Community Group Study Notes
- How did Sunday’s message inform your understanding of the “spiritual Babylon” that we find ourselves in? What does this look like?
- Where do you find hope that God is going to “turn this around” – even while you weep?
- What is one action step you can take with what you heard in Sunday’s message?
Those who sow with tears will reap with songs of joy. (Psalm 126:5)
Here's what I'm scared by. There's a lot of things, actually, that were frightening there. One of the things that freaks me out a little bit is that this series has four more weeks after this and I just don't know what that's going to mean for my own life. I'm concerned. Pray for me. Everybody's got a summer song, probably, that you can remember, that you can go back to, that you can think about. Some of them are fun. Some of them have various memories associated with them. I mean, I certainly can do that in a number of different summers of my life. Probably there were songs that kind of defined that summer. More recently, actually, in 2013, I was coaching my younger son's travel team. They were 12-year-olds at the time. We went to Cooperstown and we were playing in a national tournament there where there were over 100 teams that were present from all over the country. It was a big tournament, kind of a fun thing to participate in. You stayed on the campus in a barracks.
The first game, we were all getting our uniforms on, getting our gear ready, all that kind of stuff. There was a kid on our team that started playing a song. It was called Radioactive by Imagine Dragons. Some of you have heard it. This kid just started playing this song. We were all getting pumped up getting dressed. It was a bunch of fun. Then, we went out, we waxed a team. Well, you know what happens, right? Every single game, every single time we're about to play, then this dude is putting on Radioactive by Imagine Dragons because we won and baseball people are just like that. We're going to play this song until we lose forevermore. We played that, and we'd get pumped up, and we'd go out there. We did really well. We were 6-0 in pool play, beating teams from all over the country.
Then, we ended up making it to the round of 16 in the playoffs. Out of 100 and something teams, we were the only town team to do that there. The team that beat us was sponsored by Easton baseball bats. I'm like, "Are you serious? You're 12. You shouldn't be sponsored by anybody except for like your mom." That should be what it says on the back of your shirt, "My mom sponsored this right here," but whatever. We had a bunch of fun and it's something that I can always remember. Every time I hear that song, every single time, I immediately am back in Cooperstown with a bunch of 12-year-olds getting ready to go win baseball games every single time. Anybody have like songs that do that to you where you kind of remember like, "I'm right back"? Am I the only one, just me? Okay, I was just making sure. At first, I thought, "Wow. This is weird. No one else." Not all songs have fun memories, right? Some songs, you've got breakup songs that happen maybe in your life with a girlfriend or boyfriend back in the day. You hear it and you go, "Oh." There's songs that sometimes that don't have fun memories at all. In fact, some of the songs may even have a bitterness about them. When you hear them, there's just a bitterness that creeps up.
I couldn't help but think about when African slaves were taken from their homeland and brought to this country and to other countries, European countries and here, they brought with them a number of songs. Interestingly enough, some of those songs were adapted and remolded to where there were songs that were birthed from Civil War times all the way through the Civil Rights times, the 60s, where some of those songs were kind of adapted maybe from what was called spirituals or gospel songs. I learned in looking at my history there's a distinction in those two things. They were adapted. Some of the language and lyric was changed to be able to kind of maybe show some resilience or maybe singing a song to try and find some comfort or some strength. In fact, there was a song during the Civil Rights era called Ain't Going to Let Nobody Turn Me Around. If you're old enough to remember, you might remember it. "Ain't going to let nobody turn me around, turn me around, turn me around. Ain't going to let nobody turn me around. I'm going to keep walking, keep talking, keep marching in the freedom land." That was the lyric of that song.
It was interesting because I know that in singing that song, some people from that time, in the Civil Rights era, were singing songs to try and take some courage and some strength. You know what they were doing? They were actually borrowing from a story because their story looked similar. They were actually borrowing language and thought and metaphor from the story of Israel's exile. That's where a lot of those songs came from. It came from a place of faith and a place of thinking about the exile of the Jewish people. In fact, the people of Israel were exiled and that's where some of these lyrics were generated. Now, even though they brought comfort and strength at the times, and you kind of tried to sing your way through some of the issues that were being faced at that time, there were probably some times where they were too sad to sing. Just looking around at what was happening, probably just too sad to sing from time to time.
What happens when the sting of exile is so strong that you can't sing anymore? Well, that's exactly what happened to the Jewish people, from which some of the African Christians would borrow some of that imagery to be able to develop their own songs. When we look at some of the Psalms, particularly in just a moment, we'll be looking at Psalm 137, when we look at those Psalms, we get to start to see some of what was happening with the Jewish people and what it looked like in their own exile. What did it look like to be so sad that you couldn't sing a song? In Psalm 137, beginning in verse number one, here's what it says, "By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion. There on the poplars," some of your translations say willows. "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 the Lord while in a foreign land?"
You see, this is exactly what some of the people of Judah were facing. Let me tell you a little bit about what the context is for this Psalm. Sometimes when you read the Psalms and when I read the Psalms, we don't know the context of the Psalm. We don't quite understand exactly what is happening. Where is this placed in time? Where is this? Well, this was a song of exile. It was around 605 BC when King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon sieged Jerusalem. What he ended up doing over the next few years is he not only destroyed Jerusalem, but he destroyed the temple. Now, he was exiling the people that remained, that were left, that lived. Some of them, he killed, of course. Now, he was taking them and taking them into Babylon where they would be under the oppression and the captivity of the Babylonian empire with Nebuchadnezzar as the king.
Now, this was a really, really ugly time. This was a horrible time in the life of the people of Judah at this time. In fact, the prophet Jeremiah, you remember Jeremiah, right? He's one of the major prophets. Jeremiah was prophesying during this time of exile. While he was prophesying, he was lamenting what was happening. There's a whole book called Lamentations in the Old Testament that's basically Jeremiah lamenting what was happening in this exile. Listen to what was written there in Lamentations five. It says, "Princes have been hung up by their hands; elders are shown no respect. Young men toil at the millstones; and boys stagger under loads of wood. The elders are gone from the city gate; the young men have stopped their music. Joy is gone from our hearts; and our dancing has turned to mourning. The crown has fallen from our head. Woe to us, for we have sinned! Because of this our hearts are faint, because of these things our eyes grow dim for Mount Zion, which lies desolate, with jackals prowling over it."
This is where they found themselves. They found themselves, as the Psalmist writes, they found themselves weeping because of the state of affairs that they were now facing. Why were they weeping? What was making them cry? There's probably a number of things that we could list like having lost loved ones who were killed during the siege that Babylon had come in and taken Jerusalem and destroyed it, but I'm going to offer you three to think about today. There's many more, probably, that you could add to this conversation. I'm, for the sake of time, going to offer you three reasons why they were weeping. Now, I'm not suggesting these are the only ones, but I am suggesting that I do know these three things because I'm taking them right out of the context of scripture because I kind of am reading it and understanding what was going on.
Why were they weeping? Well, because they missed home. That was the first reason. Seems like a natural reason. I mean, look again at verse number one of Psalm 137. It says this, "By the rivers of Babylon, we sat and wept," here it is, "when we remembered Zion." Right there, we see it. They were remembering Zion. They were missing home. They were remembering Jerusalem. Zion is sometimes used in a variety of different ways in the Old Testament, but many of those times, it's used to describe Jerusalem, the place where kind of on Mount Zion, where Jerusalem rests. Why did they miss home so much? Well, that's where their families were from. It's where they raised their families. It's where God had promised them land and they were now inhabiting a land of God's promise. They had their own government as opposed to being oppressed by another government.
They had their own culture. They had their own language instead of having to learn a new one and to embrace a different culture. They had their own temple and their own ability to worship the God not only of Israel, but the God of all. Now, all of a sudden, they're not there anymore. Jerusalem was the city of God. Now, they're weeping because they miss where they're not. They wish that they were at home in Jerusalem, but now they're not there and they're missing the city of God, so much so that there is a growing sometimes bitterness in their hearts for their captivity and their captors. They are now embittered at Babylon because of what has happened and they're resolutely saying, "I'm going to remember Jerusalem and those who have done such a horrible thing to it." In fact, when you read the remainder of that Psalm that we're in, Psalm 137, beginning in verse number five, you start to see it.
