The day began with David Robertson speaking to us about Robert Murray McCheyne. Robertson, who currently pastors St. Peter’s Free Church, the very church of McCheyne, wrote a biography (Awakening: The Life & Ministry of Robert Murray McCheyne) of McCheyne in 1994 and shared with us some of the lessons we can learn from the all-too-short life of this great Scottish preacher.
We then turned to the second of this conference’s worship services. After Kevin Smith assisted in reading the Word, praying and leading worship, Brian Habig preached from Genesis 11:1-9.
Depravity is not an abstraction but has particular manifestations.
Why are these people building the tower? – The world’s population is increasing but is not expanding outwards as much as they could or as much as they were commanded to. The earth was still wild and people were staying where it was safe and settled. The people decided to make a name for themselves by making a city and a tower that could sustain them. They were effectively saying, “When someone comes from afar they will see this tower–our tower.” Remember that Moses originally wrote this text for a people who had just been released from Egypt and it would be difficult for them to believe that someone could actually make bricks and create huge buildings on a volunteer basis.
What does God not like it? – He is against this project because something that is natural to Him is that He wants people made in His image to spread out and fill His earth. We speak of the Great Commission but the first commission is to fill and subdue the earth. These people are simply ignoring this and do not want to fill the earth.
What does God do about it? – He does something in the short-run and something in the long-run. In the short-run, He comes down, though we don’t fully know what that means. He Himself goes to Babel and draws this conclusion: if they are already doing this and have one language, there is almost no cap on what they will come up with. So he confuses their language, making it so bewildering and confusing that they cannot finish the project and the city goes unfinished. He scatters them over the face of the earth.
In the long-run He comes as both God and man to earth. He comes as the God-man and does not just appear to walk around, but really lives here and dwells in our midst and He says things like “I have come to seek and to save the lost.” He goes to all kinds of people–the poor, women, the marginalized, etc. And finally, lays down His life for His people and is raised in glory. When He is risen from the dead He gathers his disciples together and, before He ascends, says “you will be my witnesses…to the ends of the earth.” At Pentecost you get the reversal of Babel so that all languages declare the only name worth naming. Luke goes out of his way to let us see something–he lets us see how the gospel message began to be taken to the world as the people were scattered through persecution (Acts 8). God Himself scattered them in this way.
Habig then reminded the people here that one of the founding principles of the PCA was an emphasis on the Great Commission and, while this continues to be emphasized, many PCA churches have neglected the mission field in their very backyards. We are to spread out where God has placed us. The question for pastors is this: Is that the fruit of what you’re teaching and preaching? Does your own behavior exemplify this? Do you put yourself in uncomfortable places where you will be able to meet people who need to meet the Savior (much as Jesus placed Himself in a strange place to meet the woman at the well)? The exhortation is this: place yourself unnaturally to reach people where you would not naturally go.
If you are a pastor or an elder, I think this is a message you will want to hear.