Yesterday’s message …
- Reiterated that Revelation CAN’T mean to US something that it did not mean to THEM;
- Assured listeners they don’t need to spend any time worrying about the identity of ‘666’ or the look of the ‘mark of the beast’;
- Instead pointed out that the issue for Revelation’s first audience had to do with compromise, not fortune telling;
- Landed at this bottom line: Your worst disaster starts with your first compromise.
So I want to take a quick tour of a particular movie genre with you, if that’s OK. We don’t do this kind of thing very often together, so I’m pretty sure you’ll indulge me in it. But it’s Disaster Flicks. Remember those? Some natural disaster wrecks the lives of untold thousands of people, ends the lives of thousands of others, and the survivors starring in the movie endure the ultimate survival tests against all the onslaught of what they call in the insurance industry “acts of God.” In the 60s, Hitchcock gave us The Birds (AV) which was just creepy and gross and made it so I never wanted to go for a walk in the park again.
And then in the 70s the genre came into its own with Earthquake (AV), The Towering Inferno (AV), and my favorite, The Poseidon Adventure (AV) where a ship capsizes and Ernest Borgnine has to lead people to freedom and air. Then Disaster Flicks skipped the 80s because that was the decade where girls just wanted to have fun, but the 90s picked it backed up with Twister (AV) and Armageddon (AV). In the 21st century the most compelling one was Contagion, perhaps because it seemed so plausible or maybe because I went to it to see Gwyneth Paltrow and she was dead 10 minutes in.
All of what I’ve talked about have you on the edge of your seat, covering your eyes, sometimes laughing, other times weeping, all the time grateful that you’re watching that movie and not in it. Those are disaster movies you have SEEN.
But then there are the disaster movies you’ve been in. These tend to be more like home movies. Sometimes you’re not only in the disaster movie, you have the starring role. Some of you brought it in here with you this morning. It’s the marriage and family that blew up. It’s the job you lost. It’s the debt-induced bankruptcy. It’s the college that asked you to leave. It’s the fact that you hope against hope you never have a background check because then your record will get exposed. It’s the idea of for a conversation you’re convinced will “clear the air” and it ends up fracturing a friendship. It’s even the great idea you had for church that sounded so good in words and looked so good on paper but when you actually put it into place, it bombed.
And I don’t know about you, but sometimes I look around in the middle of the disaster and I ask, “how did I get here? I was OVER HERE and now I am STUCK RIGHT HERE in the middle of the disaster. I’m knee deep in the hoopla and I have no idea how it happened!” You know what I’m saying. You’re in divorce court, you’re locked up, you’re simply alone again on a Friday night – sometimes even with a morbid desire to harm yourself – and you ask, “how did all this come to pass?” It’s a Disaster Movie – a bad one at that – and you’re the headline star.
And the vitally important answer to that most urgent of questions comes, ironically enough, from one of the most ominous verses in Scripture, Rev. 13:18:
18 This calls for wisdom. Let the person who has insight calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man.[a] That number is 666.
And you felt the tremor in the room just now because you’ve HEARD of 666. And then you back up two verses to 13:16-17 –
16 It also forced all people, great and small, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on their right hands or on their foreheads, 17 so that they could not buy or sell unless they had the mark, which is the name of the beast or the number of its name.
– and you know you don’t want that Mark of the Beast on you! It’s like visions of 666 on your forehead, in your computer motherboard, embedded in your Visa Card, and as soon as that happens you KNOW it will be the Disasteriest Disaster Flick of them all!
Throughout the history of the church few items from the bible in general or Rev in particular have sparked as much speculation and fear as Rev 13:18: “His number is 666.” For centuries, people have tried to attach numeric value to the letters of people’s names and decipher WHO this chief anti-Christ is. In more modern times, people were sure that 666 referred to Adolph Hitler, who has you can tell has 6 letters in both his names. Then in even more modern times, a group of people – no doubt Democrats – said that 666 referred to the Gipper himself (A-V). Because Ronald Wilson Reagan has 6 letters in each of his three names. The only prez for whom that is true!
Well today, I want to cut through the fear and the speculation and give you and me and all of us a genuine understanding of this enigmatic verse. Where we comes to grips with 666 and with its first cousin, the “mark of the beast” from 13:16-17. And to do that, I have to say up front: 666 cannot refer only and only literally to anyone from modern times. Same with the mark of the beast: it cannot be some future, credit card encoded chip. Why? Because remember: Revelation is a letter. It is a letter to seven churches in a given point in time. Real churches alive and active in about 95 AD. And then look at the instruction that goes along with 666 in 13:18: “If anyone has insight, let him calculate the number . . . ” The “anyone” with “insight” there has to do with that first century audience. Well, how in the world could they be expected to calculate 666 to be Hitler or Reagan yet when those people weren’t going to be born for 1900 years??? Why would the original readers be told to calculate something they couldn’t get? It’s impossible. And those first century churches were faced with daily temptations to water down their religion, to compromise their beliefs, for the sake of fitting it.
