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Babylon, Idolatry, And You Part 1

Running to Win / Erwin Lutzer
The Truth Network Radio
February 22, 2022 1:00 am

Babylon, Idolatry, And You Part 1

Running to Win / Erwin Lutzer

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February 22, 2022 1:00 am

What does faithfulness look like in a nation that is under judgment? After Israel’s long disobedience, God orchestrated for Babylon to take them into captivity. They became a minority in a pagan land, just like Christians are fast becoming a minority in America. In this first message from the series “The Church In Babylon,” we’ll look at the uniqueness of Jeremiah’s calling and how the church can be faithful in “exile.”  

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Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith. After Israel's long disobedience, God had Babylon cart them off into captivity.

They became a minority in a pagan land, just as Christians are fast becoming a minority in America. The parallels are crucial to understand, so stay with us. From the Moody Church in Chicago, this is Running to Win with Dr. Erwin Lutzer, whose clear teaching helps us make it across the finish line. Today, we begin a series on the Church in Babylon, unleashing the power of a Spirit-filled witness. Pastor Lutzer, is the Church already in Babylon?

Well, Dave, I think you've described it very well. When I was preparing this series of messages, I asked myself the question, what parallels are there between Babylon, where the Israelites found themselves because of their disobedience, and our situation here in the 21st century? And I began to realize there are so many lessons that we must learn. And I realized that, yes, we are already in Babylon.

As you pointed out, we are a minority in the midst of a majority pagan culture. The reason for this series of messages is to both warn us, and at the same time, to give us hope. What Israel learned in Babylon can be applied to us in such a way that we can benefit. So I want you to listen carefully today as we go through this series of messages.

Call your friends, invite them to listen to the ministry of Running to Win, because we are here to help you make it all the way to the finish line. What comes to your mind when I mention the name Babylon? Perhaps occultism would come to your mind, certainly. Immorality, violence, all of those things would be true. But the bottom line is one word, and that is idolatry. Babylon known for idolatry. That name Babylon occurs in the scripture about 200 times, mostly about ancient Babylon, but also about the Babylon of the future.

Perhaps in this series, eventually, we'll get to that. Jeremiah the prophet was writing during the time when the neo-Babylonian empire was beginning. You see, ancient Babylon had passed off the scene as a world power, but now Babylon was being revived and was actually overtaking Assyria as the world empire. Jeremiah, God bless him, would actually live to see the destruction of the city of Jerusalem, the kingdom of Judah destroyed, Solomon's temple in ruins thoroughly and totally destroyed, and he would have to be a witness to it all. The reason I'm preaching this series of messages is, first of all, that we might renew and have a better understanding of God. If you see God as someone who is tolerant, who can put up with any kind of behavior endlessly, any kind of behavior on our part, your concept of God needs adjustment. We're going to see, thankfully, that he is a God of mercy, that he is also a God of great justice. We will be overwhelmed by God's hatred of sin.

Let's read the book of Jeremiah, and you can't get over it. So one thing is, we're going to expand our knowledge of God. The second thing that we want to do is to ask the question, what does faithfulness look like in a nation that is under judgment?

Because we as a nation undoubtedly are under the judgment of God, and what does it like for people, God's people, to live in the midst of that kind of an environment? When I began thinking about this project, this series of messages, initially, I was thinking about the time when the Israelites were carried into Babylon, and eventually we'll get to that. But before we get to that, I have a number of messages, not entirely sure of the number, but a number of messages on this book of Jeremiah. I hope that you bring your Bibles.

It's so important for you to look at the text. Can we pray that God by his Spirit might use this series of messages to invigorate us? Because even though the title is The Church in Babylon, remember the subtitle is Unleashing the Power of a Spirit-Filled Witness. What we want to do is to be strong, courageous, gracious, but uncompromising witnesses to the gospel of Jesus Christ in a culture that is becoming increasingly hostile to the Christian faith.

Let's pray that it'll be transforming for all of us. Now open your Bibles, Jeremiah chapter one, you'll notice that it begins by talking about Josiah the king and then lists other kings in the first opening verses. What is most important for us to realize is that Jeremiah had a very long ministry, over 40 years.

