Wednesday, June 08, 2022

The New Testament Book of Second Thessalonians, Part 4 and 4B

[The study got cut off just as we were winding up for the night. So, I came back with a little addendum.]

The New Testament Book of Second Thessalonians, Part 3

Monday, June 06, 2022

Babel and Pentecost

[This is the message prepared for worship with the people and friends of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio, yesterday.]

Genesis 11:1-19
Acts 2:1-21

To begin this morning, let me tell you something I used to think and then let me tell you why I was wrong.

Basically, I used to say that in Genesis at the tower of Babel, God confused the common language of the people there so they couldn’t talk with each other anymore, and at Pentecost, fifty days after Jesus’ Resurrection and ten days after His Ascension, He made it possible for people to talk with each other again. I thought that God just changed His mind and I didn’t know why.

But that spin flies in the face of what God’s Word reveals to us about God!

God told the Old Testament prophet Malachi: “I the Lord do not change…” (Malachi 3:6)

And the preacher of the New Testament book of Hebrews says of Jesus, God the Son: “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” (Hebrews 13:8)

What this tells me is that while God will spare sinners who repent and believe in Him from judgment–God will change their eternal destiny, God’s essential, perfect, loving nature never changes.

So, what does this all mean for us today?

Let’s consider our first two lessons and see.

Moses, the writer of Genesis, tells the story of the tower of Babel in Genesis 11:1-9, right after telling us about Noah and the great flood. The human race, you’ll remember, had become so consumed by idolatry and sin that God decided to destroy the earth in a flood and start things over with Noah and his family, the only people in the world who trusted in God. After the flood subsided, Noah built an altar to the Lord and God gave a rainbow as a sign of His promise, “Never again will I curse the ground because of humans, even though [after the flood]] every inclination of the human heart is [still] evil from childhood.” (Genesis 8:21) 

Despite God’s grace though, the human race went from bad to worse. The descendants of Noah moved to a plain in a place called Shinar, still filled with sin, heedless of God, worshiping objects, works of fiction and myth, and, most of all, themselves. Which leads us to the tower.

You know the story. The people decided to build a tower to “make a name for ourselves…” (Genesis 11:4)

The tower was to be a monument to their self-sufficiency. It was a declaration of independence from God, an affirmation of a common human delusion that we can and should do whatever we want to do no matter what God says.

The egomania and sin of the builders of the tower of Babel are echoed, if we’re honest, in our own lives.

We daily fail to love God or love our neighbor as we love ourselves.

We put our desires above the will of God and the call to follow Jesus.

Even though Jesus has told us, “apart from me you can do nothing,” we deem ourselves self-sufficient and tell each other to follow our hearts or our inclinations rather than confessing that we are all born in sin and need God’s forgiveness in Jesus and that we are nothing without the God Who made us! (John 15:5)

The people of Babel spoke a common language, enabling them to build the tower. But to save the people from themselves and from the consequences of their sinful delusion of self-sufficiency, God confused their language, confronting them with the reality that they weren’t “all that” and maybe  opening the eyes of some to see their need for God for forgiveness, life, and wisdom. Soon, the construction stopped and the egomaniacs headed for other places.

Fast forward 3000 years or so to the first Pentecost after Jesus had died, risen, and ascended back to heaven.

While the builders at Babylon had worked to erect a monument to themselves, Jesus’ first disciples heeded Jesus’ directive to wait in Jerusalem to receive the power of God, the power of the Holy Spirit, to do the one thing God has called His Church and we individual Christians to do, to be Jesus’ witnesses everywhere (Acts 1:8)

You see what Jesus was telling His Church then and His Church now?

Jesus gives us what is an impossible job if we try to do it ourselves.

If Peter had said, “I have decided to follow Jesus, no turning back,” the Holy Spirit would have reminded Peter of how he said a similar thing on the night of Jesus’ arrest, then, within hours, denied knowing Jesus at all three times.

