So many OT themes come together in Acts 2 and one very obvious one is that of the tower of Babel (which then becomes the theological seedbed for an understanding of Babylon – the imperial power that is the antithesis of the New Jerusalem). Genesis 10 expresses the flow of fallenness: ‘make a name for ourselves’, ‘build a city / society’, ‘from here we conquer everything’…
There is such an irony in that chapter. A tower is being built, God the all-seeing one has difficulty in seeing it!
The Lord came down to see…
The tower was designed to be visible even in the heavens, and the one with 20/20 vision has to come down to see it!! Apparently it was not really that impressive and could not be seen from up there. Babel is not a threat to God at any level. It is however a threat to humanity fulfilling its destiny. Destiny is in the heart of humanity, but the direction and effect of the pursuit of its fulfilment is what becomes problematic.
Unity, working together enhanced by linguistic unity was going to be problematic in that context so a restriction is placed on it. Evil can never reach an absolute fullness, that is reserved for righteousness and the One who embodies righteousness. Pentecost is a crazy reversal of Babel. Unity is present, co-labouring together receives the seal of approval. Not only does each one speak but there is the wonder of universal understanding. In the same way that a restriction is placed on Babel’s future a release is given to those of a pentecostal spirit – and by that I mean those who have been touched by Pentecost so that they are not looking to ‘make a name for ourselves’, nor ‘seeking to build a city’, nor ‘looking to conquer everything’. Maybe that might be why we have never seen the full release indicated by Pentecost?
In contrast to building a tower, a city from here to there, we read the New Jerusalem comes down to where we are, it comes from the throne of God. It is not something we build, nor can build. We can help prepare both the ground where it can land and the materials that make it what it is, but build it we cannot do. Pentecost is not a promise of receiving ‘a conquer all’ blessing. It does involve the subduing of the powers that tempt the fulfilment of destiny by a self-promotion path, and certainly involves an authority over the works of the devil but not over people.
The path to Pentecost begins in the subsequent chapter of Genesis. Leave and walk. Leave security, do not bow to familiarity, wander and God will show – even though the sight of what is shown will be partial. That was the pathway prepared, and one that Israel travelled on both with great difficulty and also deviated from. Jesus walked the same pathway, leaving ‘his country’, ‘his father’s household’. We cannot walk the path he walked (his work is finished) but as the Father sent him, so in the same way he sends us, so the pathway cannot be so different and we now have a work to complete. Security and familiarity will not always be our companions on that pathway.
To the hidden ones, the humble ones there is such an implicit promise. If the restriction at Babel was so that they could no longer do whatever they propose, Pentecost is an invitation to abandon all tower building and release imagination about what the future will look like. I wonder if God does not have a vision for the future other than he wants to fulfil our vision of the future. Could be wrong (don’t jump on me – just a perspective!). Could be wrong but I think more right than a hard line predetermined plan. If so a tad frightening but it comes with a huge invitation to all tower abandoning, non-identifiable, meandering pentecostals.
A little postscript: I am not in the habit of dedicating a post to someone, but as Steve and Kathy Lowton have been with us while writing this post I will make an exception as they have taught us a lot about walking away from tower building.