Examining Worship

Deuteronomy 12:5-9 – 5 But you shall seek the place that the Lord your God will choose out of all your tribes to put his name and make his habitation there. There you shall go, 6 and there you shall bring your burnt offerings and your sacrifices, your tithes and the contribution that you present, your vow offerings, your freewill offerings, and the firstborn of your herd and of your flock. 7 And there you shall eat before the Lord your God, and you shall rejoice, you and your households, in all that you undertake, in which the Lord your God has blessed you.

8 “You shall not do according to all that we are doing here today, everyone doing whatever is right in his own eyes, 9 for you have not as yet come to the rest and to the inheritance that the Lord your God is giving you.

In Deuteronomy 12, we see God give the people of Israel a command to worship him, not in the ways or even in the locations of the nations they will drive from the land, but in a place of God’s choosing. A quick, non-thorough search of Deuteronomy in the ESV shows me that at least 20 verses in Deuteronomy refer to a place that God will choose for Israel to be the central place of the worship of the Lord. Thus, I think I can safely say that this issue mattered to God. As we see in verse 8, the people are not allowed to do whatever seems right in their sight (cf. Judg. 21:25). They are to worship where and how the Lord commands.

Mentally step out of Deuteronomy and into modern church life. How many of us do not consider at all what the Lord commands his people to do or how he commands them to do it? How many of our churches question whether or not any particular section of the worship service is in keeping with the commands and ways of the Lord? What is our standard for determining the purposes and practices of the church, especially in the area of gathered worship?

Note, by the way, that the first response that you are likely to have is to assume that, yes, churches should consider this stuff and, obviously, your church is doing it right. In truth, worship is not as easily defined in the New Testament as it is for the nation of Israel in Deuteronomy. Orders of worship are not given us as examples. We know that God commands the gathering, the preaching of the word, the celebration of Lord’s Supper, the singing of multiple kinds of spiritual songs, and the public reading of Scripture. Unlike Deuteronomy, there is no particular location limitation, and many of the acts of worship are not so strictly prescribed.

With that said, god has something for us to learn from Deuteronomy. God had every right to tell Israel exactly where they could worship him and where they could not. His limitations may have made no sense to many a human mind. What makes one town better than another town for meeting God? Why can we not just worship God on any hilltop we choose. Of course, some of it has to do with how the Canaanites worshipped the evil pagan deities of their imagination. But, and we must not miss this, God prescribed a place for his worship because he wanted us to know that he has the right to do so. God determines how we worship him and what is acceptable. Our best ideas, things that are right in our own eyes, are not what make worship acceptable.

If it was true in the Old Testament that God has the right to say what will worship him and what will dishonor him, the same is true in the New Testament. We should be very careful not to assume that, just because something makes us feel spiritual, it is therefore acceptable worship. Nor should we assume that whatever the church down the street has done which seems to be bringing people into their building is a right and God-honoring practice.

Examine yourself. Examine your church. Are you doing the things that God commands you to do in worship? Also, examine to see if you are doing things that God forbids. And carefully examine things that are neither commanded nor forbidden. Is it really wise to bring practices into the worship of God which have no basis in his word? After all, God told Israel they were not to have each person doing whatever was right in their own eyes.

Of course I’m not here suggesting that we embrace a legalistic form of the regulative principle that would have us refuse to use electricity, microphones, or even a display screen. I’m not suggesting we do away with modern instruments and the like. What I am suggesting is that everything we bring into the service which we think will enhance the experience, everything we do which we call an act of worship, everything we do should be held closely to the light of Scripture and examined. Has God commanded this? Has God affirmed this? Has God allowed this? Is this a thing that matches biblical command and wisdom? Or are we feeding our flesh instead of our souls? Are we magnifying ourselves and our emotions instead of magnifying the Lord? Are we aping the world? Are we bringing into the practice of worship a thing that we enjoy, but which God has never sanctioned for his worship? After all, God, not man, is the determiner of what right worship is.

