Thornleigh Seventh-day Adventist Church (Sydney, Australia)

Home > Church Family > Sermon Summaries > 27 Jan 2007, Dr Barry Wright - A Tale of Two Cities

A Tale of Two Cities

27 Jan 2007, Dr Barry Wright

(Barry is Thornleigh's Church Pastor)

A TALE OF TWO CITIES

This morning I want to share with you the words of an old hymn that was written over 400 years ago and is based on Revelation 21: 10-12, 21. The words were believed to have been written by a Roman Catholic priest by the name of Francis Baker who was imprisoned for his faith in the tower of London in the sixteenth century. The words may be familiar to some of you as they appear in our current hymnbook as Hymn 420. LISTEN TO THE WORDS as he writes from his prison cell.

Jerusalem, my happy home
O how I long for thee
When will my sorrows end?
Thy Joys when shall I see?

Thy walls are all of precious stone,
Most glorious to behold
Thy gates are richly set with pearl
Thy streets are paved with gold.

Thy garden and thy pleasant walks
My study long have been
Such dazzling views, by human sight
Have never yet been seen.

Lord, help us by thy mighty grace
To keep in view the prize
Till thou dost come to take us home
To that blest paradise

       Hymn 420, SDA Hymnbook

Dear friends, Heaven will be the greatest homecoming of all time. God's long search for His people will have ended. The Divine Shepherd will have at last found His lost sheep.

In John 14: 3, Jesus says: 'I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also.'

This marvelous prospect of reunion in heaven will do two things: 

First, it will remove the sting of death and secondly it will again restore real meaning to life. 

                                               

Do you believe that? 

To find our loved ones separated from us by death and to know that we will never have to part again should create a happiness and joy beyond anything we have ever known. I know that there would be many here this morning that have already been affected by these tragic experiences of separation - a reminder of our mortality.

Well, what do the Scriptures tell us about this city in heaven that will never be destroyed? This home that God is preparing for us?  

The Scriptures tell us in 1 Cor.  2: 9 that: 'Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things that God hath prepared for them that love Him' 

It was with these thoughts in mind that God saw fit to give the Apostle John a brief glimpse of the splendors of the New Jerusalem. At the time he was exiled on the lonely isle of Patmos away from the cares of the world. His description of this city we can find in the Book of Revelation chapter 21 and 22 and it is in this reading that we have the privilege of gaining a small insight of the honor that will be ours if we remain faithful to Him.

However, there have been those throughout the early part of our history who have also longed for that day when they could finally be taken home to be there with God. This desire has been faithfully recorded in the Scriptures and I would like to share this with you this morning. It is a very well known chapter and one I am sure you have read many times before.

It is found in the book of Hebrews Chap 11: 8-10, 13-16 (NIV).

V8-10 'By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. By faith he made his home in the Promised Land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.'

V13-16 'All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were looking for a better country - a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them.'

These verses were commending these men and women for their faith in looking forward to a permanent home.
These verses tell us that they realized that they were in the world but not of it.
They realized the transient quality of things in this present life - that things do not last - that things are here today and gone tomorrow.
They realized the permanence of things that, as yet, they only saw from a far off, by faith.
They lived for the future not the present.

These verses also tell us that -
We are aliens and strangers in a foreign land
They tell us that this world is not our home.
They tell us that we are to look forward to a city whose builder and maker is God.

Ever since the entrance of sin, those who had made the decision to live apart from God and followed the line of Cain have also desired a form of permanency. They wanted a home, but it was to be one that would be tied to this earth.

They would not accept the fact that this world of sin was not to be our final home.

As a result we have seen the many determined attempts by men, inspired by Satan himself, to create their own kingdoms, their own cities, independent from God.

The prophet Daniel in 603 BC was given an insight into the rise and fall of these cities and nations leading to the setting up of God's kingdom in the final days of earth's history. These earthly kings had put aside any interest in the promises that God had made to redeem and restore man in His image. They were also to put aside His promise that he would build a city for them that would last forever - that would never be destroyed.

All these things were put aside.

The Bible illustrates this great conflict of ideas by referring to a Tale of Two Cities. The first was the city of Babylon, which was to represent everything that was earthly and finite, and the second was the city of Jerusalem, The Holy City, which was to represent everything that was heavenly and without end.

