Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Fallen is Babylon the Great: Revelation 18

(This is the last sermon that Doug ever wrote before he passed away suddenly on January 31, 2004. It was the day before Super Bowl Sunday, kind of ironic since he was a huge sports fanatic! He did not get to preach this sermon so no one ever heard it... until now.)

What is today? Across America today is known as Super Bowl Sunday. Though Americans will watch commercials and football, today first and foremost is the Lord’s Day. The day upon which God’s people gather together to worship him who rose from the dead on a Sunday morning two thousand years ago. Our culture, our society can have such a subtle and yet significant impact upon our thinking. That is why Revelation 18 is so important, that we might ponder the truth and live as God’s people. Hear now God’s word.

Revelation 18
 1 After this I saw another angel coming down from heaven. He had great authority, and the earth was illuminated by his splendor. 2 With a mighty voice he shouted:
   “‘Fallen! Fallen is Babylon the Great!’
   She has become a dwelling for demons
and a haunt for every impure spirit,
   a haunt for every unclean bird,
   a haunt for every unclean and detestable animal.
3 For all the nations have drunk
   the maddening wine of her adulteries.
The kings of the earth committed adultery with her,
   and the merchants of the earth grew rich from her excessive luxuries.”

 4 Then I heard another voice from heaven say:
   “‘Come out of her, my people,’
   so that you will not share in her sins,
   so that you will not receive any of her plagues;
5 for her sins are piled up to heaven,
   and God has remembered her crimes.
6 Give back to her as she has given;
   pay her back double for what she has done.
   Pour her a double portion from her own cup.
7 Give her as much torment and grief
   as the glory and luxury she gave herself.
In her heart she boasts,
   ‘I sit enthroned as queen.
I am not a widow;
   I will never mourn.’
8 Therefore in one day her plagues will overtake her:
   death, mourning and famine.
She will be consumed by fire,
   for mighty is the Lord God who judges her.

 9 “When the kings of the earth who committed adultery with her and shared her luxury see the smoke of her burning, they will weep and mourn over her. 10 Terrified at her torment, they will stand far off and cry:
   “‘Woe! Woe to you, great city,
   you mighty city of Babylon!
In one hour your doom has come!’
 11 “The merchants of the earth will weep and mourn over her because no one buys their cargoes anymore— 12 cargoes of gold, silver, precious stones and pearls; fine linen, purple, silk and scarlet cloth; every sort of citron wood, and articles of every kind made of ivory, costly wood, bronze, iron and marble; 13 cargoes of cinnamon and spice, of incense, myrrh and frankincense, of wine and olive oil, of fine flour and wheat; cattle and sheep; horses and carriages; and human beings sold as slaves.
 14 “They will say, ‘The fruit you longed for is gone from you. All your luxury and splendor have vanished, never to be recovered.’ 15 The merchants who sold these things and gained their wealth from her will stand far off, terrified at her torment. They will weep and mourn 16 and cry out:
   “‘Woe! Woe to you, great city,
   dressed in fine linen, purple and scarlet,
   and glittering with gold, precious stones and pearls!
17 In one hour such great wealth has been brought to ruin!’
   “Every sea captain, and all who travel by ship, the sailors, and all who earn their living from the sea, will stand far off. 18 When they see the smoke of her burning, they will exclaim, ‘Was there ever a city like this great city?’ 19 They will throw dust on their heads, and with weeping and mourning cry out:
   “‘Woe! Woe to you, great city,
   where all who had ships on the sea
   became rich through her wealth!
In one hour she has been brought to ruin!’
 20 “Rejoice over her, you heavens!
   Rejoice, you people of God!
   Rejoice, apostles and prophets!
For God has judged her
   with the judgment she imposed on you.”

