Old Testament Reading: Psalm 75
“We give thanks to you, O God; we give thanks, for your name is near. We recount your wondrous deeds. ‘At the set time that I appoint I will judge with equity. When the earth totters, and all its inhabitants, it is I who keep steady its pillars. Selah I say to the boastful, ‘Do not boast,’ and to the wicked, ‘Do not lift up your horn; do not lift up your horn on high, or speak with haughty neck.’ For not from the east or from the west and not from the wilderness comes lifting up, but it is God who executes judgment, putting down one and lifting up another. For in the hand of the Lord there is a cup with foaming wine, well mixed, and he pours out from it, and all the wicked of the earth shall drain it down to the dregs. But I will declare it forever; I will sing praises to the God of Jacob. All the horns of the wicked I will cut off, but the horns of the righteous shall be lifted up.” (Psalm 75:1–10, ESV)
New Testament Reading: Revelation 14:6-13
“Then I saw another angel flying directly overhead, with an eternal gospel to proclaim to those who dwell on earth, to every nation and tribe and language and people. And he said with a loud voice, ‘Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come, and worship him who made heaven and earth, the sea and the springs of water.’ Another angel, a second, followed, saying, ‘Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great, she who made all nations drink the wine of the passion of her sexual immorality.’ And another angel, a third, followed them, saying with a loud voice, ‘If anyone worships the beast and its image and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand, he also will drink the wine of God’s wrath, poured full strength into the cup of his anger, and he will be tormented with fire and sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever, and they have no rest, day or night, these worshipers of the beast and its image, and whoever receives the mark of its name.’ Here is a call for the endurance of the saints, those who keep the commandments of God and their faith in Jesus. And I heard a voice from heaven saying, ‘Write this: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.’ ‘Blessed indeed,’ says the Spirit, ‘that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow them!’” (Revelation 14:6–13, ESV)
Brothers and sisters, I hope that you see that the Christian life should be lived seriously. A serious person is one who is solemn and thoughtful in character and manner. A serious thought is one that is careful and profound. A serious discussion is one that demands careful consideration and application. And I am saying that Christ followers should be serious people. The thoughts, words, and actions of the Christian should be carefully considered, deep, and profound. Our worship should be serious, and so too should our way of life.
I do not want to be misunderstood. By no means am I suggesting that a Christian should never have fun or be playful and joyous. Indeed, the Christian should know how to have fun. The deep joy that we have in our hearts will undoubtably manifest itself in laughter and singing and play. The opposite of serious is not fun or playful. The opposite of serious is superficial. It is not a fun or playful disposition that I am calling you to avoid, but superficiality.
A Christian should know how to have fun. You should know how to laugh and play. You should know how to celebrate life. A Christian should know how to party, not by way of drunkenness which leads to debauchery, but soberly, sincerely and from the heart. It is the godless man who must drink to the point of drunkenness in order to celebrate. And why is this? It is because his sin sick soul will not allow him to celebrate naturally. His mind and heart must first be sedated and inebriated if he is to sing. But the Christian sings. The Christian should know how to celebrate in this life sincerely and from the heart. It almost seems contradictory, and it’s rather hard to put into words, but I think you can see how a serious person, if they are serious with the word of God and the Spirit of God in their heart, will also be very joyous. I’m calling you to be joyous, not superficially, but substantially and seriously so. I’m calling you to cultivate a seriousness in your life and in your faith, if you don’t already have it.
There are a number of things that God uses to develop seriousness in his people.
Some might be more predisposed to it than others, their personalities being naturally more serious and contemplative from birth.
But God also uses life experiences to deepen the seriousness of our faith. I think it is true that Christians tend to grow more serious over time. They grow more thoughtful, more careful, more solemn, and mature, as they experience the seriousness of life.
Children tend to be carefree. They are allowed to play. They are typically sheltered from many of the difficulties of life that we experience as adults. And indeed this is how it should be for a time. Being protected in this way they are able to develop in body and soul so that they might bear up under the pressures of life when they do come. But our children, progressively and over time, will have to experience for themselves the difficulties associated with living in this world. They will have to experience the seriousness of life. And we as Christians should not tremble at the thought of this, but we should rejoice in it knowing that these difficulties are used by God to deepen the seriousness and sincerity of our faith.
James says, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (James 1:2–4, ESV). The way to maturity, says James, is by way of suffering. So we are to rejoice in the suffering, not because we enjoy the suffering itself, but because of what it produces in us as children of God. It is through the trials and tribulations of this life that our steadfastness and maturity is developed.
