[1996–3] Babylon is Overthrown

Revelation 18:1-8

Salem Mennonite Church, Freeman, SD—Ted Grimsrud—5/12/96

We are here today for a special celebration—we are celebrating the baptism of five of our congregation’s young people.  Christina, Britt, Stephanie, Renee, and Collin today are making a statement—a crucial statement, a public statement.  They will be telling us—through their words and through their actions—that they do trust in Jesus Christ for salvation.  They are telling us that they do want to follow Jesus Christ in their lives.

The five of them spent hours with Kathleen and I these past seven months.  We talked about many things—and I confess that at least a few times we had fun, at least a few times we got distracted from our business at hand.  But most of what we talked about had to do with what it means to be a Christian, with what we believe as Christians, with how we want to live as Christians.

Kathleen and I have greatly enjoyed these discussions.  We have both been challenged ourselves to grow in our understanding of our Christian faith.  We have been learners as well as teachers.  We are impressed with these young people.  We are impressed with the families which have nurtured them and the church community which has nurtured them.  It has been a privilege to share life with them.…

Even before we had settled on this morning as baptism Sunday, I had planned to speak on the book of Revelation today.  I saw no need to change my plans—the book of Revelation is very relevant to our celebration.  Because, really, our celebration is also a challenge.  Our five young people—and each one of the rest of us, too—are being challenged, challenged to live in light of Jesus’ resurrection.

The symbolism of baptism includes the person being baptized kneeling, and then being raised up.  This symbolizes Jesus’ being raised up from the dead into new life.  When we are baptized we symbolically share in Jesus’ death and we symbolically share in Jesus’ resurrection.  Another part of the symbolism is the pouring of water—representing the pouring out of the Holy Spirit upon each person who trusts in Christ.  It is the Holy Spirit who empowers us to walk in the power of the resurrection, to live in newness of life.…

The book of Revelation is, at bottom, about our call to walk in newness of life.  The book of Revelation is about the struggles we face in doing that—the powers of darkness and deception remain potent.  And the book of Revelation is about the promise of victory for those who do trust in Christ.

Revelation pictures the world as a place of conflict.  There is indeed much violence, much hurt, hard times for those who seek peace and love.  Revelation tells us that, like with Jesus, it is typical in the world that those who live obediently to God’s will for human beings will not necessarily be rewarded with praise by the world, but may in fact be treated rather poorly.  Jesus faced the cross as a result of his faithful living.  His followers can expect a similar fate.

However, Jesus faithfulness led to his victory.  And throughout Revelation, we not only are told of hard times and persecution and conflict, we are also told of Jesus’ followers worshiping and celebrating.  When we come together in church on Sunday morning, we are confessing that despite the hard times we all face—loss, hurt, frustration, discouragement—we are confessing that the Lamb is triumphant.  We are confessing that he does hold the keys to God’s kingdom.  We are confessing that his way is the way of truth.

Revelation presents a choice between two cities—Babylon and the New Jerusalem.  Basically, the point of this contrast is to challenge us to think seriously about our values, our choices in life, that to which we commit ourselves.  In my opinion, the picture in Revelation is extreme, very dramatic, black and white.  I think it would be a mistake to take these pictures too literally—as if any particular culture is exactly the same as Babylon.  Rather, it would be better to read these pictures as tendencies, directions.

All of life has to do with choices, priorities, values.  What shapes our values?  Is it a vision oriented toward the New Jerusalem?  A vision oriented toward the way of Jesus?  Or is it something else?  Fearfulness?  Desire for status?  Quest for wealth?  Pride?

Revelation’s big concern is to alert its readers that these choices are very important.  The choices we make determine in which city we will be at home.  When our values reflect an unwillingness to trust in God’s ways, we are going to pay a cost.  The point is not so much that God will actively punish us.  Rather, the point is that we will get what we genuinely want.  If we genuinely want to share in the abundance of the New Jerusalem, we will get that.  If we genuinely want to share in the abundance of the New Jerusalem our lives will inevitably be shaped by its values.

