The grace, mercy, and peace of Christ Jesus rest upon each and every one of you this day.
On a day that we come together to celebrate the festival day of Pentecost; the day in which the Lord, through the working of the Holy Spirit, brought understanding and unity to people of different languages, tribes, and races, it probably seems quite odd that the focus of our meditation this morning is on the events surrounding the Tower of Babel; the infamous day in which the Lord confused and divided a people who were already united in every way. Given the fact that we already addressed the concept of unity and oneness last week, this probably seems a bit redundant and unnecessary. Bigger than that, the whole theme of Pentecost centers on unity and oneness and understanding, so the idea of focusing on division and disunity and misunderstanding seems off the mark to say the least.
Let me ask you: What exactly do we mean when we speak of unity, harmony, and understanding, especially within the context of this Pentecost Sunday? As we spoke about last week, all too often we let our worldly working definition of these words dictate our Christian understanding of how “Church” should look, sound, and feel. We come at the concepts of unity and oneness from the worldly perspective of simply “everyone getting along and working and playing together nicely.” Well…you know as well as I do that “nicely” doesn’t necessarily translate into “faithful and godly.” That’s why the Old Testament lesson appointed for today is the Tower of Babel account. In looking at this text you discover very quickly that this huge mass of people; a people who were descended from Noah’s sons and living only about 150 years in the wake of Noah’s flood, truly had all things in common. They had one language, one culture, one understanding, one like-mind and one singular plan and purpose. No one can argue that they weren’t working and playing together in perfect unity and harmony.
But, you see, this is where the problem comes in—they had one like-mind and one unified plan and purpose. “What? How is this a problem?” Think about it: On what or on whom was their collective group mind affixed? Was that singular mind of the people fixed on God and His Word? Whose plan and purpose was the group worried about? Their’s or God’s? Remember what I said about the timeframe and the context of this event? Believe it or not, this is important. God’s command to His people, already in the Garden of Eden, was to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth. This same exact command was given to Noah and His sons after they came off the Ark. “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth.” Guys: God wanted His people to disperse. Big Christians make little Christians. He made the whole world for them. He wanted them to go out into that great big world and fill it with His Gospel goodness and the corresponding faith and trust in that Gospel goodness.
This is where you can see the sin of the people in Babel coming into play. The fact that they shared one language, one culture, and so on wasn’t the problem. It’s not like God was a conspiracy theorist railing against one world government. The problem was the fact that the people weren’t obeying or trusting in God. The very fact that they tried to huddle up (so to speak) and do their own thing and not disperse showed their sinful, fearful disobedience as well as their complete lack of faith and trust in their Lord. “It’s a big, scary, empty world out there! Going out into that world would take work. Let’s stay right here. We’ve got a good thing going.” That’s what the tower was really all about. It was a rally point. It was an outward symbol of their own notion of “oneness.” This tower was an attempt to show their unity and their control. Unfortunately, the unity they boastfully put on full display was only an outward, sinful unity. They didn’t have true unity where it mattered most—faithful unity with their Lord God. And in this way, ironically, this tower was a very real and tangible manifestation of their unity; the unity they all shared in sin.
Just listen to God speak to you in this text. Listen and you can hear the arrogant transgression of the First Commandment taking place in these people’s own words. “Let us make bricks. Let us build a city and make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.” Let us do this. Let us do that. I’m going to do this. I’m going to do that. I’m not going anywhere I don’t want to go, and I’m not doing anything I don’t want to do. Sound familiar? Ask yourself: Who was their god? Who is your god? Whose plans, purposes, and timelines do you work with? Maybe it’s just me, but these selfish propositions, plans, and purposes of theirs (and ours) don’t sound very much like Christ’s faithful petition, “Father, not my will be done, but Your will be done.”
And you know…that’s the great thing about this text. This is why we actually celebrate this text on Pentecost Sunday. I know this sounds hard to believe, but this lesson isn’t a “bad news” account, as if this text is to be held in stark contrast to the Epistle account of Pentecost; a “what not to do.” Folks: God’s will is done, even in spite of the sinful plans and purposes of His wayward and sinful people. That’s good news! God knew that if this unified, sinful people kept on the course they were headed, nothing would ever be considered out of bounds for them. Nothing would ever be considered taboo or wrong. Nothing would be impossible for them to devise and bring to fruition, no matter how debased and ungodly it may have been. Sinfully speaking, the sky would have been the limit. My…how far we’ve come.
