On a flight from Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport to Schiphol airport in Amsterdam, the first leg of a trek into northern Africa, I had an epiphany, an “ah-ha” moment. One of those moments when the way you see the world changes, where what you think and feel align, when the unidentifiable tension finds a name and thus the potential for release of bound energy awaits. On this overnight flight, as dawn was breaking on a new day over a new continent, my mind and soul awoke to a reality that continues to animate my beliefs and behaviors still today.
Before my epiphany aboard this KLM flight, I found myself in a several year wrestle with faith. Perhaps you can identify this coming of age of faith when what you have always believed with certainty is called into question—not out of cynicism or even suffering but out of being, just then at that moment, at a place in your own life (circumstantially, emotionally, mentally, spiritually, etc.) in which what you think about God and what you have experienced with God has enough history to conflict. Your own cognitive affirmations of God experienced in what seems like unpredictable ways.
Do you have a similar chapter in your life’s story, in your drama of conversion?
A time of awkward if not unsettling confusion in which God was no less real, no less true, no less historical, but finally you are at point in which you have had enough life in awareness of him that your small understanding of him is being stretched, outright overwhelmed! Some call this a dark night of the soul. I call it puberty of faith!
Finally, the cracking voice and awkward interactions, stumbling disciplines, fickle emotions, and uneasy identities seen for what they are, a flooding of Holy Spirit, like the hormones of the body, accelerating growth into a mature(ing) spirituality, humanity.
For me, the epiphany, the “aw-ha” moment that began the transition from pre-teen adolescence to what would be, and still is, young adulthood was: the bible as a story, as narrative telling the story of the world from God’s perspective. Not simply divine information about God but our history and our future found inside of his universe.
Such insight might seem elementary for us, especially considering our current series. But, nearly a decade ago, I had never recognized the story of Scripture. I knew the bible to be important. I believed it to be the word of God, breathed out for my own edification, full of principles to live by. But, the bible telling a story that was meant for me to inhabit, to imagine a world past in order to see a world present with new eyes, was, well, life changing.
Like the moment when working on a puzzle without the box, you start to see what it is you are constructing. And the particular story that opened my eyes was the story of Babel in Genesis 11. Aided by a “biblical theologian” (a new word for me at the time) named Geerhardus Vos, having been immersed in the bible for sufficient enough time, the Spirit put the pieces into place.
What happened at Babel was continuing today. From Genesis to Revelation, humanity’s endeavor, dark spirits coaxing, and God’s response, was rhythmically repeating, like the current of a river turning beneath the surface of what is seen, the force of history flowing towards an ocean expanse of forever gaining depth and breadth at it nears its destiny.
What felt sudden, like a jolt of lightening, but in retrospect has been a kind gradualness—for, as Emily Dickinson said, “‘the Truth must dazzle gradually or every man be blind”, like Paul’s Damascus Road encounter with the resurrected Jesus which left his eyes covered in scales.
Through the story of Babel a fresh reality came into view. The plight of Israel, of all her neighboring nations, of our own nation and institutions, came into focus. As did the power of subversion, of God’s Kingdom like a mustard seed. The smallest of the seeds yet expanding to a great tree in the garden world which the birds nest.
The tension and the resolve. The plight and the transformation. The judgment and the hope. All from Babel, and Babylon.
Israel was finally at a place in her own history of awareness of God and immersion in his story when Babel reappears as Babylon. In the days of Isaiah, Zephaniah, Habakkuk, Amos, Joel, Jonah and the like. Having enough history and immersion in God’s Story and in life amid the conflicting stories of surrounding cultures; that what she knew of God and how she experienced God had come to a crisis point. Judgment looming for the people of God. Judgement that would purify so that something new—a new way of being human—could spring forth from the ashes.
That’s what we saw last week; the good news ofjudgement meaning that evil—within us and around us—and suffering—because of us and at the hands of others—is not the final word, is not the end of the story.
Judgment puts an end to evil so that something new might spring forth. Judgement (destruction—which sounds similar in the Hebrew language) in order for resurrection. Judgment is a weighty word, just not the last word. Hope is! Jesus is!
Yet, if Jesus is the last word then why do we still struggle with real experiences of suffering, evil, apathy, dryness, boredom, and distress? Why is what we believe in tension with what we experience? Could it be that we are in need of an epiphany, a dark night of the soul, a puberty of faith?