Well, what are the Scriptures able to tell us about the origin of cities and of the people who were to build and inhabit them?

The history of cities can be traced right back to the beginning of time where we see the entry of sin and the attempts made by man for his own self preservation as a result of turning away from God.

It is interesting that statements can be found in many scholarly texts suggesting that the first cities were thought to have originated in the early riverine civilizations of the Middle East some 5,500 years ago (Barlow & Newton, 1977: 369) It is also interesting to note that the dates given in such secular sources correlate well with our own understanding of the growth of cities as we read in the Scriptures.

However, our earliest understanding comes from the Biblical record, which states that CAIN, Adams son, was the first builder of a city. We can read about this event in the book of Genesis 4: 17:

And Cain knew his wife; and she conceived and bare Enoch and he builded a city, and called the name of the city, after the name of his son, Enoch.

You may well remember that Cain had gone out from the presence of the Lord and cast away the promise of the restored Eden. He was to seek his possessions and enjoyment in the earth under the curse of sin, thus standing at the head of that great class of men and women who worship the God of this world. Of all those things that pertain to mere earthly and material progress, his descendants were to become distinguished.  This was to see the development of materialism - the development of the importance of earthly things and our attachment to them.

It is unfortunate that the class of worshippers who follow the example of Cain includes by far the greater portion of this world, for nearly every false religion has been based on the same principle - that man can depend upon his own efforts for salvation and that man doesn't need god.

The fact that Cain went out and built a city suggests that he may not have had much confidence in God's assurance of protection. It is possible that Cain went out and built a city in defiance of God because God had already made the statement that he would be a restless wanderer on the earth. Today, there are many observers who would believe that cities have been in defiance of god ever since those times.

I believe it is also significant to note that the world's first city was founded by the world's first murderer  - A perverse, impenitent individual whose life was to be spent in complete defiance of God.

Unfortunately, God's original plan that mankind should live in natural surroundings to remind us constantly of the Creator and His works was effectively changed to one where we would be more reminded of the work of the creature - the works of man.

It was in this way that God's plan to redeem mankind was to be hindered and opposed.

Well, what changes were to be seen in those early cities that were now being filled with men and women who had made the decision to live apart from God?

All of these early cities were to display characteristics indicating man no longer relied on God for protection, but that he was now relying on his own strength for survival.  As the Scriptures tell us in Rom 1:  22-23, 'Claiming to be wise they became fools....'

Well, what were these cities like?

We find that nearly all of the ancient cities were surrounded by defensive walls, or took advantage of some natural fortification such as the bend in a river or a sheer cliff. Many were also built on the tops of mounds or rocky outcrops. Everything was designed for defense (Barlow & Newton, 1977: 371).

The central area of the city was usually where the King presided and this was to give maximum protection in case of external attack. The poorest townspeople, labourers, and unemployed, tended to live in squalid dwellings on the outskirts of the city, usually on the wall or beyond its protection (Ibid). 

It was because men were now surrounded by the works of their own hands rather than the works of God, that they began to put God out of their knowledge and started to worship the creatures of their own imagination and of their own hands. As a result, they were to become more and more degraded.

It is a law of the human mind that by beholding we become changed.

Man will rise no higher than his conceptions of truth, purity and holiness.  

If the mind is never exalted above the level of humanity - the everyday things of life, if it is not uplifted by faith to contemplate the things of heaven, man will constantly sink lower and lower.

What was to be the result of these changes to man's urban existence?

The Scriptures in Gen 6: 5 tell us that the anti-diluvian world was to confront the judgment of God in a world-wide flood, for 'God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually...'

We all need to be reminded of the words in Luke 17: 26, 30 where he says that:

'As it was in the days of Noah, even thus shall it be in the days when the son of man is revealed'. It seems that history has a tendency to repeat itself.

Well, what lessons was man to learn from the tragic experience of this worldwide catastrophe?

Unfortunately, not too much at all.

It was not long after the flood that we see the first post flood city being built. The name given to this city was Babel, and as we are told in Genesis 11: 4 it was built by men who were, once again, prepared to defy the God of heaven. Lets read:

V4 Then they said, 'Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we can make a name for ourselves and not be scattered over the face of the whole earth.'

