How many of you have ever gotten those email forwards from your friends? This amazing story or that amazing story, some interesting, some heart wrenching, some downright crazy. But they tend to claim to be true. This is a true story!
One example recently came to my inbox, was a story of a hunter who shot a bear. Here he's holding the paw. You can tell it's a good sized bear. We go to the story and the story says that the bear charged him from 50 yards away and that he had to empty his gun in self-defense. We’re told that the bear weighed just over 1 thousand 6 hundred pounds. Stood 12 feet 6 inches high at the shoulder. I'm assuming that means when it's gone up on to the 2 feet stance and 14 feet at the top of the head. Largest grizzly bear ever taken in the world. We go a couple lines down. They said they did an autopsy on the bear and found the remains of 2 humans in his stomach. They said they backtracked the bear and discovered remains and a discharged 38 caliber pistol. Then we're told that an average man, when that bear rears up, would hardly make it to the guys naval, the bear's navel, and the bear could look in your second story window or over the roof of your first story house. And of course this story seems legitimate because we have pictures, some of which I didn't show you, of the carcass and the blood and the gore, and even some websites have pictures of human remains that have been mauled. And so forth. You have citations to the National Forest Service. You have the size and the weight data on the bear. All of this lends credence to the idea that this is a true story, culled out of the news, of this amazing bear that you wouldn't want to meet when hiking in the woods.
Now after a few years of getting messages like this over u-net, I have discovered that the safe thing to do is to go to Snopes.com or urbanlegends.com and here we discover that the pictures are real but the description is off. According to Snopes, there were no human remains in the bear's stomach. The bear was not shot by a forest service employee but by an airman from the US Air Force, who was out hunting. The bear was not charging him and he was accompanied by a partner so there were at least two firearms to bear if it were problematic. The bear was not 12 foot 6 inches high but was 10 foot 6 inches long from nose to tail. Which is a big bear. It was not 16 hundred pounds but around a thousand to 12 hundred. He was very large but not world record.
My point is this. We humans have a tendency to trust what we see. And just as we tend to believe the e-mails that we see in our e-mail box, people in the last days are going to believe things they see and it's going to lead them into false worship as we get into the cataclysmic events of this world's history.
We read about those events in Revelation, chapter 12, 13 and 14. And just to get our bearings again, I want to highlight a theme that starts in Revelation, chapter 12, where a dragon appears in heaven. He goes after a male child, who most everybody would agree is Christ. He goes after the woman who gave birth to the male child and he goes after the remnant of her seed to commit a cosmic genocide and eliminate godliness from the earth. At the end of the chapter he then hands over his power and his throne to this beast figure. And in verse 4 of Revelation 13, it says that men worship the dragon because he gave his authority to the beast and then they worship the beast because he had a deadly wound, looks like he's going to die, but the wound heals and he comes back bigger and stronger than ever. And so on the basis of that miraculous healing, they worship the beast. The beast then is said to blaspheme against God and war against the saints for 42 prophetic months and all the unsaved are said again in verse 8 to worship the beast. Those whose names have not been written in the book of life. Why is this beast making war? It would appear to me, in the context, that it’s making war on the saints precisely because they're not worshiping the way the beast wants them to.
We then have a second beast that comes up out of the earth. A lamblike beast, or more accurately with lamblike horns. Now in the book of Revelation, what does the lamb represent? Christ. So here is a beast who has lamb like horns. Something about this beast is projecting an identity that is Christlike. A Christian beast., so to speak. But when he opens his mouth, it doesn't sound like Christ. Who does it sound like? He speaks the words of the dragon and when he speaks these words, what happened? More worship issues. He exercises the same level of authority as the dragon and first beast and forces worship by constructing this so-called image to the beast. Then it says he works great signs and wonders to deceive people to worship this beast. And the most signal one mentioned is calling fire down from heaven. He brings life into the beast and then forces worship with economic sanctions and a death penalty.
Now let me repeat something that I said last week. While I think that we are right in who we identify as the beast and the lamblike beast and so forth and so on, the major point of the text is not the identity of the beast, and the other characters. The major point of the text is this worship issue and I do not need to know who the beast is. But I do need to know how to worship God. I could even be wrong about what I believe about the beast, but I better not be wrong about knowing how God wants to be worshiped. The key of this passage is worship. And there's going to be a battle over worship in the last days. I think it is no accident that most churches are having controversy over worship today. And I'm not meaning churches as in Adventist, I’m meaning churches as in all denominations. This battle over worship is already brewing. And it's going to get worse.
