Try to imagine for a moment what it would be like to be a Christian in the time when Peter wrote this letter. Imagine living in a culture where the political system was increasingly antagonistic toward Christianity. Imagine living in a culture surrounded by temptations to sin, in an openly sexually immoral society, temple prostitution, corruption, greed, bribery. Imagine living is a world where other religions were opposed to you and your presence and persecuted you. Imagine feeling increasingly like an outsider, marginalized to the edges of society. Imagine living in a culture hostile to everything you stand for and live for. Imagine living in that kind of world and then on top of all that having to deal with all the normal issues of our sinful, fallen life. Disease, sickness, death, broken relationships, troubles and trial at work and at home, with parents or kids or neighbors. Can you imagine a world like that? Now if you were going to write a letter to someone living in a world like that, what would you say? Where would you start? What kind of hope and help and encouragement would you give? I Peter is that letter and it’s God’s Word to us, elect exiles scattered in Lynden, Bellingham, Everson, Nooksack, Sumas and Ferndale. If you are down or discouraged or defeated for any reason, listen to what Peter writes and take it to heart. His purpose in writing is to lift our hearts and our eyes above this present world, and to prepare and equip us for living in this world with hope. How he starts is very important.
For three chapters we have been assaulted with John’s vision of the great wrath and judgment of God against sin and wickedness and ungodliness in the world. The whore of Babylon and the great beast have waged war and have finally been defeated and destroyed. Revelation 17:1 Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls came and said to me, “Come, I will show you the judgment of the great prostitute who is seated on many waters. Revelation 17:18 And the woman that you saw is the great city that has dominion over the kings of the earth. Revelation 18:20 Rejoice over her, O heaven, and you saints and apostles and prophets, for God has given judgment for you against her! Now in chapter 19 we are lifted to heaven to hear the response of heaven. This joyful response can leave us a little uneasy. We are conditioned by our world to not like judgment in general and the great Judgment Day in particular. The world tries to ignore such a reality and it looks down on Christians for promoting such things. It seems mean-spirited and unloving to suggest that God is the kind of God that will crush His enemies and banish people to hell forever. Judgment is not an act worthy of a good and kind and loving God. This is clearly not politically correct and certainly shouldn’t be talked about in polite company. Christians shouldn’t believe it or if they do they should keep it to themselves. So it is adding insult to injury to read that everyone in heaven will be jumping up and down in joyful celebration singing hallelujah and worshiping God for His judgments. This is more than finite ungodly humans can appreciate or understand.
Most of you know the joy of growing up in a small town where everyone seems to know your business and remember your past. Many of you have stories you could tell on each other, some of them going all the way back to elementary school playground or stupid things you did in high school or someone you dated or someone you babysat for or who babysat you. I moved so many times growing up that I am fairly confident the trail behind me is cold. No one has much dirt on me accept my brother and sister and of course they’re safe since I have the goods on them as well. Imagine if not just the people of Lynden knew your stuff, but imagine if the whole world knew all about you. Imagine if your stuff was written down in the Bible.
My goal this morning is to move us out of our spiritual complacency. It is essential to our eternal souls that we have an encounter with the living God. Apart from Him we are nothing, we have nothing, we will come to nothing. Only in Him do we live and move and breath. Do you know God? I mean do you really know God? An unknown God can neither be trusted, served nor worshipped. Consider with me some divine, holy encounters with God in human history.
In Revelation 17:16 John was given a brief glimpse of the judgment of Babylon. Revelation 17:16 And the ten horns that you saw, they and the beast will hate the prostitute. They will make her desolate and naked, and devour her flesh and burn her up with fire. Now in Chapter 18 the full story is told and John sees the judgment in detail. Now Babylon is completely destroyed. Since this is a long chapter and we are doing the whole chapter it might help to have some sense of the outline of the chapter which I have printed on the back of your bulletin. Remember this is not the fall of a specific city such as Babylon or Rome or a place you can find on a map, but the fall of all godless worldly human systems under the influence of Satan. Babylon is the Bibles word for the world in opposition to God, either through persecution or seduction, through pain or pleasure. Scripture presents us with the great conflict between the realm of Satan, his kingdom on earth, and the kingdom of God.
We have been through the seven churches of Asia Minor, the seven seals, the seven trumpets, and the seven bowls. Now we start seven messages of doom and judgment on Babylon from 17:1 to 19:10. Tonight’s text is the first message, the angel’s explanation of the war with the prostitute. Chapters 17-18 explain in more detail the judgment summarized in chapter 16. The next two chapters are not new images of judgment but a fuller explanation of what this judgment will be like. In Revelation Babylon is the world and all that is wrong in the world. Babylon is the sinful world, in rebellion against God, in love with worldliness. Babylon is the symbolic word for all that is evil, dark, satanic, anti-Christian, anti-truth, anti-love. All of this opposition to Christ in the world manifests itself in two ways, either persecution and the killing of the martyrs, or seduction and enticement. The enemies tactics are simple, either pain or pleasure. Satan will destroy the church either by using and abusing power, influence, coercion and authority. Or he will entice and seduce with luxury and pleasure and comfort and ease. The beast and the prostitute represent the two kinds of Satanic power and influence in the world. The beast is persecution, wicked regimes and tyrannical governments. The harlot is seduction, temptation, enticement to wicked pleasures. And the Biblical response to their two tactics are just as clear and simple. Endurance in the face of persecution and pain, and separation and resistance to worldly pleasures. Endurance and separation.
We come this morning to the last attribute and perhaps the toughest attributes to talk about. This is that attribute of God that some Christians feel like they have to apologize for. There might even be someone here who is a bit embarrassed their pastor is talking about this out loud. God’s wrath certainly isn’t an attribute that we think should be cause for worship, something we should thank God for and praise Him for. This attribute is closely related to several other of God’s attributes such as God’s righteousness, God’s holiness, God’s jealousy, God’s justice. I think it will help us get a handle of this attribute if I approach it through a brief consideration of God’s jealousy and God’s justice. This will give us a better context for understanding God’s wrath.