Here's what the Psalmist says, "If I forget you, 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, Lord, what the Edomites did on the day Jerusalem fell. 'Tear it down,' they cried, 'tear it down to its foundations!' Daughter Babylon, doomed to destruction, happy is the one who repays you according to what you have done to us. Happy is the one who seizes your infants and dashes them against the rocks." That's stark language, isn't it? But what the Psalmist is saying is this, "I'm hoping that what you have done to us is done to you because you've destroyed our place, you've killed our babies, you've ransacked our place. You've done all of this. I hope you get it because you've done this to us and you're going to be accountable for it." They were missing home. Jerusalem was a treasure to them and they longed for it. You can imagine, right? You can imagine what it'd be like to be torn away from your homeland and now in exile in a different place with a different culture and all of those things. It would be an awful place to be and you would be missing where you were. They were crying.
You know, there was another reason that they were crying. It's because of their own disobedience. That's the second reason that they're weeping, not just because they miss home, but they realize they're missing home because their own disobedience. When verse one reads, "By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept," you almost get the inclination that they are thinking about the reasons for why they're there. Not only are they remembering home, but they're remembering their own disobedience. If you've read the story of Israel leading up to the time of the exile, here's what you know. You know that they continually chose other gods rather than the true God. Because they did this, it kept bringing things upon themselves until such a time where God said, "All right. This is what's going to happen." In fact, in kind of searching out those other idols and those other gods, they started dismissing what God had said plainly to them.
In fact, Jeremiah, when he prophesies about what's going to happen to Judah, here's what he says in Jeremiah 25, "Therefore the Lord Almighty says this: 'Because you have not listened to my words, I will summon all the peoples of the north and my servant Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon,' declares the Lord, 'and I will bring them against this land and its inhabitants and against all the surrounding nations. I will completely destroy them and make them an object of horror and scorn, and an everlasting ruin. I will banish from them the sounds of joy and gladness, the voices of bride and bridegroom, the sound of millstones and the light of the lamp. This whole country will become a desolate wasteland, and these nations will serve the king of Babylon," here it is, "seventy years." They'll serve the king of Babylon for 70 years. Now, that seems really specific, doesn't it? 70 years. Why not 62 and a half? Why not for a while, until you shape up? Instead, he says 70 years.
Why was that the case? Well, it's because of one command that God had given Israel that he wanted them to fulfill that they had not been fulfilling for hundreds of years prior. Do you know what that one command was? It's in Leviticus chapter number 25, "The Lord said to Moses at Mount Sinai, 'Speak to the Israelites and say to them: When you enter the land I am going to give you, the land itself must observe a sabbath to the Lord. For six years sow your fields, and for six years prune your vineyards and gather their crops. But in the seventh year the land is to have a year of sabbath rest, a sabbath to the Lord. Do not sow your fields or prune your vineyards." He told them this hundreds of years before, giving this information to Moses. Guess what. They didn't do it. For like 490 years, they didn't do it. You know what the Lord did? The Lord said, "Well, since you were supposed to, for this 490 years, every seventh year you were supposed to give this land rest ..." What's 70 times seven? 490, right? Did I do math? I hate doing math in public. It's 490. 70 times seven. You know what God basically was saying? I'm going to get that back. I told you to do this and you didn't do it. I'm going to get it back.
Listen, in fact, to how the chronicler gives it to us in 2 Chronicles 36. It says, "Nebuchadnezzar carried into exile to Babylon the remnant, who escaped from the sword, and they became servants to him and his successors until the kingdom of Persia came to power. The land enjoyed its sabbath rests; all the time of its desolation it rested, until the seventy years were completed in fulfillment of the word of the Lord spoken by Jeremiah." Hey, God said, "I want you to do this." They said, "I'm not doing it." God said, "Then you're going into captivity and I'm going to let the land rest exactly as long as I intended for it to do that you've been disobeying me." God wasn't messing around. There they sit by the rivers of Babylon weeping. They sat and they wept, remembering, listen to this, that their disobedience brought them to this place. This wasn't just some fickle God doing something out of nowhere. He was doing something specific with a specific timeframe for a specific reason and their disobedience was a part of that.
There's a third reason that I can tell you that they were crying. They not only missed home and they not only were disobedient, but they were crying because of the brokenness of the world. You say, "Jerry, what in the world are you talking about there and how did you get that reason from this text?" Well, look what it says again in verse number one. Opening words, are you following? "By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept." By the rivers of Babylon. Now, if you know where Babylon is, it's modern-day Iraq is where that would be right now, Babylon. If you know what those rivers are that run there, you probably will recognize the name because the same rivers are there that were there at the time of the exile. It's a river called the Tigris and the Euphrates. You remember those? Some of you are going, "Yeah, I studied those one time in global history. I remember that geography." The Tigris and the Euphrates. Here they are sitting by the River Tigris and the River Euphrates, one or the other or both. Maybe they were kind of separated because it kind of hemmed in the land of Babylon. They're weeping. Why? Because they realize how broken the world has become.
You see, these people remember the story of the beginning. They remember how God created everything and created a people to live in a beautiful garden, to live in fellowship with him and at peace with one another. Now, they're sitting in captivity remembering the brokenness of the world. Why were the rivers of Babylon, the Tigris and Euphrates, reminding them of that? Because they knew what Genesis said. Genesis chapter two says this, "The Lord God had planted a garden in the east, in Eden; and there he put the man he had formed. The Lord God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground — trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food. In the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. A river watering the garden flowed from Eden; from there it was separated into four headwaters. The name of the first is the Pishon; it winds through the entire land of Havilah, where there is gold. (The gold of that land is good; aromatic resin and onyx are also there.) The name of the second river is the Gihon; it winds through the entire land of Cush. The name of the third river is the Tigris; it runs along the east side of Ashur. And the fourth river is the Euphrates."
You see, these are Jewish people who knew the story of their beginning. They knew the story of creation. They knew flowing from Eden was a river that separated into four headwaters, two of which were the Tigris and the Euphrates in a time where this was before the brokenness of the world, in a time where things were alright and things were as they should be, and where humanity was dwelling with God and God was dwelling with man. Now, they sit in captivity thinking about how broken the world is, how oppressive the world is, how messed up and upside down everything is. They were weeping. Probably many other reasons that they may have been weeping, but at least for those. You know what else they were doing because they were weeping and they were so sad? Look at what verse two says, "There on the poplars," or the willows, "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 the Lord while in a foreign land?"
What a picture that is. They are weeping on the side, on the banks of the Tigris and the Euphrates rivers in Babylon and their harps that they brought, that they used to sing songs of worship and songs of joy, do you know where they are now? They're hanging on the willow tree. They can't even pull them down to sing. They're too sad in exile to even sing a song. Their harps are hanging in the trees. Could you imagine that scene, if you were taking kind of a panoramic look or taking a flyover with a drone and you were seeing all of these people that were brought into a land that was not their own, they are in exile, and they are weeping on the banks of the rivers and their harps are hanging on the branches of the willows, too sad to sing? They couldn't sing a song for their captors and didn't want to and couldn't sing a song for themselves in that moment.
The Proverb writer understood how difficult to sing songs to a sad heart. Proverbs says it this way in Proverbs 25, "Like one who takes away a garment on a cold day, or like vinegar poured on a wound, is one who sings songs to a heavy heart." They just couldn't muster themselves to sing a song. This was a bad state of affairs that they were in. Let me remind you of something. It wouldn't last forever. God knew what he wanted to do. In fact, in that prophecy in Jeremiah where he said this is going to last for 70 years, notice what he goes on to say after that. He says, "'But when the seventy years are fulfilled, I will punish the king of Babylon and his nation, the land of the Babylonians, for their guilt,' declares the Lord, 'and will make it desolate forever. I will bring on that land all the things I have spoken against it, all that are written in this book and prophesied by Jeremiah against all the nations. They themselves will be enslaved by many nations and great kings; I will repay them according to their deeds and the work of their hands.'"
Listen to what God said. God said, "Here's what I'm going to do. After 70 years, I'm going to raise up the king of Persia," whose name was Cyrus, in case you were doing the history there. "Cyrus is going to, by my decree, even though he's not a God follower, by my decree, he's going to let you go back into your land. That's what's going to happen. Then, I'm going to deal with Babylon. I'm going to turn this whole thing around. You've been oppressed and you've been dealt with harshly by them, but I'm going to hold them accountable for their wickedness too. Even though I've allowed for this to happen in your life, they're still morally culpable for what they have done." Listen to this. "I'm going to turn this around."
