Come, let us go down and there confuse their language, so that they may not understand one another’s speech. And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language? [W]e hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.
What was done at Babel was undone in Jerusalem, even if for a moment. Even though there was no common language, there was a common thread running through what was spoken after the descent of the Holy Spirit among them. The men speaking were understood by all who were there, no matter where they came from. Unlike Babel, this is a great work of God. Yet the question persists, What does this mean? The question persists today. What does Pentecost mean? Do charismatic Christians have the answer when they speak in tongues and claim miraculous healings? Has the Holy Spirit departed from the Lutheran Church around the world? Has the Holy Spirit even left this building, leaving us orphans? Where are the mighty works of God today?
What happens after the tongues of fire and rushing wind gives a clue to where the mighty works of God are found today. It all starts with the smart aleck comment, they are filled with new wine. New wine is rather sweet and strong. When you drink a lot of it, you tend to say and do things you ought not to do. Yes, the Scriptures say we should take a little wine for the stomach’s sake, but the comment means that Peter and the other apostles are drunk. They are showing off as some drunk people tend to do. They have lost their filter and let their mouths run wild. It just so happens that foreigners are able to understand them. Or so some wish to think.
That smart aleck comment actually leads into Peter’s bold Law-Gospel sermon that converted over three-thousand people that day. It wasn’t new wine that brought repentance and the forgiveness of sins, as well as baptisms. The mighty work of God that day was the preaching of the Gospel, the Good News that Jesus Christ atones, makes, is a sin offering, for the sins of the world. He dies for Jews and Gentiles. The Gentiles come into the story later in the book of Acts. For now, the Gospel is for the Jews.
Saint Peter did not have the Evangelists’ memoirs before him. Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John had not yet written their gospel accounts. So how do you preach Jesus Christ if you don’t have the material to read and from which to preach? You draw your hearers into the Old Testament. You speak the words of the prophet Joel, where over nine-hundred years before he prophesied this day would happen. He goes on to quote King David as well. Everything points to the descent of the Holy Spirit and to the death of Jesus Christ, Whose blood cleanses from all sin. Everything points to Christ’s resurrection from the dead, a fresh memory among those gathered that day. What man thought was good and expedient for them turned out to be true, but not in the way they expected.
Peter clobbers his hearers with stern and heavy Law: this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. You did it. You gave Him up for dead to be done with Him. But you are not done with Him. Peter goes on: God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it…. Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing…. Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.
You are not done with Him. Jesus’ ascension to His Father and our Father, His God and our God, does not close the book on the mighty acts of God, leaving us to fend for ourselves without His help or comfort. Your sin sent Him to the cross, yet He rises from the dead triumphant over death, even your death. You deserve eternal punishment, yet Jesus takes that punishment upon Himself for your sake. The Lord God will show wonders in the heavens above and signs on the earth below in order to prove His Word is true.
For a time those wonders included miraculous healings and amazing earthly signs. They are scattered over the Acts of the Apostles. People wanted to get in Peter’s shadow believing they would be healed! Now in these latter days, the healings and signs have faded away. What is left is the mighty acts of God written by men under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.
God’s Word for us that our debt has been paid in full in the blood and righteousness of Jesus Christ, His only-begotten Son, is the mighty work of God among us today. Wherever that Word is proclaimed, there is the Holy Spirit, just as Jesus promised, convicting the world according to sin, righteousness, and judgment. Wherever that Word is proclaimed, there is the Holy Spirit, cutting hearers to the heart with stern and unrelenting Law, showing sin and calling it what it is, a falling short of the mark of perfection the heavenly Father expects. The Law preaches repentance.
When repentance comes, then comes the Gospel that declares you free from sin and death for Jesus’ sake. Three-thousand people that day repented, believed in Jesus Christ, and were baptized for the forgiveness of sins. They became partakers of God’s righteousness in Jesus, just as you became a partaker of His divine righteousness. Sins are washed away. New life is yours, as it was theirs.
Saint Luke says later in Acts chapter two that they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. Here we see how the Church was in those early days after Pentecost. Apostolic teaching, a common life together around the Lord’s altar, receiving the Lord’s Supper, as well as corporate prayer (the liturgy) and individual prayer shaped the Church’s life. These mighty works of God remain with us even today. Behind it all is the Word of Christ that richly dwells in you, the Word that kills and makes alive. Pentecost means that the Holy Spirit has come, just as Jesus promised. The Spirit’s entry into the world brings the Good News of Jesus for you in a personal way. The mighty acts of God are heard in your language and applied to you in His Gifts of forgiveness and life.
Though languages remain scrambled, languages cannot bind the content of the words. First in Jerusalem, later in Judea, and finally all the world hears the mighty acts of God. And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. Believe it for Jesus’ sake.