But if we walk in the light, just as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ, His Son, cleanses us from all sin. 1 John 1:7

Pentecost – 2024

Acts 2:1-21

We have passed through the first half of the church year, which was marked in sequence by the four chief festivals of Jesus Christ: the festival of his nativity, the festival of his epiphany or manifestation to the gentiles, the festival of his resurrection, and the festival of his ascension. These festivals remind us of vitally important events in the earthly life of our Savior.

Today – the Day of Pentecost – is the chief festival of the ~church~ of Jesus Christ, as it signals the beginning of the ~second~ half of the church year.

Jesus had departed from the earth as far as his visible presence was concerned. Yet he had promised that he would be with his disciples always, even to the end of the age.

And he had also promised that he would send the divine Comforter, or Helper, to be their companion and guide in the important mission that he was entrusting to them. That’s what happened on the first Christian Pentecost.

This was not the first time that the Holy Spirit was present in this world. He had always been present. King David, in a prayer of repentance, had implored God the Father, “take not Your Holy Spirit from me.”

But now, on Pentecost, the Holy Spirit came afresh in a new and different way. He came to create and empower the church, and to energize the mission and ministry of the church.

And he came to stay. He is still among us, and within us: building up our faith, emboldening us in our ~confession~ of faith, and inspiring within us the ~fruits~ of faith. And so we pray, as all Christians in all generations have prayed:

“Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of the faithful, and kindle in them the fire of Your love.” Amen.


The unusual events that took place on the first Christian Pentecost definitely got the attention of the people who witnessed these events. These people were Jews.

Many of them were a part of the Jewish diaspora – from various other countries within and outside of the Roman Empire – who were in Jerusalem temporarily as pilgrims, to observe the back-to-back festivals of Passover and the Feast of Weeks. We are told in the Book of Acts that

“they were all amazed and marveled, saying to one another, ‘Look, are not all these who speak Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each in our own language in which we were born? Parthians and Medes and Elamites, those dwelling in Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya adjoining Cyrene, visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs – we hear them speaking in our own tongues the wonderful works of God.’”

There were two things about this miraculous sign – the bestowal of the gift of tongues on the apostles – that this international Jewish crowd found remarkable. First, they noticed that the languages of their homelands were being spoken by Galileans.

How did fishermen from a backwater village like Capernaum become fluent in the native tongues of places as diverse as North Africa to the west, and the Tigris and Euphrates river valleys to the east? But that wasn’t the only thing this particular crowd noticed.

Remember, they were Jewish. The ones who were not from Judea would have been a part of minority Jewish communities in their non-Jewish home countries.

In their social and commercial interactions with their Gentile and pagan neighbors, these Jews were exposed – on a daily basis – to the various ways in which the national idolatries of their respective countries permeated the society.

Pagan shrines, pagan amulets, and pagan images were all over the place. There were prescribed idolatrous religious rituals for all of the various professions. Prayers were offered throughout the day to false gods.

Pagan religion did not offer people a personal, heartfelt kind of spirituality. It was an inch deep. But it was a mile wide. And it was everywhere.

The only places where a pious Jew could go to escape from this idolatry, and from having to see it and hear it, was his own home, and his synagogue. In those religiously “clean” places, the praises of the true God – the Lord Jehovah – were reverently chanted in the texts of the Psalms of David, and in other texts from the Hebrew Scriptures.

These Diaspora Jews would have spoken the local language of their communities when they were on the outside, in their social and economic interactions with their pagan neighbors. But when the praises of the Lord were sung, at home and in the congregation, it was always and only in the Hebrew language.

As far as spoken prayers and outward worship were concerned, the only examples of such activities that they ever heard conducted in the pagan language of their homeland, were pagan prayers and pagan worship.

Prayers to the true God, and the recounting of his mighty works of salvation, never took place in those Gentile languages. These orthodox expressions of worship took place only in the language of God’s people: the language of Israel; the Hebrew language.

Liturgically speaking, Hebrew was, in a sense, the only “clean” language. Even though they didn’t use Hebrew in their ordinary life-activities from Sunday through Friday, Hebrew was the language that they did use on the Sabbath to sing God’s praises, and on any other occasion when the Scriptures were read, or prayers were said, in their homes.

