"And there were dwelling at Jerusalem Jews, devout men,
out of every nation under heaven. Now when this was noised abroad, the
multitude came together, and were confounded, because that every man heard
them speak in his own language. And they were all amazed and marvelled,
saying one to another, Behold, are not all these which speak Galilaeans?
And how hear we every man in our own tongue, wherein we were born?" (Acts
Did the Apostles speak in "other tongues" on the day of Pentecost when
the Holy Ghost descended upon them with a sound from heaven "as of a rushing
mighty wind"? Were the Apostles given the gift of "new languages," a special
new power, when they were filled with the Holy Ghost, who appeared to them
under the sign of "cloven tongues like as of fire" that came to rest upon
each one of them?
These are, I must frankly confess, "trick questions," since yes, they
did speak in "other tongues," and no, they did not receive a new sort of
"apostolic power." The "trick" in them, of course, is not Godís doing.
God is not a trickster, but the fallen understanding of man is very tricky
indeed, obscuring the Word of God if it is at all possible. And here, as
is so often the case, the main trick of the fallen human mind is to divert
attention from God to man.
The man-centered mind of sin wants us to believe that the Apostles suddenly
obtained some sort of "super powers" of their own to use as they wished
in communicating with others. Hidden just beneath the surface of this "super
powers" theory, however, is the dangerous thought that you or I might find
the same magic over language in ourselves, if the circumstances were right
or if we went through the proper mumbo jumbo. If the Apostles had power,
why canít we have the same power?
In fact, large numbers of todayís churches are decidedly in the "super
power business." And yet, can any of us really imagine the Apostles speaking
with other tongues if the subject matter had been the weather or the price
of a camel? There is absolutely no evidence in the Scriptures that they
could do any such a thing. There is no evidence that they could turn these
other languages on and off as they wished. Thus, if we say that "by their
own power" or "at their own will" or "under their own control" the Apostles
spoke in foreign languages on the day of Pentecost, we have misrepresented
the record of what actually happened. We have made up a story that no one
has any obligation to believe.
On the other hand, we know as a matter of fact that the crowd that gathered
on Pentecost heard the Apostles preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ in their
own native tongues. St. Luke recorded their wonderment: "Parthians, and
Medes, and Elamites, and the dwellers in Mesopotamia, and in Judaea, and
Cappadocia, in Pontus, and Asia, Phrygia, and Pamphylia, in Egypt, and
in the parts of Libya about Cyrene, and strangers of Rome, Jews and proselytes,
Cretes and Arabians, we do hear them speak in our tongues the wonderful
works of God" (Acts 2:9-11).
What we have here is not just a miracle of speaking in tongues, but
a double miracle of speaking and hearing. And it wasnít the Apostles who
performed this double miracle, but God the Holy Ghost. The Apostles could
only speak "as the Spirit gave them utterance" (Acts 2:4). What the members
of the crowd heard in their own languages was "the wonderful works of God."
The Holy Ghost, therefore, spoke through the Apostles, by working in
them and with them, of "the wonderful works of God." The people heard of
those "wonderful works," not because of some personal power of the Apostles,
but because the Person of God the Holy Ghost worked in the people themselves
for the sake of their understanding.
The fact of the matter is that no one can truly speak the Truth of God
without the help of God, and that no one can truly understand the Truth
of God without a corresponding gift of Godís aid. Our Lord was quite specific
in his declaration of this double need for the Holy Ghost, both for speaking
and for understanding Godís Truth. He told the Apostles at the Last Supper:
If ye love me, keep my commandments. And I will pray the Father, and
he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever;
Even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth
him not, neither knoweth him: but ye know him; for he dwelleth with you,
and shall be in you (John 14:15-17); and he explained,
These things have I spoken unto you, being yet present with you. But
the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my
name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance,
whatsoever I have said unto you (John 14:25-26).
If there is a "native language" of the kingdom of heaven, it is "the
wonderful works of God" because the chief purpose of existence is the glorification
of God, first expressed in the eternal and mutual love of the Three Persons
of the Blessed Trinity and then in the love of Godís creatures for their
Creator. When the Holy Ghost descends upon the Apostles on Pentecost, it
is not to give them strange new powers but to confirm them and the Church
in the glorification of God, opening hearts and minds both to speak and
to understand how all the mighty works of God glorify his Holy Name and
proclaim his eternal goodness.
Remember the famous "Grace" of St. Paul: "The grace of the Lord Jesus
Christ, and the love of God, and the communion [or "fellowship"] of the
Holy Ghost, be with you all. Amen" (2 Corinthians 13:14). God the Father
and God the Son live eternally in the communion of the Holy Ghost. When
the Holy Ghost descends on Pentecost, he brings the Apostles, and through
them the other members of the Church, into that divine communion and fellowship.
The "wonderful works of God" that the Holy Ghost puts into the mouths
of the Apostles and into the hearts of their hearers is the record of the
Fatherís love and good will, enacted through God the Son in all of Godís
mighty works, and especially in Creation and Redemption. Even our salvation,
bought with the Blood of Jesus Christ on the cross, is a God-centered expression
of the Fatherís love, proclaiming his perfect mercy. But we can understand
none of this glory, or speak of it with any justice or authority, except
in the communion of the Holy Ghost, where all this glory exists forever
in the Godhead.
There are no private human powers, no private human knowledge of God,
and no private human understanding. Such power, knowledge, and understanding
as man possesses are all the work of divine grace and the action of God
the Holy Ghost on manís behalf. Thus, the Holy Ghost inspires the human
authors of the Holy Scriptures to speak for God and not themselves. He
opens the Apostlesí mouths to speak the "wonderful works of God." He opens
hearts today to understand the Scriptures and the Apostlesí preaching and
changes those hearts by the gift of faith.
The many languages of man came about by an act of manís pride. After
the Flood, the survivorsí descendants set out to build a mighty tower at
Babel, as a monument to mankindís greatness. When they did not give the
glory to God, when they did not speak or understand Godís "wonderful works"
on their behalf, God scattered them and confounded their languages. On
the day of Pentecost, God the Holy Ghost began to undo this calamity by
putting back into the mouth of man the glory of God, and by opening ears
and hearts to that glory. On the Last Day, when our Lord returns in glory,
there will be no language except "the wonderful works of God," and the
language of heaven will be the "native tongue" once again of those reborn
by water and the Holy Ghost, through the Blood of Jesus Christ. Even now
we can practice that language of heaven, in the grace of Jesus Christ and
in the fellowship of the Holy Ghost, by speaking of the wonderful works
Please note: These sermons are offered for your meditation.
If you wish to use them for some other purpose or republish them, please
credit St. Andrewís Church and Dr. Tarsitano.