“Now the whole earth had one language and the same words. And as they migrated from the east, they came upon a plain in the land of Shinar (shin r) and settled there. And they said to one another, ‘Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves.’”
“The LORD came down to see the city and the tower, which mortals had built. And the LORD said, ‘Come, let us go down, and confuse their language, so that they will not understand one another’s speech.’
So the LORD scattered them over the face of all the earth, and they abandoned their building project. Therefore the city was called Babel, because there the LORD confused the language of all the earth.”
Who were these people and why would God foil their plans?
Our first clue is back in Genesis 6, where we learn that the Lord regretted making man on earth. He didn’t say He regretted making man, He said He regretted making man on earth – where His enemy lurked.
Man had become increasingly corrupt – wicked is the word my Bible used – and so God wiped them all off the face of the earth. All except Noah and his wife, their sons and their wives.
But sin is insidious and it survived the flood.
After Noah stepped foot on dry land, he worshipped and then he planted a vineyard.
When the grapes were ripe he made wine, which he drank. Perhaps on an empty stomach because he became so drunk that he passed out naked.
His youngest son, Ham, saw his father’s nakedness.
Here’s where that insidious sin couldn’t resist itself.
He went and told his two brothers – Shem and Japheth.
“Hey, come look, dad’s passed out naked!,” I’m guessing he said.
It was an honor your father and mother fail.
Shem and Japheth took a garment and laid it across their shoulders; then they walked in backward and covered their father’s body. Their faces were turned the other way so that they would not see their father naked.
When Noah awoke from his wine and found out what Ham had done to him, he cursed him by cursing his son, Canaan.
These people, whose plans God foiled, were the descendants of Ham, Shem and Japheth – wheat mixed with weeds, some obedient and some disobedient. A field polluted by pride – which is the only sin that keeps you out of heaven.
The location of the city is our second clue as to why God foiled their plan.
Except for Jerusalem, no other city is mentioned in the Bible more often than Babylon. Scripture refers to it 290 times. It represents the epitome of evil and rebellion against God. Throughout Scripture Babylon has been Satan’s headquarters and in the end it will again be the seat of his power.
Babylon is first mentioned in Genesis 10 (the chapter right after the nakedness scandal) as one of the cities in the region of Shinar.
Chapter 10 tells us that Ham was the father of
Cush, Egypt, Put and Canaan.
Cush was the father of Nimrod, who was the first world ruler. The center of his kingdom was Babylon.
Follow? He was the grandson of Ham – who carried sin onto dry land.
When I was in high school, Nimrod was the name the guy I dated gave to fools – as in, “He’s such a nimrod.”
The first time I read the name in Scripture, I thought he was a good guy.
Genesis 10:9 describes him this way: “Nimrod, who became a mighty warrior on the earth, was a mighty hunter before the Lord…”
I thought he was a mighty warrior for God.
But then I took a closer look at his name. The name Nimrod comes from the Hebrew verb marad, meaning “to rebel.” Therefore, “a mighty hunter before the Lord” means he was a mighty hunter “in God’s face”.
Not a good guy.
The hub and I were in the Upper Peninsula a few summers ago. As we drove through one of its small towns, we were stopped at a traffic light right in front of the town’s high school. Emblazoned on the side of the school in HUGE letters was “Home of the Nimrods.” I’m guessing they didn’t do a thorough word study before they chose their team name.
So Babel, which became Babylon, was founded by a rebel.
“Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves…”
The people, led by Nimrod, wanted to make their own way to heaven. A way that didn’t involve The Way. John 14:6
So God confused their language and they had to abandon their plan.
It reminds me of when God blocked Adam’s access to the tree of life in Genesis 3, and said “The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.”
Rebels aren’t allowed in heaven.
But they will always try to find a back door in.
Rebels want to make a name for themselves…. Which is where our gospel reading comes in.
Philip said to Jesus, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.”
Jesus replied, “You still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. None of the words I speak to you are my own; they are the words of the Father who dwells in me and does his works.”
He went on to say “I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son.”
Did you catch that? So the Father may be glorified. Jesus didn’t desire to make a name for Himself, as those tower builders did, His desire was to make a name for His Father.
“If you love me,” He said, “you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. The Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him. You know Him, because He abides with you, and He will be in you.”
Just as Adam couldn’t eat from the tree of life and become immortal in his sinful state, the disciples could not become indwelled by the Holy Spirit and thereby receive eternal life in their sinful state. They wouldn’t be indwelled until the atonement was complete and their sin was washed clean.
