“The Tongue of God”
Seminarian Brendan Harris, Vicar
St. John 14.23-31; Genesis 11.1-9; Acts 2.1-21
25 April 2021
Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus ✠ Christ; Amen.
Today, we witness the birth of the new testament Church. At this gathering on Pentecost, the Holy Spirit was sent out into the world from the cross of Christ, and by Him, the Church hears her first preacher in the blessed apostle Peter. With cloves of holy fire on his head, Peters stands up before the assembly and speaks, his words like hot lanterns of incense wafting through the room, aflame with the Word of God, a new burning bush to speak unto God’s people. And from this new flaming bush, from this mighty preacher who won three thousand souls by the grace of God, all pastors receive their call and ministry. For this Peter is the rock on which the Church is built, of whom Christ is the chief cornerstone. This Peter now stands in Christ’s place, and he speaks mightily with the full power of God, for Christ is seated at the right hand of God and grants Peter’s words grace and power to the salvation of many.
But who is he? Who is this man who dares stand in the place of God? Is this not the fisherman, the wretch who couldn’t even manage to catch enough fish to survive, who confessed before Jesus, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord”? How can the likes of him stand before the flames of the Holy One? Why would the Spirit speak through that man? The Lord has always used unseeming men to speak on His behalf, He calls those whom the world regards as nothing to be princes of the earth. He called Abraham out of his country and made him the father of a nation, he called Moses from a basket in the waters of the Nile to be a prince of Egypt and the greatest prophet who ever lived before Christ, and he called David, some poor unknown shepherd’s boy, to be the paradigm of a just and godly king before whom the heathens trembled and fell. Were these not all sinners born of sinful parents? Nevertheless, the Lord humbles Himself to use men as these to make them prophets, priests, and kings of His creation. Thus it is in a long line of tradition that Peter stands the newest head of God’s Church, to show forth the Word of Christ by the Holy Spirit to His people. For Jesus has sent the promised Helper, and through Him teaches Peter all things and brings all He had said to his remembrance. Through Him, Peter opens up the Scriptures of old, selecting the words of the prophet Joel by the Holy Spirit, to announce to these gathered here: “God declares, I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams…And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved”.
And who is it that is gathered here to hear the oracle of Peter? In the days of Babel, the Lord confounded the people, He created many tongues for the people to speak so they could no longer understand each other. But here we witness men from all over the known world of many different tongues—from Iran, Iraq, Egypt, Turkey, Greece, Rome, and Arabia—and not only the sons of Abraham, not just the Jews, but also the Gentile proselytes. As Joel says, upon all flesh the Spirit is outpoured, all nations are called his own: “And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved”. In this great scene, all men hear the Word of God through the Spirit in their own tongues, in their own languages, despite the proliferation at Babel. And take note: why is it that the people at Pentecost marveled and were amazed? Despite the great lashing of the divine winds, despite the holy fire which hovered and dispersed itself around the room, it was at the Word that was spoken that the people trembled; for the Lord was not in the wind, nor was He in the fire, but He was a still small voice that pierced through it all. Through the Spirit, Peter stood atop a much greater tower than Babel, he crested the clouds to the highest tower of the city of Mount Zion, through His words He stood on the mount of Jesus’ Cross, on that tower of ultimate rest and repose. In that room heaven descended to earth, because Jesus made Himself present there. He humbled Himself to be seen through Peter, and heard through his lungs, his lips, his breath, and his voice. He made Peter the very mouthpiece of God, and spoke to the people in God’s own tongue. And so the people prophesied mighty utterances of God from the Scripture, they quoted Moses, David, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Joel, and they dreamt great dreams with eyes wide open.
