Christians in Babylon

Is the church captive in Babylon? In this timely message, Brother Ken Miller begins with Revelation 18 to remind the Church of the call to come out of Babylon. He dispels the modern notion that Christians may adapt to the society while we live here, and instead urges Christians to escape Babylon’s spell. Using illustrations and personal examples, this sermon presents an urgent call for followers of Jesus to “Come out of her, my people, and be not partaker of her sins.”

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My friends, my dear, dear friends, I feel a burden this evening of being the bearer of bad news. And it is really bad news. Really bad.

Revelation 18; we’ll begin by reading the first 19 verses. Revelation 18, verse 1.

And after these things I saw another angel come down from heaven, having great power; and the earth was lightened with his glory. And he cried mightily with a strong voice, saying, Babylon the great is fallen, is fallen, and is become the habitation of devils, and the hold of every foul spirit, and a cage of every unclean and hateful bird. For all nations have drunk of the wine of the wrath of her fornication, and the kings of the earth have committed fornication with her, and the merchants of the earth are waxed rich through the abundance of her delicacies. And I heard another voice from heaven, saying, Come out of her, my people, that ye be not partakers of her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues. For her sins have reached unto heaven, and God hath remembered her iniquities. Reward her even as she rewarded you, and double unto her double according to her works: in the cup which she hath filled fill to her double. How much she hath glorified herself, and lived deliciously, so much torment and sorrow give her: for she saith in her heart, I sit a queen, and am no widow, and shall see no sorrow. Therefore shall her plagues come in one day, death, and mourning, and famine; and she shall be utterly burned with fire: for strong is the Lord God who judgeth her. And the kings of the earth, who have committed fornication and lived deliciously with her, shall bewail her, and lament for her, when they shall see the smoke of her burning, Standing afar off for the fear of her torment, saying, Alas, alas that great city Babylon, that mighty city! for in one hour is thy judgment come. And the merchants of the earth shall weep and mourn over her; for no man buyeth their merchandise any more: The merchandise of gold, and silver, and precious stones, and of pearls, and fine linen, and purple, and silk, and scarlet, and all thyine wood, and all manner vessels of ivory, and all manner vessels of most precious wood, and of brass, and iron, and marble, And cinnamon, and odours, and ointments, and frankincense, and wine, and oil, and fine flour, and wheat, and beasts, and sheep, and horses, and chariots, and slaves, and souls of men. And the fruits that thy soul lusted after are departed from thee, and all things which were dainty and goodly are departed from thee, and thou shalt find them no more at all. The merchants of these things, which were made rich by her, shall stand afar off for the fear of her torment, weeping and wailing, And saying, Alas, alas that great city, that was clothed in fine linen, and purple, and scarlet, and decked with gold, and precious stones, and pearls! For in one hour so great riches is come to nought. And every shipmaster, and all the company in ships, and sailors, and as many as trade by sea, stood afar off, And cried when they saw the smoke of her burning, saying, What city is like unto this great city! And they cast dust on their heads, and cried, weeping and wailing, saying, Alas, alas that great city, wherein were made rich all that had ships in the sea by reason of her costliness! for in one hour is she made desolate.

Very sobering perspective to start a weekend of fellowship, isn’t it. But it’s a perspective I think we must be aware of and see with the eyes of faith. Not only do we see the rewards of the kingdom of Heaven, but we see by faith what the truth says about the other end, and it is very sobering. But there’s a verse in here that is a call to each and every one of us.

And I heard another voice from heaven, saying, Come out of her, my people, that ye be not partakers of her sins.

By God’s grace and mercy, we live in an age where salvation can be found through the blood of Jesus, his Son. Are there “Christians in Babylon”? That’s the title. Are there “Christians in Babylon”? Our evangelical friends like to compare the church’s present state in society with Israel in captivity under Babylon. In Jeremiah 29, the prophet sends a letter from Jerusalem to the captives in Babylon. And in that letter, Jeremiah tells those captives. Basically, he says, “Settle down, get married, plant fields, harvest them, let your children get married, and let them have children, seek the good of the city that you’re in for in the welfare of that city you will find your welfare.”

