When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them. (Acts 2:1-4 NIV)
Reading the story of Pentecost always reminds me of the book of Exodus. This isn’t a natural connection, I know, but it’s a meaningful one. While we usually think of Exodus as a book about God saving the Isrealites from the Egyptians, that is actually only the first half of the book. The second half deals with the building of the tabernacle, and the book ends with God indwelling the completed tabernacle as we read these words:
Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. Moses could not enter the tent of meeting because the cloud had settled on it, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. (Exodus 40:34-35)
That was the first time since the Garden of Eden that God dwelt among people. Later, in 1 Kings 8, Solomon finished building the temple and God moved from the temporary dwelling place (the tabernacle) to a permanent home in the temple.
Both the tabernacle and the temple are beautiful visuals of God’s desire to live in the midst of the Israelites, but both are imperfect solutions. In both spaces a curtain blocked God’s dwelling place from the Israelites. Because of their sinful nature, God’s people could not fully be in the presence of God.
But then we come to Pentecost and read that the Holy Spirit came down, filled the entire place where the disciples were together, and filled each of them. As signified by the torn temple curtain when Jesus died on the cross (Luke 23:44-46), the barrier between God and people is removed. Now that Jesus has paid the price for our sins, God’s Holy Spirit can dwell within us.
To signify just how vast this blessing stretches, the disciples go out from where they received the Holy Spirit to encounter Jews from various areas of the Ancient Near East, and, amazingly, all are able to hear the gospel in their native language:
Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken. Utterly amazed, they asked: “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language? Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!” Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?” (Acts 2:5-12)
When we get to the bold section in the middle of this text, our instinct is to skim over all those unfamiliar words, but this is one time we’ll miss out if we read too quickly. These unfamiliar words represent different people groups that were present at Pentecost and who heard the gospel in their native language.
If we move too quickly over these unfamiliar words we’ll forget that Pentecost isn’t just a celebration of the gift of God’s Spirit, but the celebration of God’s Spirit being poured out on a diverse group of people. May we celebrate that diversity in our churches, in our homes, and as we go about our daily lives.
This story appears in the Wonder, Marvel, and Dive levels of the Dwell curriculum. To read more reflections on this passage, check out the Dwell teacher devotional, available to anyone for free through our new Dwell Digital website.
Looking for ways to celebrate diversity with your Dwell group? Consider having a Pentecost celebration as talked about in our Helping Children Celebrate Diversity resource.