John 20:21-22: Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.
Acts 2:5-11: Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken. Utterly amazed, they asked: “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language? Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!”
Acts 2:38-39: Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.”
Ephesians 2:18-22: For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit. Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.
Babel, Pentecost and the Great Multitude
1. On the Day of Pentecost, people from many nations and speaking different languages heard the Spirit-filled disciples ‘declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues’ (Acts 2:11).
2. This event is often regarded as a reversal of the scattering and confusion that took place at the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11:9). Those who had previously spoken a common language were no longer able to understand each other. Those who were building a city and a tower so that they would not be scattered are frustrated and the project grinds to a halt.
3. Is this an act of judgment on the presumption of the builders who wanted to ‘make a name’ for themselves and to build a tower with its ‘top in the heavens’?
4. Or is this an act of mercy, slowing down the process of centralising power and developing an oppressive culture?
5. What happened at Pentecost was by no means a complete reversal of Babel:
(a) This was a temporary phenomenon: there is no indication it persisted.
(b) It was one-way communication: there is no indication that the disciples could understand the languages they were speaking or that others could communicate across language barriers.
(c) Only a limited number of languages were represented in the crowd.
6. But this was a prophetic sign – as well as an evangelistic event – that pointed forward to the reconciliation of all humanity made possible by the death and resurrection of Jesus. It enabled Peter to assure his listeners that ‘the promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off’ and that the gift of the Spirit was available to all. As all had access to God through the same Spirit, there are no longer ‘foreigners and strangers’ but members of one household in which God dwells.
7. As the church spread out from Jerusalem and its Jewish origins, it gradually became a multicultural and multilingual community, albeit still speaking mutually incomprehensible languages and needing frequent translation into new cultures. The scattering of the disciples (Acts 8) echoes the scattering at Babel and enabled the spread of the gospel in all directions.
8. The prophetic sign of the Day of Pentecost looks forward to the vision of a great multitude (Revelation 7), comprised of people from every nation, tribe and language, gathered around God’s throne – humanity finally and fully reconciled.
Pentecost prayers from Take our Moments and our Days
God of convincing power,
you pour out your Spirit on all who call on you.
Restore us with the breath of your holy presence,
that we may see the vision of your shalom
and proclaim your good news to the world.
God of abiding presence,
you lead us by your Spirit and claim us as your children.
Call us in righteousness, and renew us in hope and joy,
that we may be messengers of your peace,
fearlessly announcing your salvation.