Messiah Lutheran Church :: God's Gift of Language

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Dear Christian friends,

            I saw a pastor write a note this week asking if anyone had sent out their Pentecost cards.  Huh?  You heard that right, he asked if anyone had sent out their Pentecost cards this week.  If you go online or to the nearest drug store to pick out a Pentecost card, you would be out of luck.  Hallmark doesn’t have them; American Greeting doesn’t have them either.  Yet, there are greeting cards for Christmas; you can find them for Easter - but no Pentecost!  And I’ll bet you didn’t do any Pentecost shopping either.  Those of you in retail - if I were a betting man – did not see any increase of sales this past week due to Pentecost.  There are no Pentecost decorations, no Pentecost candy, no Pentecost wrapping paper. 

            What are you talking about, Pastor?  Today is a major church festival that we are celebrating today.  It is Pentecost. It ought to be a big, but it is not. I doubt that many calendars even mention it.

The New Testament Pentecost coincided with the Jewish Festival of Pentecost.  It was also called the Festival of Weeks.  On the Jewish calendar it occurred fifty days after the Passover. We remember Pentecost as fifty days after Easter and ten days after Jesus ascended into heaven.  Pentecost, the Festival of Weeks was a thanksgiving for the first harvest – the harvest of grain.  It was a time to rededicate oneself to the Lord who loves.  We celebrate Pentecost as the Festival of the Holy Spirit who began the church of the New Testament of which we are part.

            It began in a big way.  The Spirit came down with the sound of a mighty wind.  Tongues of fire rested on the heads of the disciples of Jesus.  The Spirit enabled the disciples to speak in languages they never knew before.  They were able to share the good news of Jesus with people in their own languages.  Today this Old Testament reading of the towerof Babelwas chosen as a companion reading.  God created language to share the good news of Jesus.  Let’s look at the “God’s Gift of Language.” We can see how 1) It is abused; 2) how it is used to exalt our God.   

            Chapters 6-9 of Genesis are devoted to the greatest tragedy in history – the Flood.  Only eight people survived - Noah and his family which included his sons, Shem, Ham and Japheth and wives. Besides them were all those animals.  I came from a small town, yet there yet there are 75 times the number of people living in my hometown now than there was who were living on the whole earth then. 

The ark came to rest on Mount Ararat which is close to the border betweenTurkeyandIran. Ararat is the highest point inTurkeyat 16,854 ft above sea level.  The peak stays snow covered.  Noah and his family descended and as they descended they moved to the southeast.  They settled in the plains ofShinar. If you know your ancient history, that’sMesopotamia.  If you know your current events, that isIran.  If you do video games all day, you don’t have a clue what I just said.

            That’s where we pick up the story.  Now the whole world had one language and a common speech. As people moved eastward, they found a plain in Shinar and settled there.”  That’s an interesting fact, but one that makes sense.  Since there were only eight people who survived the flood, they wouldn’t be bi-lingual or tri-lingual.    

            We don’t know exactly how many years passed from disembarking from the ark to the time chapter eleven starts.  I read a commentator say it was a hundred years, I am not sure of that, but after the disaster of the Flood it would seem reasonable that God’s judgment and seriousness about sin would have been a lesson learned.  Not so!  

            These people were a very industrious people and a very intelligent people. They enjoyed the Plains of Shinar.  History calls it the Fertile Crescent.  The Tigris and Euphratesflowed there.  They wanted to settle in.  “They said to each other, “Come, let’s make bricks and bake them thoroughly.” They used brick instead of stone, and tar for mortar.”  Instead of stone to build their houses they baked brick and used bitumen for mortar.  Remember theMiddle East is home to all kinds of petroleum. For mortar they used bitumen, a black, gummy gooey substance.  It was all natural and ready to use.

            While they were intelligent people as people can be, they were also a rebellious and disobedient people like all people are. Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves; otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth.”

