Text: John 14:26-27 (Genesis 11:1-9; Acts 2:1-21)
Date: Day of Pentecost + 5/23/10
Lutheran Church of the Incarnate Word, Rochester Hills, MI
Disclaimer: Before writing this sermon I did not know that the magazine by Glenn Beck is titled “Fusion.”
According to one popular resource, what do you think is the language spoken by most people in the world today? English? Well, that’s number 3 on the list with about 350 million people. Then your second guess may well be Spanish. However that is number 2 on the list with about 358 million speakers, only 8 million more than English. Number one on the list of the languages spoken by most people in the world today is—are you ready?—Mandarin Chinese with about 800 million speakers. (How many guessed at least close?) Then follow on the list in order Hindi/Urdu, Arabic, Bengali, Portuguese, Russian, and Japanese. German is, then, tenth on the list with 100 million speakers (Swedish is 77th, 9 million, Norwegian, 116th, 5 million). Last on the “modern” list is Ter Sami of the Uralic family found in a corner of Russia (Murmansk Oblast) spoken, it is said, by only two people! Right. The total number of living languages in the world today is numbered at 6,909. On the Day of Pentecost in Jerusalem that 50th day after our Lord’s resurrection, ten days after His ascension, St. Luke lists only 15 languages. But for simple Galileans to suddenly be able to speak in their languages was a great miracle. Today, of course, with resources like Rosetta Stone software, you can choose up to 31 different languages you can learn, they say, “the same way you learned your first language,” a little less, I guess, of a miracle! Lutheran Bible Translators say the Bible has been translated into 2400 of the 6900 languages of the modern world, or almost only 35%. The rest of the world has no written copy of the Bible in their own language.
Question: Where did all these languages come from? Answer: Babylon. Actually, the forerunner of that ancient country recorded by Moses in Genesis chapter 11, originally there called Babel. The cause of a multitude of languages according to God’s Word is, in a word, God’s judgment against sin, the sin of mankind thinking we can take God’s place or arrogantly give God a list of our demands. They thought they could build a tower or a system of reaching up into the heavens (like a high rise, a parking ramp, a pyramid or the like) to reach God. (How many today do not think that they know as much as any so-called “god”?) It is with a bit of Divine humor, then, that we are told there that God, in response, still had to “come down” or reach down to see what man was doing, so far were they from reaching God.
As we read that God came down to see what they were doing, I have never before paused to consider verse 6 where the Lord said, “Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language.” What was that one language I wonder? Mandarin Chinese? or Ter Sami? English? German? Certainly Norwegian! We’ll never know. But so it is told that the many languages came from a judgment of God on the sin of the world. God’s earlier judgment, of course, was with the devastation of the flood. Now His rainbow proclaimed His eternal covenant never to do that again. But that did not negate the power of His judgment against sin. Therefore at Babel God confused language and dispersed or scattered mankind over the earth. Sin is and issues in separation, dispersion, loneliness. And that is our situation to this day.
God confusing man’s language was actually both an act of Law and Gospel, judgment and grace. It was Law in that mankind had the trouble and frustration of not being able to communicate with one another. Yet it was Gospel in the same way that the fiery angels and the expulsion from Eden was Gospel, that is, to prevent us from eternal destruction, at least right away. The confusion of languages made it at least more difficult for men to pursue their sinful desires against the First Commandment. Now the stage was set for God’s plan of salvation.
That Plan involved nothing less than God Himself taking on our human flesh, becoming one WITH US—the Hebrew word is “Immanu-el,” God WITH US—in the Person of His only-begotten Son, given human flesh by the operation of the Holy Spirit in the womb of the Virgin Mary. That Plan was for God’s Holy Son to grow up as a man and live perfectly according to God’s Law, surely, to be tempted in every way as we are, yet without sin, without giving in, and then, nevertheless, to give Himself as the only perfect sacrifice for all sin, for the sin of the world. His death satisfied God’s wrath against the sin of the whole world. More than that, because He is the divine Son of God He had in Himself power over sin that even in death He was too mighty and broke through the power of death, rising from the dead and bringing life to rule over all creation. Now, as He prepared to leave His disciples at His ascension He said, “I am WITH YOU [Immanuel!] always to the end of the age.” And all His disciples since then have comforted one another with the promise that, when we die, we will be WITH the Lord (1 Thess. 4:17).
Because of the Gospel of Jesus Christ—His holy life, sacrificial death, fantastic, powerful resurrection, ascension to the right hand of God and rule over the entire universe—now, as we celebrate today, God sends His Holy Spirit. This is the miracle of Pentecost: Whereas in His judgment God caused CONFUSION by His Law and saving Gospel, confusing man’s ability to communicate with each other, now, because of the salvation and forgiveness of sin brought to light by the life, death and resurrection of the Son of God, He reverses the ancient CONFUSION to FUSION or reconciliation through the forgiveness of sins; that we can speak the same language. Speaking the same language or saying the same thing is important, for this is the meaning of the word “to confess” as when we confess the creed or the Lutheran Confessions, to same-say, to agree especially in the doctrine and truth of repentance and salvation that God has revealed.
The forgiveness of sins. That’s what we proclaim in the many languages of the world to every sinner, to every believer, to everyone: forgiveness of sins to all who put their faith in Jesus. “Jesus” is His name, because He will save His people from their sins. Sin invites the judgment of God and eternal punishment. The name of Jesus invites the grace of God and His gift of eternal life. The incarnation, birth, life, ministry, passion, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus are the “mighty acts of God” the first disciples were enabled to preach to the many visitors in Jerusalem that first Pentecost Day in their own languages. And this is what the Church is called to preach, teach and confess through the ages. For salvation comes to people only and alone through the hearing of this Gospel, this good news of Jesus Christ.
The Day of Pentecost. The Fiftieth day of Easter. The sending of the Holy Spirit, Jesus’ promised presence to be with us forever. Power to live the faith. The Word of Jesus says the Holy Spirit “will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you” (Jn. 14:26). That is to remember His words through the report and account of the Apostles in the Holy Scriptures, the New Testament. Above all the Spirit brings to our remembrance the comforting promise, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you…. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid” (Jn. 14:27).
Let not your hearts be troubled for Christ is with you. No matter with what earthly language you say it, we confess our confidence in His promise.