Wednesday, July 26, 2017
Finding Yourself in Babylon
I Peter 5:13 Your sister church in Babylon, chosen together with you, sends you greetings; and so does my son Mark.
In the closing comments of this letter we find this reference to Babylon. Just the mention of the name Babylon conjures up many images for God’s people for it is the place in which they found themselves in exile. They were prisoners in a foreign land because they had been unfaithful to God, worshipping far too many idols. Now, this reference in 1 Peter to Babylon is quite interesting. Most scholars believe that this is a code name for Rome. More than likely this letter was written at the height of Nero’s reign and persecution of Christians, around AD 60. Paul would soon be martyred. The evil of the city which surrounded these followers of Jesus Christ could be compared to no other than Babylon.
Peter, Mark, Silvanus, Paul, and others found themselves in Rome. They had been drawn to this capital city where they found an overabundance of idolatry. Emperor worship had reached dizzying heights and the presence of these Christians was a problem. Because they refused to be polytheistic they were viewed as atheistic! How in the world could they only worship one God? This was a concern of the local government authorities. The beliefs and lifestyles of these Christians threatened to undermine the fabric of society and the accepted practices of the people, for Rome was metaphorically Babylon.
Babylon had her enticements back in the day. She was wealthy and encouraged a lifestyle of sexual promiscuity and infanticide. It was all about seeking pleasure and enjoying entertainment because of the sacrifice of others. Somehow the lives of others did not come into account.
This epistle is a reminder of what it means to be God’s holy people — written from the metaphoric Babylon. Somehow God’s people were to be radically different in the midst of Babylon. They were to engage in practices of sexual purity which were completely counter-cultural. While society encouraged frequent sexual encounters with multiple partners of both sexes, the Christians followed the teachings of Christ and brought sexual activity into the sacred bounds of marriage between a man and a woman. While Babylon partied on into the early hours of the morning with wild orgies, the Christians spent time worshiping and praising God in their homes. They refused to engage in the pornea of the day, never venturing into the shadows of Babylon, even while her temptresses were at their door day in and day out.
The lives of many were sacrificed for the entertainment of Babylon. They threw Christians and others to the lions as the crowds cheered on, watching helpless humans ripped limb from limb. What kind of human beings enjoy life at the expense of others? Maybe those in modern-day Babylon who wear nice cheap clothing, made at the expense of those suffering in another part of the world. Maybe those who begin the food-chain of human slavery by becoming consumers of pornography. Maybe those who enjoy fresh foods at a low cost, only because we have closed a blind eye to the “illegal” people who are working in our fields because no one else is willing — and yet, we become outraged at their status and want to return them home. Ouch! It begins to hit home!
In Babylon people refused to ask the hard questions and instead were driven along by the stream of society. Except for the Christians! They made everyone a bit too uncomfortable with their non-conforming ways.
The Christians refused to rubber-stamp the lifestyle of Babylon. Instead they chose to live according to the ways of Jesus Christ which proved to be radically counter-cultural. Proclaiming “Jesus is Lord” was punishable by death for it was a refusal to declare the emperor as Lord. Society was built around the worship and deification of the Emperor. How could these Christians be so arrogant as to try and change the world?
We find ourselves in Babylon and we must face this reality. The world is not like the kingdom of God and the kingdom of God is not like Babylon. When we live as kingdom citizens, we are not meant to feel comfortable in Babylon and just like those early Christians, we will probably be ridiculed as we stand for the things of the heavenly kingdom. Somehow those early Christians found a way to live for Christ with love and grace, even in the midst of persecutions. They were faithful in Babylon. Will we be?
Lord, we have our modern-day Babylon in which we are to live. Please, help me to live faithfully as your follower in these days. Amen.