Opening Prayer: Almighty God, we praise you for pouring out your Holy Spirit on your people. We thank you that this is how you are building your kingdom in this world. Remind us once again this morning that it is not by might or by power by your Spirit that all things are accomplished. Renew us, remake us, and send us from your presence with your glory that we might be faithful witnesses, through the Faithful Witness, and Amen!
The resurrection of the King of Kings was the rebirth of the world, the remaking of the universe. In this new universe, all authority has been given to Jesus Christ both in heaven and on earth. The dominion that was lost by man has been re-given to man at Pentecost (Acts 1:8). At Pentecost, God has begun a new building project in the world. The Kingdom of God is the building of a city, a New Jerusalem. Thus one way of looking at the task set before us is urban planning. What should the city look like? How do we build? If we don’t know the answers to these questions then we are like builders trying to ‘wing it’, and too often we reflect this.
The whole earth was one lip, the Hebrew says, and had all things in common. This of course reminds us of the early chapters of Acts. The text also tells us that they were going to the East. Directions are loaded with meaning because of the early chapters of Genesis. When Adam and Eve were sent out of the Garden of Eden they were sent eastward, away from God’s presence and cherubim were placed there (Gen. 3:24). This means that for Adam to re-enter paradise he must “go west.” When Cain murdered his brother, he was sent to the east of Eden, away from the presence God even further (Gen. 4:16). The fact that these Babylonians were going East should be our first clue that all is not well. Nimrod and the heads of all the peoples of the earth were intent upon building two things: a city and a tower. The tower was to be gigantic, and the fame of the city and its tower would make a name for them in the earth. They view themselves as Adam, in fact this is what the Lord calls them: Sons of Adam (v. 5). Adam’s first job was naming, and these over officious building contractors even have proof texts, “See? See? It’s in the Bible!” We’re taking dominion, they might say. But of course it’s the fool that wants a simple faith, a simple religion. And the God of heaven laughs. That great tower all pristine and pointy in the clouds is still a tiny speck from the vantage of God. And so God decides to come down and see what all the racket is about. There at his footstool is a bustling patch of ants. And having seen the gory details (‘Jeepers!), a Triune council is held, a course is decided upon, and the Lord goes down to scatter the ants from their little sandbox. Go play nice somewhere else.
Shem to Abraham
We’re not given the details of when the building project began or how long it lasted before it was abandoned. But if we assume that there was a significant city and building project underway, it doesn’t seem unlikely that they may have been building for some time perhaps as long as a couple hundred years. Remember, these folks were used to long life spans and a few hundred year project was feasible. We know that it was in Peleg’s days that the earth was divided (10:25), so we might estimate that God scattered these first Babylonians between two and three hundred years after the flood. We also notice that the life spans of these men decrease significantly over the ten generations from Shem to Abram. From five hundred years to a little over a hundred, it’s notable that Shem outlived a number of his descendents and was probably still alive when Abram was born. And from this weakness (short life spans), the chapter ends with movement in the opposite direction: west. Wherever Ur may have been, Canaan was surely to the west of the Chaldeans. Two opposing civilizations are matched together in this chapter, two cities are at odds. One is a great unified people with a city and tower stretching into heaven. The other is a rag tag family plagued by death and barrenness. But notice that Abram, no less than Nimrod, hoped for a great city, but he was holding out for better. He sought a city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God (Heb. 11:10). And this is the pattern throughout history. It is the story of the city of God and the city of Man, one that seizes power and authority and is reduced to ruins, the other which embraces the way of the servant and the martyr and is raised up to glory and honor. It’s not that we don’t want the glory. It’s not that we don’t want the city or the tower or the name. It’s just that we want the real glory, the real city, the real tower, the real name. And we will not settle for less.
