MidWeek Study – 02Jun2020


The theme this week is the Spirit at work.

  • Our sermon, Pentecost: Babel Undone, is based on one of the readings of the day. Pentecost is the story of the giving of the Spirit and the birth of the church — when the confusion of the Tower of Babel is healed.
  • In Numbers 11, the Spirit is at work through Moses and other leaders of the community.
  • Psalm 104 describes the awesome work of the Spirit of God running the world.
  • 1 Corinthians 12 tells about the work of the Spirit in the church community — many gifts given by one Spirit.
  • In John 20, we see Jesus imparting the Spirit to his disciples.
  • In John 7, Jesus tells them about the Spirit who will come like fountain of living water.

Psalm 104:25-35, 37

25 So is this great and wide sea, wherein are things creeping innumerable, both small and great beasts.  26 There go the ships: there is that leviathan, whom thou hast made to play therein.

27 These wait all upon thee; that thou mayest give them their meat in due season.   28 That thou givest them they gather: thou openest thine hand, they are filled with good.   29 Thou hidest thy face, they are troubled: thou takest away their breath, they die, and return to their dust.

30 Thou sendest forth thy spirit, they are created: and thou renewest the face of the earth.   31 The glory of the Lord shall endure for ever: the Lord shall rejoice in his works.   32 He looketh on the earth, and it trembleth: he toucheth the hills, and they smoke.

33 I will sing unto the Lord as long as I live: I will sing praise to my God while I have my being.  34 My meditation of him shall be sweet: I will be glad in the Lord35 Let the sinners be consumed out of the earth, and let the wicked be no more. Bless thou the Lord, O my soul. Praise ye the Lord.

1 Corinthians 12:3-13

Wherefore I give you to understand, that no man speaking by the Spirit of God calleth Jesus accursed: and that no man can say that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Ghost.

Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit.   And there are differences of administrations, but the same Lord.   And there are diversities of operations, but it is the same God which worketh all in all.

But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal.   For to one is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom; to another the word of knowledge by the same Spirit;   To another faith by the same Spirit; to another the gifts of healing by the same Spirit;   10 To another the working of miracles; to another prophecy; to another discerning of spirits; to another divers kinds of tongues; to another the interpretation of tongues:   11 But all these worketh that one and the selfsame Spirit, dividing to every man severally as he will.  12 For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ.   13 For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit.

John 20:19-23

19 Then the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled for fear of the Jews, came Jesus and stood in the midst, and saith unto them, Peace be unto you.

20 And when he had so said, he shewed unto them his hands and his side. Then were the disciples glad, when they saw the Lord21 Then said Jesus to them again, Peace be unto you: as my Father hath sent me, even so send I you.

22 And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost:   23 Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained.

Pentecost: Babel Undone

Acts 2:1-21

And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place.

And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting.   And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them.   And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.

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?   Parthians, and Medes, and Elamites, and the dwellers in Mesopotamia, and in Judaea, and Cappadocia, in Pontus, and Asia,   10 Phrygia, and Pamphylia, in Egypt, and in the parts of Libya about Cyrene, and strangers of Rome, Jews and proselytes,   11 Cretes and Arabians, we do hear them speak in our tongues the wonderful works of God. 

12 And they were all amazed, and were in doubt, saying one to another, What meaneth this?

13 Others mocking said, These men are full of new wine.

14 But Peter, standing up with the eleven, lifted up his voice, and said unto them, Ye men of Judaea, and all ye that dwell at Jerusalem, be this known unto you, and hearken to my words:   15 For these are not drunken, as ye suppose, seeing it is but the third hour of the day.   16 But this is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel;

17 And it shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh: and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams:   18 And on my servants and on my handmaidens I will pour out in those days of my Spirit; and they shall prophesy:   19 And I will shew wonders in heaven above, and signs in the earth beneath; blood, and fire, and vapour of smoke:   20 The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and notable day of the Lord come:   21 And it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved.

The story of Acts 2 occurs during what was called the Feast of Pentecost. Luke says “devout people from every nation under heaven” were in Jerusalem celebrating this festival, which had political, religious, and ethnic symbolism in layers. What you did on Pentecost and what you thought about it defined who you were, said what you believed and what you practiced, connected you with your history and your faith. And the symbolism would grow thicker and deeper in color after the occurrences of this particularly strange morning.