However, if we genuinely want to be free from the demands of the gospel, if we geniunely want to be free from God, we will receive that instead.  Revelation’s dramatic visions make it clear, though, that such a choice of freedom from God is actually a choice for death.

The portrayal of the destruction of Babylon in Revelation, chapter 18 reveals the core values of the anti-God forces of the world.  They may promise success and power and prestige—and may deliver them for the short term.  But in the end, Babylon will fall because at its core Babylon offers only life-less-ness.

The core values of Babylon are these:  greed, arrogance, and violence.  Greed—the highest value in Babylon is the accumulation of wealth.  “The merchants of the earth [sell her] cargo of gold, silver, jewels and pearls, fine linen, purple, silk and scarlet, all kinds of scented wood, all articles of ivory, all articles of costly wood, bronze, iron, and marble, cinnamon, spice, insense, myrrh, frankincense, wine , olive oil, choice flour and wheat, cattle and sheep, horses and chariots, slaves—and human lives” (18:12-13).

Babylon traffics in human lives—one more commodity to be bought and sold and used.  Greedy people care more about gaining more and more wealth than they do about respect and compassion for other people.  There is a Native American saying—If a person has many goats, that shows that that person cares more about goats than about friends and relatives.

Arrogance—Bablyon sees itself as untouchable, irreproachable.  “She glorified herself and lived luxuriously….In her heart she says, ‘I rule as a queen; I am no widow, and I will never see grief” (18:7).

Violence—“In you was found the blood of prophets and of saints, and of all who have been slaughtered on earth” (18:24).

In contrast, the values of the New Jerusalem are the values of Jesus.  Instead of greed, simplicity.  Instead of arrogance, humility.  Instead of violence, peaceableness.

The final picture of Revelation is that only the New Jerusalem and its values will last.  Only the New Jerusalem endures.  Only the New Jerusalem matters.  The Lamb triumphs!  Babylon is overthrown.

The destruction of Babylon is not tied to the fall of any particular nation.  Ancient Rome fell, Nazi Germany fell, the Soviet Union fell.  These certainly were characterized by the values of Babylon and their fall reflects the reality that Babylon cannot win in the end.  But in our present world, the values of Bablyon remain.  They are potent and are a temptation for us.

Revelation makes it clear, though, that finally Babylon will fall once and for all.  God’s righteousness and love will cleanse creation of all evil.  Every tear will finally be wiped away.

The picture of the fall of Babylon is a call to faith.  It calls us now to trust in that which is not yet fully visible to the eye.  That which Babylon stands for is and will be as dust.  Greed, arrogance, violence—these are the dust of death.  Christians are called to trust that the way of Jesus—simplicity, humility, peaceableness—this is the way which leads to wholeness.  This is the way of true power, of lasting victory.

Baptism is one concrete way that we express our conviction that Jesus offers the only true path to life.  Baptism is one concrete way in which we make it clear that our citizenship is in God’s nation, our citizenship is in the New Jerusalem, not Babylon.

For each one of us, life requires an ongoing commitment to accept God’s healing mercy.  For each one of us, life requires an on-going commitment to follow the Lamb’s way—the way of simplicity, the way of humility, the way of peaceableness, the way of the gospel.

Sometimes it is difficult to make this kind of commitment—to follow the Lamb’s way.  But as we take one step at a time, we might well find the commitment becoming more and more a possibility.

There is a Chinese folk tale about a rogue, a low-lifer, who fell in love with a princess.  More than anything he wanted to be with that princess.  So he went to the best mask-maker in all of China and asked the mask-maker to make him a mask which would make him look like a handsome prince.

Of course, this rogue not only had to look like a prince, he had to act like one too.  But he loved the princess so much, he decided he could fake it and act honorably and righteously.  He succeeded.  He pulled the masquerade off.  He fooled the princess and she agreed to marry him.

Over the next few years, a funny thing happened.  This rogue continued to love the princess—and she loved him.  Motivated by his love, he continued to wear his handsome mask—and he continued to live as an honorable prince.  The princess loved him because he was good-looking and because he was living like a good person.  However, the rogue was beginning to feel guilty.