And our evangelical friends will say, “Yeah, that’s pretty much the state of the church in society, and the church lives amidst a fallen society. She awaits her deliverance from heaven when the kingdom will finally come. And in the meantime, we kind of have to do the best that we can, and we’ll settle in, build houses, seek the welfare of our earthly city until Jesus comes back, even by serving in political offices like Daniel.”

So, but I think there are problems with this view. And first and foremost, the first problem is that Jeremiah is counteracting false prophets when he sends that letter. They’re saying, for example Hananiah (the previous chapter), he’s saying, “Look, Israel is going to go back to Jerusalem in two years.” But in reality, God had said seventy years. And so Jeremiah sends this letter to the exiles. He says to them, “Look, this is what God said. It’s going to be seventy years. So you might as well settle in, build houses, plant vineyards, get married, because at the end of seventy years you’re get to go back, but not before then.

Secondly, in this writing, later on in his prophecies in Jeremiah 51 and 52, Jeremiah himself calls his people to flee from Babylon, not to settle in Babylon, but to flee from Babylon. Two entire chapters, very much like Revelation 18, which we just read much of, are found there. And in those chapters Jeremiah is laying out the future Judgment of Babylon. He’s looking beyond the seventy years captivity now to the time when God will judge Babylon. He has used Babylon to judge the nations of the world. Now, it’s Babylon’s turn, and he says in those chapters to the captives in Babylon who are left, who may still be left there, “Flee out of the midst of Babylon.” He says in Jeremiah 51:6, very similar to Revelation 18:4, he says, “Deliver every man his soul, be not cut off in her iniquity, for this is the time of the Lord’s Vengeance.” So he’s saying, “Flee Babylon. It’s time to get out. The judgment of God is about to fall on Babylon. And if you are to save yourselves, it’s time to get out.”

The third reason we kind of resist this idea of settling down in Babylon is that we do not believe, brothers and sisters, that the church is in some kind of Babylonian captivity. No, no, the true church has been liberated, “delivered from the power of darkness into the kingdom of his dear Son.” We’re no longer exiled. Praise the Lord! The seventy years of captivity are over.

In Ezra chapter 1, King Cyrus issued what might be called the first Balfour Declaration when he released the Jewish people to go back to their homeland to rebuild their temple. And in Luke chapter 4, I think we have the New Testament counterpart to Cyrus’ declaration in Ezra chapter 1. We have our King Cyrus gets up in the synagogue there at Nazareth, his hometown, and he declares to the people reading from Isaiah chapter 61, and he declares to them. “The spirit of the Lord is upon me and he has sent me to deliver the captives. This is the day of the Lord, the Year of Jubilee.” And he said, “This day the scripture is fulfilled in your ears.” And in that declaration our King, Cyrus, he set free the captives and he allowed the true children of Israel to return to their home city Zion, the New Jerusalem, where Messiah sits on David’s throne.

So I suggest that we could suggest to our evangelical friends that it might be better to compare the present status of the true believer to the liberated returnees in the book of Ezra. The former captives been set free by King Cyrus. They’ve left Babylon behind. They’re traveling along a Fertile Crescent in search of their homeland and their home city, Jerusalem. They don’t belong in the Fertile Crescent. They don’t belong there. They’re not gonna settle down. They don’t have time to build houses, and plant farms, and build businesses. They’re just passing through. Pilgrims and strangers, they’re living in tents as Abraham and Isaac and Jacob did generations before in their journey to the same land. They’re not interested in settling down. You know why? They’re not interested in settling down on their way from Babylon because they’re going home. They’ve seen the lights of home. They’re going home to their fatherland. Jerusalem is on their minds. This is what has caused them to leave Babylon. It’s true: judgment’s coming. But they’ve got Jerusalem in front of them. They are headed there. Nothing’s going to stop them. They’ve got God’s protection over them. No earthly army needed for protection. They had Jerusalem. Jerusalem was on their minds.

And my question for all of us this evening: “Is Jerusalem on our minds?”

But we have come unto Mount Zion and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn which are written in heaven, and to God the Judge of all…

and so on and so forth goes our memory passage. Hallelujah! Hallelujah for liberation from Babylon. But here’s the contradiction, a sort of contradiction: We’ve been liberated by God’s grace and mercy, all those who’ve been set free from their former lives. In reality, we’ve been liberated. However, if we look around us, it seems as though we, God’s people, are living smack-dab in the middle of the good old USB, the United States of Babylon. Seems we’re living right there, doesn’t it? So, what do we do?

