The Holy City's Treasure:
Strangers in the World
Sabbath Day Sermon: Saturday 30 June 2001
Recently I was in England for two weeks and so I want to begin by thanking Brother Mjölsvik for presiding in my absence and the Deaconesses for their teaching. Part of my theme today is going to be on Christian interdependence and how central that is to understanding what the heavenly life is like.
Whenever I am away from home I seize the opportunity to spend time with Yahweh in prayer and reflection. And particularly I like to review my life and try to discover what I have done wrong, what I have omitted to do, and what still needs doing. As Christians we have to be continually checking-up with the Lord to make sure that we haven't wandered off the track in any way because carnal wanderlust is sadly a part of our fallen nature. I also took the time to absorb as much as I could of what was going on around me in my home country by talking to people and watching TV, something I don't normally do.
I was shocked by the moral degradation that had taken place in my two years' absence. People who regularly watch TV or who are absorbed in worldly activities tend not to notice change as acutely as those who are not a part of the world system. So what I saw came as somewhat as a shock to my spiritual system even though I was not at all surprised.
To begin with, I noticed how superficial everything had become. In a word, life has been reduced to a funfair where cheap entertainment is the rule. Violence and pornography is now so common place on TV that people no longer react to it anymore - two more areas of British conscience have been numbed into silence. Like the ancient Babylon of old, modern man is constantly seeking for new ways of sinning in order to outdo his neighbour's perversion.
One of the most popular TV programs today in England runs everyday and is called "Big Brother". Several people from different walks of life are all sealed together in a large house with no contact with the outside world except with a controller called "Big Brother" who sets the rules. These people - about six men and six women - all have to live together and cooperate as best they can. After some days they then have to start voting who is to leave the community. Each participant has to go on TV and give the reasons why he or she is voting two people off. When they have done this, the public is then given the choice to vote off one of the two with the highest votes. When that has happened and one person is thrown out, one of three other candidates is voted in to the community. They have to advertise themselves and say what they are going to bring into, or do in, the community. The reward for the survivor is a large sum of money - in another parallel game on another TV channel it is £1 million.
One of the girls was a born-again Christian, several were married, and one of the men was a practising homosexual. They had every type there. You can imagine how things progressed. "Big Brother", as I said, made up the rules as he went along. And you can guess it, eventually people were required to go around nude and then, finally, they had to choose partners to sleep with. Everything was recorded - there were videos cameras in every room. And this is one of the most popular shows in the United Kingdom.
After a week of selectively watching TV I had had my fill. The only decent programs to be seen were usually in the afternoon. Children are therefore exposed at prime viewing time to gratuitous violence (most of it was horrendous) and pornography on a daily basis. Is it any wonder that each successive generation is becoming more and more perverse? I also noticed subtle changes taking place in myself as I watched TV in spite of my spiritual values and my disgust at what I saw. My dreams all changed and became discernibly coarser, and as I analysed them I became aware that the great danger of TV is not simply the content of what you see but the way in which your spirit becomes passive and therefore receptive to everything that you watch and hear. Put simply, TV is probably one of the most effective ways of brainwashing the public that exists. Even those who know that what they are viewing and listening to is wrong become unconsciously reprogrammed to be what they don't want to be. Without really being aware of it, those who watch and listen to TV and radio on a regular basis are being subtlety hypnotised and brainwashed. I know, because I noticed what was happening to myself in so short a space of time.
After the first week, I largely dispensed with TV and returned to reading. But the experience had disturbed me greatly. I understood that the media is replacing the faculty of independent thinking in people so that by watching TV and listening to radio people are, without realising it, being trained to think and act in the same way as those who make and sponsor the programs. In more ways than one, TV and Radio have become the modern secular 'Church', and the actors the preachers. And now it has reached the stage were the public is actively participating in and guiding such programs as "Big Brother" where the script is being made up as it goes along. The people are being encouraged to exercise their influence on the way the people on that program behave - if they want nudity, that's what they get. If they want live sex, that's what they get. And if the program participants don't want to indulge the public's appetite, then they are voted off.
