Babel is Broken
December 17, 2017
Human beings love to build towers. And when they make them, they notice them. There is, for example, the iconic Eiffel Tower in Paris. Because of an interesting French copyright law, it is actually illegal to take a commercial photograph of it at night. In the capital of Japan, there is the famed red and white Tokyo Tower, which for some reason is always getting destroyed by giant monsters. There is Italy’s Leaning Tower of Pisa, not to be confused with The Leaning Tower of Pizza, a restaurant in Minneapolis known for their award winning pizza and the best garlic cheese bread in town. And the list goes on and on. There is Big Ben in London and the Washington Monument in D.C. And of course, there is Chicago’s very own Sears Tower. I refuse to call it by its new name.
This morning’s text is very well known. It is the account of the place that arguably started it all - the city and the tower of Babel. On one level, this story is simple. A bunch of people build a city and a tower. God stops them from doing it. And from there we get different languages on the earth. Very simple. Très simple. Hijo ni kantan. Molto semplice. Very simple, indeed.
But on another level, this story is deep. It is a story about the human heart. It is a lesson about true redemption. And it is ultimately a preview of the glorious person and work of Jesus Christ.
What did the tower of Babel look like? The text does not give any details about its size or shape. Nobody knows for sure what the tower looked like. But it most likely looked like a ziggurat - a rectangular stepped tower. Picture a pyramid in your head, and then pixelate it like crazy. Now you’ve got something like a ziggurat.
But it is not important to know what the tower of Babel looked like. It is far more important to know what the tower of Babel was made for. It was man’s attempt to reach heaven and enter it on his own. It was man’s attempt to be exalted and make a name for himself. It was man’s attempt to stay together on this lonely planet and build something that would last.
In other words, it was a vain human attempt to overcome the curse. The curse of suffering and death. The curse that we rightfully deserve because of our sin against God.
This is the big picture. The people of Babel tried to fix what was broken. They tried to right what was wrong. They tried to declare their own gospel. They tried to reach a happy ending. This was the meaning of Babel. This was what Babel was all about. But it was wrong. It was all wrong.
The reason why is because only God could fix what was broken. Only God could right what was wrong. Only God could declare a true gospel. Only God could provide a happy ending. Salvation belongs to God. The curse of suffering and death that we rightfully deserve because of our sin against God can only be lifted by God. Salvation belongs to God. This is one of the most basic points in all of Scripture.
And yet so many people just do not get it. To this day, mankind continues to try to overcome the curse. Countries build skyscrapers to make a name for themselves while superstar athletes compete for exaltation. Technological advancements are made to improve our lives while social media endeavors to give people the power to build community and bring the world closer together. Activists march to end what is wrong while movies distract with good feelings and happy endings. Philanthropists hope for things that will last while visionaries work to make death optional. And above all, false religions declare false gospels in an attempt to enter heaven apart from the person and work of Jesus Christ.
Do you realize what is going on? Do you understand what the world is all about? Do you see what mankind is trying to do? The world that will fade tries to dethrone God. The kingdom that will fall tries to save themselves. Everyone apart from Jesus Christ tries to overcome the curse.
But you have the Lord.
God has overcome the curse by the person and work of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. We do not need to go up to him. He has come down to us (hashtag Christmas). We do not need to pay the price of punishment for our sins. Jesus died on the cross as our substitute and took away our curse. We do not need to earn a spot in heaven. Jesus lived a perfect life of righteousness and he has imputed his righteousness to us so that we can enter heaven. We do not need to despair without hope of sabbath rest and glory. Jesus united us to him and we will one day be exalted in him. We do not need to be in despair on this lonely planet. Jesus has given us the church.
Praise the Lord! God has overcome the curse by the person and work of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. And this gospel has officially and historically been proclaimed in a most beautiful and poetic manner. For in chapter two of the book of Acts, Christ filled his disciples with the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost. And they began to speak in tongues. They miraculously declared the gospel, but in different languages! And people from every nation under heaven heard the gospel in their own native language so that they could understand the person and work of Jesus Christ. This is so beautiful and poetic. It was a reversal of Babel. It was a breaking of Babel. Praise the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! Or as he is called in France: Le Seigneur et Sauveur Jésus-Christ! Or as he is called in Japan: Omo To Skuinushi Iesu Kirisuto. Or as he is called in Itaty: Il Signore e Salvatore Gesù Cristo. The Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Brothers and sisters, what do you think of this? Is the gospel of Jesus Christ enough for you? Or do you still want to build your own city and have your own tower? If so, may God grow you in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ.
You see, if God takes something away from you or stops you from achieving something, and if you don’t belong in his kingdom, then that is not a good thing. That is like the story of Babel.
But if God takes something away from you or stops you from achieving something, and if you do belong in his kingdom, then that is a good thing. That is the story of God.
God called Abraham to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. Abraham didn’t choose this. This was not Abraham’s original hope and dream. But it was God’s story. God changed Ruth’s life in the famine that was in the land. Ruth did not ordain this. This was not Ruth’s original hope and dream. But it was God’s story. God brought repentance and faith to the thief on the cross. The thief must have been amazed at how the end of his life turned out. This was not the thief’s original hope and dream. But it was God’s story. God said to Ananias, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” Paul wanted to be the best pharisee in the world. This was not Paul’s original hope and dream. But it was God’s story.
Brothers and sisters, if God takes away your hopes and dreams, it is because he has a better hope for you to hope and a better dream for you to dream. If God prevents you from finishing your city and your kingdom, it is because he has a better city and a better kingdom. If God does not give you what you want, it is because he is giving you what he wants. If God ruins your script and your story, it is because he has a better script and a better story. This is the story of Abraham. The story of Ruth. The story of the thief on the cross. The story of Paul. The story of us. Brothers and sisters, I ask you this morning to be happy that we do not have to overcome the curse. I ask you to be happy that God has come down to us in Christ, and that Jesus has rescued us from the curse.
The Eiffel Tower and the Tokyo Tower? They are nice. But you know what’s nicer? The Scots Kirk in Paris, the only English-speaking Presbyterian church in France, and Redeemer Church of Roppongi, a church plant in the heart of Tokyo, Japan. Award winning pizza and the best garlic cheese bread in town? Let me have some. But you know what we’re really looking forward to? The banqueting table that is being set up right now in heaven. Trips to see Big Ben or the Washington Monument? I’ll travel. But we know where our final destination is going to be. Chicago’s very own Sears Tower? How about Chicago’s very own Highland Presbyterian Church!
Don’t give me a pixelated pyramid made by man. Give me something not man-made. Give me a mountain. Give me the heavenly Mount Zion. Don’t give me a city where I have to pay over $20 for parking. Don’t give me a city that offers no true hope. Give me something not man-made. Give me the heavenly City of Jerusalem. And give me the king who rules there. Give me Jesus.
Summary of Sermon
The account of the city and the tower of Babel is ultimately a story about the human heart, a lesson about true redemption, and a preview of the glorious person and work of Jesus Christ.
Babel was man’s attempt to overcome the curse. It was man’s attempt to reach heaven and enter it on his own. It was man’s attempt to be exalted and make a name for himself. It was man’s attempt to stay together on this lonely planet and build something that would last. It was all human.
But salvation belongs to God. God has overcome the curse by the person and work of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Let us be happy that Jesus has rescued us from the curse. And let us understand that God has better hopes and dreams for us than the cities and the towers that we love to build in our lives.
Questions for Discussion & Sharing
What do you think about how the world tries to overcome the curse of sin and arrive at a happy ending? Consider man’s attempt to reach heaven and enter it on his own, to be exalted and make a name for himself, and to to stay together on this lonely planet and build something that would last.
Let us grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ and praise him because he is enough for us! What are some ways in which the Lord has stopped you from arriving at your own cities and towers, hopes and dreams, kingdoms and wants, scripts and stories - and what are some ways in which he has given you better ones? What cities and towers of your own continue to remain in your life?