And the real issue under worship has two parts, I think. One, forcing conscience with law and penalty. And secondly, on what grounds do we worship. Something or someone? So force is the first basis of worship. Laws, war, etc., to force people to worship in this way that goes against God's will. But the basis of the worship ultimately is miracles. People worship the beast because something supernatural happens. He's supposed to die, but his wound heals and because of the healing of the wound they now worship. And then because of the fire, so called, I think it's a symbol, coming down from heaven, they're worshiping because miracles are happening. Miracles become the basis of worship, and miracles are something we see.
Now this fire from heaven seems to be a clear allusion to Elijah on Mount Carmel. And effectively what John is doing here in Revelation, this great final battle over worship is a battle between true and false in which it's the false who works miracles, like Elijah, to call people to a particular form of worship.
Let's see what we can learn about this imagery by going back to First Kings and looking at the Elijah experience. Hold your finger in Revelation and let's go back to First Kings, chapter 17. The text starts with this abrupt shift. "Now Elijah the Tishbite,” verse one, of Tishbi and Gilead, “said to Ahab, ‘As the Lord God of Israel lives before whom I stand, there shall neither be dew nor rain these years except by my,’” what? “’Word.’” Now we have no record here. Very often, when a prophet goes on a mission like this, you'll first get the, “The word of the Lord came to.” I presume that happened here, but it doesn't say that. It just says, suddenly Elijah is before Ahab making this announcement. We’re not given the details. And he says it's not going to rain for years except by my word. We’re establishing a principle here in dealing with Ahab. Things happen and don't happen because of God's Word. And then it says now, the word of the Lord comes to Elijah and it directs him on how to hide, and Elijah leaves and he hides and Ahab sends emissaries all over the world, of his area, forcing allegiance that ‘No, he's not hiding in our country.’ But because Elijah follows the word they never find him. And then the word comes and says all right, leave the brook, which dried up, and go to this Gentile city, and there's a widow there, and so again by the word of the Lord he moves. And then we have, of course, he says, “Hey, could you make me something to eat?” And she says, “I'm about to fix the last handful of food I have in the pantry for my son and I, and then we’re going to die.” And he says, “Make it for me first and you have God's word that your stuff won't go empty until the famine is over.” And she steps out in faith and makes it for him first. And when she goes back there was another handful. And they were fed by the God of heaven, who was true to His word. And then her son dies, as we finish the chapter, and Elijah prays and he's raised back to life and notice verse 24. The last verse. “And the woman said to Elijah, ‘Now I know that you are a man of God and that the word of God is in your mouth.’” The whole thing is being driven by the word of God. And this woman was asked to step out on the word when sensory perception is saying, ‘This is ridiculous, I'm going to die.’ And she did, and God came through.
And now the same word comes to Elijah, and He says, “Go find Ahab.” And he's like, “You're nuts, Lord. He's trying to find me and kill me.” “No, go find him. I'll be with you.” So again the word drives the action, and Elijah goes and finds Ahab. And they have their little confrontation.
You see so far how everything in the Elijah story is driven by the word, not by miracles? Not that there aren't any miracles in the story, but it's driven by the word of God. And when he confronts Ahab, Ahab calls him the troubler, “Is this you, the troubler of Israel?” You see, when we follow the word, when the rest of the world follows the lie, they’re going to say we’re troublemakers. And of course, Elijah says, “No, I'm not the troublemaker. You are.” And he turns it right back around. And the word of the Lord now calls an assembly on Mount Carmel for a showdown, and that happens in chapter 18.
And so we know the story. He assembles on the mountain. Baal versus Yahweh. 4 hundred and 50 prophets of Baal. Baal is the god of the storm and the lightning. And God has shut him down for three years and a half. No rain. And the challenge was simple. If Baal is a god of fire and lightning, he ought to be able to kindle his own altar without your help. And so they go into their frenzied worship, trying to get Baal’s attention. “Oh Baal, hear us, hear us,” Jumping around, cutting themselves, etc., Even says they crawled onto the altar, apparently offering themselves as a human sacrifice if he would just send the fire. In a desperate and last gasp for credibility. This goes on all day. Finally, they wear themselves out and retreat from the contest.
And we pick up the story in verse 36. Elijah has prepared the altar. They've doused it with water, and I want to draw two points here. Verse 36. "At the time of the offering of the oblation." Who was it that set that time? It's the word of the Lord through Moses. This is the time of the evening sacrifice. Elijah chooses the right time according to the word of God. And he finds 12 stones and he builds the altar according to the instructions given in the word of God. Elijah's worship is driven by the word, not by the fire. All was done according to the word of the Lord through Moses. And he then prayed a simple prayer. Without frenzy. Elijah's God did not need something to impress Him. God already loved him. And fire came down and not only burnt up the offering and the word and the water. It even burned up the stones.