Life has become a game - mere entertainment - and we are the entertainers. It's a new and subtle form of the Roman Coliseum and of the original Greek Olympics. The whole of society is geared towards entertainment and sport. When I got home and was taking a shower I picked up a bottle of shampoo and saw the word "Sport" written on the top. And I wondered what on earth an ordinary bottle of shampoo has to do with sport??
We see history repeating itself again. What is happening in the modern world is exactly the same as that which happened in, and which destroyed, the Roman Empire and almost every other empire before and after it. Moral decay has spiralled out of control and nothing short of total collapse caused by natural calamity or war will end it. It is beyond reformation. We have reached the point where the righteous are heavily outnumbered by the unrighteous, and in a democracy, this can only mean one thing: disaster.
It is no easy thing when Christians are in a minority that is shrinking every day. What can we realistically do? That Christian girl on the "Big Brother" show compromised her chastity by yielding to social pressure to indulge in kissing and petting. You could see the agony of conscience on her face. And when it came to the point when she had to choose who to sleep with, she was in inner turmoil. The trouble is, she couldn't leave because she had signed a contract agreeing not to leave unless voted off and agreeing to do whatever "Big Brother" said. She was trapped. Seduced by the big cash reward at the end, and naïvely believing that God would never allow her to compromise her beliefs, she joined the program. She felt the best thing she could do was sleep with the homosexual even though her whole soul revolted at that as well. (Remember that there were married people in this program too). In the end, the non-Christians tired of her and voted her out. But not before she had already compromised her chastity to some degree.
This game "Big Brother" is a symptom of the whole world of entertainment. It represents what people want and what the big producers expect of their performers, no matter what branch of the entertainments industry is involved. The mentality of the public is the same as the ancient Romans in the latter part of the Empire - men and women alike want violence and sexual immorality.
Centuries ago the same trends existed and reached a climax. We read in Genesis 6:11-13:
"Now the earth was corrupt in God's sight and was full of violence. God saw how corrupt the earth had become, for all the people on earth had corrupted their ways. So God said to Noah, "I am going to put an end to all people, for the earth is filled with violence because of them. I am surely going to destroy both them and the earth" (NIV).
The great flood destroyed that world-wide civilisation and mankind started again. But the Bible tells us that exactly the same thing will happen again and that once more Yahweh will intervene to put an end to it. Yah'shua (Jesus) said that the last days would be exactly the same as they were in the days of Noah and that when He returned to put everything right that there were be very few believers. He said to the first disciples:
"As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left. Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come" (Mt. 24:37-42, NIV).
The apostle John saw the destruction of the current world system in vision and said:
"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. 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. 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. In her was found the blood of prophets and of the saints, and of all who have been killed on the earth."" (Rev 18:21-24, NIV)
I want you to notice particularly the two things that Babylon was particularly expert in was brought to an end. The first was her music, and the second was her business trading. These two characteristics of Babylon the Lord describes as a "magic spell" because of the way they manipulate and control people. And because of the love of these things the blood of the prophets and saints has been spilled. Those who will not follow Babylon's ways are murdered by her.
Finally, we are told that the end of this world system will be as sudden and violent as the end of the world in Noah's days. Life will go on normally and then, suddenly, and without warning, the end will come. The question, then, for those who are alive at that time will be: where are you? And what are you doing? Are you in a place of safety.
The Scriptures teach us that living righteously isn't enough. You will recall that Lot was a good man and yet he chose to go and live with the pagans in Sodom. He lived under constant pressure to compromise his faith and to indulge in the sexual immorality of that city until finally matters were brought to a head and the angels of Yahweh told him to get out with his family before fire brimstone rained down and destroyed the cities of the plains.
