[Picture: Day of Pentecost, Acts 2, by Ain Vares (Estonia)]

Pastor James Hopkins preached the following sermon on Pentecost; it was his first sermon as Pastor of First Lutheran Church of Boston. Click here for the Bible texts for Pentecost Sunday.

Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language, 

and this is only the beginning of what they will do.

When those descendants of Noah settled in Shinar and built a tower, the tower wasn’t the problem. The problem wasn’t the bricks or the bitumen, or even the size of it. The problem was their purpose.

Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, 

and make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.

They had found a good land, and a comfortable spot. They settled, and with that their journey, their pilgrimage, was over. But that is not what God had ever intended for them.

Just two chapters earlier, in Genesis 9, God repeated the mandate given to Adam and Eve, to go and multiply and fill the earth. “Go, and enjoy this world I have given you. Go, and tend to it. Go, and fill it. Go, and grow, and…”


“No,” as in, “No, thank you.” And, “No, we’re fine right here.”

With that “No,” like the one in the garden, all of a sudden, God’s great big world became disappointingly small. All of a sudden, boundless possibilities appeared limited. All of a sudden, what would be a kingdom became no more than a city on a plain. “And this is only the beginning of what they will do.”

It was only the beginning. Left unchecked, there would be no limit to people’s rebellion against God and His purposes.

This is the danger of becoming too comfortable and at home in the world. That even the people of God, using the talents and abilities and gifts He gave them, would make a name for themselves. A City, a building, a reputation – honor and glory, and power and might, forever and forever.

And so God brought a confusion to their speech that mirrored the confusion in their lives. As they refused to hear and understand Him and His purposes, neither would they understand one another. Whatever name they would make for themselves and shout from a tower, no one would ever understand.

But God does not end the story of His people with confusion and gibberish. Even sinful man cannot destroy and deter the purposes of God. That’s why the whole story of the Tower of Babel is only nine verses out of the whole Bible.

Almost immediately after this, in Genesis 12, God calls Abram. And then He calls him “Abraham.” God gives Him a new name, one he could never make for himself. God takes a man who was as good as dead, and makes him into a great nation.

And because God Himself did it, the story goes on and on – his story and your story – forever and ever – like sand and sea and stars, like the countless descendants of Abraham.

That’s the remedy. That’s the fix. That God speaks to you; God names you; and God saves you.

That is the story of Pentecost: that sins are forgiven, and rebels are restored; that empty heads are filled with dreams of God’s glory, and blinded eyes are made to see wonders in the heavens above; that God descends upon man once more, not to sow confusion, but to pour out His Spirit on all flesh, to give us a common speech.

It is the Gospel. The Good News of Jesus Christ, crucified in the place of sinners, raised for your justification, and ascended to the right hand of the Father to prepare an eternal home for you.

And if that is your true home, then it means you are free to fill the earth. You are free to build beautiful buildings to the glory of God. You are free to multiply and grow, in numbers and in discipleship.

That full and fiery explosion of God’s love into the world is precisely what the Apostles were waiting for in the days between the Ascension and Pentecost. And when the waiting was over, when God sent the Promise of His Spirit upon them, they brought Him into the whole earth.

By the Holy Spirit they preached the Good News of the Kingdom of God; they taught the divine and saving doctrine of Christ. They baptized three thousand that very day.

That is the work of the Holy Spirit – from font, pulpit, and altar, He creates and sustains faith in you. From font, pulpit, and altar, the Kingdom of God grows, filling the earth.

What is left is a Church of peoples from all tribes and languages, glorifying God with one voice.

That is the beauty of Pentecost. God is not done working in the world. It’s really just the opposite.

Because the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of Life, gives breath to the Church, and empowers her to live in love and mercy and witness, the result is the most beautiful contradiction we could never imagine, and it is this:

That in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ, and in the pouring out of His Holy Spirit on you, God has accomplished every last thing for your salvation. He has done everything, and yet He is not done.

He sends you forth as a forgiven and united people, to live beautiful lives, to love the unlovable, to be merciful and patient, to fill the world and see God’s Kingdom expand.

Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language, 

and this is only the beginning of what they will do.

To Christ be all the glory, now and forever, and to the ages of ages. Amen.

First Lutheran Church Sermon Archive


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