One of the places to look when trying to understand the Bible’s long history with language occurred centuries before this wild, disorienting morning at Pentecost. It was centuries before, in that part of the Bible where they don’t even name any characters; they just tell a story.

In this strange tale, humanity was somehow of one tribe and one language, and was moving east. This is not long after the flood, so perhaps the world was still recovering. Here humanity was moving together, and they decided to build their own city. As it says in Genesis 11 (I’ll just read it to you):

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 face of the whole earth. (Genesis 11:4 ESV)

So the building of the great tower began. Up and up, storey after storey, humanity’s pride was building its way to the heavens. Here we have one of these early examples of when we try to do our own thing—when we trust in our own edifices and defenses rather than God’s provision. These are people probably just a few generations away from the great flood; they are perhaps promising themselves that they will never be that helpless again, that they will get in this little cocoon and be safe. But God saves them from this:

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.” (Genesis 11:5-7 ESV)

And so their language was confused and they stopped building the tower. The tower was the Tower of Babel. It was a monument to the confusion and brokenness that comes from humanity trying to do things in their own power. What was one family was now broken into many tribes; what was one language, now shattered into many tongues.

Now we fast forward who knows how long later, through the wars and conquests and bloodshed that resulted from this division, through millions of people from these thousands of tribes that have killed other people just for their accent, the color of their skin, their heritage. They killed with clubs, then spears, then swords—fast forward through blood, fire, and vapor of smoke. Fast forward through the world of Babel. Fast forward until you get to a small room on a crisp morning where a group of anxious believers in some new faith were praying together.

Pentecost was a common festival for Jews at the time to celebrate. It commemorated the giving of the Law. This is something Jews celebrated as a basic element of who they were. Pentecost was the day — fifty days after Passover — that Moses was given the law by God on Mount Sinai.. The Greek word pentekoste means “fiftieth.” So the various religious locations in Jerusalem would have been crowded by people celebrating that commemorative holiday.

At the same time, this was also an agricultural holiday, coming at the end of the wheat harvest. So there were pilgrims all over the city that day. It was a time of feasting, remembrance, and deeply meaningful celebration of what it meant to be God’s people.

There are echoes here all over the place, great centers of meaning that shed light on what is going on during the day of Pentecost. The Tower of Babel, the giving of the Law on Sinai, the feast of the harvest — of the life’s blood of survival. Many spotlights through the centuries are gathered on this time, so the day is rich with meaning.

And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. (Acts 2:2-3 ESV)

This is the wind of God coming through — the wind that hovered over the waters, the Spirit that inspired Joseph to be able to interpret dreams. That which had only come through once in a great while before, that presence of God that came only in moments in the past and only to a few chosen people, is now there among everyone.

The energy of God’s presence here among them, and among us now. Again, another spotlight is cast on this — the Spirit of God filling and making alive. Who can tell me where that comes from? Adam, the first man, being blown into by God, who breathed into him and made him a living being. Here is the re-creation of humanity by the Spirit of God.

In this story, the painful division of the Tower of Babel is undone. [verse 5]

Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven. And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language. (Acts 2:5-6 ESV)

Each one was hearing them speak in his own language. This was probably one of the temple courtyards, which would have been like an airport on a feast day. Different languages, different dialects, a cacophony of different human sounds. And suddenly there is the sound of one message in many languages. They begin to hear the gospel of Christ meeting them right there where they are.

In the original story — the tower of Babel — human pride results in the splintering and shattering of relationships. In this story — the re-creation of God, the re-doing of humanity — there is a unity of message. There is harmony, even in the many languages spoken here. God meets us where we are. God the Spirit descends into these many languages — themselves a result of sin and pride — and meets with the people who are there.

The miracle of Pentecost wasn’t just in the weird phenomenon of people speaking other languages, it was in the fact that the good news wasn’t just the property of one race, or one language, or one way of being human, but now available to everyone! Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams and your young men will see visions! God meets the people where they are.

Let’s take a minute to talk about the phenomenon itself — speaking in tongues, or the thousand-dollar Greek word: glossolalia. This is the main thing that trips people up at this point in the narrative here — what in the world are they talking about?

A few things about glossolalia. There are different types of tongues — in some instances as in this one, it is other languages being spoken miraculously, and in other instances in Scripture, it is a semi-coherent language that may sound like noise to us.