By this scene, we see that our Lord Jesus Christ did truly indeed become flesh, He became man, for us. And not only did He take flesh, but He took a human mind, a human soul, a human heart, and human tongue and speech. Our Lord, the Word made flesh, humbles Himself to be contained in human words that we can read, speak, and hear. He humbles Himself to be understood and comprehended in the lowly and imperfect languages of men. But how can God, holy and omnipotent, all-knowing and perfect, how can Him whose sighs are beyond all words be understood by human speech? How can any words I say give you God Himself? Just as He became flesh, He works through the Spirit in human language, He makes Himself known in every tongue to every nation. The prophets of old spoke Hebrew, Peter and the apostles spoke Aramaic and Greek, the early fathers of our church spoke Latin and every tongue found within the Roman Empire and without. Luther gave forward the Word of the Lord into German, and my fathers have heard the word of the Lord in the sweet unmatched chords of King James English for over four hundred years. Through Jesus Christ, through the love of God, He takes up human flesh and humbles Himself to be perfectly conveyed in human speech, however varied and confused it be. He speaks in the language you can hear and understand, and through His Word our God speaks plain English, unmistakable and clear as day. When the pastor declares “I baptize you in the Name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit”, when he says “This is My Body” and “This is My Blood”, your ears receive the call, and your eyes in faith behold that it is so. Through human speech, through our broken and eclectic and confused language, Jesus Christ is present with us, and we are made in His image. The Lord reaches through all difficulties and barriers of language and creates you through them, He cuts you to the heart in the language your heart speaks, and so no language can escape the call of the Spirit, for in every tongue is the tongue of God.
And so in this way, the sermon of Peter belts out, and cuts the hearts of all those gathered before him, and the hearts of Christians for generations to come. This sermon gives us the Word which is Christ Himself to us. It gives us what is needful, for without the Word made flesh, we are but babblers and drunks, we are fishermen without a catch, yet through Him we do declare the mighty works of God. Through the Spirit, all pastors from the line of Peter point only to the Cross, to Jesus who is crucified, died, raised and exalted, he points to the very Word made flesh which leaves his lips and enters your ears audibly and crests on your lips in the Eucharist. There, the Word embeds Himself in your heart, He puts His Spirit within you, and His Name boils over to your lips, and you too confess Him and continue the cycle.
And you do need this. The world is going to demand a decision from you. You can either deny that you ever knew Him, like Peter once did before, or confess Him before them all, as Peter here did once restored. Jesus gives you Himself, He puts the words in your mouth, however unworthy you are, so that when you are called to stand trial for your faith before the Sanhedrin, before all the world and the hosts of Satan, you too can confess His Name. And you are in good company, for after that day on Pentecost, the apostles themselves were interrogated, the Jews will seize Saint Stephen and stone him for his sermon, Herod himself will behead Saint James, and Peter will be shackled with chains, and in Rome he will be crucified with His Lord before Nero. You too will be made to walk the road to the Cross in chains; the only way out is to turn from the Way to save your skin. But only one confession can save your soul and your skin eternally, with the help of the Spirit you must cry, “Jesus is Lord” even when the blade is drawn up against you. His servants have always been pursued by the devil; prophets and apostles, bishops and virgins, they have been mocked and beaten, stoned and flayed, hung and beheaded and roasted on fires. According to the world, this is a most cruel and brutal fate, yet by it “Jesus is Lord” has been uttered in countless languages. His Word is for these precious moments, in order that “Lord Jesus receive my spirit” and “Lord do not hold this sin against them” might be confessed by every tongue. For through the blood of these martyrs and confessors, through our witnessing and handing forward of the Word of God, the Church flourishes and the Tower of Zion is visible on earth.
But do not be afraid, dear children. We are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses cheering us on with their prayers. Do not let your hearts be troubled, for the Lord Jesus has given you His Word, He has given you Himself, and He gives you peace—for He is your peace. Through the likes of his lowly servants, through their mouths and human speech, through your hearing and reception by faith in your own tongue, Saint Peter will greet you at the heavenly gate. Through the fires of the trials of this life, Jesus will preserve you, for He has purified you with His Word joined to water, and He maintains you with His Word joined to bread and wine. This is the language of salvation, the sweetest words that can ever be spoken. Through His Word, Jesus Christ our Lord is with you, He is with you always, even unto the end of the age. So let us rise, and receive Him. In His ✠ Name; Amen.
The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus; Amen.