Sex, Lies and Videotape: The Real Deal audio (5MB)
[Begin with latest Crown Casino Advertisement, http://www.myspace.com/video/vid/22809362]
What you have just seen is the most recent television advertisement for Crown Casino. It is the only one I could get a hold of for today and in some ways it is tamer than some of its predecessors. But what it does depict is Crown as a place of glamour and excitement … A world of entertainment!
Last month an Australian magazine printed the following comments regarding gambling in Australia:
• On average a person with a gambling problem loses about $12,000 a year, and even non-regular gamblers lose roughly $600 a year.
• There are estimated to be over 300,000 problem gamblers in Australia and for every problem gambler there are five people affected by their addiction. That's 1.5 million Australians.
• Of every $100 spent on the pokies, at BEST only $87 is returned. In the long run, people lose.
• After casinos opened in Atlantic City in the USA CRIME in a thirty-mile radius increased by 100 percent.
• The average rate of divorce for problem gamblers is double.
• The suicide rate for problem gamblers is twenty times higher.
• Australians gambled a record $153.3 billion in 2006-07. Collectively, $18.2 billion was lost, $10.6 billion of it on pokies.
When I began reflecting on today’s reading, my mind immediately turned to commercials like this one … full of promise!
Let me say that I don’t want to say … emphatically … that Crown is evil or people who gamble are evil what I do want to say however is that there is a massive difference in what is promised in this advertisement and what we know the effects of gambling to actually be. One promises excitement, lifestyle, everything you could possibly hope for and desire … a world of entertainment and yet the documented research on problem gambling promises that what it actually delivers is: family breakdown, divorce, social dysfunction, massive debt, unrecoverable loss, crime and suicide.
The thing about it is … IT’S ENTICING … IT’S SEDUCTIVE
Evil always is.
Evil always has an enticing element … status, wealth, sex, fame, power – these things in and of themselves are not bad things but, if abused, carry the potential for corruption, injustice and Evil. Evil can even, under some circumstances, appears to be good. C.S. Lewis writes “There are two equal and opposite errors our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally pleased by both errors … readers are advised to remember that the devil is a liar … not everything that he says should be assumed to be true.”
For this reason, I have perhaps controversially called my sermon today:
Sex, Lies and Videotape. And though controversial, I think the title is rather apt because John has a vision (not a video but a vision) about the insidiousness of sex, lies and corrupt power—which we ourselves have witnessed from time to time—but he also sees something that we do not see: a vision of the fate of Evil itself.
As believers it is easy to think of Evil – out there – stuff that we choose to not partake in.
But our passage today outlines the subtlety and the seductive nature of sin. It presents a false reality and we are left to choose the COUNTERFEIT or the REAL DEAL … sometimes its not obvious and it is only after we have engaged in something for a while do we realise that it has some Evil implications. Some of us in small ways, and so of us in big ways are seduced by the subtlety of Evil …. what are the subtle openings for Evil in your own life? … Well … we’ll return to this question later?
But for the moment I want to suggest that as we move quickly through chapters 17-19, that we might divide this reading into three parts:
1. The Seduction of Evil (as we have just heard read);
2. The Fate of Evil;
3. The Victory over Evil.
Now at this point, I must congratulate you! Because you have endured several months of beasts, dragons, angels, cherubim and seraphim and we have had to wade through a lot of symbolic imagery to understand the deeper meanings of the book of Revelation … AND NOW you might be thinking: haven’t we already dealt with all this victory over evil stuff? Several weeks ago Chris had the Hallelujah chorus resounding through the Church, then Heather exposed the Devil to us. Last week it was the 144,000 of God’s Elect … how come we’re back to Evil again? And it is a very good question ….
I believe that these visions unfold such a way, that the good-evil narrative keeps spiralling inward and now as we are on the second-last week of our preaching series, that spiral is reaching its climax. But we keep returning to evil – because it is too easy—for us as believers— to look ahead to the end of the story and say well … “Jesus is returning and all will be well because he will have the final victory!”
