This spring, we are spending the season between Easter and Pentecost focusing on themes that relate to immigration and the multi-ethnic church. The theme verse for the blog is from Isaiah 2:2-3:
In the last days the mountain of the LORD's temple will be established as chief among the mountains; it will be raised above the hills, and all nations will stream to it. 3 Many peoples will come and say, "Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob. He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths." (NIV)
The picture that graces this post and the homepage for the blog is a print that hangs on a wall in our home. It was a gift for our wedding and is one of the few wall hangings that has made it through all five homes that we have lived in as a married couple. If you look closely you can see the words of Isaiah 2:2 written into the pathway.
But perhaps you are asking the question: What does all of this have to do with Pentecost? When we hear the word “Pentecost” we often think of the Pentecostal movement. We think about the arguments that many Christians have about the place of supernatural ministry gifts in the life of the church. You may be disappointed to find out that is not the purpose of this blog. Instead, we are reflecting on the central meaning of the story of Pentecost found in Acts chapter two. In this chapter, the Holy Spirit falls upon the remnant of Jesus’ followers who are hiding in a house in Jerusalem. Empowered by the Holy Spirit, they go out and preach with boldness to the people of Jerusalem. The events occur 50 days after the Passover. (The Greek word “pente” means “50”). On this occasion Jews from various parts of the Roman Empire had returned to Jerusalem for a pilgrimage. While they may have been fluent in Aramaic or Greek, they each spoke in a language that was particular to their homeland.
The miracle of Pentecost is that the apostles were empowered to speak a foreign language that they did not otherwise know. There is, of course, a great deal of controversy about exactly what is happening here. “How did God make this happen” and “should we expect this sort of miracle to happen again”? But the focus of the text is that each person heard the sermon in their own language and then asked about what it meant.
Utterly amazed, they asked: "Are not all these men who are speaking Galileans? 8 Then how is it that each of us hears them in his own native language? 9 Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome 11 (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs– we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!" 12 Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, "What does this mean?" (Acts 2:7-12)
In the sermon that follows Peter tells them what it means. He says that it is a sign that Jesus has been raised to heaven and seated at God’s right hand and that now the gates of heaven are open to everyone who believes. The barriers of language, culture and ethnicity will no longer limit the spread of salvation. Furthermore, God’s presence is no longer contained in the temple, but the Holy Spirit dwells in the midst of all believers. Through the witness of the church, people from all nations will come to faith in God. This is how Isaiah 2:2 finds its fulfillment. Before, the temple of God was a physical building and one could only come into God’s presence by traveling to Jerusalem. Language, culture, ethnicities, and national borders were impediments. Now, people of all ethnicities can come into God’s eternal kingdom through faith in Christ. The barriers are being overcome.
This vision – a kingdom of every tribe, tongue, and nation – is the controlling vision of the New Testament church. It is the vision that ought to shape us today. It does not eliminate the many complex problems we face related to immigration policy. It does not negate concern for border security or economic protections. But it is the backdrop against which these conversations happen.
Modern forces of globalization create new economic opportunities and unprecedented challenges. But the great waves of migration that flow around the world are also part of God’s story. Today, the church is growing in South America, Africa and Asia. Refugees and migrants from the Middle East are encountering the gospel for the first time. The waves are sometimes rough and the future impact may be uncertain, but it is clear that the nations are streaming to the mountain of the Lord. Taking this vision seriously means that we have to talk about tough issues like immigration.. Christians will have legitimate disagreements about particular policies, but we can find common ground in this great story of being part of the multi-ethnic kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ.