May 1, 2016
Genesis 11:1-9; 12:1-9
Part 1: The Big Picture
At first glance, Babel just looks like a story about a city and a tower. And at first glance, Abraham just looks like a story about a blessing and a call. But there is something more epic going on here. The stories of Babel and Abraham are meant to go together. And together they show two different responses to the promise of God.
For God promised a salvation for a people. God promised that a special person would come and take the test that Adam failed and pass it for the sake of a graciously chosen people. God promised that a powerful messiah would crush the head of the serpent and vanquish sin and death. God promised that a wonderful servant would suffer by passing under the flaming sword of judgment that guarded the tree of life and taking possession of that very tree. God promised forgiveness and redemption. Joy and resurrection life. A king and a kingdom. And God’s promise came true in Jesus Christ.
This is the big picture.
All the Old Testament stories come down to these big picture questions: would people believe in God's promise of salvation or not? Would people look forward to a messiah who would crush the head of the serpent or not? Would people keep the big picture in their hearts or not?
Remembering this big picture can be hard. And the Old Testament is full of people who neglected God's promise. The free nation of Israel wanted to go back to slavery in Egypt. Esau traded away God's promise for a bowl of stew. The neighbors of Noah stayed merry. David fell for Bathsheba. Naomi relocated to Moab. Cain killed Abel. And the people of Babel built a city and a tower.
Part 2: Two Ways To Live
Let us take a closer look at the response of Babel and the response of Abraham. As we do so, let us recognize that while they were two completely different ways to live back then, they are still two completely different ways to live right now. And as we do so, let us think about which way we are taking.
If I could summarize these two responses, I would say it like this. The Abraham way looks at God's promise and says, “Yes!” The Babel way looks at God's promise and says, “Whatever.” The Abraham way looks at God's promise and says, “Amen!” The Babel way looks at God's promise and says, “Meh.”
These are two very different ways to live. Let’s listen more closely to the details of these two ways to respond to God.
Consider the big picture of security and comfort in life. The Babel way says, “Let us stick together. Let us build a city. Then we will be safe. Then we will not be spread out on this lonely planet.” The Abraham way says, “Let us leave our homeland. We will travel like pilgrims and live in tents. The future is uncertain. But God is with us.”
Consider the big picture of suffering and death. The Babel way looks at suffering and death and says, “We are all going to die, so let us just enjoy life while we can.” The Abraham way looks at suffering and death and says, “We are all going to die, but I believe in resurrection and in a life after death.”
Consider the big picture of how this world that is passing away. The Babel way looks down at the earth and says, “This is nice. Let us settle down here and make a name for ourselves.” The Abraham way looks down at the earth and says, “This is not nice. Let us wait and look forward to a better world, a people and a place that God will make for us one day.” The Babel way looks straight at the mirror and says, “You got this! We can do this!” The Abraham way looks up toward heaven, and says, “God's got this! He's promised this!”
Two completely different ways to live back then. Two completely different ways to live now. Brothers and sisters, which way sounds like your life?
The Babel way is the bad way of life. It is clear that the people of Babel either forgot about God's promise of salvation or just flat out rejected it or just didn't care. It is obvious that they did not look forward to a better world made by God. Instead, they tried to make a better world on their own. Also, they didn't care for God's honor. Instead, they cared about making a name for themselves. All of this is sin.
But it gets worse. The Babel way ultimately brings great dishonor to the Lord Jesus Christ. Instead of believing in God's promise of salvation in the messiah Jesus, the people of Babel built towers in order to reach heaven on their own. They tried to save themselves with their own work and effort, foolishly thinking that bricks for stone and bitumen for mortar would do the trick.
But the good news of God's promise of salvation is this. We don't go to heaven through the person and work of ourselves. We go to heaven through the person and work of Jesus Christ. We do not go up to heaven on a human tower. Instead, heaven, so to speak, comes down to us on Jacob's ladder. This is good news!