Perhaps now, you have enough history of being God aware and immersion in God’s Story, that the Spirit might today provide an epiphany—a divine manifestation—in a similar manner. At least that is my prayer! When I recognized the rhythmic cycle of Babel and Babylon throughout history—including my own, then everything else began to open up for me in my mature(ing) life of faith. Perhaps it will be the same for you as well!
So, as we watch this Bible Project video (Biblical Themes: Day of the Lord), reflect on what you know of God and God’s Story—in your history and in Scripture—asking for eyes to see and ears to hear what the Spirit says to the church—that’s you and me. Then we will discuss!
WHAT IS THE DAY OF THE LORD?
“A phrase used in the Bible to describe how God is at work in history to confront collective human evil, [and rebellious divine (none human) evil,] …”
Isaiah confirms this in the Isaiah passage we read a few moments ago, and again in chapter 13,
They will come from faraway lands,
from the ends of the heavens—
the LORD and the weapons of his wrath—
to destroy the whole country.
Wail, for the day of the LORD is near;
it will come like destruction from the Almighty (judge of good & evil).
WHAT IS THE PURPOSE OF THE DAY OF THE LORD?
To “…liberate God’s people from oppression, and assert his rule over all creation.” God’s drawing the world into peace by overcoming or judging evil,
There is a day coming
that the mountain of the house of
shall be established as the highest of the mountains,
and shall be lifted up above the hills;
and all the nations shall flow to it, river to it (history flowing to that day)
and many peoples shall come, and say;
‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of
to the house of the God of Jacob,
He will show us the way he works,
so we can live the way we were made.’
Zion is the source of the revelation,
and the word of the LORD from
He shall judge between the nations,
and shall decide disputes for many
and they shall beat their swords into
and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war anymore.
Come, family of Jacob,
let us live in the light of GOD. (Tell All the Truth But Tell It Slant)
To REVERSE Babel as Zephaniah would proclaim,
My zeal is a fire
that will purge and purify the earth.
“In the end I will turn things around for the people.
I’ll give them a language undistorted, unpolluted,
Words to address God in worship
and, united, to serve me with their shoulders to the wheel.
They’ll come from beyond the Ethiopian rivers,
they’ll come praying—
All my scattered, exiled people
will come home with offerings for worship…
…Content with who they are and where they are,
unanxious, they’ll live at peace.”
(Zeph. 3:8-10, 13)
WHAT IS BABEL OR BABYLON?
“In the Bible, Babylon and its mythology becomes an archetype of humanity in rebellion against the one true God and the resulting violence and injustice.” The image of every nation and institutions struggle in a world of broken relationship, the separation of the visible and the invisible, heaven and earth. A collective picture of what is distorted in our individual nature—towards one another, creation, and God himself.
What a comedown this, O Babylon!
Daystar! Son of Dawn!
Flat on your face in the underworld mud,
you, famous for flattening nations!
13–14 You said to yourself, in your heart
“I’ll climb to heaven.
I’ll set my throne
over the stars of God.
I’ll run the assembly of angels
that meets on sacred Mount.
I’ll climb to the top of the clouds.
I’ll take over as King of the Universe!”
15–17 But you didn’t make it, did you?
Instead of climbing up, you came down—
Down with the underground dead,
down to the abyss of the Pit.
People will stare and muse:
“Can this be the one
Who terrorized earth and its kingdoms,
turned earth to a moonscape,
Wasted its cities,
shut up his prisoners to a living death?”
WHO IS BABEL OR BABYLON?
Even Israel, God’s chosen people, have fallen into the plight of every other human collective,
For the look on their faces bears witness
they proclaim their sin like Sodom;
they do not hide it.
Woe to them!
For they have brought evil on
This is why Amos declares with such ferocity,
Woe to you who long
for the Day of the Lord!
Why do you long for the Day of the Lord?
That day will be darkness, not light.
WHO OVERCOMES BABYLON?
Judgement through Jesus,
‘Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But for this purpose I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.’ Then a voice came from heaven: ‘I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.’ The crowd that stood there and heard it said that it had thundered. Others said, ‘An angel has spoken to him.’ Jesus answered, ‘This voice has come for your sake, not mine. Now is the judgement of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out. And I, when lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.’
