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1 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.
In the name of Jesus. Amen.
In the midst of fear and anxiety over a virus, when we see a man unjustly killed in the streets of Minneapolis by an officer who is supposed to serve and protect the public, when we see a police officer killed in the line of duty in our community, when we see violent riots and evil thugs destroying property and livelihoods, it is easy to be scared and afraid. It is easy to wonder what is going to happen next. All of these things constantly remind us of our frailty and mortality. Where do we go to find refuge and safety?
We need to remember that the only safety, the only refuge, the only shelter we have is found in the arms of the God who died and rose again to deliver us from sin, death, and the devil. Our safety lies only in the God whose hands still bear the scars that set us free. Only one tower of safety exists, and that is the unshakable, unwavering, impenetrable fortress of the Christian Church.
Today is Pentecost, and we have heard how God gathers those whom He had scattered in the ruins of Babel to welcome them into the tower of the Church where they will be safe forever.
Today, we rejoice that we have been gathered together as the Body of Christ after our time of exile. It has been seventy-seven days since we last gathered together as a congregation (if Siri was correct when I asked her how many days it has been since March 15th which is when we last gathered here). The account of the Tower of Babel is a very fitting reminder that our only safety is found in the Christian Church. Every other thing that we consider safe is nothing more than an illusion. To get at why the account of the Tower of Babel teaches this, we have to go back a couple chapters before this text.
Back in Genesis 9[:18-29], Noah and his family have survived the flood and are off the ark. Scripture tells us that Noah became a man of the soil, planted a vineyard, got drunk on his wine, and fell asleep naked in a cave. Noah’s son Ham saw Noah’s nakedness and joked about it with his brothers Shem and Japheth. After learning about this, Noah curses Ham’s son, Canaan. And Ham was furious about this. Now, Ham had another son named Cush, and Cush bore Noah’s great-grandson named Nimrod. He was named Nimrod before it was an insult. Scripture tells us, that Nimrod “was the first on earth to be a mighty man” (Gen. 10:8), and Nimrod’s kingdom was Babel which we hear about in this text.
Most of the time when we hear the people of Babel talk about their plan, we think their final statement about trying to avoid being spread over the face of the earth is the singular point of rebellion against God’s command for them to fill the earth. But it appears as though there was even more defiance and hatred of God going on. Scripture also tells us that the people were building this city and tower to make a name for themselves, and they wanted their tower to have its top in the heavens.
The ancient Jewish historian Josephus has an interesting theory about what the people of Babel were trying to do. He draws this theory from other commentaries on Genesis that are much more ancient than him. The theory goes like this:
Ham hated his father, Noah, for cursing him. But even more so Ham hated God because God was really the one judging him for his sin against Noah. And Ham was angry that God would judge the world for their sin through the Flood. Ham hated the idea that he and all people should be accountable to God and have to answer for their sins. Ham passed this hatred down to his son Cush who passed this hatred down to Nimrod.
So, the theory about what is going on at Babel is not that a bunch of people have decided to live together in a big tower. Instead, the mighty man, Nimrod, has gathered people together and said that together they can be greater than God. Their desire is to be stronger than and overcome the God who would judge them. In other words, they want to be their own little ‘g’ god. They figured they could build a tower so high that the true God could not drown them like the generations before them. Even though God had promised that He would never do that again. But they didn’t trust God’s promise, so they are going to try and make themselves safe from God’s wrath.
Now, the Holy Spirit didn’t inspire this theory, and Scripture doesn’t give us these details. But still, it is a very good theory. First, it clearly explains what the people were trying to accomplish. They weren’t trying to build a tower to get closer to God; instead, they were trying to protect themselves from God and His anger over their sin. It explains why God saw their plan with such hostility and put a swift end to their work. The theory is also consistent with how sinners repeatedly respond to the judgment of God.
