Genesis 11:1-9 (Day of Pentecost—Series C)
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield, CT
May 19, 2013
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Our text is the Old Testament Reading from Genesis 11:
Now the whole earth had one language and the same words. 2 And as people migrated from the east, they found a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there. 3 And they said to one another, “Come, let us make bricks, and burn them thoroughly.” And they had brick for stone, and bitumen for mortar. 4 Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.” 5 And the LORD came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of man had built. 6 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 propose to do will now be impossible for them. 7 Come, let us go down and there confuse their language, so that they may not understand one another’s speech.” 8 So the LORD dispersed them from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city. 9 Therefore its name was called Babel, because there the LORD confused the language of all the earth. And from there the LORD dispersed them over the face of all the earth.
One of the most useful buttons on Microsoft Word is the undo button. If you make a mistake, click undo and the mistake goes away. If you type something and you don’t like it, click undo and it goes back to the way it was before you typed it. If you made changes to a photo or a font and it’s not quite what you were looking for, click undo! The saving work of Jesus on the cross is like the undo button. Through Christ, God undoes what He did at the tower of Babel. He brings people together through the reconciliation and peace that flows from Christ.
In Genesis 11, the population was made up of the descendants of Noah. They had spread abroad on the earth after the flood. (Gen. 10:32) Although God had wiped out sinful man from the face of the earth, the Lord saved Noah and his sons and their wives, 8 people in all. Although Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his generation, and walked with God, being a descendant of Adam and Eve, he was also a sinful human being. We see this after the flood when, in Genesis 9, Noah gets drunk on the wine from his vineyard. So original sin continued from Adam, through Noah and his descendants.
In our text, then, we see the sinful pride of man making itself known. “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.” So much for fear, love, and trust in God above all things. So much for walking with God, righteous and blameless before Him. The people themselves wished to be their own God. This tower was to be a focal point of how great they are and what they could accomplish together, thwarting God’s intentions. Remember, Noah’s descendants were to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth again. Their selfish and prideful intention to create this city and tower that would keep them all in one place was proof that they intended to break God’s command. This people with a common language, united in self-interested pride, would have no limit to their rebellion against God if left unchecked.
Therefore, God acts. “Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language. And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and there confuse their language, so that they may not understand one another’s speech.” And so God did just that. The Lord confused their language and dispersed them over the face of all the earth. To limit the pride and evil design of people, God intervened to make it difficult for family groups and tribes to communicate with one another. He caused them to separate, going to different regions of the Near East and beyond, orchestrating their obedience to His command to “fill the earth” as He had intended.
The story of the tower of Babel shows us that rebellion against God ultimately leads to divisions among people. Sin drives people away from God and His good and perfect will for us. Sin also drives us away from each other, causing hostility and hatred, destroying relationships of all types.
Sin broke apart the relationship between Adam and Eve. Immediately after they disobeyed God’s Word and ate the fruit of the tree they knew they were naked and sewed fig leaves together to cover their new-found shame. The union that once characterized their relationship with each other and with God was broken. The brother-to-brother relationship of Cain and Abel was shattered, not by Cain’s act of murder, but by Cain’s anger and jealousy which tempted him to seek revenge against his brother by killing him.
Consider the relationships in your life. How does sin and temptation destroy them and rip them apart? Husbands and wives fail to communicate with one another. They fail to love and honor each other as most important. As we read in Ephesians 5 of the model for marriage, wives realize that they do not always place themselves into the loving care of their husbands as they do so to the Lord. Husbands, we know that we do not always love our wives and give ourselves up for them in the same way as Jesus loved the Church and gave Himself up for her.
Parents and children fail to love and honor each other. Children do not always obey their parents in the Lord (Eph. 6:1). Parents sometimes do exasperate their children rather than bringing them up in the training and instruction of the Lord (Eph. 6:4).
As sinners, we fail to love our neighbors as ourselves. Our neighbor, remember, is anyone to whom we can show love and mercy. You and I do not always help our neighbor in every physical need. Rather, we often harm our neighbors by what we say and do, or fail to say and fail to do. There is conflict in our streets, in our workplaces, in our homes, and in the Church.
These horizontal relationships—people to people—are broken by sin because the vertical relationship—people to God—is broken by sin. We don’t love the Lord with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. We do not always fear, love, and trust in Him above all things. Instead, as sinners turned inwardly, we love ourselves more than God, more than other people. Our thoughts and desires are wrapped up in, “Let me make a name for myself.” We don’t always consider God or the other person as more important than self. In our sins, we have been driven away from paradise and from one another. We live in broken relationships with other people because of our rebellious conceit. We live separated from God in our selfish, self-serving pride.
To accomplish His will, to repair the separation and the hostility of sin between people and Himself and between people and people, God, as He did at Babel, acted. He intervened in Christ Jesus, who, through His death on a cross and resurrection from the dead has broken down the diving wall of hostility by winning for us the forgiveness of all our sins (Eph. 2:14). On account of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection in our place, through the forgiveness of sins freely given to us by Christ’s merit alone, God is at one with us. Our alienation from Him has been removed. What Christ brought about through His suffering and death is unity with God. We are one with God through faith in Christ.
Jesus, then, is our peace. (Eph. 2:14) The peace and reconciliation we have with God through the forgiveness of sins overflows to our relationships with other people. The way has been cleared for us to be reconciled and at peace with one another. Jesus tells us in our Gospel reading today, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” (John 14:27) Christ came to bring peace; He came to be peace for the world—in our relationship with God our heavenly Father and in our relationships with our spouses, children, and neighbors the world over. Paul writes in Galatians 3:28, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
Through faith in Christ, we are all one. We who might speak different languages, or come from different social and economic backgrounds, or who wear different shades of skin—in Christ, we have been brought together as one body, His Church. Whereas, at Babel, people were scattered by God, so in the Church God brings the nations together. On the first Pentecost, God poured out the Holy Spirit in power on the chosen disciples and they told the people who spoke many different languages the Good News of Jesus’ death and resurrection for the forgiveness of sins. The Lord brought people from all over the world together, and 3000 were baptized into Christ’s Church that day because they were given saving faith in Jesus through the Gospel which they heard shared with them in their own language.
So Babel was undone. The separation between God and people, between people and people, was undone. Jesus’ death on the cross and resurrection and the proclamation of the Gospel are the Lord’s undo button. He brings people to Himself through the message of Christ crucified and risen for our forgiveness. And as He brings people to Himself by grace through faith in Jesus, He brings those people together in the one, holy, Christian and apostolic Church. He enables us to forgive one another when we sin against them. As Christ Himself teaches in the Sermon on the Mount, “So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.” (Matt. 5:23-24) Through the forgiveness of Christ that we extend to one another, we do have peace with each another through our Lord Jesus.
With the “undo button” of Christ’s death and resurrection for the forgiveness of our sins, we have been reconciled to our God and Lord. Our sins no longer separate us from Him. Through the forgiveness of sins and our mutual faith in Jesus Christ, we are no longer separated from one another. We are able to forgive one another, as God in Christ forgave us, so that we no longer have to remain separated in our relationships. As believers in Christ Jesus as our Savior, we are the body the Christ. We have a unity with one another that goes deeper than skin color or ethnic background or language. We are together in faith, hope, and love. What a reason to celebrate on this Day of Pentecost! Amen.