It began during the days of Josiah the king, the young Josiah who began to rule at the age of eight and was a righteous king, and then it ended with the destruction of Jerusalem and Jeremiah is known as the weeping prophet. We're going to see him with tears. We're going to look at the book of Lamentations eventually in this series where Jeremiah is just unable to function. He is so overcome by the tears for his nation. Do you know what he's going to see? He's going to see the people of Judah not only carried off but children starving. He's going to see destruction. He's going to see King Zedekiah with his eyes gouged out.

And you know what? Jeremiah never sees the revival for which he prayed and preached, but he was faithful. We'll discover that whether he saw the revival or not. How relevant can you possibly be when you open the book of Jeremiah?

It's all here. Now you'll notice his call and here I'm jumping to verse four of chapter one. The word of the Lord came to me saying, before I formed you in the womb, I knew you. And before you were born, I consecrated you and appointed you a prophet to the nations.

I used to read this this way. While you were being formed in the womb, I knew you and called you. And then I looked at it again this week and I realized God says, before I formed you in the womb, I knew you. And you know that word no just doesn't mean no ahead of time.

It's the word for intimate knowledge. God said I already had a relationship with you, Jeremiah, before you were conceived. And we know that because God is God, that's in eternity past.

But you know that that's true of us as well. Chosen in him from before the foundation of the world. If you are a believer today, God also knew you before you were born. And so it's a sovereign call. You know that means that all of the genes, the genetic makeup, the DNA that Jeremiah would need already came together in such a way that he'd have the gifting of the prophet.

So it was sovereign. God says I'm the one that has chosen you and you are choosing me only because I chose you in advance. It was also a very specific appointed calling. Notice it says and Jeremiah objects and says I'm a youth and God says, hey, when it comes to my calling, doesn't matter whether you're young or old, I'm calling you and you're going to command and you're going to speak everything that I tell you to speak. And don't be afraid, verse eight, for I'm with you to deliver you declares the Lord. Verse nine, the Lord put out his hand and touched my mouth. And the Lord said to me, behold, I put my words in your mouth.

See this day I have set you over the nations and over the kingdoms to pluck up, to break down, to destroy, to overthrow, to build and to plant. Notice this, God says there are going to be four words of judgment for every two words of mercy and grace. And when you read the book of Jeremiah, you discover chapter after chapter on judgment. That's why we're not going to cover every chapter. It is heavy, but you should read the book and you'll come across all kinds of figures of speech and references that you might not know a lot about. But so much of it is clear as God now unburdens his heart for a people that have left him.

In fact, you know what? I'm going to show you the next message in the series that God actually files for divorce. He said, I can't take it anymore. I married you. I've been your husband. You're unfaithful to me. I'm going to divorce court. Now, I'm not going to tell you in advance whether or not God actually went through with that divorce.

That I'll let you know about next time. But the people were so unfaithful. I just need to unburden my heart and say to you that if you have come to church this morning because you want a feel-good message, and you want the pastor to say to you, you can do anything that you like as long as you have lots of self-esteem, this is not the series of messages to check into, all right? You might have to go to another church at least for a few weeks because this is not Jeremiah. But if you want to be here and to deal seriously with sin and repentance and put God on the throne of your life that will permeate all experiences and all of your relationships, if you want that, this might be exactly the series of messages that God has for you and for me.

It's a hard message, but it's a true message. And God wounds us in order that he might heal us. Well, what are some of the characteristics of the idolatry? The idolatry that God hates so much.

First of all, however, I noticed that I have lots of material here today and may have to finish this message next time. What about the context in which Jeremiah is ministering? What was that like? It was dark and it was getting darker. It was a time of hopelessness.

Let me explain why. Under Josiah, the book of the law was found. Can you imagine they're cleaning out the temple?

There is so much garbage. There are so many other gods that they brought into the temple that in the middle of cleaning it out, they say, hey, here's part of the book of the law. And they begin to read it and they have a revival. A problem it was too little, too late.

