Summary: This sermon compares the building of the city of Babel in Genesis 11 with the building of the Kingdom of God as described in Acts 1-2 to demonstrate the requirements of building God’s kingdom.
God Is Building God’s Kingdom
Have you ever wanted to be part of a really unified community of people? Part of a community that planned and worked together to make something really significant? Part of a community that other people would look at and say, “Hey, I like what you’re doing – I want to join you!”?
Is that what you would like for your church here? What about you home and your workplace?
Genesis tells us that Noah’s descendants had exactly that ambition. For:
they said [to each other], "Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves and not be scattered over the face of the whole earth."
In 246BC, when 14year old Ying Zheng ascended the throne of the Chin provence of China and took for himself the title first emperor, he made his plans clear. And he proceeded to war against his neighbouring states until he had united China and made himself it’s emperor. But his plans did not stop there, for he wanted to be similarly prepared for life after death. So he began the construction of his tomb, and around the site where his body would be buried he built a series of halls to house a large standing army, complete with soldiers weapons, horses, and chariots. There are no written records left of how big the whole complex is, but so far excavations have revealed over 7,000 life sized terracotta clay figures that were part of this army. Each figure has a unique face, appropriate clothing for their rank, and real weapons. Clearly Ying had eternal ambitions for the fame of his name.
Similarly, Genesis tells us that the descendants of Noah were going to build a city with a high tower in order to make a name for themselves; to bring them fame and glory. And just as Ying believed he could take a clay army with him as a real army when he died, Noah’s descendants believed that this towered city and it’s fame would bind them together in unity as a community.
But the author of Genesis gives us an insight into the true heart, the true desires of Noah’s descendants. When we read these people saying “let us make” we can hear in it an echo of God’s creative commands. Commands like: “And God said, ’Let us make mankind in our own image”. They were speaking as though they were God.
No only that but in the Bible it is God and God alone who makes a name for himself and people. Yet Noah’s descendants planned to make their own name for themselves. And they planned their city to tower over Gods creation. Even their desire to congregate in one place could be interpreted as a rejection of God’s command to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth. Though outwardly the community they planned might look good and successful, the heart of their grand plan was actually to sit on God’s throne; to take God’s place.
GE 11:5 But [God] came down to see the city and the tower that the men were building. [God] said, "If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other."
Here we switch from seeing through the people’s eyes to seeing through God’s eyes. The Lord God, the one who really is over all and above all, looked upon his peoples creation. And as if to emphasize just how much God is above all, despite these people’s building efforts, the writer describes God as coming down to see what the people had built. And God saw that as a unified community there was nothing that was impossible for them.
During his reign as Emperor of China, Ying unified the country, the currency and the written language. But he also gained a significant reputation as a tyrant, removing any opposition and forcing people to work as virtual slaves on his grand building projects. So much so, that when he died his son’s reign as emperor was soon overthrown by revolt. In the process Ying’s tomb was smashed and burnt, so that many of the terracotta figures found today are not intact. The judgement of the Chinese people themselves was that they wanted no more of this emperor in any life.
And this Bible reading tells us that God made a similar judgement about Noah’s descendants. You see, to plan without limit is the activity of God, not man. And God knew their pride in their own achievements would only lead them into further self-promotion and sin; a greater rejection of God as God. So in an act of judgement, to prevent even greater sin, God decided to take away the one thing that enabled their unity, their common language; they would no longer be able communicate well enough to continue to work together as a unified group.As their language became confused the community splintered and scattered and the building project was abandoned.