“And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.” – Acts 2:4
“… we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.” – Acts 2:11
What’s the significance of the Holy Spirit giving the disciples supernatural utterance in other languages?
The Holy Spirit came suddenly and explosively upon the disciples, who had been praying in unity for the past 10 days or so since Jesus’ ascension. Perhaps the disciples thought prayer would bring the Spirit. Perhaps the disciples thought it would be one or two days after the ascension. Yet, the Spirit is a person. He is God. He cannot be controlled or invoked by us. No duration of prayer; no incantation or code word; no special office or person.
When the Spirit came, there was a sound like a mighty rushing wind. In other narratives of Acts, the Spirit was recognised to be present albeit without such loud explosive circumstances. The Spirit cannot be confined by our imagination. God will do as He pleases. He may show in the roar of a lion or the quiet of a lamb.
In this historic event, the Spirit gave the Galilean disciples, all 120 of them, speech in languages unknown to them–the heart languages of the many pilgrims from possibly every nation known to the Roman and Parthian Empires at that time. I don’t know if the Spirit gave them the words to speak or the means to speak whatever words they chose, although it appears to be likely the former, and I don’t know what the words were, but I would love to hear and know those words with my own ears and heart, for these words were proclamations of “the mighty works of God”.
The God who confused the language of the world at Babel into thousands of tongues is the same God who uses these thousands of tongues to glorify Himself and invite the world to behold Him. Whereas humanity used a common tongue to make a name for itself, God uses thousands of tongues to make a name for Himself. Whereas humanity drew tribal divisions by their tongues, God draws the tribes together into one people in spite of their tongues. In Christ, the curse of Babel is undone. In Christ, the tribes of the world become one. In Christ, all are baptized into one Spirit, one Church, one Kingdom.
The Spirit of God empowers us to reflect glory to God. The words that came forth were not a babble of nonsense, but declarations of praise. God is glorified when Christ is magnified. Right after this spectacular sight, Peter seizes the moment, probably seized by the Spirit, to proclaim a sermon to the onlookers magnifying Christ.
As one would have expected, there were mixed reactions among the onlookers. Some were positively amazed, their appetites whet to discover the truth of God beckoning them. Some mocked and dismissed, despite the undeniably supernatural spectacle. We can expect this of the world. There will always be people whose hearts and minds are blinded by prejudices, falsehood and self-inflated egos. They have eyes but do not see, ears but do not hear. Nonetheless, God has seen it fit to give them an opportunity to see and hear. Yet, there are also many who will sincerely seek the truth, like little children filled with wonder at seeing a new thing. It is one strategy to recognise: whet appetites, then deliver the main course of truth in grace, and always in agreement with the Spirit.
This leaves us to question ourselves. Are we seeing and hearing the work of the Spirit in our lives to declare the mighty works of God to the people around us? Or are we effectively, if not expressly, mocking and dismissing the work of the Spirit?