Bible text before
(Acts 2:1-11; NL)
Yes, it is Pentecost today and today I would like to look at an aspect of Pentecost that one might not normally think of.
Pentecost is also about languages, many languages.
This speech in tongues was certainly a sign for the Jews present, who came from everywhere and lived in Jerusalem, a sign that something special was happening here.
But I don't think this is just a supernatural miracle to make it clear that God is at work here. It certainly has a deeper meaning in it as well.
God can speak to anyone in any language and through the Holy Spirit the disciples understand each other even though they speak different languages.
That is how I would interpret this sign.
Peter then preaches the sermon on Pentecost in a language that everyone understands, perhaps Hebrew or Aramaic.
But let us stay with these many languages, with this sign.
These many languages reminded me of another story from the Bible that I would like to read now (Genesis 11:1-9; NL):
Here it is described negatively that all people speak the same language, because that seems to awaken delusions of grandeur a bit: "A tower up to the sky, as a sign of their sublimity."
It's kind of funny that the Lord came down from heaven to look at what people were building.
The sentence after that is also interesting: "Because they speak the same language and are one people, nothing they undertake will be impossible for them!"
I don't really know what to make of that sentence. The first thing that came to mind was the airport in Berlin, where the word impossible somehow takes on a slightly different meaning. Although, in the meantime, it is actually in operation.
I believe that with the confusion of language at that time, God wanted to put a stop to people's megalomania.
In principle, it makes sense to understand each other. In the field of science, people used to talk in Latin all over the world, but nowadays English is the lingua franca in research.
In the miracle of Pentecost, the way to a common language is shown through the Spirit of God.
What is right...
And here it goes beyond the common words. For we are experiencing today that although we speak the same language in our country on the basis of the words themselves, we nevertheless no longer understand each other. The term "filter bubble" is still very appropriate.
Our society seems to be divided into groups that no longer want to talk to each other because they think the opinions of others are nonsense.
I don't exclude myself from that. For all the objectivity you try to maintain, you have to judge situations and somehow decide how you see something.
This has become clear to me in this current conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.
It is not so easy to understand how this started again.
This probably started with the fact that some Palestinian families in East Jerusalem are to be expropriated because these houses or properties used to belong to Jews. This ruling actually applies only to Jewish residents, not to displaced Palestinians. But the court has postponed the decision, because of the tensions. Anyway, this issue is not so easy either. Many Palestinians were not dispossessed at all, but sold for a lot of money, but are not allowed to admit it because it is punishable by death in Palestinian areas. In other cases, the houses were built in black and the residents could not prove ownership, but descendants of the previous Jewish owners could show land register entries. I have read various sources and there are many different cases and certainly there are also cases that I would judge as unjust.
But to unleash a war with over 3,000 rockets on Israel, 450 of which, according to the Israeli army, have descended on Gaza itself, cannot be right, especially as Hamas military installations are hiding in civilian buildings such as schools.
Moreover, Hamas has the destruction of Israel as a goal in its charter. I wouldn't talk to them at all. This is not even discussed at the so-called peace demonstrations here in the country. It's always only against Israel.
Somehow I also missed the many demonstrations against Kuwait in 1991. Some people might remember that there was the first Gulf War and after that 450,000 Palestinians were expelled from Kuwait and most of them were dispossessed. You can read about that on Wikipedia. But I don't remember any demonstrations. Nobody shouted "Kuwaitis to the gas", did they? It wasn't about Israel and Jews either.
You can see I could talk myself into a rage.
And probably each of you has topics where you are particularly upset, where you are sure you are right and perhaps even angry about other statements.
And everyone has sources that they use, media, newspapers, etc but the danger of only reading the sources that confirm one's own opinion cannot be denied either.
And you don't get anywhere with strategies like, it's not important, or the truth is on both sides. It is important to people, and some take to the streets for it.
Of course, it is not always appropriate in every situation to have such disputes, but avoiding conflicts and not arguing about the issues objectively, perhaps hard on the matter but in a fair way, that can't be right either and it also makes me foxy.