This is the truth about modern civilization: even though they say there’s been a lot of progress made in education, and economic systems, in the scientific realm, all of this, a lot of progress so to speak. But in reality, we don’t have to look far. We see this world is under a spell. Good News Bible says that “the whole world lies (1 John 5:19) under the spell of the evil one.” Second Corinthians 4:4 “the God of this world has blinded the eyes of those that believe not. It is such a sad thing.

May God give us a burden for our neighbors and our friends who are still in Babylon and have not heard the call of judgment and the call of our King.

Eberhard Arnold said this, he said:

The early Christians were convinced that there’s a god in the world who is not the god of Jesus Christ. There’s a god of godless world religion, antagonistic to the life of Jesus, a God of the present era hostile to God’s future and his eternity. This god has blinded the minds of those who cannot believe and are perishing, and has corrupted their vision so they are no longer able to see what really matters or to grasp the message of the future, the message of liberation.

How sad. How so very sad to know that people are in this world blinded to the reality of the coming judgment of Babylon, blinded to the reality of liberation from Babylon, and the journey home to Zion! But this is the reality in which we live and we are in the middle of it.

You go back to Revelation chapter 18:2 & 3, you see that the essence of Babylon, the spirit of Babylon is demonic (verse 2), it’s immoral (verse 3), and it’s luxurious (verse 3). Basically, you have those three themes all throughout the chapter 18 of Revelation, and pretty much describes the iniquity of Babylon in that chapter.

Now, here’s what Elon Musk said of Tesla, that great forward-thinking scientist whose inventing all these things. He said, this about artificial intelligence, he said sometime in the lecture few years back, he said,

With artificial intelligence we’re summoning the demon.

Now a man by the name of Peter Mommsen writes an editorial in The Plough winter issue of 2018. It’s a very good issue on technology, by the way. Plough, being published by the Bruderhof. And so the editor quotes Elon Musk, and he says,

Whatever Musk meant by these words, they fit with strange precision…

Remember, Elon Musk said with artificial intelligence we have summoned the demon. He says,

…they fit with strange precision into the New Testament view of reality. As the Biblical writers saw it, the major social systems that shape human communities are not merely impersonal, rather such systems which include the state, religious institutions…

and we could add so many more institutions, those systems and structures of society, religious, the government, state government, the educational systems, the media, and technology, and the entertainment, and the sports, and the philosophies of sexuality and morality, the practices of marriage, and all these things – all these systems, structures, philosophies that shape human society – I think we can safely say they are under the domination of the spirit of the age. And we as believers have to think very, very carefully as these philosophies flood into our thinking through various media means, because these influences are of Babylon.

Now if we are with Christ, we’ve been liberated. This is not to say we have to fear demons behind every bush. We only have to be wise, discerning, and prudent, and willing to cut off the right hand and pluck out the right eye, if necessary, in order to continue our journey to Zion, the city of the living God.

So, he goes on to say that these technological structures that govern modern life “operate under the influence of distinct spiritual forces” is how he says it. “The New Testament,” he says, “uses a range of names for these spiritual powers, among them ‘demons.’ Recognizing that uncanny forces lurking within technological structures,” he says, “doesn’t require us to flee the information age, but,” he says, “it does mean Christians must stop pretending that technological products are just neutral tools now.”

Now that’s very thoughtful, I think. So, escaping Babylon’s spell. We’re not here this evening to lift up Babylon. We’re here to call God’s people, with the prophet John, out of Babylon. So how do we escape this pervasive spell of Babylon? How do we come out of Babylon while seeming to live right in the middle of the United States of Babylon.

I’m going to talk about one thing tonight, folks, pretty much just one thing. I cannot think of anything more important to escaping the spell of Babylon. It’s a very simple thing, we’ve heard about in all our lives. I want to talk about it some more this evening because all my heart I feel is what God wants me to say or talk about at least. We see it all through the Bible in the lives of men and women who followed God and it’s faith. Faith, my brothers and sisters, faith. We do not leave Babylon just to escape judgment, although that would be a good reason in itself. We leave Babylon because we see Jerusalem out ahead. Jerusalem is on our minds.