Now, what's interesting is that this almost seemed too good to be true for Israel because King Cyrus, after 70 years, says, "Go on back. You're free to go. Take off. Head back over to Jerusalem. Rebuild everything. Do what you've got to do." It almost seemed too good to be true because they were so in despair for so long a period of time, they were weeping on the banks of the rivers of Babylon, and they had hung up their harps, but there's another Psalm from the exile period that tells us how they felt when they had the opportunity to go back into Jerusalem. It's Psalm 126. Here's what it says, "When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dreamed. Our mouths were filled with laughter, our tongues with songs of joy. Then it was said among the nations, 'The Lord has done great things for them.' The Lord has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy. Restore our fortunes, Lord, like streams in the Negev. Those who sow with tears will reap with songs of joy. Those who go out weeping, carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with them."
You know, for them, it almost seemed like it was a dream, didn't it? God had so turned everything around for them, he had so restored them to the place where they were before that it almost seemed like it was too good to be true, like it was a dream. I mean, think about it. Judah had been being laughed at and now they were the ones laughing. They could not bring themselves to sing a song. Now, they were singing. The nations were mocking Israel. Now, the nations were saying the Lord has done great things for them. They were in these places where they were crying. Now, they are in joy. It was like a dream. God turned it around. God has a way of doing that, doesn't he? He has a way of turning situations all the way around even if we didn't necessarily see it coming.
The downside of studying the exile is what you realize came after that because after they were restored to Jerusalem, there was a small period of kind of revitalization. There was a small period of renewal that happened in the life of the people, but shortly thereafter, they fell right back in to some of the same patterns that they had been in with other gods and other lovers, so to speak. It was an adulterous kind of generation of Israel. Do you know what it is that they couldn't outrun? Do you know what it is that kept bringing them further and further backwards? Sin. I don't know how else to say it any clearer than this. Sin. See, there was a propensity in their hearts that no matter what their address was, whether their address was Babylon or their address was Jerusalem, they could not outrun the fact that they were bent toward sin like every other human being who had faced to face with the curse that came when our forefathers fell in the garden.
Everybody born into the world is bent toward sin. That was what they kept facing. Over and over, they were making choices of other gods instead of the one true God. Over and over, they were making choices inconsistent with the way of God instead of consistent with the way of God. It kept leading them to bad places. Do you know what God did? He knew what he was doing. We already knew that God had a plan from the beginning when he was dealing with them in exile that he had already planned before all of this, that he was going to turn all of that around. God also had a plan that he was going to turn humanity's condition all around. That's why, in a little backwater town called Bethlehem that was just outside of Jerusalem, about six and a half miles, a true Israelite was born named Jesus who would be, listen to this, who would be the representative of Israel and be everything that Israel was destined to be but failed to be. It's Jesus.
Jesus, when he was born, listen to this, was hated. In fact, the king of the Jews at that time, Herod, wanted him dead. He was greeted at his birth with hatred and murderous threats that caused him to be, watch this, caused him to be in exile because he went to Egypt. He had to leave his homeland. Joseph and his mother, Mary, had to take him away so that he would be away from the murderous threats of Herod. Eventually, when he came back and he grew up and he began to preach now in his ministry the kingdom of God, he began to preach the truth of the kingdom of God. He began to preach the love of the kingdom of God. People were healed. People were forgiven. People were delivered. People were restored. What was Jesus met with? He was met with a handful of people who said yes to him and met with a whole lot more people who mocked him, who spit upon him, who betrayed him, and then who murdered him.
That darkness seemed so deep that you almost think, "Is this even possible to comprehend, this level of darkness where Jesus is dying on a cross?" In fact, even though it's midday, even the entire place where he is becomes dark. Darkness spiritually, darkness atmospherically had overcome the world at that moment, but God had a plan to turn it all around. He knew what he was doing from the very beginning. Jesus knew what he was doing from the very beginning. His plan was to turn it all around. Now, on an early Sunday morning, when just a few days before, darkness had enveloped the world spiritually, now on that Sunday morning, when Jesus gets up from the dead, in one moment, God turned everything around. Darkness became light. Death became life. Defeat became victory. Humiliation became exaltation. Mourning became joy. Ashes became beauty. Violence became peace. Wrong became right. Brokenness became healing. Guilt became forgiveness. Despair became hope. Why? Because God turned it all around.
