Genesis 11, we’ll take a break from our series on numbers in honor of Pentecost. Pentecost was the Old Testament feast of weeks. 50 days after the Passover, they celebrated the in gathering of the harvest. And for Christians, it is the celebration of the coming of the Holy Spirit upon the disciples for the in gathering of the harvest of the nations for Christ. And we will start then at the beginning, Genesis 11, with the scattering of the nations. You’ll join me in prayer for the reading of God’s Word. Heavenly father, as we meet now in your presence, we ask you to open our ears to hear your voice, to open our hearts to love you more and more, to open our souls to receive your word in its fullness. Let your son, Jesus, the word made flesh, be glorified and honored in our lives. For it’s in his name that we now pray, Amen. Genesis 11, Now the whole earth had one language and the same words. Then he said, Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top and the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.
And the Lord came down to see the city and the tower which the children of man had built. And the Lord said, Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language. And this is only the beginning of what they will do. And nothing that they proposed to do will now be impossible for them. Come, let us go down there and confuse their language so that they may not understand one another’s speech. So the Lord dispersed them from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city. Therefore, its name was called Babel because there the Lord confused the languages of all the earth. From there, the Lord dispersed them over all the face of the earth. The word of the Lord, please be seated. The P luribus Unim is printed on our money as a motto of the United States. Out of many, one. Back in 1776, it represented 13 different colonies forming one country. And there has always been a great challenge in the world throughout history to have both unity amid diversity. How can you unite people together without crushing differences? They are not us and we are not them.
Historically, the best way to make many into one is to squash all dissent or just get rid of those who are different. But pendulum s do swing and we can move in the direction of all diversity with very little unity. The Brotherhood of Man turns into every man for himself. The core problem with each of these is when we try and remove our world from God to create a God free zone. When we do that, we see on the one hand, empire builders crushing opposition to be united into some form of human greatness, or on the other, radical individuals with everyone doing what is right in his or her own eyes. Both of these are religious at their core to become like God, to make much of ourselves. And apart from the Lord, human unity ends in ruin and rebellion. It is only in Christ that true diversity and unity can be brought together through him. So what does it have to do with Pentecost? Pentecost is the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the Church. Pentecost transforms the Ministry of Christ into the mission of the Church. Pentecost sends God’s people into the world to be Christ’s very presence, his ambassadors to that same world.
And the world, apart from the Lord, is trying hard to make much of itself. There is nothing new under the sun. Genesis 11 gives us the first prototype, the first die upon which we have struck thousands of similar coins. And even here we see between Genesis 11 and Acts 2, and everything in between, different authors unified through the same God. The single core message through time and history that God has brought to his people. Genesis 11 reminds us the folly of making much of man. The tower of Babel was a succinct and clear picture of humanity united in rebellion against God. And as we look at Genesis 11, what it is very clear is that it’s a very stylized prose, very well written and crafted together beautiful literary piece. And it connects masterfully with the other lines and phrases in Genesis. Five times we see the word language mentioned. And there’s an inner echoing of words in Hebrew to help communicate what’s taking place. It’s not a tongue twister, but if you were to think about what would that sound like in English, if you heard the phrase, If a dog chews shoes, whose shoes does he choose?
That alliteration. And that’s what’s taking place here. It’s just a really well put together section of Hebrew prose. And it begins, The whole earth had one language and the same words. Verse 2 tells us that people migrated from the east. They found a plane in the land of Shinar and settled there. So a large group of people settling in essentially what is Babel on the area there. Then verse 3 said, They said, Come, let us make bricks and burn them thoroughly. And they had brick for stone and bitumen for mortar, but well built, meant to last. And they said, Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens. Now, they were not trying to build a literal tower to heaven. They weren’t foolish. They saw mountains, they knew. This spoke of their intent. It’s an expression speaking of the great tower of their power. How can they make for themselves something of great renown? And that’s what they said. Let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth. Now, when you hear that, let us make, where we heard that before?
Back in Genesis 1. Then God said, let us make man in our image and our likeness. And what also stands out in these few verses is that the conversation of man and the conversation of God are not joined together. The ideas and the desires of humanity are separated from God. Back in Genesis 1, after God made us in his image, it said, God blessed them and said to them, Be fruitful and multiply and fill the whole earth and subdue it. And here they are not filling it. They are not following God’s chosen path of blessing. They are gathered for the purpose of making their name great. No mention of the Lord and his purposes. It’s self interest, self preservation, self serving, self aggrandizing. The pattern of self. Their action is a direct challenge to what the Lord has already commanded them. And then verse 5 says, And the Lord came down to see the city and the tower which the children of man had built. Now, this is not some mythology, a piece there that as if God was up in heaven asleep and, Whoa, what’s going on down there? I better go and figure it out.
