Birth Language

“How is it that we hear, each in our own language in which we were born”

Acts 2:8

The first act of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost was to enable the disciples to speak “the wonderful works of God” (v 11) in various languages as He determined. They spoke in the birth languages of the dispersed Jews who had returned for Pentecost (v 8). Jews from around the Roman Empire and other places had come for this occasion but they had different birth languages according to their place of birth. The message preached by the disciples most certainly centred on the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus and the coming Kingdom of God. We see this in Luke’s record of Peter’s first sermon in the remainder of the chapter. The disciples had just spent forty days with the risen Christ hearing Him speak concerning the coming Kingdom of God (1:3).

The fact that they heard the disciples speak in their own birth language (sixteen different languages are mentioned in verses 9-11) got the attention of people and caused them to listen to the message. Jesus often said or did things to provoke consideration of who He is so we should not be surprised that the first ministry of the Holy Spirit at the foundation of the church and through His church would do the same (v 12).

For centuries the church has sent missionaries to other countries, cultures and language groups to share the Gospel of Christ but we live in a changed world in which people from different countries, cultures and language groups are coming to us. Perhaps we should make an effort to learn their birth languages so that we can share “the wonderful works of God” with them in their birth language.

We notice that while many were provoked to discover the truth and significance of what was happening (v 12), there were those who dismissed the event as people out of their mind (v 13). Paul informs us that being filled with the Spirit may appear to unbelievers as though they are drunk with alcoholic wine (Ephesians 5:18). Both experience a freedom from inhibitions but one is given over to the Holy Spirit and the other given over to the spirit of antichrist and Satan. The central message of all Christian preaching must be Christ crucified and risen (vv 30-32), and His coming kingdom, and that preferably in the birth language of the hearers.

Plead for Your Child

“There came a man named Jairus, and he was a ruler of the synagogue And he fell down at Jesus’ feet and begged Him to come to his house, for he had an only daughter about twelve years of age, and she was dying”

Luke 8:41-42

Few of us would have any difficulty identifying with Jairus’ grief over his only daughter suffering to the point of death. Emergency departments of hospitals are frequently visited by parents with this kind of grief. Some children are born with life threatening conditions such that their parents endure ongoing grief. Sometimes the condition can be rectified but other times it cannot. Most of us would know someone in this situation or have experienced it in our own family. Those who have had this experience will know how this man felt.

Jairus had heard that Jesus had healed people from all kinds of illnesses so he came to Him. Before Jesus could walk to his home the report came that his daughter had already died. He would have been grief stricken but Jesus also heard the report and encouraged Jairus to have faith that He could raise her even though she had died (v 50). There was no doubt that the girl was dead (v 53) and the family and friends watching on saw with their own eyes that Jesus is the resurrection and the life. He is revealing once more that He is God who created Adam.

In the past as a parent, and now as a grandparent, I have pleaded daily with Jesus to lead my grandchildren to the place of faith in Him and that they continue in faith in Him. While we can’t look into the hearts of others and observe the presence or lack of anguish over the salvation of their children we should be concerned that many parents, even Christian parents, don’t share grief like that of Jairus over their child’s eternal state. Perhaps they are unaware of the consequences or have a vague hope that somehow their child will come to faith in Jesus. Jairus brought Jesus to his daughter. That is a privileged role that parents have.

It is no surprise when the pleading cries of a father and/or mother for their lost son or daughter are answered and the child responds to Jesus in faith. That is cause for rejoicing beyond anything else in their child’s life.

Let us all who have unsaved children and grandchildren continually plead with Jesus to come to them and give them life. They are our “Jerusalem” (Acts 1:8; cf. Luke 11:5-8 John 10:10, 28).

Useful Contentions

“Then the contention became so sharp that they departed from one another” Acts 15:39

Wherever there are people there will be differences of opinion, debates and arguments that may lead to disputes, fights and even wars. It is the nature of fallen man. In Acts chapter fifteen we read of two different kinds of dispute within the early church. We shouldn’t be surprised that there were differences of opinion even in the church.

The first dispute was of a theological nature. This took place in the new church at Antioch where Paul and Barnabas were teaching. This was the same church that had sent Paul and Barnabas out on their missionary journey. They now sent them with others to Jerusalem to consult the apostles and elders of the more mature church for a resolution. The matter was not resolved immediately and a hot dispute arose.

Peter shared his own testimony of God’s grace through him to Gentile people but that was of itself insufficient witness. What settled the matter was James referring to Scripture. This dispute was only settled when the Scriptures were taken as authoritative. We discover that the church council concluded that the Holy Spirit was the One who took them through this process to the conclusion. This is how theological disputes should be handled – let God speak by the Holy Spirit through the Word of God.

The second dispute is not theological in nature but has to do with personal preferences. It is possible to argue that either Paul or Barnabas was right or that both were right or both wrong but that misses the point.

