EVERY NATION UNDER HEAVEN
Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. (Acts 2:5 NIV)
People from all over the Mediterranean come to celebrate this Day of Pentecost in Jerusalem. They come from the North and the South, the East and the West. Since the exile to Babylon 800 years ago, Jews have spread in regions all over the Mediterranean. Somehow the personal monotheistic faith of these Jews become attractive. Many people convert to Judaism. Both those born in ethnic Jewish families and converts to Judaism have come to Jerusalem for Pentecost.
Suddenly something strange happens in Jerusalem. They hear people declaring the wonders of God in their own tongues, in their own native languages. Most of them speak in languages from their hometowns. Hebrew is only used in the synagogue and Torah classes. They grow up in non-Hebrew backgrounds. Before this Day of Pentecost, for this people, God only speaks in the Hebrew language.
Who are these people who speak in tongues declaring the wonders of God? They are a group of people who claim to follow Jesus. Most of Jesus’ followers come from the Northern province of Galilee. Galileans are uneducated people who fish and farm. Utterly amazed, they asked: ‘Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? (Acts 1:7 NIV) Galileans are not known for their education. Some, however, made fun of them and said, ‘They have had too much wine.’ (Acts 1:13 NIV)
Recently, we celebrated Chinese New Year. I am a Chinese person born in Malaysia and have been adopted as a Canadian citizen. I cannot speak Chinese well, just a few words here and there. When I am in a room full of let’s say, Mandarin speaking Chinese from Mainland China, I can fall into an identity crisis. Am I Chinese? I might be ethnically Chinese, but I can’t speak Chinese. I love Chinese food. I have some values from the Chinese culture that I cherish, a respect for older people and the need to connect with an extended family. However, because I can’t speak Chinese, when I am in a room full of people speaking Chinese, I do not know how to view myself. On the one hand I love their food and culture and grew up in it, but on the other hand, I can’t speak Chinese. Who am I? What does this mean?
The Jews living in Jerusalem and hearing the praising of God in other languages are shocked. How can God speak in other tongues? Some of them are not ethnic Jews. They do not have Jewish blood in them but have converted to Judaism. Perhaps they are treated as 2nd class Jewish pilgrims in Jerusalem at Pentecost. Certainly, the Jews of the day do not have a good view of outsiders, much less the Roman soldiers in their midst. They would look with suspect on people who speak in the other languages of the Mediterranean.
Whether they are ethnic Jews or converts to Judaism, there are 2 responses. First, they are overwhelmed by the other people praising God in their own tongue. God is being praised in a language that is at the core of their being. This is a miracle. On the other hand, because they have not experienced this before they are confused. What is happening here? What does this mean?
Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs – we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!’ Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, ‘What does this mean?’ (Acts 2:9-12 NIV)
Sometimes when God is doing something new in our lives, like the people of Jerusalem on this Day of Pentecost, we do not understand what is going on. We ask the same question as the people who are in Jerusalem. What does this mean? Little do the people know, both the followers of Jesus and the pilgrims in Jerusalem for Pentecost, that God is creating a new people for himself. This new people are a multi-lingual and multicultural people. They are people who speak all kinds of languages.
Take a deep breath when you don’t understand what God is doing in your life. It might be the same Holy Spirit doing his work in you like he did his work on the Day of Pentecost. You might not know yet what he is doing. Whatever he is doing, he is creating something new.