“Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken.” – Acts 2:5-6
If you are visiting today, you have come to a congregation of a church bent on conquest – the mission, to preach the true gospel to all nations in our generation! (Mark 13:10) The concept that the church must be devoted to ministering to all nations was founded from the very beginning of the creation of the church. Today this calling is no less important than it was to the 1st Century Church.
Somewhere along the way in the history of Christendom, many churches have ceased to head this mission of evangelizing the world. In its place, churches can be overwhelmingly focused on creating activities and special events to cater to their local communities. These things are not inherently wrong or bad, but must be coupled with a plan to pool people, money and resources to ensure that the entire planet knows about Jesus and his plan for our lives. We need to rekindle this vision again in the 21st Century!
Let’s take some time to look at what happened on the birthday of the church and why it is such a significant precedence that was set for us today.
Today’s lesson continues our series on the book of Acts by covering chapter two. This chapter starts on the Jewish holiday of Pentecost. Pentecost is significant. This festival was 50 days after Jesus was crucified. Pentecost (also observed as Shavuot by modern Jews) was also 50 days after the Passover. Known as the Feast of Weeks it was a celebration of the harvest. Additionally, it was a celebration of Moses delivering God’s law at Mount Sinai after the Hebrews broke free from the bondage of Egypt. So while the Jews celebrated the giving of the old law at Pentecost, God decided that it was time to bring forth the new law. Therefore, Pentecost has several symbolic meanings in the sense that it was a celebration of the giving of the New Covenant and the celebration of the harvest manifested in the baptism of 3000 Jews that day! (Act 2:41)
The day of Pentecost started with the 120 disciples gathering in a house. This 120 included the Apostles, the 72 that were chosen by Jesus to preach the word (Luke 10:1) and the women that followed Jesus. What happened next was what Jesus spoke of in Acts 1:8, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you…”
“Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.” (Acts 2:2-4)
Let’s talk for a minute about the “tongues of fire.” What does this mean? What did it look like? What was its purpose? This passage seems to stump many even today. With careful examination of the scriptures though we find out many unique features.
Second, let’s define a few things. The Greek word for ‘tongue’ here (as in other verses throughout Acts 2) is γλῶσσα (glōssa) otherwise known simply as “a language.” This is important to note as many in today’s world tend to define a tongue as an “ecstatic utterance” or a language of the angels. We know this is not the case as Acts 2:6 states that the people clearly “heard their own language being spoken.”
Next, the Greek word for ‘separated’ is διαμερίζω (diamerizō) which means to distribute. So we see that the Holy Spirit divided up the languages of the world amongst the 120 disciples. With all the dialects of the nations that were gathered, it is no wonder that the Holy Spirit needed 120 people to speak at least the 120 dialects that were represented in Jerusalem on that day of Pentecost.
Lastly, the Greek word for ‘on’ is ἐπί (epi) which means to superimpose. This is important because one needs to understand that it was not the disciples’ own abilities that allowed them to speak in these different languages, but the Holy Spirit and for a purpose. We will get to that purpose later.
So this passage could more literally be translated, “They saw what seemed to be fire (or lightning) that distributed superimposed languages on each of them.” When you look at the passage in this light you see clearly that this manifestation of the Holy Spirit was for a specific time and purpose.
A First Time for Everything
Acts 2 is full of first times. This is the first time that the Holy Spirit manifested itself in the disciples so that they could speak in different languages. Why? So that they could communicate with the “God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven” (Acts 2:5) that were gathered in Jerusalem on this day of Pentecost. This is the first time that a gospel sermon is preached. Acts 2:14-41 is the record of Peter preaching about the fulfillment of prophecy, how it all pointed to Jesus as the Messiah and what it would take for one to be in a right relationship with God. Acts 2:42-47 is also the first indication of how the 1st Century Church conducted themselves.
The first Christians did not initially think of themselves as separate from the Jews, but simply as practicing Judaism perfected. They were hoping that all the Jews worldwide would quickly understand and accept that Jesus was the Messiah. This led to these 1st Century Christians spreading the message “wherever they went” (Acts 8:4) and throughout Judea, Samaria and eventually the world!
The precedence that was set for the church in the 1st Century is with us still today. We need to embrace the call to take the Gospel to all nations in this generation!