Hello, and welcome to Lechem Panim.
Heart Language— You know, I remember after my wife Tanya and I first got engaged many years ago we sat down with our dear mentor, friend, and former professor Dr. Gareth Cockerill, who actually performed our wedding ceremony. And I will never forget one piece of advice he offered me. He told me, “Cameron, one of the things you are probably going to want to do is you’re going to want to learn to speak Tanya’s native language.” He understood that she could speak English fluently, but he said, “The reason you want to do this is because her original language (and this is true of anybody’s native language); her native language is the language of her heart.” He said, “If you want to speak her heart language, you need to learn her native language.” Now I had learned some phrases, but I did not really know her language. But he said there is something about hearing a message (especially an important message like a love message) in your own language that speaks to your heart in such a profound way.
More Than Understanding-- And you know, he had a point. Now does the Holy Spirit transcend language? Yes. Can He overcome language barriers. Absolutely. But here in Acts chapter 2 while the Holy Spirit does transcend and overcome the language barrier, I find it interesting that the Holy Spirit doesn’t bypass our language. He didn’t just somehow impress the truth of what the people were hearing upon their hearts to where they just somehow understood what was being said. No, He pay respect to all languages in allowing all people to hear the Gospel in their own native tongues. The scripture is very clear on this point. It says…
Acts 2:5-12 (ESV)— 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?”
Known Languages-- Now I’d like to point out that [The listing of specific countries and ethnic groups proves…that these utterances were known human languages.] This was a use of known tongues that brought clarity of understanding, not a mysterious tongue that might cause confusion and division. Some denominations teach that if you do not speak in a heavenly kind of tongue, you are not a genuine Christian and are going to Hell. Tongues is your confirmation from God that you are saved. However, nowhere in scripture does the Bible say that you need to speak in tongues to be saved. Apart from it being listed with the spiritual gifts (which were understood to be distributed differently amongst Christians), the gift of tongues is not required by any of the early church fathers; it isn’t required by any of the creeds of the early church. In fact, if you look at the text, you will find that what might be interpreted as a kind of secret tongue is not mentioned once in the entire account of Pentecost. That kind of tongue; “tongues of… angels”, as referenced only in 1 Corinthians 13:1, (if it comes on the scene at all; at least in the way some say it does) it most certainly doesn’t come on the scene until after the Church has already been established; but even then, that is debatable. More likely Paul is merely using that phrase “tongues of…angels” as a hyperbolic way of saying “eloquent speech”; not an actual heavenly tongue. Now you can disagree on that, and that’s okay. We ought to feel free to disagree with one another without letting issues like this to divide the Church. But no matter where you stand on the gift of tongues, what is not up for debate is how tongues is to be understood in this passage; because Luke is very careful to emphasize the known places (and therefore the known languages) of the people who were hearing the Gospel in their own native tongues.
After The Heart-- Now why did God want this? Why not just empower people to be able to understand what the disciples were saying. Well, it’s because (as someone once put it): [one has not really heard the message of the gospel until one has heard it in one’s own language.] God wanted people to not just understand the Gospel cognitively, but for it to be spoken to them in such a way so as to touch their hearts and resonate with them at the deepest possible level. God wanted to speak to their hearts; not just their minds.
Babel’s Undoing-- Now there is another element to all of this; and it has to do with the ancient city of Babel. You will remember the story of the Tower of Babel in the Old Testament. And that is a story that very much centers around the rebellious nature of people. Nimrod, if you remember, leads the people into sin by instead of scattering and filling the whole earth (as God had commanded) choosing instead to settle in a plain and to erect for themselves a massive ziggurat that would be the center of their society and worship. It was to be their ladder to God and a symbol of their strength and power. Yet God, interestingly comes down to see the tower (which in itself is humorous; that He has to step down) and decides to frustrate their language. And so He does; He confuses the language of the people, which is why we speak so many various languages today. So you have rebellion which leads to a fracturing of our very language. But here in Acts 2, immediately after the Holy Spirit enters into the life of the Church, there is a reversal of Babel. And I think what God may be doing (at least in part) is He’s giving us a visual sign that the inner rebellion of man has now been cleansed by the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit of God. It was an outward sign of an inward work; and one that foreshadowed a day in which that fracturing of language which was caused by that rebellion will be altogether restored and we will all speak the same language; the language of the Spirit, which will be the cultural language of heaven.
