Babel Undone

Text: Genesis 11:1-9

Today, we celebrate the Feast of Pentecost. Pentecost, which means “Fifty,” used to be called the Feast of Weeks in the Old Testament. It was a harvest festival where, fifty days after the Passover, the children of Israel would present an offering of new grain to the Lord.[1] Pentecost as we know it, received a new meaning in the New Testament; it has sort of become the Lord’s harvest festival. Fifty days after the Passover – which is the day our Lord died on the cross to win for the world the forgiveness of sins – the Lord poured out His Holy Spirit on the Apostles, and the saving Gospel of Christ was spoken in many languages. Men from all corners of the known world heard the Apostles speaking in their own languages and received the gift of faith.

At Pentecost, God worked a reversal of the Tower of Babel. After the Flood, mankind supposed to spread over the ends of the earth and populate it with faithful children of God. Instead, they all gathered in one place – not to worship, but to make a name for themselves. To punish their sin, the Lord confused the languages of mankind and scattered them all over the earth. At Pentecost, the Lord once again united all mankind again – this time, in the faith. Though now we remain separated by language and geography, by sending the Gospel out into many languages the Lord has created a unity which is pleasing to Him – unity in the faith. Today we celebrate the reversal of Babel by the outpouring of the Spirit, who unites us together in Christ.

I.

The account of the Tower of Babel is a brief one, but there are many lessons to be learned from it. After mankind was expelled from Eden as result of our first parents’ sin, humans began to spread over the earth. As they spread, the hope and faith in the Messiah promised first to Adam and Eve grew more and more dim. The world became such that the thoughts of all mankind were only evil continually, and the Lord was sorry He had created man. Yet, Noah and his family trusted in the Lord, and the He preserved them in the ark while the rest of the world perished in the Flood.

When the waters receded, and dry land appeared again, the Lord gave them the same instructions He gave before, “be fruitful and multiply, increase greatly on the earth and multiply in it.”[2] The Lord again desired that the world be filled with His faithful children and that all over the world, people would know to call on and be called by His name. But, instead, we heard in the text, “the whole earth had one language and the same words. And as people migrated from the east, they found a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there.”[3] As Noah’s descendants spread out across the earth, they eventually stopped. They found a plain and settled there for this purpose: they said, “let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.”[4]

Rather than listen to God’s Word and call upon His name, while Noah was probably still alive, His own descendants decided to do things their own way. To prevent God’s will from happening – He had told them to spread – they made a city for themselves and built a tower with its top in the heavens. In their arrogance, they sought to set aside God’s name and will and be known by their own. But, isn’t that what sin is? Every sin is claiming that we know better than God.

They sought to build a tower to heaven, but evidently, they didn’t quite make it. The Lord came down from heaven to look at the tower, you see. Rather than living in the unity that God had desired, living together in the one true faith, mankind created a unity of its own – a unity of sin and arrogance. The Lord saw this sinful unity and knew that there would be no end to mankind’s pursuit of sin. So, in judgment – yet, perhaps also in mercy – the Lord confused their language so that they would not understand each other and, “dispersed them from there over the face of all the earth.”[5]

II.

Let’s shift, now, to Pentecost. As our Lord prepared to ascend to the right hand of the Father, He instructed His disciples to remain in Jerusalem until they were clothed in the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit would bring to their remembrance all the things Jesus said and did and would cause them also to bear witness. Ten days after the Ascension – and fifty days since Passover – the disciples were together in one place.

And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.[6]

Now, Pentecost was a festival that brought many people to Jerusalem, people from many different countries and languages. When they heard the sound of the Spirit descending on the disciples, they all came to see what had happened. When they got there, they found the disciples speaking in many different languages. Men who were by birth Galileans, were speaking in languages they had not previously known. And what were they speaking? The Good News of Jesus Christ. The disciples were speaking in all those different languages the Good News that Jesus had suffered, died, and rose for the forgiveness of sins. Where, once, all these people were divided before by language, now they were being united in the Gospel of Christ.

So, Pentecost is like a reverse of Babel. Mankind tried to create its own unity by making a name for itself, a unity of sin and arrogance. The result was separation. At Pentecost, God created a holy unity by sending the Gospel out in so many languages. At Pentecost, God sent out the Holy Spirit to unite all mankind in this truth: Jesus Christ, both God and man, suffered on the cross for the sins of the whole world. Though in our lives we experience no end of heartache and trial, Jesus has won for us peace with God and eternal life with Him in heaven. All who were once united by sin and death, may now be united in faith and life. Pentecost is like a reversal of the Tower of Babel. Whereas mankind’s language was confused as a punishment for sin, now God sends out the Good News in all languages, so that we may be united again – this time, in Christ.