Pentecost marks the reversal of the curse of Babel. Where God scattered the nations of the earth defying their plans to build a city, God has reunited the nations of the earth by the outpouring of his Holy Spirit. Acts 2 clearly notes that when the Holy Spirit was poured out in Jerusalem, “there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men, from every nation under heaven” (2:5). It is this international multitude that assembles before the disciples thinking that they’ve run across a Frat house soirée. But Peter stands up and tells the crowd that they’ve not had anything to drink, but that the Day of the Lord is at hand in fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy. The Day of the Lord signifies many things, but one of the central elements is that the world is remade. Babel is reversed, and by the power of the Holy Spirit, it has become possible for all men to speak with one tongue. The boundaries of language no longer divide men, the risen Christ in heaven means that the King is on the throne. And if the King is on the throne, then the Kingdom is being restored, the building of the city is commencing. The tower can now be built into heaven, and a name can be made for all those who enter. But that name is Christ, and the tower resembles a cross.
Conclusions & Applications
Beware of lurking individualism. Abram was not seeking isolation; he was seeking a city. Beware of thinking that seclusion is a protection from evil for you or your children. Abram was seeking a city, and the writer of Hebrews says that we have found it. Babel was reversed at Pentecost. You are a part of a new family, and you need each other. You need help in the raising, training, and educating of your children. You need help and advice concerning medicine, car repair, job hunting, finances, and all manner of other areas. This is an exhortation to ask for advice and being willing to help, but this is not the same thing as exhorting you to always give advice. Don’t be a nuisance. Throughout the New Testament, the Spirit is what unites us to Christ and to each other. It is the Spirit that gives gifts to the Body. It is the Spirit that knits all of the members of the body together in unity (1 Cor. 12, Eph. 4). This is what Pentecost is all about. It means loving one another, serving one another, building one another up.
This Spirit that we have been given is one of “power.” The authority and power that Jesus has been given has been given to us. One practical ramification in the life of a local church is recognizing your city and your neighborhoods as your problem. Yes, care for your families, yes, care for your own in need, but if you stop there you haven’t really understood the resurrection. To the people of God has been committed the word of reconciliation. This means that you have been called into the service of the King to minister mercy and grace to your neighbors. Love has hands and feet. Love gives time and sacrifices energy for people who don’t deserve it. This may take many different forms. But begin by recognizing all the people in your parish as your people. This is not a form of ‘sheep steeling’, this is just grace to a messed up world.
The resurrection of Jesus Christ means that every last square inch of the world belongs to Him, and if it belongs to Him, it belongs to us (Rev. 4-6). You are the godparents of the children down your street. You are the counselors of the confused and lost teenagers in your school district. You are the first line of defense for every domestic dispute. You are the authorized social workers, peace keepers, and judges of civil disputes (1 Cor. 6:2). You are the friends of the lonely and the outcast. You are the homeless shelter, the food kitchen, and the friendly face (Mt. 25:31ff). All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Him, therefore go.
Finally is the fact that God builds His city His way. And His wisdom is not our wisdom. God is pleased to send His Spirit upon the weak and the afflicted. God is pleased to build mighty kingdoms and nations out of children, strangers and barren wombs. God likes to stack the odds against Himself, and we might as well get used to it. The builders of Babel had everything, the entire earth was at their disposal, and yet God scattered them and thought it better to build His Kingdom out of a rag tag family from Ur. God likes to build cities under fire; He likes to build His Church under duress. Whatever fire you are under begin by giving thanks. This is not Stoicism; this is real faith in the God who raises the dead. This is how the city looks; this is how the city is built. Christ is the blueprint. The word “witness” means “martyr” (Acts 1:8).
In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen!
Concluding Prayer: Gracious Spirit, you are how we worship, how we live and move and breathe, and therefore we worship you and glory in how you are remaking this world. We thank you that there is no obstacle too great for you, and that you delight to do the impossible. You part seas, open barren wombs, and defeat giants through the faith of children. Fill us evermore with your glory, your strength, and bless the work of our hands.