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Dear Friends in Christ,
As you know, this year is the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. Some of the themes being used for the celebration of this anniversary are, “It’s Still All About Jesus,” and “A Return to Grace.” We are celebrating the fact that God used Martin Luther to remind the world that the Bible is all about Jesus, and that through Martin Luther a large portion of the church was brought back to the truth that we are saved by grace through faith in Jesus.
We also celebrate the fact that Luther translated the Bible into the language of his people, which then inspired others to do the same for their people. In a sense, it was a modern Pentecost because through these translations many more people could hear about the wonderful works of God in their own language. We celebrate the fact that Luther gave us the Catechism which presents the basic truths of God’s word for us to memorize, and then asks the question that many in the crowd on Pentecost asked, “What does this mean?” Like Peter, he understood that it’s not enough to hear and memorize words that you can’t understand, even if they are in your native language. You need to understand what they mean; that the words of Scripture point you to Jesus as your faithful Savior.
At a time in history when there was no TV, or radio, or social media that could spread news quickly, God found a way to make the good news about Jesus go viral. At one of the three great OT festivals, when all faithful OT believers were gathering in Jerusalem from all over the Roman world, God sent the sound of a mighty wind; just the sound, no destructive wind. In addition, he caused what looked like tongues of fire to appear above the heads of the disciples. As you might guess, large crowds of people gathered to see what was going on. When they did, they heard the disciples proclaiming the mighty acts of God to them in the native languages of the people who had gathered to hear them. The people realized that this was a miracle. The disciples were from Galilee; not a place where people were usually taught to speak other languages. They recognized that the sound of the wind, the tongues of fire, and the ability to speak other languages was a mighty act of God. But what did God want them to learn from all this? “What does this mean,” they asked?
Peter answered them by first of all pointing them to Scripture. God was fulfilling the promise that he had made through the prophet Joel. He was pouring out his spirit on people, not just on a prophet here and there, or on the High Priest, but all people; on both men and women; on all who would hear the good news about Jesus.
It’s important for us to learn the lesson Peter is teaching here. When things happen that we don’t understand we are not to speculate, based on our own wisdom or experience, what God is trying to say. If we do, we will come to conclusions like some in the crowd did; that the sound of the wind and the speaking in other languages didn’t have anything to do with God at all. It was just “mother nature” and a bunch of drunks babbling. No. Peter teaches us to go to the word; to search the scriptures and see if the things that are happening might be a fulfillment of either a threat or a promise of God.
As we consider the things that are happening in our world today, wars and rumors of war, famines and earthquakes, persecution of Christians, family strife, false prophets who use Christianity as a means of financial gain, what seems to be a majority of people being lovers of themselves instead of lovers of God, we should be asking the question, “what does this mean?” We should then go to the Scriptures to find the answer. As we do it will be clear that God is keeping his promise spoken through the prophet Joel, and through Jesus. These events mean that we are living in the last days, the time between Jesus’ first and second coming. They mean that we need to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus. We need to be always watching and ready for him to return in glory, and we need to do all we can to let others know that he is the only savior and he is coming back soon. As we continue to search the Scriptures, we will also be reminded of his promise that he is with us always; that there is nothing, not natural disasters, not war, not famine, not persecution, not even death that can separate us from God’s love.
When we, like those in the crowds on Pentecost, are moved to ask the question, “What does this mean,” Peter, and Luther like him, teach us that the best thing we can do is run to God’s word and search for answers there. As we do, we will be comforted by the fact that God is faithful, he is always keeping his promises.
Peter and the disciples were using this gift of speaking in other languages, this brief undoing of what God did at the Tower of Babel, to do one important thing. They weren’t using it to prove to others that they were really born-again Christians, or to talk with God in some mysterious angel language. They used this gift from God to proclaim the wonders, the mighty acts, of God to as many people as possible. They didn’t use it to bring glory to themselves, but to bring God glory.
When you hear the phrase “the wonders, or mighty acts, of God,” what comes to mind? Do you think of God creating all that exists in six days by the power of his word? Do you think of dividing the Red Sea, or giving Israel water from a rock? Do you think of the sun standing still, or the walls of Jericho falling down? Do you think of God saving the three men from the furnace, or Daniel from the lions? The list of God’s mighty acts is very long. But from the rest of Acts chapter 2 we learn that the might acts that Peter and the disciples focused on all had to do with Jesus. There was the mighty act of his conception in the womb of the Virgin Mary by the power of the Holy Spirit. There were the many mighty acts that Jesus performed during his three-year ministry, including the raising of Lazarus from the dead. There was the fact that his betrayal, arrest and crucifixion had all been foretold in the Scripture and that they happened just as God said they would. Then there was his resurrection from the dead, and the fact that all of these things combined produced the greatest mighty act of God ever; salvation offered for free to all. In Jesus God provided forgiveness of sins for the whole world, he destroyed the work of Satan, and turned death into nothing worse than sleep. He enabled Peter and the disciples to boldly proclaim to the crowds that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.
What a wonderful promise of God that is! But before we can call on the name of the Lord to save us, like the crowds on Pentecost, we need to be brought to repentance as they were. We need to be brought to realize that there is an almighty and holy God and that we have sinned against him. Among all our other sins we have failed to always look to Scripture to answer the question “What does this mean?” We need to be convinced that we deserve death and eternal punishment in Hell because we have sinned and continue to sin in our thoughts, words, and actions. There is nothing we can do to escape the punishment we deserve. Once we realize that we are not saved and that we can do nothing to save ourselves, then we are ready to hear about the wonders God has done for us. Then we are ready to hear that Jesus, the son of God, became a man so that he could live and die in our place and pay for our sins, for our failure to search the Scripture for answers, and our failure to always trust his promises. Then, as the Holy Spirit points us to Jesus we are moved to call out to him “I can’t save myself, Lord, save me.”
The miracles God performed on Pentecost; the sound of the wind, the tongues of fire, the ability to speak in other languages, caused thousands of people to gather around the place where the disciples were staying. But those miracles didn’t bring people to faith. The miracles brought people to the disciples, and then disciples proclaimed the wonders of God to them. When the people asked “what does this mean,” the disciples pointed them to God’s word for the answer, and proclaimed to them what God had done for them in Jesus. Those who were moved to confess that they could not save themselves and who called out to the Lord to save them, 3000 of them, were saved.
When we hear the crowds on Pentecost ask the question, “What does this mean?” we are reminded that Peter, and Luther, point us to the Scriptures to find the answer. When we go to Scripture we will see that God is continuing to keep his promises. We are reminded that Peter, and Luther, point us to Jesus because it’s still all about Jesus. God’s greatest mighty act was sending his Son Jesus into this world of sin to live and die in our place and then rise again from the dead so that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.