The Broken World: A Small Group Study
Updated: Apr 16, 2021
The world is in desperate need for the gospel—more than we even realize.
The missionary God is not one who forces us into his service to get what he wants, but the God who lovingly pursues the world for his glory—and invites us to be part of the story. He needs nothing from us because he’s always been complete in himself as Father, Son, and Spirit. Yet he shows us who he is by sending his own Son to rescue us, and his own Spirit to live in us. His love is an extravagant waste on rebellious children. And in light of such extravagance grace, we respond with wonder and the desire that he be known all over the world.
This morning you woke up in a tent. It’s not because you’ve been camping—it’s actually where you’ve called home since you were three years old. At least that’s what you overhear your family say when they tell stories of old, often with tears. You carefully place your feet as you step over other family members curled on the floor. Slipping outside, you squint into the morning light and dust off your clothes. It’s not that the sun doesn’t shine here, it’s just that you’ve never seen it because of the haze over the city. Along the way to the river you observe the normal signs of life: breakfasts cooking over fires, squealing children already long at play, and the winding lines of people awaiting rations. Local police tap their heavy wands as you round a corner. The word is they have begun to show your people just how tired they are of you “draining their economy”. Now riverside you search for a spot that at least looks clean enough to fill your water jug. It’s bathing day and you strategically wash your outfit one piece at a time to avoid being completely naked. It’s the afternoon by the time your clothes are dry enough to put back on. Something’s got you hopeful that today you’ll be able to find work. Maybe it’s how faithfully you fasted and prayed to Allah this past month. Sometimes he is merciful to those who keep his laws.
This example is probably a literal foreign world to us. And yet for many people it is normal human experience. Like fish in a bowl, we’re so accustomed to our lifestyles that we struggle to realize there are different ones out there. Sure, not everyone around us are Christians. But outside the United States, lostness is so thick that four out of five people don’t even have access to a single Christian. This is hard to fathom.
For us to grasp just how desperate the world really is, we need to hear a tragic story from the Scriptures. By the time we reach the Tower of Babel in Genesis 11, God had already judged the world with a great flood. This was because “the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Genesis 6:5). There was a hopeful pause as the world was given a fresh start after the flood. At Babel, however, we see just how quickly humanity returned to their wicked ways.
The people who repopulated the earth spoke the same language. They settled together on a plain in the land of Shinar to build “a city and a tower with its top in the heavens” (v. 4). Their goal wasn’t just cool architecture—they wanted to make a name for themselves. God wanted holy people to fill the earth with his glory. Instead, rebellious people wanted to gather in one place and make it to heaven on their own.
Amazingly, rather than destroying them again or giving them up to the foolishness of their ways, God graciously “dispersed them over the face of all the earth” and “confused their language” (vv. 8-9). He had a plan. And that plan involved a world covered with people groups.
Each of those people groups had a unique identity through their own language and culture. And they have multiplied into what is around 16,000 people groups among the seven billion people on earth today. In the shadow of Babel our world has become a complex mosaic of peoples. Consider this:
Populization The world’s population nearly doubled in just the last fifty years. China alone swelled to one third of the whole world’s population with India close behind.
Urbanization Over 50% of the world’s population now live in cities. Tokyo alone is home to more people than Kentucky, Tennessee, Indiana, Illinois, and Missouri combined.
Globalization The development of technology has made the world totally interconnected. So many North Africans have migrated to Europe that the top two most common names now given in England are variations of Mohammed.
But the most lasting influence from the story of Babel isn’t so much variety—it’s depravity. As every person is born with the same blood of Adam and Eve, humanity is completely separated from life with God. To put things in perspective, consider a football stadium packed with 55,000 people. That’s about how many people on average die each day without the gospel, many of them having never even heard the name of Jesus.
Snap your fingers with about a second between each snap. I know that seems strange, but try it. That’s about the rate at which a person somewhere in the world dies without knowing Christ.
One third of the world has never heard the gospel. The overwhelming majority of these people are from North Africa, the Middle East, and Asia. Yet in terms of gospel movement the most lost place on the planet may surprise you. It’s Europe, where only 1% of the whole continent has a relationship with Christ.
And yet the Scriptures give us more than a glimmer of hope in such dark realities. The unraveling that began in Genesis was always intended to be rewoven through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Acts 2 records that after his ascension Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to his followers. Note that his arrival appeared as "tongues of fire," which immediately led the apostles to preach the gospel in different languages. That day alone about three thousand people believed (Acts 2:3, 41). What a redemption of Babel's curse!
From Acts 2 the gospel continued to spread to people groups all over the world. The Old Testament dispersion had actually just been a preparation for the arrival of the good news, as Paul described in his sermon at Athens: "And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place,that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him" (Acts 17:26-27). God was filling "the earth with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as waters cover the sea” (Habakkuk 2:14). And he still is!
What impacted you most from the opening paragraph?
How is the story of Babel representative of all people, including us?
How does what happened at Babel relate to what happened at Pentecost?
Why is it challenging to be aware and concerned about the world’s lostness?
How could you help “fill the earth with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord”?
Take some time this week to get outside your own cultural fishbowl by talking with someone from a different people group (someone with a different language and culture). It could be a person you know or someone you meet for the first time. Ask them to teach you about their language and culture.
As part of your weekly prayer time together ask God to give each of you his heart for the whole world. Pray for him to free you from being too satisfied or consumed with life around you to love those who are different from you. Lament the world’s desperate situation and give thanks that God has made a way back to himself.