Now what were Lot's motives for living in these cities? When he and Abraham separated, he chose the glitter of the world and the wealth it enjoyed in preference to the nomadic country life of his cousin. There is no doubt that he was seduced by fame and wealth to some extent. And yet he was a good man and undoubtedly thought he could influence the citizens for good. But what, actually, were the fruits of his labours there? His two daughters married pagans who were destroyed in the conflagration, and his wife had second thoughts about leaving the good life, turned back, and was destroyed too. For all his efforts, Lot came out of Sodom with his two daughters and none of his wealth. And those he had shared public life with were all destroyed too because they would not repent. What happened even after he saved his neck is in many ways even more tragic - his daughters, influenced by the pagan ways of the city, got their father drunk, had sex with him, and both conceived children whose descendants became Israel's enemies.
I repeat, Lot was a good man, but he made a fundamental mistake: he decided to try and change the world and ended up losing everything except his life.
There are times when we can influence the world to change and there are times when we can't. There are times when preachers can go out into the world and start revivals, and bring tens of thousands to salvation. And there are times when the words of preachers like Noah fall on deaf ears and no-one repents. And when that happens, there is only one thing left to do - to build arks of safety in order to deliver the righteous from bondage. Noah was commanded to devote nearly his whole life to building a huge ship to save the godly and wild life. In our day and age, as we rapidly approach the end-time, we too have been called to build - not a ship of gopher wood - but twelve cities of refuge so that when the great destruction comes by fire, God's people and their families will survive into the new Millennial World.
Now I am sure you can imagine what Noah felt like preaching to the wicked inhabitants of the world before the flood. Though he called the people to repentance, his preaching was in vain, for none would listen to him save seven members of his family.
Our commission in this Church and Ministry is similar to that of Noah's. That man of God laboured for nearly a hundred years preaching and building the ark. And that is exactly what we have been doing - preaching to the world viâ the Internet and our publications, and preparing, ever so slowly, for the society structure that will obtain in these twelve colonies. We know from Scripture that Christians who are outside these communities will be slaughtered by the Antichrist or will be corrupted as Lot's family was.
When I was in England in my second week I became very ill and during that time grew discouraged because I felt so helpless to do more to warn the world. On the second day I had a splitting headache which neither sleep nor painkillers would remove. So I left the Inn and walked into the village to the local Anglican Church. To my surprise the doors were unlocked, which is never done now because of thieves and vandals - the graveyard had been vandalised, the gravestones desecrated. So I walked into the silent stone Church and into complete peace and quiet. I walked around and enjoyed the atmosphere and felt that many righteous souls had bathed this building in their prayers. I went and sat down in one of the pews and looked at the beautiful architecture. I bowed my head in prayer and asked for Yahweh's mercy and guidance for the present and the times ahead.
When I stood up the piercing headache was gone and I rejoiced in my heart. I walked around the building which was slowly getting dark as it was evening and made my way to the main entrance. I was all alone from beginning to end. By the door was a table covered in literature, newspapers, postcards, and various notices. My eyes immediately fell on a colourful booklet1 by a Christian author called Selwyn Hughes whom I have great respect for, and whose writings have previously inspired me. So I picked up a copy, put money in the donation box, and went back to the Inn.
To my astonishment, the whole booklet was addressing my then current situation and it spoke volumes to me. Peace flooded into my heart and I was assured that the Lord was still there are working actively in my life. I went to bed singing praises to Him in my heart to the well-loved rendition of Psalm 23, Crimmond.
In the middle of the night I woke up, sat up in bed, and saw a vision of an opened book that appeared to be a Bible. I saw a title, 137, and knew immediately that this was Psalm 137. Anxiously reaching for my Bible, I opened it up at the scripture, which is a lamentation about the captivity of the Jews in Babylon. I'd like to read it to you and explain what the Lord taught me from it:
"By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion.
There on the poplars we hung our harps,
for there our captors asked us for songs, our tormentors demanded songs of joy; they said, "Sing us one of the songs of Zion!"
