Pentecost Sunday 2016
Come, Holy Spirit, fill our hearts and kindle in us the fire of your love! In the name of Jesus, dear friends in Christ, how many languages are you fluent in? People who study the history of different languages trace specific languages back to language families. Apparently, almost 75 percent of the languages that are in use today trace back to only two different language families. The largest language family that includes English, as well as Latin, French, German, Spanish, etc. is the Indo-European Language family. The second largest language family in use today is the one called Sino-Tibetan, which would include all the various Chinese dialects. For us who speak English, perhaps we would like to think that English will remain the dominate language throughout the world, however, not only are there more native Spanish speaking people than English in the world, but there are 3 times as many people speaking Chinese in the world than English.
Learning a new language can be a fun experience for some. Apparently one of the best ways to pick up a new language is to be immersed in it- to travel to a place that only speaks that language, then you’re forced to learn the language quite quickly. But even if you’re someone who loves to learn new languages, you have to admit that it is a lot of work to learn a new language. I once worked for a farmer who had come to America from Lithuania. Although he spoke English he had a very heavy Lithuanian accent, it took me a couple years to really understand him well and I remember whenever he’d talk to someone he didn’t know they were easily confused by what he said- and he was speaking English! At a different job I had, I had to speak to some people who only knew Spanish and I didn’t know Spanish- it was frustrating, aggravating, confusing trying to communicate. People typically gather around people who speak the same language as they do. The result is different cultures, different backgrounds, different viewpoints. Think about throughout history how much anger, hostility, violence, and bloodshed have occurred between people groups because of different cultures or languages –it’s staggering!
We’ve been feeling the effects of the tower of Babel throughout history and very much still today. Well, where did this all start? Remember that God had directed Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden to “fill the earth and subdue it” (Gen. 1:28). God then repeated that same command after the flood to Noah and his family (Genesis 9:7). But what do we see here from the descendants of Noah? They all had one language, they all understood each other. They moved eastward and found a plain in Shinar. It seems to be the valley between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers which was very fertile and so provided good agriculture. Then they made bricks – not just sun dried bricks, but kiln dried bricks, which would be durable against wind and rain. They said, “Come let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves and not be scattered over the face of the whole earth.”
We can see three outward actions that reveal inward sins. First, they settle in well-watered, fertile valley. It seems to indicate that they have begun to look for their sustenance not so much from God the giver, but from themselves. Second, they want to build a city. The word for “city” doesn’t indicate just a place where a lot of people live, it indicates a place with a fortified wall around it. In other words, they don’t want to face the dangers of scattering over the face of the earth – they will find their security in this walled city. And finally, the tower. What was the point of this tower that they were going to build? They wanted to make this huge tower in order to do what? “So that we may make a name for ourselves.” They want status, they want praise. The tower is really a temple to human glory and power. Their outward actions revealed their inward sins. They wanted sustenance, security, and status, but without God. “I don’t need God, I’m my own master.” The flood may have wiped the world clean of sinners, but it hadn’t eradicated sin.
This is the essence of sin, isn’t it? Telling the Creator, “Leave me alone! I’ll do this MY way! I’ll handle this myself!” God’s creatures had become rebels running away from him, determined to disobey him, clearly abandoning God’s plans for them. And this really shows what’s at the heart of every sinful human being no matter the culture, language, or background.
At the core of sin is placing yourself at the center. Martin Luther defined humans by nature as being incurvatus in se. That’s Latin for “being curved in upon ourselves.” Sin is always focusing on yourself, it’s always choosing yourself over God or other people, always placing yourself at the center. Yes, we admit that we do bad things and when we do bad things we’re thinking about ourselves, but the reality is, sin is so pervasive in us that even when we do good things, when we help someone out, when we get something for our spouse, when we go to church, it’s always about me. I help out the poor so people with think good things about me or so I can feel better about myself inside, I go to church so God will be happy with me, I help a friend out so that if I ever need help they better be available to help me. You end up relating to God and other people in such a way that it furthers your agenda, that things are going to go your way, that people do things the way you think they should be done. And how do we know that? As soon as the relationship becomes costly, as soon as we aren’t getting as much out of the relationship as we are putting in, we’re out. As soon as I’m not getting what I want out of my marriage, I’m thinking about divorce. As soon as I’m having to put more time and effort into a friendship, I’m looking for different friends. Here’s the thing: Sin will always lead me to use God or other people as means to my own ends, further myself, to benefit me, to provide me with the basics of sustenance, security, and status. So, although we might not be building a tower to make a name for ourselves, we each have the root problem.
