THE HOLY SPIRIT
SANCTIFIES OUR “BABEL.”
In the name + of Jesus.
After Noah and his family left the ark, the Lord blessed them and said, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth.” (Genesis 9:1) It was just a few generations later, however, that the people abandoned the Lord’s blessing and dishonored his name. Rather than filling the earth as the Lord had commanded, the people made these plans: “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.” (Genesis 11:4)
The people were not interested in honoring the Lord’s name. They wanted to make their own name great. They wanted their city and its tower to be a lasting monument to themselves, so that future generations could marvel at their ingenuity and ambition. Now, it is not that the Lord despises beautiful buildings or dedicated communities. Look at God’s creation and you will see that God delights in beauty. God’s commandments show that God desires vibrant, industrious, and orderly communities. But God never delights in people who seek to make a great name for themselves, especially at God’s expense.
That problem is not limited to the plains of Shinar. We all strive to make our names great and, like the people of old, we do it at the expense of God’s word. Like the people at Babel, we go our own way to gain the praise of others. Others may praise us if we give ourselves into sin because they are eager to see us join in with them. The world despises godly living because godly lives stand in contrast to sinful deeds and condemn them. On the other hand, if we stand firm with lives that are noble, chaste, sober, and honest, we hope that we will be recognized and honored for that. One way or another, we long to be great and to be praised, so we build ourselves up—often by cutting others down. We turn things upside down—desiring to have God honor our name rather than we honoring his. This is what the Lord says: “I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought...” (Romans 12:3) Repent.
The Lord was not pleased with the events on the plain of Shinar. 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. Come, let us go down and there confuse their language, so that they may not understand one another's speech.” So the Lord dispersed them from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city. (Genesis 11:6-8)
The Lord’s act was not entirely done in judgment. It was the LORD—Yahweh, the God of mercy—who confused their speech and dispersed them. The Lord would not let them march lock-step into damnation. The Lord acted to stop their united efforts of sinful rebellion. He caused their languages to sound to each other like babble. The people who had been united in speech and in purpose could no longer understand each other. They viewed one another with suspicion, with fear, and perhaps even with animosity. So, the people did under compulsion what they were unwilling to do in obedience: They scattered throughout the world to fill it. In this way, out of one tongue the Lord created the languages, and out of one people the Lord created the nations.
But on the day of Pentecost, we notice a great reversal. On the day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit sanctified our “Babel.” The Lord Jesus sent his Holy Spirit upon the disciples who enabled them to speak in many languages. Jews from all over the Roman Empire had gathered in Jerusalem for the feast of Pentecost, 50 days after the Passover. The people heard the disciples speaking in their hometown languages and said, “We hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.” (Acts 2:11)
On the day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit began to gather into the kingdom of God the nations which had been scattered throughout the world. The Holy Spirit did not reverse the curse at the Tower of Babel by reducing all languages back into one. Rather he sanctified all of the languages of the world. The Holy Spirit sanctifies our “Babel,” and has given each language something of value to say and confess.
Once again, the Lord’s actions are not made known by judgment, but by mercy. That mercy is revealed as the Gospel of Jesus Christ is preached to sinners, declaring that Jesus has received the judgment which had been upon us. Jesus was nailed to a cross for us and for all people. Above him was posted the charge in multiple languages. And now God’s love is declared in all languages. Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. (John 1:29) Jesus took the lowest place under God's wrath for all people so that we would be exalted and so that our names would be honored and written in the book of life. It is only Jesus who can give you a great name, that is, one which is known by God and beloved to him.
The Holy Spirit sanctifies our “Babel.” The Holy Spirit enabled the disciples to speak in languages which were unknown and unlearned by them so that the people from all the nations could hear and know that God’s salvation is for them. Thousands of years after Pentecost and thousands of miles away from Jerusalem, that message is repeated today. For God’s love is not limited to one language, to one culture, to one nation, or to one age. No matter how much sinners might try to make a great name for themselves, all sinners end up dying. Almost all of them end up being forgotten by history. Even their own families forget them in just a few generations. The only monuments left for any of them are tombstones. But the Holy Spirit reveals to you that your name will dwell eternally in the kingdom of God.
This is what was revealed on the day of Pentecost as the Holy Spirit worked through the words proclaimed to the world which had gathered in Jerusalem on that day. After the feast, those people scattered back to their own nations, but they had also been gathered in to a kingdom that is not limited to borders, cultures, languages, or time. They returned home with the word that Jesus Christ has had mercy upon sinners, that God so loves the world, and that he has saved them. The Holy Spirit gives us these same words of eternal life to confess. He gives us the glory of God to proclaim. He exalts our speech—not so that we can boast of ourselves, but so that we can boast of Jesus Christ who is the Savior of the nations. The Holy Spirit sanctifies our “Babel.”
In the final book of the Bible, St. John was given a revelation of the kingdom of God in heavenly glory. At the center of all things is the Lamb on the throne. But around the Lamb are all those who have been saved. St. John described it: After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” (Revelation 7:9-10) Although Christ’s redeemed may come from many nations, they are one people. Though they may speak with many languages and dialects, they speak one confession. The Holy Spirit unites Christ's Church in voice and in purpose—to speak a clear message of God's love and salvation to the world. By doing so, we honor our God name and we praise his great name.
In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.