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Message Notes: Sunday School for Grown Ups – The Tower of Babel

Sunday School for Grown Ups

Week 3: The Tower of Babel
Pastor Rick Henderson                June 15-16, 2024


I want to ask you something. Before I do, I want to make sure that I set the table well. The question that I’m about to ask is meant in the best way possible, in the spirit of fun. In your family, maybe right now or when you were growing up, was everyone always on the same team, or were there different teams?

In the Henderson Fam, it’s Team Mom and Team Dad. Jack is most often on Team Mom. Caroline is always on Team Dad. She is my ride or die. We have the same sense of humor. We love fast paced wit and sarcasm. Have you ever seen a really good beach volleyball team? One player sets the ball just right and the other delivers a thundering spike. That’s Caroline and me when we get going.

We think we’re hilarious. The comedic banter can get competitive. And sometimes, I’m all alone because my daughter is away at school. Team Mom will gang up on me. Can you believe that?! All I have to do is send one text. It doesn’t matter if Caroline is studying for a final. She’s immediately all in. She’s blowing up the family text group with GIFs and sarcasm. It’s like Batman responding to the Bat Signal.

If you are smiling or laughing along with me. If this causes you to reminisce over fond memories of playfulness with your family, it’s only because you believe that what I’m sharing is 100% playful. And it’s because you trust that my family is truly united in deep love and fierce loyalty to each other. We would never pick one over the other.

But, if your backstory includes ugly family rivalry, jealously, and favoritism—you’re not laughing right now. If any of you were to believe that there really is division and opposition in my household, you are probably second guessing some things about me. So, here’s my real question. Which way does God want the human family to function?

Is God’s desire for people, all people, to be united? Would he prefer that we collaborate, live together, and experience joyful peace with each other, or would he prefer there to be different teams? Is it God’s preference to that people keep to their own cultures, language groups, and ethnicities? That idea that people flourish best when they keep to their own groups is a way of thinking that’s gaining popularity. We see it in global politics. That idea is even being promoted in corners of American evangelicalism.

The Old Testament story that we’re going to survey today is going to push us to reckon with that question. Grab a Bible, find Genesis 11. Keep it open. That’s where this story is found.

Sometime after the flood. Everybody was still all living together, doing all of life together. They all lived in the same place, and they all spoke the same language.

For my fellow Bible nerds out there, a lot of biblical scholars believe that Genesis 11 is a flashback to the past. The previous chapter, Genesis 10, describes the family groups of Noah’s descendants living in different locations and speaking different languages. This story is taking us back before that.

Everybody is together, it’s all good. Maybe this guy wouldn’t agree [Point to guy working]. One guy is working, and everyone is standing around talking. Ever feel like that at your job? They all decided, if we stay together, we can accomplish a lot of awesome stuff. Nothing can stop us. And one of the reasons they were so confident was they developed a new technology. They figured out how to make bricks and use tar as mortar. That’s not as exciting as an iPhone, but it was a major technological advance.

So, they built a tower. It’s probably best to think of it like a ziggurat, or temple built on a high structure. What was it called? The Tower of Babel. Meanwhile, God is watching this develop. He decides that it’s not a good idea. At the rate they’re going, nothing is going to be impossible for these people.

I can’t explain to you how. God simply broke them up into groups that instantly spoke very different languages. Which meant they couldn’t understand each other. They couldn’t collaborate. Not only that, he scattered them all over.

Why is this included in the Bible? Does this really point to Jesus? Do you feel ready to go apply this story to your life? Remember what I asked you at the beginning. Does God prefer that people stay separated and segregated by language, culture, and ethnicity? If the bible is one big story, how does this fit with other parts of the story that seem to directly contradict this?

If we fast-forward in the Old Testament, we’ll read this.

ISAIAH 56:7 “[T]hese I will bring to my holy mountain and give them joy in my house of prayer. Their burnt offerings and sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house will be called a house of prayer for all nations.”

By the time we get to the prophet Isaiah, God wants all people gathered together, worshiping him. Let’s fast-forward again, all the way to the last book of the Bible and read what heaven will be like.

REVELATION 7:9 After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb.

So God is the one that separated people into different language groups, but he really wants them all together? What exactly was happening in Genesis 11, at the Tower of Babel?

These stories are designed to get us to ask questions. The point is to slow down, think, wrestle with, and marinate in them. It takes time to draw out their riches. I’ve told the story of Babel, now let’s read it. Reading like adults means being on high alert for details, patterns and themes that give insight into what is actually going on.

GENESIS 11:1-9 Now the whole world had one language and a common speech. As people moved eastward, they found a plain in Shinar and settled there. They said to each other, “Come, let’s make bricks and bake them thoroughly.” They used brick instead of stone, and tar for mortar. Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves; otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth.” But the Lord came down to see the city and the tower the people were building. The Lord 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.” So the Lord scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city. That is why it was called Babel—because there the Lord confused the language of the whole world. From there the Lord scattered them over the face of the whole earth.