First thing to know, at least this second phenomena was common in other religions at the time. Christians didn’t invent tongues. Paul had to deal a lot with some of the ego battles and other things that resulted from the use of tongues, because it meant in pagan society that you had a high status and center stage.

Tongues was never meant to feed someone’s ego or make for confusion. It was meant for the community to be lifted up. There are Christians all over the spectrum on this issue, and the worst thing we can do is let it divide us.

I’m not going to tell the Holy Spirit how to do his job. If he wants to make people speak in a language I don’t know, then that is his business. If he wants to work quietly through the gifts of administration and spreadsheets and budgets — that’s his business, too. The message here is that the Spirit of God blows where he pleases. We just need to be the ones willing to catch the breeze.

Let’s look at another of our interpretive spotlights. Centuries before, Moses had gone up to the mountain to receive the Law for the people of God. The Israelites had just been freed of Egypt and were out in the wasteland, and then were told what it meant to follow God, to be his people, in the giving of the law.

So began the Israelite way of knowing Godfollowing laws and rituals that made them God’s holy people, and once a year sending one priest into one small room to be in God’s presence.

But the promise had always been in the wings, as spoken in Jeremiah:

“Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the Lord. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. (Jeremiah 33:31-34 ESV)

Moses had been given the Law. Moses had gone up to the presence of God and come back down with the word of God. So a succession of high priests went into the holy of holies to represent the people in the presence of God. But now, as predicted by Jeremiah, the law is written on their hearts, on our hearts. Continuing in Acts:

And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. (Acts 2:3 ESV)

Now the Spirit of God is within each believer! Now there is no temple that we go to, but we, as the fellowship of believers, are God’s temple! We don’t have to send just one person on just one day in just one place, but all have that place within each one of us, and our high priest is always with us. From the least to the greatest — old men and young men, men and women, slave and free — all have the Spirit of God within them.

And so the church was born. The confusion and brokenness of the Tower of Babel were made into harmony and one gospel for all people everywhere — God meeting us where we are. The giving of the Law was brought to its fulfillment by not just dwelling in the temple exclusively, but dwelling in us as believers — the holy of holies in our hearts.

A few questions to take home with us today:

  • How do you see church? It’s interesting here that just before the Spirit comes on them, they are all together in unity, and just after the Spirit comes on them, they are all together in unity. The Spirit doesn’t gift them with individual religious experiences they can just groove on by themselves, but with a supernatural harmony expressed in relationships.
  • How do you see the Spirit? Our default is to tell the Holy Spirit how to do his job. What we see here is the explosive proof that the Spirit moves how he wants and when he wants — our job is to pay attention.
  • Have you been drinking? Such a great conversation here! They accuse these people of being drunk, and Peter says, “It’s only 9 am!” [Verse 2:15]. But bear this in mind. Are we so indulging and enjoying the life of the Spirit that people think we’ve been drinking? Most of the time, people think the church is full of sleepy self-righteous folks, and they’ve too often been right. Would people mistake our church services for a party? Would they accuse us of being drunks and partiers like they accused Jesus?

Small Group Discussion Questions

Questions for Speaking of Life: And that End is Love

-watch video to start

  • Do you know what your spiritual gifts are?
  • How have they been used to build up the Body of Christ?
  • Has God ever used a relationship to make you more like Christ?
  • How has working out relationships made you a better, stronger person?

Questions for sermon: Pentecost—Babel Undone

  • Have you ever heard several languages spoken at once?
  • What was the effect?

We talked about how the giving of many tongues at Pentecost was the “undoing” of the Tower of Babel in Genesis 11.

  • How is Pentecost like the healing of the tragic story of Babel?
  • The many languages speak the one message of the gospel, telling us this message belongs to all peoples, all backgrounds.
  • Have you ever seen the church connect people from different parts of society or cultures?
  • How do these connections help heal the world?

In verse 13, the people think the disciples are drunk.

  • Do we so enjoy ourselves and have such a unique joy in our community that people mistake us for a party?
  • Should they?


“Grace is the celebration of life, relentlessly hounding all the non-celebrants in the world … until the prodigals come out at last and dance, and the elder brothers finally take their fingers out of their ears.”  ~~Robert Farrar Capon


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