Acts 2: Restoring Babel
Have you ever thought about how important words are? We cannot even form concrete thoughts without some linguistic structure working itself out in our mind. Words are important for many obvious reasons in our world. (I mean how else would we create memes?!) Words bring definition and clarity into our lives. They allow us to communicate simple and complex thoughts and feelings. Words have the power to bring people together or push people apart.
Words are a crucial part of our world, but words are even more important to God. God is the author and creator of languages, speech, syntax, stanzas, poetry, prose, and discourse. Look at the very beginning of the Bible:
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.
Before anything there was only God. And we see the very first action that God does is create by speaking his words into the void. He spoke and it was. And he continues through the rest of the creation account to speak creation into existence. Words are important to God. It’s how he gave his perfect Law, and it’s through the Eternal Word becoming flesh that we find salvation.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made… The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.
Not only by his word did God create all things, but he also sent his Word – the Son – to reconcile us back to the Father, speaking salvation into the world.
Last time, we skipped over some really important things that happened in chapter two of Acts. At the beginning we saw Jesus leave his disciples for the final time at the Ascension. There he told them to wait for the Holy Spirit which would come and indwell them, giving the Apostles power to fulfill the Great Commission – to spread the Gospel to Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and ultimately to the ends of the earth. Now in chapter two we see the Spirit moving from just residing on a single person but being poured out in its fullness to many.
When the day of Pentecost came, [the Apostles] were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in tongues as the Spirit enabled them.
Now there were staying 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.
What is happening here? When reading unclear or difficult passages like these we need to ask two questions: How is God revealed? And why is he revealing himself in this way? To answer these questions, we need to look back at the history of God’s people, specifically the Tower of Babel.
In Genesis 11, we see that mankind has fallen, and fallen hard. So much so that “the Lord regretted that he made human beings on the earth, and his heart was deeply troubled.” So God raises up Noah and brings the flood, but only a few generations after the flood the pride of man still prevails.
Now the whole world had one language and common speech…Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves; otherwise we will be scattered over the whole earth.”
So the people rise up and decide to create a tower together to establish their own power, so quickly forgetting the God who has the power to bring a world-wide flood. So the Lord, seeing the evil plans of man, intervenes again.
But the Lord came down to see the city and the tower the people were building. The Lord said, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.”
So the Lord scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city. This is why it was called Babel – because there the Lord confused the language of the whole world. From there the Lord scattered them over the face of the whole earth.
So we see that God created languages to confuse and scatter the people, ultimately spreading throughout the lands creating diverse cultures, ethnicities, and people groups. Now look back at Acts chapter two, thousands of years later.
God pours out his promised Spirit on his Apostles and they begin to speak in foreign languages unknown to themselves. People from “every nation under heaven” gather at this sound in amazement because “each one heard in their own language being spoken” (2:6). God was redeeming language back to its original purpose. God created multiple languages to confuse and scatter mankind in their sinfulness and pride but now that the atoning work of Jesus Christ is completed God creates a way for his people to be gathered back together in unity through the Apostles speaking in “other tongues as the Spirit enabled them” (2:4).
And what is it that they were able to speak? Verse 11 tells us they were speaking the “wonders of God,” afterwards Peter stands up and gives one of his most famous speeches he will ever give, proclaiming the Gospel and true Messiah-ship of Jesus resulting in the converting, baptizing, and saving of three thousand people that very day (2:41).
Thus we see our language and our words have two abilities. Our words can divide, confuse, and scatter or they can draw-in, unify, and bring understanding. God has given us the gift of language and the ability to speak into each other’s lives. We can either do that in a way that brings positive influence or negative – by the Spirit or without.
Luke 6:45 (rf. Matthew 12:34) says, “A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For it is out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.” Jesus was showing us that our words are more than just cognitive strings of letters and sounds, but they reveal to us what is in our hearts – the things that our souls are full of. Whatever is settling inside of our hearts is what is going to spill out of it. If I am constantly concerning myself with sports, then I am going to be talking about sports a lot. If I am enthralled with the latest current events, I will be finding myself having conversations about them. If I am focused on the things of this world, then my speech will reflect that. But if I have set my mind on the things above – on whatever is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent or praiseworthy (Colossians 3:1-2, Philippians 4:8) then my words will be like a “fountain of life” as Proverbs 4:23 and 10:11 say.
What you put into your heart is what you will get out of it. It’s a 1:1. It’s a simple but dangerous equation. If you feel timid or nervous when sharing the Gospel, ask yourself how often you speak the Gospel to yourself? How long have you sat before the Scriptures recognizing your own sinfulness and understanding the redeeming love displayed on the cross of Christ? How rich and full is the abounding grace and forgiveness of God rooted in your life? You and I cannot effectively obey the calling of being witnesses to the ends of the earth if we do not first let the Gospel settle deeply into our own hearts and lives. John 14:26 gives us comfort in these moments: “But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and remind you of everything I have said to you.” But this promise is only contingent on having first heard these things spoken to us. The promise is that the Spirit will remind us of what we have already heard. Our job then is to simply deposit the word of God into our hearts and the Spirit will be faithful to remind us in those times.
Our goal is to obey and go speak the Gospel into this world. Our words are so valuable. Proverbs 18:21 says, “The tongue has the power of life and death.” God created our words to be powerful tools in the reconciliation of the lost. How will we do that if our hearts are full of only earthly things?