Pentecost is a fitting day for our congregations to have confirmation, as well. As our Lord has sent His Gospel out into all the world, uniting men and women all over in the one truth faith, so also has the Gospel been delivered to us. We have one in our presence now, who desires to confess the faith we share and so receive the Lord’s Supper in our fellowship. For this, we thank and praise God. Whereas of Pentecost of old, man brought in a harvest offering, now we celebrate Pentecost as God’s harvest festival. Though mankind was separated as a result of sin, now God has brought all mankind together in the confession of Christ’s name. At Pentecost, God undid Babel. Thanks be to God.


[1] Lev. 23:16, English Standard Version.

[2] Gen. 9:7

[3] Gen. 11:1-2.

[4] Gen. 11:4.

[5] Gen. 11:8.

[6] Acts 2:2-4.

NT Handout 06

New Testament Catechesis VI – Peter’s Vision and the Gospel for the Gentiles

Text: Acts 10:1-48

Discussion Questions (See if you can come up with some of your own.)

  • Who was Cornelius? What was he like?
  • What was Cornelius told to do in the vision?
  • What did Peter see in a vision?
  • What was Peter told to do? How did he respond?
  • What did the Lord say to him?
  • What does the vision mean?
  • What did Peter say about the visit in verse 28?
  • What did Peter figure out in verse 34?
  • When did the Holy Spirit fall on the people?
  • What does this teach us about where faith comes from?

Terms to Know

  • Jew: The most common name for someone who was descended from the bloodline of Abraham.
  • Gentile: Anyone who was uncircumcised and not from the bloodline of Abraham.
  • Children of Abraham: 1) Only the descendents of Abraham in the Old Testament. 2) Now, all true believers in Christ – Jew or Gentile – who believe in salvation by God’s grace alone through faith in Christ.
  • Caesarea: A port city on the Mediterranean Sea. It was first evangelized by Philip, was the home of Cornelius, and a prominent city in Paul’s missionary travels. Paul spent over two years there when he was under arrest before going to Rome.
  • Cornelius: The Roman centurion who became the first Gentile convert to Christianity through the ministry of the apostle Peter.

Memory Work

What is the Sacrament of the Altar?

It is the true body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ under the bread and wine, instituted by Christ Himself for us Christians to eat and to drink.

Where is this written?

The holy Evangelists Matthew, Mark, Luke, and St. Paul write:

Our Lord Jesus Christ, on the night when He was betrayed, took bread, and when He had given thanks, He broke it and gave it to the disciples and said: “Take, eat; this is My body, which is given for you. This do in remembrance of Me.”

 

In the same way also He took the cup after supper, and when He had given thanks, He gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you; this cup is the new testament in My blood, which is shed for you for the forgiveness of sins. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.”

Next Week: The Lord’s Supper, Pt. I

It’s for the Kids!

Texts: Deut. 6, Acts 2, Lk. 18

I have to be very careful with the illustration I’m about to use. I’ll do my best, but I’ll have to beg your pardon if this comes out the wrong way. I know of a phrase, a four-long set of words that you can use to get someone to do just about anything. You can tack this clause onto the end of nearly any sentence and get a favorable response. “What’s the phrase,” you ask? “It’s for the kids.” I’m sorry, but it often works. Some examples: “I think we should get a dog…it’s for the kids!” “Maybe we should consider a new car…it’s for the kids!” “Let’s think about switching to decaf coffee. It’s for the kids.” I need to be very careful with this line of thought, but an appeal to the good of our children will drive us to a great many things.

But not all things, it seems. For, when we hear the clear call of God to take up Bible and Catechism and teach our children, we’re aren’t always so quick to jump on that bandwagon. There are many reasons why that is. We’re too busy; that’s why we have pastors; I’m too old; I’m embarrassed; I’m not qualified to teach. Beloved in Christ, let us hear today the words of Christ and not be swayed by the temptations of the flesh. Christ says in the Gospel, “Let the children come to Me, and do not hinder them. For to such belongs the kingdom of God.” St. Peter says likewise in his Pentecost sermon. “The promise,” the good news of Jesus Christ, “is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to Himself.” From our texts we should learn that God has given us the solemn responsibility of commending the faith to next generation, for the forgiveness of sins in Christ is not just for us, but for our children, too.

I.