The contention between Paul and Barnabas came primarily out of their different spiritual gifting and Christ’s specific call although other influencing factors should be noted. Paul was a dynamic aggressive leader whereas Barnabas was an encourager. Both were expressing themselves consistently with their gifting and calling but because these were different conflict was inevitable in some circumstances. This happens frequently in our churches and may be one of the main causes of contention. The problem isn’t that there are differences of opinion but in how we resolve them.

So how did the church at Antioch resolve what had become quite heated? The church, guided by the Holy Spirit, made the decision to double the missionary enterprise of the church by sending out two parties. In this each person was able to exercise their gifting and calling to the full. It should be noted that both parties still remained part of and accountable to the same church (v 40). They didn’t break fellowship with the church or with each other. Both were given the freedom to express their spiritual gifting and calling.

When people have different spiritual gifting or calling they will see things differently but that difference is so that they can strengthen and multiply the ministry not break fellowship. For Paul and Barnabas the different gifting and calling meant physically separating but they did not separate spiritually. Neither denigrated or minimized the other’s ministry. For us it will usually mean different areas of ministry within our church but for some it may mean a mission field elsewhere.

What a Waste

“And they stoned Stephen as he was calling on God.” Acts 7:59

Stephen was most certainly a man of God called out for a unique mission. He was a godly man and is described as of “good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdomfull of faith and power, [who] did great wonders and signs among the people.” His ministry, along with the other six chosen was to “serve tables.”

However, Stephen did not just serve tables. He preached the Gospel of Christ to Jews. Only one sermon of his is recorded but it was clearly a Divine Appointment that was guaranteed to get a reaction.

The hearers chose to reject the message with such ardour that they also chose to kill the messenger.

What a waste! Throughout the history of the church there have been many men and women of God whose mission was cut short and humanly speaking we say, “What a waste.”

In 2008 I heard of a man with a mission he believed from the Lord who was struck and killed by lightning and we might say, “What a waste.” But who are we to scrutinise the Potter. We are the clay and we cannot see the plan or the finished product.

The five missionaries who perished in Ecuador and many others in such places as China, India, Indonesia and other parts of the world of like mind and mission have died in what may appear to us as wasteful. Many other faithful men and women of God have had shorter lives than we would otherwise expect through accident, illness or other violence from the “natural” world.

We cannot know God’s purpose for any of our lives and it isn’t for us to say how, where or when we will exit this world into His presence. If we are indeed surrendered to Him we will leave it with Him and joyfully accept whatever He brings.

Stephen did not die because of his own sin and, yes, God could have intervened – actually He did. The way He chose to intervene was to allow Stephen to see all the glory of God, and Jesus, as he passed from this world into the presence of the Lord.

Was Stephen upset at having his ministry cut short? I very much doubt it. First, it wasn’t his ministry it was the Lord’s. Secondly, he had wholly surrendered to the Lord and was glad to be brought into His presence. No child of God will be unhappy about the time or manner in which he comes into the Lord’s presence because he eagerly waits for that glorious day.

Missing the Point

“How is it that we hear, each in our own language in which we were born? … We hear them speaking in our own languages the wonderful works of God.” Acts 2:8, 11

The first time something is mentioned in the Bible it gives us a base point upon which all else on that subject is built. The book of Genesis has many first mentions of a subject. For example, the first mention of marriage in Genesis 2:24 and sin in chapter three. There are many, many others.

In Acts chapter two we have the first activity of the Holy Spirit in the church as it commenced on the day of Pentecost.

Jesus had already told His disciples what role the Holy Spirit would have with regard to the church:

  • He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you (John 15:26)
  • He will testify of Me (John 15:26)
  • He will convict the world of sin (John 16:7)
  • He will guide you into all truth (John 16:13)
  • He will glorify Me (John 16:14)

It is sad that many Christians totally miss the point of the first thirteen verses of Acts two. It is not that the Holy Spirit enabled the disciples to speak in other languages; it was that this is the first enabling of the Holy Spirit in the church and it was the beginning of the Holy Spirit fulfilling the role revealed by Jesus to His disciples mentioned above.

The ability to speak and be heard in another language was incidental to the real event, “we hear them speaking … the wonderful words of God.” That they heard it in their “mother tongue” is miraculous but it is not the main event.

In Acts one Luke records Jesus’ commission to His disciples,“But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the world.”

The events recorded in chapter two are the commencement of the church being a witness to Christ and the Holy Spirit’s enabling.

The ‘first’ of Acts two is the beginning of Christian mission, taking the Gospel to the entire world. After His resurrection Jesus said to His disciples, “As the Father has sent Me, I also send you” (John 20:21). The Holy Spirit is the enabler to accomplish Jesus’ mission through the church. Everything else we read in the N.T. concerning the Holy Spirit has its foundation in this first.