In my land there is a mountain that everyone is forced to climb. Its slope is treacherous, and enemies lie in wait to attack any who try to reach the summit. I went to the mountain, I overcame its challenges, and was crowned king of the mountain. I returned the next day, free to travel its face without fear. I watched others attempting the climb, and saw them fall, defeated. One boy was almost to the summit, climbing a vertical rock wall, when his fingers slipped. He was close enough that I could see the fear and disappointment in his eyes as he fell. I heard his cry for help, and watched him crash into the rocks below. I abdicated my throne that day. I climbed down the mountain, placed my crown on his head, and carried his broken body to the top. I patrol this mountain now, protecting the weak and carrying the defeated. They mocked me. “That’s not how the mountain works,” they said, but I am changing the mountain.
As the spirit of God poured into the disciples, they proclaimed that Jesus was Lord. The words springing from their lips were in languages they did not know, but their hearts knew it was truth. They watched as some moved farther away, annoyed by their outburst, and others moved closer, eager to hear their message.
Foreign tongues being shouted in the temple had never happened before. Even though they’d waited eagerly all week for the fulfillment of Jesus’s promise, they hadn’t imagined it like this. Then again, when Jesus was involved, the unexpected was the order of the day. The crowd around them grew, and so did the chance that temple guards would be sent to disperse them.
The eleven apostles gathered together. Peter, as usual, took the lead. He found a place where the crowd of pilgrims could see him and bellowed at the onlookers ((Acts 2:14)) in Aramaic: “Listen, my good Judeans. I have something very important to tell you. You think, because you cannot understand their words, that these people are drunk. Quite the opposite. We haven’t even had breakfast yet!” ((Act 2:15))
Have you ever watched in horror as someone repeatedly makes bad decisions? You think to yourself, “They must have learned from that,” yet there is always a next time. There are a few people in my life like that. Some eventually did turn things around. Others aren’t quite there yet. I’m not sure where this story fits.
Growing up in the American public school system, one of the greatest evils I was warned against was smoking. I still remember the pictures in my health textbook showing red healthy lungs next to black diseased lungs. There were stickers, comic books, and videos warning of the danger. Since no one in my immediate family, or even circle of friends, smoked around me, it was never a great temptation. As far as I can remember, no one ever tried to peer pressure me into trying a cigarette.
In more recent years, I’ve realized that smoking is not a great evil. It’s an addiction, and a dangerous one, but the people who smoke are mostly victims, not villains. I’ve made friends with a few smokers, and try to avoid flinching at the smell of ash when I’m around them. I actually like the smell of tobacco, just not when it’s on fire. One area where I do draw the line, though, is allowing them to smoke inside the house, as that would be an imposition on our non-smoking guests.
Our house guest was not a smoker when she moved in a month ago. Old habits die hard, though, and as the stress of her divorce got under her skin, the cigarettes returned. Aware that smoking inside the house was not allowed, she would escape to her car, where she rapidly burned through a cigarette and returned to the house reeking of smoke.
My nose isn’t that sensitive. Even when I know to pay attention for a smell, I still sometimes miss it. Kelly is just the opposite, and being in the first trimester of her pregnancy has made her sense of smell around ten times more sensitive. She would walk around the house and tell me exactly what our house guest had touched after one of her smoke breaks. A bit of quick research suggested that this “third hand smoke” during pregnancy was linked to lung development issues. It was not a startling find, but it was enough to make it clear something needed to be done.
When confronted with the difficulties caused by her new habit, our guest revealed that she actually had electronic cigarettes (which don’t burn into toxic ash), but chose not to use them. She agreed to upgrade her addiction, and, for the moment, that particular hiccup seems resolved.
The language used in the ceremonies of the temple was ancient Hebrew. Many Jews had learned to speak Greek in order to bargain with foreign merchants. Dealing with the Roman soldiers and officials stationed throughout the empire had forced most to pick up Latin. One of those languages would have been understood by the assembled pilgrims.
Yet, to the people gathered that day, those were the languages of government, religion, and money. They hadn’t said their first words in Hebrew. Their mothers hadn’t sung to them in Latin. They didn’t talk to their children in Greek.
A foreigner in Jerusalem had to be careful to avoid his native tongue, which sounded like gibberish to the Aramaic-speaking citizens of Judea. No one in Jerusalem made the effort learn a foreigner’s language, and his fellow countrymen were far away. Imagine his surprise to hear the tongue of his home country being shouted in the temple courtyard.
The crowd pressed around the disciples to hear what was being said. ((Acts 2:6)) Pilgrims listened closely to single out the voice that spoke their language. Some, who had spent time around Jerusalem, were shocked to see that the men and women appeared to be Galileans. ((Acts 2:7)) They wondered what this could mean. ((Acts 2:8))
Others also recognized the speakers as Galileans. To them, the many foreign languages were only noise disrupting their religious experience. “Those Galileans are certainly hitting the new wine early, ((Acts 2:13))” they said. It felt good to have someone to mock.
The disciples had seen the pillar of cloud on the mountain ((Acts 1:9)) , and now they saw the other manifestation of God: the pillar of flame ((Genesis 15:17, Exodus 3:2, 13:21, 19:18, 24:17, 2 Samuel 22:13, 2 Kings 6:17, Psalms 50:3, Ezekiel 1:27)). The roaring fire rushed into the upper room, illuminating everything inside. The startled disciples watched as it spread out, marking each of them with a flame ((Acts 2:3)). As the flames over their heads faded, a new flame ignited in their spirits.
They felt a connection with something, someone, more wise, more powerful, more holy than themselves. Though he could easily have consumed them, instead he prompted gently. Down below, in the temple, a multitude of their countrymen had come to offer the first fruits of their harvest. Now they saw it clearly: They were the first fruits of a different kind of harvest, and it was time to offer themselves in the temple.
As one, they rushed from their room and into the waiting crowd, eager to tell those still in darkness about what they had seen: eager to spread the fire of heaven ((Acts 2:4)).