Genesis 11:1-9 (The Day of Pentecost—Series C)
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield, CT
June 9, 2019
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Our text is the Old Testament lesson recorded in Genesis 11:
1And it was that the whole earth had one language and few words. 2And it was that as people migrated from the east, they found a plain in the land of Shinar and they dwelled there. 3And they said, a man to his friend, “Come, let us make bricks and burn them thoroughly.” And they had brick for stone and bitumen for mortar. 4And they said, “Come, let us build for ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens and let us make for ourselves a name, lest we be scattered upon the face of all the earth.” 5And Yahweh came down to see the city and the tower which the sons of man had built. 6And Yahweh said, “Behold, they are one people and they all have one language, and this is only the beginning of what they will do. Now nothing which they propose to do will be impossible for them. 7Come, let us do down and confuse their language there that they may not understand each other.” 8And Yahweh scattered them from there upon the face of all the earth and they left off building the city. 9Therefore, its name was called Babel because there Yahweh confused the language of all the earth and Yahweh scattered them from there upon the face of all the earth.
King Solomon is well known for his God-given wisdom. He wrote, by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, in Proverbs 16:18, “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.” I wonder if, as he penned those words, he had the events of Genesis 11 in mind.
God had blessed Noah and his sons following the flood, saying, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth” (Gen. 9:1 ESV). The descendants of Noah grew and increased. They journeyed down the Tigris-Euphrates River Valley of Mesopotamia. But at this plain in the land of Shinar these descendants decided to create a focal point that would keep them in one place, “lest we be scattered upon the face of all the earth.” They intended to break God’s command. Their sinful pride was leading them to seek a name for themselves—fame and security—apart from God and His words to them.
Pride: the elevation of self over God. Pride is the breaking of the First Commandment, “You shall have no other gods.” Pride is exalting the god of oneself. Dr. Luther wrote in the Large Catechism, “If you have a heart that can expect of [God] nothing but what is good—especially in need and distress—and a heart that also renounces and forsakes everything that is not God, then you have the only true God. If, on the contrary, your heart clings to anything else from which it expects more good and help than from God, and if your heart does not take refuge in Him but flees from Him when in trouble, then you have an idol, another god.”
Pride does exactly that—it fails to take refuge in the one, true God but runs away from Him in order to take care of itself, without God—“Come, let us build for ourselves.” And how does that work out for us? “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.” All sinful people, and not just those building the tower of Babel, tend to become prideful and arrogant. As did the descendants of Noah, so we also violate and disbelieve God’s Word. That is the height of pride, the pinnacle of arrogance, exalting ourselves over the one, true God. Oh, how we believe that we know what is best for us! “Surely,” we think, “His commandments are too burdensome. They are only meant to keep us in submission, from realizing our full potential.” See how our arrogance and exaltation of self distorts the truth? God’s Word and commandments are gifts to us for our benefit and blessing. They are intended to give us the best life under God’s blessing. Yet, we, like the people of Israel, say, “God, your ways just aren’t fair.” (Ezk. 18:29).
The ways of God are not fair to us because we think that we know better. We believe that we know what is best for ourselves and our own lives. Incredible, isn’t it, that finite, mortal creatures of the all-powerful, all-knowing, all-loving Creator know better than He does? How arrogant that we would even consider placing ourselves equal to, much less, above God and disregard what He has given to us for our benefit and blessing! Oh, but we surely know best! “Come, let us build for ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens and let us make for ourselves a name, lest we be scattered upon the face of all the earth.”
Now Yahweh speaks, borrowing the people’s own words, “Come, let us do down and confuse their language there that they may not understand each other.” God disrupts their arrogant plans. But He does so, not only in His anger and justice, but also according to His mercy so that they the people do not do even more harm to themselves because “nothing which they propose to do will be impossible for them.” God, therefore, humbled the people by confusing their language and by scattering them from there, according to His command. His creatures will not “one-up” Him. His Word will come to pass.
