One of the biggest regrets of my life was not taking Spanish in High School because knowing Spanish would be such a help in ministry. Our church is focused on ministry to Spanish speaking people both locally and nationally. We send dozens to Guatemala on mission each year, and my wife and I had the privilege to go a few months ago. The trouble with not knowing Spanish is that you are dependent on a translator wherever you go. We did some construction work at a school and a free medical clinic. When we were at the school playing and laughter and smiles were a universal language, but we could not communicate with them unless a translator was present. While we were working there a friend of mine approached me and said, “Jon, they need a pastor in the principal’s office.” In the principal’s office there was a man named Carlos, another member of our team, and a doctor who spoke English. Carlos began to tell me something in Spanish that the doctor translated into English. Carlos wanted prayer because he had been diagnosed with cirrhosis of the liver because of years of alcoholism. He had been sober for 3 months but he was afraid that he was going to leave his wife a young widow and his children as orphans. He had no way of getting a surgery. He was desperate for prayer. I said through the translator that I would love to pray for him and his family. I then asked him if I could talk to him about something else. He indicated that I could, so I began to share the gospel with Carlos. Each time I’d look into his eyes and say something, and then I’d have to wait for the translator to translate. After I finished he thanked me for sharing, but he said that he was not ready to make any kind of decision. I prayed with him, hugged him and then he went on his way. That was a wonderful time, but there was something of a barrier because of the language difference. Language causes many kinds of barriers: miscommunication, racism, wars, etc. The Bible tells us exactly where it originated in Genesis 11. It was at a place called the Tower of Babel.
Noah’s family had come out of the worldwide flood where God judged and destroyed the world. Even though God had started afresh with a “new creation,” sin was still rampant. The peoples that came out of the flood were probably scared that something like this might happen again. They settled in the East where Babylon would be, and they all spoke the same language so communication was easy. They get an idea to build. They even imaged God by saying, “Come let us make…” (Gen. 1:26-28). They made bricks and set themselves to building a city with a great tower that reaches into heaven. This was to be a gateway to the gods, so they could come before God without a mediator. There are two reasons why they undertook this construction project: 1) they wanted to make a name for themselves (self-exaltation, pride, self-preservation of self, etc.) and 2) they wanted to avoid being scattered over the whole earth again. Yahweh “came down” to see it and set himself to respond. He responded with both mercy and judgment. The mercy is that he would not allow these people to remain unified and hardened in their rebellion. The judgment is that He confused their language and scattered them over the whole world. That’s where it got the name Babel, which means, “confusion.” This is the origination of all the different languages and people-groups on planet Earth.
Yet, immediately following the judgment, Yahweh called one family, the family of Abram. He told Abram that He would turn Abram’s family into a great nation, that he would give Abram a great name, and that He would bless all of the families of the earth through Abram. So it seems that the reversal of Babel will come through Abram’s family. This promise is foreshadowed in the rules of David and Solomon when pagan Gentiles stream to Jerusalem to learn the wisdom of Yahweh and honor the power of Israel’s King. The scary thing is that Israel ultimately is scattered as well in the exile. Yet, the prophets speak of a day when the nations will stream to Jerusalem and say, “Teach us to walk in the ways of the Lord” (cf. Isa. 2; 60; Zech. 8).
How does God reclaim the nations through Abraham’s family? Does he build a tower that reaches into the heavens? Is it a massive temple? No. God incarnates and comes down as a human to earth. Jesus, the seed of Abraham (Gal. 3), is the one who will bring blessing to the nations. He is no tower, but he does say, “If I am lifted up I will draw all men to myself.” The key to the reversal of Babel is Jesus in His cross and resurrection and Great Commission. He sends out his church to make disciples of all nations. When does/will the reversal of Babel happen? We get a preview at Pentecost. Acts 2:5 says there are Jews and devout men “from every nation under heaven” at Pentecost.” What happens there? They all hear the Gospel in their own “language,” and 3,000 are gathered into the church at the preaching of the risen King Jesus. The church of Jesus Christ, through the Great Commission, is reversing Babel by gathering people from every language on planet earth into the body of Christ, and this will reach it’s ultimate fulfillment in the kingdom of heaven when a song is sang to the praise of the lamb because he purchased men for God from every tribe and “tongue” and “nation” on planet earth.
Until that day we are called to be involved in “Operation Babel Reversal.” We go to the nations, and we preach the gospel of the Great King until that day when every language on the planet has a people who cries out with their lips “Jesus is Lord.” Those who speak English, those who speak German, those who speak Vietnamese, those who speak Arabic, those who speak Khmer, those who speak Hindi, those who speak Hebrew, those who speak Chinese, those who speak…and those who speak Spanish will ALL use their tongues to the glory of King Jesus. My prayer is that Carlos will be one of them.
Dr. Russell Moore’s sermon on the Tower of Babel
Sermon was preached March 10, 2005