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From the Garden to the City,
Trees along the way
Revelation 17, 19
The Great Babylon
(c) Copyright 2007 Rev. Bill Versteeg
Brothers and sisters in Christ
The book of Hebrews tells us very clearly the saints were not looking
for a city that already was because God has planned something better
for them, a city whose Architect and builder is God. But before we look
more extensively at the city of the New Jerusalem, we are going to take
one last look at that great city called Babylon, a city that holds no
promise for the saints. To understand the great city depicted in
Revelation 17-19, we must first see the characteristics of it as
described in Genesis 11.
The Lord destroyed the world by means of the flood in Genesis 6-9. But
it was not long after this event that humanity had once again turned to
its own way.
11 Now the whole world had one language and a common speech. 2 As men
moved eastward, they found a plain in Shinar and settled there.
3 They said to each other, “Come, let’s make bricks
and bake them thoroughly.” They used brick instead of stone,
and tar for mortar. 4 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 and not be scattered over the face of the
5 But the LORD came down to see the city and the tower that the men
were building. 6 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. 7 Come, let us go down and confuse
their language so they will not understand each other.”
8 So the LORD scattered them from there over all the earth, and they
stopped building the city. 9 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.
The name of Babylon comes from the name given to this first city -
Babel, which means in its original language - the gate to God or Bab -
el. In Hebrew that is the same word for confusion. To understand the
apocalyptic prophecies of John regarding Babylon, we must understand a
few things about Babel. Babel was a city built on human leadership -
people getting along, communicating, working together, developing
technology and culture together and demonstrating the incredible
potential of the human spirit. They were “out to make a name
for themselves,” they were building themselves a city, and
this city is an expression of disobedience to God because God had given
the instruction to fill the earth and multiply. But rather than being
scattered, dependent on God, these people chose to build themselves a
city, where the city itself became an expression of their independence
from God. This city was not built for God, it was built to make a name
for themselves. You know the rest of the story - God came, confused
their languages, from the confusion of languages came cultures, and
conflicts and they were forced to spread out from each other to avoid
destroying each other. But the Babel story remains as a testament to
human potential, a human leadership apart from God that remains
throughout history and comes to its fullest expression in the city of
Babylon as we find it in Revelation 17-19.
Again and again, the expression of human potential comes to the surface
throughout history, building up the city of human accomplishments apart
from God. In history, she is a place where the saints suffer for their
faith, for their trust in God, dependence upon God, Revelation 17
pictures this city as drunk with the blood of the saints.
18 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 home for demons
and a haunt for every evil spirit,
a haunt for every unclean and detestable bird.
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
Notice how this city is pictured. She continues to picture the
incredible potential of humanity but the potential of humanity is not
only for good, it is also a potential for evil and corruption. And so
the good is mixed with the bad, beauty is mixed with evil haunts,
relationships become indulgent, riches and luxury in their excess have
become idols. This city is a mixed, beauty with ugliness, riches with
inequality, justice and injustice. That which is pure is called out of
her. Listen to the next verses
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.
Mix her a double portion from her own cup.
7 Give her as much torture and grief
as the glory and luxury she gave herself.
In her heart she boasts,
‘I sit as queen; I am not a widow,
and 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.
Her claim that she would never mourn was her boast that she did not
need God. This city was is a utopia apart from God. She is a consumer
of the worlds riches, an economic powerhouse, a cultural center. When
she falls, the merchants of the world cry out:
”‘Woe! Woe, O 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, O 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, O heaven!
Rejoice, saints and apostles and prophets!
God has judged her for the way she treated 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, flute players and trumpeters,
will never be heard in you again.
No workman 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 great men.
By your magic spell all the nations were led astray.
24 In her was found the blood of prophets and of the saints,
and of all who have been killed on the earth.”
Babylon may be symbolic of everything that humanity accomplished from
culture to technology to commerce and excess, Babylon may be a picture
of human potential, but it is potential without God, it is potential in
spite of God, against God and those who depend on him, and the
consequence is that this city called Babylon has no future, it will be
judged, it holds no promise for the saints. In contrast to building a
city for ourselves, we are looking forward to a city who architect and
builder is God.
