Why do the miracle of language at Pentecost? Is it just so that readers for the Sunday have some really hard names to read? (I always feel sorry for whoever is doing the readings on Pentecost Sunday)
Why do this miracle? God did not seem to keep it going, we are not told that these men could still keep these languages going after the day of Pentecost. It was limited to one time and one place. It seems to me that it would have been more useful if Christians could keep on speaking all sorts of tongues without having to try, by the power of God. As someone who had to struggle through four years of Biblical Hebrew and New Testament Greek, I can vouch for the fact that this would have been a useful skill. So why not?
Was this just about speaking the word of God in other languages? Or was this something more, something that was meant for a certain time and a certain place?
We have the Spirit of God, just as much as those men and women on that first day. How do we know this? Because 1 Corinthians 12:3b tells us “and no one can say, Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit.” So why can’t we do it?
You see, at Pentecost, it wasn’t so much about the miracle, as it was about the message: the gospel of Jesus Christ. People needed to know about this man Jesus, Saviour and Lord, crucified and risen, so God made it happen. And people still do: wherever they come from, in whatever language they speak.
But what we do not always realise about this miracle is the bracket that it forms with another of the works of God, and what that means for us. And this is not the only one. I want to tell you about a wonderful phenomenon that we find right through the bible. It is called in biblical study and inclusion. But I just like to call it a bracket. It’s easier to understand.
One of the great wonders of the word of God for me, is that we have, only three short chapters in, an account of where it all went wrong, and only two chapters from the end, the pronouncement that it is all right again, it is back the way God made it to be. That, for us, is in the future, we are not there yet, but those words from Revelation 21: Now the dwelling place of God is with people, and he will live with them, They will be his people, and God himself will be with them, and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away. Those words express the reality of the kingdom restored, how it had not been since Eden.
Do the maths. Only five short chapters of the bible are written about the creation of God when it was the way it was supposed to be. The rest: the mess in between.
There is a beautiful bracket from Genesis 3 to Revelation 21. It went wrong, it got put right. A great sense of completion. It shows us the long-term nature of God’s plan to save.
This is an example of this inclusion bracketing that occurs many times throughout the bible. Here is another one: in a very strange message in the book of Hosea, God told the prophet Hosea that he had to marry an unfaithful wife, and call two of his children lo-ammi, and lo-ruchamah. These names mean “not my people”, and “not loved”, or “not shown mercy”. Cruel, hey? Weird when you look at it on its own.
But, In first Peter 2:10, it says: Once you were not a people, (Lo-ammi in Hebrew) but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy or love, but now you have received mercy. Have you ever wondered why he said that?
Do you see the beauty of this, Paul was saying in his Epistle that this is now over. After all those years, it is reversed. The sign of God’s anger with his unfaithful people, is taken away. Now we in the church are loved, now we are shown mercy. God has drawn a line around his punishment. And God always does. It does not go on and on for ever.
Those are two brackets I wanted to tell you so that you could see a pattern. And there are many more. Now look at todays miracle at Pentecost.
A miracle where God UN-confuses the language of the people in order to get his message out there, to give glory to himself through his Son.
UN-confusing language. This is the close-bracket, so what bells does that ring in your mind? What is the open bracket. When God confused the language of people who were not trying to make a name for him but for themselves?
Can you see the beautiful bracketing of Pentecost and Babel?
What does this mean for us? A very Lutheran Question.
This is about the nature of Kingdom building, and the power that is there at our disposal when we do it right.
When we try and make a name for ourselves, when we try to rival God, which we would call breaking the first commandment, and making ourselves our Gods, what happens? Do you think God is happy with this?
And what do our efforts come to? The best part of the Tower of Babel story was when the people thought that they were so great, they had done such a marvellous job, and God still had to “come down” to see what they were doing.
So much for their tower reaching to the heavens! How small are the works of man compared to the power of God!?
We are in the business, like those disciples on that day of Pentecost, of Kingdom-building. But it is not our kingdom. And that is where so many people in the church get it wrong. Repeat after me: “It is not my kingdom!
So: What IS in this for me?
The power of Almighty God, the miraculous, the sovereign Lord, is at work in the building of his Church. His church is built when we go and make disciples by baptising and teaching. Teaching means spreading his word, the words of Holy Scripture, which pointed to, told about and looked back to Who?
This is all about Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith. Even this Pentecost Sunday, which is about the Holy Spirit, is about Jesus! Because what it the job of the Holy Spirit who came at Pentecost? To point to Jesus! Not me. Not you. Jesus.
That is why as a Lutheran Church we go to such great efforts to keep Christ at the centre. At the centre of our architecture, of our preaching, and of our practice.
Because every open and close bracket in the bible centres around Jesus. As I was told recently, a saying which another Pastor uses is: “You can find Jesus on every page”, of the Old Testament leading up to him, and the New Testament talking about him and his church.
The message is Jesus Christ, and him crucified and raised to life for us, to win us eternal life.
May you always be able to cry “Jesus is Lord”, by the Power of the Holy Spirit.