These men were deliberately acknowledging that their purpose was contrary to God's command. These Babel builders were determined to keep their community together in one body and they hoped to found a monarchy and a kingdom that would eventually embrace the whole earth. They saw their city becoming a metropolis of a universal empire, with its glory commanding the admiration and homage of the world and which would eventually give them great power (White, 1958: 119). It was a lust for power over their own destinies.

That magnificent tower, reaching to the heavens, was intended to stand as a monument to the power and wisdom of its builders, perpetuating their fame throughout history (Ibid).

But fortunately this was not to be God's plan and as the Bible tells us, the schemes of these men ended in shame and defeat. The monument of their pride was to become the memorial of their folly (Ibid: 123).

These same results have occurred all through history where men have continually pursued the same course - where they were to depend on self and reject god's law.

Two further examples mentioned in the scriptures were the infamous cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. These are described in the book of Ezekiel 16: 49,50 where the Prophet says:

'Behold, this was the iniquity of thy sister Sodom - pride, fullness of bread, and abundance of idleness was in her and in her daughters, neither did she strengthen the hand of the poor and needy. And they were haughty, and committed abomination before me: therefore I took them away as I saw good.

There is nothing more desired amongst men than riches and leisure, and yet these gave birth to the sins that brought destruction upon the cities of the plain (White, 1958: 156). Satan is never more successful than when he comes to men and women in their idle hours.

What was life like in this wealthy city?

In Sodom we are told there was mirth and revelry, feasting and drunkenness. The vilest and most brutal passions were unrestrained. The people openly defied God and His Law and delighted in deeds of violence (Ibid).

The city of Sodom and its inhabitants had rejected the light of God and had set its course that was to bring about its eventual destruction. However, God was not willing that any righteous should perish so before the destruction of Sodom, God sent a message to Lot in Gen 19: 17 which said, 'Escape for thy life; look not behind thee, neither stay thou in all the plain, escape to the mountain, lest thou be consumed.

That was to be the same voice of warning heard by the Disciples of Christ before the destruction of Jerusalem:

Luke 21: 20,21 records that, 'When ye shall see Jerusalem compassed with armies, then know that the desolation thereof is nigh. Then let them, which are in Judea, flee to the mountains.'

They were not to tarry to secure anything from their possessions, but were to make the most of the opportunity to escape.

This indicates to us that there was a coming out, a decided separation from the wicked, an escape for life. 

So it was in the days of Noah;
So with Lot;
So with the disciples prior to the destruction of Jerusalem and
So it will be in the last days of this earth's history. The days in which we live.

There can be no compromise between God and the world, no turning back to secure earthly treasures. As Matthew 6: 24 suggests, 'Ye cannot serve God and Mammon'

The city that is most used in Scripture to contrast with the city of God and which represents the things of this earth is the city of Babylon. It is referred to as 'the Golden City' and represented by the head of gold in the king's dream, as told in Daniel Chapter 2. 

This city was to be a culmination of everything that represented the achievements of man as opposed to the things of God. 

Babylon was the most beautiful city of its time and represented the most powerful nation on earth. It was to be all that the ancient Babel builders originally intended when attempts were made to build their tower to heaven in defiance of God.

Jeremiah in Chap 5: 7,13 called this city ' a golden cup', 'abundant in treasures'.

Surrounded by massively fortified walls, the city of Babylon lay on both sides of the Euphrates River, which was used to water its gardens and support its commerce.

Herodotus, an historian of those times, describes the city as adorned in a manner surpassing any we are acquainted with. In the first place, a moat deep, wide and full of water ran entirely around it. Next to this there was a wall approx. 25 m in breadth and 100 m in height. On the top of each wall, at the edges, they built dwellings of one storey, fronting each other and with enough space between the dwellings sufficient for turning a chariot with four horses (Neufeld, 1962: 66).

The proud words of Nebuchadnezzar can still be heard as recorded in Dan 4: 30,

'Is not this great Babylon, that I have built for the house of the kingdom by the might of my power, and for the honor of my majesty?'