 21 Then a mighty angel picked up a boulder the size of a large millstone and threw it into the sea, and said:
   “With such violence
   the great city of Babylon will be thrown down,
   never to be found again.
22 The music of harpists and musicians, pipers and trumpeters,
   will never be heard in you again.
No worker of any trade
   will ever be found in you again.
The sound of a millstone
   will never be heard in you again.
23 The light of a lamp
   will never shine in you again.
The voice of bridegroom and bride
   will never be heard in you again.
Your merchants were the world’s important people.
   By your magic spell all the nations were led astray.
24 In her was found the blood of prophets and of God’s holy people,
   of all who have been slaughtered on the earth.”

Have I got a deal for you. I want you to take $10,000, borrow it if you have to, and buy 100 shares of this stock at $100/share. Because of my inside information, I know that this stock, worth $100/share today will be worth, in just 6 months, $1/share so that your investment of $10,000 will be worth $100. What do you say? You want to buy? Knowing that, who in their right mind would? It would be the height of foolishness. Yet we often make similar foolish decisions every day that have far greater implications. Sometimes we choose to live in agreement with those who say, “God is the big kill joy in the sky who goes around searching for people who are having fun and then tries to stop it. If I become a Christian, if I live as a Christian, I will have to give up having fun.” 

It is not without reason such things are said, after all does not verse 4 proclaim, even command, “come out of her my people.” Come out of our her, come out of Babylon, not the literal city, which had long since fallen, but that which it symbolizes: the world’s way of thinking and acting. Come out of that life, don’t life that way, don’t speak that way, don’t act that way, don’t even think that way. What way is that?

Materialism—verse 3 speaks of those who grew rich from her excessive luxuries, verses 11-13 of the various goods that were bought and sold. Here is a city where vast commerce is taking place, buying and selling, trading, where riches, wealth and prosperity abound.  Sounds a lot like our country today. To what extent has materialism grabbed hold of you? This cannot primarily be measured outwardly; it is an attitude of the heart. What is it that drives you? What is it you crave? I was in a store the other day and the closeout prices on the winter clothes were so good, I was this close to buying a sweater I did not need. My drawer is already full of sweaters. I don’t need another sweater. Why would I want to buy another one?  Materialism runs deep in me; it runs deep in us all.

Pleasure—verse 3 refers to drinking and adultery, no doubt symbolic of unfaithfulness in general, but also applicable to pleasure in particular. This will no doubt be one of the underlying themes of the commercials during the Super Bowl; it is central to our life in the United States. As we studied last week, the prostitute of 17 is most active in our land; she is referred to in this chapter in verse 2, “Babylon the Great” compare with 17:5 and verse 16 one dressed in fine linen, purple and scarlet compare with 17:4. The imagery of the prostitute conveys the idea of deception which is very much characteristic of our pursuit of pleasure. Think about alcohol for a moment. Why do people get drunk? For a while anyway, it feels good; you escape your problems, for a time, but you are deceived into thinking that this escape will last. It is not wrong to possess material goods or to experience pleasure, but how easily we are deceived into thinking that it is in our pursuit of pleasure or materialism, that we will find life. God says to us, “Come out of her my people. Don’t live that way.” Yet the question still remains, is God being the big kill joy in the sky?

Imagine if you saw someone in a burning building. It was a major fire and anyone who did not get out of that building was certainly going to die. You pleaded with him, “Sir please come out of that building.” He said, “You are trying to make me stop having fun.” “What are you talking about, the building is on fire and if you don’t come out you are going to die.”  “Nice, try, but I know your kind; you are trying to manipulate me. No, I am going to stay and have my fun.”

God is saying, and obviously I paraphrase, “Come out of her, the building is on fire, the stock is going down. Come out, not that you might stop having fun, but that you might live.” Today I want you to ponder the characteristics of Babylon that are clinging to your heart today. Is it the pursuit of money? Do you covet more and more? Is it the pursuit of pleasure? Perhaps it is something else that is characteristic of the spirit of the age in which we live? Secret thought life? What fantasies lie there? Are you holding on to grudges, resentment or bitterness? What aspects of the city of Babylon have hold of you? God is calling you to come out because the building is on fire and it is going to collapse.

