But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)
Utterly amazed, they asked: “Are not all these men who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in his own native language? Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs–we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!” Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?” Some, however, made fun of them and said, “They have had too much wine.” Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: “Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say. (Acts 2:7-14)
On the day of Pentecost, the Lord fulfilled his promise given in Acts 1:8. The disciples received power to be Christ’s witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and to the ends of the earth. Just what kind of power would the disciples need for their international mission?
The Power to Communicate
Obviously, if you are going to be a messenger to people of other nations, you need the power to communicate with those to whom you bear your message. A miracle of communications took place on the day of Pentecost. The disciples spoke in other tongues or languages which they had not learned. The technical term for this miraculous phenomenon is xenolalia. Devout people from throughout the world heard and understood these unlearned disciples as they “declared the wonders of God” in the people’s native languages. The day of Pentecost, then, anticipates and sets the stage for the entire book of Acts which recounts the movement of gospel from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth. Never again do we find such a miracle of language in the book of Acts, but God’s people are still empowered to communicate God’s message.
When I say “language,” of course, you understand that I am speaking about languages such as Korean, English and German, but I am also speaking about something more. Language consists not just of vocabulary and grammatical rules, but a framework for understanding life. Some ideas have difficulty “translating” from one language into another because the different languages are structured around different understandings of reality. Even native English speakers often find themselves speaking different languages. Those from different cultures, city folks and country folks, young and old: they all “speak a different language.” It’s not just their slang or the idioms they use, it’s the way the see life and organize thoughts in their heads. In western culture, even the media we use to communicate differ from one people to another. Electronic media and social networking have created yet another language. I, personally, don’t speak Twitter. Don’t care to. Don’t plan to. The generation that speaks texting and messaging and Facebook has the ability to communicate effectively with people that I do not because I don’t speak their language. The new media don’t just create new channels for communication and create new words, they create new ways of understanding oneself in relationship to one’s community. As Marshall McLuhan said, “The medium is the message.”
The power to communicate, however, is significant for every Christian. Peter says that the events of Pentecost fulfill the prophecy of Joel.
“‘In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy. (Acts 2:17-18)
To “prophesy” means to “speak for” someone else. In another age, God’s spirit spoke through a few selected individuals. Beginning with the day of Pentecost, all of God’s people are empowered to speak God’s message of salvation in Jesus Christ. The story of Jesus is God’s ultimate message to humanity; anyone who knows that message can share it with others.
Peter concludes the quotation from Joel with these words, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” With Paul, we have to ask, “How can they call on the one of whom they have not heard?” (Romans 10:13-14). They cannot. God’s solution to this problem is you. Not just the preacher. Not just the evangelist. Not just the missionary, but you.
Perhaps the Lord will gift you with the supernatural ability to communicate across cultures. Perhaps not. I am certain, however, that the Spirit can use your ability to communicate with your peers and your community to declare the wonders of God. It is marvelous that God supernaturally empowers communications across national and cultural lines; it is equally marvelous (and more common) that the gospel is communicated through existing networks of natural social relationships, in which people speak the same “heart” language.
The supernatural power to communicate the gospel is the most obvious way in which the Holy Spirit empowered the church on the day of Pentecost for its worldwide witness. Are there, however, other ways in which the spirit empowered the church for its mission?
The Power of Community
The mission to the ends of the earth belongs to the whole church. We don’t have to accomplish it alone. Acts 2 begins with what the church does and ends with what the church is.
Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day. They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. (Acts 2:41-47)
The same Holy Spirit that empowered the disciples to speak in other languages also creates a community built on the word of God and the sacraments of Christ. The community worships together, prays together, eats together and helps each other in financial need. The community is characterized by unity of mind and singleness of heart. To my Methodist mind, the word “fellowship” (koinonia) suggests covered dish suppers in the “fellowship” hall or coffee and doughnuts after worship. True koinonia is much deeper than that. It is a sharing of each other’s lives.
The church’s koinonia is important in its own right as the embodiment of Christ among his people, but there is also great power in koinonia to support the church in Christ’s mission in the world. Not everyone in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria or the ends of the earth will be glad to hear of the crucified and risen Lord exalted to God’s right hand. The power of community can sustain these witnesses in the face of every difficulty.
Babel or Not
Is there tension between the power of xenolalia and the power of koinonia? How can multiple languages and unity exist together? In the story of the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11:1-9), the multiplication of languages creates human division, not unity. How can the people of the church speak multiple tongues and not have Babel in our midst? In actual fact, the earliest division in the church took place between Hebrew speakers and Greek speakers (Acts 6:1).
There’s a little bit of Babel left in all of us. In this age, we always have trouble understanding each other. Just as the new Adam and the old Adam live together in the individual Christian, so the redeemed community and the fallen world live side-by-side throughout this age. From one point of view, the church is (and not just ought to be) the holy community that anticipates the life of the age to come in its koinonia. From another point of view, the church is a social grouping that displays all the sociological characteristics of any other human organization. It is easier to see the church’s sanctity on some days than it is on others.
Still, the new, spirit-created community is always present even if it is not always visible. It is only in the church as “new community” that diversity of language and unity of the mind can equally exist. The power of the Holy Spirit gives life to that community, and it is is built on the gospel of Jesus Christ.
The Power of Boldness
It’s one thing to be able to communicate, it’s another thing to actually do it. Every communication involves the risk of misunderstanding or rejection. This is especially true of being witnesses for the crucified and risen one. The crucifixion was dishonorable and the resurrection was unbelievable. Together, the whole story was incomprehensible to both Jews and Greeks. Those who felt threatened by the church’s witness often responded violently. The Book of Acts is filled not only with stories of the church’s witness, but with stories of conflicts and hostilities prompted by the church’s witness. The power of boldness would come in handy for those given the mission of telling Christ’s story to the world.
So who is this who is standing up and preaching to the huge crowds on Pentecost?
Is that Peter, the same fellow was so afraid of a young slave girl by a fire that he said, “I don’t know him!” (Luke 22:56-57) It is that same Peter who tells the crowd,
“People of Israel, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. (Acts 2:22-23)
Peter boldly proclaimed that God vindicated this Jesus whom the people rejected, raised him to new life, exalted him to God’s right hand and established him as Lord and messiah. He was not timid in calling the people to repent; he pleaded with them to save themselves from this corrupt generation. He did not hesitate in his proclamation; only baptism into Jesus’ name would bring forgiveness and the gift of the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit brought Peter the power of boldness. Would that the Spirit would do the same today.
What Kind of Power?
Jesus promised, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses.” What kind of power did the disciples receive on the day of Pentecost in fulfillment of Christ’s promise?
- The power to communicate
- The power of community
- The power of boldness
At least these three.