Tower of Babel

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When I was 11 years old I invented a religion.  Except that there was nothing new about it.  I imagined a god who demanded moral goodness and punished shortfalls.  And with a combination of carrots and sticks my god would prod me towards some kind of “better place.”  I wasn’t the first to consider religion in this way.

The story of Babel is a gigantic enactment of our universal religious impulse:

In Genesis 11 the men of Shinar say:

“Go to, let us build us a city and a tower, whose top (head) may reach unto heaven; and let us make us a name, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.”  (Genesis 11:4)

Here are all the ingredients for a religion.  You’ve got a community (a city), you’ve got a sense of “in” and “out” (gathering not scattering), you’ve got a grand enterprise (building the tower) and you’ve got a goal (to make a ‘name’ or reputation).

But the whole trajectory of this religious project is opposed to the way of the LORD.

His way is summed up brilliantly in the following verse:

And the LORD came down to see the city and the tower.  (Genesis 11:5)

The LORD comes down.  That is the way of the gospel.  He doesn’t wait for us to ascend to Him and so make our name.  He is the one to make a name for Himself.  And His kind of name (or reputation) is very different.  His name is an anti-Babel name – it’s the name of One who stoops to create a different kind of community.

The LORD opposes the Babel enterprise.  He demolishes the tower, scatters the people and confounds their languages (v9).

But the LORD is not against community or uniting earth and heaven.  In the fullness of time He brings about a remarkable event of gathering to answer the scattering of Babel.

First, at Easter, the LORD Jesus stooped all the way down to the cross for us.  Then He rose and ascended all the way to the throne of God.  He is the Head who rests in heaven.

And fifty days after Easter came the day of Pentecost.  On that day, the Apostle Peter stood up and declared this good news to a very multi-lingual crowd.  Anyone and everyone can be joined to Christ the way a body is joined to its head.  We can all have our Head in the clouds!  Not through our works but through His.

When that good news was declared, all the language-barriers came down.  They all understood the good news in their own languages (Acts 2:6).  And a new kind of community was gathered (Acts 2:41-47).

There are two approaches to getting to heaven.  Babel says, You must ascend.  The gospel says, Christ has descended to bring us up.

There are two approaches to a name.  Babel says, Make a self-exalting reputation for yourself.  The gospel says, Christ has made a self-abasing reputation for Himself.

There are two approaches to community.  Babel says, Unite in your own name-making enterprise.  The gospel says, Unite as you make His name known.

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