While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.

And Peter says there in 1 Peter 1, verse 8, speaking of Jesus his savior who he saw not so many years ago. He says of him “Whom having not seen we love.” And he says it twice in the verse, “Whom having not seen we love, although now you do not see him, yet believing you rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory.” That’s who we see. His city is who were seeing. His capital city. We’re headed there by his grace and mercy.

We need a living faith that compels and propels us toward the eternal realities that only faith can reveal, and away from those eternal realities that, too, only faith can reveal. Hebrews is all full of this, “but without faith it is impossible to please him, for he that cometh to God must believe that he is and that he is a rewarder of those that diligently seek him.”

In the summer of 1987, a friend and I got on our bikes at Rockfish Gap, Virginia at the beginning of the Blue Ridge Parkway. We weren’t all that well prepared. We were going to ride the whole Parkway from beginning to end. We had ten-speed bikes and they were loaded down with saddlebags, front and back, heavy load. Our first day, we had planned to ride eighty-five miles to the Peaks of Otter, up and down those mountains. Even though we weren’t really prepared, we didn’t have proper equipment, we started off in high spirits, wind, strong wind, and we rode our bikes, and we rode and rode and struggled up and down those hills. Finally in probably mid-late afternoon we were down at the James River, about 60 some miles on. James Rivers’ lowest point on the Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia, around 600 feet above sea level. And by that time our spirits and our energy levels had sunk correspondingly. We had come those sixty-some miles, but ahead of us was Apple Orchard Mountain. And we stared, we looked at the maps, especially the maps of the profile of the road as it went up and down, and those cruel engineers of the Blue Ridge Parkway – why did they take the Blue Ridge Parkway from the lowest point in Virginia straight to the highest point in Virginia at the top of Apple Orchard Mountain, 4000 feet up there, nothing but uphill for thirteen miles. How are we going to get up there?

I didn’t tell you at the beginning, but I’m pretty sure at the very beginning of this we had already decided at the beginning of this day, one thing we’re going to do when we get to Peaks of Otter, we know about this restaurant up there, Peaks of Otter Restaurant, and we’re going to sit down there and we’re going to enjoy a hot meal when we get there. And you know down there at James River ,we were thinking about this too. We got this thirteen miles ahead of us, but we got this hot meal ahead of us: chicken, mashed potatoes – we can do it.

So, you know what? We started going, and we pedaled, and our bikes weren’t geared low enough, and it was excruciating. Partway up my buddy pretty much gave up. I would have, too, probably, except I kept thinking about this meal up there at Peaks of Otter Restaurant. And we finally crested Apple Orchard Mountain, probably about twilight, near sunset. We had a few more miles to go and we came down off the crest to Apple Orchard Mountain went downhill, and then to our utter shock we had to climb again for maybe a mile or two. But we were utterly exhausted but at that point we were so close. And you know what kept us going. Right about dark we got to the most welcome sight in the world, the sign Peaks of Otter and we pulled into the parking lot after fourteen hours of biking and we staggered into the Peaks of Otter Restaurant at nine o’clock in the evening, just as they shut down for the night.

You know, oh we drug ourselves over to our campsite, fixed some Ramen noodle soup or something, and what a letdown. But the kingdom won’t let us down! You know about thirty-one years later, just a few months ago, my wife and I finally got to that restaurant, and I had my fried chicken meal. Praise the Lord! But I have a simple point to make with this story and you know what it is. Truman Miller and I would have never made it to Peaks of Otter that day except we had in front of us this vision of something very wonderful, and it kept us going. If that vision hadn’t been there, I’m sure we’d have stopped probably somewhere down near the bottom of Apple Orchard Mountain and camped for the night. How is this any less true in a spiritual sense?

My dear, dear people, my dear people, this demonic, immoral, luxurious spirit of Babylon seeks to draw our hearts away, and how well we know it, and how much we need fellowship and meetings like this one! In fact, we need to get together every Lord’s day and celebrate Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, and encourage our spirits together, and have a wonderful time in fellowship around him, so that our faith does not grow weak. There’s a very real and present danger for our hearts to be drawn. I have to tell you this: there is a very real and present danger for our hearts to be drawn away by the spirit of Babylon. The word says, “Seek those things which are above where Christ sits on the right hand of God, set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth.” That’s what the Word says.