The Babel way is bad news! And there is nothing but judgment for the Babel way. Just look at what God did to the people of Babel. He came down upon them and confused their language and scattered them. In other words, he judged them. There is judgment for people today if they go the Babel way and reject Jesus Christ. But there is forgiveness and eternal life for us who go the Abraham way and lay hold of the promise of salvation in Christ Jesus. And this awesome gospel blew up big time at the very symbolic event of Pentecost, the decisive moment in history in which God overthrew both the idea of Babel and the judgment of Babel.
Part 3: Inside Out
What was Abraham thinking when he left for Canaan? What was in his heart while he made his journey? It’s tempting to imagine what Abraham was thinking. It’s tempting to try to read Abraham’s mind or put our own spin or interpretation into his story. But the cool thing about the Bible is that the Bible does this work for us. Scripture interprets itself. And it turns out that the writer of Hebrews tells us exactly what was going on in Abraham’s heart and mind.
By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God.
Abraham looked for a heavenly city made by God. Not an earthly city made by humans. He looked forward to a people and a place of God’s promise. In other words, Abraham looked forward to a kingdom. And so Abraham got up, left his homeland, and started walking. He didn't know where he was going. He didn't have a road map or directions. All he had was the promise of God's kingdom. But for Abraham, that promise was enough.
The writer of Hebrews goes on to say this. Abraham - and other believers like him - died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.
And so instead of saying, “Meh,” to God's promise, Abraham said, “Yes!” Instead of saying, “We're going to die, so let's just enjoy life to the fullest,” Abraham said, “I believe in resurrection life after death.” Instead of saying, “I will make a name for myself,” Abraham said, “God will make a name for me.” And instead of saying, “Let's build a city and a tower,” Abraham left his homeland, started walking, and said to himself, “I am a pilgrim. And I look forward to a better place, a kingdom full of people who will be with God.”
And this, my brothers and sisters, should be in our hearts and minds as well.
Part 3: Hold the Polish
As we wait for the Lord and for his kingdom, we do so being in the world but not of it. We wait as citizens of the kingdom of God, but we also wait as residents of his fading world. This puts us in a tough spot. It is okay for believers to have real joy that comes from this world. Real joy can be had from enjoying a good burger, fixing up a home, or rooting for your favorite sports team. But Christians who walk the Abraham way have a joy that is detached. A real joy that is in very real tension with the promise the kingdom. A detached joy. For we know that this ship is sinking. And you don’t polish the brass on a sinking ship.
This is one of the most gigantic and most difficult things to swallow. The rich young man walked away from Christ. He rejected the kingdom of God. He could not let go of his possessions. His heart was in this world. He turned away from the promise of salvation. What a sad tragedy. Esau wanted to get back the blessing that he forfeited. But Hebrews 12 tells us that “when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no chance to repent, though he sought it with tears.” What a sad tragedy. When King Saul disobeyed God, the prophet Samuel told him that God rejected him. As Samuel turned to go away, Saul seized the skirt of his robe, and it tore. And Samuel said to him, “The Lord has torn the kingdom of Israel from you this day….” Many people in history went the way of Babel. Many people looked at God’s salvation and said, “Whatever.” And for their personal decision against God, they paid the highest price and lost everything. For it is written in John 12:25, “Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” This is one of the most gigantic and most difficult things to swallow. This is what makes Christianity offensive to many. This is what makes following Jesus so difficult.
I hope and pray that we would be a church that is not worldly.
Part 4: Epilogue
In closing, I want you to know that there are people in heaven right now, people besides Jesus, who are rooting for you. There is a cloud of witnesses in heaven who look forward to seeing you soon. Father Abraham is rooting for you. King David is rooting for you. Peter is rooting for you. All of these souls who chose the Abraham way in their life - they look forward to seeing you lay aside every weight and sin and run with endurance and look to Jesus and wait for the kingdom. So be encouraged by them. A better country awaits you.