It’s not that at all. It’s speaking of God’s great patience. He knows what’s going on and he lets things play out for a little while. And there’s a bit of irony here, too. They want to make this great tower to the heavens, and yet God has to come down and see it. The distance is so great. He’s so vast. And the Lord said, behold, they are one people and they have all one language. And this is the only beginning of what they will do. And nothing that they proposed to do will now be impossible for them. There’s no fear in God’s voice here. It’s his fatherly concern for a wayward child. He’s not wringing his hands and going, oh, my goodness, this is terrible. What should I do? The tower is nothing. But the intent of the human heart is another matter. Mankind united in rebellion against God will only cause mankind ruin. And so God’s judgment here has a gracious and redemptive purpose. And then we read in verse 7, the third, come, let us. Come, let us go down and therefore confuse our language so they may not understand one another speech. The us there can refer to God speaking to the heavenly courts, the angelic beings, or possibly it’s the Lord’s inner dialog as father, son, and spirit.
They’re seeing a unity and diversity. In verse 7, they are not understood by one another. And it can also be expressed in a way that says they are not listening to one another. And the Lord dispersed them from over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city. So the punishment fits the crime. What man fears is what the Lord actually gives to him. But in his mercy, the unity that the Lord wanted for humanity, it centers on being in relationship to Him, being in covenant with God, and they’re wanting their own way. See, God’s original spreading out over the earth was bringing His good purpose throughout all of his creation that we would be as ambassadors to Him over it all. A channel of blessing. God has to enter in here to break this self centered unity and these scatters in order to save us from ourselves. In verse 9, therefore, the name was called Babel because there the Lord confused their language of all the earth. From there, the Lord dispersed them over the face of all the earth. Babel meant originally in Akedian, likely it meant gate of the gods.
Now it means confusion. Babel, it’s a pun in Hebrew. The Hebrew word Balal means to confuse or to mix. And so the very name that they wanted to make themselves great gets dumped on its head into confusion. The Lord prevents mankind from successfully cooperating together in anti God projects. They gather and God scatters. Why? Because mankind is trying to transcend his creaturely limits. And we can succeed at times. For a while, our history is filled with great moments of forced uniformity, forced unity to achieve a great name. The ancient empires, Babylon, Assyria, Egypt, Alexander the Great, Genghis Khan, Hitler, Imperial Japan, a force unity crushing opposition. When the when the French Revolution first began, it was greeted with delight and joy by many romanticized by poets and writers, philosophers. It would seem to be a great moment for humanity. And the slogan of the revolution, Liberty, equity and fraternity. Those are great words. And they were heralded as this wonderful, enlightened moment of ideals that would forever change the course of human history. Liberty, equity, fraternity, until the bloody massacre started. And then the guillotine became a sinister symbol of equality. Blood flowed from all quarters.
Good guys and bad guys became interchangeable and were blur. Death to the King in the name of liberty ended up with the rise of a dictator Napoleon. Wonderful sounding words we can use as humans to declare our greatness. But when we see it lived out in practice, it’s awful. But the good news is that’s not the end of the matter because the Lord has not left us to our own devices. See, Pentecost unties the knock of Babel. United without God, we do great evil. But what was divided in rebellion gets united in common confession and baptism in Christ. God takes the initiative by making much of the man. Babel is a monument of human folly. It shows the smallness of our pride and our arrogance in making much of ourselves. But Pentecost is the promise of Jesus revealed. A hundred and twenty men and women in the upper room, and there we read in Acts 2, when the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. Suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues of fire appeared to them and rested on each of them.
And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues, languages as the Spirit gave them utterance. Now they were dwelling in Jerusalem, Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven. And at the sound, the multitude came together and they were bewildered because each one was hearing them speak in his own language. And they were amazed and astonished saying, Aren’t all these men speaking Galileans? How is it we hear each one of us in his native language? God goes before us. He takes the initiative. God went before mankind in judgment and in mercy. And here we see his mercy bringing about what in his judgment he separated mercifully. Throughout the prophets, we get this picture of judgment and mercy pushed together. And we see later in the fulfillment, they’re actually spread out further over time. But in the Prophet Zephaniah Chapter 3, in judgment, the Lord said, for my decisions to gather the nations, to assemble Kingdoms, to pour out upon them my indignation, all my burning anger, for in the fire of my jealousy, all the earth shall be consumed. Judgment. The very next verse. For at that time, I will change the speech of the people to a pure speech, that all of them may call upon the name of the Lord and serve with one accord, mercy.