But the world says “Seek those things here below where you can enjoy yourself with all sorts of pleasure and creature comforts. Set your desires on money, food, sports, business, sensual pleasure.” This is the – make no mistake – this is the demonic, immoral, luxurious spirit of the United States of Babylon.

Maybe the most important question we can ask ourselves this weekend is: “What am I seeking? What am I seeking? What am I seeking? The things of heaven or the things of Earth?” Show me what a person is seeking today, and I will show you where he will be tomorrow. Here’s a quote from Martyrs’ Mirror. I hope you don’t – no, I’m not gonna make any apologies. Martyrs’ Mirror is a wonderful book, brothers and sisters. By God’s grace I read through that thing three times in less than a year in the place I was where I had more time than I do now. But I treasure this wonderful book of stories and doctrine. And here is a definition of faith that I’ve not found anything better in any of the stuff I’ve read. It says, “Saving faith is a sure knowledge of the heart, a sure confidence which we receive from God, not through our own power but through hearing the word of God, which by the illumination of the Holy Spirit is written in the heart and worked so effectively in us,” listen to this, “it works so effectively in us that we are drawn away by it, the faith, from all visible and perishable things to the invisible and living God, thereby acquiring a new spiritual taste for that which is Heavenly and not for that which is earthly. For saving faith accompanied with hope and love is of such a nature that it conforms to things not seen.”

You see what I’m saying tonight? I think faith is that the most important thing, building up our faith, to allow us to escape the allure of the spirit of Babylon, and make it to Zion, our Heavenly City. Let me remind each of us that faith is not just a warm feeling of the heart that we experienced together in meetings like this. This weekend is a time of action, brothers and sisters. True faith leads to self-examination. It leads to decision. It leads to action. It leads to dying of self. It leads to seeing Christ crucified, and calling us also to take up our cross and count the cost. It calls us to obedience to the Son of God. This is true living faith, and oh brothers and sisters, let us prepare our hearts for decision, for obedience, and for action.

And I’m not proud of this, but I will tell it anyway. This afternoon I wasn’t feeling so great. I went across this bridge over here to the island in the river and I was there struggling with something. And I knew it was like God’s Spirit was putting his finger on my heart, and I was struggling with a sense of coldness and hardness toward a certain person, and I thought to myself, “Wow, if that’s there, then I must also be hard toward God, too, in some way” because you can’t be feeling hard towards your brother without in some way also feeling hard towards God. And I pondered what I should do, and prayed, and I picked up the phone, and I called this person, and I had sort of been fighting with this person a little bit. You know, you know how we subtly fight sometimes with people to try to get our own way, and we proved that we’re right. And I just had to say, “Look I was wrong here, you know, I shouldn’t have done this.” And I gave up the fight. And the peace came.

I’m embarrassed about how many times that needs to happen in my life, those sorts of things. But we just have to be sensitive to the Spirit of God. There’ll be much reading of the Word, much memorization of the Word and recitation. There’ll be much preaching prayer, solitude, and fellowship in the next three hours. God will be speaking. It’s very likely that if you open your heart and you look to God by faith – it’s not only very likely – it will be inevitable that God will speak to you in some way ‘cause we all have places we need to grow. And so God is going to put his finger in your life, and it will be your decision or not whether you will move, whether you will act upon that, and obey. And we’re not interested in just having a wonderful time of warm fellowship, and feeling the comforting presence of God’s Spirit in this place. We’re here to give ourselves to him, and to serve him, and obey him.

You know, so we have to ask ourselves these kinds of questions. “Is Jerusalem on our minds? or is it Babylon?” Psalm 78 is a very sad chapter, describes the unfaithfulness of Israel twice in that chapter. Psalm 78, God says of Israel that Israel has turned back. They turned back. Is there someone here that has turned back to Babylon? Is Babylon still in your heart in some way? Is there a divided heart? You like your secret sin over here, but you still got one foot in God’s kingdom over here. You know, God hates divided hearts. He won’t have that. He will spew us out of his mouth, he says.