How can we sing the songs of Yahweh while in a foreign land?
If I forget you, O Jerusalem, may my right hand forget [its skill].
May my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth if I do not remember you, if I do not consider Jerusalem my highest joy.
Remember, O Yahweh, what the Edomites did on the day Jerusalem fell. "Tear it down," they cried, "tear it down to its foundations!"
O Daughter of Babylon, doomed to destruction, happy is he who repays you for what you have done to us--
he who seizes your infants and dashes them against the rocks." (NIV)
The first thing I noticed was that there were 9 verses, and that the text was divided into three sections of three verses each - in short, the number 333, which Yahweh gave to us years ago as a sign for our ministry.
Secondly, I want you to note that whilst the ancient city of Babylon is today in ruins, the same name is used in the New Covenant to represent the world system and how it holds the world captive just as it did the Jews then. The Book of Revelation has much to say about this (Rev.14-18).
Thirdly, note that whilst this psalm is about the physical city of Jerusalem, in the New Covenant the Christian's hope is on the New Jerusalem which will descend out of heaven to earth when Christ returns (Rev.3:12; 21:2), the future World Capital where Christ will reign as King.
Bearing these things in mind, let us see what this Psalm has to teach us. It tells us what Paul reminds us of, namely that this world is not our natural home. Speaking of the patriarchs of old, he said:
"All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth" (Heb.11:13, NIV).
Several times the apostle Peter greets his fellow Christians writing: "Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To God's elect, strangers in the world ... Since you call on a Father who judges each man's work impartially, live your lives as strangers here in reverent fear ... Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul" (1 Peter 1:1,17; 2:11, NIV).
Many Christians wonder why they feel "odd" or "out of place" when they are in the world, and this is the reason: the world, and all its lusts, belongs to the spirit of Babylon. And that is why true, born-again Christians crave the fellowship of each other so much. We need each other as the family of God! We need each other as Noah's family needed each of its members. Our comfort, our happiness, our sense of well-being, our peace comes from Christian brethren and sisters living together and sharing the common spiritual life in Christ.
To be a prisoner of the Babylonian world system is sad indeed. That is why the Jews wept in captivity. All they could think of was going home. They were strangers in a foreign land. They had even stopped singing because of their total commitment to Jerusalem. What was even worse for them was that the callous Babylonians demanded exotic entertainment from them, just like our modern entertainment industry. But the Jews could not - would not - entertain them. They said: "How can we sing the songs of the Lord while in a foreign land?" (v.4). The songs of the Lord are of one spirit, and the songs of Babylon are of another, and either you are of one or the other.
Throughout my life I have been called to sing to an audience. I remember doing it at home at parties, and even at other people's parties, and also at school in public performances. And I remember hating doing it. The only time that my spirit has ever really been able to sing has been to the Lord whilst worshipping together with believers.
So serious a matter was this for the exiled Jews that they went on to say: "If I ever forget you, O Jerusalem, may my right hand forget its skill. May my mouth cling to the roof of my mouth if I do not remember you, if I do not consider Jerusalem my highest joy" (vv-5-6).
It is better to lose one's musical skills and be silent than to entertain the world with their devilish expectations. Then the Jews remembered the Edomites, the descendants of Esau, Jacob's carnal brother who sold his birthright for a bowl of soup. When the Babylonians besieged Jerusalem, their hearts will filled with hatred, as they cried: "Tear it down ... Tear it down to its foundations" (v.7), reminding us that the Babylonian world system and its allies have only one desire: the destruction of Christianity. It is interesting that the original Hebrew for "tear it down" is actually "strip her", as one who is made naked. So how can we, if we are in our right minds, entertain the enemies of God who glory in violence and impure sex?