Just like in our country, we see pockets of reform here and we see a revival over here, but we cannot see a reversal of our situation unless there is a massive in-breaking of God in our country. And so Jeremiah had that hope, but now it was all hopeless. Let me say also that it was a day of deaf ears.

Oh, the people. Jeremiah is different from all the other prophets. We don't know much about Isaiah except what he preached. Jeremiah spills out his heart and he's weeping.

I'll share that with you. He is sobbing. He argues with God. At one point he says, God, you've deceived me. He says, you've deceived me because I thought that you were going to give a word of peace and all that this is is a word of judgment. He spills out his heart.

He's thrown into a pit. False prophets, and by the way, that message is coming up in this series. False prophets stand against him. They condemn him and he has to stand there alone and nobody wants to hear what he has to say. Even at the end, the king sends for him, but Jeremiah says, I'm not coming because no matter what I say, you're going to go do the opposite anyway. That's what kind of a life he lived. People didn't want to hear.

They were deaf. There's another historical point that I must make. When you read Jeremiah, as I hope you will, well, you keep in mind the difference between Israel and Judah. You know, after the time of Solomon, the kingdom was split and you had the northern kingdom, which became known as Israel, and the capital was Samaria. That's where Ahab and others ruled. The southern kingdom was Judah and the capital was Jerusalem. Now, we use Israel for the whole land.

See, that's the confusion. So when you come across Israel, you know it's the northern kingdom. Do you know what happened to the northern kingdom? About 130 years before Jeremiah, the northern kingdom was taken and they went off to Assyria.

We sometimes call them the lost tan tribes, though some people think that they aren't lost at all. But the northern kingdom was totally destroyed. The Assyrians took, I think if I remember correctly, I didn't look it up, about 27,000 people into Assyria. So that kingdom was destroyed. Samaritans came about because there were some Jews left and they were mixed with Assyrians and they were mixed blood.

So you'd think that they would learn. Jeremiah refers to that and says, you know, your sister, your sister Israel, look at what happened to her. And the people said, it doesn't matter.

We're joined to our idols. We don't want to hear what you have to say. Wasn't it Woody Allen who said that history has to repeat itself because we never learned the lessons of history the first time? And history does repeat itself. These people did not learn and they didn't want to.

They were joined to idols. Who wants to hear that, you know, that preacher of judgment? We want the false prophets. When I speak about the false prophets, I'll tell you what they were saying. Well, what are some of these characteristics of idolatry?

First of all, idolatry is, and it was a day of divine judgment. You know, this is so difficult to preach. Do you realize that there are passages that I'll point out in a future message where God even says, don't pray for the people. He says, even if Noah were to pray, he said, I'm not going to relent because judgment is inevitable.

He says, it's like a boat caught in a mighty Niagara river in our imagery and you're going over the falls. It's too late now to turn back. I don't think America is at that point.

I pray for America. But do you realize, folks, that considering what has happened in the last months and weeks and years, who knows whether we can turn it back? You say, well, where's the optimism? Well, hang in.

There's lots of optimism. I just can't say everything in the introduction to the series. All right, now, what are some of the characteristics of idolatry? It's an exchange of gods. You know, it says in chapter 2, verse 5, what wrong did your fathers find in me the day they went from me and went after worthless things and became worthless?

What fault was there in me? It says in verse 11 of chapter 2, has a nation changed its gods even though they are no gods? For my people have changed their glory for that which does not profit. Be appalled, oh heavens, at this. Be shocked, be utterly desolate, declares the Lord.

For my people have committed two evils. They forsaken me, the fountain of living water, and hewn out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water. Have you ever drunk from a fresh fountain that's bubbling up with some good water? Why would you then build a cistern to catch rainwater? Your cistern leaks. It's got cracks. The water is there for weeks on end and becomes brackish.

I think that's the only time I've ever used this word brackish, but it fits here. You begin to drink it and you gag. Why would people do that? I mean, you know, you're abandoning the fresh water of God.

Why go for a stream that has such a bad aftertaste? Well, we're going to hurry on and go to a second characteristic of idolatry that will answer that question. You must recognize that idolatry basically is to have a vision of God based upon desire, specifically sexual desire.

