(Reading time: approximately 3 minutes.)
In Acts 2, St. Luke tells us that the sound of a mighty wind came from heaven and filled the house where Jesus followers were staying. What looked like “tongues of fire” separated and rested on each person. They began to speak in other tongues.
Luke relates these details so that we will understand that the life-giving, sin-consuming God has come among his people. Verse 4: “All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.”
It seems they were speaking foreign languages, without having learned them. They were speaking in the native tongues of the festivalgoers who had arrived for Passover from various countries around the Mediterranean. And what were they talking about? They were (verse 11): “declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!” When the Holy Spirit enables a person to speak (or as the original language has it, “as the Spirit gave them to speak out”), that person speaks out about God, his wonders, and the wonders of his salvation.
People from far-flung lands heard these Spirit-filled men and women speaking out in their own languages. Here we need to think wide-angle: because of evil, God had once divided the people of the world and confused their languages (Genesis 11:1-9). But now God was undoing the evil, as he promised Adam and Eve, and as he promised Abraham. Pentecost is a sign that the blessing through Abraham to the nations of the earth has begun!
God’s intention – as we have seen repeatedly – has always been to bless all the peoples of the earth (Genesis 12:1-3), and the coming of the Spirit was necessary to that end. The coming of the Spirit had already empowered these first Christians to begin the task of witnessing to Christ even to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8). It was happening just as Jesus said it would.
Whenever Jesus’ followers are filled with the Holy Spirit, people start asking questions. We see it here (verse 12): “Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?” We see the same kind of thing again in chapter 4. “They began to question Peter and John, ‘By what power or what name did you do this?’” (Acts 4:7 PAR). In his first letter Peter says, “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have” (1 Peter 3:15). Paul writes, “Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders. Make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone” (Col. 4:5-6). Again and again, when Christ’s followers are filled with Christ’s Spirit, people ask questions. If no one is asking, something may be amiss.
In Acts 2 the question is “What does this mean?”, and to that question Peter gave a two-part answer. The first part is wide-angle, ultimate answer stuff (verse 16): “This is what was spoken by the prophet Joel, ‘In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days. . .” Now skip down to verse 21, “And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved’” (Acts 2:16-21; cf. Joel 2:28-32).
This was what God promised long ago. His salvation was breaking into human history. It was the sign that the last days have begun.
Along with the wide-angle cause, Peter also gave a more focused, immediate cause, starting in verse 22. All this is happening, he says, because God’s messiah Jesus has come. “You, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross.” But God foreknew what would happen and made it part of his plan. He raised him to life, verse 32, and exalted him to his right hand, the place of authority over heaven and earth. And from heaven he has taken the next step in God’s rescue plan. He has, verse 32, poured out the Spirit.