Only Believe

Mark 5:35-36 – 35 While he was still speaking, there came from the ruler’s house some who said, “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the Teacher any further?” 36 But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the ruler of the synagogue, “Do not fear, only believe.”

How do you respond when faced with the impossible? Jairus, a synagogue ruler, was in an impossible spot in Mark 5. His young daughter was sick. He tried to get Jesus to his home to heal her. But he was too late. While Jesus was on the way, Jairus received word that his daughter had died.

But what the Savior says to the religious leader is fascinating. Jesus commanded, “Do not fear, only believe.” In the face of all opposition, of heartbreaking loss, Jesus tells the man not to be afraid. Only believe.

What happens next? Jesus goes to the house, speaks to the girl, and brings her back from the grave. Jairus had his daughter back, well. The crisis was past.

When we read this, we know that we are reading a glorious story of the supernatural power of Jesus. WE are reading of the loving kindness of the Savior. And we are seeing the fact that Jesus has the power, the God-sized power, to push back the curse of original sin and to defeat death itself.

But we also should see here a call to our own faith. What do you face that you feel is impossible? Jesus says, “Do not fear, only believe.”

When we grab hold of that sentence, let us not try to take it and apply it to some sort of name it and claim it charismatic folly. Let us not assume that this applies to us if we fear our football team may not make a comeback when down in the 4th quarter. But let it apply as you think of ultimate and eternal things.

When you look at a broken world, do not fear, believe. When you feel like our government is beyond repair, do not fear, believe. When you think your own life is beyond hope, do not fear, believe. Believe in Jesus. Believe in his power to raise the dead. Believe in his ability to turn back the impact of the fall of mankind. Believe that Jesus rules right now. Believe that Jesus will return and rule forever. Believe that Jesus will never be defeated. Believe that the pains we face in the here-and-now will look tiny in the light of eternity. Yes, believe as well that Jesus can and will provide you with what you need, what he wants for you, every step of the way.

If you know Jesus, do not fear. If you have entrusted your soul to him for salvation, do not fear. If you have yielded yourself to his lordship, believe. Let your trust in the Savior calm your heart. Even in the face of the impossible, do not fear, only believe.

More Amazing than a Healing

Mark 2:8-12 – 8 And immediately Jesus, perceiving in his spirit that they thus questioned within themselves, said to them, “Why do you question these things in your hearts? 9 Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise, take up your bed and walk’? 10 But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he said to the paralytic— 11 “I say to you, rise, pick up your bed, and go home.” 12 And he rose and immediately picked up his bed and went out before them all, so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, “We never saw anything like this!”

What is amazing in what we just read? If you are not careful, you’ll miss it.

The story is familiar. Jesus was preaching from inside a house. Men carried a friend of theirs on a mat to Jesus hoping for a healing. The crowd was so thick that the men went up on the roof, opened a hole in the tiles, and lowered the man down before Jesus.

When the man was before Jesus, the Savior first pronounced the man’s sins forgiven. And that pronouncement was what set the religious teachers off. They were not going to complain if Jesus healed the man. What the teachers could not imagine is that Jesus would assume the right to forgive sins on God’s behalf. After all, the only person who can forgive sins against God is God.

Keep the conflict in mind in order to grasp the significance of the miracle. Jesus knew what the religious teachers were complaining about. And so Jesus heals the man to prove his identity and Bonafede’s. The rationale works like this. A declaration of forgiveness cannot be proven from earth, but a declaration of healing is verifiable. Both are things that require the power of God. If Jesus can do one, he can do the other. If Jesus can heal, he can forgive. If Jesus can forgive, Jesus is God.

The thing that is supposed to amaze us here is not the ability of Jesus to heal. We have seen that before and after in Mark. What is supposed to impress us is that Jesus can forgive. This is intended as a proof from Jesus to directly declare himself to be God in the flesh.