Have you ever thought of why? Why this attraction to idols that Israel always has? You know, they're always running off with some other god and, you know, whether or not it's Hosea and all these prophets are talking about the fact that on the mountains and the hills they had these shrines, what is attractive about that, may I ask?

It's because of the pagan gods, Baal, Babylon, Baal. The pagan gods were very tolerant when it came to sexuality. You know, you read this, for example, in chapter 2, it says, verse 20, for long ago I broke your yoke and burst your bonds, but you said, I will not serve. Yes, on every high hill and under every green tree you bowed down like a whore, says the very same thing in chapter 3.

You can read it there yourself, verse 2 and following. You see, it was not only spiritual adultery that the people were committing and turning from the living water to the broken cisterns, the brackish water, but they were sexually immoral. And these pagan gods were very tolerant of whatever sexuality you wanted. And the problem with that tolerance, which offers so much and which promises freedom, the problem with that tolerance is it brought so much baggage. And when you drink from that fountain, you gag because of the guilt and because of the broken relationships and because of the emptiness and because of the sense of destruction of who you are and the self-respect that you should have as a person. All of those consequences are huge, but the problem is you're bonded to these idols.

So you keep drinking from the bitter fountains that can hold no water, but you keep going back again and again and again. You see, that's the problem with different views of God. I have books in my library where people have totally redefined God in accordance with human desire, whatever it is. In fact, there was a book written. It just comes to mind as I'm preaching Conversations with God. By the way, did you know that that book was written by a demonic spirit? I read it maybe about 10 years ago, but the author said that as he was writing, a spirit came along and basically dictated it. And basically what God said is, I am whoever you want me to be.

Well, isn't that ever great? Do you know that it was Huxley who said, the reason that we accepted evolution without a lot of proof is because we didn't want a god to interfere with our sexual mores? That was Huxley. In other words, get God off our back so that we can be free.

But ah, the freedom comes with a huge price of bondage, and you end up choking on those fountains. It's a hard lesson to learn, isn't it? Now, the thing is that you remember the story, told it maybe 10 years ago, when you've been here as long as I have, you sometimes lose a little bit of track of time, about the man who was driving through a farmyard, and he noticed that on the barn, there were a bunch of targets, and right smack in the middle of each target, there was an arrow. So he stopped to commend the farmer for being such an expert marksman. The farmer said, what you saw there wasn't done by me. It was done by a village boy who is somewhat mentally challenged.

He comes out here, he shoots arrows into my barn, and then he paints the targets around them. That's what society does. I want to do what I want to do. I want to live the way in which I want to live, and God will come along and make it all right and agree with me. This is Pastor Lutzer. You know, as I read the scripture, I am so impressed with the fact that it accurately describes human nature. We want God to agree with everything that we want to do. And whether it is the Israelites in Babylon, whether it is our contemporary situation, the fact of the matter is that the human mind is able to justify anything that the human heart wants to do. This series of messages is entitled The Church in Babylon.

As I preached this series of messages, I noticed that there was indeed a parallel between the Old Testament times and what we are experiencing today. Would you like to have these messages in a permanent form so that you can listen to them again and again, share them with your friends? Well, I hope that you have time to pick up a pencil because in a moment I'm going to be giving you some contact info. But before I do that, I want to thank you in advance for helping us.

It is your partnership that enables us to continue this ministry, and we are so gratified by the many of you who become a part of what I like to call the running to win family. Here's what you do. You go to,, or you can call right now. Call us at 1-888-218-9337. Now I'm going to be giving you that contact info again, but remember the series of messages is entitled The Church in Babylon.

And what we find in our own experience today is that we are in Babylon. Go to or call us at 1-888-218-9337. Thanks in advance for helping us make a difference. You can write to us at Running to Win, 1635 North LaSalle Boulevard, Chicago, Illinois 60614.

Have we in the modern church hewed out broken cisterns like Israel did? Don't miss the rest of today's message next time on Running to Win. Thanks for listening. For Dr. Erwin Lutzer, this is Dave McAllister. Running to Win is sponsored by the Moody Church.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-06-01 21:48:52 / 2023-06-01 21:57:45 / 9

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