Tongue-Tied No More

Sermon 1807 Acts 2.1-21 June 5, 2022

I love dead languages. Greek, Latin, biblical Hebrew. Whenever someone finds out I know a bunch of languages, they say, “Say something in Latin,” or Greek or Hebrew. I will politely explain they are dead languages. They aren’t used for conversation any more. The more persistent will insist. I could say, “Pax vobiscum” and invariably any Catholic within earshot would say, “Et cum tuo spiritu.” I could resort to an old Greek adage. “Gno se auton.” Or rattle off some Hebrew, “Berishith bara Elohim eth hashamaiyim va eth ha aretz.” The obnoxious will say, “Say, ‘Have you seen my new bicycle yet?’” Then I will look like a complete idiot as I try to figure out what in the world bicycle would be in the demanded language. I can’t speak any of these languages. I can only read, translate and interpret them. I am no good speaking them. As the Greeks would say, an ox is standing on my tongue. I am tongue-tied.

An ox was standing on the tongue of the Apostles. They were not educated men. Most were simple fishermen. But in a few ways they were way ahead of many of us. They spoke Aramaic, and, thanks to the synagogue service, Hebrew. Because of Greek culture and being in the Roman Empire, some of them might have been able to make their way in the Greek language and, if their life depended upon it, Latin. But there were many more languages than that in the ancient world. How could the Gospel get to them? On the day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit forever pushed that ox off the tongues of the Apostles.

Tongue-Tied No More

1. From the Spirit (13-21).

2. The wonders of God (11b-12)

3. In the languages of men (1-11a).

Spin is nothing new. Right after the Apostles opened their mouths and told all the foreign pilgrims who had flooded Jerusalem for the Feast of Pentecost—a holiday sort of similar to our Thanksgiving—how Jesus had suffered, died and rose again, the misinformation campaign began. “They have had too much wine!” Not at all, Peter maintained.

“These men are not drunk as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning! No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel: In the last days I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy (15-18).”

Nobody gets slobbery drunk by nine in the morning. What was happening was from the Spirit, the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Trinity. God had promised this. That’s a big proof to the Jewish mind. If God promised something, he would make that promise come true. God had promised to pour out his Holy Spirit on all so they could all share the Good News of Jesus. Sons and daughters would proclaim the wonders of God. Young men and old—the strong and the weak--would see messages from heaven which they could proclaim. Gender wasn’t a factor. Men and women could tell others the wonderful deeds Jesus did to save mankind from their sins.

You realize none of this was possible in the old days, the days of the Old Testament. There God had decreed only the Levites could teach the Word of God for a living. And only the men. That’s why the angel Gabriel appears to Zechariah to announce the miraculous birth of his son, John the Baptist. Elizabeth wasn’t a priest. She couldn’t go into the Temple proper! In the olden days God had shown visions to the young, the strong. Even if a prophet like Moses reached the ripe old age of 120, “yet his eyes were not weak nor his strength gone (Deuteronomy 34.7).” The High Priest was to be physically fit, no physical handicaps. No longer. The message of Jesus Christ would be so compelling, such dynamite, that even if it came from the mouths of the aged, the frail, the blind and lame, it would win over souls. But I have saved the best for last. The priestly Levites, the high priestly family of Aaron, were all Jews. To preserve the Word of God, the Gospel promise of a Savior to come, God had worked specifically through the Jewish nation. As Paul says in Romans, “Theirs is the adoption as sons; theirs the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship and the promises. Theirs are the patriarchs, and from them is traced the human ancestry of Christ, who is God over all (9.4-5).” No longer. Now that Jesus has come and fulfilled his earthly mission, “all flesh” will receive the Holy Spirit.

I hate to say it, but often when nations compete with each other, they dehumanize the other side. The enemy becomes non-persons. Those of us who are historians or old enough, remember the names we called those we were fighting against in World War II or Korea or Viet Nam. It is happening right now in Ukraine as Russia claims there is no such thing as Ukraine culture or people. That is false. There was Kiev before there was Moscow! Whenever that happens, it opens the door for the name-calling side to commit terrible atrocities on the other side, because, well, they aren’t really human. Every soldier, trained and true, respects his enemy and values the lives of all.

“All flesh” goes further than that. It is not only the promiscuous Greeks and power-hungry Romans, not only the Pharaoh-enslaved Egyptians, it is anybody who has flesh and blood. The barbarians on the half-frozen plains of Asia, the masses of India, even the tree-worshipping Germans! God predicted he would send his Spirit upon all flesh and now, on Pentecost, that promise was coming true. People from as far away as the borders of India and the sands of the Sahara would hear, believe and proclaim the message of a Savior, sent by God, who had just completed God’s plan to rescue all mankind from their sins.

Tongue-tied no more. The wonders of God.

“‘We hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!’ Amazed and perplexed, they asked on another, ‘What does this mean?’ (11b-12)”

Luke simply quotes the Pentecost crowd to give us a summary of the Good News all of the Apostles were proclaiming—the wonders of God. From Peter’s following address, we can pick out the high points. God had sent the Savior, long-promised to the Jewish race through all their prophets. God made this Savior known through miracles and wonders. Yet wicked men, as God knew they would, put the Savior to death, hanging him on a cross. Yet God raised the Savior, Jesus of Nazareth, from the dead. His body didn’t even see the decay of death, as King David had predicted a thousand years before! Having ascended into heaven, Jesus has poured out his Holy Spirit. Jesus is Lord and the anointed Savior, the Christ. So repent of your sins and believe in him! Be baptized to wash your sins away.

