Barriers and Dreams
Today is Pentecost. For those unfamiliar, Pentecost is an event described in the Book of Acts where the Holy Spirit of God descends upon a gathering of Jesus’ disciples. Some pretty far-out stuff happens, which you can read about here, and after a message delivered by the apostle Peter, around 3,000 are baptized into the faith.
It’s a strange and wonderful and mysterious moment in Scripture. People have pondered over it ever since. But there are a few things it tells us that I want to share today.
First of all, it tells us that God is a God of restoration. The Old Testament contains the story of the Tower of Babel, wherein all the people of the world have one language and decide to build a tower up to God to make a name for themselves. God sees it, confounds their language, and scatters the people abroad, so that they cannot get up to this kind of mischief again.
At Pentecost, what we have is a reversal of that moment. I once heard an interview where NT Wright calls it “the healing of the Tower of Babel.” How so? To start with, rather than people of one language trying to reach up to God, God instead comes down and makes people of many languages understood to one another.
It is a moment where the potential for healing between people is given life. The Holy Spirit breaks down the most fundamental barrier between people, and gives them understanding of one another. This is a unique moment to the Christian faith; it is the only faith whose core message, from the outset, is proclaimed in multiple languages and to people of multiple nations.
It is also a moment of healing part of the part of the broken relationship between God and humanity, begun by the birth of Jesus, continued in his death, and brought to climax by his resurrection. Pentecost is a reverberation of God’s healing, where he comes to dwell with his people. And, as in the Tower of Babel, where they are scattered abroad, a promise is given that this presence of the Holy Spirit will be with all those who are near and far.
God restores what has once been broken.
Second, it tells us that God wants bigger things for us than we can possibly want on our own. During the event at Pentecost, Peter gives a sermon where he quotes the prophet Joel, whose own prophetic words were that young men and women would prophesy and that the old and young would have visions and dreams; servants would encounter God’s spirit, and God will show them wonders in the heavens above.
You get the feeling that there is excitement and confusion and maybe a little panic as people listen while Peter goes on to talk about the death and resurrection of Christ and God’s designs for salvation.
But what has struck the most in recent years is that riff from the Book of Joel, where he talks about the young and old having visions and dreams, and God showing the wonders of heaven to all people. In the Tower of Babel, the plan was for the people to reach the heavens and make a name for themselves. At Pentecost, God makes a name for himself, and promises to show those who call on his name wonders in heaven and on earth.
Because building a tower isn’t all that impressive, and that isn’t how one gets to see Heaven anyway. That’s just a story. But when God invades our lives, he does so so that we can take part in his great reclaiming of creation, his wonderful plan for redemption. He invites us to be a part of his work by giving us dreams and visions of what his Kingdom is and how it can be revealed on earth as it is in Heaven.