Now, why is this important for us? Because there's a pattern in the way that God does what he does for his people. God turned it all around for Judah. They went into captivity, but God had a designation of when that was going to end. He already knew from the very outset that he was going to turn it all around. Now, the ones who got laughed at would be the ones laughing. The ones who were crying would be the ones singing. The ones who were oppressing would now be the ones that are dealt with. God was going to turn it all around. Same thing happened when Jesus came. Met with hate, sent into exile, preaches the kingdom of God but met with mockery and betrayal and spit upon and murdered. God knew because he was coming to the rescue of humanity's condition of sinfulness. He knew he was going to turn it all around, where all of that would be different.
Why does that matter for us today? I'll tell you why. Listen to this. Because when Jesus rose from the dead, having paid the penalty of sin for you and I, new creation broke in to the world. The kingdom of God broke in to the world. As you know, new creation in the kingdom, listen to this, is an already but not yet proposition. The kingdom has come and the kingdom is coming. New creation has come and new creation is coming. It's an already and a not yet. This is why this is important for us because in this interim time of the already and the not yet, that's where we live. Do you know what we know? New creation has not fully come and the kingdom of God has not fully come. Why do I know that? Here's why. Because there's still another kingdom among us, Babylon. We, we're still exiles. That's where we live today.
You say, "Jerry, what?" Yeah, in fact, if you were to read the apostle Peter, what you would find out is that Peter used language to describe this very thing. In fact, when he opened his letter, 1 Peter chapter one, he says, "Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To God's elect." What's the word? "Exiles scattered throughout the provinces of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia." Now, is he just referring to a group of people that are geographically separated from their homeland of Jerusalem? No. There are some of those people who were Jewish, who came to faith in Jesus Christ at Pentecost, and then who were scattered because of persecution when the launch of the church happened. Some of those people, yes, they're geographically relocated, but there's others that are living in some of these Gentile areas that are Gentiles that have come to faith in Christ. He writes, "To all of God's elect, exiles."
In fact, in the next chapter, in chapter two, he says, "Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul." In other words, here's what he's saying. You're an exile of kind of a different country. You've been now affected by a different country. What is that country you're affected by? Listen. Babylon. It's a spirit, the spirit of Babylon. In fact, when Peter closed his letter, listen to what he said, "She who is in Babylon, chosen together with you, sends you her greetings, and so does my son Mark." Now, Peter was writing from Rome. Babylon was code. What he was saying is that Rome is oppressing everyone. Rome is killing believers. Rome is going to persecute and probably make sure that I'm dead. It's going to take care of Paul. It's going to be trying to kill all of us Christians. Why? Because it has the spirit of Babylon. That's the world that we live in right now, Babylon. It may be code, but that's what it is.
In fact, when you read the book of Revelation, you find out real quickly that Revelation tells us about some things that are and some things that are going to be. Do you know that one of the descriptions you find about a great enemy about the people of God? Listen to what it says in Revelation chapter 17, "Then the angel carried me away in the Spirit into a wilderness. There I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast that was covered with blasphemous names and had seven heads and ten horns. The woman was dressed in purple and scarlet, and was glittering with gold, precious stones and pearls. She held a golden cup in her hand, filled with abominable things and the filth of her adulteries. The name written on her forehead was a mystery: Babylon the great, the mother of prostitutes, and of the abominations of the earth. I saw that the woman was drunk with the blood of God's holy people, the blood of those who bore testimony to Jesus. When I saw her, I was greatly astonished."
You see, even the book of Revelation uses this term Babylon to describe, listen to this, an adulterous woman that is describing empires. If the name fits, wear it. That's kind of the idea there. You know that the book of Revelation is filled with symbols because it's apocalyptic literature, right? There's virtually no number in there that doesn't have a symbol behind it, that it means something very specific. When you see 666, that means something very specific. When you see 144,000, that means something very specific. This is the nature of apocalyptic literature. This is how it's written. Here, listen to this. Here, Babylon is pictured as a whore that is filling her cup with all kinds of adulteries, causing people to walk away from the way of God and the things of God. She's filling her cup with it and drinking the blood of God's servants. That's the picture here. The picture of Babylon and the spirit of Babylon is anything and everything that takes us in a different direction from God. It is an antichrist type of spirit that takes us away from God instead of taking us to God.
