It’s been said that biblical Christianity is not a religion, but a relationship. I’ve said before that the Bible uses metaphors of multiple relationships to describe our relationship with God. It’s as though no single human relationship can embrace all the complexities included in our relationship with God. Over the years I’ve thought of nearly 20 such metaphors.
In recent posts I’ve meditated on God’s standing as Father and as Husband, two of the most common metaphors in the Scripture. Here I’d like to do something similar for a third, his standing as Lord.
I could do that, I suppose, by surveying all the Bible verses that reference this concept. That would guarantee me something to write about for the rest of my life, and it would be a worthwhile study for both of my readers. But I think I’ll approach the topic in the same way I did the topic of God as Husband: I’ll choose a single passage that discusses the topic robustly and then see what’s to be found there. The passage is Acts 2, and as you know from the reference, the event is Pentecost.
For Israel God arranged a calendar designed to keep his people in constant fellowship with him. In addition to the weekly Sabbath, there were annual holidays, involving either fasting or feasting. Three of those holidays—Passover, Pentecost, and Booths—were designated as “pilgrimage feasts,” when the Law required all Jewish males to appear before God, first at the Tabernacle and later at the Temple. By New Testament times, of course, this meant coming to Jerusalem, to Herod’s Temple, the grandest Temple yet.
Pentecost occurred 50 days (thus the name) after Passover, which would be in our late spring (late May this year). Because weather was typically good, this festival was usually very well attended, with Jews returning to their homeland from all across the empire. It was a time of reunions, good food, and great rejoicing.
Luke tells us that the day “was fulfilled” (Ac 2.1). Some commentators see that wording as prophetically significant—that Luke was saying more than that a date on the calendar had come. John Polhill writes, “The ‘fulfillment’ language bears more weight than mere chronology as the fulfillment of the time of the divine promise for the gift of the Spirit (1:4f.). The time of waiting was over” (Acts, The New American Commentary Series, 96). He notes another passage (Lk 9.51) where the same author, Luke, uses the expression to mark another key turning point in the history of salvation, the crucifixion.
In the midst of all this hubbub, Jesus’ disciples gathered, perhaps in the Upper Room, but certainly inside a building (Ac 2.2), when to their surprise, the Spirit of God arrived and manifested himself in a most unusual way—a way not described anywhere else in biblical history. There was a sound of rushing wind (Ac 2.2), and tongues of fire appeared over their heads (Ac 2.3). And then they all began to speak in foreign languages—not because they knew those languages, but because “the Spirit gave them utterance” (Ac 2.4).
I think it’s safe to assume that at this point the small group of disciples erupted from the “house” and began speaking in those foreign languages to the massive crowd out in the street (Ac 2.5-6). This crowd was astonished. Those from the far reaches of the Empire were hearing the good news spoken, not in Greek, not in Aramaic or Hebrew, but in their local tribal languages—Elamite, from way east in Persia (Iran), and Cyrenian, from way west in North Africa. (That’s a 1500-mile spread, which covers pretty much the whole known world at the time—Marco Polo having not yet informed the “known world” of an entire well-developed civilization yet farther to the east.)
The crowds were perplexed. How did these people know all these languages?
Someone suggested that the disciples were drunk.
Now, I’ve talked to a lot of drunk people in my time, and never once has being drunk helped anyone speak any language more clearly.
There has to be a more sensible explanation.
Do you hear echoes of Babel?
The God over all nations, who once scattered its people around the globe by confusing their languages (Ge 11.1-9), now gathers its people from across the globe and brings them grace instead of judgment, using those very languages, or at least their linguistic descendants.
God is great, and he is good.
More next time.
Photo by Greg Rakozy on Unsplash
Lucille Fisher says
Only two of us..who besides me reads these?🤗. Thank you…I appreciate your commentaries.
Dan Olinger says
And I’m glad you do!