But my point is this. The basis of worship in Elijah was not the fire, it was the word. But like a good Jew, we need 2 witnesses, and so we have the word and now God added a miracle as a supplementary witness to validate the word. But the basis was in the word, not in the fire.
We see this same pattern in the New Testament. For example, on the day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit is poured out, Peter does not appeal to the miracle, he appeals to Joel 2. This is what God prophesied in His word. It was word based, not miracle based, and they saw the miracle as the second witness. We are witnesses and the miracles are witnesses, to the word.
But the beast powers get it backwards. In Revelation 13 and 14 those who follow the beast are not based in the word, they are based in the miracles. The healing of the wound and the fire, or whatever this miracle is, that convinces them to worship the beast. And hence the miracles call us away from true worship to false worship. Remember that Jesus said that false christs and false prophets, Matthew, chapter 24, would come and work signs and wonders that if possible, oh I love that ‘if’, that if possible, would what? Deceive even whom? The elect. That sounds like a pretty potent miracle to me.
Suppose for a moment. Seventh-day Adventists have not, as a whole, accepted that the pre-tribulation rapture is a biblical doctrine. But suppose for a moment, though many people do believe this, right? Suppose for a moment that the demons masquerade as men in an extended undercover assignment, and at the right time and at the right place, particularly a place where you cannot explain it except for supernatural forces, just like the people expect an airplane in the middle of flight and two or three people go poof, and there's a pile of clothes behind. Would people believe that? Could that be a powerful deception? I will never say that nothing like a rapture will never happen because it wouldn't surprise me if the devil pulled a stunt off like that. And if he did, how many would be sucked in?
Paul said, in Galatians, if I or an angel of Heaven come and preach to you a gospel different from the one I first preached to you let him be accursed. Is it possible that Paul knew, through the power of the Holy Spirit, that someday something purporting to be Paul would show up with a false message? What happens if the spirit of Apostle Paul shows up on Oprah Winfrey? Or Larry King? Or CNN news? “Oh yes, we changed the day of worship right away.” How powerful would that be?
Folks, people are going to believe their eyes, and when they see something supernatural that they cannot explain away through our empirical science, they are not going to stop and do the Snopes check in the Word of God. They are going to believe, and their worship will be based not in word, but in miracles. And Paul says in Second Thessalonians 2, it's because they believe this lie, that my perceptions are more reliable than God's word. And because they have itching ears to accumulate teachers to give them comforting messages, they will fall and believe this ultimate lie, that the beast who equates to the man of sin has the right to decree how we worship God and to force us to do so. You see, when you believe the lie, you must manage her own life and therefore you turn to consequences as the governing tool. And you will either receive the mark in order to save your neck, or you will receive the mark because you really think these miracles came from God. And you're not going to do your Snopes check, because we like to believe what we want to see.
We forget that John says to us, test the spirits, because not all spirits are from the right source, right? Deuteronomy, chapter 13, first 5 or 6 verses, the Lord said to Moses, if a prophet comes and predicts a sign and the sign comes true, you know, a miracle, and then that prophet says let's worship other gods, don't believe it. Stick with the word.
Now, we want to be careful that we’re not phobic of miracles. It is true that most of the miracles talked about in the last days are always talked about in reference to the false christ and the false prophets. I don't think this means there’ll be no miracles that happen in the true people of God, but the point is, it's the false movement that is characterized by miracles, and based on miracles, whereas the true may have miracles, but they are characterized by their faithfulness to the word.
I think we can draw three key conclusions from Revelation 13 about these last days in worship. Number one, true worship does not force itself with sanctions. The seal of God is only in the forehead, where believing happens, but the mark of the beast can go in the forehead or in the hand. The beast doesn't care if you believe, he only cares if you comply. But true worship does not want mere compliance. It wants the surrender of the heart and the cooperation of the mind as part of the process. I suspect these measures will come in with all good intent. Like Nebuchadnezzar trying to find God's blessing for a world or a nation in trouble, and those who stick with the word and say, “Wait a second, I'm doing a Snopes check, and I'm not convinced these miracles are from the right place”, will become the new troublers of Israel. And their heads will be destined for the silver platter like John the Baptist, until God intervenes. Any move then to force particular forms of worship by civil legislation will be out of harmony with the principles of biblical worship.
Again, the second point, it is the counterfeit movement that is characterized by and based in miracles. Folks, we don't need to be phobic of miracles, but again we need to go to Deuteronomy 13 and, you know, check the word.