Ladies and gentlemen, I don't think I have to convince you that that's the world we live in. I mean, if you look around the globe, you will see governments who are engaging in systematic oppression and even extermination of people in their own nations, sometimes because of race, sometimes because of political affiliation, and sometimes because of their faith in Jesus. That is happening among us. You know what that is? Babylon. You can look around and you can see godless economic systems in the world that are leaving people in perpetual poverty while those in power enrich themselves on the backs of them. That's Babylon. You can see it when an entire culture tries to monetize sex through the selling of pornographic imagery and materials or through the trafficking of human beings as sex slaves. Babylon. You can see entire cultures that are actually preying on the vulnerable, whether they are the aged, whether they are the infirmed, whether they are people with special needs, or whether they are the unborn. Babylon.
It's enough when you begin to think about it in the world that we live in. It's enough to make you cry. It's enough to make you weep, but I need to remind you of something. We aren't sitting on the banks of Babylon anymore, not us, not the people of Jesus. Listen to this. When we glimpse into Revelation, we see something different. No longer are we people sitting on the banks longing for Zion with our harps hung up in the willows. Let me show you what we are. Revelation 14 says, "Then I looked, and there before me was the Lamb, standing," where? "On Mount Zion, and with him 144,000 who had his name and his Father's name." Now, that 144,000, when I taught through the book of Revelation, I told you that that was symbolic of the people of God.
Next slide, "They had Father's name written on their foreheads. And I heard a sound from heaven like the roar of rushing waters," listen to this, "and like a loud peal of thunder. The sound I heard was like that of harpists playing their harps. And they sang a new song before the throne and before the four living creatures and the elders. No one could learn the song except the 144,000 who had been redeemed from the earth." Hey, our harps aren't hanging on the willows anymore because we're not next to the waters of Babylon. We have been redeemed and we should take our harps and sing a new song that only we can sing. It is a song of redemption. It is a song that we have been scooped up from the mud and mire, as the Psalmist said, and our feet have been placed upon a rock. God has put a new song in our mouth, a song of praise to God. Why? Because I want us to make sure that we get it, that God is going to turn everything around. Our harps aren't hanging on the willows anymore. God is going to turn everything around.
Babylon won't last. New creation is coming. Babylon makes us weep. New creation will change it. In fact, listen to what Revelation 21 says, "Then I saw 'a new heaven and a new earth,' for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, 'Look! God's dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.'"
Then Revelation 22 says this, "Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life." We're no longer sitting on the rivers of Babylon weeping. We are next to the river of the water of life, "as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life." Guess what. There's no harps hanging there anymore, "bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations." Ladies and gentlemen, God is going to turn everything around. What we learn from the exile of Israel, what we learn in God sending Jesus to release his people from sin is that we, who are now exiles in spiritual Babylon, what we know is this. There is an expiration date on spiritual Babylon because new creation has broken through and is coming and all things are going to be made new. God is going to turn it all around.
What do you do in the meantime? I'm going to tell you. Based on Psalm 126 that we read, "He who goes forth weeping bearing precious seed will doubtless return with songs of joy." Psalm 137, what we need to learn to do now, when they hung their harps up, I'm going to tell you what we do now. Here it is. Real simple. Sow while you weep and sing while you wait because God is going to turn this thing around. Sow while you weep and sing while you wait because God is going to turn this around. I realize that in the world that we live in, there is cause for weeping. We live in a spiritual Babylon that is doing its dead level best to oppress and to desensitize us and to demoralize us. I get it, but you know what you can do through the tears? You can sow the seed of the gospel even through your tears.
Listen to this. Even when life is not working well for you because in your mind you realize how broken the world is, sickness comes, disease comes, job loss comes, all of those things happen and we know how broken the world is, but through our tears, we can still sow the seed of the gospel because we know God is going to turn all of this around in his timing, in his way. We can sow the seed even through our tears. That means if you're broken by what's happening with the trafficking of human beings, you can stand against that and even through your tears sow the hope of the gospel into it. If you're broken because of what's happening with marginalized people in society, you can stand against the marginalization of people and you can step into helping and serving and loving in the midst of that while you are sowing the seed of the gospel of Jesus even in the midst of your tears.
