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O Hio, Guten Morgen, Buenos Dias, Boker Tov, Bonjour. There are many languages in the world and many dialects within those languages. But it was not always so. In the beginning there was only one language and one dialect. Everyone could clearly understand everyone else. We don’t know what that one language was, but whatever it was, it was spoken by Adam and Eve and their descendants for thousands of years. It was preserved through the time of the flood by Noah and his family and their descendants, right up to the time of the Tower of Babel.
What a blessing it was to have a common language. How easy it was for the people before Babel to communicate with each other and share with each other what God had said– the commands he had given, the account of what had happened in the Garden of Eden, and most importantly, how God had promised to send the world a Savior! How easy it must have been for people to work together and get a job done!
But, since Adam and Eve’s fall into sin, the inclination of man’s heart, of our hearts, is only evil all the time. We always find ways to take what is intended to be a wonderful blessing and misuse it. From the time of Adam and Eve to the flood, instead of using the blessing of a common language to communicate God’s will and God’s love in promising to send a Savior, people plotted evil and violence. Things got so bad that God decided to put an end to all life on the earth except for Noah and his family and the animals that were with him in the ark.
You would think that Noah’s descendants would have learned something from the flood. You would think that they would have used the blessing of their common language to pass on the lesson that God made so clear in the flood, that he hates sin and will not put up with those who ignore him. His patience will come to an end, but his grace is even more amazing. He remains faithful to his promise to preserve at least some people so that the Savior can be born.
But that’s not what we hear that Noah’s descendants did. They made use of their ease of communication to unite themselves against God. God had told Adam and Eve to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth. These descendants of Adam and Eve, and of Noah, decided that they were not going to do that. Instead, they went looking for a plain, a large, flat expanse of land where they could all stay together. When they found it, somewhere in modern Iraq, they decided that they were going to build a tower that reached to the heavens so that, no matter how much the population increased they could see that tower and remain united. They wanted to show that they were powerful and that they were in control of their own destiny. They were determined to make a name for themselves, a monument to themselves that would last for all time so they fired the bricks to make them strong and used tar for mortar so it wouldn’t crumble over time.
Do you see the connection to our present time? Like them, The inclination of our sinful hearts is bent toward evil all the time.
There have been many towers of Babel built since, at least figuratively. One that jumps out at us from the news is the trans-gender movement. God makes his will for each of us clear when he knits us together in our mother’s womb. He makes us male or female. But the trans-gender movement wants to shake its fist at God and say, “I don’t want to follow your will. I think you made a mistake. I am going to live as a gender different than the way I was born.” Like those who built the tower of Babel, they are openly defying God. They are refusing to accept God’s will.
It’s important for us to see these things for what they are, but we don’t want to judge ourselves better than others because each of us has our own tower of Babel. Each of us has an area in our lives where we want to dig in our heels and shake our fist at God and say, “I don’t want to do it your way God. I don’t want your will to be done. I want to do it my way.”
Maybe we have trouble accepting some doctrine of Scripture – Creation, the Trinity, the Virgin Birth, real presence in the Lord’s supper. Maybe we want to argue with God and say, “but that doesn’t make sense Lord. I think my way of understanding these things is better than what you have revealed in your word.”
Maybe it’s our relationships with others. Maybe we argue that the sixth commandment is outdated. Or that if we show love to others, they will just take advantage of us. Or if we are honest, we won’t get the best deals and we will never get ahead.
Still today mankind wants to build a tower, to make a name for himself. Humans want to say, “Hey everyone, look at me. I’m the greatest. I’m in charge. I do it my way” Never forget that every one of us has a sinful nature that is more than happy to go along with these things; that constantly wants everything to be all about “me”, to take for self the glory that rightfully belongs to God. We tend to look down our noses on the people of Babel and think we are better, but we aren’t. We are just as bad, just as prone to sin. By nature, we are just as prideful and self-centered as they were.