            Yes, God had destroyed the earth with the universal flood, but all that water did nothing to cleanse the human heart. It was evident that their hearts were still sinful to the core.  Adam’s sin was still being passed down.  The descendants of Noah seemed to have learned little.  

            What was wrong with their approach to life?  It’s all about me.  Someone once said that “rebellion is reserving for oneself the right to make final decision.”  Remember what God had told Noah and his descendants was the same he said to Adam and Eve, “Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the earth” (Genesis 9).  No God, we are just going to stay here.   

            That’s our very human malady -   doing things my way instead of God’s way.  We call that humanism.  We fly into decision so impetuously that we don’t ask the question whether this is the will of God by consulting with his word.  We don’t send a prayer to God and let it percolate a while and await his answer.  “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves.”  Let’s just do what we want. 

            There is a very fundamental teaching in the Bible that we are not to seek our happiness and joy and to make it our ultimate goal to find contentment, peace and joy in this world.  First of all, it will never happen.  Our Lord Jesus tells us emphatically that there will be wars and rumors of wars to the end of time.  It is foolish to believe that people can solve all problems and bring peace and prosperity to this world.  Politicians make promises to do so.  The United Nations was established to do something about that.  Has it worked?  It seems to me that the 20th century was one of the bloodiest in history, the same century it was established.  The human heart is sinful.

Look at the stuff that flows out of the heart of man.  Listen to speech. Jesus once said, “From the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks.”  If the heart is good then what comes out will be good.  If the heart is bad, what comes out will be bad.  Jeremiah wrote, “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure.  Who can understand it?”  What is in the heart will show itself in speech.   

Look what is happening inWashingtonwith the latest of scandals.  It appears that people, all speaking English, have done things that were illegal.  No one is admitting anything.  Someone had to plan and share that plan with words.  But thenWashingtonhas had a long history of doing that.  The human race has a longer history of doing that.  Neighbors get together, office workers get together, faculties get together and start talking and reveal what is in the heart.  Gossip and rumors are spread and passed.  Reputations are ruined.  Who hasn’t been guilty?  Call it for what it is – rebellion against God.

So what happened on the Plains of Shinar? There was the confusion of tongues. “But the Lord came down to see the city and the tower the people were building. The Lord said, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.”

Lots of evil hearts connected to individual tongues makes for a big messy situation that dishonors God. “So the Lord scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city.  That is why it was called Babel—because there the Lord confused the language of the whole world. From there the Lord scattered them over the face of the whole earth.”

            The tongue is bad because the heart is bad.  The tongue is good when the heart is changed.  While far too many think that the problems of the world can be dealt with by organizations from the United Nations to the local homeowners association, the real answer to problems was demonstrated on Pentecost. 

            When God the Holy Spirit came down on the day of Pentecost, he enabled the disciples to speak to people from all around the world in their native languages.  What they spoke is what changed the hearts of three thousand that day and were united under the Savior.    

            Each of the disciples was able to communicate with people of the different languages, but Peter preached that addressed the crowds undoubtedly in Aramaic.  It is recorded in Acts 2 two.  He told them facts about the Jewish nation – chosen by God to be the people from whom and in whom the Savior would do all that needed to be done to save the world.  He told them facts - facts about a Savior who was to come and facts about the Savior who did come. He told them facts about the miracles and great wonders he did.  He told the people who were to receive him had killed him. These were the words of God.  These are the words the Holy Spirit used to convict hearts. These are the words cut them to the heart.  Those words of Peter caused the masses to ask him and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?”  In other words, these words of Peter were used by the Spirit to lead the masses to cry out, “Lord, have mercy!”

            The Spirit brings us the remedy from the lips of Peter.  “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.”  Those words are truth. Those words are our comfort for the thousands inJerusalem that day and for us today.  They tell us of Christ who brings us forgiveness and life.  Those words tell us of Baptism that connects us to Jesus.  When language is used like this, it truly is a gift from God.  


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