Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Redemption by Reversal; Genesis 11:1-9, Acts 2:1-13

Today on Pentecost, Christ fulfills His Easter promise of sending the Holy Spirit. We have been acknowledging throughout the Easter season that our God has always been and continues to be in the redemption business. King Jesus is King of an upside down Kingdom. We see this in the sermon on the Mount every time Jesus says, “You’ve heard it said… but I say to you…” We see it in Jesus’s very life as described by the apostle Paul in I Corinthians 15, which we looked at on Easter, and in Romans 5:12 and 17-21. READ Jesus reversed the curse of death because of Adam’s sin through His death, which leads to eternal life. In the Pentecost story, we see God redeeming broken lines of communication, between humans with one another and between humans and God, through the power of the Holy Spirit. In particular, we see how God redeems what happened at the Tower of Babel. God acts similarly in our two Scripture readings with different effects, and we see that God is intentional in how God interacts with us. Babylon in the Bible is always a symbol of human achievement and materialism. In our Genesis passage, before Babel becomes Babylon, we see human effort trying to reach up into the heavens, and yet the tower, although perhaps impressive, comes nowhere near to reaching heaven. Human attempts at trying to reach God are vain religion. Yet God comes down to meet us. In this Genesis account, God comes down to see what the people had made. God is not impressed nor pleased by what they had done. In the Incarnation, God came down in the person of Jesus to show us what God is like and to dwell among us. At Pentecost, God came down to dwell within us permanently in the person of the Holy Spirit. Our human efforts at trying to reach God fail, but God continues to reach out to us so that we can know God and live with God. The word “Babel” means God confuses. The people were confused because they could not understand one another. We all know that failure to communicate clearly causes confusion. At Pentecost people were confused because they could understand! They didn’t know how these disciples could all of a sudden speak their language. The various people heard the 120 disciples (we get this # from Acts 1:15) praising God in their own languages, and they were confused! This reminds me of times I would speak Japanese in the grocery store in Seikiyado, Japan. The person working in the store would say, “I’m sorry; I don’t speak English,” even though I wasn’t speaking English; I was speaking Japanese! There is a great YouTube video of a scenario like this, by the way. It is of a group at a restaurant in Japan! The workers didn’t expect me to be able to speak Japanese, so it confused them, until they saw me frequently enough. Then it became fun to help the “gaijin”. Others gathered at Pentecost didn’t realize that the disciples were speaking real languages and accused them of being drunk. But Peter, in his sermon, will clarify the confusion. At one point in time, there were a lot less languages than there are today, and at another point in time, there were a lot more languages than there are today. Languages are grouped by family and grammar style. Some languages have gone extinct with people groups; others through assimilation, and languages are constantly evolving. The Holy Spirit didn’t undo the confusion at the Tower of Babel by making only 1 language again. God honors the diversity and allows the gospel to be heard in one’s heart language. We know from the book of every nation that there will be people from every nation, tribe, and language gathering around God’s throne and praising God. And there will be no confusion! The gospel is translatable. This is different from Hinduism or Islam in which the sacred texts are only pure if they are in Sanskrit or Arabic respectively. The gospel is true in any language. In Babel, the people had neglected the creation mandate to fill the earth. They had gathered together in one place. They wanted to hide out in a fortress. God confused their languages so that they would be forced to go out and to fill the earth. This is still God’s call for us. While the church ought to be a safe place for us, it should not be a fortress. This is a problem I have with mega-churches. They have a school, a daycare, a coffee house, a gym, a bookstore, and an ATM all on the inside of the fortress. I’ve even heard a few folks proudly say that they don’t often have to go anywhere else. But this is not what Jesus called us to be. This is being of the world but not it. Jesus told us to be in the world but not of it. Jesus is our Mighty Fortress, and He is with us wherever we go. The gathered people of God for worship is the church and we can find shelter in one another, but this to give us strength for the mission to which God calls us. We are called to be the Body of Christ in a hurting, needy world. We are called to go and fill the earth, spreading Christ’s love and the good news of salvation in His name. When God grants redemption by reversal, God doesn’t simply undo a thing. God redeems, making something beautiful and better even from our mistakes, failures and sins. God doesn’t erase our pasts, but redeems them for a better future. God even uses the negative consequences of our sins to accomplish God’s will. How have you seen God redeem your failures for God’s glory? At Pentecost, believers came together to worship God. In various tongues they spoke the “wonderful works of God.” This led to 3000 new believers who were ultimately sent out all over the world carrying the gospel. We come together to worship God—as we worship we are refreshed, strengthened, encouraged, challenged and empowered once again to be dispersed, to share the gospel in word and deed as we interact with others on a day-to-day basis. When God send us out, He sends us out in power. The Holy Spirit is in us to work through us. We don’t have to try to serve God in our own strength, and indeed, we fail when we do, but when God works through, mighty things occur. I wonder if the people of Babel were even aware that God visited them. When the Holy Spirit came at Pentecost, the Spirit came with the sound of a wind and the sign like a flame. The Holy Spirit came in power, and the Spirit has never left. At the Tower of Babel, it was pride that led to division. The people of Babel weren’t really trying to reach up for God; rather, our text says they were trying to make a name for themselves. They were self-glorifying. They wanted to be like God. We have to be diligent against the sin of pride, especially when we take on projects and programs. Are we out to make a name for ourselves, so others will give us praise, or are we serving for the glory of God? A test for pride is how obsessed are we about the outcome? If we are really serving, we aim to meet need as God shows us and leave the results up to God. We don’t take credit for results. We don’t get overly concerned when things don’t come out as we planned. Instead we use results as a reason to praise and glorify God and as an opportunity for God to reshape and redirect us. At Pentecost, submission to the will of God led to unity. Again, there is diversity in unity. Not everyone spoke with the same language. In the Body of Christ, the Holy Spirit gives different gifts for the good of the whole and every member has a gift. We do not all experience God in the same way, and yet God’s work and will are accomplished. In the Experiencing God Bible study, which Sallie and I did last fall, we were reminded that God speaks to each of us in a way that is real and personal. God speaks by the Holy Spirit through God’s Word, prayer, circumstances and other people. This is why we need the community of other believers. We learn from each other’s experiences, and our understanding of who God is grows. None of us has all the truth, but together, we can know more of it. At Pentecost, people dedicated their harvest and flocks to the Lord, the Lord gifted people with the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit leads us to the Truth about God. The Holy Spirit empowers us to live a life pleasing to God. The Holy Spirit teaches us how to pray and prays for us when we cannot find the words. We are called again and again to be filled with the Spirit for the fulfilling of God’s purposes. In contrast to the pride of Babel, when we humble ourselves and allow the Holy Spirit to take control of our lives, we will be like Jesus. In contrast to Babel, where the people wanted to make their name great, at Pentecost, the disciples made God’s name great. Like the disciples, the Holy Spirit empowers us to be witnesses of Jesus Christ for the glory of God. God gave us the Holy Spirit so that we might carry God’s message of redemption and restoration through Jesus Christ to the ends of the earth. May we boldly begin by sharing the gospel with people we meet in our community.


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