selfishness. We seek your gifts for our own glory instead of Yours. We humbly ask that you would fill us with Your Spirit in whatever way best builds up the body of Christ.  Amen.


Pick Four More Activities

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  • Listen and Worship.

  • Pray a Psalm.

  • Read a Book.

  • Retell the Gospel to Yourself.

  • Take Some Notes on Today's Devotional.

  • Pray for Yourself, Your Family, Your Church, and the Lost.

  • Memorize a Verse.

  • List Five Things You're Thankful For.

  • Encourage Someb

Megan NessonComment