What does god reveal to us in the account of the Tower of Babel? He reveals to us that one common sin infects us all, the sin of pride. We think we know better than God, that we can outsmart Him and that we don’t really need Him at all. Look at the people at Babel. They are already the descendants of Ham, who sinned against his father, Noah, by showing off Noah’s nakedness to Shem and Japheth. So now, relatives of a cursed family seek to avoid any further curses from God. The history of the Flood is still common knowledge. They know that it came about because of God’s righteous wrath over the great sin of the people. So instead of intending to amend their ways, the people in Babel come up with a way to avoid any future punishments of God—or so they think. They abuse technology for their own sinful gain by making bricks by a new method and build a tower that reaches to the heavens. That way, should God change His mind and send another earth-covering flood, they can climb the tower and be safe, not in God’s divinely-inspired ark, but by the work of their hands. God sees this rebellion, knows that their future wickedness will know no bounds if left unchecked, and so He limits their collaborative potential by confusing their languages.
At Babel, the people thumbed their nose at God. They told Him they had no intention of living as His people, of living lives of repentance and imploring His aid to live as He commands. And their use of technology proved it. How often do we, as people with far better technology than the people of Babel, do the same thing? Instead of dealing with the sins against the Sixth Commandment that lead to a dreadful array of diseases and infections, our pharmaceutical companies simply mix up another cocktail to curb AIDS and its evil cousins. The Internet, which can connect people around the globe and can be used for good is filled with the evils of porn, gossip, hatred, theft, and the list goes on. And this is only the tip of the iceberg of our abuse of technology.
But this evil day cannot and will not continue forever. But do not be lulled into false hope. God does see, He does know what evil defines these days. Just as He was not unaware of the goings on at Babel, He is not unaware of the evil of this present age, the evil that lurks in the flesh each one of us wears. When Moses recorded the dialogue in the Godhead, “Come, let Us go down,” it does not mean that God was distant and simply wanted to see what was going on. He was delaying His judgment in mercy, to allow time for repentance. But the time for mercy had ended and the time for judgment had come.
Just like the people at Babel, each of us wants to find a way around God’s judgment against sin. We want to give into our fleshly lusts, to live just like our worldly neighbors, but escape the wrath of divine judgment. But you cannot have it both ways, you cannot serve God and yourself. The only way to avoid God’s wrath is by repentance, by lamenting sin and hating its tyrannical hold on you.
But this can only happen if God comes to you and makes His dwelling in you. And that is exactly what today, the Feast of Pentecost, celebrates. The Lord comes to you, not in judgment, but to remove judgment. When the Holy Spirit gave the Apostles the gift of speaking in other languages they had not studied, the judgment of Babel, was reversed. Pride caused the languages of the world to be divided, but Christ’s humility caused the Good News of God’s forgiveness to be preached in every language. What the pride of the Tower of Babel divided, God has put back together in the holy Christian Church. Pride caused one language to become many, but in the Church of Christ those many languages and people are made one by the Blood of Christ.
So the Church is not American or German or Greek or any other ethnicity. The Church is Christ’s, and the day of Pentecost reveals that the Gospel—the Good News of Jesus’ death and resurrection, the forgiveness of sins, the hope of our own resurrection and life in God’s Kingdom—is for everyone, of every tribe and tongue and people and nation. People are welcomed into the Church, not because of the color of their skin or common culture, but because they are made brothers and sisters of Christ in the waters of Holy Baptism, clothed with the same white robe of Christ’s righteousness.
All of us, though diverse in many ways, are made one in Christ. We are inheritors of a common gift, the peace of Christ. He does not give a worldly peace, nor does He give as the world gives. He gives us a peace beyond understanding, the peace of sin forgiven, the peace of death, hell, and the devil defeated.
And this gift comes by way of the Holy Spirit as He delivers Christ to us. The Father sends the Son to do the work of redemption. The Son sends the Spirit to deliver all that He has done for your salvation. The Son wins forgiveness, the Spirit delivers forgiveness, so that we are reconciled to the forgiving Father. The Spirit’s home is the Gospel, delivering each good gift it gives.
So the Holy Spirit comes to make us holy. We cannot achieve that holiness by ourselves. We all know the sins toward which we gravitate, the evils we want to do and the evils we do. Lest you worry that your sins are too great, the Holy Spirit turns your eyes from yourself and your sin to Jesus. As Luther so beautifully preached: “‘Yes,’ you say, ‘I am a poor sinner and have provoked God to anger.’ How true! But do you not hear what Christ says? ‘I give you My peace, God’s grace, and the forgiveness of sin. You must not look at yourself; you must fix your eyes on what I give you. As you know, you have My Baptism, Sacrament, and Gospel, which are noting but tokens of grace and peace.’”
Pentecost is about consolation. We are sinners, people of great pride, selfishness, and rebellion. But the Holy Spirit is poured out generously in Word and Sacrament to bring you to repentance, to deliver the healing of the Gospel, the declaration that all your sin is forgiven by the death and resurrection of Jesus. And now the Spirit delivers that forgiveness to you in the Body and Blood of Jesus, the peace that the world cannot give you, nor can it take away from you.
Why does the Pastor preach? Scripture explains that the role of preaching the Word of God is how saving faith is created: “How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in Him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!’ … So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the Word of Christ” (Romans 10:14-17). The Augsburg Confession, seeing this connection between the Preaching Office and saving faith, summarizes Scripture on the Office of the Holy Ministry in this way: “To obtain [saving, justifying] faith, God instituted the Office of Preaching, giving the Gospel and the Sacraments. Through these, as through means, He gives the Holy Spirit who produces faith, where and when He wills, in those who hear the Gospel. It teaches that we have a gracious God, not through our merit but through Christ’s merit, when we so believe” (AC V 1-3). The whole reason the Pastor preaches is so saving faith can be created, so we know that “we have a gracious God” who loves us and has saved us from our sin by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.