You not only sow while you weep, but you sing while you wait. Some of you need to take your harp off the willow tree. You need your song back because, listen to this, you have let this spirit of Babylon demoralize you. Hey, I've got some quick counseling for you. Stop taking in so much news. You know why? Because you start to feel overwhelmed. You start to feel so burdened and encumbered that you lose sight of your perspective. Listen. You're not next to the rivers of Babylon anymore and your harp's not hanging. Pick it up. Sing a song. Worship God while you wait because God's going to turn all of this around. Babylon won't last. God is going to turn it all around. You see, this is what we have to learn. This is what we have to know. This is what we have to understand in the world that we live in, in the place where we are. Sow through your tears. Sow while you weep and sing while you wait because, just like God turned it around for Judah when they were captured in Babylon, just like God turned it around for Jesus, God is going to do the same thing because surely as Jesus came, Jesus is coming again.
When new creation breaks through and comes in fulfillment, we're going to recognize that God has turned it all around. He has turned it all around. What God has done ... See, here's why it's important for us to understand this. What God has done, God is going to do again. This is why we look at a scenario like this, like Judah and their captivity in Babylon, and we don't just go, "Oh, okay. That's history." It's history that's going to repeat itself because Babylon has a termination date. What God has done, God is going to do again. Sow while you weep and sing while you wait because God's going to turn it all around. Here's what I want us to do. I want us to sing while we wait. This won't be an opportunity for you to slide out and get to an early parking leave. What this is, however, is an opportunity for you to actually be ministered to by the Spirit of God and for you to declare your belief in the faithfulness of God. Stand with me as we take an opportunity to declare that what God has done, God is going to do again.
And he never will. God has always had a plan to turn this around. That plan was demonstrated in what he did for his people when they were in captivity. That plan was seen in full living color in the person of Jesus. We're going to see Jesus in full living color again because as surely as God has done these things, God is going to do this again. God has always had a plan to turn all of this around. Now, if you're here and you've never come to a place where you have surrendered your life to Jesus, I want to say this to you. Sin is an awful taskmaster and you make a terrible god. I figured that out about myself. I made a terrible god. As much as I want to kind of make my own way, do my own thing, nobody can tell me what to do with that kind of independent spirit that we have, you're very dependent because the breath in your lungs comes from God. The days that you have comes from God.
For you, I would ask you to humble yourself and recognize that you have sinned and come short of the glory of God like everyone else in humanity and that the only hope for your forgiveness and the only hope for your salvation is found in what God has done through Jesus on your behalf. Going to a cross to die your death, to pay for your sin, rising from the dead, conquering sin and hell and the grave on your behalf so that if you put your faith in Jesus, you can be made new. You can experience the kingdom coming to you on earth as it is in heaven. You can be assured that you are kept with Christ for eternity. It's an incredible offer by a generous and gracious and loving God. If you've never come to that place, when we dismiss in a moment, I hope you'll come by the fireside room. We'd love to talk to you for a few moments about what that looks like.
Father, for those of us who claim to follow after you, who know you, who've been transformed by you, there's a million different reasons sometimes, God, that we find ourselves weeping. Sometimes it's our own disobedience. We realize that you have to leave us in places on occasion until we realize that we take our eyes off of the gods of this world and put our eyes back on the one and only God. Sometimes we're reminded about the brokenness of the world that we live in and it causes us to weep. Whether that's with governments and cultures or whether that's with sickness and hurt, we're reminded of how broken the world is. Sometimes we weep because we realize that there's this aching inside of us that will only be filled when we finally are in your presence. We know that you've given us work to do. Our job isn't to just be selfishly taken out of here once we come to faith in Jesus. You've left us here for a purpose and a mission so that we can sow the gospel even through our tears and we can sing songs of worship even as we wait because what we know is that you're going to turn all of this around.
It may not be when we wish it was. It may not be in a way that we understand, but we know this. You have shown yourself faithful. You will always be faithful whether we understand your faithfulness or not. I pray that you help us to trust you deeply so that when the world looks at us, they would see a different kingdom at work in us, that all of Babylon could look and see the people of Jesus. They look different. They've taken their harps off of the willows. They're singing songs of worship. They're sowing the seed of the gospel even when their heart breaks for the world that we live in because new creation has come and new creation is coming. I pray you'd write that on our hearts and you would encourage your people that we might surrender ourselves as exiles and foreigners in this land of Babylon to live holy and to live in a way that people will see Jesus. We trust you to do this now in Jesus's name. Amen.