It's religious liberty Sabbath. We need to treasure it.
In Succar, Pakistan, a congregation ended their service and unknown to them, while they were in the church a group of radical Muslims had taken up positions outside the church, and as the congregation was leaving they walked into a hailstorm of bullets. Five of them were killed. Just on the outskirts of Mogadishu, Somalia, a young lady, the mother of four young children, was hated by her neighbors because she was a Christian. One day she was abducted, the next day she was taken to a nearby village where she was executed by having her throat slit on the public square. Just recently, some of you may have heard the announcement that a 41-year-old man in Afghanistan was sentenced to be hanged. His crime? Conversion to Christianity. All this is happening around us day in and day out.
And here we are this morning. We're so blessed in this country by religious liberty. In fact, we are so blessed that we sometimes don't even take notice of it. We got up this morning. We got ready to come to church, and the thought of persecution did not even cross our minds. It has never happened here in the United States and somehow we believe that it never will. Not only does religious liberty protect us, it is one of the pillars that made this country great. It is one of the cornerstones of our prosperity, and one of the byproducts is that it saved Protestantism. Here the Protestant churches are doing fairly well. In Europe they are dying out and I'm sure there are a number of factors but one of them is the wall of separation here in the United States. In Europe the churches lean on the government to support them. Here you've got to evangelize, you've got to be strong if you want to survive. It's a great treasure that God has given us, and that's why we have religious liberty Sabbath. That's the reason why we have Liberty magazine and we appeal to you to support that magazine so that it can go out and remind people of this wonderful treasure that God has given us.
Beloved, the day is coming when the warm sunshine of this great gift will change into the cold winter night of intolerance and religious hostility. Then we may, like the people in Succar, be apprehensive to come to church. Then the young converts may have to face what this man in Afghanistan faced this week.
Some of you may not realize it but Seventh-day Adventists are just about the only church holding aloft this banner of religious freedom. For many years the Baptists were our allies but this is no longer the case. Well, what has happened to the Baptists? What has happened to their fervor for religious liberty? Well, they don't see the need of it anymore. You see, we only perceive the need for religious liberty when there is the possibility of persecution. When that is no longer a threat, then we don't preach religious liberty. And this is the way the Baptists feel. Things have changed. With many of the other Protestant churches, they have returned to the mama church. To Rome. And perhaps without even realizing it they have now become one of her daughters because Rome is no longer perceived as a threat, but as an ally. This in itself should tell us where we are in the stream of time.
Things are rapidly changing here in our country. From time to time we hear official leaders, justices of the Supreme Court make statements about this wall of separation and it's not very complimentary. Many of them are saying, this wall is actually a myth. It was never intended by the founding fathers, and it is something that will have to go. We as Adventists believe in religious liberty, but we also believe that religious liberty will be lost.
As we study prophecy there are two things that ought to catch our attention and both of them are related to the strategy of the sea beast of Revelation 13. There are two things that we need to pay attention to. This sea beast will force the world in its worship. So force will be exerted. The second thing is that the sea beast will employee deception and the whole world will be deceived. Turn with me in your Bible to Revelation 13: 15. He was granted power to give breath to the image of the beast, that the image of the beast should both speak and cause as many as would not worship the image of the beast to be killed. So right here at the end of time religious liberty will disappear. The sea beast will force the world to make an image to the beast and it will force the world to worship the image. Those who comply will receive a mark. Those who refuse will receive a seal and a death sentence. The whole world will be forced on pain of death to comply and to worship, and no matter how impossible it may seem to us this morning, there will be a Sunday law in this country, and we will be forced to comply. Therefore, beloved, we should do all we can to maintain and to retain religious liberty as long as we can.
Now unfortunately, we as Adventists have focused so much on the one area that we tend to lose sight of the other area. We are so focused on the coming of the Sunday law and the forced worship and the persecution that we forget about the deception. The sea beast will not only be responsible to enforce worship but the sea beast will also be responsible for deceiving the world. Look at Revelation 13:13 and 14. It says, he performs great signs so that he even makes fire come down from heaven on earth in the sight of men. He performs many signs and evidently the greatest sign is that he brings down fire from heaven and he deceives those who dwell on the earth by those signs and then specifically, this fire that comes down from heaven. He then forces people to obey.
I want you to notice the deception here. It says the whole world will be deceived. The end time then, is primarily a time of deception more than a time of persecution. The sea beast uses two methods. The one is forced worship and the other one is deception, and we as Adventists tend to look at the forced worship and we forget about the deception. You know, we think about the hideouts and stashing away food and distrust the banking industry and we scare the children about the calamitous times ahead, and all this is true. But there is something more serious than that and that is deception. You see, it is possible to hide from the persecutor, but it is not possible to hide from your convictions, and deception will quickly drive you out of your hideout when you begin to doubt your own beliefs.
Jesus had a discourse on end events and have you noticed where he started his discourse? As if to warn us what the greatest danger of end events will be. Turn with me to Matthew 24:4. And Jesus answered and said to them, (the first thing he wants us to remember about end events), take heed that no one deceive you. Take heed. So the end time then is primarily a time of deception.
Revelation already warned us that the whole world will be deceived, and at the end of time we will see Satan at his best. A powerful deceiver! He deceived Adam and Eve who came from the hand of the creator with no inclination to sin. He got them. He was able to deceive the Angels in the very presence of God. What chance do we have? And so at the end of time we will see him at his best and he will deceive the whole world. You see, Revelation 13 warns us about forced worship but we should not overlook the deception that will be practiced. It says the great sign by which he will deceive will be fire that comes down from heaven.