In fact, His Word would come down to the scattered, now multi-language speaking people, taking upon Himself human flesh and blood. As He did of old, God came down to see the sin of the world. But God the Son incarnate, Jesus, did more than see humanity’s sin. He experienced our sin on the cross. He was punished with the full wrath and justice of God against the sins of the world as He suffered death on the cross. God, in His mercy, confused their language and scattered the people upon the face of all the earth. At the cross, God the Father punished His One-of-a-Kind Son, Jesus Christ, in their place, in your place. For all sinners’ pride and arrogance, for exalting ourselves over and above God, for disregarding His Word, Jesus suffered and died so that we might receive the forgiveness of all our sins.
Jesus, the true Son of God, took to Himself a true human body and soul, without sin, in order to deliver us from our sins, from our sin-filled pride and arrogance, and from our selfishness. Because, in our sinful condition, we do not know better than God and could never escape from the punishment of death and hell, Jesus took our punishment on Himself, endured it in full on the cross, purchasing with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death the forgiveness that we now enjoy as God’s free gift to us. Forgiveness—you are no longer charged for your sins! Forgiveness—you are officially declared by God to be “not guilty” of your sins because they are marked in Jesus’ blood, “Paid in Full!” Forgiveness—you are given eternal life, guaranteed by the death and resurrection of the Savior, Jesus Christ.
That’s the message of the Gospel, the Good News, that you received by water and Word in your Baptism. It is the Good News that you hear read and proclaimed, declaring to you that your sins are forgiven in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen!
It is the Gospel, the Good News of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection for the forgiveness of sins, which the people of God in Christ have also been commissioned to proclaim. On the Day of Pentecost, fifty days after Jesus rose from the dead, God kept His promise to give to His Church the gift of the Holy Spirit. “And suddenly there was from heaven a sound like a strong, rushing wind and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. And there appeared to them divided tongues like fire and it sat upon each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages just as the Spirit gave them utterance” (Acts 2:1-4).
Out of His grace and mercy, the Lord reversed the confusion of languages at Babel by giving the disciples the miraculous ability to speak in languages that they had never learned! Now, instead of a scattering, there was a coming together of the peoples. “When this sound occurred, a multitude came together and was confused because each was hearing them speaking in his own dialect. And they were amazed and said to themselves, ‘Behold, are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we ourselves are hearing, each in our own dialect in which we were born? Parthians and Medes and Elamites and the inhabitants of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 1Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya around Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians, we hear them speaking in our own languages the mighty works of God’” (Acts 2:5-11). And the mighty works of God were none other than the works of His Son, Jesus Christ, who died and rose again winning forgiveness of sins and eternal life for the world!
This miraculous gift of languages demonstrates to everyone who heard the disciples that God desired all people to have His Word, not just Hebrew speakers. God poured out His Spirit upon the chosen disciples because He wanted all nations and languages to hear the Good News of salvation that Jesus won for them. And that is still God’s desire today as His Church proclaims the Good News of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection for the forgiveness of sins in many, many languages. For you and me, that’s probably going to be telling the Good News of Jesus in English. Maybe some of you are or will become proficient in another language—say Spanish or Mandarin Chinese—that will enable you to tell people about the Savior.
As we consider the Church’s calling to tell people about Jesus, we do well to highlight the work of Lutheran Bible Translators. LBT serves on five continents with over 50 different language groups, places like Asia, Botswana, Cameroon, Ethiopia, Ghana, Papua New Guinea, Sierra Leone, South Africa, and South America. Our congregation supports one of their missionary families through our annual budget. Pastor Nathan Esala, a seminary classmate of mine, along with his wife and now five children, have served the Lord through Lutheran Bible Translators since 2001. He worked on producing a Komba language Bible for the people of Ghana, West Africa.
Rather than using language for our own prideful arrogance, we in the Church have been forgiven and given the new life of faith by the Holy Spirit to use language to proclaim Jesus Christ and His cross and resurrection for the forgiveness of sins. By the power of the Spirit, boldly share the Good News of the Savior. Young people, in high school and into college, learn a language that the Lord might use to share His love and forgiveness with others through you. Perhaps the Lord will call any one of you to be a missionary to a specific group of people whose language skills you possess? But, please, do not forget to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ with those right here in our community, with people you know and care about. They, also, need the forgiveness of sins for their pride and arrogance, and the Gospel always delivers those gifts of God just as He promises in His Word. Amen.
 Paul Timothy McCain, ed., Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions (St. Louis: Concordia, 2005), 361.