Pentecost is the Christian celebration of the Holy Spirit. Like the Passover, Pentecost is among the holidays God required Old Testament Israel to observe every year. It was a springtime Thanksgiving festival seven weeks (fifty days) after the Passover meal. As Jesus Christ was crucified and raised during the Passover celebration, so the Holy Spirit was poured out upon the Christians in Jerusalem during the Pentecost celebration that same year. For that reason, seven weeks after celebrating the Resurrection of the Lord on Easter Day, Christians dedicate a Sunday to remember the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost.
An Old Testament lesson frequently read during the Pentecost service comes from the book of Genesis, chapter eleven. Several generations after the Flood, the descendants of Noah met on the plain of Shinar to build a city and a tower so they would be remembered and would not be scattered across the earth. Cities and towers are not sinful, but the pride behind their plan was sinful. They wanted to honor themselves, not the Lord. They defied his command to scatter and fill the earth and care for the entire planet. God responded to the sinfulness of their plan by confusing their languages. Once they began speaking different languages, they could not speak to one another or work together. Humble and loving people can overcome a language barrier, but proud and self-centered people insist that their language is correct and other languages are wrong. Because these people on the plain of Shinar were proud and self-centered, the language barrier scattered them, and the command of God was obeyed in spite of their rebellion.
More than seven thousand languages are spoken in the world today. Probably none of them was spoken when God first divided their languages. Instead, those first languages were probably the proto-languages that began the families of languages in the world today. Study of languages and the history of languages quickly becomes complicated, yet fascinating. The consequence of having many languages in the world, though, is the existence of language barriers. These make it hard for people to communicate, to understand one another, and to work together.
God understands languages and communication. According to the Bible, God created by speaking. He said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. According to the Bible, God’s Son is a message of love from God to the world. He is called the Word: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God… and the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” God’s message through Moses, the Old Testament prophets, and the New Testament apostles is also identified as the Word of God: “Your Word is a light to my feet and a lamp for my path”; “Prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.”
For this reason, the Holy Spirit broke down language barriers on the first Christian Pentecost. One hundred fifty believers in Jesus were gathered in Jerusalem, probably in some part of the Temple complex. The Holy Spirit made his presence among them known with the sound of a mighty wind. (In Old Testament Hebrew and New Testament Greek, the same words are used for wind, breath, and spirit—“ruach” in Hebrew, and “pneuma” in Greek.) The Holy Spirit marked each Christian with a flame. He then enabled them to speak about Jesus in languages they had never studied. Hearing the news about Jesus in their own languages, many people in Jerusalem repented of their sins, believed in Jesus, and were baptized. Then they carried this message about Jesus back to their home cities, their families, and their communities.
The Bible makes it clear that the Church consists of people from every language, nation, people, and culture. On this Pentecost Day, around the world, the message of Jesus is shared in all of the seven thousand languages spoken on Earth. Prayers and hymns of praise are raised to God in all these languages. The same Jesus is Lord and Savior to people in every part of the world. When he appears in glory, he will claim people from every language and every culture as citizens of his kingdom and members of his royal family.
Christians celebrate Pentecost to rejoice over God’s victory. He has defeated sinful pride and stubbornness. He has defeated the consequences of sin. He has even defeated the language barrier, God’s response to the pride and rebellion of sinful people long ago. His Holy Spirit unites believers from every tribe and nation and culture and language, all of whom trust in Christ and believe his promises. J.