Here is what is amazing: Jesus is God and will forgive. The healing power proves it. Be amazed at who Jesus is. Be amazed that Jesus will forgive.

Friends, we are sinners. We have given enough offense to the infinitely holy God that we have earned for ourselves eternal punishment in hell. That God would forgive anyone at any time is utterly stunning. When we see that Jesus, God come to earth, is the door through which we enter for forgiveness, we must honor him. We must rejoice. We must run to Jesus and Jesus alone for forgiveness. And then we must worship, honor, thank, and live for Jesus. Our lives are for his glory.

Fear and Obedience

Deuteronomy 6:1-2 – 1 “Now this is the commandment—the statutes and the rules—that the Lord your God commanded me to teach you, that you may do them in the land to which you are going over, to possess it, 2 that you may fear the Lord your God, you and your son and your son’s son, by keeping all his statutes and his commandments, which I command you, all the days of your life, and that your days may be long.

In Deuteronomy 5, when God spoke to the people from the mountain, they feared God. The people were simply terrified that the mighty and holy God would destroy them. His holiness is something they could not match. His power is something they could not resist. And they were afraid that they would rightly be destroyed.

Here in Deuteronomy 6, we see another reference to fearing God. This time, the concept is not terror. This time the concept is broader. This time we see how the people are to properly fear God. They were right to tremble at God’s holiness and might. But here we see more.

Look up at Deuteronomy 6:2 and ask, “How do I fear the Lord?” The answer given in that verse is that we fear God by doing his commands. Obedience to God is an expression of proper fear of the Lord.

Fear of God is not popular in many a Christian circle. We do not know what to do with a command to fear God when we also know that perfect love casts out fear (1 John 4:18). We have Jesus. Jesus died to save us from the judgment we deserve. And if we know God, we no longer fear that the Lord will destroy us with his holy wrath. But we are still commanded to rightly fear the Lord.

Once we trust that God’s wrath against us is satisfied in Christ, we still fear the Lord in a sense of awe and respect. We should tremble at the notion that we would dishonor such a glorious God, the one who saved our very souls. We should respect the Lord, fearing him in the way that children were taught to honor their parents (sometimes fear language was used for that respect years ago). We should treat God with proper reverence the way one ought to respond to a king or a venerated leader.

But how do we fear God? Is it all emotion? No, not at all. We fear God, according to this passage, by actively obeying his commands. One who will not obey the Lord does not fear the Lord. One who obeys the Lord out of a sense of awe and respect, out of a desire to please him, out of a desire not to dishonor him, that person fears God.

Do you fear God? The Bible says you should. Ask it another way: Do you respect God? Do you obey his commands? Do you reverence him? Do you tremble at being in a relationship with one so mighty and so holy?

If your fear of the Lord is not strong, start here in Deuteronomy 6. Obey the commands of God. Understand that the only command you can obey, if you are not yet a Christian, is the command to turn from sin and cry out to Jesus in faith for salvation. Then, do his word out of true and genuine respect for his leadership. Open your Bible. Learn who God is. Learn what God tells us to do. Learn what God forbids. Fear God in obedience to his holy word.

Sovereignty and Responsibility in a Physical Salvation

In Acts 27, we read the account of a shipwreck that Paul experienced as he was traveling to his first trial in Rome. As we read through the account, we see an interesting mix of God’s sovereign promises and human responsibility. And I believe that these promises and responsibility can shine a helpful light for us on how we think about bigger issues of God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility.

First, let’s see a promise from God.

Acts 27:21-24 – 21 Since they had been without food for a long time, Paul stood up among them and said, “Men, you should have listened to me and not have set sail from Crete and incurred this injury and loss. 22 Yet now I urge you to take heart, for there will be no loss of life among you, but only of the ship. 23 For this very night there stood before me an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I worship, 24 and he said, ‘Do not be afraid, Paul; you must stand before Caesar. And behold, God has granted you all those who sail with you.’