Jesus went on to explain that the Holy Spirit would teach them everything they needed when they need it and remind them of all that Jesus had said.
And remind Peter, He did.
“When the day of Pentecost had come, all of the disciples were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.
Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in their native language. Amazed and astonished, they asked, ‘Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? How is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? In our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.’
All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, ‘What does this mean?’
But others sneered and said, ‘They are filled with new wine.’”
Peter’s first response kind of bugs me because the focus of his argument is off:
“Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, listen to me. These men are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning.”
I’ve had a bit of wine in my day. On a couple of occasions, way back in college, I’ve even had too much wine.
And on neither of those occasions was I suddenly able to speak another language.
It’s not a matter of them not being drunk because it’s only 9 am. It’s a matter of the fact that drunkenness does not make you suddenly bi-lingual.
Fortunately, his argument got better:
“What you are hearing,” he explained, “is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:
‘In the last days it will be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,
and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
and your old men shall dream dreams…
Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’”
And then his speech became truly inspired.
He laid out God’s whole plan for them.
He quoted David, whose history was very familiar to them.
He spoke of the resurrection:
“‘God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of it. Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear.
Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.’
When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, ‘Brothers, what shall we do?’
Peter replied, ‘Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off.’
Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.”
That right there is what it is all about. Clarity for the purpose of salvation.
The Holy Spirit did just what Jesus said He would do:
He reminded Peter of everything Jesus taught.
He convicted the hearers of their sin.
He drew them to salvation in Jesus.
So what can we learn from this?
The Holy Spirit gives us clarity, recall, courage and the ability to lay it all out for people.
Peter, who was once afraid to admit he knew Jesus, now, with the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, had the courage to casually point out that his hearers had crucified Him.
Like Peter, all we have to do is casually mention the Truth and the Holy Spirit will provide the gentle-yet-effective conviction. Which is good, because who besides the devil, wants to rub anyone’s nose in anything?
That was then, this is now.
So what was the catalyst for change? What turned the confusion of Genesis 11 into the eye-opening clarity of Acts 2? What brought us from scattered to unified?
What caused God to shift from blocking the
way to the tree of life at the very beginning of the Old Testament to leading us back to the tree of life at the very end of the New Testament?
You know the answer: Jesus.
Those who accept that He is The Way, will follow Him right down those golden streets, right past the flaming cherubim, right to the foot of the tree of life.
Those whose pride insists on finding its own way will see their plans foiled.
Our collect this morning is about spreading the gospel abroad.
Last night, while I was reading an e-book on health, I came across a story which gets to the heart of the gospel and today’s dichotomy pretty well:
“A man was given a tour of both Heaven and Hell, so he could intelligently select his final destination. The Devil was given first chance, so he started the “prospect” with a tour of Hell. The first glance was a surprising one because all occupants were seated at a banquet table loaded with every food imaginable, including meat from every corner of the globe, fruits and vegetables and every delicacy known to man. With justification, the Devil pointed out that no one could ask for more.
However, when the man looked carefully at the people he did not find a single smile. He heard no music nor did he see any indication of the gaiety generally associated with such a feast. The people at the table looked dull and listless and were literally skin and bones.
The tourist noticed that each person had a fork strapped to the left arm and a knife strapped to the right arm. Each had a four-foot handle which made it impossible to eat. So, with food of every kind right in front of them, they were starving.
Next stop was Heaven, where the tourist saw a scene identical in every respect – same foods, knives and forks with those four-foot handles. However, the inhabitants of Heaven were laughing, singing, and having a great time. They were well fed and in excellent health.
The tourist was puzzled for a moment. He wondered how conditions could be so similar and yet produce such different results. The people in Hell were starving and miserable, while the people in heaven were well-fed and happy. Then, he noticed the reason.
Each person in Hell had been trying to feed himself. A knife and fork with a four-foot handle made this impossible.
Each person in Heaven was feeding the one across the table from him and was being fed by the one sitting on the opposite side. By helping one another, they helped themselves.” (Zig Zigler, See You at the Top)
Though the topic of the e-booklet was physical wellness, I’ll apply Zig’s story to our spiritual wellness.
We are all at a great banquet table and we are all seated across from Jesus.
Pride insists on feeding itself, but humility says, “Feed us, Lord” and humility is well fed.
“The Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come!’ And let the one who hears say, ‘Come!’ Let the one who is thirsty come; and let the one who wishes take the free gift of the water of life.”
Almighty God, on this day you opened the way of eternal life to every race and nation by the promised gift of your Holy Spirit: Shed abroad this gift throughout the world by the preaching of the Gospel, that it may reach to the ends of the earth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.