Despite appearances. To be sure Babylon boasts great things, verse 7. “I sit as queen; I am not a widow. I will never mourn.” Appearances might lead us to conclude that it is only by following the ways of the world will we find prosperity and peace. For example you may think you need to leave your spouse because he or she is unresponsive to your needs, but God says, “No for fallen, fallen is Babylon the great.” God’s judgment is upon the city and all who dwell therein.

His judgment is just, verse 6. Give to her as she has been given; pay her back double for what she has done. You might object, wait, how is that just if she is being paid back double for what she has done, that sure sounds vindictive to me. Though it may sound that way, it is actually perfectly just. If you stole $100 from me and got caught, would it be just if all you had to do was give the $100 back? No, justice would require that not only would you give back what was rightfully mine, but in addition give to me what you tried to take from me that is another $100. That would be just. Thus you would have to give back double for your crime which is the perfect punishment. That is what God is saying here. In that day, no one will be able to say God is being vindictive or extreme, but be in awe of how just is his judgment. He gives us exactly what we deserve.

God’s judgment will one day be final, verse 21-23. The great city of Babylon will be thrown down never to be found again; music will never be heard in you again; no workman will ever be found in your again; the sound of the millstone will never be heard in you again; the light of the lamp will never shine in you again. You obviously hear the pattern, don't you, these things will never be found, heard or shine again. God’s judgment will be final; there will be no second chance, no opportunity to repent, to change. It is complete. It is final. 

God’s judgment can be oh so quick. Notice the time references here, one day in verse 8 and one hour in verse 10; these are not meant to necessarily be taken literally, but rather symbolically: it took you years to build up this wealth and in just a moment it can all be gone.  You spent great time focusing on your appearance and  your health, and in just a moment it can all be gone. Do you know what happened to the founder of the Atkins diet? He died. A tragic accident and he is dead. Remember that death is God’s judgment for our sin. Such judgment can be swift and we do not know the time. Did not Jesus say, “I come as a thief in the night.” Do not be deceived, the power and wealth of the United States could be gone in an instant if God so chose. Likewise, your life could be gone tomorrow. 

That is why we must come out. Despite appearances, the building is on fire, it is going to fall for God’s judgment is just, final and quick. God tells us to come out, not to kill our fun, but that we might live. Ponder how Babylon has hold of you today and hear God’s call upon your life.  Come out of her. Come out. Don’t live that way anymore. The building is on fire. Why stay in it and perish when you can come out and live?

Yet I know warnings often don't work. The attraction of Babylon, the materialism, pleasure and the life are very, very powerful. It is like the scene in a Bug’s life, a wonderful movie, in which one of the bugs sees the light from a bug zapper and though his friends try to pull him back, he says, “But it’s so beautiful.” If we could take a step back and analyze what we often do, say, think, pursue we might easily say, “Why would I ever do that?” Yes, but it’s so beautiful.    

A few weeks ago, our growth group was studying this passage and Karen Robson contrasted the repetition found in verses 21-23 never be found in you again, etc. with the repetition found in Psalm 136 which repeats over and over, His love endures forever. What a profound contrast, the city of Babylon falls never to rise again, but the love of the Lord endures forever. It is this love that is captured in the call of verse 4; Come out of her, you guys; Hey you, get out of there; no, come of her my people. My people. My people. I know sometimes that grappling with Babylon, trying to come out, to leave behind your sin can lead to such failure, you may feel that you are characterized, even defined by your sin, that is who you are—if you believe in Jesus Christ, the one who died on the cross for your sins, your sin does not define who you are, it is God who defines who you are and he says to us, “My people. You are a child of the living God.  This is who you are.  Come out of her yes because the building is on fire, but also because God says, you are my son, you are my daughter.” You are a child of the king and he loves you that is the most beautiful of all. Come out, come here my people; come out today. Thus saith the Lord. Let us pray.

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