NO. For we know that we are living in an in-between time. Our own lives are cyclical. We see Evil rise up in our world, then we experience peace for a time and then Evil reasserts itself in a new regime … or new social media … or mega Wall Street industry. Jesus WILL BE VICTORIOUS, but WHO WILL WE SERVE in this in-between time: God or Satan? How are we to turn away from evil and serve God alone? And how are we to recognise the REAL DEAL when Evil works its subtle, seductive work around us?
1. The Glamour of Evil.
Well let’s turn to the passage that we have just heard:
John, sees a vision of a beautiful woman who is dressed like a queen in stunning, royal garments, and covered with expensive jewellery. She drinks from a golden cup, those around her are intoxicated by her. Her very presence promises so much. She’s seemingly powerful, for the kings of the earth are lining up to be her bed-partners. And yet when we read on, we discover that she is in fact a ‘whore’ and her cup is full of filth and the blood of the martyrs. And instead of sitting on a throne she is sits on a beast covered with blasphemous names.
And then the angel-guide explains to John in his bewilderment what all of this is about:
• v. 5 gives us the identity of the woman she has a name branded on her forehead:
“Babylon the Great, The Mother of Whores and of Earth’s Abominations.” Throughout the Old Testament, the prostitute is a symbol of unfaithfulness to God and particularly to God’s people being unfaithful to the covenant. Her identification as Babylon points to corrupt political powers.
• v. 8: The beast is and was not and is to come – this has two meanings. First, as a counterfeit Christ: In Chapter 1, Christ is identified as the one who is, who was and who is to come. Secondly, however, the beast represents the Power of Evil on the earth that is always returning in new forms. There was a common myth at that time that Nero would be resurrected by the evil one and return to the earth as the Anti-Christ. Then when Domitian was ruler they thought that he was Nero-returned…. That aside, Nero’s reign ended, and some time later another evil reign began again under Domitian. We see this today too!
• v. 9 7 heads are 7 mountains on which the woman is seated – but also they are seven kings. Now 7 mountains is a reference to Rome (it being the political mega-power at the time). 7 Kings may be 7 particular Kings but I think they are intentionally unidentified because they are merely pawns that the beast uses for his own means. v. 12 tells us that the Kings have their authority for only an hour (Evil has a finite reign). v.13 says that these Kings are united in yielding their authority to the beast.
• And the waters v.15 are peoples and multitudes and nations and languages.
So the woman here can represent all humanity who are seduced by Evil and turn away from God. She is Israel, she is Babylon, she is Rome … she is in fact every part of the world that rejects God and chooses Evil.
And what happens to her?
v. 17 the beast and the kings will hate the whore; they will make her desolate and naked; they will devour her flesh and burn her up with fire.
In just one hour of power –
all the promise and glamour and wealth and power of the woman has vanished.
The very Evil that she entertained and espoused has consumed her.
All the promise was but sex and lies …. Certainly not THE REAL DEAL.
2. The Fate of Evil
We live in an instant society: iPhones, digital cameras, fast food, instant messaging. Many of us, myself included, are enamoured by efficient and instant gratification (why leave an answering machine message when I can text, instant message or Facebook … I want to reach this person NOW) – And because of this we think: How can God let Evil reign so long? But in God’s economy: Evil rises and falls in one hour, listen to what Peter writes in 2 Peter, Chapter 3:
“But do not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day. The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance.”
And the promise to us is that if we turn away from Evil— and encourage others to do the same— and turn instead to the Lamb, WE WILL SHARE IN HIS RISEN LIFE.
Chapter 18 is narrated in three voices. Two voices are from Heaven and the other is from the Babylonian allies. First from the angel of heaven we hear:
“Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great! It has become a dwelling place of demons …. 3For all the nations have drunk of the wine of the wrath of her fornication, and the kings of the earth have committed fornication with her, and the merchants of the earth have grown rich from the power of her luxury.”
