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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.
(Slides 2-5)
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 whole earth.”
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.
(Slide 6)
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.
(Slide 7-8)
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 luxuries.”

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
(Slides 8-10)

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:
(Slides 11-14)
”‘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 are leading...



From the Garden to the City - Trees Along the Way
Immanuel CRC's Theme for 2006-2007
The complete Series

  1. Acts 10:34-48, text vs. 39 FROM THE GARDEN TO THE CITY:
    TREES ALONG THE WAY: Introduction

  2. Genesis 2:4-9, 15-17, 3:1-24 There was more than one Tree in the Garden

  3. Genesis 12:1-9 The Great Tree of Moreh

  4. Genesis 13:14-18, 18:1-5 The Evolution of the Presence of God

  5. Isaiah 6:1-13 Jesse's Stump (Advent #1)

  6. Isaiah 55 The Pine and the Myrtle

  7. Isaiah 11:1-5 Jesse's Shoot (Advent #4)

  8. Galatians 3:1-14 Those who Hang on Trees (Lent)

  9. Luke 19:28-40 The Trees Bowed Before Him! (Palm Sunday)

  10. Genesis 22, Mark 15:33-37 The Ram Caught in the Thicket (Good Friday)

  11. John 20:10-18 They Met Under the Trees in the Garden (Easter Morning)

  12. Acts 2:1-4, 42-47 Pentecost - the City has Arrived

  13. Matthew 6:13 (footnote)  “For Thine is the Kingdom, Power and Glory - the New Jerusalem - Focus of Desire”

  14. Revelation 17, 18 The Great Babylon

  15. Revelation 21 The Bride has Made herself Ready

  16. Revelation 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 Publishers.

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