1 When the day of Pentecost had arrived, they were all together in one place. 2 Suddenly a sound like that of a violent rushing wind came from heaven, and it filled the whole house where they were staying. 3 And tongues, like flames of fire that were divided, appeared to them and rested on each one of them. 4 Then they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in different languages, as the Spirit gave them ability for speech. 5 There were Jews living in Jerusalem, devout men from every nation under heaven. 6 When this sound occurred, a crowd came together and was confused because each one heard them speaking in his own language. 7 And they were astounded and amazed, saying, “Look, aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 How is it that each of us can hear in our own native language? 9 Parthians, Medes, Elamites; those who live in Mesopotamia, in Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 11 Cretans and Arabs—we hear them speaking the magnificent acts of God in our own languages.” 12 They were all astounded and perplexed, saying to one another, “What could this be?” 13 But some sneered and said, “They’re full of new wine!”
Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture quotations are taken from the Holman Christian Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1999, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2009 by Holman Bible Publishers. Used by permission. Holman Christian Standard Bible®, Holman CSB®, and HCSB® are federally registered trademarks of Holman Bible Publishers.
When this sound occurred, a crowd came together and was confused because each one heard them speaking in his own language.
In April 2010, I had the privilege of traveling to Haiti as a witness to the extraordinary work Sweet Sleep is doing there. Three months prior, a massive earthquake left sections of Port-au-Prince and several outlying areas in ruins. Much worse was the devastation to families, the parents who lost children, and the children who were orphaned in matter of minutes.
Orphanages and homes overflowed with the lost and battered. “Transitional Villages” were set up to provide care and logistic aid. We spent the majority of our time at one such village. I was anxious. I’d never seen such devastation.
I didn’t know the Creole language so I didn’t have the words to communicate. And the only French I remembered was less than helpful on a mission journey. But from the moment we arrived, we were swarmed by a mass of animated excitement. Children were tugging at us and climbing into our arms.
What amazed and totally disarmed me was the fact that, through mile-wide smiles, they repeatedly shouted, in English, “What is your name? What is your name?”
“Lee,” I responded. And I added, without thinking, “What’s your name?”
“Stanley!” “Sam!” “Elli!” came their eager replies.
In those short, transforming moments, these children were no longer anonymous Haitian orphans. They were Stanley, Sam, and Elli, unique human beings with hidden fears and a deep longing to be loved. I ceased being a short-term missionary. I was Lee, invited to play soccer and well on my way to becoming their friend.
“What’s your name?” It’s a deeply profound question, even without the biblical allusions.
In Acts 2, Jews from all over had gathered in Jerusalem for Pentecost. Like a “Launch Team,” the disciples were gathered, presumably, in the Upper Room for fellowship, bread breaking, and as I imagine, a discussion about the possibilities that lay ahead.
Jesus had commanded them to wait. He’d said they would receive power when the Holy Spirit came upon them. Their wait was over.
The Spirit descended quite publicly. It’s described as “a violent wind” and “tongues as of fire.” But it was most certainly an encounter beyond what mere words might describe, which is interesting considering the result.
Scripture says the disciples were indeed “filled with the Holy Spirit.” They miraculously and instantly had the ability to speak the many languages spoken by the diverse peoples and cultures that had assembled in Jerusalem. Based on their responses, plus the mockery of those who tried to disprove the change in them, we can conclude that they could speak, listen, and understand these diverse cultures.
We find ourselves today working, playing, and raising families amidst a celebrated diversity of cultures and attitudes. We’re surrounded by people who are eager for something they can’t express. We know they can’t express it by the reckless and sometimes destructive ways they seek to fulfill it.
It’s through the Spirit that we have the words to speak to this need and into the devastation we see around us. It’s apart from the Spirit that our conversations are too often like two people talking at each other and neither is listening.
Yes, the world is becoming increasingly hostile and we’re confused and anxious. Yes, the proclamation of the Gospel is profoundly important. Yes, apologetics is a valuable way to communicate the Truth of Jesus. And no, we’re never to compromise on that Truth. But what if the best argument for the truth of Jesus Christ was your life?
- How do you reason with an atheist or an agnostic persuasively? How do you reach your neighbor? We’re supposed to be ready to give a defense, but apologetics seems like an almost paralyzing combination of debate club, psychology, and a little gymnastics. What if our cultural engagement was dictated less by the culture and more by the Spirit that empowers us?
- The Psalmist writes, “Restore to me the joy of Your salvation and sustain me with a willing spirit. Then I will teach transgressors Your ways, and sinners will be converted to You” (Psalm 51:12-13). What if the most persuasive thing you could say to the atheist next door, or at the next table, was to ask their name? What if, instead of the atheist next door, they were Steve or Rebecca, each with their own unique story they were eager to tell.
- The Spirit doesn’t just empower us to speak, but also to understand. What if the only invitation you needed to offer was one to listen? What if the first step in contextualizing the gospel to a non-believer was to become a friend? What if the lone tactic you needed to introduce someone to Jesus was something you learned on the playground when you were five?
- What if the test for being a follower of Christ was that you had at least one non-Christian friend? Not an acquaintance you felt some self-imposed pressure to convert, but a friend to love. Would you pass?