If you’ve been around for a while you’ve probably heard me ask this question. What’s the story you are telling yourself about yourself? What’s the story that they were telling themselves about themselves?

There is a way for us to make a name for ourselves. What we’re going to see today is that they trusted in their technology as a way to get power, and achieve for themselves, by themselves, the good life. What are you trusting in for the good life?

Last week I told you to think about Genesis 1-11 as an arena where different worldviews are fighting it out. Worldviews are nothing more than the stories we believe about how reality actually works. The writer of Genesis carefully and intelligently took stories that already existed and repackaged them to tell a better truer story. To help us get that, we’re going to play a game together. The game is name that tune. When you think you know the song—shout it out!

WRONG! The song is God Save the King.  This American, patriotic song and the British national anthem share the exact same melody.  The stories behind My Country, Tis of Thee and God Save the King aren’t they? These songs seek to celebrate and cultivate two very different mindsets. And yet, the melodies are the exact same.  That is what’s happening with this story from Genesis 11. There are other ANE stories that tell a similar story of building a high tower or ziggurat.

What’s going on? The writer of Genesis was telling a truer, better story while using the same melody. Maybe an example will help. This is from Tablet 6 of the Enuma Elish.

To Marduk their lord they said,
“Now, Lord, you who have liberated us,
What courtesy may we do you?
We will make a shrine, whose name will be a famous saying, Your chamber that shall be our stopping place, we shall find rest therein ...”
Let its brickwork be formed, build high the shrine.”
They built the high ziggurat ...

[Enuma Elish, Tablet 6]

If you go read the Enuma Elish on your own, well, you’re a nerd and we should be best friends. If you read it, you will see key similarities. And yet, it’s leading us to a very different story about reality than Genesis 11. It’s the same melody, but with different lyrics. Marduk was the highest-ranking god in Babylon. Babel, or Babylon means gate of the gods.

Message Notes: Sunday School for Grown Ups - The Tower of Babel

Babylon would eventually become a center for education and innovation. They built and expanded their empire through domination. They made themselves great at the expense of the people they dominated. In the Biblical story, Babylon becomes the symbol for everything that is most wrong in the world. Grab hold of that. Babylon becomes the dominant biblical symbol for everything that’s wrong with the world. Because their version of the good life was achieved through innovation and empire. Power and domination. That is the extreme opposite for which God made people. When we read Genesis 11 we are supposed to remember that the way of the world is not our way.

Genesis 11 is telling a competing story. The purpose is to remind us that in the biblical story, humanity was made to live between two trees. What were those trees in the garden? Humanity was made to trust God as the source and provider of life and the source and provider of wisdom. When the man and woman rejected God’s authority and asserted their own autonomy, they were trusting in themselves for wisdom. That sin unraveled into chaos death. That same pattern is playing out at the Tower of Babel. I want us think about the pattern of human sin like this.

Every sin is an attempt to fulfill a God-GIVEN need in a God-FORBIDDEN way.

Call me crazy, but the deep down, bedrock desire that drives every sin is actually a longing for something God-given. But because we exchange God’s good authority for our own autonomy, it always unravels into chaos and death. That’s what sin does. That’s why God scattered the people. It was a tender, merciful judgment to frustrate their efforts that were certainly leading to a dark place.

It hasn’t stopped us from placing our hopes in innovation and empire, has it? It hasn’t stopped us from reaching for the good life through power and asserting control. And eventually people turned Babel into

Babylon. They aren’t the only ones. Maybe we keep trying to build Babylon too.

What is the story that you’re telling yourself? What are you trusting in for the good life? This is our opportunity to think deeply and seriously.


  • Significance

This is what we’re convinced makes our life worth living. And if we lose it, we feel like we’ve lost our reason for living. Why do you think so many men die so soon after retirement. If our significance comes from our work, retirement is a death sentence. This is a very real need that everybody has, that you have.

  • Security

This is what we believe makes us safe. It’s more than just safe from danger. It’s what keeps us safe from losing our significance and satisfaction in life. Four years ago when people were responding very differently to COVID and it got testy, it was never about the pro-science vs. anti-science. It was really a war between rival stories about this [Significance and Security].

  • Satisfaction

This is our happiness, joy, fulfillment. We all need all 3 of these. Let me tell you something I’ve learned about people. See if this matches what you’ve observed. We will give our unyielding allegiance; we will bow to the authority of whatever we believe fulfills these needs.

Have you ever wondered why smart people, good-hearted people do things that confound you? If you can understand the story they’re telling themselves then you will understand. You may still disagree, but you will understand. Do I have your permission to take a risk and be controversial?

This is an election year. Do you know why church people divide over politics and fight over politics and treat each other like they’re the enemy. Do you know why family members do that to each other?

It's because they are telling themselves different stories about how we get these [Pointing to the screen].

If you don’t know me very well and you’re suspicious that I’m trying to smuggle a political agenda from whatever you think the other side is. If you’re trying to decode me, there’s nothing to decode. But, if you’re not convinced, make sure you get all the facts. I drive a truck. I listen to country music. And a few Fridays ago I went hunting with a friend from church.