The past year or so has been quite difficult for us as a congregation. I wanted to simply acknowledge that fact today. In this past year or so we have had to deal with serious sin, sickness and death and the sorrows that accompany these things with much more intensity than in the first five years of our existence. Please understand that I’m speaking of our life together as a congregation. Indeed, there were real sorrows present in our first five years, but this past year or so did at times feel like a wave of sorrow had washed over us. I won’t mention any of the particulars, but will leave it to you to think about.
What are we to do about this?
First, we ought to acknowledge the suffering for what it is – it is suffering. This world is filled with difficulties. Those who maintain the appearance of happiness in this world by pretending that the world is other than what it is are not serious and substantial Christ followers, but fools who live according to a lie. And there are many who do live this way. They deceive themselves. They avoid suffering at all costs, and pretend it is not there. It is far better to face the fact of suffering.
And having faced the fact of suffering we must learn to live with one another well in the midst of it. Quoting from Romans 12:9-16: We must “love one another with brotherly affection.” We must “outdo one another in showing honor.” We must “rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation… [and] constant in prayer.” We must “contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.” We are to “rejoice with those who rejoice, [and] weep with those who weep.” We are to “live in harmony with one another.” Never should we “be haughty, but associate with the lowly.” Never should we “be wise in [our] own sight.” (Romans 12:9–16, ESV). In the body of Christ when one members suffers, all suffer. And this is only right. We must learn to live with one another well in the midst of suffering. The human body function this way, doesn’t it? When you smash your finger with a hammer, it is not just the finger that hurts, you hurt! That pain radiates throughout the body, and the rest of the body goes to work to help alleviate the pain. We must learn to live with one another well in the midst of suffering.
Thirdly, we should learn to rejoice in the trials, just as God has commanded. “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (James 1:2–4, ESV). We are to “count [or consider] it all joy” not because we enjoy the suffering itself, but because of what we know it will produce within us – maturity and seriousness.
I’m not sure about you, but these sufferings that we have experienced as a body over that past year or so have produced a greater seriousness in me. Truth be told, I’ve always been rather serious. My wife calls me “briefcase boy”. I don’t know where she gets it. I’ve never owned a brief case in my life, but she says I’ve carried one since high school. This is her playful way of poking fun at me for being too serious or intense at times. So I guess I’ve always been on the serious side (I can be very playful too, though most of you haven’t witnessed that). But I do feel like the trials and tribulations that have washed over our congregation in the past year or so have made me much more serious.
The phrase that comes to mind is, the Christian life is no joke. Never did I think it was a joke, but I feel as if I know it now more deeply than before. The trials of this life are no joke. Sin is no joke. It’s terribly dangerous and deviating. Sickness and death are no joke. They are for real, and they do bring real sorrow to the people of God. Life is serious. How important it is, therefore, that the seriousness of our faith matches the seriousness of the world in which we live and all that threatens us therein.
I do fear for those who, though they might profess faith in Christ, they live with, what seems to be, such superficial doctrine and superficial faith. At some point they will have to face the seriousness of sin, sickness and death, and I do wonder if they will stand. If they truly belong to Christ God will make them stand – this I know! But they seem to be in such a precarious position as they live superficially.
These are the ones who Christ compares in the parable of sower to those seed which fell on rocky ground. Christ said, “Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and immediately they sprang up, since they had no depth of soil, but when the sun rose they were scorched. And since they had no root, they withered away” (Matthew 13:5–6, ESV). How important it is for us to cultivate depth and seriousness in our faith before the scorching sun does appear.
I do not pretend to enjoy the trials and tribulations of this life. I do not actively pray for them to come. But I am learning to “count it all joy… when [we] meet trials of various kinds…” The older I get the more I see with greater clarity how it is that God does use the trials to produce steadfastness and maturity within his people.
The Spirit of God uses experiences – trials and tribulations – to mature our faith and to make us more serious. But he also uses his word. His word is serious. It speaks to serious things. And it is to be taken seriously. How important it is, therefore, that we give attention to God’s word and to the serious things contained within. How important it is that we prepare our hearts to receive it, and having received it, that we believe it and seek to live accordingly.
You’ve heard the expression that some people just have to learn the hard way. You can picture a child who’s been instructed well by his father concerning wise living, but he does not listen to his fathers words. He goes off to live like a fool in the world instead. Will he learn the lesson that his father tried to teach him long ago? He will learn it. But he will learn it the hard way.
Christians, let us give careful attention to the serious things that God has said to us in his word. “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.” (Psalm 1:1–2, ESV)
Some passages of scripture are more serious than others. The one that is before us this morning is as serious as they come.