On the other hand, some people get so upset so quickly that you don't even want to talk to them.
I can also get upset about the topic of "Israel" because I find most of the reporting on it really unfair in part and I think I am right in my assessments of it.
But let's not fool ourselves. As Christians, we can only really be sure of a few things:
- Jesus Christ died for us and rose again.
- The Bible is true.
In everything beyond that, we should be extremely humble and cautious. Otherwise it could be that our knowledge, where we are so sure, is only a tower of our megalomania, on which God looks down with pity.
Understanding each other
We are probably mostly in agreement here about my assessment of the Gaza conflict, but maybe one or two of us in front of the screen have such a tie, but hopefully haven't switched off yet.
Let us return to the Bible text from the beginning. Verse 6 says:
And verse 11 says:
I believe that this event can be seen as an image for us today. In the end, this miracle would not have been necessary to understand Peter's following sermon, because they all knew Hebrew.
But this miracle showed that God understands their language of origin, their background. And I think that is also a Pentecostal message for us today. It is not that we all learn a common language per se, we all know German. But we need to learn to understand where people come from with their ways of thinking, why someone is the way they are.
Jesus wants all people to come to the knowledge of the truth. Peter spoke to all those present after this Pentecost miracle and told them about the Gospel. But they had previously heard about God's great deeds in their own languages.
But to do that, you first have to know what their language, their background, their thinking is?
Why, for example, do people march at lateral demos, why do some march at other demos? What drives someone?
It is not a matter of betraying objective facts, with all humility about one's own knowledge. Nevertheless, one must somehow accept people, respect them, without betraying one's own intellectual integrity in the process.
I remember a lecture by a Protestant guest speaker at a regional association conference. He told of problems with neo-Nazis in the Ruhr area and that a Protestant parish had explicitly forbidden neo-Nazis to come to the public church festival.
There was criticism from the audience because Jesus came for all people. Jesus also gave himself to tax collectors, who were corrupt officials, people who took advantage of their position to enrich themselves at the expense of their fellow human beings, some of whom were poor. They were, to put it in common parlance, pigs. And yet Jesus was at their party and won people who then changed their lives. How many tax collectors really changed their lives, we do not know. Maybe there were also stubborn tax collectors who convinced themselves that if Jesus is here, then my life is not so bad. Outsiders also defamed Jesus for being a friend of tax collectors and sinners.
Imagine you have a neighbour who is a neo-Nazi and who invites you over. That would be hard bread, of course, but Jesus would probably have done it and accepted being insulted: "He eats with Nazis, then he's a Nazi too.
Any normally educated person will probably realise that Nazi ideology is wrong. I'm always surprised that people demand that you distance yourself from it. That goes without saying. And in conversations where you come up with the topic, you should also express that, that is also self-evident.
Nevertheless, Jesus of course also loves such politically very lost people and in order to reach them, one must at least also somehow understand where their thinking comes from.
Of course, that was an extreme example, but it is generally true for every person that the openness for the Gospel is greater if you show a person that you understand where he comes from with his thinking and feeling, if you speak of the great deeds of God in such a way that he understands them in his background.
And that Jesus Christ loves everyone, died for everyone and wants to win everyone, we know that very well.
- The miracle of Pentecost is about many languages. People hear about the great deeds of God in their own languages.
- We have briefly considered the confusion of languages at Babel, in response to man's delusions of grandeur.
- We still speak the same language these days, but we don't really understand each other any more because everyone lives in their own filter bubble.
- I once explained my opinion on the current conflict between Israel and the Palestinians and took this as an example of the difficulties of having different opinions. The only thing we Christians know exactly is:
- Jesus Christ died for us and rose again.
- The Bible is true.
- We need to understand people's backgrounds so that we can speak of the great deeds of God in their languages and origins of thought.
- And that Jesus Christ loves everyone, died for everyone and wants to win everyone, we know that very well.