The other languages that they knew, and that they spoke outside the home and outside the synagogue, were, as it were, “stained” – as far as their religious use was concerned – by the false religions that those languages were otherwise used to promote. They were the languages of false worship, as compared to Hebrew, which uniquely was the language of true worship.

Those native pagan people in these communities who didn’t know Hebrew, and who didn’t know the God who was praised and honored only in Hebrew, would, it was thought, remain trapped in their spiritual darkness – until and unless they would come to the synagogue, and learn the language of the synagogue.

But the international Jewish crowd that was gathered in Jerusalem on Pentecost was confronted by something that day, that was calculated by God to overturn in their minds any such thoughts that they might have had regarding their pagan neighbors’ lack of access to the truth of God, and their lack of access to the true worship of God.

On the Day of Pentecost, in Jerusalem – for the first time ever – they heard the praises of their God sung in the Gentile languages of their homelands. For the first time ever, they heard the mighty works of God proclaimed in languages that previously had been used – religiously – only for the worship of idols.

God’s vision had always been a vision for the whole human race. He created all people, and desired to save all people from sin.

Abraham was indeed called by God to come out from the pagan city of Ur, and to become the father of a new nation. This was not, however, because God desired the salvation only of this nation, but so that this nation could be the repository of the oracles of God – the divine promises of a Redeemer – for the ultimate benefit of all nations.

In the midst of all the spiritual darkness and satanic deception that reigned among the rest of Adam’s descendants, there needed to be at least one nation in which the Word of God would be known, so that this nation could be a fit “vessel,” we might say, for manifesting and delivering the salvation of God to all the rest of the nations.

And now, in keeping with God’s eternal plan, this Redeemer had come in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus had lived and died according to God’s plan, and had risen from the grave according to God’s plan, for the forgiveness and salvation of all who would be baptized into his name and trust in him.

And who would now be invited to believe in this Savior, and to be liberated from the guilt and power of sin through him? To whom would the gospel now be preached?

Only the Jews? Many thought so. But God’s plan was different.

God was not going to demand that the Gentile pagans become culturally and linguistically Jewish, and learn Hebrew, before they would be allowed to hear the message of Christ. No.

The miraculous sign of Pentecost demonstrated to the crowd that day, that the message of Christ was now going to be preached to these Gentiles in their own languages – their own seemingly tainted and unholy languages. They would not first have to raise themselves up out of their pagan cultures, to make themselves worthy to hear about their crucified and risen Savior.

In the Gospel of Christ, the Holy Spirit will come down to where they are – all the way down to the level of their ignorant unbelief – and create saving faith in them.

In the gospel of Christ, the Holy Spirit will come down to where they are – all the way down to the level of their misguided and superstitious idolatry – and graciously lift them up into the true worship of the true God.

And all of this can and will take place in their own languages. All of this can and will take place for you, too, in your own language.

God wants you to be told that your sins are forgiven, in a language that you already understand. God wants you to be taught how to thank him for his grace, and how to pray to him, in a language that you already speak.

The events of Pentecost assure all people – whoever they are, and whatever their culture may be – that God’s love in Christ is for them, and is going to be delivered to them in a way that they can comprehend and grasp. And the events of Pentecost also sharpen for the church an awareness of what the mission of the church now is.

Obviously we should always be willing to share the gospel with the people we know, and with whom we already interact comfortably in our communities. But what about other people?

What about people from a different culture, who live in a different part of the state, or in a different part of the world, and who speak a different language? Are we to be concerned also about them?

One of the lessons of Pentecost that God wants us to learn, is that we are indeed to be concerned about them. We are to be witnesses of Christ also to them. Depending on your particular calling, this will mean one of two things.

God may call you to study a new language, or to develop a sympathetic appreciation for a different culture, or to go as a missionary to a country where people have not yet heard about their Savior.

Or, God may call you to support those who do these things: with your prayers, with your personal encouragement, and with the finances with which God has blessed you.

