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May 19, 2013 - Acts 2.1-21

“Demolishing Babel”

Acts 2:1-21

May 19, 2013

 

When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 2 And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3 Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.

5 Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. 6 And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. 7 Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? 9 Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 11 Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.” 12 All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” 13 But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.”

14 But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. 15 Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. 16 No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:

17 ‘In the last days it will be, God declares,

that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,

and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,

and your young men shall see visions,

and your old men shall dream dreams.

18 Even upon my slaves, both men and women,

in those days I will pour out my Spirit;

and they shall prophesy.

19 And I will show portents in the heaven above

and signs on the earth below,

blood, and fire, and smoky mist.

20 The sun shall be turned to darkness

and the moon to blood,

before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day.

21 Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’

 

When I lived in NC, I was in the middle of the old textile heartland.  I remember when they were demolishing one of the old mills.  Right down the street from my church, you could see the piles of bricks, the wrecking crews, taking down that old mill piece by piece.  It’s one thing to know that a mill is closed, and the doors shut, but it is another thing – a very emotional thing – to see the mill actually being torn down.  It is a profound, powerful thing to watch it come down.  It is a final word to the history of the place. “This will never be again.”  Whatever hope they might have had that those jobs would come back is now truly gone.  Demolition has a sober finality about it.

God is in the demolition business.  Remember back in Genesis 11, when these prideful men decided they would build a tower to the heavens, and make gods of themselves?  They met at Babel, built this thing, and then God confused their languages so they would not understand each other and could no longer work together.  God demolished the tower of Babel.

Our text today shows God doing another kind of demolition – demolishing God’s own handiwork.  At Pentecost, God demolished the work that God had done at Babel.  These tongues that separated humans from each other were made null and void by the moving of the Holy Spirit.  Each heard the same gospel, in their own language, and they were unified by a common Spirit.  Gathered together, in a house in Jerusalem, the apostles are overcome by a great, wind-like sound from heaven and anointed with tongues that appeared as fire on each of them. They are filled immediately by the power of the Holy Spirit and enabled to speak in the languages of every nation.

 

Since Babel, the Bible tells us, people have been separated by geography, national boundaries, and even language. In Pentecost, Babel is overturned; the Holy Spirit brings people to Christ and draws them together in unity, communion, and communication.

 

It can be difficult to communicate with people who are from different places or who speak different languages. But then, it can also be difficult to communicate with people who live across the street or with those who sit at your dinner table. It is difficult to speak with anyone if you must do so across any kind of barrier. But, in this story, Luke indicates that communication with all people is possible when the Holy Spirit takes control. Language and geography are not barriers to the working of God's will.

 

This text is one of the most powerful of all Scripture.  Ironically, it is also one of the most divisive.  The issue is “Speaking in Tongues.”  Don’t be scared, I am not going to debate that issue this morning.  But especially in the past 100 years, a renewed emphasis on this issue has birthed an entire new branch of denominationalism.

 

All this division just isn’t appropriate in the face of Acts 2.  Look at what has happened here.  God does not divide, but in fact unites, bringing his message to everyone, regardless of what language they speak.  In effect, the division that occurred in Genesis 11 at the Tower of Babel is demolished by the coming of the Holy Spirit.  What God demolishes makes way for something new and better, and the church of Christ becomes this very real, supernatural thing that connects all Christians to one another.

 

There are greater barriers between people than geography and language. Ideology has been one of the most significant. The twentieth century saw tremendous wars, both hotly and coldly contested, that pitted peoples of vastly different ideologies against one another. Totalitarianism warred against free nations in the First and Second World Wars. Democracy versus Communism lay at the heart of the Korean Conflict, the War in Vietnam, and the many dangerous episodes of the Cold War. The century closed in clashes between terrorists and those who love freedom. Our century began with the same conflict turning to eerie violence in the skies over New York, Washington, and Pennsylvania. While these divisions seem intractable, there is occasional evidence of unexpected capitulation.