Babylon contained the sanctuary of the God Marduk, considered by the people to be the Lord of heaven and earth and the chief of all the God's. They therefore considered their city as a religious centre without rival on the earth, but it was to become an anathema to the God of heaven.

It is for this reason that there is a marked and intentional contrast in the scriptures between the two cities Babylon and Jerusalem. Babylon in the book of Revelation is described as a city and a harlot - defiled, impure, earthly. Jerusalem in the same book is a city and a bride - heavenly, pure and undefiled.

You know as we read through the Old Testament, we find that the patriarchs, for the most part, did not live in cities. However, they sometimes pitched their tents near them. When the Israelites moved into Canaan, we find that they were content to live in the open country for a time, leaving the cities to the Canaanites. Though, in the course of time, they were to take over these cities and were eventually to build many of their own.

One of these cities to be taken in the time of King David was a place inhabited by the Jebusites that was to eventually become known as Jerusalem.

What do we know about this city that was to become honoured by God above all the earth?

The walled city of Jerusalem lies between two main valleys - The Kidron on its eastern side, and the Hinnom on the western and southern sides. The uneven plateau between these valleys, upon which the city is built, is connected with the tableland of Judea on the right. This was the scene looked upon by Jesus from the crest of Olivet.

In front of Him were the magnificent buildings of the temple. The setting sun lighted up the snowy whiteness of its marble walls and gleamed from the golden tower and pinnacle.

But as Jesus looked at this beautiful sight other thoughts were to come into His mind. Luke 19: 41 tells us that: 'When He came near, He beheld the city and wept over it'. The history of more than a thousand years of God's special favour and guardian care manifested to the chosen people, was open to the eye of Jesus. Jerusalem had been honoured of God above all the earth. The Lord had 'chosen Zion ... for His Habitation' Ps. 132: 13.

This is what made the city different. It was chosen of God

We are told that had Israel as a nation preserved her allegiance to heaven, Jerusalem would have stood forever, the elect of God.

But again as the scriptures tell us, the history of the Jewish nation was a continual record of backsliding and rebellion.

As Christ looked on Jerusalem, the loss of a whole city, a whole nation, was before Him.

He saw the walls surrounded by enemy hosts. He saw the tread of armies marshalling for war. He heard the voice of mothers and children crying for bread in the besieged city. He saw her holy house, her palaces and towers given to the flames, a heap of smoldering ruins (White, 1950: 21).

Christ saw in Jerusalem a symbol of the world hardened in unbelief and rebellion, moving forward to meet the inevitable judgments of God (Ibid: 22).

The destruction of Jerusalem is a solemn warning to all who are resisting the pleadings of divine mercy and in its fate we behold the destruction of a world that has rejected God's mercy and disregarded His Law.

It was 5:12 in the morning of April 18, 1906.

As the city slept, unaware of what was about to take place, the threatening San Andreas fault which is found on the western coast of the United States began to slip over a segment of approximately 450 km in length, shaking the very foundations of all the cities that lay along its destructive path. This was to be an earthquake that would shock America and the world and had many people believing that the end of the world had come.

The City of San Francisco which lay over the path of this massive fault line was shaken to its very foundations as gulf after gulf of raw uncontrolled power was to pulsate savagely through its crumbling streets, mixing its threatening thunder with the cries of the dying.

The great Italian tenor, Enrico Caruso, who had been staying in an inner city Hotel rushed outside and, in looking down the street, saw a 2m wave of earth coming directly for him. The next he knew he was thrown onto the ground not knowing what had happened as the pulsating wave continued to rock and shake all the massive buildings as it passed further down the street. A Russian sailor who was standing on a wharf near where his ship had docked had been taking home movies when all of a sudden the quake hit. Not knowing what to do he kept his film running and as a result was to provide some of the only documentary movie footage of the catastrophe. He filmed pictures of wharves and people disappearing into the bay and captured pictures of his ship that was blown out the water and landed some 3 city blocks back into the city proper. He was able to capture pictures of people desperately crawling out of the opening crevices in the ground and in some cases where it closed and entombed its victims.  The city buildings that were mostly built out of wood materials became engulfed in fire, creating and adding even greater destruction to the city. The earthquake cut all water lines that serviced the main heart of the city thus preventing access to the much-needed water to extinguish the fiery inferno. The fire only taunted the feeble attempts by the horse drawn fire engines that were unable to make any impact on the destruction.

