May 27, 2007
The Day of Pentecost (Youth Confirmation)
In French, “Bon Jour”.
In Spanish, “Hola”.
In Hebrew, “Shalom”
In Chinese, “Lay Ho”.
In Swahili, “Habari”.
(And just for Pastor Poppe) “Guten Tag”
I won’t say hello in every one of the more than 775 languages of the world. But if you ever wondered where we got all these languages, Scripture is clear that it all goes back to a tower. And every time we struggle with a translation, we can remember the judgment of God on an arrogant humanity which worked together against him.
Genesis 11 tells of a time when there was only one language, and the people of the world worked together. They got an idea. They would build a tower, all the way up to the sky. They would make a name for themselves. They would ascend to the heavens, perhaps even to God, on their own. They would not disperse and fill the earth, according to God’s earlier command. They had their own ideas, their own plans.
This wasn’t too long after the flood, and they were using pitch or tar for mortar – the same water-proofing material used to cover boats. Perhaps so that the next flood wouldn’t even be able to wash away their grand tower. The smell of even greater rebellion against God was in the air. They were out for the sake of themselves and their own name. They showed no concern for the Name above all names.
God saw their little project. He was concerned. Here was sinful man working together for a sinful purpose. It could have been only the beginning. And so, in judgment but also in mercy, God confused their languages, and dispersed them.
Judgment but also mercy. Like when God expelled Adam and Eve from the Garden and put an angel with a fiery sword at the gate. This was not only banishment for sin, but also for their own good – so they wouldn’t eat of the tree of life and live forever in sin. It was mercy even amidst judgment.
So too was the scattering and the confusion of languages at Babel. If God had allowed it to continue, he knew the human capacity for getting into trouble was boundless. Working together as one, a tower would have been only the beginning of the trouble. So in judgment and mercy, he scattered and confused. A consequence of their sin, no doubt, but never the way things were meant to be from the beginning.
The Tower of Babel is not a story about the sins of other people, but we can find ourselves in it too. We are arrogant and prideful at times, thinking our own magnificent work must impress God and Man alike. We try to make a name for ourselves, often at the expense of the name of others. We find ourselves challenging God and his commands and demands in our life. We don’t build a tower, but we construct all sorts of monuments to our selves with the time and energy we should be devoting to God.
And sin brings confusion and discord to our relationships with others. Sometimes even when we do speak the same language, we talk past each other. We argue and struggle, we bear grudges and hate. It’s not just language that divides us from each other, but also our use of words to hurt and harm. No, those ancient tower-builders weren’t the only ones to construct catastrophe for themselves. We sinners are by nature just as rebellious and wicked.
And just as God dealt with his people of old through both his justice and mercy, so too does he deal with us. His law shows us our sin. But the good news of the Gospel of Jesus – shows our salvations.
So the Tower of Babel is not some quaint Sunday School tale to amuse children. It is a true account of real events. And it also makes a difference to us today. Especially today, the Day of Pentecost.
You know the story – 50 days after Easter, as the disciples were gathered in Jerusalem with many Jewish pilgrims from all over the world, the Holy Spirit gave the disciples of Jesus a special gift. They spoke in tongues – the native languages of the people gathered there. And they weren’t just talking about the weather, mind you. They were telling the good news of Jesus, the promised Messiah, who fulfilled the scriptures by dying and rising from the dead.
In a way, what happens on Pentecost is the undoing of the judgment of Babel. The languages which were confused because of man’s sin, were now miraculously clarified by the power of Christ’s Holy Spirit. Divisions are healed, unity is restored, and the people who were many are, by the Gospel, made one in Christ.
On the Day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit extends and continues the work of Christ.
Recall how when our Lord was crucified, the charge against him was posted by Pontius Pilate? The sign above the cross read, “This is the King of the Jews”. And that message was written in Latin, Greek and Hebrew. Fitting, in a way, to show how Jesus is King not only of the Jews but also the Greeks and Romans, in fact, of all people. And what happened there at the cross was for all people of every language. He is the world’s Savior. He is your Savior.
Now at Pentecost, Peter preaches his first sermon – and quotes the prophet Joel, “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved”. So instead of making a name for ourselves, now we call upon God’s name. We approach God “in Jesus’ name.” We rely on the triune name of God we received at our baptism. There God’s Spirit was poured out on us, along with forgiveness of our sins and all the promises of Jesus.
You Confirmands, today is a special day for you. Not just because it means the end of sermon reports and Wednesday night classes. Not because you get to sit in the front of church and come up to read your essays. Today, the Day of Pentecost is also Confirmation Sunday. It is a day in which we, the church, remind you of another special day long ago. The day you were baptized.
It’s your baptism that is being confirmed today. You also have the chance to confirm it, as you say your confirmation vows before God and this congregation. Those promises are your response to God’s promises to you in Baptism, where he has made you his child, where he poured his Holy Spirit on you, and where he put his own Triune Name on you forever.
Long after you take off those snazzy robes… long after the pictures are taken and the confirmation party is over… throughout your years of schooling and even into your old age, you will remember this day. But this day really is meant to recall that other day, when God made you his own. This day also looks forward to that day that is coming, when Christ returns, and all who are found in him are given eternal life by His Holy Spirit.
In our late service today we will celebrate the Rite of Confirmation for 10 of our young people. Churches often choose the day of Pentecost for this special event, and with good reason. The connection to the Holy Spirit and to Baptism is apparent on this day.
Many of us will remember today our own Confirmation in the faith. Whether as youth or as adults, we have each been called to profess publicly our faith in Jesus Christ. But it is always in answer to what God has first done to and for us.
Last week, our sermon examined how the Bible pictures Heaven as the paradise of Eden restored. Today, we see the beginning of the “end times”, the inauguration of the age of the church, the birth of Christ’s bride – on the Day of Pentecost.
In many ways it is the reversal of everything that went wrong at the tower of Babel. Communication is restored. Unity is established. Confusion is ended. And God himself builds a new construction – not a tower, but a Church – built by his Spirit. Built on the Chief Cornerstone, Jesus Christ. He is the only way we can, and the certain way that we will reach heaven.