Paul is clear here that God has promised that no person abord that ship will lose his life in what is to come. Every soul aboard will survive. This is promised, decreed by the sovereign God. Thus, we know that nothing can change it.

However, during the night, before the ship runs aground, the professional sailors aboard the ship determine to try to make a break for it in the ship’s boat. They do not want to risk their own lives to save their passengers.

Acts 27:30-32 – 30 And as the sailors were seeking to escape from the ship, and had lowered the ship’s boat into the sea under pretense of laying out anchors from the bow, 31 Paul said to the centurion and the soldiers, “Unless these men stay in the ship, you cannot be saved.” 32 Then the soldiers cut away the ropes of the ship’s boat and let it go.

Notice what Paul tells the soldiers. Unless those sailors stay aboard the ship, the soldiers will die. But God promised that nobody would die. How can this statement be a true one?

The Lord decreed what would be the outcome—all people aboard ship will live. The Lord also decreed the means whereby this outcome would be achieved—the sailors would remain aboard to steer the ship toward shore. And God accomplished the decreed outcome.

Acts 27:43b-44 – He ordered those who could swim to jump overboard first and make for the land, 44 and the rest on planks or on pieces of the ship. And so it was that all were brought safely to land.

All survived. God’s promise was perfectly fulfilled.

Were there genuine options here? Were the men free or were they under the sovereign decree of God. The answer is that the men aboard the ship were both free and under God’s decree. Had the sailors in fact chosen to escape the ship, had the soldiers not stopped the men from escaping, people would have died. Did God violate the will of the soldiers when he made them prevent the sailors’ escape? No, there is nothing in the text that says so. Did God sovereignly accomplish his decree? Absolutely.

What should we draw from this? God is sovereign. No freedom of mankind has ever or will ever override God’s sovereign decree. If we can override God’s decree, God is no longer the true God over the universe. God’s plans are always perfectly accomplished.

What about human freedom? It is real, just under God’s decree. Were the choices that Paul, the soldiers, and the sailors made real choices? Yes, without question they were real choices with real consequences. Paul, the soldiers, and the sailors were totally morally responsible for their choices in every way.

How then can we say that the choices were real if also the decree of God would stand? We can talk like this because this is exactly how God speaks to us in his word. Had the soldiers let the sailors escape, the soldiers would have died. God saw to it that the soldiers would not let the sailors escape. The soldiers made genuine choices. And God, in his mighty sovereignty, accomplished his decree exactly as he planned.

God is sovereign. Mankind is responsible for what we choose. Our choices are real, and they matter. And God’s decree will always be fully and perfectly accomplished.

If you ask me what is greater, God’s sovereignty or man’s freedom, I will have to tell you that God’s sovereignty has to be ultimate. But God is also so glorious and mighty that he can be fully sovereign while decreeing that our choices matter even as our choices will never prevent his perfect will and divine good pleasure from being accomplished. God has the right to reach into our hearts and change our very desires; and he does so. We are still always perfectly responsible, as we still choose our actions in accord with our desires. And in the end, the mighty God who made us all shows that he rules over all things.

Fearing Rightly

Deuteronomy 5:28-29 – 28 “And the Lord heard your words, when you spoke to me. And the Lord said to me, ‘I have heard the words of this people, which they have spoken to you. They are right in all that they have spoken. 29 Oh that they had such a heart as this always, to fear me and to keep all my commandments, that it might go well with them and with their descendants forever!

In Deuteronomy 5:23-ff, Moses recounts the way that the people of Israel responded to the voice of God at Mt. Horeb when God gave the Ten Commandments. The people of Israel were afraid. They had born witness to the power and the holiness of God. They knew that they would be utterly destroyed should they get too close to the God who spoke atop the mountain. And so they pleaded with Moses to serve as a go-between.