In Revelation 14:6-11 we encounter three warnings concerning the imminence and certainty of the final judgment. This is a serious subject that demands serious consideration.Three angels deliver these three warnings, and they deliver the warnings to all who dwell upon the earth. Included with the warnings is a call for the ungodly to repent and for the Saints on the earth to endure.
Let’s take passage one section at a time.
Verse 6: “Then I saw another angel flying directly overhead, with an eternal gospel to proclaim to those who dwell on earth, to every nation and tribe and language and people.” (Revelation 14:6, ESV)
We must remember where we are. We are in the book of Revelation which communicates truth via symbol. This passage does not mean that there will come a day when the gospel will literally be proclaimed by an angel who flies overhead. Instead, the truth being symbolized is that God will always have witnesses in the world even to the time of the end. “And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come” (Matthew 24:14, ESV).
Verse 7: “And he said with a loud voice, ‘Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come, and worship him who made heaven and earth, the sea and the springs of water.’” (Revelation 14:7, ESV)
What do we have here except a warning and a call to repentance? The good news of Jesus Christ is not explicitly stated here, but it was implied verse 6 in the words, “eternal gospel”. What is the eternal gospel? It is the good news that God has been merciful to sinners and has provided a Savior for them so that their sins would be forgiven, should they trust in him. The gospel is the good news that “God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16, ESV).
All of that is not said here, but it was implied in the words “eternal gospel” in verse 6. What we have in verse 7 is a declaration of the bad new without which no one can truly understand the good news, along with a call to repentance. “The hour of [God’s] judgment has come”, the angel says. Clearly our minds are to go to the time of the end. “The hour of [God’s] judgment has come.” Repent, therefore. Turn from your sins and to God, coming to him through faith in Jesus Christ alone. “Fear God and give him glory… worship him who made heaven and earth, the sea and the springs of water.”
The trouble with the non-believer is that they live as if this world is all there is. In the narrative of the book of Revelation they serve the beast the raises from the sea and the beast which rises from the earth, which symbolize earth political powers that persecute the people of God. They have taken the mark of the beast, which is the number of man. They love the world. They are the earth-dwellers who worship the creation, but not the Creator. Here they are called to “worship him who made heaven and earth, the sea and the springs of water.”
Verse 8: “Another angel, a second, followed, saying, ‘Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great, she who made all nations drink the wine of the passion of her sexual immorality’” (Revelation 14:8, ESV).
This is interesting because this is the first time Babylon has been mentioned in the book of Revelation, and yet it is announced that she is already fallen. Babylon will take a prominent place in the book of Revelation in chapters 16 through 18. What we have here is a foreshadowing. Here we have been told that Babylon is fallen, but we will learn more about Babylon later in the book and more will be said about her fall.
If you know your Old Testament you know that Judah was conquered by King Nebuchadnezar of Babylon and was taken away to live in captivity there for 70 years. The city of Babylon, therefore, symbolizes pagan powers that oppress God’s people and tempt them to turn from the worship of the one true God to idols. Babylon symbolizes worldliness and the seductiveness of the world. Later we will learn that, to the original recipients of the book of Revelation, Babylon was symbolic of Rome, but the symbolism was not exhausted with Rome. There are still “Babylons” in the world today, and there will be “Babylons” in the world when Christ returns.
“The reason for Babylon’s fall”, to quote Denise Johnson, “is her seduction of the nations, intoxicating them with her mixed brew of rage and sexual license.”
Verse 9: “And another angel, a third, followed them, saying with a loud voice, ‘If anyone worships the beast and its image and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand, he also will drink the wine of God’s wrath, poured full strength into the cup of his anger, and he will be tormented with fire and sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever, and they have no rest, day or night, these worshipers of the beast and its image, and whoever receives the mark of its name” (Revelation 14:9–11, ESV).
Notice how the warnings pronounced by these angels give an answer to what was said in chapters 12 and 13 about the dragon and the two beasts. The dragon and the two beasts seek to devour the people of God. The Christian will be tempted to abandon the true worship of God when pressured by them. Here, the pronouncement of the angels makes it clear that it would not be worth it.
All who “[worship] the beast and its image and [receive]” the mark of the beast (13:16-18), all who “drink the wine of the passion of [Babylon’s] sexual immorality” will also, “drink the wine of God’s wrath, poured full strength into the cup of his anger…” And notice that their punishment will be eternal. They “will be tormented with fire and sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever, and they have no rest, day or night, these worshipers of the beast and its image, and whoever receives the mark of its name.”
This is serious. This is a weighty subject, and one that cannot be taken lightly. God’s word is calling us to contemplate the end of the dragon, the beasts, and all who do follow after them. God is urging us to stop and reflect deeply upon the end of seductive Babylon and all who drink the wine of her passion and sexual immorality. Why would anyone neglect to give attention to God’s word on this subject?