These are the wonders of God which are still so wonderful. How often hasn’t God set us up for success? We’ve been to countless Sunday School lessons, have spent months, all told, in church. We have heard every preachable text of the Bible preached upon. We have a well-worn Bible in our house which we read. We can remember Bible passages and hymns. Even some of the choir numbers are stuck in our heads. God has written his word upon our foreheads and in our hearts, that we may obey it. He put us on third base with no outs and the pitcher is so worn out, the next pitch will be wild enough to roll all the way to the backstop.

And we fail. We fall for temptation. Oh, that an ox were standing upon our tongue when we spread those malicious lies, when we spat out curse words, when we ruined the day by taking, not our neighbor’s, not our friend’s, but our spouse’s words and actions in the unkindest possible way. We acted like the name of Jesus never passed our lips.

God in his grace still comes to us. First he comes with his law. We did what was inexcusable, damnable. We have treated our God like he was a cloak for evil, an accomplice in our crimes. Hard for anyone to think a God who had followers like us was a good God. Then through the Word of his Gospel, the message of sins forgiven through faith in Jesus, he assures us he has forgiven us. Heaven is ours. We are still his children. His Holy Spirit continues the struggle against our stubborn sinful human nature so we are determined not to lip off like that again.

That is a wonder. No earthly boss would treat us like that. No voting public would treat an official up for reelection like that. But our God treats us like that. Instead of being tongue-tied in guilt and fear, we sing of his amazing grace.

Tongue-tied no more. In the languages of men.

Let’s get something straight right away. When the Holy Spirit came upon the apostles—he showed he was coming upon them by the sound of a mighty wind and the tongues of flames coming to rest on the heads of each of them—he gave them the ability to speak in foreign languages. It was not, as some self-proclaimed geniuses of our day maintain, that the hearers could miraculously understand the language the disciples were speaking. Everybody heard them speaking in foreign languages, even the mockers. And that’s the whole point of the left-handed comment, “Are not all these men who are speaking Galileans (7)?” Galileans were hicks, country bumpkins. Where in the world would they find the classes, much less afford the tuition, to learn to speak fluently these foreign languages? And it wasn’t like a Texan trying to stumble through across-the-border Spanish. The disciples were speaking languages from far-distant countries. Elam—eastern Iran, Pontus, the northeast corner of modern Turkey, Libya, Arabia. The Holy Spirit gave them the ability to speak in these foreign languages so the Pentecost pilgrims would know the wonders of God and take them home with them to share with others.

A lot of times this is where the preaching ends. But as one trained in languages, this is where the story takes a different turn.

Tongue-tied no more. In the languages of men.

Christianity has never been rooted in one culture. By that I mean, you do not have to learn Greek or Hebrew, or Latin for that matter, to be a Christian and worship the Lord. That is not the case with Islam. The Koran is in Arabic. That is the language of Allah. If you want to approach Allah, you do it in Arabic. There are other world religions where the same thing is true. You have to be part of the culture to be part of that particular deity’s cult.

Christianity has never been that way. Already at Pentecost the Holy Spirit was showing it. He put the message out there in languages that the people could understand. The Holy Spirit spoke God’s Word in their language.

This is a translator’s dream. The Bible is the one book translated into the most languages. One scholar calculated portions of the Bible had been translated into every language and dialect there is, minus a few of the “unreached” people on our planet. The Holy Spirit worked through Jerome’s Latin Vulgate translation. The Holy Spirit created faith through Martin Luther’s German translation. People came to faith through the King James Version of the Bible, as well as through the NIV, RSV, ESV and whatever alphabet combination you come up with. Sincere Bible translators express the wonders of God in the language of men.

But it goes a little farther than, “Be happy you have a translation of the Bible at home that speaks to you.” Pentecost means we will continue to try to reach people in ways they can understand, “where they are at,” if you will. So one style of worship may not fit all. The younger generation may not like the rock-band boomer stuff! I think we had a good one-two punch with our two, much younger, associate pastors. A grandpa like me is the patron saint of young children and dogs, but not so much with the 20 or 30 Somethings. I hope we are informing whoever we call that this cannot be a one-pastor church, not if we are intent on reaching everybody in our community. And that’s another thing. Pentecost means the church reaches out. If we are just looking to meet the budget, that’s not Pentecost. If we are looking for ways to get more and more people in church so that their faith is strengthened, their love for one another is deepened and their desire to serve one another is keener, that’s Pentecost. You don’t have to be like me to be part of this fellowship. You can be you—the you God wants you to be. And I have to be the me God wants me to be, too. And whether we use the traditional wording of the Lord’s Prayer, the new blue or the old red hymnal, or even, gasp, change the worship times, that won’t matter. Make the Word speak to us all. Don’t forget the little ones. Don’t despise the aged. Harness the gifts of everyone, for the Holy Spirit has been poured out upon everyone.

Tongue-Tied No More

1. From the Spirit (13-21).

2. The wonders of God (11b-12)

3. In the languages of men (1-11a).

So, peace be with you and with your spirit. Know yourself. In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Sadly, Nein, Ich habe Ihr neues Fahrrad noch nicht gesehen. But I have seen what your Savior can do. Let me tell you about it.

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