Finally, he decided that he had to come clean and tell the truth.  So he pulled off his mask and went to see his beloved princess.  To his shock, though, she greeted him as warmly and affectionately as ever.  He glanced at a mirror, and was doubly shocked.  He saw that his face had changed.  His face had been transformed.  He now looked just like the handsome, good prince he had been imitating all these years.

By committing himself to act like a good person, out of his deep love for the princess, he actually had become a good person.…

Perhaps this is at least a little bit similar to the kind of commitment we make in baptism.  We know that we are not fully Christlike yet.  We are not consistently good people yet.  But out of our love for Jesus, we make a commitment—to try the best we can to follow Jesus.  As we do follow him more and more, motivated by our love for him and his love for us, as we follow him more and more, we will become more and more Christlike.  We will be gradually transformed into his likeness.

This morning we have the special privilege to welcome five young people into our church fellowship.  Each one is making a public profession of faith.  Each one is saying to the world that they are choosing to identify with the New Jerusalem and its values, to follow the Lamb—and to reject the values of Babylon.

They are embarking on a journey along a path which leads to eternity with God.  However, the along the way they are bound to face challenges, moments of fear and doubt.  They need our help.  They also need a concrete expression of their commitment to remember the way of Jesus.  That is part of the importance of baptism—a concrete expression of faith which we all will remember.  A concrete expression of faith which will continue to remind us to whom we have given our lives.…

There are three questions we ask of people being baptized.  (1) Do you accept and confess the Lord Jesus Christ as your savior, trusting in his death and resurrection for the forgiveness of your sins?  (2) Do you commit yourself to Christ and his service and do you seek the guidance and power of the Holy Spirit to turn from the ways of sin, to commune with God in prayer and the use of scripture, and to lead an upright Christian life according to God’s revealed will?  (3) Are you willing to be a part of this community of faith, to give and receive counsel from the members of this congregation, and to live in fellowship with them?

Confession, commitment, and community.  These are questions we ask of people being baptized.  But they are questions which are addressed to all of us as well.  They are questions we all continually need to hear.  They are questions to which God asks all of us continually to say yes.

These five young people are making a confession this morning.  They are confessing Jesus Christ is the way, the truth, and the life.  They are confessing that Jesus is their Lord, the one who they want to give their lives to.  This is indeed a challenge for all of us.  We are challenged, each of us, to renew our confession that Jesus is our savior and guide.  We also are challenged, each of us, to continue to seek to help each other live our the implications of this confession.

These five young people this morning are expressing publically their commitment to seek the New Jerusalem, the live according to its values.  That is, they are publically expressing the commitment they have made to accept Jesus Christ as their savior and to seek to follow him in life.

These five young people are acknowledging their need to be part of this church community.  This is where they can worship God right now, in that way making the New Jerusalem present in today’s world, and expressing their conviction that the Lamb has triumphed.  This is where they will find Christian friends, people to be be comforted by, challenged by, people to comfort and challenge.  This is where they become part of an ongoing story—a story of God’s faithfulness and God’s work to bring healing and peace to the world.

It is exciting to celebrate the commitment these five are making.  It is exciting to share in this kind of commitment.  It is exciting for each of us to have the opportunity of glorifying God by living as his faithful people.  Let us each seek wholeheartedly to encourage one another, and especially these young people, on the paths of faithfulness.

[Let’s pray: We thank you, our God, for the victory which you have won through Jesus Christ.  We thank you that Jesus has conquered death and won the way to salvation for all who trust in him.  We thank you that because of Jesus’ victory, we may know that his way is the way to life, life in the New Jerusalem.  Help us to see the way of Babylon for the deception which it is.  Help us to follow Jesus’ way.  We thank you for the commitments Christina, Britt, Stephanie, Renee, and Collin are making this morning to choose the New Jerusalem.  Bless them in a special way, and help all of us encourage them, and each other, to live as your people.]

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