It would not be difficult to list many additional kinds of barriers that keep people from understanding one another, especially on a more local scale: anger between spouses, mistrust between parents and children, festering grievances between colleagues, disappointment between friends, impatience with those of another generation, or unkind words spoken between neighbors. Each kind of division could be explored in detail simply by telling the stories of one's own life or by noting the behaviors of those around us. God created us for community and fellowship; it is the human condition to drift apart at the slightest provocation. Like an arctic ice-bank, individual pieces break off and drift away in the cold, becoming alone and distant. An observant preacher once asked this question: "How large is the iceberg with which you are ignoring me?"  God seeks to melt the ice that can arise between us.

 

John Wimber was the ex-hippie in California.  He became a Christian and went to the church down the block from where he lived.  He sat through the service and was disappointed.  On his way out, he asked the usher at the door, “When do you guys do all the stuff?”

“I’m sorry, what stuff?” replied the usher.

“You know, the healing of the blind and lame, the raising of the dead, the casting our of the demons – you kow, the cool stuff.”

The usher replied, “Oh, well, we believe in that stuff, but we don’t actually do it.”

“Why?” asked Wimber.

John Wimber founded the Vineyard Fellowship, a church that was based on expecting ALL the “Stuff” at every worship service.  His critics cite 1 Cor. 14:40 and state the worship must be done “decently and in order” as Paul states.

Yet if any of us want to identify with the disciples’ at Pentecost, then we need to count on the Spirit of God doing things we DON’T expect.  If there is one word that captures the mood of every person there that day, it is surprise.  When the Holy Spirit erupted that day, the question they asked was “What does this mean?”

Is this perhaps an issue of control?  That is, did the disciples not get it because things were completely out of control?  Or is it perhaps that things were not out of control, just out of their control?  Is it scary to us to consider that perhaps God might be in control of things and not us?  Do we dare enter into worship, thinking that perhaps we ought to let God have his way with us?

The coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost is Good News.  It means that God really is in control.  Whether or not we want to acknowledge that in our worship, or whether we want to force God’s hand to do “stuff” for our amusement, God is in control, not us.  Our final destination is in God’s hands, not ours.  If we will let God be God, and let ourselves be shaped, bent and broken unto him, then we will be amazed at what God can do.

Our future with God is much more important than our past with God.  Oh our past is important, without question, but it has already happened.  God has a future planned for all of us, and it is more important that we face our future than look nostalgically at the past.  What are the seven last words of any church?  “We’ve never done it that way before.”  It’s ok to love what happened in the past, but not so much that it blocks what God wants to do in the future.

I said earlier that demolition has a sober finality to it.  But that is only by looking backward.  What is an inspiring truth, both in the community and in our own spiritual lives, is that the demolition that takes place happens for a reason – to make way for something new.  Old buildings are torn down in order to make way for new projects.  In the same way, at Pentecost, God did a new thing among his people, a new way of uniting them, empowering them, bonding them that demolished the old separation at Babel built a new day.

 

But, it was not merely their lack of communication that God overcame. God created the ultimate sense of community and communion. The dwellers of Jerusalem heard the good news of Jesus Christ, repented of their sins, were baptized, and were recreated in the unity of faith. The many became one. The disparate became united. They entered into close fellowship with one another and, as we read a few verses further in Acts (2:43-47), shared all things in common and attended worship together.

 

The world has not been the same since.

 

What does God want to build in your life?  We know that God always has plans for us, both as individuals and as a church.  But in order to build something new, the old structures may have to come down.  Structures like old habits.  Old ways of thinking.  Old patterns.  Now you might like these old things in your life.  But think of what you might be denying, both to yourself and to GOD, by not allowing God to breath fresh life into you.  Respond to God and ask God to bring in the Holy Spirit construction team.  Tear down what needs to be demolished, and build what God would have in its place.