As the sun set that evening it was if all creation had died in the fire and people waited for the expected news of the devastation of other major cities because they were without doubt that the end of the world had come.

Historians who have thoroughly studied the affairs of the city on the day prior to this catastrophe testify that there was nothing to indicate that this thriving metropolis was on the brink of annihilation. Signs can normally be seen in the animal kingdom - in the natural world that even up to 12 hours before will show signs of agitation. Birds usually will all take to the air and remain until they feel settled but none of this was ever noticed.

The cities business was going on as usual.  It was well known throughout America that San Francisco had become a place of crime and vice to the point of extreme. There were many who believed that this great city of the West was rapidly approaching a point of no return in the race to reach the absolute summit of immorality. Many secular writers, as a result, still refer to the catastrophe as 'The Judgment of God'.  It was noted that just before the disaster struck, skid row was still going strong and the San Francisco brothels had been experiencing an activity as never seen before.

It is also interesting to note that after the quake was over, there were pictures, now in the city archives, taken of people standing on top of the rubble holding placards which read that they would work morning noon and night to make sure that 'dear old Frisco' was returned to her former glory and with the possibility of being even greater than before. It had also been recorded that there were people challenging God to dare destroy her again.

However, there was one person who was aware that this catastrophe was about to take place.

In 1902, and up until two days before the quake, Ellen White was shown in vision the destruction of San Francisco. As a result she made a number of recorded statements indicating that the city, which God said was becoming as Sodom and Gomorrah, was to suffer His judgment.

It wasn't until the morning of the quake on route to a speaking engagement that a Newsboy's shrill cries brought back the memories of the visions she had received. 'San Francisco destroyed by earthquake - the cities going up in flames.'

She bought a paper, and with a heavy heart she began to read the results of the termination of God's patience (Noorbergen, 1974: 3-9).

A prophecy had literally been fulfilled.

Cities represent the achievements of man but they are dust in the eyes of God. At the second coming of Jesus all cities will be destroyed, but as Christians we have a wonderful revelation that Christ will provide a new city whose architect and builder is God. A city that will never be destroyed, but has been built for the redeemed of this world to inhabit for eternity.

When Jesus was about to leave this world, he said that there were mansions in his father's house and He assured His disciples that He was going to prepare a place for all the righteous before returning to take them to be with Him (John 14: 3).

In the Book of Revelation Chap 21 and 22 John gives us a glimpse of a new heaven and a new earth. It was here that John saw the Holy City coming down out of heaven from God. He describes the breathtaking sight in verses 11-14, 22-27. He also tells us in verse 4 that  'God will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things will have passed away'. What a wonderful promise.

We have the choice of two types of cities that we can inhabit.

One which is characterized by the works of man and will ultimately be destroyed and the other whose builder and architect is God. A city that will last forever.

Jesus says, 'Behold I am coming soon.  Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life and may go through the gates into the city.'

Dear friends it is important that you and I choose to be with God in that city He has prepared for us -That city that will never be destroyed -That city where God dwells with man.

What a wonderful day it will be.

Don't let the things of this earth stand in your way in making those decisions that affect your life for eternity.

This morning you need to accept the challenge that asks and pleads with you to choose Jesus Christ today and make Him part of your life - now and for eternity.

 

References

Barlow, M. H. & Newton, R. G.    (1977)  Patterns & Processes in Man's Economic Environment (2nd Edition), Sydney: McGraw-Hill Book Co.

Neufeld, D. F. (Ed)   (1962)   SDA Bible Source Book, Washington, DC: Review & Herald Publishing Ass.

Noorbergen, R.   (1974)   Ellen G. White: Prophet of Destiny. New Canaan, Connecticut: Keats Publishing Inc.

White, E. G.   (1958)   Patriarchs & Prophets, Mountain View, California, Pacific Press Publishing Ass.

White, E. G.   (1950)   The Great Controversy. Mountain View, California: Pacific Press Publishing Ass.

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