As God watched this monument to man being built and as he saw the pride and self-centeredness that was in their hearts, he must have been very saddened. If we were God we might have said, “that’s it. I’m done.” We might have said, “I sent a clear warning to these people when I sent the flood, but they haven’t learned anything from it.” We might have called down fire and brimstone and wiped out everyone—they were all in one place, it would have been really easy.
But God is the LORD. He is the God who loves the unlovable. He is the God who remains faithful to his promises no matter what. He knew that if he allowed mankind to continue to have such ease of communication, they would continue to become more and more corrupt. No evil plan would be too difficult for them. So, he found a way to humble them. He found a way to bring their prideful rebellion against him to an end without destroying them or breaking his promise to send a Savior. He is truly a God of Grace.
Instead of destroying everyone as they deserved, he chose to confuse their languages. He made it so that people could no longer understand each other, and without the ability to communicate, work on the tower came to a screeching halt.
You know how frustrating it can be when you aren’t able to communicate with someone. You might be trying to tell them something important, but if they don’t speak your language, they just stare at you and have no clue what you are talking about. Or someone is trying to tell you something and you can tell from their body language that it’s something important, that they really want you to know, but if they don’t speak your language, you have no clue what they are saying. God used the confusion of languages to frustrate the rebellion of man at Babel. He still uses it today for the same purpose. Different groups or countries may still band together to accomplish some evil plan, but since people are scattered all over the world and speak all kinds of different languages, there always are those who are not caught up in the rebellion and remain faithful to God.
Unfortunately, the confusion of languages has also made it difficult to spread God’s word. Those who want to share the word with others often have to learn another language. The Bible has to be translated so that others can read it in their own native tongues. Doing this is one of the gifts of the Protestant Reformation. Luther was one that insisted that the Bible be available in the language of the people. But on one day in the history of the world God reversed his judgment at Babel. On Pentecost, 50 days after Passover, which was also 50 days after Jesus’ resurrection, people from all over the civilized world were gathered in Jerusalem to worship at the temple of God. On that day, Jesus kept his promise to the disciples. He sent them the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit enabled them to speak to anyone who was there in that person’s native language, even though they had never learned or studied that language. It was like they suddenly had a built-in universal translator.
By God’s grace, these disciples resisted the temptation to misuse this amazing gift. They didn’t stand up and say, “look at me everyone, look at what I can do.” They didn’t use this amazing gift to call attention to themselves or make a name for themselves. They used this amazing gift to tell everyone they could about Jesus. They made it clear, as Peter did, that God kept his promise to send the Messiah, but “you crucified him.” And that you, that accusing finger of God’s law, points right at you and me. You, each and every one of us, crucified Jesus. He was nailed to the cross because of our sins. And when the hammer of God’s law smashed prideful hearts to pieces and people were at the point of despair—“How could we ever be forgiven for such a thing!” Then Peter and the others preached the heartwarming message of the gospel– again, in that person’s own native language so that there was nothing lost in the translation. They proclaimed the good news that God raised Jesus from the dead. Peter and the others told them to repent and be baptized; that whoever calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. And 3,000 called on the name of the Lord and received baptism that day as an assurance that their sins were forgiven by Jesus.
God has not continued to repeat the miracle of Pentecost. He doesn’t normally give people the ability to speak in a language they have never studied. But many of those 3,000 people went back home to their native countries and in their own language shared the good news about Jesus with their friends and relatives and neighbors. Like Peter and the other disciples, they spoke the language of humility. They pointed people to Jesus and through the word, the Holy Spirit claimed victory after victory and more and more people were brought to faith in Jesus as their Savior and were baptized.
You and I may never become proficient in speaking another language, but God’s miraculous intervention at the Tower of Babel and again at Pentecost makes this clear. If we speak the language of pride, no matter what our nationality or dialect, we will bring down God’s judgment. Pride robs God of the glory that is due him. Let God humble you everyday by his law. Then rejoice in his grace to you in Jesus. Point everyone to Jesus as the disciples did on Pentecost. Share the word, the good news about Jesus’ death and resurrection, and you will see that the Spirit is victorious as people are brought to saving faith in Jesus.