But in one way or the other, God wants you to be involved today, in the mission that he entrusted to the church on the Day of Pentecost. This will continue to be the mission of the church until the day Christ returns.

I’d like to tell you a little bit about my college roommate and Christian friend Richard. Richard and I had a lot in common, and enjoyed the time we spent together during our college years.

But as is often the case, after we graduated, we drifted apart and lost contact. This was in the time before email and Facebook. I often wondered what had happened to him, but didn’t know how to track him down.

After several years, I found myself as a missionary of sorts in Ukraine. I wasn’t living in a third-world country, and we had quite a few modern conveniences – such as the Internet, and the new convenience of email – so I wasn’t a missionary in the way that someone who goes to a remote area of South America is.

But Richard, as it turns out, did become such a missionary. One day, in Ukraine, I received an email from the alumni office of my former college, announcing the sad news that my old friend and former roommate was now dead – along with his wife, whom I had never met.

Richard had been working as a Bible translator in a interior region of South America – near the border of Guyana and Brazil. He had studied and learned the language of the isolated Indian tribe that lived there.

At the time of his death he was putting the finishing touches on the first-ever translation of the New Testament into that language. Richard had been laboring over this project for some time, with great devotion to God, and with great love for the people among whom he was living.

But he and his wife were murdered. The perpetrators were never caught.

Yet the translation work he had completed was not lost. The New Testament that he prepared has now been published. It is being used for the spreading of the gospel among those who understand, and speak, that language.

In a sense, this publication is an enduring testimony to my friend’s work. But Richard would not want us to look at it as a monument to him.

He lived and died as a servant of God, under God’s call to do this work. He lived and died as a believer in Christ, by whom he had been forgiven all his sins, and in whom he had been made an heir of heaven.

Richard lived and died as a Christian indwelt by the Holy Spirit – the same Spirit who was poured out on the Day of Pentecost, and who had prompted the apostles on that day to declare the mighty works of God, in languages they had not previously known.

After Richard and I graduated from college we went our separate ways. But at a deeper level, in faith and in vocation, God actually kept us together. And as members of the communion of saints – the mystical body of Christ – we are still together.

All Christians, of all tribes and countries, are in this way also together – outwardly divided perhaps, but spiritually one in Christ. And it is God’s will that Christ, in whom we are one, be praised in all nations, in all languages.

Richard’s story of faith and faithfulness is one of thousands of similar stories that could be told. Since the Day of Pentecost, the church of Christ – led and impelled by the Spirit of Christ – has never been silent or stationary. And the church has never locked itself into one culture or one language.

Two thousand years ago, the gospel began to go forth from Jerusalem to all nations. We, whose ancestors at the time of the first Christian Pentecost were languishing in pagan darkness, are thankful beyond words for those who brought the message of Christ to our forebears and to us: in a language other than Hebrew, and in a cultural setting other than Judaism.

We are thankful for the pastors who teach us and preach to us now, in a language that makes sense to us; who now absolve us and administer the Lord’s Supper to us, in a language that we can understand; and who now lead us in the worship of our Triune God, in a language that we can speak, and in which we can sing.

And in this thankfulness, we heed God’s call, confess God’s name, and declare God’s praises to others. God is the one, ultimately, who is making all this happen, through the people he has sent into our lives.

And God is the one who will use us, and send us, to continue to make this happen for other people. As the Holy Spirit is poured out upon us once again, he brings Christ and Christ’s forgiveness to us once again, and renews our faith.

And, he nudges us, and pushes us out into the world – to all nations – to bring the gospel that fills us with hope, also to them. In the fellowship of the church, as the church of Christ lives and moves over the face of the earth, we, and all of God’s people, still see and hear what the crowd on the first Pentecost saw and heard:

“Usi chuyemo my, shcho hovoryat vony, pro velyki dila Bozhi, movamy nashymy.”

“Wir hoeren sie, mit unsern Zungen, die grossen Taten Gottes reden.”

“Les oimos hablar, en nuestros idiomas, de las maravillas de Dios.”

“We hear them speaking in our own tongues the wonderful works of God.” Amen.