One of my favorite and more curious tales found in the scriptures is the story of the Tower of Babel found in Genesis (Genesis 11:1-9). It spoke of a time when humanity was united in its quest to “build themselves a city with a tower that reached to the heavens.” Their goal: to make “a name for themselves” in order to stay together.
At first glance, this seems like a noble cause. Humanity, working together, creating community to better themselves and stay strong.
Sounds great! Except it wasn’t.
I am sure many of us are familiar with the statement, “the road to hell is paved with good intentions.” This may have been one of those times, except I am not sure humanity’s intentions were good.
If we pause, take our modern glasses off and put our Ancient Near Eastern (ANE) glasses on, this story moves from one of nobility to rebellion.
In the ANE understanding, the “tower” the people were building was reflective of the Esagila, the Babylonian home of the Babylonian protector god Marduk. The people’s desire to reach the heavens revealed their thirst to be equal with the divine, the place where they believed the gods lived. And their longing to “make a name” for themselves revealed their drive to be independent of, and as great as (if not greater) than God.
Translation, the Tower of Babel, revealed humanity’s insatiable arrogance. They believed they could be God.
In response, God confused their language so they couldn’t communicate. The end result: humanity was scattered throughout the earth, which was God’s original desire.
The question is, why?
Why would God stop their progress and keep them from reaching “the heavens?”
One way of answering this is God realized that the damage and destruction humanity is capable of when they are united in their arrogance is unimaginable and unstoppable! Throughout history, we’ve seen examples of this behavior on a smaller scale as humans have united behind dangerous ideologies.
I share this story with you because this Sunday we celebrate Pentecost, the day the church was born.
In Jewish tradition, Pentecost was a time when Jews from all over the world gathered in Jerusalem at the temple (where they believed God’s presence resided). It was a time of reflection. A time of self and tribal examination. A time to repent of wayward ways and realign with God’s ways.
In a sense, it was the exact opposite of the tower of Babel. Instead of people being united in their arrogant pursuit of independence from and equality to God, they were united in their quest to humble and align themselves with God. Instead of pushing back against God’s ways, they were recommitting to follow God’s commands. Instead of denying their God-bearing image, they embraced it.
It was in this setting that God’s Spirit was poured out on the disciples to proclaim the good news that God’s Kingdom and King had arrived through Jesus the Christ. All are welcome to be a part of this eternal kingdom by aligning themselves with Jesus, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords!
The amazing thing was, when Peter, the disciple who stood up to proclaim the good news, spoke, everyone in attendance heard Peter in their own native tongue!
In other words, at Babel, God divided a people united in arrogance and rebellion by confusing their language. At Pentecost, God united a people aligned with King Jesus and His Eternal Kingdom with a clear message understood by all, regardless of language!
If there is anything both of these stories teach us, it is there is power in unity. God created us for each other, and we are capable of great destruction or incredible good. In the first story, God hindered our ability to damage and destroy. In the second, God birthed the church and imparted on us the great responsibility of proclaiming and living into the good news!
What is the good news?
King Jesus has arrived! Through allegiance to Him, we are a part of God’s Forever Kingdom and all of the grace, mercy, love, justice, freedom, and salvation that defines it!
This weekend, as we celebrate the birth of the church and our call to live and proclaim the good news, ask yourself:
Where does my allegiance lie: with God or something else?
How can I better express and live out God’s Kingdom values amid this pandemic?
Who do I know who needs to encounter King Jesus and His Kingdom?
I love the description of the early church just after it was born:
“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.
Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God, and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” – Acts 2:42-47 NIV
May we more and more reflect the church God has united us to be and take our call seriously to live into and proclaim the good news!
Grace and Peace!
Pastor Justin Porter