The Great Things of God for You
Rev. Kurt Lantz Day of Pentecost Acts 2:1-21
May 23, 2021 Resurrection Lutheran Church St. Catharines, ON
Dear devout people,
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
The miracle that occurred on Pentecost with the coming of the Holy Spirit enabled the disciples to speak the great things of God in many different languages. People from all over the world heard the Gospel in their own mother tongue. It didn’t matter if they were from the east or the west, from the north or the south, from Europe, Africa, or Asia. It caused quite a stir in the crowd. All the people were surprised to hear God speaking to them in their own language.
But was it at all necessary? All of these people had come to Jerusalem for the Feast of Weeks to celebrate the end of the harvest, seven weeks after the Feast of Unleavened Bread which marked the beginning of the harvest at Passover. All the Jews were supposed to come to Jerusalem for this feast too, and since they had been exiled and dispersed several times in their history, the Jews were coming back to Jerusalem from all of these points across the known world. Some of their families had lived away from Jerusalem and Judea for generations, even hundreds of years, but came back three times a year whenever possible for the great feasts.
It was a great homecoming of sorts, perhaps like when people come back every year to Niagara for the Grape and Wine Festival, or for one of the big summer festivals in Toronto that are again cancelled this year due to the pandemic. There would be people from far flung places who speak a different language at home and, when they come to Toronto or Niagara or Jerusalem, they would not expect to hear their home language. They would be surprised and glad to hear someone speaking in their mother tongue, something familiar to remind them of home. They might even engage in a conversation with those they heard speaking their language to find out how close their homes are to each other.
The pilgrims to the feast, while not expecting to hear their mother tongue, would have been able to converse well enough in the Aramaic of Jerusalem. Their studies of the Torah and their synagogue gatherings at home would have them well versed in Hebrew. The Greek language was common throughout the world after the conquests of Alexander the Great, and with the Roman Empire currently in dominance, they would have to be able to get by with some Latin. The shop signs and bulletin boards would have been full of these four principle languages. Pontius Pilate saw fit to post the accusation against Jesus on the cross in these four languages, knowing that everyone would be able to fully understand.
So, did the Holy Spirit go a little overboard when He gave the disciples utterance to speak in all of the other dialects of the people? They would have understood the Greek, even as Luke recorded the event and printed it in Greek. They would have understood the Hebrew, especially as the disciples quoted Old Testament Bible passages in telling of the great things of God. They would have easily understood the Aramaic that was spoken on the streets, and they were likely all capable to read official postings in Latin. Yet they heard, each of them, in their own native language, the language of the nation where they lived. There are some fifteen different places specifically mentioned. If they could all have understood one, or been fluent in one of the four major languages, why did the Holy Spirit cause His Word to be proclaimed in fifteen or more?
On April 18 we noted that it was 500 years ago that Martin Luther stood at the Diet of Worms and made his bold confession, “I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not retract anything... here I stand. May God help me. Amen” (Luther’s Works. Vol 32. 113).
When the Diet was over, Luther was being escorted back to Wittenburg when he was kidnapped and taken to the Castle at Wartburg. Since he had been condemned at Worms, he could have expected to be arrested after returning to Wittenburg and then executed. But his abduction on the return trip had been arranged by some of Luther’s supporters, and they took him to the Wartburg Castle to hide him and keep him safe. While there Luther translated the New Testament into German, so the people could hear the mighty works of God in their native language, the contemporary German that people were speaking in the streets and markets.
Luther worked at his German translation of the Bible for the rest of his life, taking his ever increasing knowledge of the original Greek and Hebrew texts, and the honing of theological doctrine through debate, and his pastoral care to others, along with his own spiritual struggles, to communicate the mighty works that God had done for himself and the German people. He wanted them to be sure, as he knew that he himself had to be sure, that the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ was for them in their particular struggles and needs. Many people say that Luther’s German Bible was not only one of the major pillars of the Reformation, but also of the German language, art, and culture.
Two great and important works of mission extending out from the Lutheran Church today include the work of Lutheran Bible Translators-Canada, which seeks to translate the Bible into the native languages of peoples around the world; and the Lutheran Heritage Foundation, which seeks to translate the doctrinal writings of the Lutheran Church into different languages. Both of these are extremely important today as we see the Christian Church, and in particular the Lutheran Church, growing in leaps and bounds in places like Africa and Southeast Asia.
Although in many places the people can speak English or French, each region and sometimes each village has its own mother tongue. It will not do to tell people just to learn English and then you can read the Bible. No one told you just to learn Greek or Latin so that you could read it. We don’t want people to desire an English religion or an English God. That makes God too small. God does not want to be restricted in that way. He wants to be God of all nations.
The Day of Pentecost reminds us that God is a God for all nations, languages and peoples. That is the way He reveals Himself throughout the Bible, Old Testament and New. The Book of Revelation records that John saw “a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages” (Revelation 7:9), and when He saw the new Jerusalem coming down out of heaven, it was not only for people from Jerusalem, but for all nations (21:24; 22:2). This reflects what the prophet Joel and others proclaimed already in their Old Testament writings. “Everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Acts 2:21, cited from Joel 2:32).
On the Day of Pentecost the Holy Spirit caused the mighty works of God to be proclaimed to each person in their mother tongue so that they would know that these mighty works of God were done for them. So that they would know that God sent His only-begotten Son that “whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). He is not just a God for first century Jews in Jerusalem. He is not just a God for clergy coming out of Rome. He is not just a God for Germans from the middle ages. He is not just a God for the contemporary English speakers of the Western world. But He is a God for all of them and more. And that means that He is a God for you. “Everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.”
It shouldn’t bother you that your native language is not mentioned in the record of the events on the Day of Pentecost. But the events of that day, the miraculous working of the Holy Spirit to enable the disciples to speak in other languages so that all the pilgrims to Jerusalem could hear the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ in their own family language, testifies to you that God speaks to you in His Word. He is not excluding you in any way. When He speaks His promises are for you and this is for your comfort.
There are some things that we do in church that are very specific to our culture. But there is a whole lot more that we say and do that is not at all specific to our culture. When people come to our church for the first time it is a little bit strange to them whether they were born in Kitchener Ontario or Delhi in India. Even if someone was transported into our church from Martin Luther’s time or from the time of CFW Walther, the first president of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, some things would be strange to them.
We speak more than one language in our liturgy. We use hymns from all over the world and from the entire history of the Christian Church. All of that continues the testimony that the we have a God for all nations, languages, and peoples. He is not specific only to our time and place, but He is for all and so He is also for you.
When a group of people receive a Bible or Luther’s Small Catechism translated into the language of their people they are overjoyed, whether they are from a village in Africa or a community in northern Manitoba. They receive it with joy, not because they couldn’t read it English, but because it is a testimony that God speaks to them in His Word.
Behind the sound like a mighty wind and the appearance of something like fire and the miraculous speaking in tongues, there is a God who is the God of each and every one of us, who sent His Son to die and rise again in order to save us all. There is a God who hears whenever you cry to Him in any language, and who is always there to save you. And whenever you hear the Word of the Lord in any language, the Holy Spirit is at work to speak to you, to communicate to you the mighty work of God saving you from your sins through the death and resurrection of His Son.
The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.