I’m a turkey slayer. There is a hard, but good message that folks in the church need to hear. And I don’t want to be a coward. I don’t want to fail to love you because I wanted you to like the sermon.

If you are a follower of Jesus and you are regularly saturating your mind and attention with political and social commentary that wants you to align with a side, watch out! I don’t care if those messages are from the right or the left. They are trying to get you to believe a story about how you can have these.


  • Significance
  • Security
  • Satisfaction

We become like what we give our attention to. I don’t care which side you pick. If you’re religiously listening to and watching this stuff, what’s your religion? The dominant story is that if we get enough power we can have this [Pointing to the screen]. If you are follower of Jesus and you are bombarding your mind with their sotry, that will become your story. When that happens, we’ve seen people sow chaos into their marriages. We’ve seen people sow chaos into their families. We’ve seen people so chaos into their churches. So I’m saying, let’s don’t be people of Babylon. Let’s be Bible people. Let’s be Jesus’ people.

I’m convinced that this is the most important sentence in the Old Testament.

GENESIS 3:15And I will put enmity [deep rooted hatred] between you and the woman, and between your offspringand hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.”

There are two sides and only two sides.

Message Notes: Sunday School for Grown Ups - The Tower of Babel

The offspring of the woman isn’t about family of origin or ancestry. It’s about allegiance. One day there will come one who defeats the serpent, restores creation, and reconciles people to himself. Being on this side isn’t about who your momma is. It’s about trusting God in faith. In the Old Testament, they look forward to faith in Jesus. We look backwards in faith to Jesus.

On the other side is the way of the serpent. Being aligned with the serpent is any other way, all the other ways of life other than trusting in God, by faith. Here me. Even if you disagree with me, I want to make sure that you hear me clearly. Whenever we opt for power and control, we are aligning ourselves with the way of the serpent. The way of the serpent always and only leads to chaos and death.

In Genesis 11, the people wanted to make a name for themselves. Do you recall what they wanted to avoid?

GENESIS 11:4 “Come, let’s make bricks and bake them thoroughly.” They used brick instead of stone, and tar for mortar. Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves; otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth.”

I want to show you something. This [scattered] is a pattern. And it’s an important one.

Message Notes: Sunday School for Grown Ups - The Tower of Babel

Every one of these instances in the Biblical story would have been understood as exile, or a scattering. From a biblical perspective, that is death.

  • When the man and woman were kicked out of the Garden, that was a kind of death.
  • When the people were scattered at the Tower of Babel, that was a kind of death.
  • When the Israelites were not permitted to enter the promise land, sentenced to a wandering exile, that was a kind of death.
  • When the Israelites were exiled, that was a kind of death.

Death is not ceasing to EXIST. It’s being CUT OFF.

Fast-forward on this timeline, to when Jesus steps on the scene. I want you to think about one of the more famous stories that he told, the Prodigal Son. In that story, when the rebellious and ungrateful son came home the father said that his son was dead, but is now alive. That’s more than a figure of speech. Jesus was leveraging something profound. The son was still existing when he was away, off squandering his wealth. And yet, he was cut off from his father. When the son hit rock bottom, he was even able to desire to be in his father’s house. And though he was dead, he was able to humble himself and return to his father.

But what he couldn’t do is experience a life of thriving and abundance without being reconciled to his father. That required the gracious forgiveness and acceptance of his father. The son couldn’t earn it. He couldn’t achieve it. He could only receive it if the father was willing to give it. When we truly see and understand Jesus, we will see just how eager he is to reconcile us so that we can have life.

I think we’re now ready to truly hear something Jesus said.

JOHN 10:10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.

That one sentence tells the whole biblical story. Can you see it?!

Message Notes: Sunday School for Grown Ups - The Tower of Babel

It all points to Jesus. Either we going to find life in the way of the serpent or we are going to find life in the Savior. The only way to experience this life of thriving is to be reconciled. Jesus is the one who can reconcile us, who can heal all of our sin and chaos. He is the only one who can give life.

What could keep you from trusting in him? Would you trust in him?

Before we go, did you know that there is an anti-Tower of Babel story in the New Testament? When the people trusted in their own innovation and power, God confused their languages and scattered them. But look what happens because of Jesus.

ACTS 2:1-4 When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues [languages] as the Spirit enabled them.

The men and women who were there went outside and began preaching the gospel. Jerusalem was a very international city. And through the power of the Holy Spirit, people heard the gospel message in their own languages, because God did the opposite of the Tower of Babel. He supernaturally empowered his people to speak the languages of the world, drawing all people to faith in Jesus. From that day on, thousands and thousands of people, from all kinds of ethnic, cultural, diverse language backgrounds joined the church.

We are the next church, in a long line that stretches back to that moment. This is why we want to be a church of all cultures. We don’t want to be defined by one dominant culture or ethnicity. We want to be defined by Jesus, living out the way of Jesus. That means we will be a gathering of all kinds of people because Jesus loves gathering all people to himself.

May we be a church of everyone, that is for the one who died and was raised again, so that we can be reconciled.