There’s rejoicing in heaven … Evil has fallen!
Then a second voice from heaven speaks, And this is my favourite part of the whole passage The second voice offers God’s 9,000,000,999th chance to humanity, v.4:
“Come out of her, my people, so that you do not take part in her sins, and so that you do not share in her plagues; 5for her sins are heaped high as heaven, and God has remembered her iniquities.”
God’s desire TO THE VERY END is for us to turn away from the sex, lies and videotape and turn to Him … who is in fact the REAL DEAL!
We have people in our Alpha Small Group who desperately want to know – if a person has led a ‘good’ life but has denied God and on the judgement day comes before God and turns to him, will he be allowed to enter eternal life or will he enter eternal damnation?
Well … defining “good” is a thesis unto itself … certainly we know that Scripture says “Today is the day of Salvation” … but in reality any answer to the question posed at Alpha is a hypothetical one because we cannot respond to what happens on the other side with absolute certainty.
What we do know from Revelation 18 is that what is depicted here is NOT the LAST DAY but the FINAL DAYS (plural) and in these final days, God’s overwhelming desire is that ALL will be saved!
BUT DO THEY TURN?
We hear the voice of the second group of protagonists in this chapter:
9And the kings of the earth, who committed fornication and lived in luxury with her, will weep and wail over her when they see the smoke of her burning; 10they will stand far off, in fear of her torment, and say, “Alas, alas, the great city, Babylon, the mighty city! For in one hour your judgment has come.” 11And the merchants of the earth weep and mourn for her, since no one buys their cargo anymore … “Alas, alas, the great city, where all who had ships at sea grew rich by her wealth! For in one hour she has been laid waste.
I don’t know whether you have ever been to a funeral of somebody who wasn’t particularly liked? But it is rare for someone to say something unpleasant at a funeral. At best people focus on the deceased’s better qualities and at worst, they lie, claiming untrue character traits!
Well in Chapter 18 all these nice sentiments are expressed for the whore! … They mourn … but what do they mourn? Her glamour and the fact that they could no longer exploit her glamour for their own commercial gain …
But here in these final days – the lies are not so seductive – God is exposing Evil for what it is. Look at how the chapter ends with the voice of the first angel again being heard:
“… the light of a lamp will shine in you no more; and the voice of bridegroom and bride will be heard in you no more; for your merchants were the magnates of the earth, and all nations were deceived by your sorcery. 24And in you was found the blood of prophets and of saints, and of all who have been slaughtered on earth.”
3. The Victory over Evil
Chapter 19 begins with rejoicing in heaven – a great multitude in heaven say, “Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power to our God, for his judgements are true and just.”
God—the REAL DEAL—has defeated the agent of Evil …
the woman, the nation, the lie, the seductress … he has exposed her for the liar that she is, and in so doing has v. 2 avenged the blood of his servants.
A little farther on in v. 11 we read:
11Then I saw heaven opened, and there was a white horse! Its rider is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. 12His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems; and he has a name inscribed that no one knows but himself. 13He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is called The Word of God. 14And the armies of heaven, wearing fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses. 15From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron; he will tread the wine press of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. 16On his robe and on his thigh he has a name inscribed, “King of kings and Lord of lords.”
• There is a white horse! It’s rider is called “Faithful and True” (this is a contrast to the whore riding a beast - “unfaithful and untrue”)
• He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is called the Word of God – 2 images that strongly identify the rider as Jesus.
• The sword biblically is often an image of the Word and the fact that it is coming out of his mouth rather than in his hand gives further credibility to this;
• And on him is inscribed “King of kings and Lord of lords”.
• The armies of heaven who follow him on white horses wear fine linen. This is interesting – does this sound like military uniform? … In fact these sound more like wedding clothes and we have already been told previously in v.7 that there is an imminent marriage.