And the Prophet Isaiah chapter 19, there he said, In that day, there were five cities in the land of Egypt that shall speak the language of Canan and swear allegiance to the Lord of Hosts. And we see that this gathering together the nations by the initiative of the Lord. He is bringing people back. And how language is associated with that, the unity under God. Babel was the gate of the gods turning to a meaningless empty vanity. Pentecost is the Holy Spirit opening up the very gate of the one true and living God. Jesus, the Word made flesh. The gift of tongues is a demonstration that God has brought humanity together again in covenant relationship with himself through the God man, Jesus. What God in his mercy divided, he now in his kindness unites by the divided tongues of the one fire. Babel is everywhere in our hearts, and the Lord in his mercy is always moving us along. And as Christians, it’s easy for us to develop a fortress mentality, us versus them, us versus them. In the Book of Acts, the Lord called them to go into the whole world, and they bunkered down in Jerusalem.
So the Lord brought persecution to the church in order to scatter them as the church into the world. Jesus, before he ascended in Matthew 28, the great commission, it said, Jesus came and said unto them, all authority on heaven and earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, bapt them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you, and behold, I am with you always, even to the end of the age. The point is that the Lord’s people are to scatter across the face of the earth. We see the mandate given to fill the earth once more. As God intended that mankind would be a blessing to his creation, he’s now calling upon his people to be a channel of his blessing to the world. We are that blessing. And if we refuse that call, in his kindness, God will take action. And throughout history, we have seen that. We bunker down, us, them, us, them. And God goes, Okay. Spreads us out like a bunch of dandelion seeds that are blowing across the world.
God, through his Spirit, blows that. We all want to clump together, but we’re not called to do that. We’re called to be a channel of blessing for the world. And that has always been a difficulty for God’s people. It took the Lord pushing hard to get the Jewish Christians to go to the gentiles. And when they did, it turned the world upside down. In Acts 13, it says, When the gentiles heard this, the good news, they began rejoicing and glorifying this. The word of the Lord, and as many were appointed to eternal life, believed. The reluctant evangelist were sent out. God wouldn’t let them do a holy huddle bunker. Us versus them. Pentecost is a go into the world event empowered by the Holy Spirit. That’s the joy of Pentecost. And if you make the outpouring of the Holy Spirit all about the private interior life of the believer, you have turned Pentecost back into a self seeking event. Why do we do that? Because it makes us versus them. Make Pentecost all about me in my interior spiritual life. And you actually turn it upside down. It’s the empowerment of the Spirit to go into the world to be the very presence of Christ.
And we have been called then to gather all those whom God has called to himself, all the misfits. We don’t lop anyone off. We have a unity centered on Jesus. We have a truth and a unity. And those two things are to be together. And typically we fall on one side or the other, though, to emphasize truth and emphasize unity. No, we keep both of those. It will cost you to maintain truth and unity. But it is not only what God has intended, but it is there we see the very beauty of the Gospel in the cost. It costs you to go to people who don’t like you, who are different from you, who reject your truth, to go and to be persistent and to go and to give them the good news of Jesus. And that’s what we have been called to. And Pentecost is the launch button for the church. To go. To go throughout the world, to go into our community, to go outside of these walls. Because Jesus said, All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me. Don’t be afraid of them. I am with you even to the ends of the earth.
If he’s with us, we don’t have to walk in fear. We don’t have to be in fear. One of the responses is to create distance. I’m not going to go to you because you’re a fill in the blank. And it doesn’t force us into a conformity that makes everyone think and look and act like us either. That’s the joy of the church is there are beautiful expressions of Christ throughout the world that look wonderfully different. And we get to be a part of that because that was God’s intent to design what he has scattered because of our sinfulness. He has now reunited around the person of Jesus Christ that we would make much of him. Father, indeed, we are so grateful that you have brought your good news here to this little corner of the world in the Flathead Valley. Father, we pray that you would be pleased to use us. Father, as heralds of your gospel. Lord, that we would be used by you to bring the good news of Jesus to a world in desperate need. Father, we pray that you would continue to unite us as the church. Here locally and beyond, Father, that we would be united with one spirit, one baptism, one Lord.
Lord God, may we indeed take the Ministry of Christ as the mission of the Church. We pray, Father, to that end, that Jesus would be glorified through us. And we ask all of these things in his mighty name, Amen. You please stand together.
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