O Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful people and kindle in us the fire of your love! Amen. In the name of Jesus, who promised the Holy Spirit and who has sent the Holy Spirit, dear friends in Christ, I still remember the first day of my German class at Martin Luther College down in New Ulm. It went something like this: the professor began the class with this statement: “From now on only German will be spoken in this classroom.” The he proceeded to say something like, “Wilkommen zur Deutschen-Klasse! Wenn sie nicht wissen, wie man Deutshe sprechen oder verstehen, dann werden Sie nicht passieren diese Klasse. Wait! What! Loosely translated, “If you don’t know how to speak or understand German you will not pass this class.” All of a sudden I was wondering if this was really the class I should be in or not! Later on the professor called on me to answer a question, I thought I could question, but how to answer it or how to speak it? I had no idea. Not only did I feel helpless, but also rather useless, and wanted to hide under my desk.
Ever been in a helpless situation like that before? Trying to talk to someone without knowing the language, not being able to communicate, it’s difficult, it’s frustrating, it makes you feel quite handicapped, even useless! Right?
I’m guessing that was the same kind of feeling that the people at the tower of Babel felt, where God confused the languages and brought into this world all the different languages or at least roots of all the languages today. Imagine being one of the workers who arrived at work the next day, can you imagine the helplessness? Can you imagine trying to communicate with someone who spoke a language you never ever heard? They must have felt completely hopeless, helpless and useless!
Now it’s one thing to not be able to communicate in a German class or even in the work place, but what if the situation is much more serious? What if I’m injured, or my life is on the line, or someone else’s life is on the line? Then, not being able to communicate would be a horrible thing! But even worse. What if someone’s spiritual life is on the line? It’s one thing to be injured and even die, but it’s a far, far, far worse thing to go to hell, to suffer separated from God forever, that would be absolutely horrible!
And yet, that’s exactly where each one of us was with regard to spiritual matters. God tells us that each one of us was born into this world dead in our transgressions and sins. Not just weak, not just sick, but dead. Enemies of God. We couldn’t hear God’s Word, we were deaf to His language. Our situation was hopeless and helpless and we were useless to Him. We deserved to go to hell. And for an illustration we don’t have to look much further than the Babel account. After the flood God had told the people to spread out and inhabit the whole earth. What was their response? “No, we’re going to stay in one place, build a city, build a tower, and make a name for ourselves.” What! What foolishness and arrogance! Didn’t they remember God’s mighty act of sending the flood that happened not too many generations earlier? What were they thinking? They certainly weren’t listening to God’s language, they were deaf to His words. And we see it again in our text too, don’t we? A sound of a powerful wind, what seemed to be tongues of fire, the disciples speaking in different languages that they had never learned, obvious displays of God’s power and how did some people react? “Some, however, made fun of them and said, ‘They have had too much wine.’” Again, they seem deaf to God’s word and helpless to hear him.
And yet, the truth is, you and I are no different. We often neglect God’s Word and by nature we are unable to hear God’s Word, or take it to heart, rather, by nature, God’s Word would strike us as nonsense. Just think about it. The Bible teaches that the son of a Jewish carpenter is also the Son of God and was really born of a virgin. And the Bible teaches that this Son of Jewish Carpenter was executed as a horrible criminal, buried, and 3 days later rose from the dead. And God further says that because of this your sins are forgiven. Does that make any logical sense? Our sinful nature can’t make sense of that, can’t understand that, it all sounds foolishness. And since we can’t understand God’s language, we were by nature useless to Him.
But God the Holy Spirit didn’t want it to stay that way. So, at just the right time God gave you what you needed. The Holy Spirit called you to faith by the gospel and enlightened you with His gifts. The Holy Spirit revealed the most important things in the world to you. The Holy Spirit convinced you that all that “illogical” stuff about Jesus is true and is real. He opened you ears so you can hear it and now it even “makes sense” to you.
And the Holy Spirit was willing to do whatever it took to bring faith to you and make you useful to Him. We see that in this Pentecost account in a few different ways. First, there’s what seemed to be flames of fire. “They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them.” Well, who are the “them” here? We know for sure that the apostles were there, the 11 had grown to 12 when Matthias replaced Judas. But in chapter 1 we’re told of 120 believers being gathered together. Were they all there? It’s quite likely. And where did the flames of fire go? On each of them. You know, God could have sent a big glob of fire over them all- that would have gotten people’s attention and showed God’s power, but rather the tongues of fire went on each one. The Greek even literally says, “rested on one each of them.”
But why? Perhaps it’s a reminder of an important truth- that the Holy Spirit works on each of us individually and personally. Each of us is just as important and useful to God as the next. If all the disciples were there, then Matthias would have had a flame and so would Peter, Matthias is just as important as Peter. If all 120 believers were there, then believer #59 was just as important as believer #120 and as important as Peter. And if you had been there, you’d of had a flame on your head, because you’re just as important and just as useful to God as all the rest. The Holy Spirit works on each of us individually, he called you to faith at the time and in the way that was best for you, he allows things to happen in your life because they are the best…for you, He’s gifted you with unique talents and gifts because that’s what’s best…for you! It’s not that one person is better and someone else worse, but God has given to each what is best for each!
Then notice something else. In this instance the Holy Spirit gifted the disciples to speak in languages they had never learned. He made them useful for his work. Why? Because every one of those people there in Jerusalem was just as important as all the disciples. And the Holy Spirit wanted each of them to know about Jesus and that Jesus had died and risen for them, just as much as He had for the disciples. And in this instance, the best possible way for those people to hear about it was for the H.S. to give the disciples the ability to speak in those other languages, so that those people could hear about Jesus in a message which they understood, because every one of those people were just as important as the disciples, because Jesus had died and risen for each of them, too.
And if you had been there that day, one of the languages would have been English. Why? Because Jesus died and rose for you just as much as He died and rose for the disciples. You’re just as important to God as Peter, as James, as John, as Matthias. And, the Holy Spirit wants you to KNOW that! He wants you to HEAR it!
And so the Holy Spirit will continue to gift people and use them until that day when Jesus returns. And most remarkably, He’ll do that through people like you, people like me. And no, He probably won’t be giving us the ability to speak in other languages in that miraculous way, like He did on Pentecost Day. Rather, He’s gifted you in your own way, in your own life, with your own gifts, with your own talents, so that you can share what’s most important. Maybe it’s through talking, or sharing, or serving, or encouraging, or _______. Not only has the Holy Spirit called you to faith, but He’s equipped you personally and individually so He can use you for His work. What grace! Amen.