So what does God do? God comes down. Ironic, isn’t it? A “tower that reaches the heavens” and God has to come down to see it. But notice the name for God here. It’s LORD. It’s the Savior God –faithful to His love and grace to His people. You see, if God did nothing, the people would remain on their God-defying, self-centeredness, and rely on themselves for salvation. The LORD of grace intervened. He didn’t annihilate them – he could have – he confused their languages. Imagine coming to work the next day! Imagine the confusion, the anger, the frustration. They had to scatter. They couldn’t rely on themselves for their sustenance, security, and status any more.
The LORD of grace still intervenes today. In various ways He still allows us to see our inability to have sustenance, security, and status without Him. Our plans fail, we face difficulties, short comings. A life focused on myself can only lead to confusion, frustration, and anger.
But God didn’t just confuse their language to frustrate and anger people and show them their sin. In love, He had promised to send a Savior and he wouldn’t allow the whole world to unite in rebellion against him and get in the way of His gracious plan to send a Savior. And at just the right time He did. You see, we don’t have to worry about losing our sustenance, security or status, because Jesus lost them in our place. Jesus lost his sustenance, He cried out on the cross for one of the most basic necessities of life: I’m thirsty, he said. Jesus also lost his security, all alone, abandoned not only by every other human, but worst of all abandoned by God Himself, My God, My God, why have you forsaken me? And he also lost his status, crucified, died as the most heinous sinner ever because a funnel had been placed on his head and God poured out his wrath against all sin, every sin – yours and mine – upon him. He lost his sustenance, he lost his security, he lost his status…for you! So you would never lose it.
You can’t really have any of those things apart from God. God, your Creator and Preserver, promises to provide all that you need for body and life. God, your Savior, has given you real security. Having suffered and died for your sins in full, the devil – your worst enemy – cannot lodge any accusation against you! He can try as he might to rip you out of Jesus’ hand but Jesus promises that there’s nothing that can rip you out of His hand. In fact, God promises you, “He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all – how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” Nothing in all creation can separate you from the love of God in Christ Jesus. God uses even difficulties, hardships, and trouble for your eternal good – how could you possibly be more secure? And finally status. God gives you your real status. Who cares what kind of job you have, who cares how popular you are, who cares how fancy of house you live in, who cares how many friends you have? None of those things can really affect your real status. By your baptism you are a child of God, an heir of eternal life, a co-heir with Christ himself! Talk about status!
It is in Christ that the judgment on Babel ends. We see it in the Pentecost account. It’s our sin and curved in on ourselves nature that separates people, that thinks one nation or culture or language is more important than another. If I don’t have sustenance, security, or status from God, I’ll try to get it by oppressing others. But the gospel brings people back together in Christ. At Pentecost the Holy Spirit is poured out and brings people to faith no matter race or culture or language. There is no superior race of people, there is no race or culture or language or people that are more important to God, they are ALL important to him. What amazing grace and power of God that He is able to make disciples out of every nation. The gospel surpasses the boundaries of language, race, culture, background, nationality. It will be part of the glory of God that there will be gathered around the throne of God in heaven, a great multitude that no one could count, from every nations, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb and singing out in a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”
Babel is reversed by the Gospel! In Christ you have all the sustenance, security, and status you need for all eternity. In Christ you can share this powerful Gospel with people from any nation, race, culture, language, or background! Amen.