Jesus judges by being judged. He judges—ends evil—through sacrifice. He judges—ends evil—through resurrected life.
HOW DOES JESUS OVERCOME BABYLON?
“Jesus allowed himself to undergo the Day of the Lord (the wrath due to Rome [and all of Israel’s enemies]), so that Israel [you & I] wouldn’t have to. Jesus’ crucifixion is the key part of the great Day of the Lord. He conquers evil and death by letting evil conquer him. The judge is judged, and the victim becomes the victor.”
Jesus reverses Babel, thus he Images of Revelation:
Victorious lion of Judah seen as a Slain Lamb
Victorious king crowned in his own blood
Victorious warrior wielding a sword in his mouth not his hands
Humanity and the divine (non-human) rebels seek violence against the Lord, his people, and one another. That is this only way they know to fight by wielding death as a weapon. And so they die. They end. The last word of hope is passed on for a final word of pride and death. Death is their end.
Yet Jesus’ means and manner of victory show a different response to humanity’s evil. Gracious, patient, constant sacrificial service and love.
I have come into the world as light, so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness. If anyone hears my words and does not keep them, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world but to save the world. The one who rejects me and does not receive my words has a judge; the word that I have spoken will judge him on the last day.
Jesus’ word judges. Jesus as WORD judges. Jesus renders and end to evil! (Gradually if only not to blind!)
WHAT CHANGES WHEN JESUS OVERCOMES BABYLON?
Everything! How we live—purified like Isaiah, holy in a manner of love and sacrifice like Jesus. At home in Babylon seeking its blessing and prosperity in the name, manner, and way of Jesus.
How might the invitation to recognize resist Babylon and the promise of total renewal in the Day of the Lord shape the way you see the world and your and our place within it?
The Day of the LORD is mean to be gut check, a flash of light out of which we awake, an epiphany that calls us into something bigger, deeper, fuller, freeing!
Do we recognize that we are Babylon? Do we hear the proclamation of judgment, the Day of LORD, looming not as doom consuming but as hope transforming? Can we see something different than simply more of what we have?
A cosmic pull to the heights of holiness, to the prize of the high calling in Chris Jesus, puberty to maturity?
Do we let the judgment of Christ’s sacrifice –his conquering through sacrifice and resurrection, showing what is truly good and truly evil—test the reality and authenticity of our life? Be the spark of the Spirit in the process of puberty.
Is this a real life, or just some cheap imitation passed off on me by a Babylon culture? Is what I am doing and saying my own or just borrowed from people who know less than I do about who I am and what I am for? Is God skillfully shaping and wisely guiding my life, or have I let my untutored whims and infantile sins reduce me to a complacent life, a cog existence, an unholy ordinary being? Is this the way I want to spend the rest of my life?
Is there not another way to life? Another KINGDOM to live in? Because Jesus has undergone the Day of the LORD, you are new, resurrected, holy, set apart!
CONFESS & RECEIVE COMMUNION
I forget at times that I live in Babylon. Failing to pay attention to the Spirit in me and Jesus with me. Living life as if God is not skillfully shaping and guiding my life. Letting Babylon and infantile sins reduce me to less than he has and is making me to be.
Through the broken body, shed blood, & living presence of Jesus you _______, have been saved from Babylon! Jesus has brought you into his Kingdom, resurrected life now! Live aware today of who God has made you and what he is doing in and through you by his Spirit.
 Come to think of it, I’ve had several of these moments on flights over the years (invitation to follow God alone as junior in high school flying back from Phoenix, the realization that I and my generation had assumed and forgotten the gospel on flight to Memphis, etc.).
Tell all the truth but tell it slant —Success in Circuit lies
Too bright for our infirm Delight, The Truth's superb surprise
As Lightning to the Children eased
With explanation kind
The Truth must dazzle gradually
Or every man be blind —
 Peterson, E. H. (2005). The Message: the Bible in contemporary language (Zep 3:8–13). Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress.
 Peterson, E. H. (2005). The Message: the Bible in contemporary language (Is 14:12–17). Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress.
 Adapted from, Eugene Peterson, Under the Unpredictable Plant: an exploration in vocational holiness, 142-143.