Today we are celebrating Christian education. That’s what our readings are about. It’s what our hymns are about. But, if we’re going to talk about educating children in the good news of Jesus Christ, we should start at the beginning – The Beginning, actually. We should ask: whose idea was it to pass on the faith; whose idea is it that children should be taught God’s Word? God. Not only did God come up with the idea that children should learn His Word but He also instituted the primary way that that happens, the family. The Scriptures say that on the sixth day of creation, the sixth of all the days that have ever been, God created Adam and placed him in the Garden of Eden to work it and keep it. God brought to Adam all the different animals He had made, each with its mate. “But for Adam there was not found a helper fit for him. So the Lord caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man,” and made Eve out of Adam’s rib.

It was not good that man was alone so God created woman to live with man, thereby instituting marriage, and at the same time, the family. God has bestowed upon marriage many blessings: a divinely-blessed friendship, a place of mutual of support and comfort, a place for man and woman to find delight in each other, and the wonder that is the birth of children. Both marriage and family exist because of God’s good will. Alongside the many blessings God provides, He has also placed a solemn responsibility upon those who are married. Included in the command to be fruitful and multiply is also the instruction of God to pass on the faith to our children. When husband and wife come together and God blesses their union with the conception of a child, He expects that the fruit of their union would continue in the knowledge of our God and savior. God taught Adam, Adam taught Eve, Adam and Eve taught their children, Seth taught his children, and so on. As the psalmist sings, “One generation shall commend Your works to another, and shall declare Your mighty acts.”

Unfortunately the command and will of God was lost among His people. The Fall into Sin shattered our relationships with God and with each other, and so the education of children in the faith was cast aside. For forty years, Israel grumbled against their God and acted against Him by not circumcising their children through all their time in the wilderness. On the eve of the entrance into the Promised Land, God recalled to His people through the mouth of Moses His divine intention for the family. “These words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes.” Or, to cast God’s will for the family and the responsibility of parents toward their children in a New Testament light, St. Paul writes, “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” In other words, when God instituted marriage and the family, He created the household to be like a small-scale church, where the Word is daily taught and Baptism remembered, and where faithful reception of the Lord’s Supper is continually encouraged.

II.

So far we’ve seen the “what” of God’s will for children, but our texts this week also give us the “why.” In Luke 18, Jesus has just told the parable of the Tax Collector and the Pharisee. The two men go up to the temple to pray, but only the tax collector returned justified. Unlike the Pharisee, he cast himself entire upon the mercy of God, trusting in His mercy for salvation and not in anything of his own. St. Luke writes, “Now they were bringing even infants to Him that He might touch them. And when the disciples saw it, they rebuked them. But Jesus called them to Him, saying, ‘Let the little children come to me, for to such belongs the kingdom of God.’” Jesus was indignant that the children were being prevented from coming to Him, because it is to them, and those like them that the kingdom of heaven belongs.

Like the tax collector in the parable who rested in God’s mercy, everything a child has is given to them. Parents supply their children with what they need because they love them. A child doesn’t have to earn the love of his parents – it’s already there, built into the relationship by God. This is a model of how salvation works as well. We don’t earn salvation. Salvation is won for us by Christ. In perfect obedience to the Father, Jesus kept and fulfilled the whole Law on our behalf, and then died on the cross as the full payment in blood for our transgressions. The promise of salvation, of forgiveness sins and eternal life in heaven, comes through faith in His Word and is itself a free gift.

St. Peter says clearly whom the salvation in Jesus Christ is for. He says in his sermon on the Day of Pentecost, “Repent and be baptized everyone one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. This promise is for you and for you children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to Himself.” Today we are celebrating Christian education. We’ve discovered the “what” of God’s will in the matter – all people should be taught His Word, and parents, especially have the responsibility placed on them to teach their children. Now, we have also heard the “why.” Faith comes by hearing the Word of God. Jesus likes children. Therefore, His desire is clear: we should teach our children the Word of God, besides the fact that God commands it, because it is through His Word that our children will be saved. The promise of salvation in Christ is for all people, kids included. “It’s for the kids.”

Now, we aren’t always so quick to jump to task. There are any number of obstacles that the Old Adam throws up in our face to pull us back from this joyous responsibility. But, let us today be transformed by the renewal of our minds. St. Peter said that the promise of Christ is for our children, but it’s also for us, too. We are gathered here as parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, and as a congregation. May God grant us in this new school year a renewed vigor and eagerness to commend His mercy and grace to the next generation, and may He always strengthen us in His forgiveness and love.