The powerless misfits who followed Jesus never could make disciples of all nations, could never even have enduring faith in the crucified and risen Jesus, if they undertook to do those things in their own powe.

Neither can you and I.

In other words, whether for our salvation or for our faithfulness to God’s call on our lives, self-sufficiency is completely foreign to Christian discipleship. We need the power of God, the Holy Spirit to live in Christ, to believe in Christ, to have salvation through Christ, and to have a life of purpose and meaning that comes from Christ alone.

And so, I’d misunderstood what the histories of Babel and of the first Christian Pentecost tell us.

At Babel, God confused the language of the people in order to get their attention and alert them to the damnation and eternal alone-ness that will come to those who turn from God and believe in their own self-sufficiency.

At Pentecost, God gifted the Church with the power to speak Christ’s saving Gospel and God’s great love in ways that people can understand and receive with faith! The Holy Spirit was at work in Martin Luther when He inspired Luther to write the melody of A Mighty Fortress is Our God in the style of popular German beer-drinking songs. It’s why today we have both modern praise songs and traditional hymnody. We all speak different languages. But God wants to speak the good news that we are only saved and made acceptable to God by grace through faith in the crucified and risen Jesus!

At Babel, God thwarted the communication of human arrogance. At Pentecost, He made it possible for those humbled by life, death, or circumstance to hear what God wants to tell each and every human being.

A week ago this past Thursday, as some of you know, Jim Lopez took me to one of the weekly dinners held at a house run by Whole Truth Ministries. This is a Christian outreach that engages people recovering from addictions in a residential program to help them stay clean and start living productive lives again.

Whole Truth uses a combination of Twelve Step and other addiction recovery approaches, all of which begin with a fundamental insight and admission on the part of the addict: that they are powerless over whatever substance addicts them and that their lives are unmanageable because of their addiction. The second step is coming to believe that a Power greater than ourselves–God–can restore them.

As I spent time with those women and men, it struck me that people who have become addicted to things like alcohol or drugs may have certain advantages over the rest of the human race. The rest of us might be addicted to things like self-righteousness, bigotry, money, power, acceptance, sex outside of marriage, comfort, or self-indulgence, addictions that, just like addictions to drug or alcohol, will drive us away from God and deeper into the cesspool of our own sin. As far as I can see, all addiction is, along with the complicated physiological and psychological elements that are undeniably involved, idolatry, the worship of something or someone as a god that is not God, looking for meaning or comfort or peace or life in something or someone other than Jesus Christ alone. Martin Luther insightfully says, “Whatever your heart clings to and confides in, that is really your God.”

The consequences of being addicted to alcohol or drugs include the possibility of becoming a social pariah, losing one’s job, destroying one’s reputation, or dying. But if you’re addicted to self-righteousness, bigotry, money, and so on, many of which are more or less socially acceptable, you may go all the way to hell without realizing that you’ve wandered away from the God we know in Jesus and the life that only He can bring.

Most addicts I’ve known who are in recovery know what the first Christians who waited for the coming of the Holy Spirit knew: Without reliance on the God we meet in Jesus Christ, we can do nothing, we are people without hope.

So, Pentecost not only calls us to be Spirit-filled witnesses for Jesus. It also calls us to rely completely, like the first disciples on Pentecost did, on Jesus Christ.

To be right with God, ourselves, and the world, to be righteous and whole, we need Jesus Christ.

As we daily turn to Him, He sets us free from our sins and idolatry and replaces our insufficiency with His complete sufficiency.

The Spirit makes it possible for us to believe in Jesus and to proclaim Jesus.

The bottom line, friends: Jesus is our crutch.

No Christian should be afraid to admit that.

Jesus is the only way to life with God, to peace, and to eternal hope.

As Christians, we rejoice in that and want everyone in the world to know Him as Lord, God, Savior, and dearest Friend!

Next week we’ll look at the rest of Peter’s Pentecost sermon.