“Tongues for Telling the Mighty Works of God” (Acts 2:1-21)
It’s the Day of Pentecost. It’s nine o’clock in the morning. And the disciples are together in one place. It was true back then, and it is true today–yes, here, this morning. Back on the Day of Pentecost in the Book of Acts, it was nine o’clock in the morning–“the third hour of the day,” as our text puts it–and the group of disciples was together there in Jerusalem. Now today, on this Day of Pentecost, also at nine o’clock in the morning, this group of disciples is gathered here at St. Matthew’s in Bonne Terre. So in both cases, is there something we can expect to happen? There is. Both back then and now today, we can expect the Holy Spirit to be empowering disciples with “Tongues for Telling the Mighty Works of God.”
Let’s start with back then, that first Day of Pentecost we read about in Acts. Only it wasn’t really the first Pentecost. The Israelites, the Jews, had been celebrating Pentecost for over 1400 years at that point, ever since the time of Moses. Pentecost was a Jewish festival. In the Old Testament it’s called the Feast of Weeks. It occurred seven weeks after Passover, on the fiftieth day, hence the term “Pentecost,” which is a Greek word that means “fiftieth.”
Pentecost, or the Feast of Weeks, was one of the three great pilgrimage festivals in the Hebrew calendar. The first was Passover, in the early spring, commemorating the Lord bringing the Israelites out of bondage in Egypt. The second pilgrimage festival of the year was Pentecost, the Feast of Weeks, in mid-to-late spring, celebrating the Lord bringing the Israelites into the Promised Land, settling them in that good land flowing with milk and honey. The third great festival occurred in the fall, the Feast of Tabernacles, remembering how the Lord provided for the Israelites on their journey to the Promised Land.
These three chief festivals–Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles–were pilgrimage festivals. That meant that all Jews were supposed to make the pilgrimage to Jerusalem and worship at the temple. But over the centuries, through conquest and captivity, many Jews had been scattered, dispersed, from out of Israel and into other countries. They settled down there and learned the local languages, as well as many of them retaining the Jewish languages of Hebrew and Aramaic. These Jews lived in distant lands, but for the pilgrimage festivals, they would travel to Jerusalem. That accounts for all the crowds, thousands of people, who were in town for the occasion. And there were Jews who had lived most of their lives in those distant lands but who decided to retire in Jerusalem, the holy city. Also in Jerusalem that day were Gentiles, non-Jews, who admired the Jewish religion, and some even converted to Judaism. So we see all of these groups present in Jerusalem on that day of Pentecost, a whole laundry list of nationalities: “Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians.”
Now it says, “When the day of Pentecost arrived.” The text here could also be translated as saying the Day of Pentecost was being “fulfilled.” In other words, what the Day of Pentecost celebrated in the Old Testament was now being fulfilled in the New Testament. And as I said, in the Old Testament, Pentecost, or the Feast of Weeks, celebrated the Lord settling Israel in the land, where he provided for them richly with wheat and grain and all sorts of good things. And so Pentecost was a harvest festival, the early harvest, in particular. The early harvest was the firstfruits of the great ingathering that would happen later throughout the year. And that is what is being fulfilled now on the Day of Pentecost in the Book of Acts. It is the early harvest, the firstfruits, not of wheat but of people! The church is now beginning to gather in the great harvest of souls for the kingdom of God! And it starts here on Pentecost.
It starts at nine o’clock in the morning on that day, and it starts with God equipping the church to do the harvesting. “They were all together in one place,” it says. Now the “they” certainly means at least the twelve apostles whom Christ had appointed. But it likely includes the larger group of disciples as well, a company of 120 persons in all, men and women–in other words, the first church, the first congregation. They were all together in one place, in Jerusalem, on the Day of Pentecost, at nine o’clock in the morning.
And now God gets to work on them, starting the church on the great harvesting mission that continues to this day. The sound of a mighty rushing wind signals the arrival of the Spirit in power, and at the same time it attracts a crowd to listen. Tongues of fire rest on the believers’ heads, showing that the Spirit is enkindling their tongues to speak the words he will give them. “And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak.”
