When you are surrounded by people speaking another language, it can be a bit intimidating. The foreign language may ring beautiful like an Italian opera or scratch like fingers on a chalkboard. But if you do not understand the language, it all sounds muddled, like Charlie Brown's teacher. Languages are the walls that outline the countries of the world. More than skin color or even gender, languages partition the human race into compartments separated by misunderstanding’and misunderstanding scares us. Like the stock market, boldness suffers a bear market when misunderstanding is riding the bulls. Without a translator, in the absence of hope for understanding, we stick to ourselves and we go our own way.
This fear and intimidation (sired by misunderstanding) clearly crippled the disciples. You would think after seeing the risen Christ, the disciples would be brimming with understanding and boldness. In his resurrected glory, Jesus had talked with them. He ate fish with them. The disciples saw and touched his resurrected body. For forty days and nights, Jesus rained upon his disciples the blessing of his presence. But even after this personal encounter, the disciples kept the doors locked (John 20:26) and remained in the upper room. Going out was not on anyone's to-do list.
Our Lord had told them, though, to stay in Jerusalem. He ordered them to wait for the promise of the Father to come: the Holy Spirit. During the Last Supper, Christ had highlighted how essential the Spirit was for his people. Jesus had to ascend so the Spirit could come and dwell in the disciples and remain with them. The Advocate would lead them in all truth and make them witnesses. Only the wind of the Spirit could blow away the fog of misunderstanding and fear. And so with one cup obedience and one cup fear, the disciples waited, huddled in the upper room, praying. When and how would this promise from the Father come? They did not have to be patient long’a short ten days. Counting from the day of resurrection, fifty was the magic number. From one feast day to the next, from Passover to Pentecost, the Father's plans fulfilled the Old Testament holy feasts.
The three pilgrim feasts of the Old Testament had always been special occasions, markers and reminders of God's great deeds. Jews from every hamlet and metropolis of the empire hitched their wagons and Oregon-trailed it to Jerusalem. Pentecost transformed Jerusalem into Times Square on New Year's Eve. The worshippers toasted the Lord's giving the law at Sinai, but little did the myriads know that the new was about to surpass the old.
On that day of Pentecost, the streets teemed with people, and in the temple the priests did the red-carpet walk toward center stage. Yet off to the side, there was a room. In the quiet part of town, one hundred twenty disciples prayed in the second story. But this hushed prayer meeting was about to be interrupted. Suddenly, in the blink of an eye, a sound from heaven roared like a tornado. The sounds of Sinai filled the room where the disciples prayed. The crowds of pilgrims rubbernecked to see what was going on.
In the Old Testament, when the Glory-Spirit moved from the summit of Sinai to the tabernacle, the cloud of the Lord filled the Tent of Meeting (Exod. 40:34). At Solomon's dedication of the temple, the Glory of the Lord filled the temple (1 Kings 8:10). When the Lord roared at Sinai, the people trembled and cried out in fear, "If we hear the voice of the Lord our God any more, we shall die" (Deut. 5:25). Moses and the priests had to flee as the Glory-Cloud filled the tabernacle and temple. What else would you expect? At a close encounter with the glorious majesty of the One God of heaven and earth, all people tremble in fear.
Yet on this Pentecost, the Glory-Spirit did not fill a room. The Spirit's target was not an architectural structure. The sound filled the disciples' prayer room, but the Spirit filled the disciples (Acts 2:4). Atop Sinai, the Glory of the Lord blazed in one pillar of fire encased in thick darkness (Deut. 4:11-12). At this Pentecost, many tongues of fire danced atop the heads of the disciples. Men and women were crowned with the fiery presence of the Spirit. In filling the people, the Spirit created the true and new temple of God, the church. The promise of the Father had come. Christ had fashioned a new creation’his body, the living stones of the true temple.
The centuries of Pentecost celebrations longed for this Pentecost. The stone temple of Solomon thirsted to become flesh. And now, Christ had done it. He had poured out his Spirit and fashioned his body on earth. By faith, the Spirit made us the temple of the Living God, the body of Jesus Christ. The Glory of the Lord never shone as brightly as it did on that Pentecost.
But what was the disciples' reaction to this fiery glory of the Spirit? History had only known fear and trembling at God's glory. Yet on this final Pentecost, the fiery tongues made the disciples burn with a boldness that couldn't be contained by the upper room. The disciples burst out as witnesses, as preachers of the mighty works of God. So great was the Spirit's power, the disciples found them speaking the words of God in different languages.
And what did the disciples preach? As Peter eloquently represented, the apostles spoke the gospel in foreign languages. The international pilgrims heard the good news of Jesus Christ in the tongue of their infancy. For centuries, the message of salvation had only been heard in Hebrew or later Aramaic. But on this Pentecost, the Spirit appointed translators. The gospel was to go boldly where it had never gone before’to the nations and in their own language.
Today, we can hear the greatest story ever told in our own language’be it English, Chinese, or Farsi’because Christ poured out his Spirit on Pentecost. May this glorious understanding fill us with boldness for Christ and to translate the gospel into even more languages!