For the one not in Christ this eternal gospel and the warnings pronounced within this text should bring about faith and repentance.
Do you see that there will be a judgment day? All who are not found in Christ will be judged for their sins, and none will stand, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23, ESV). “All… are under sin, as it is written: ‘None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one’” (Romans 3:9–12, ESV). Certainly man judges himself differently than God judges him. Man thinks of himself as being basically good and deserving of God’s commendation. But God’s perspective is that all are indeed under sin.
It was interesting to listen to people on the radio talk about this killer who did so much harm a week ago in Las Vegas. It was interesting to hear even non-Christians comfort themselves with the thought that God will judge the wicked. There is something comforting about that, isn’t there, especially in situations like this. The act was so horrendous. In the end the man took his own life, which made it impossible for any justice to be served in this life. And so men comfort themselves with the thought that God will make it right. God will see to it that justice is served.
But in the same breath these people also comfort themselves with the thought that they will not face God’s wrath when they stand before him. And if you were to ask them, “why?” they would answer, “because I am good. I’m not like that monster who killed 58 and injured over 500.” Do you see how we, when we speak of someone who has done something particularly evil, a prone to speak of the person as if they were not human. They were “an animal”, we say They were, “a monster”. No, intact that man was a human. He was one of us, from upon among our species. And while I am glad that, by the grace of God, not all are as evil as that man, and that not all do such evil things, God’s opinion of us is not nearly as high as our option of ourselves. We think of ourselves as good when compared to others. God says, no you are sinners who walk “in the passions of [your] flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and [are] by nature children of wrath” (Ephesians 2:3, ESV), if you are not in Christ, being justified by him, regenerated, and clothed in his righteousness.
Our catechism gets it just right. After considering the ten commandments our catechism asks in question 87, “Is any man able perfectly to keep the commandments of God?” The answer: “No mere man, since the fall, is able in this life, perfectly to keep the commandments of God, but daily break them in thought, word, or deed.” Question 88: “Are all transgressions of the law equally heinous?” Answer: “Some sins in themselves and by reason of several aggravations, are more heinous in the sight of God than others.” Question 89: “What doth every sin deserve?” Answer: “Every sin deserveth God’s wrath and curse, both in this life, and in that which is to come.” Question 90: “What doth God require of us, that we may escape His wrath and curse, due to us for sin?” Answer: “To escape the wrath and curse of God due to us for sin, God requireth of us faith in Jesus Christ, repentance unto life, with the diligent use of all the outward means whereby Christ communicateth to us the benefits of redemption.”
Friends, do not be puffed up with pride. Do “not to think of [yourself] more highly than [you] ought to think, but to think with sober judgment…” (Romans 12:3, ESV). Recognize your sin and see what it is that your sin deserves – God’s judgment. It is a serious matter, one that should not be taken lightly. Turn from it and believe upon Christ.
And that is the thing that matters. Will you be found in Christ? Can’t you see that that is the point of the text we are considering today? The dragon, the beast, and the false prophet have been introduced to us. Many belong to them. They have taken his mark and his name upon them. But we have also seen Christ. He stands upon the heavenly “Mount Zion” in victory, “and with him [the]144,000 who had his name and his Father’s name written on their foreheads” (Revelation 14:1, ESV).
Do you want to escape God’s wrath? Do you want to avoid his judgment? Then your only hope is to be found in Christ. You must be found with him, believing upon him, having his name and his fathers name written upon you. There is no other way, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (Romans 3:23–26, ESV).
This judgment scene that we have conceded today should be seriously considered by the non-Christ. Our prayer is that the Spirit of God would use it to bring them the to faith and repentance. But it should also be seriously considered by the Christ follower, the end result being that we would walk carefully in this would being “all the more diligent to confirm [our] calling and election” (2 Peter 1:10, ESV).
Indeed, that is the stated purpose of this text. Verse 12: “Here is a call for the endurance of the saints, those who keep the commandments of God and their faith in Jesus” (Revelation 14:12, ESV). This serious scene is given to make the Christ follower more serious in his thoughts, words, and deeds.
Brothers and sisters, I feel compelled to say to you, stop playing around. Stop with the superficial living. Stop neglecting the means of grace that God has ordained. Stop with the prayerlessness. Stop neglecting the fellowship. Stop with your superficial approach to the word of God. Stop coming to the Table carelessly and without thought. Stop playing around with sinful thoughts, words and deeds. Brothers and sisters, let us pray that the Lord would mature us and deepen our faith. Let us pray that we would take him at his word so that we need not learn the hard way.