It turns out that there is a war but not a battle, IN AN INSTANT the King of kings and Lord of lords has conquered. The birds are invited to come down and feast on the carcasses. And the beast and the false prophet (the beast’s agent) are cast into the lake of fire that burns with sulphur.
In 1925 a political activist wrote an autobiographical book about his vision for a better world while in prison. In the book he outlined his own concerns with the state of affairs in his country and the strategies that he would employ if he were given the opportunity. The book was so popular that he was able to purchase a luxury car whilst still in prison from the royalties alone.
After he was released from prison he gained support by promoting the propaganda in his book and later became the leader of a party of his creation that embodied his philosophies, and subsequently rose to leadership in his country.
In his first four years of government the number of unemployed dropped from 6 million to 900 thousand, the gross national product grew 102%, he doubled the per capita income, augmented companies' profits almost 3,000% and reduced hyperinflation to a maximum of 25% a year.
He had huge support from the public. They had read his book, agreed with his philosophies and elected him to government.
The book is called “My Suffering” or “Mein Kampf” and the leader is Adolf Hitler. Between 1939 – 1945 an undefined number of approximately 11-14 million people were systematically killed in concentration camps under Hitler’s leadership.
The Holocaust is perhaps one of the greatest Evils of the past century that we can imagine. Having visited Berlin last year, it is apparent how this history still haunts their city. There are so many monuments and remembrances acknowledging the past. None of us would deny that the Holocaust was supremely Evil. In hindsight we recognise THE LIE … And yet … after reading his autobiography … good, God-fearing people agreed with its philosophies and voted Adolf Hitler into power. Some of them, no doubt, were just afraid … like some Australians are that mass migration to our country will limit employment and the distribution of wealth. And, in fairness, more people bought the book subsequent to Hitler’s rise the power … however, they did not recognise the counterfeit … Adolf Hitler could not be their saviour.
Today’s readings remind us that we are confronted with many lies – some of them are very difficult to discern.
Just think how ten … twenty … thirty years ago we didn’t think that chemicals we wash down our sink were affecting marine life
and in turn causing illness when people eat fish, we didn’t think that showering for longer than three minutes could affect the livelihood of people in rural Australia who might be experiencing drought. We didn’t buy fair-trade or free-range or hormone free because there might be an injustice to the way that people or animals are treated in order to produce the goods that we are purchasing ….
But when we are informed about these things, will we close our eyes to the potential for Evil … accept THE LIE or will we be vigilant in discerning THE REAL DEAL?
In what ways do we allow Evil to get a foothold in our lives?
It is actually quite appropriate that as we enter Easter Week that we are focussing on the stronghold of Evil in our world, the Evil that necessitated Jesus death and resurrection for our salvation.
This time next week on Easter Sunday, Chris will bring us the final chapter of Revelation as he preaches on the new heaven and the new earth and the marriage of the Lamb. But this is very significant to today’s sermon:
In God’s paradigm there is a Beautiful Bride adorned for her husband. The Bride is us—God’s people— who are made pure and white by the blood of the Lamb, the Bridegroom is CHRIST HIMSELF. THIS IS THE REAL DEAL.
The whore and the beast are the antithesis of this … THE COUNTERFEIT … they make countless false promises, yet within an hour their own sinfulness destroys them.
Jesus promises forgiveness, reconciliation and eternal life. He shows us his own risen life and says: THIS IS FOR YOU TOO! … this is THE REAL DEAL!
No Christian is immune to the LIES of the Evil One. Seduction is all around us. Yet through prayer, fellowship and a spirit of brotherly/sisterly love we can check in on ourselves and one another. We can ask our Christian brothers and sisters to help us to be accountable. This is why ministers are encouraged to have Supervisors and Mentors … to help us with our own accountability.
By the grace of Jesus, our risen Lord, let us turn away from the insidiousness of COUNTERFEIT PROMISES … from FALSEHOOD … and keep our eyes fixed on THE REAL DEAL: the one who we will acclaim as RISEN on Easter Sunday Morning: The Lord of lords and King of kings.