This is precisely why God stepped in and mixed things up. I find it rather amusing that God uses the same exact First Commandment language of the people to accomplish His will, though He speaks His Word the way in which He intended it to be understood. “Come, let us go down….” He’s in charge. And a little aside here. I love the fact that the almighty Triune God dialogues with Himself in such a way. “Come, let us go down and see this thing they are building.” You very much get a sense of proper perspective with God’s Word here. The people, no doubt, thought they had built a massive tower to the heavens; something so big and magnificent and awe-inspiring that they would no longer need God’s help to get to heaven. They could just use their own massive stairway to heaven. They could just ascend up their own workings and efforts. And then God comes along and makes it clear that man’s efforts are smaller than a fly speck. God’s language here gives the impression that God has to go down and squint in order to see this pathetic little construction. “Come, let us go down and see this thing. Let us go down so that we can see this thing.”
But I digress. “Come, let us go down….” God is in charge, and this means that He is always working all things for the good of those who love Him. God confused their language in order that His will would be done. The people were dispersed over the face of all the earth, just as He had intended all along. He did this, not to be mean or vengeful or to simply get His way like some bratty child. “My ball, my rules.” This wasn’t done out of unhealthy jealousy and spite for His bride, the Church. This confusing and dispersing was, believe it or not, an act of love for His people and their salvation. With the false sense of sinful pride and security now done away with, the people—all of them—had nothing and no one…no one except their heavenly Father. Again, in a paradoxical, ironic kind of way, their splitting and dispersing did bring about unity. Unity in sinful helplessness, and, more importantly, unity in having to put their fear, love, and trust in God. Unity in God.
My friends: That’s what Pentecost is all about! That’s what we celebrate today! All too often people get hung up on the miraculous “speaking in tongues” part and fail to recognize the big, salvation picture. The miracle of Pentecost wasn’t recognized in the fact that multiple languages were simply being spoken and understood. You can get that at any Walmart nowadays. The miracle of Pentecost is that the one, singular life-giving message of God’s Word and Gospel promise was being proclaimed and understood by people of vastly different cultures, languages, and ethnicities. In Pentecost, all who heard the Word repented and believed. All who heard and repented and believed were united in Christ, despite the fact that none of them could understand each other. Remember: The different groups were only able to understand their own tongue. However, that particular tongue that they were able to understand was proclaiming the full truth of God’s Law and Gospel to them; Law and Gospel which meant life, forgiveness, and everlasting salvation. When these people dispersed and went back to their home cultures, languages, and lands, they brought with them the singular life-giving message of Christ crucified. Thank God they did. You wouldn’t be here today if they didn’t!
Folks: Look around you today. The miracle of Pentecost continues, even on this small, local level. We’re not all the same. We don’t have the same tastes, likes, and dislikes. In fact, I’m willing to say that we have many more differences among us than we do things in common. However, we all share Christ. We all have Christ in common. In Christ, like it or not, we are united. We are one. We may not see things the same way. We may not understand things the same way. But…we are all one in Christ. You’re a sinner…just like me and just like the fellow you or I can’t stand. Christ died and rose for your sins, for my sins, and for the sins of the entire world; even those who can’t stand Him and still choose to follow their own propositions, plans, and purposes, trying to make a name for themselves.
My brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus; all of you who have had the name of Christ put upon your heads and your hearts, marking you as redeemed: As you disperse from here today and go out into this world that has been corrupted by sin, I pray that this blessed Pentecost message of unity sticks in your hearts and minds. More importantly, I pray that this blessed, life-giving message of oneness in Christ is actively witnessed in all that you say, think, and do. Don’t go out seeking to make a name for yourself. Make the unifying and sanctifying name of Christ known, because it is His name alone; His Word alone—His Gospel message of Christ crucified and risen for all mankind—that the Holy Spirit uses to work the miracle of life, salvation, and Christian unity in all who hear and believe.
To Him alone be all the glory, praise, and honor!
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