Steve A. Stone
Dear Friends and Patriots,
The miracle of the Pentecost actually begins near the beginning of history. If you understand the story of the Tower of Babel in Genesis 11:1-9, you know the people in the story all spoke the same language. They lived in the land of Shinar, which modern scholars believe to be the region of Iraq where Babylon existed. The story in Genesis is metaphoric, describing the people’s desire to build a tower to glorify their own achievements and to reach into Heaven itself. In the story, God reaches down, destroys the tower, and “confuses” the language of the people, ensuring they could no longer cooperate in another attempt to become like gods themselves—of themselves—using their own limited wisdom and ability.
The great takeaway of the story is mankind had become vain, arrogant, and self-indulgent. Their way of demonstrating their own overblown self-satisfaction was to build a gigantic monument to themselves, a monument that would challenge the power and majesty of God. God, not being very amused, determined to put a stop to that nonsense. When he “confused” their tongues, he also spurred the creation of the many different customs, traditions, and cultures of the earth. That confusion of cultures and ways ensured mankind would stay in their place, as inhabitants, but not challengers of God’s dominion.
If you’re now a bit confused in trying to comprehend the title above with the two paragraphs you just read, I intend to help.
The Feast of the Pentecost has its origins in the Torah. It’s one of three pilgrimage feasts, when the Israelites were required to go to their temple and make feast offerings according to instructions laid out in great detail in Exodus 23, Deuteronomy 16, and Chronicles 8. It was during the Feast of the Pentecost that the events described in Acts 2:1-31 took place. As with many things, events of the New Testament closely resemble those found in the original Bible of the ancients. The Feast of the Pentecost (the “newer” name of the original feast of Shavuot) was held 50 days after Passover. Jesus was resurrected on the last day of Passover, which Christians mark as Easter. The Feast of the Pentecost described in Acts was in progress 50 days after the very first Easter, per Jewish law and tradition.
Acts 2 tells us that about 120 disciples of Christ—including the 12 Apostles (which by now counted Matthias, the replacement for Judas) and Mary, the Mother of Jesus—were gathered together to celebrate the Pentecost, according to their tradition. In the third hour of the day there was a “mighty rushing of wind,” accompanied by “tongues of fire” that came from the heavens. The flames touched each of the disciples. This was their symbolic “baptism of fire” which was explained in Acts as the coming of the Holy Spirit into each of the disciples, conveying the powers promised to them by Jesus.
In Acts, the disciples appeared and spoke to the gathered throngs of people. There were people in Jerusalem from all over the region, speakers of many languages. When the disciples spoke, according to the narrative, each person heard them as if in their own language. Everyone who was present heard and understood the disciples as they told of the life, death, and teachings of Jesus.
You can read the story and the many dozens of explanations of the event and its significance. There are references here and there to the Tower of Babel story in Genesis, noting the confusion of the language and how on the day of that Feast of the Pentecost there seemed to be a reversal that took place. But that singular fact never seems to be central to any of the narratives. It’s mentioned almost in an incidental way, but my own sense of the event tells me it was a demonstration of the critical importance to God that the story of Jesus be spread far, wide, and quickly, and also of his power to make it happen.
What was done was undone, at least for a brief time. Confused language became unconfused. The disciples were mostly men of Galilee, not speakers of dozens of languages. Yet, they were reported to have been heard and understood by many thousands of people whose native languages were different. There was no confusion in the message.
If you wanted to ensure you reached the widest audience possible with any communication, what would you do? You could certainly put it on an email distribution list and reach all the people on your list. You could do posts on social media, including Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, SnapChat, Twitter, or any one of the dozen others. But how many people do you think you’d actually reach with your message? A couple hundred? If you were internationally known and had a large social media following, you might reach one or two million. Out of seven+ billion people, two million is not statistically significant. So, what would you want to do in order to ensure that two million had the potential to become one billion? I would think if the message you want to put out was translated into every written language and then put out on social media in a way that it reached every culture on the planet, then you might have the potential of reaching and influencing a vast audience.
To my way of thinking, that’s what happened on the day of that Feast of the Pentecost. Jerusalem was an international gathering place. The Feast of the Pentecost was one of the most important times of celebration for countless of God’s people. It was a perfect occasion to communicate a new message. The only potential drawback was the confusion of languages. In the normal course of the feast events, the language barriers weren’t a big problem. The rituals were all understood. After all, they were the exact same rituals that had been practiced since more ancient times. Everyone who came to Jerusalem knew what to expect and what was expected of them. The languages spoken by those who came didn’t matter much at all. But to get the people to comprehend a new message, news of a recent event— that would necessarily require one of two things to happen. Those who were to communicate would either need some sort of universal translator so that all their speech was understandable by everyone in attendance, or there would need to be as many bi-lingual human translators as there were different languages, all hollering out the same messages simultaneously as the speakers uttered them. Can you imagine how chaotic that might have been?
The miracle of the Pentecost was how God contrived to get the message to the people of the story of Jesus. It was the first major conversion event in the earliest days of what was to evolve into Christianity. In Acts, it’s reported that over 3,000 souls were baptized that day.
For a brief time, the only time recorded in all of history, the confusion of languages that began at the Tower of Babel was rescinded. The message of Jesus was communicated in an unhindered way. That one miracle allowed for a much more rapid spread of the Gospel, helping pave the way for the subsequent ministries of the Apostles and disciples.
At least, that’s the way I comprehend it. If I have that wrong, someone out there – help me out.
Steve© Steve A. Stone
The views expressed by RenewAmerica columnists are their own and do not necessarily reflect the position of RenewAmerica or its affiliates.