There are many things that I could mention this morning about this city
called Babylon, and many questions that could be asked about the
incredible potentials we in our culture express in North America, how
in many ways we have similar characteristics of the Babylon described
in this passage, and how this passage calls us to humility and as
Christians a watchful and discerning eye to the spirits of the age that
are shaping us. But more than that this morning, on this
Father’s day and on this day when we install leaders into
their respective offices, we need to ask an important question about
the leadership that we give.
It is clear that the leadership given in Babel/Babylon had great power
to achieve human potential, but what direction was the leadership
given? Yes, leaders made a name for themselves and their community -
after all they built such a great city, but is success as pictured in
this city the success that God wants? Ultimately, the question is -
when it comes to leadership, which direction are we as fathers, and as
leaders leading in?
You see there is a leadership that God honors, a leadership that has
eternal value, a leadership that holds as its highest value dependence
upon God, faith in his provision, trust in his guidance. And maybe that
kind of leadership does not end up in the glorious kinds of success
that is pictured by this city of human accomplishment.
As Fathers (and mothers), how do we lead our children - toward
accomplishments and careers in which they succeed, in which they have
what this world calls success, or do we lead them into a faith and
dependence upon God as our highest value? Have we been leading our
children to surrender themselves into the care of God, or have we been
leading our children to an independence, a value of maturity in our
culture that says that we have to be able to survive on our own two
feet, an individualism that denies the need for community characterized
by dependence on God. I ask myself that question. Have you?
As teachers who educate children, do we lead in such a way that
children think the most important thing they can do is get a great
career, or do we teach that humility before God, an honest dependence
upon him comes first?
As leaders in the Christian community installed this morning, we need
to ask the question, what is the goal of all our leading - is it
success as this world describes it, more numbers, more activity, more
involvement, greater impact, more beauty, a healthier budget, or is our
leadership aimed at one thing - that we and those whom we influence
surrender their lives to God, depend upon God in humility, walk with
God every day using the talents that God has given us for his kingdom
that cannot be shaken - that involves longing for a better country,
longing for an enduring city that cannot be shaken, judged, whose
architect and builder is God?
I end this sermon with questions because as I look at the hectic
western world that I live in, the busy pace, the dollar which drives so
many of us, I cannot help but wonder how close we are to the symbolic
Babylon, and how many of our values, our leadership values
aren’t simply values that represent this earthly city.
Maybe these questions are to abstract for you. Then let me ask you one
question. How much of your time is focused on the issue of here and
now, jobs, income, property, entertainment, wealth, luxuries, culture,
earthly relationships, compare that to what you invest in time, effort,
money in the kingdom of God. And remember that if you are an adult, you
the Garden to the City - Trees Along the Way
Immanuel CRC's Theme for 2006-2007
The complete Series
10:34-48, text vs. 39 FROM
THE GARDEN TO THE CITY:
TREES ALONG THE WAY: Introduction
2:4-9, 15-17, 3:1-24 There was more than one Tree in the Garden
12:1-9 The Great Tree of Moreh
13:14-18, 18:1-5 The Evolution of the Presence of God
Jesse's Stump (Advent #1)
55 The Pine and the Myrtle
Jesse's Shoot (Advent #4)
3:1-14 Those who Hang on Trees (Lent)
19:28-40 The Trees Bowed Before Him!
22, Mark 15:33-37 The Ram Caught in the Thicket (Good Friday)
20:10-18 They Met Under the Trees in the Garden (Easter Morning)
2:1-4, 42-47 Pentecost - the City has Arrived
“For Thine is the Kingdom, Power and Glory - the
New Jerusalem - Focus of Desire”
17, 18 The Great Babylon
21 The Bride has Made herself Ready
22 The Tree Stands in the City
(NIV) Scripture taken from the HOLY
BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION. Copyright (C) 1973, 1978, 1984
International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Bible
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