Finally, we are reminded of just how brutal the Babylonian world system really is - the system which throughout the centuries "seizes your infants and dashes them against the rock" (v.9). We must never forget that the spirit of Babylon is Satan himself, the father of violence and immorality, whose only wish is to destroy God's purposes and to destroy His children, the human race, by degrading them and ensuring that they are not saved.
Now this Psalm came as a powerful revelation to me - and though it contained nothing new to me, it had an impact on me that I had not experienced before. Suddenly I saw to a greater degree just how serious world conditions actually are. I saw how absolutely necessary it is to be obedient to the commandment from Christ who, speaking of the Babylonian world system, cried out: ""Come out of her, my people, lest you share in her sins, and lest you receive of her plagues. For her sins have reached to heaven, and God has remembered her iniquities" (Rev 18:4-5, NKJV). And what is even more interesting, as well as alarming, is that this was exactly the same wording that Paul used when he commanded a demon to come out of the woman who was telling the apostle's listeners to listen to him: ""I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her"" (Acts 16:18, NKJV).
Some weeks ago I preached to you about this woman who pretended to be a Christian with the purpose of getting the people to listen to Satan and not God. This was when I was discussing psychic phenomena and comparing them with the Spirit of God.
Why is it that Babylon has been so successful in luring and seducing God's people? Because, like that demon-possessed woman, she is herself demon-possessed and is a clever imitator. She says all the right things when it suits her but her heart is elsewhere. Her deeds demonstrate which spirit she is under.
Babylon and all that she stands for is essentially the cult of self. The Babylonian way is essentially the heart's way of trying to find significance through worldly things. She tramples on the true children of God and sets up counterfeits for her own evil purposes in order to realise the ambitions of her heart, and she will change the Gospel to suit her own ends. That is why she is called a whore.
But what of us who long for the New Jerusalem? What kind of a place is she? And how can we prepare to be a part of her when she returns with Christ? What is so attractive about her that the pure of heart can think of nothing else? And how can we find significance and the full realisation of who we are through her?
To begin with let me say this: the path to Babylon is powered by the imagination, whereas that to the New Jerusalem by the truth. Psychologists tell us that the imagination can be so powerful that at times it is more powerful even than our own wills. If the will is set in one direction and the imagination is firmly set in another, the imagination will ultimately win.
For this reason the Lord has warned us to apply certain safeguards against self-deception. Very commonly Christians embark on something which they believe is a call from God only to find that it was an attempt of their subconscious to help them gain a degree of significance they were lacking. You wouldn't believe how many Christians I have met who believed they were going to be one of the Two Witnesses in Jerusalem in the last days! Our imagination can propel us in all sorts of dangerous directions. The prophet Jeremiah, one of the most sensitive of God's prophets, knew this only too well when he said: "The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure" (Jer.17:9, NIV). The heart can hide or disguise our true motives. It can be a terrible manipulator, a deceiver.
Selwyn Hughes writes: "If we do not find our significance in who we are then we will try and find our significance in what we do. If our hearts are not anchored in the fact that our greatest significance lies in being, not doing, then we will be drawn into doing in the hope that it will deepen our sense of being. Without a strong confidence sense of being, the imagination can become, as someone has put it, 'a bellhop 2 to our desires'" (Op.cit., 15 May).
Our significance, then, is not in what we do but in what we are inside. That is not so say that "doing" is unimportant, because what we do what we are. The point is that our meaning in life comes not in how successful or unsuccessful we may be as the world judges but in whether we are in the image of Christ or not. As he looked at the New Jerusalem - the Holy City - in vision, Yahweh said to John: "Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb's book of life" (Rev 21:27, NIV). In other words, what defines who we are is whether we are pure or impure. Purity is what matters - a purity that comes from trusting in, and being obedient to, Christ's commandments. He who is inside does clean deeds, thinks clean thoughts, feels clean feelings, and says clean things. He who is impure does impure things, thinks impure thoughts, feels impure feelings, and says impure things.