Examination of Confirmands – 2016

** Audio for this sermon can be found here: https://www.spreaker.com/user/trinitystjohn/2016-05-11-examination-of-the-confirmand **

Text: John 15:26-27

The grace and mercy of our ascended Lord, Jesus Christ, be with you all – especially with you, Tristan and Avery. Tonight we gather to celebrate the gifts that we’ve received in Baptism (namely, the forgiveness of sins, and the Holy Spirit) and to bear witness to the same. The text for our meditation this evening is the teaching of Jesus from the Gospel reading this last Sunday,

When the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me. And you also will bear witness, because you have been with me from the beginning.

In the Gospel for the Sunday after the Ascension Jesus is seeking to comfort the Disciples before His passion. Soon, He would be with them no longer. For three years the Disciples walked with Jesus. They received His teaching and witnessed His miracles day-in and day-out. On the mount of Transfiguration St. Peter desired to build tents and remain in Jesus’ glory, but the reality was that they had been witnessing it all along – each miracle a preview of heavenly joy and peace in the forgiveness of sins. But soon Jesus will be with them no longer. He will be betrayed, suffer, be crucified, and die. He will bear the intense hatred of the world. In the Gospel text Jesus is trying to comfort the Disciples, because He says,

If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you…If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you.

This was a sobering moment for the Disciples. Jesus assured them that though the blessed future of heaven blooms bright on the horizon, clouds of suffering will mark the time in-between. First, suffering will come from the world. Perhaps no one knew this better than the Disciples, for each of them bore the hatred of the world, and most suffered martyrdom in terrible ways. Imagine going from witnessing the glory of Christ’s resurrection to the despair of your own imprisonment for the faith and upcoming departure (as Sts. Peter and Paul called it). Second, suffering will come from the devil who drives the hatred of the world for the true teaching of Christ’s Gospel.

Today though, you and I don’t suffer the hatred of the world in the same way the Disciples did. We don’t live in the fear of being stoned like Paul (who survived) or being crucified upside-down like Peter. But, we do share in the hated of the devil. He is the one who constantly inflames the world to fight against the Gospel of Jesus Christ with false teachings of all sorts. The devil also works against our consciences, either causing to us despair over sin, or to ignore the corruption that rots away within us when we ignore God’s Word. But, hear these words of Christ and take comfort, “When the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me.”

Our Lord very specifically and assuredly uses the word, “Helper,” to describe the Holy Spirit to us. He may also rightly be called the Comforter, for that is what the Holy Spirit does by proclaiming Christ to us. Jesus said to the Disciples that when He departs the world will hate them, but He will send them the Holy Spirit to help them. The Holy Spirit helps and comforts by pointing to the truth of Jesus Christ. All Jesus did, all He willed, all He suffered and endured, was for their sake. For their sins Jesus went to the cross. For the punishment and guilt they deserved for their transgressions, Jesus died. The same is true for us. Jesus died for you. And to you (and you, Avery and Tristan) the Holy Spirit has been given. We have all received the Holy Spirit in Holy Baptism and through preaching of God’s Word, and through these same things He guides us into the truth of our salvation in Jesus.

 

Jesus spoke these words to the Disciples on the night of His betrayal, “When the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me. And you also will bear witness, because you have been with me from the beginning.” The key words this evening (and for this coming Sunday) are these, “You also will bear witness, because you have been with me from the beginning.” These words apply primarily to the Disciples, who were with Jesus since the beginning of His ministry and were ordained by Him to preach His Word to the ends of the earth. But, they may also be spoken of our confirmands tonight. Both of them were Baptized as children, one on May 5th and one on November 28th. In the washing of Holy Baptism they received all the good gifts of the Holy Spirit: their sins were forgiven, they were rescued from death and devil and given eternal salvation; they were clothed in Christ’s righteousness and made children of God our heavenly Father.

Tonight and on Sunday, the time has come to bear witness to the work of the Holy Spirit among us. Our confirmation students have truly been with Jesus or rather,  (through Baptism) Jesus has been with them since the beginning. He has constantly been with them to strengthen them and comfort them in the forgiveness of their sins, and this week will lead them to bear witness. The Scriptures teach that no one can say that Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit, therefore we are filled with joy to witness His work.

Tristan and Avery – I know that you’re probably very nervous right about now and will be on Sunday. But, you can know that we all as a congregation and as your family in Christ are very proud of you and we are praying for you. Each of us here shares with you the joy and salvation of Christ. As you prepare to make the good confession, I invite you to take these words of St. Paul to heart,

As for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.