Many today might think that God would say to Moses that these people need no go-between. But that is not at all what God said. Instead, God affirms the fear of the people. God affirms that all they said was right. And God makes it very plain that the best thing for Israel would be for them to continue to have that holy fear of God so that they might keep his commandments without rebelling against him and his ways.

For us today, the fear of God is often neglected. We focus much on the love of God, and rightly so. We focus on our new status as children of God under the protection of Christ, and rightly so. But, if we are not careful, we will belittle our God and belittle his grace if we fail to grasp the reason behind a holy and right fear of the Lord.

In Deuteronomy, the people of Israel understood that God is so good, so clean, so perfect, with such high and holy standards that, should the people draw near to God in their sinfulness, they would be destroyed. They rightly trembled at the concept of being near God. They understood that he is both so holy as to punish their sin and so mighty as to easily be able to wipe them out. Thus, they trembled, begged for someone to intercede for them before God, and agreed to follow God’s ways.

Here is what I need to remember: God has not changed. God is still just as holy as Israel saw. God’s wrath for my sin is still as destructive. I deserve to be consumed by the holy fire of God as a creature who has rebelled against his Creator. And without a go-between, I’m dead.

Thanks be to God, Jesus Christ came as a true intercessor, one far greater than Moses and the priesthood in the Old Testament. Jesus is God in the flesh. Jesus lived the perfection I need to be in the presence of God. Jesus died to pay for my sins so that I can be cleansed before God. And Jesus, who is God in flesh, welcomes me into the family of God.

Now I need not fear destruction because of the holiness of God. Jesus already took upon himself the right wrath of God for my sin. But I should fear God as holy, mighty, and glorious. I should tremble at the possibility that I might dishonor the One who saved my soul. I should fear that I might miss out on the joy of honoring the God who made me. I should understand that the Lord, in his love, has covered me from the wrath I earned. God is still as mighty, as holy, and as utterly terrifying as before.

May we all learn to fear God. First fear him by crying out to Jesus for mercy. Second, fear him by respecting and honoring his power and his all-consuming holiness. Fear him by obeying his commands, not because you fear destruction, but because you fear dishonoring the Savior and losing out on the joy of his glory in this life. Fear the consequences present in God’s creation of trying to live against God’s perfect standard. Have fear mixed with a grateful love of Jesus who bore the wrath of God that you might be brought into the family of God.

Accusing God of being Hateful

Deuteronomy 1:26-27 – 26 “Yet you would not go up, but rebelled against the command of the Lord your God. 27 And you murmured in your tents and said, ‘Because the Lord hated us he has brought us out of the land of Egypt, to give us into the hand of the Amorites, to destroy us.

In Deuteronomy 1, the Lord, through Moses, is recounting the history of his relationship with national Israel from the days at Horeb until their then present moment at the borders of the promised land. Here, Moses is particularly recounting the rebellion of the people when they feared the Amorites more than the Lord. The people refused to trust that God could give them the land, they rejected the counsel of Joshua and Caleb, believed the negative counsel of the 10 spies, and would not go in to take possession of the land.

Moses tells us that, when the people feared the Amorites, , they murmured against the Lord, saying, “Because the Lord hated us he has brought us out of the land of Egypt, to give us into the hand of the Amorites, to destroy us.” Instead of taking the glorious victory that the Lord had promised them, instead of receiving his gracious promise of blessing, the people refused. But beyond their refusal, because they did not understand, because they were afraid, the people actually accused God of treating them hatefully. How terrible! The one true God, the Holy One, the One who led the people out of Egypt, the One who parted the Red Sea, the One who loved Israel time and time again did not hate his people.

I wonder how easy this mistake is for us to make. It is surely a failing of those who do not know God. When the lost read of the commands of God, they always accuse God of being hateful. They say that God’s standard for marriage, for sex, for gender, for justice, for salvation, and for many other things is hateful instead of glorious, good, and loving. This makes sense, as a sin-darkened mind cannot grasp the goodness of God.

