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Great Reversal

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Genesis 11:1-9 June 4, 2017 Day of Pentecost One Year Lectionary “Greatest of All Reversals” {Prayer} In Genesis 11 we see a place in time where there is only one language in the entire world. Noah and his family have been saved from the terrible flood which destroyed everything on the face of the earth. The descendants of Noah have continually grown and multiplied. They have moved about and we see in the Old Testament lesson that they have migrated together to the east from the mountains of Ararat where Noah’s ark landed to the plain of Shinar, which is found in the southeastern section of modern day Iraq. After settling in the land, they decide that they want to build a city and a tower within the city which reaches up to the heavens. Now there is really nothing wrong with this idea. There is nothing wrong with building a tower. A tower can serve a multitude of good purposes. However, we need to back up and remember what it was that God instructed Noah and essentially all of mankind coming from his family back in Genesis 9. God tells them to “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth” (9:1). A few verses later God re-iterates to Noah, “Populate the earth abundantly and multiply in it” (9:7). God’s instruction here is very, very clear. Noah’s descendants were not to hunker down in one spot like they are but rather they were told to “fill the earth,” to “populate the earth abundantly.” But instead doing this, instead of following God’s simple command, they migrate to the east together and start to build a large city in the lush plains of Shinar. And this is where the problem begins. There never ever should have been a Babel. There never ever should have been this gathering together of the whole earth’s population in one place to begin with. The people did what seemed convenient to them. The people did what they wanted instead of following God’s very simple command. These people were to spread out, but they didn’t because that takes work, that takes energy … so instead of listening to God and doing what He said to do, they gather together and build one large city. How many times do we act like this? Better yet, how many times do we do what we want instead of listening to God’s simple commands? If we’re truly honest with ourselves the answer is … all the time. All the time we think that we are wiser than God, that we are wiser than the Creator of all things. We think to ourselves, “Surely God isn’t saying what it looks like he is saying.” Or “Surely God will understand if I fudge on this commandment.” “Surely, given the modern situation in which we live, we can’t expect to take all these commands of God literally. There must be some leeway.” But this train of thought is the very sin of these people in Babel … this is the sin and the predicament which you and I find ourselves in. We aren’t building a tower to heaven, but we sure aren’t always listening to God either. The main reason why the descendants of Noah thought that they were wiser than God and that they didn’t need to listen to Him was because they had already deemed themselves to be more important than God. Look at verse four and why it was that they were building the tower. “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.” Their chief goal shifted from glorifying God and enjoying him forever to promoting their own reputation, to promoting their own notoriety. They thought if I can provide for myself, if I could earn enough fame and fortune … then there would be heaven on earth. I mean really, who else are they to make a name for themselves against besides God? There is no one else, they are the only people on the whole Earth. They said, “Let us make a name for ourselves.” Isn’t that the same mantra of today? I need to make a name for myself so that people like me, I need to make a name for myself so that I have a good reputation, so that I may be hirable, so that I get the good deals, so that I have a lot of friends. Because of this drastic need to make a name for ourselves, we wear what we wear for a reason; we drive what we drive for a reason; we do what we do for a reason. The true motivation for what we do isn’t to help others. The true motivation for what we do is right here … it’s me. When we go and do something, we need ask ourselves: “Am I purchasing this item/seeking this promotion/performing this service so that I might feel better about myself/attract attention to myself/live more comfortably for myself? Or am I doing it for the glory of God?” God responded to the people’s building project by saying, “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 be impossible for them.” This kind of response from God might seem a bit confusing. It almost sounds like he is saying, if he was to leave man to himself, if he was not to intervene soon, the impossible task of man building a tower all the way up to heaven could actually be accomplished. If they can do that … nothing that they propose to do will be impossible for them. But I don’t think that is what God is saying. When God says, “and nothing that they propose to do will be impossible for them,” what He is referring to is not the heights of the accomplishment that mankind might achieve, for man since then has achieved greater feats … but what God is referring to here is the depths of sin to which mankind is capable of falling into. In other words God is saying, “If I let their sin go unchecked, there is no telling how much worse it will get. No rebellion will be too great for them. Nothing will be sacred in their crooked hearts.” Have you realized that about the world in which we live? If God had not fenced us in with civil powers, religious influence, and the fear of punishment … where would we be? Where would you and I be as individuals? The reason you and I have gone off the deep end into sin is not because we are morally superior to the terrorists of the world, or the serial killer, or the pedophile … we haven’t gone off the deep end into sin because of God’s restraining grace. This is something we should remember when see the horrible stuff happening on the news. We should remember Babel and remind ourselves … “If God doesn’t restrain the natural bend of my heart … nothing will be impossible for me.” Seeing what sin has led the people to do, God restrains the evil of Noah’s descendants. God scrambles their language, He foiled their plans, and He scattered them over the face of the earth to make sure that nothing like Babel was ever attempted again. Want to talk about a reversal of fortunes … these people wanted to make a name for themselves and now they can’t even pronounce each other’s names. They wanted to make sure they weren’t scattered across the face of the earth and that is exactly what happened to them. Want to talk about finding yourself in a predicament … these people have no decision now but to spread out and fill the earth. As great as the reversal at Babel is … one of the greatest reversals happens today as we observe Pentecost. The disciples are gathered together in one place, speaking one language amongst themselves when the sound like a mighty rushing wind came from heaven and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues (Acts 2:2, 4). The disciples go from speaking one language to speaking many different languages. But instead of utter confusion there is an ironic understanding of language from different nations. People of different backgrounds are able to understand. But not only do these different people now understand the disciples, they hear about another even greater reversal. A reversal which applies to you and me. A reversal which says by the faith given to you by the Holy Spirit that even though you were dead in your sin … by grace, by God’s grace you have been saved (Eph. 2:5). That message of salvation won through the miraculous life, death, and resurrection of Jesus which is given to you is the universal message of God’s love and mercy. That message of salvation is the great news which God’s Church gets to share and needs to share with world which is still drowning in the depths of sin. Through the power of the Holy Spirit given to each of us, we are able to freely speak and spread the universal message of God’s love which is for all people. As you and I live our lives to God’s glory and honor, we do so not to glorify ourselves and our selfish sinful desires, but we live our lives in such a way that those we come in contact with, they will see the love of God which is in us and they shall know that God’s love and mercy is for them as well. Amen. The peace which surpasses all human understanding, guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus our Lord, now and forever. Amen. 3
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