4 And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.
5 Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven. 6 And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language. 7 And they were amazed and astonished, saying, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language? 9 Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, 11 both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians—we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.” 12 And all were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” 13 But others mocking said, “They are filled with new wine.”
The events of the first outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the early church are fascinating, and I fear, often misunderstood. The verses above show us the miraculous work of God. Sadly, if we are not careful, we will miss the glory of God in a desire to dig deeper into the issues surrounding the charismatic movement.
Let’s look at the basic facts. First, we see that the followers of Jesus were filled with God’s Holy Spirit. This, in itself, was a new thing. While we have seen in the Old Testament that God’s Spirit had, from time-to-time, filled individual servants of God, it is unusual to see a whole people filled with the Spirit in this way. Later in the New Testament, we will discover that all believers in Christ are indwelt by God’s Spirit, a glorious and comforting truth.
When these first believers had the Spirit of God come upon them, they began to speak “in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.” Remember that the word behind the word “tongues” is the word for languages. These people spoke in real languages that were foreign to the speakers. God was empowering them to speak real languages that others could understand but which they did not know.
What did they do with this gift? Why was it given? At the end of verse 11, the people from other nations who heard the disciples said, “we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.” Thus, it does not appear that this gift was given for ecstasy or for general novelty, but it was for the purpose of the spread of the gospel. God was empowering the Jewish followers of Jesus to speak in such a way as to communicate the truth of God to others who would not have understood it otherwise. God was empowering his fledgling church to take the gospel to the nations. God was showing people who might not have known about Jesus both the truth of the gospel as well as offering an evidence of the gospel’s truthfulness in the miracle of the gift of languages.
Yes, some people were skeptical. Some people made fun and accused the disciples of being drunk. This is no surprise. The world has always been opposed to the things of God. The world has always been skeptical of claims of the miraculous, even when the miraculous is right in front of them. Truthfully, people do not come to Jesus because they are impressed by miracles. People only come to Christ when God changes their hearts and enables them to believe. So we ought not be surprised by verse 13.
What, then, do we do with all this? God is mighty and kind. He loves his people and has blessed us all with his presence. The same holy Spirit who came upon the disciples that day lives within all of God’s children in Christ. This is glorious. We should be overjoyed at this fact.
Second, the Spirit of God has come upon us and enables us to accomplish God’s will for God’s glory. Could he gift a missionary to speak a foreign language so as to communicate the gospel to someone who might not otherwise hear it? Why not? Though we need not expect that this gifting would look the same as it looked on that very special day in early church history. But we should learn from what we have seen that the gifts of God given to the people of God are about the glory of God. They are not for us to exult in a personal experience of the amazing. The gifts of God empower us to do his will. And every believer has been gifted by God to serve him. Paul will later tell us that spiritual gifts are about the building up of the church. They are certainly not for show. They are certainly not chaotic. And, I would argue that they are not what many would claim as the gift of tongues in the modern sense. I mean no disrespect here to those who disagree with me, but I believe that this passage shows us that this gift in Acts 2 is a special outpouring of God’s Spirit which enabled the church to begin her mission of honoring God by taking the clear truth of the gospel to others in such a way that this truth could be understood by them.
Finally, we should expect that the world is going to think we are nuts. They always have, and they always will. We need not think that we will be able to somehow make the world think that we are wonderful and the claims of Christ are just what they have been waiting for. It does not work like that. The cross is an offense and a stumbling block to the lost. Until God makes someone alive to his truths, they will think that we are crazy. Even if God grants us the ability to be a part of something miraculous, the world will have no trouble scoffing at it and pretending that we have somehow been hitting the sauce. So do not be surprised. Do not be discouraged. Do not try to shape your ministry in such a way as to gain the worlds approval—you won’t get it. Just honor Christ. Share the genuine gospel. Rest in God’s word. Trust that God can and will perform the miracle of bringing dead hearts to life just as he brought yours to life. Love Jesus. Live for his glory. And thank God for his Spirit living within you.