What do they speak? “The mighty works of God.” The Spirit is enlivening and empowering their tongues to tell the mighty works of God! That’s how the harvest happens. All the believers–sons and daughters, young men and old men, male servants and female servants–all of them have the Spirit poured out on them, and they all use their Spirit-enabled tongues to start telling the mighty works of God. Some of those who hear are interested. “What does this mean?” they ask. Others mock what the Christians have to say. But in any case, God has a harvest to gather, and he’s going to use his Christians, he’s going to use their tongues, to speak the good news into the ears of those to be gathered into the church.
All the believers alike tell the mighty works of God, and that attracts people who will then hear the preacher preach a sermon and “seal the deal.” In this case, on Pentecost, the preacher is St. Peter, who delivers the sermon that follows in the rest of the chapter. Peter preaches Christ crucified and risen from the dead. He preaches repentance and the forgiveness of sins. Those who receive his word are baptized and brought into the church. That’s how the harvest happens. And all of that is in good order. Every Christian can use his or her tongue to speak to one’s neighbors and bring them to the church. The pastor then does his thing and preaches the gospel of Christ. And so new believers are brought into the church. That’s how God does it. It began on that first Pentecost, and it continues today.
Well, today is the Day of Pentecost, and it’s nine o’clock in the morning, and here we are, together in one place. Oh, we may not be 120, but God can use us just the same. You are the believers gathered in this place. Young men, old men, male, female, it doesn’t matter. You are the church, God’s own people, “that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” All of you have been baptized into Christ. You have received the Holy Spirit. The Spirit is touching your tongue, so that you can speak the mighty works of God.
You know these mighty works! So you can tell people what you know, like you learned in the Catechism: “I believe that Jesus Christ, true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the virgin Mary, is my Lord, who has redeemed me, a lost and condemned person, purchased and won me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil; not with gold or silver, but with his holy, precious blood and with his innocent suffering and death.” Use those words, use others like them, but use some.
You know the works that God has done for you in Christ Jesus your Savior! Mighty works, rescuing you from the death-trap you could not pull yourself out of. Wonderful works, freeing you from your sins, giving you new life, eternal life. These are the mighty works accomplished in Christ by his saving death and victorious resurrection. And so you who trust in Christ will be raised from the dead and live with him in “everlasting righteousness, innocence and blessedness.” These are the wonderful works of God, by which you will be saved. As the Scripture says, “And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” Yes, your tongue has something to talk about! The mighty works of God.
Now here we are today in Bonne Terre. As you know, the name “Bonne Terre” means “the Good Land.” God has brought us to this “good land,” and he has a harvest to be gathered here. It’s Pentecost, and Pentecost is a harvest festival. Who are the ones with ears to hear and so will be brought into the church? We don’t know in advance which ones will listen and which ones will tune us out. Some may mock and reject the words that we speak. Others, though, will be interested, and they will want to hear more. So we listen, we ask, we seek and we speak, we invite and encourage. We invite people to come with us to church and to hear the preacher preach the good news that we ourselves believe and that God has for them also. That’s how it goes. So is there someone you know–a family member, perhaps, one who doesn’t go to church; your neighbor next door; a coworker–someone you can speak the good news to, someone you can invite to come with you to church and hear more?
Friends, there are people all around us who need to hear the words we have received and have on our tongues. Now we may not meet any Parthians or Medes or Elamites, but we may just have opportunity to talk to Bonne Terreans and Terre Du Lacquers and Mineral Areans, residents of Park Hills and Farmington and Ste. Genevieve, retirees from St. Louis and lifelong Leadbelters, lapsed church members, friends, relatives, associates, and neighbors. These all are souls for whom Christ died, whom God loves, and whom the Spirit may just call to the same faith and salvation you and I have. We don’t know how big the harvest will be, but the Spirit will use our tongues, as we speak to the people we know, telling them the mighty works of God and bringing them to the church to hear more.
It’s the Day of Pentecost once again, my friends. We gathered at nine o’clock in the morning. Here we are, together in one place. What does this mean? It means that God is doing something special here today. What is he doing? He is pouring out his Spirit on us, his people. The Spirit is enlivening and empowering our tongues for telling the mighty works of God!