Sermon for Pentecost June 9, 2019
Text: Genesis 11:1-9 ILCW Series C 19:2136
Theme: What Are You Building?
Do any of you speak a foreign language? Was it difficult for you to learn? How good are you at speaking it? Do you always feel confident about what you are saying in another language? I’m not. And I’ve learned several languages. But I’m not good at it. I wish I were better. I have said wrong things without realizing it. Oh, that can get you into trouble. Fortunately, nothing bad ever happened.
For example, I know a few phrases and words in Chinese. But Chinese is a tricky language. A single word can have several different meanings, depending on the tone you use. And the meanings are not related to each other.
Many of you have heard this story before. The last time I was in China I went into a store the day before flying back here. Fortunately, I had a translator with me. Her name is Emily. We went into a store to buy some gifts that I could bring home. The store- keeper was very nice, but she didn’t speak English and I know only a few words in Chinese. After I bought my gifts and we were leaving the store, I smiled at her, waved my hand and said, Hua tou jian – somewhat like saying: “See you again.” Outside the store my friend Emily doubled over in laughter. I said, “Emily, what’s so funny? Did I say something wrong?” She replied, “Pastor, you said your belly hurts.” I thought I was saying something good, but I didn’t say what I wanted to say. Good thing I didn’t say anything insulting.
Here’s another example. Years ago, the first time I asked for a bathroom in Germany, I asked: “Wo ist das Badezimmer?” Literally, “Where is the bathroom?” I should be good with that, right? Wrong! They showed me a room with a tub because in that part of the world a “Badezimmer” means a bathroom where you wash, separate from the other which I needed. If you don’t know how to say it right, you could be in trouble. That’s the problem with me and languages.
I. People want to build for themselves.
Why are there so many of them? It only makes communications more difficult. It wasn’t always that way. When God created Adam and Eve, they both spoke the same language. They taught it to their children; they in turn taught it to their children. For hundreds, almost a couple thousands of years, people communicated in the same language. How much easier that was. But, as often happens, in sin people messed up the good thing God had given them, and He had to confuse their language. Why would God do such a thing? Was He being a bully? Was He wishing harm upon them? It happened because of the building project in our text.
The account took place not long after the Flood. Some even think it may have been about 100 years later. In those days the people of the world enjoyed a common speech and vocabulary. We don’t know which language they spoke, but there was only one. Imagine how much more easily it was for them to communicate and cooperate with each other without any language barriers. Not only did it make life easier, but it unified them. Sadly, it became a godless unity, centered on themselves and not on God’s wishes.
When God created the world, He told Adam and Eve to be fruitful, and multiply, and fill the earth. He repeated the same words to Noah and his family when they left the ark after the Flood (Gn.9:1). But, if scholars are correct, within a hundred years man was saying a completely opposite thing. In our text they said, “Come, let’s make bricks and bake them thoroughly….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.”
That was defiance against God’s wishes. God said, “I’ve given you this whole earth. Go and fill it.” But man said, “Let’s build a place for ourselves so that we won’t be scattered over the earth.” They set to work building a city and a huge tower from baked bricks and adhesives that would last. And they said, “Let’s work together and we will be great! We’ll make a name for ourselves!”
Where’s God in all of their thinking? He is left entirely out of the picture. They didn’t ask, “What would God want us to do? How are we going to bring Him into our plans and put Him at the center of our lives?” Nothing of the sort! Rather it’s, “What are we going to build so that we become great and everybody knows us?” People want to build for themselves.
At the time of the Flood God lamented, “Every inclination of man’s heart is evil from childhood” (Gn.8:21). That’s a scary thought from the One who knows and sees all things. To hear Him say “every inclination is evil” ought to stop each one of us in our tracks so that we look at ourselves and ask, “What am I building in my life?”
The Bible says, “Whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it
all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him” (Col.3:17).
Do we leave God out of the picture when some venture comes our way? Do we think more of ourselves, our goals, our plans than really looking to see what God would have us do? Do we think more of making a name for ourselves than giving all glory to God? What are we building with our lives? Monuments to ourselves or things that give glory to God and His work of salvation? Too often in sin people want to build for themselves.
II. God wants to build His church.
But that only brings us into trouble for “God cannot be mocked.” He will step in to put a stop to their ways. He must because God wants to build His church.
So it is that our story continues, “But the Lord came down to see the city and the tower that the men were building. He said, ‘If, as one people speaking the same language, they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them.’” In other words, “They aren’t going to stop trying things, things that turn them away from me.” That would only be harmful – to let this situation continue. So, God said, (and notice the subtle reference to the Trinity here), “Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.”
As little as disobedient Adam and Eve deserved a perfect Paradise in Eden, so also a rebellious human family did not deserve the unifying medium of one language. It would have only brought more disaster upon them. God wanted to build a people in Him; not have them destroy themselves apart from Him. So it was that He graciously intervened to stop it all.
This was a loving, merciful act of a gracious God. Our text says that the Lord, Jehovah – that’s the name for God that reflects the God of free and faithful grace – came down. One would almost expect one of the other names for God here like “the Lord Almighty” or “the Lord of Hosts” or “the Judge of all the earth” as though God were coming to punish or destroy a wayward people who deserved it. But it says the Lord Jehovah came down.
That says something about Him. God wants to deal in mercy, even with sinners. He even said through the prophet Hosea, “I desire mercy; not sacrifice.” God’s grace spared these people. Yet, there would be a consequence, confusion of speech. Different languages filled the earth and made things more difficult and un-unified. It also had a sad effect upon the spread of the Gospel. Now the knowledge of the Lord’s forgiveness that would come through the life, death, and resurrection of the Lord Jesus would be harder to communicate.
As Christians you well know that God wants to build His church. And you also well know that He’s left that work on earth to us. “Go,” He said, “make disciples of every nation baptizing and teaching them everything I have commanded you.” But how can you do that when you don’t speak other people’s languages? How greatly this self-centered act of the people at Babel affected the eternal lives of many. The truths of God could not be easily shared anymore. That was man’s fault, sinful man who was thinking and building only for himself. It wasn’t God’s fault.
And it’s right here that we have the great connection with Pentecost. What happened when the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples on Pentecost? He gave them gifts, great gifts, gifts of speaking, gifts of boldness, gifts of being able to talk in other languages to reverse the harm that was done at Babel. But most of all He gave us the Comforter, the Guide, the Counselor, the One who stands at our side to help us – the Holy Spirit. In His mercy and grace God did this so we might know and rejoice in the good news of salvation in Christ and be able to take it to the world. He again builds His church – in us, through us, and not apart from us. It’s His redeeming love at work. It’s what He wants to do the most.
Oh, perhaps it’s not quite as easy as it was for the disciples when the Holy Spirit gave them the instant ability to speak those languages. He hasn’t promised the same to us. But He does give us the abilities to learn those languages and He gives us many other gifts besides so that we might witness the truths of God who sent His Son to pay for our sin. He wants all people to know it.
God wants to build His church. What do I want to build? What do you want to build? What do our actions and words show?
God grant us this Pentecost and always the free and faithful gift of His Holy Spirit that we might believe in the Savior and gratefully desire to proclaim His praise to others. Not to us but to Him be the glory. Amen.