Well, what does that mean? In the Bible we have a number of accounts of fire that came down from heaven. First of course, is Sodom and Gomorrah where God rained down fire and brimstone. We also have the story of Elijah, sitting on the mountain and king Ahaziah sends soldiers to take him captive, and as they get to the foot of the mountain they cry out and they say, man of God come down, and Elijah says, if I'm a man of God let fire from heaven come down and destroy you, and they were destroyed. Then we also have the account of Job. How fire came down and burned his flock and his servants.
But all these fires were destructive fires. There is however, one account in the Bible of a fire as a sign, and that was on Mount Carmel. For 3 1/2 years Israel languished under the devastating drought and then Elijah shows himself and he summons Israel to Mount Carmel and there he challenges the nation. If the Lord is God then serve him but if baal is God, serve him. Get off the fence. Make a decision. Then he said, let us use fire to show who is the true God. And first the priests of baal had the opportunity. They sang and they danced and they shouted and they cut themselves and nothing happened. It was about three o'clock in the afternoon when Elijah called the people to himself and they watched how he prepared the altar. They saw the sacrifice. They poured the water. And then they listened to a very simple prayer. And the fire came and it consumed the sacrifice and it destroyed the altar and it licked up the water and the whole nation fell down and recognized God as the true God.
And here in Revelation 13 now, we have an allusion to Mount Carmel. I want you to note the similarities. The issue at Carmel was worship. Who is the God that should be worshiped? You have Elijah, you have the priests of baal, and you have a sign showing who the true God is. At the end of time you have a similar scenario. The question is about God. Will we have Elijah again at the end of time? Yes! The remnant is preaching the Elijah message. And will there be an element of sun worship again? Yes! And will there be fire from heaven? But my beloved, the shocking thing at the end of time is that the fire will be on the wrong altar. It will not be the fire of God but it will be fire from heaven. It will look like the fire of God. It will seem a confirmation from heaven.
I want to ask you this morning. Imagine, if you can, what would have happened at Carmel if the fire came down on the wrong altar? That is what we will have to deal with. Will it be real fire? Fire is not the issue. Deception is. I don't know in what form this sign will come but Revelation warns us that there will be an overpowering deception at the end. A sign that will have the earmarks of heaven. It will seem convincingly evident that the remnant is wrong. That God is not on the side of the remnant. It will seem as if God himself showed by the sign that the remnant is deceived. That they are not God's people. That they are actually against God and the cause of all the woes here on earth. Just like God proved at Carmel, by a sign, who the true God is, so right here at the end of time there will be a proof that will seem to say the remnant is on the wrong side. I wonder what I would do. I wonder what you will do when all the world tells us that we are wrong and then there is evidently a sign from heaven that says we are indeed mistaken.
So right here at the end of time we are going to have a deception to such an extent that we would not be able to trust our senses. We say seeing is believing, but not at the end of time. The devil will be at his best and the whole world will be deceived. We are warned that every foundation will be shaken. Every pillar of support will be removed. All the chaff will be swept away and at that time thousands will leave the Adventist church, the remnant church, and it will seem as if the ship will go down. I can just imagine that we will feel obstinate to keep on believing in spite of. You remember the warning of Jesus about the end of time? That even the very elect will be in jeopardy. The fire will fall on the altar of baal and the just will survive only by faith. At that time we will have to say, in spite of what we see, in spite of the evidence, in spite of the sign, we still believe. The just shall live by faith alone.
How will we escape? Jesus told us. He made it very clear how we can escape. He said your foundation must be on the rock. Laying a foundation on the rock before backhoes and excavation machinery was backbreaking work. You had to dig by hand until you got down to the rock, and so what is Jesus telling us when he says your foundation must be on the rock? What he is saying is that we must put persevering effort into our religion. Is that salvation by works? Nooo! The house does not survive because of the digging. It survives because it's on the rock. But in order to get to the rock, you and I have something to do.
I want to ask you this morning. My brother and my sister, are you building on the rock? How much energy are you putting into your religion? Only those who dig, only those who sacrifice, only those who endure, only those who ask with all their hearts and minds will find God. And unless I have that commitment in my religion, my house will be swept away. We need to remember that the time to start digging to find the rock is now. When the storm hits it's too late. You can't do it.
There are many who say, well I know Jesus. I'm going to be okay. I'll be saved. I know Jesus. Let me sound a warning this morning. There's more to it. There's more to it. Knowing Jesus does not save anyone. You see, it does me no good to know Bill Gates. In fact I know Bill Gates. I know quite a bit about him. The problem is, Bill Gates doesn't know me. That's the problem. Unfortunately, there will be many at the door of the banquet room who will hear the voice of Jesus when he says, I've never known you. Your house was on sand. You never found the rock.
In all you do, my beloved, be sure that you build on the rock. Whatever it takes, find the rock. Put your highest energy into your religion. Seek God with all your mind and with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. Build your house on the rock and be sure that Jesus knows you too.
Let us pray. Our heavenly father. Thank you for reminding us again this morning of the dangers ahead and how we cannot sit back and be superficial in our worship of you. Oh God, I pray that you will forgive us for sitting back, for being at ease when so much is at stake. I pray that there will be a new fervor in our souls to seek you and to build our house on the rock. Father, when that last storm sweeps over the world, we want our house to be standing. So help us we pray, in Jesus' name, amen.
Hymn of Praise: #223, Crown Him With Many Crowns Scripture: Revelation 13:11-14 Hymn of Response: #214, We Have This Hope
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Sermon at McDonald Road transcribed by Steve Foster 3/11/11