But I wonder even more how often we do this. As a Christian, how do you react when God does things you do not understand? When God does not give you the job you want, the money you want, or the family you want, do you grumble? When God commands painful obedience, do you complain? Do you begin to read God’s commands as hating you instead of loving you simply because you cannot see his rationale?

Remember, we are finite. We cannot see the end from the beginning. And God is infinite, holy, knowing not only all the details of your life but of the lives of all forever. God has a plan. God accomplishes his will for his good pleasure. And God is good. He does not hate his own. He loves and shows mercy to us, even when we cannot grasp it in our finitude.

May we be wiser than the grumblers at the borders of Canaan. May we know that God loves us when we understand his ways and when we do not. Let us remember that God is always good and trustworthy, even when we fear and even when we hurt. God has proved his love with utter perfection in the sacrifice of Jesus. Now may we trust him.

Internal Dangers

Numbers 25:1–3 – 1 While Israel lived in Shittim, the people began to whore with the daughters of Moab. 2 These invited the people to the sacrifices of their gods, and the people ate and bowed down to their gods. 3 So Israel yoked himself to Baal of Peor. And the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel.

I have sometimes wondered, why does the Lord give us several chapters of Balaam in the book of Numbers? It’s strange. God focuses the lens of the camera on a prophet who is not devoted to him and to the scheming of a foreign king. Yes, Balaam gives us a sweet prophecy of the Christ to some, a star rising from Judah, but is that what all that text is there to give us?

As I read through Numbers this time, I see a contrast that I think is supremely telling and extremely helpful for the modern church. In the Balaam narrative, we see God protecting his people from outside threats. A foreign king wants to curse and kill the people of God. But God will protect them.

However, the people of God scheme at their own destruction. When a threat from outside cannot do damage to the people of God, the devil schemes with a pagan prophet and a foreign king to tempt the nation to be complicit in its own destruction. Balaam advises the king to tempt the Israelite men with sexual immorality, leading to idolatry, leading to the judgment of God.

Think well, church, about how we might do the same thing. God will protect his people from outside attack. This is not to say that we will always avoid persecution—we will not. But it is to say that God would never let persecution wipe his church off the map. The government will not be able to stop the spread of Christianity. Enemies of the cross will not be able to stop us from worshipping and obeying the Lord.

But I wonder, where might we contribute to our own disaster? Of course, we must not pretend that we are greater than these people who fell. We must not suggest that we are so personally good that we could never be tempted and fail as they did. Thank God for his Holy Spirit who sanctifies us and holds us back from the evil we would naturally do.

But, I think we should examine ourselves beyond the issues related to immorality here. What might come before our eyes to tempt us to compromise? What social issue or popular hot button might make us set aside the Scripture to embrace what God forbids? Looking around the landscape, it’s not hard to see it happening time and time again. And we must see, even here in Numbers, that such compromise is deadly.

May we, the people of God, those who know and worship Jesus, be fully confident in the Lord. May we also be fully committed to God’s ways. The Lord will not let us be conquered from outside. May we not compromise to our own destruction from within.

Atonement or Destruction

Numbers 8:19 – And I have given the Levites as a gift to Aaron and his sons from among the people of Israel, to do the service for the people of Israel at the tent of meeting and to make atonement for the people of Israel, that there may be no plague among the people of Israel when the people of Israel come near the sanctuary.”

Worship is central to the lives of all people. Everybody worships. Everybody, physically or symbolically, bows down to declare a thing worthy. Informally, that act of worship might be obedience to the word of God. It might be a person elevating his job above his family. It might be a mom honoring the Lord in caring for her family. It might be a person chanting a political slogan. Not all worship is good. But all people worship.

God created us to worship him. When we honor him rightly, we do the very thing for which we exist. But we must not allow ourselves to miss the fact that God is the Creator, he is the Lord, and he has every right to determine what is right in worship. God has given us standards as to what formal worship he will accept.

