LANGUAGE - Week of April 10th

By Judy Nichols

April 10, 2016


In reading Genesis recently I was struck by the similarities and differences between two events in which language confusion played a big part. After the flood, God commanded Noah’s descendants to spread out and fill the earth, but they didn’t want to do that. Instead, they stayed together, all speaking the same language, and set out to build a tower that would reach to heaven. God was not impressed with either their disobedience or their desire to get to heaven on their own. So he confused their language so they could not communicate with each other, forcing them to spread out in different directions, thus repopulating the earth.

In Acts 2 we read of the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. The small band of followers of Jesus (about 120 in all) were together when they heard a great wind, the place where they were was shaken, and they all began to speak in other languages. Not coincidentally, since Pentecost was one of the three major festivals all Jews were to attend annually in Jerusalem, there were people in the city from the entire known world. They all spoke other languages and God had suddenly enabled Jesus’ disciples to communicate with them in their own mother tongues.

In the story of the tower of Babel we see disobedience met with language confusion, both to thwart their fleshly ambitions and to ensure God’s plan of repopulating the earth was carried out.

In the Pentecost experience we see obedience. The disciples who had been told to wait in Jerusalem for the promise of the Father were doing so. And the devout Jews had been obedient to make the trek to Jerusalem for the festival. When the disciples suddenly began speaking in languages they’d never learned, the crowd was bewildered and astonished, but far from being confusing and alienating, it enabled them to hear the mighty works of God. After Peter gave his first sermon explaining what was happening and preaching the gospel, three thousand of them were converted. Then when the festival was over, they all went home. Can you imagine the conversations they had when they got back?

Jesus had told the disciples that they would be His witnesses in Jerusalem, in Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth and we see that progression in the book of Acts. But from the very beginning, from the day of Pentecost, God scattered the seed of the gospel to the entire known world through the medium of language, through the words of ordinary people.

So what’s in it for us today? The obvious lessons from the tower of Babel are that we can never get to God on our own and that our disobedience will not thwart the plan of God. The lessons from Pentecost are that obedience positions us to receive from God and that our words, our testimony of the mighty works of God in our own lives, are powerful to spread the gospel. This should come as no surprise, since the One we serve is called the Word of God.

© Judy Nichols 2016

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