Text: Genesis 11:1-9; Acts 2:1-21
Pentecost, Series A
Listen to the Sermon here!
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
What’s the tallest building you’ve ever seen? The CN tower? Perhaps a skyscraper in New York City? Postcards and photographs are taken of major cities skylines which are dotted with buildings which seem to defy gravity. But to see these buildings in person is truly breath taking. You stand at the bottom and look upward at what seems to be an unending conglomeration of concrete, glass and steel. And every so often, what was once the tallest building is soon dwarfed. Today’s Old Testament lesson contains the story of mankind’s first skyscraper.
The Sin At Babel
The descendants of Noah moved toward the east and the came upon a flat and fertile plain. This place here is called Shinar. We would call it Iraq. It’s that area of Mesopotamia around the Euphrates River upon which Babylon once stood. This place not only had the materials to bake bricks, but it was also rich with bitumen, an asphalt like substance that could be used for mortar. Someone, we are not told who, got the bright idea of using these materials to build stuff, specifically a city and a tower. However, God was not happy at this development.
This raises the interesting question, what was their sin? What was so bad about building a city and a tower? Haven’t we already said that our world full of cities and skyscrapers today? What’s the difference?
God had commanded Noah, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth,” (Gen. 9:1). However, the people in our text didn’t like that idea. Instead of filling the earth, they want to fill the plain of Shinar. They make this clear when they state their reason for building the city and the tower “Come, let us build … lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth,” (Gen. 11:4). They knew that God wanted them to fill the earth, but they did not care. They were full of hatred toward God and it was their purpose to defy His almighty power. They said, “Let us build ourselves a city … and let us make a name for ourselves.” These people were filled with an arrogant, pride. Their ambition was to become more than what they were. They’ve defied God, and now in their arrogance they would become masters of their own destiny. No one would tell them what to do.
If that was not bad enough, they set up false worship. “Let us build ourselves a city, and a tower with its top in the heavens.” What they built was called a Ziggurat. These were step shaped pyramids. At the top, coloured in sky blue, was a temple or shrine where the gods were said to dwell. They invented their own gods and made temples for them. Some major Mesopotamian cities had them. The people who built these temple-towers sought to link heaven and earth. They built a tower to try to ascend to heaven by their own efforts. They had rejected what the true God had told them, and instead were trying by their own self-invented works to get to heaven.
“And the Lord came down.” This was not a good thing. The Lord came down to see what exactly was going on among these men. Sometimes a parent will say to their child, “Don’t make me come down there!” Well, the Lord came down there. The men of our text sought to defy the will of God, yet God got his way in the end anyway. The Lord came down and undid everything that mankind intended to do. Mankind intended to build a great city, and the Lord came down and the city was abandoned. They were going to build a tower was so high that it would connect earth to heaven, and the Lord had to come down to see it because it was so small. They were going to gather together to avoid being scattered over the face of the earth, and the Lord came down and scattered them anyway. They were going to make for themselves a great name, they had the ambition to become greater than they were, to become masters of their own destiny, to become gods. And the Lord came down and called that name Babel: Confusion.
Do we think that things have changed at all? Do you think humanity has become any better? Do we think we’re any better than they were? An honest examination of ourselves will show just how defiant we are of God. We all seem to have a favourite commandment we like to break. We’re just as disobedient as the men at the Tower of Babel were. We have not changed. We’re still just as proud. We still think that we are the masters of our own destiny. We have rejected God’s law and exchanged it for our own subjective morality. We have not changed. Worse, we’re just as idolatrous as they were. We think that by our own works and efforts we can make a name for ourselves and be admitted into heaven. We think that Science and technology will be the answer to all our problems and bring in an era of untold prosperity. Many think that if they try hard to live the descent life and obey God’s law that God will accept them for all their efforts. Still others invent their own spiritualities, faiths, and good works. “I’m spiritual but not religious” seems to be becoming the most popular religion today. We have not changed. When people reject God, they end up replacing him with gods of their own making. When people reject God, they think that their self-made works will get them into heaven. We’re building our own Towers and climbing our own ladders to heaven. And one day the Lord will come down and judge us, just as he judged them.
Babel was reversed at Pentecost
What then is the connection between the Tower of Babel and Pentecost? Why is it that this reading was chosen for this feast today? Pentecost is God’s reversal of the Tower of Babel. It is the reversal of this Confusion. Notice the similarities. When the Lord came down at Babel, he confuses the people’s tongues so that they cannot understand each other. As a result, their unity is broken and they disperse. When the Lord came down at Pentecost, 8the disciples spoke in other tongues. The crowd from “every nation under heaven” heard the disciples speaking in other tongues and they were confused. Afterward, the disciples are dispersed into all nations.
It was Pentecost and the Lord came down and caused those present in the house to speak in different tongues. And what did they say? What did the crowds from every nation find so confusing? The disciples proclaimed, “the mighty works of God.” This contrasts with the men at the Tower of Babel who said, “Let us build ourselves a city and let us make a name for ourselves.” They did not proclaim “the mighty works of God.” They proclaimed themselves and their own made-up religion. And the Lord came down, and confused their languages and scattered them. But the disciples did not preach themselves as St. Paul says, “For what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake,” (2 Corinthians 4:5).
They did not preach self-made works, but the “mighty works of God”. Those mighty works of God that the disciples were proclaiming were the mighty works of Christ. They proclaimed this message: The Lord came down. The Lord came down and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary. The Lord came down and was made man. And the Lord came down and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate. And the Lord did not come down from the Cross as he suffered for us. The Lord came down from the Cross and was buried. And the Lord came down, and the third day He rose again and ascended into heaven. And the Lord will come down again to judge both the living and the dead. The Lord came down, and he came down for you.
Mankind does not earn his way up into heaven by self-made religion. There are no towers we can build and no ladders we can ascend. No human achievement is ever great enough and we can never make ourselves important enough for God to notice us. We cannot by our reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, our Lord, or come to Him. God himself comes down to us. The Lord came down among us. The Lord came down for us. Some fifty days after the Crucifixion, the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of life came down and enabled the disciples to proclaim this message. He did this so that we may know that it is through Christ, that is through Jesus’ holy, innocent, bitter sufferings, death, resurrection, and ascension that the curse of the Tower of Babel is undone. We don’t gain access to God because of our efforts or achievements, but because the Lord came down, suffered and died on our behalf. Through Christ that we gain access to God.
Today, this redemption is preached in the whole world in every language in the Gospel by the Holy Spirit. Now, the divisions cease, and all are united in Christ. Pentecost is God’s reversal of the Tower of Babel. We don’t make a name for ourselves, the Lord baptized us into his Name. We are united together with each other and with all the faithful. Through His Word, the Lord comes down to us here to bring to us forgiveness. The Lord came down, and because of this, we have hope and salvation. Amen.
May the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.