Number three, true worship is not a tool for furthering self-interest. Throughout the history of scripture those who are faithful to God's form, God's way of worship, find themselves living a dangerous life. Right? Paul alludes to that in Hebrews 11. Some got sawed in two and you know, hungry and running for their lives. The true worship of God is risky business. It does not help make me more comfortable, more rich, and more secure in this world. And those who worship God to get blessings and to avoid danger are very likely to get sucked in by these miracles, even if they know better.
In contrast to these folk who are deceived by miracles, we come back to Revelation 14, and we find a hundred and 44 thousand who don't worship the beast. Didn't get sucked in. Who sing a victorious song, and of interest to me in verse 5, ”in their mouth no lie was found, for they are spotless. It is these that have not defiled themselves with women.” We suddenly get a picture, that in spite of the intensity of the crisis precipitated by the image and the mark, that there are a group who do not capitulate. Who are strengthened by God to stand firm in impossible times. And it assures us that the beast can be resisted successfully.
And then 3 angels have 3 messages in reference to the beast. Our scripture reading today. “Then I saw another angel flying in the midst of heaven with an everlasting gospel to proclaim to those who dwell on the earth,” and what is his good news. “Fear God and give glory to him.” Don't fear the beast. Fear God. What did Jesus say? “Do not fear the one who can kill the body but not the soul, but fear Him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” You don't need to be afraid of the beast. You need to fear God with reverential fear. This is the generation who hears all about the lovey-dovey God. God is somebody not to be afraid of but somebody to be a friend of, and to this generation, the message comes, no, there is an appropriate fear of God and you need to have it.
Secondly, worship the One who made. Base your worship, not on miracles and phenomena and excitement, but base it on the Word of creation. We worship the un-made Maker of all things. The way He asks us to worship Him. It makes a difference, and then he says, we fear this God and “worship Him because the hour of His judgment is come.” God is sitting in court and the beast power, etc. etc. are going to be put on trial. So remember, there is a court and there is a trial where God's going to win over the beast. Don't set your sights too short.
And this is followed by a second angel who has the indictment of the court. “Babylon is fallen, is fallen, that great city who forced the nations to drink.”
And then the third angel comes with probably the most dire message of the Scriptures, the announcement of the punishment for believing the lie and receiving the mark of the beast. “If any man worships the beast and its image and receives the mark in the forehead or the hand, he shall drink the wine of God's wrath poured unmixed into the cup of His anger and he shall be tormented with fire and sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and the Lamb. 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.” In this era where it is becoming increasingly popular to make God passive where He does not hold accountable or punish, the message is “God does judge. God does hold accountable and He does execute punishment.”
You see, the nature of the lie is this. There comes a point in this battle between the supremacy of self and the supremacy of God, where self says, “I cannot coexist with God. It's either He or me.” And such an individual is dangerous to the well-being of the entire universe. And since there is no other way, God says, “I must exercise force. But I conduct a judgment so you all can see that when I do, I had good reason. It's not arbitrary.”
You see, they are ultimately self deceived because they believed the lie that self is smarter than God and ran their life by that lie and this is just the final unmasking of their character. Eve faced that lie in the Garden of Eden. She looked at the tree that God said would kill her and she said, “It looks good for food, let me try it.” Christ faced that lie in the wilderness of temptation. Six weeks after God said, “This is my beloved Son,” the devil says, “Do you really think you're the Son of God? You can't trust that word. You better do something to prove it.” See the significance of “Man shall not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God?” And he holds off that lie and puts the word above self.
And in these last days, God will allow the strong delusion to come to this world. And when you see all the visual evidence saying God is pouring out His spirit on an un-Biblical system, will you believe your eyes or will you believe the word? The choices you make now will determine that. The good news is, “Here is the patience of the saints. Here are they who keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus.”
God is going to permit climactic events on this earth and our current crisis has the potential to be a precursor to those events. People are panicking and in their panic, they will be ready to do anything including establish a national religion to try to save the nation. And in that panic mode Biblical reasoning will suffer.
But the good news is, it means we’re almost home. But in order to get there, we may be called to be those red dots on the map and to suffer the fiery furnace. We are living in grand and momentous times. May we learn now to trust the word over our own perceptions.
Let's sing our closing hymn, We Are Living, We Are Dwelling, In a Grand and Awful Time.
Oh, Lord Jesus. Help us trust the word more than our own feelings, more than our own perceptions, that it would be a light to our path and a lamp to our feet, in these days of darkness. I pray in the name of Jesus, amen.
Hymn of Praise: #7, The Lord in Zion Reigneth Scripture: Revelation 14:6-12 Hymn of Response: #617, We Are Living, We Are Dwelling
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Sermon at McDonald Road transcribed by Steve Foster 4/4/09