make these words something: waking up in babylon

Cities in the book of Revelation are pictured as contrasting women. First there is the Whore of Babylon and then there is the Bride of Christ, which is the New Jerusalem.

All through the book there is this silent question of what city will you identify with?

When John spoke of Babylon he was using an Old Testament reference to describe the Roman world in which they lived. In the book of Revelation, Babylon becomes a kind of shorthand for the way that human power and authority. We find out in Revelation that Babylon is built on a foundation of lies and that are beautiful and alluring.

The Whore of Babylon is a word picture of the goddess Roma, and she offers her alluring romawine for all to drink. Babylon is this symbol of what it looks like to put money before people. Babylon is what we get when our value is determined by what we have rather than whom we belong to. Babylon is what we wake up to every day. It’s not a nation state, but it is the culture that drives nearly all of them.

In Babylon things like accruing power become very important. What you wear reveals your status. Money is the main driver of life. In Babylon you are constantly sold this lie. One day I was headed home from Palm Springs when I saw a billboard on the freeway that said, “What does your driveway say about you?” Really? My driveway reveals things that are core to my identity?

Every day we wake up in Babylon. It is so easy to be shaped by the life that Babylon provides. As I write this, Apple is releasing the new iPhone 7 and there is something in me that wants to lust after that object. There is something in me that makes me think, “if I just had the iPhone 7 everything would be different. Life would certainly be better!” 

But I know that is a lie.

The lie that Babylon feeds to us is that if we find our identity in wealth, relationships, stuff and status that we will be made whole. What we don’t see is that a commitment to a life in Babylon is a commitment to the oppression of the poor of the world. In Revelation 18 after we hear about the fall of Babylon, her merchants weep and mourn. They just lost their way to make money, which we think is sad until we realize that the reason why Rome was so wealthy is because they exploited the citrus wood trade in North Africa. They oppressed people who worked in the gold mines of Spain. Among the cargo list found in chapter 18 are, “human beings sold as slaves.”

There is a hidden cost to run Babylon. A cost which if we saw it fully would make us sick. It is a cost to miners in Africa who mine precious metals for our iPhones. It is a cost to children who make t-shirts in free-trade zones in the global south. They are out of sight from our eyes, but rest assured, they work more in 5 years than most people will in 50. Creation bears the brunt of our addiction to stuff, the great Pacific Trash Island can attest to this. Just floating below the surface there is a garbage patch the size of Texas in the Pacific Ocean.  Babylon breeds its own industry of the death of unwanted babies.

Babylon has an allure. It is glamorous and a wonder to gaze upon. But, that is only because we don’t see the hidden costs of Babylon. We don’t see all of those who are hurt by her way of life.

So I want to ask you. Please. Will you make my words worth something? Will you make the 9 commentaries and the endless hours spent in this book apply to your life?

I want to invite you into a very different life, the life of the lamb:

The lamb that loves and gives dignity to all humanity.

The lamb who values the poor.

The lamb that gives dignity to those who are oppressed by Babylon.

The lamb that executes perfect justice.

The lamb who is marked by truth.

The lamb who wants to wash you with his own blood.

Babylon will always be left wanting. A life based on a Babylonian value system will always be incomplete.

Make these words worth something…

Revelation 18:4-8

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;
for her sins are piled up to heaven,
    and God has remembered her crimes.
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.
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.’
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.


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make these words mean something: the lion is the lamb

For 27 weeks in 2016 I taught through the book of Revelation: The next few post are the main points of the book…So make all my work…make all of these words…make all of the hours I put into it worth something…enjoy. 

When John, the author of Revelation, had a vision of heaven he saw God almighty on the throne, holding a scroll, sealed up with seven seals. For the original reader they might have thought of the powerful Emperor of Rome, Domitian sitting on his throne giving out edicts.

An Emperor or a king with a scroll that is sealed up signifies the king’s wishes and only one who had the authority of the king could open that scroll. This is the image that John is setting up for his reader. So the question became, “who is worthy to preside over the opening of these scrolls?”

The scrolls symbolized all of human history; it symbolized the new heaven and new earth that was found in Revelation 21. The question of, “who is worthy” means, who has the authority of the king to open the scroll? Who is able to watch over all of human life? Who is able to preside over the new heaven and the new earth? John wept because no one was found worthy.

But all of the sudden we see these verses:

Then one of the elders said to me, “Do not weep! See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals.”

 Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing at the center of the throne, encircled by the four living creatures and the elders…” 1024px-Josefa_de_Ayala_-_The_Sacrificial_Lamb_-_Walters_371193

There is one worthy! He is announced as a lion, but when John turns he sees a lamb, “looking as if it had been slain.” The author of Revelation is always pulling this little trick on us. We hear one thing and see another.

The Lion is the Lamb!

What the author John is trying to remind us of is that the only thing that truly wins in the end is the sacrificial love of the lamb. Only the one who displays true sacrificial love is able to preside over all of human history.

This is in stark contrast to our world, which has a lust for power and authority. Just this year a practical joker got Donald Trump to re-tweet this quote from The fascist leader Benito Mussolini.

“It is better to live one day as a lion than 100 years as a sheep.”

This isn’t just Trump, In the political world, you would never survive on sacrificial self-giving love.   Lambs just survive in a Machiavellian political world.

It is no secret that people envision themselves as the lion in all situations.

Want to tell off your boss? Be a lion!

Want to rise through the political ranks? Be a lion!

Want your employees to fear you? Be a lion!

Want to be the hero? Be a lion!

We love movies that are exactly the opposite of this verse. We love movies that the lamb becomes the lion. We want to see the ordinary guy become a super hero. We want to see Rocky bulk up and beat people down. Our world celebrates lambs that become lions.

However, the church is called to the very opposite. We are called to lay down our lion like tendencies and to be formed by the self-giving love of the lamb.  We are called to be self-sacrificial in our love for others.  We are called to be formed by the lamb.

The lamb wins in the end.

In fact in Matthew 27, Pilate asks the crowd to choose between saving two people.  “Which one do you want me to release to you: Jesus Barabbas or Jesus who is called the Messiah?”

Jesus Barabbas was a rebel, fighting the Romans, taking their blood.  By all accounts he lead a bloody revolution.

Jesus the Messiah, lead a gentle revolution, teaching people to be kind to their enemies and forgive them.

Jesus Barabbas lived as a lion.

Jesus the Messiah lived as the Lamb of God.

Pilate asks then which is the question for the whole world today.  What Jesus do you want?  The lion or the lamb?


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