I pondered this in a read through the book of Numbers. In chapter 8, God gives the instructions for how the Levites were to be set apart for service. We read of how they were to be ceremonially cleansed (a set of requirements that was interestingly similar to the cleansing process for a person recovering from leprosy in Leviticus 14). The Levites were presented as a wave offering, symbolically given over to the Lord. And eventually, once the cleansing ceremonies as required by God were complete, the Levites were able to serve in the tabernacle.

If you look at the verse above, the Levites were given to the priestly line. Why? They were to do the service in the tabernacle and later the temple. That means they were to simply do the work required to make the ministry happen. Of course, a major part of that ministry is that the Levites were to make atonement for the sins of others. They sacrificed animals in accord with the covenant law of God.

What caught my attention in this read through is the reason why atonement needed to be made. At the end of the verse, we read, “that there may be no plague among the people of Israel when the people of Israel come near the sanctuary.” Catch the implication. If the people of Israel, in their natural state of sinful uncleanness, were to approach the place of the presence of God, a plague would break out among the people. Translate that. If we, in our sinfulness, enter the presence of God without atonement made for us, we die.

Of course, this has gospel implications. Jesus made the atoning sacrifice for all that God will welcome into his presence. And without Jesus’ sacrifice, we will die eternally.

But what grabbed my attention this time is the connection to worship. Worship is an act where a person, physically or symbolically, bows before the Lord to give him homage, where a person participates in commanded acts of obedience. Thus, the work at the tabernacle is worship. And this passage, requiring particular acts of atonement for people to approach the Lord, reminds us that God has standards for what worship he will accept. Formal worship of the lord is not a thing that we are allowed to simply make up as we go along. We are to approach the Lord in his way, according to his word, under the atoning grace of Jesus Christ.

Pentecost and the Anti-Babel

Acts 2:5-6 – 5 Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven. 6 And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language.

Genesis 11:7-9 – 7 Come, let us go down and there confuse their language, so that they may not understand one another’s speech.” 8 So the Lord dispersed them from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city. 9 Therefore its name was called Babel, because there the Lord confused the language of all the earth. And from there the Lord dispersed them over the face of all the earth.

The scene on the Day of Pentecost when the disciples spoke in many languages is one of those well-known passages of Scripture. Many a strange doctrine has been built from it. Many a fascinated Christian has wondered what that day must have looked and felt like.

What grabs my attention as I read Acts 2 in my daily reading plan is the reversal taking place here. This is sort of the anti-Babel. In Genesis 11, God confused human speech. In Acts 2, God grants unity in speech now that Christ has come.

Think of the Genesis context. In Genesis, God promised one to come who would rescue his people. But humanity became so rebellious that God destroyed the world with the flood. In Genesis 9, God promised he would preserve the world, never flooding it again because of human sin. But, by chapter 11, humanity is sinning to such a degree that we once again deserve destruction.

God, instead of destroying the world, in keeping with his covenant, chose to scatter the people at Babel. God confused the language of the people so that there would not be a unified rebellion against him as at the tower. God mercifully made it so that one evil idea would not so easily spread through all people that something like the flood would be the only possible ending.

All through the rest of the Old Testament, God continues to promise the coming one who will rescue. Many nations, people groups, are formed and separated at Babel, and God selects one man, Abram, to be the father of one nation, Israel. And God says that the Rescuer will come through that singular nation. And all the Old Testament keeps making that promise and shows God keeping that promise.

Then, once Jesus comes, God’s promise is fulfilled. Once Jesus died, rose, and ascended, connecting to God no longer has anything to do with any particular nation. Now the good news of Jesus needs to go to all nations. And here, at the moment of the arrival of the indwelling Holy Spirit, God gifts the apostles with a sign of his fulfilled promise. God gives the disciples a gift of being able to speak the message of Jesus in languages they did not previously know. Where God jumbled and confused the languages at Babel, at Pentecost, God united languages so that we might see that people from any nation can be saved by God’s grace through faith in Jesus.