Healing Our Rebellion-- And so the miracle we see here is more than just audible; it is a sign of an inner transformation of the lives of the disciples. The Holy Spirit isn’t just an anointing power to help make our evangelism effective. No, He is a Person of God who comes into our lives in order to mold and reshape us; to purify and refine us. Tongues happened here in Acts chapter 2 because when the Holy Spirit comes into our lives, He cleanses us of that pride and self-will that was the cause of that language break to begin with. And God knew that the disciples would never be able to impact the world the way He wanted them to without their first experiencing the cleansing, holy-making power of the Holy Spirit. And the same is true of us. If we are to be true Christians, then we must allow the Holy Spirit of God to set us apart completely to Him. And that involves full surrender.
Remote Access-- When we visited my wife’s mom and sister in Ukraine a number of years ago, one of the things that we brought for them was a computer; a computer that we hoped would open up their world and allow them to communicate with friends and family more easily. And it did. But teaching them how to use the computer was an interesting process because they had never used one before. And Tanya’s sister would sometimes click on something and something would pop up and she would not know what it meant or what she should do. Now when I was there, it was very easy for me to simply fix whatever issue she had as it arose. But now that I am back here in the U.S., fixing her computer is much less straightforward. But there is a tool that I use to help us overcome that problem. It is a program on my computer and hers that (when I initiate it) will cause a code to appear on her screen. And when she gives me that code over the phone and I put it into my program, that program gives me full control over her computer. My screen changes and shows what is on her screen. And I control everything her computer does. But she has to give me that code. If she doesn't then I can’t access her computer and I cannot fix her problem.
Our Access Code-- You know, I find our walk in the Spirit to be very similar. We receive a new element in our hearts upon conversion; we receive the Person of the Holy Spirit. He is given to us as God's means through which He can access all the dysfunction in our hearts. But we have to give God the go-ahead; we have to give Him the code; we have to say, “Lord, you can assume full control over my life.” It is only then that we can become true disciples and also true missionaries of the Gospel.
A White Funeral— I remember a phone call I had several years ago with my Grandmother on my dad’s side, who began talking with me about my late Grandfather’s life and ministry. And she began telling me about his early days in and around the time he was in seminary. And she told me that he would go out in evangelistic groups into the community to share the Gospel. But before their leader would send them out, he would always tell them, “Make sure that before you go out that there is nothing that you have not surrendered to Jesus. Make sure that there is nothing you are holding back.” Now that had an enormous impact on my Grandfather, who realized that sin that was not dealt with in his own life could affect both his anointing to preach the Gospel and also the ability of the people he would be ministering to to receive it. And so he began learning about and pursuing a life of holiness before God. And it was during this time that my Grandfather had his experience of entire sanctification, where he fully surrendered all of who He was to Jesus and committed to walking in the Spirit and to allowing the Holy Spirit to empower him to live a holy life. And (from the many conversations I had with him over the years) one thing I realized was that that surrender to the Holy Spirit was not about trying to muscle out sin. That would never be how he would describe it. For him it meant that the Holy Spirit created in him such a love for Jesus, there wasn’t room for anything else. And looking back, in talking about the moment he chose to fully surrender himself to Christ (it was too sacred for him to talk about often; but when he did) he described it as his “white funeral”; a death, yes; but a glorious death; the day he died to himself; when he learned to hold nothing back from Jesus; when he emptied his hands of everything so that he could embrace Christ fully.
Embracing Surrender— Now let me tell you; that is the work that God wants most to perform in your life and in mine lives. And I’m sorry to say many people (Christians included) can go years; even decades in the Church without ever knowing the wonder of what it means to live a life fully given over to Jesus Christ; and the life and freedom that comes from that. That is why I want to encourage you today to commit yourself to Christ and to living a life of surrender to the Holy Spirit; choose to be entirely His. When we do, we give God the access code to our hearts; and He can do great things in us; and He can do great things through us. Let us embrace that surrender today. May we come to experience in our lives the fullness of God that comes from the surrender of every area of our lives to Him. And may He use our anointing (our personal Pentecosts) to draw all people unto Himself. Amen.
Rev. Cameron Ury graduated from Asbury University in 2007 with a B.A. in Bible and Theology. From there he continued his studies at Wesley Biblical Seminary in Jackson, MS. It was there that he met his wife Tanya, who graduated from WBS with her M.A. and M.Div. degrees. Cameron and Tanya got married in 2009. Cameron then graduated with his M.Div. degree with a pastoral concentration in 2011.
After shepherding churches in both Mississippi and Ohio, they joined the ministry team at Renton Park Chapel in January of 2018, where Cameron serves as Senior Pastor and Teacher.
Cameron is also the founder and host of Lechem Panim, a weekly radio show that airs on KGNW 820AM "The Word Seattle". The ministry of Lechem Panim is centered around leading people into the life-giving presence of God in and through Bible study, prayer, and active discipleship with the aim of ministering to a world that is in desperate need of the healing touch of Jesus Christ.