All sinners attempt to carry on the legacy of Nimrod. Kings and leaders of every generation do the same thing. Think of Nebuchadnezzar who built his idol and demanded that everyone bow down to it. When Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego refused to bow down and worship it, Nebuchadnezzar threatened them with the burning fiery furnace and boasted, “Who is the god who will deliver you out of my hands?” (Dan. 3:15). Nebuchadnezzar thought that he was stronger and more fearful than any other god. Of course, the true God came down and delivered them, so they came out of the furnace without even the smell of fire and smoke on them. But this pattern of leaders setting themselves up as greater than God still continues today.
Throughout history, communist dictators have declared that that the state is god who will provide everything for their people. They try to build a tower of government to their own glory and gather everyone as one. These communists burn and destroy churches and cathedrals in a futile attempt to remove Christ from His throne and usurp His claim to have all authority in heaven and on earth (Mt. 28:18). They insist that their rule is stronger than the God who can destroy them. But the illusion of their glory always falls. Their towers crumble and their leaders are buried.
Even now, governors and heads of departments of health say they are doing things to keep people safe. But safety is not something they can offer. And we are tragically being reminded of that. Despite their executive orders and guidelines and restrictions, people contract the virus and die. People are killed in the streets by evil men who are supposed to protect them. And even the police officers aren’t safe.
Of course much of the time, our leaders have the best interest of the people they govern in mind with protocols and protections. But we see – we clearly see – that safety is not something the earthly authorities can offer. They can offer protection, but those protections have limits. Nothing in this fallen, sinful earth can offer you safety. Earthly safety is always an illusion in a fallen, broken world like ours.
Dear saints, remember that in Christ alone is your safety. I’ve been talking to many people lately who mention they have trouble sleeping. They wake up with worries and doubts about their future – physically, economically, socially, etc. The best thing to do when you are filled with fear and sense the lack of security is to go to the Scriptures. And Psalm 4:8 is the best verse I can think of in those times of uncertainty. It is a comforting reminder, “In peace I will both lie down and sleep; for You alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety.”
Every generation since Babel has seen how God scatters the proud in the thoughts of their hearts and brings down the mighty from their thrones (Lk. 2:51-52).
So, dear saints, even as you see God tearing down today’s towers that seem to offer safety, have no fear. The God who is to be feared, and the God who tears down our illusions of safety is the same God who has sent His own Son to deliver you. The God who would pull down the mightiest kingdoms and empires of this world has Himself established a fortress and tower that cannot be overcome. The safety He offers often doesn’t look like much, but look around you. Here is that tower. From the rubble of earthly Towers of Babel and from the scattered peoples, God has established His holy Christian Church.
Built upon the Rock of Jesus Christ, the Church is the impenetrable fortress of safety which not even the gates of hell can overcome (Mt. 16:18). Wherever the Gospel is proclaimed, the very sinners who have been scattered throughout the world are gathered together not to overcome God, but to be overcome by His love and mercy.
On this day of Pentecost, God comes to those who are standing in the ruins of the Tower of Babel and puts something taller and higher before your eyes. He sets the cross of Christ before and gathers you here, and at the cross you see the judgment of God against sin that you could not take. Looking in faith to the cross, you see that God’s anger is no more because God has poured out every last bit of His anger against your sin upon Jesus. The God who had the right to condemn you for your cruelty and foolishness condemns His Son in your place. At the cross you see God’s judgment has not been poured out on you but on Christ. At the cross, you see that all your pride is of no value because Jesus’ blood has been poured over you and has erased it. At the foot of the cross you see that God’s love has found you and taken away your sin.
As you stand in the rubble of the towers that you would build to protect yourself from God’s wrath, look to the cross of Christ and see that Jesus has finished building the only tower that can hide you from the wrath of God. And, now that there is no anger of God left to consume you, see the empty tomb. See that because Christ has walked out of the grave triumphant over death see that there is now a room in that tower reserved with your name, and know that you have a place in the fortress of God’s love.
Dear saints, don’t ever settle for any illusions of safety. Find your refuge in your Savior. For you who believe, the tower of Christ will never fall because you have permanent and eternal shelter in Jesus’ forgiveness. And, in Christ, you will be safe forever. Amen.
The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.