This is the day to seek Zion. This is the day to set your sights on this Heavenly City. This is the day to call upon our Heavenly, merciful Father for the kind of faith that conforms to things not seen. This is what we need, brothers and sisters, in these days as we grapple with the practical issues. A living faith that sees beyond the influences of Babylon, and sees the glories that await God’s people

I want to close with a story that’s near to me because I knew this woman whom the story relates to. In fact, by God’s grace and mercy, I was able, I was privileged to bring the sermon at her funeral. Actually, some of her descendants are here tonight, I think. Dear woman was one of the sweetest women, older women, you have ever met. If I was a woman, I’d like to be like her when I’m her age. She’s such a sweet Spirit, loved Jesus, and it was written all over her face. She left testimony of the presence of God; you feel her presence of God when you were near her. Sweet person, made sweet by Christ. You know, and I found this story in preparation for preaching the sermon at her funeral.

And it was in the summer of 1889. This woman, her mother, I’ll give the name, I trust it will be okay. Mary Swarey, she’s gone now with the Lord, this dear woman’s father who was five years old was on the train coming through central Pennsylvania somewhere north of here, it was the summer of 1889, and it had rained a lot that summer. A lot of rain had fallen the night before, and in the afternoon of May 31, 1889 that train approached that big, stone bridge that crossed the Conemaugh River in Johnstown, Pennsylvania. At that time, that bridge, I think, was just a year or two old, and I believe it might still be standing there today in Johnstown. The train would normally have stopped to pick up mail, or maybe water at the one end of the bridge or pick up passengers. But as that train came to that spot on that bridge on that day, the flagman, the signalman was standing out by the track and he was frantically waving the train to go on. And he shouted, “The dam has broke, the dam has broke, the dam has broke.” The engineer opened up the steam, and that train got out of there, thundered out of the valley just ahead of that wall of water that came down from fourteen miles away in the mountains and 2,000 people died in that flood. Some of them died at the bridge, eighty some people died at that bridge as the debris came down and caught fire. Very likely if that train hadn’t come out of there in the nick of time, it would have gotten swamped and never gotten away, and very likely Mary’s Swarey’s descendants wouldn’t be sitting here tonight.

Faith shows us how to live relative to the future according to the Word of God. Let us seek that faith at all costs. We see a glorious future for those who are one with Christ in his kingdom. But if we are reading the Word, we also see a very terrifying and beyond description future for those without saving faith. And Noah saw something of that, and he built an ark. And yes, we believe in everlasting hell with real fire and a real Satan. And brothers and sisters, the judgment against Babylon is rising up like a water behind a dam that is about to break, and one day that judgment will break out. We do well to live with that reality in front of us. We’re motivated by that. Yes, we are. It would be right to be motivated to leave that bridge as that wall of water is coming down. It’s right to be motivated to save our lives. But you know, motivation doesn’t begin there, and it certainly doesn’t end there. Motivation that propels us on is a vision of this Heavenly City, the New Jerusalem, and might I say that Kingdom Fellowship 2018 is like that signalman by the side of our lives, and he’s waving, this weekend, is waving us away from condemned Babylon toward a glorious Zion. Let’s put our hand to the throttle and take the needed action this weekend.

Brothers and sisters let’s stand for prayer.

Our heavenly father, thank you for your Son, Jesus who came to this world, and he healed people, raised the dead, cast out demons, and he lived a perfectly righteous life, and he showed us by all that what your kingdom is, and that it will not be shaken. The forces of hell were arrayed against him. They couldn’t shake him. He went through the cross, rose triumphant, conquered death, Satan, sin at the grave, came out of the grave, ascended to your right hand, where now you’re preparing a place for us, Heavenly Father. Through Jesus, we look forward to that kingdom that is to come. In the meantime, we have a foretaste of it here if we yield ourselves to you and open our hearts to your presence and the reality of your spirit. Help us to do that. Help us not to hold anything back. Forgive us, Heavenly Father, for being so earthbound. I confess, I’m often like that way too much, Heavenly Father. Have mercy on us, lift our eyes, let us see the things that are not seen, give us a faith that conforms to the unseen, let it begin this weekend in my own life, in Jesus name. Amen.