The Holy City has twelve gates corresponding to the 12 Tribes of Israel and the 12 Apostles (Rev.21:12,21). The New Jerusalem is also described as a woman - the bride of Christ - which consists of all the redeemed of the Lord. The human body, you will not be surprised to learn, also has 12 gates or openings to the outside world. Two eyes, two nostrils, two ears, a mouth - that's 7 gates - plus two breasts, two excretory organs and one reproductive organ, making a total of 12. Whilst all of these have physical functions they also have a spiritual meaning as well - thus we are to regulate carefully what we absorb into our soul through these gates. We are to be pure in what we listen to, what we see, what we say, in our sexual activity, and so on. Each gate of the Holy City is a pearl, which is Christ. Thus Christ must be in all we say, think, feel, and do.
When we start life we are very dependent on our parents. As we start growing up we start declaring our independence. But as we mature we soon realise that happiness consists of interdependence on others.
The New Jerusalem is described allegorically as the wife of Christ because the relationship that exists between those who are saved is deep and intimate. Heaven is not about solo people or even solo families, but about the close spiritual union between all the saved. And we start learning about this intimacy by working together in close spiritual fellowship. Heaven is a kind of marriage between co-operatively working individuals and Christ. To be one with Christ we must be harmonious with one another and know the deep, deep love and oneness that comes from sacrificial giving. Those who are not filled with the spirit of Babylon think of, and desire, these things, and give of themselves to achieve it.
And yet it is so very, very difficult, isn't it? Building relationships is not easy. It takes time, effort, and a willingness to be hurt and to forgive. A Christian once confessed: "Two verses in the Bible describe my condition: 'Always learning but never able to acknowledge the truth' (2 Tim.3:7), and, 'Having a form of godliness but denying its power' (2 Tim.3:5). I hate this dominance of my self that has made my life hell" (Op.cit., 23 May).
A doctor once said: "All life is made on the principle that it must go beyond itself to be healthy. This is true of the basis of life, the cell. All cells, when they begin their existence, are capable of being the whole, but they renounce being the whole and surrender themselves to be a differentiated portion of the whole in order to serve. They lose their lives in order to find them again" (Ibid.).
Heaven - the New Jerusalem - is an integrated place consisting of men and women working for each other and not themselves. This is not something that comes naturally but must be learned. And earth life is the training ground. We are born with the capacity to be completely self-sufficient, with no need for anyone else if we choose to be, but the result is always a single cell like an amoeba. The choice we face is whether we are willing to limit ourselves so that we can join together with other souls to make a complex body like a human being with different organs, or go it alone. An amoeba is an amazing creature, but which, do you suppose, has the greater glory: an amoeba or a human being? Hell is about being a selfish single cell, heaven about surrendering self and becoming part of something greater. It is not enough to deny ourselves certain pleasures and keep the ego intact. We may cut off the branches but the trunk still remains. It's the ego that has to be surrendered - not wiped out, mind you, just surrendered. It's a question, then, of whether we are going to be behind God or in front of Him. Like Paul we must say to ego-dominance: "I die every day" (1 Cor.15:31, NIV). And when we refuse, God takes us into a barren wilderness until our stubbornness and foolish pride is burned out of us. King David said: "Though the Lord is on high, He looks upon the lowly, but the proud He knows from afar" (Ps.138:6, NIV).
That is the mystery of the marriage feast of Christ. For in losing self we not only retain self but become the whole as well. We get back a million times over more than we surrendered.
This is what the Christian life here on earth is about - learning to surrender ego, to let Yahweh take over in Christ, to work together enthusiastically with the redeemed in building His Church on earth, and about keeping ourselves pure. From this comes not only peace and joy but a clear understanding of who we are. Amen. q
Every Day with Jesus, Crusade for World Revival (CWR), May/June 2001, Waverley Abbey House, Waverley Lane, Farnham, Surrey GU9 8EP, England
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This page was created on 1 July 2001
Last updated on 1 July 2001
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