See, around the end of the first Century, to engage in commerce, to be a legitimate citizen, you had to affirm “Caesar is Lord.” All the Caesars were Lord – Julius, Nero, Sid. Well, no Xn – or Jew for that matter – could possibly say that. Because for the Xn, Jesus and Jesus alone is Lord. If Xns refused to say Caesar is Lord, they could be tortured & killed. The whole situation would be like if today the Taliban or Al-Qaeda rose up and conquered the U.S., made Xnty illegal, and told us that for us to be able to buy and sell and eat and drink we had to say “There is no God but Allah and Mohammed is his prophet.” Undoable. In Revelation the “beast” refers to the Roman Empire – an Empire that would act in exactly those beastly ways. And of all the Caesars who hated Xns, the most vicious was on named Nero who for sport would be dead animal skins on the backs of believers, sent them into the woods, and then sic a pack of wild dogs on them. Awfully tempting to COMPROMISE with a guy like so you could eat instead of be eaten.
So that’s what was going on in government at time of Revelation 13. And in the way Jews connected letters of their alphabet with numeric value, guess what? Nero = 666! Of course! And that mark of the beast? It certainly had symbolic value and by placing it on the right hand and forehead it was a slap against the Jews and their practice of putting prayer boxes, where? On their right hand and forehead (A-V). And there’s on other piece when it comes to this mark. In that day, people were required to burn incense as an offering to Caesar, as another way of calling Caesar “Lord.” And once you burned that incense, you were given a certificate that allowed you to do things like buy and sell in the market. Man, it was SO TEMPTING for Xns to burn that incense – it’s just a little bit! – and thus be allowed to shop, eat, and live. But if a Xn wouldn’t burn the incense they wouldn’t get the certificate and they couldn’t buy and sell. It was a wicked way of making Xns starve. Literally. Most people if they have to choose between starvation and compromise choose compromise.
All this is a way of saying Nero & those Caesars who follow him are the embodiment of evil. The 666. And that mark? Don’t expect to get it any time soon if you’re going to be faithful to Jesus.” That’s what these words mean. And the first readers would NOT have read it and thought, “oh, he’s talking about some German dictator or American president in 2K years. They would have known exactly what John was talking about.
But what John was telling them THEN has everything to do with what he continues to say to US, now. (Which, incidentally, has nothing to do with trying to figure out who the 666 Beast Marker is GONNA BE since he’s ALREADY BEEN!) Because the warning in his words wasn’t just about then. It’s not just about tomorrow. It’s about now, and it’s this, ESPECIALLY WHEN YOU REMEMBER THE INCENSE TEMPTATION! Your worst disaster starts with your first compromise. You find yourself starring in your own disaster epic, and you realize you began auditioning for that role a long, long time ago, when you first began to compromise your beliefs and your Savior. REFRAIN. For them, it was incense to Caesar; for you it’s ….
It’s like the Senator in 1913 who objected when the Upper Chamber passed the 16th Amendment ushering in … the Federal Income Tax. And he railed on the floor, “If we allow this at 1% it will never stop! One day it might be … 5%!!!!” And we’d just say, PLEASE! Your worst disaster starts with your first compromise.
Or event that time as a kid when, in tennis tournaments you called your own lines, and I wanted to win so badly I called my opponents’ “in” ball “out.” So bothered by myself I couldn’t hit another ball straight the whole day. Your worst disaster starts with your first compromise.
You know how true this is. The broken marriage that started with one flirty text. The full on porn addiction that began by opening an email attachment instead of trashing it. The job loss that started by “borrowing” a few erasers, then graduated to saying you “deserved” the extra office supplies to that time you fudged on the expense report. REFRAIN. Goodness, even in our Methodist movement where all kinds of latitude has been allowed when it comes to what we teach that a group had the nerve to put this up: tweet from Love Prevails re: monogamy. Your worst disaster starts with your first compromise.
But maybe, just maybe, I’m less concerned with your WORST disaster than in preventing your NEXT one. You’re right at the precipice of stepping into it now – that first, tentative step that IF YOU TAKE IT and follow its path will blow up your family, wreck your career, saddle you with more debt, send you to rehab, jail, or both. I just want you to know that THAT strong urge to compromise who you are and what you believe – THAT is the spirit of 666. It is so much more deadly than a mark on your forehead or a chip inside your forearm. If you are inching, moving, stepping towards that TODAY, God has brought you here so that you will STOP. Stop believing your own lies, stop breathing in compromise, stop fantasizing about the life you could have instead of living the one you do.
And you can NOT do this alone. But there is one who can. That’s why I Corinthians 10:13, which is LITTLE to do with trials and EVERYTHING to do with sin, says this:
13 No temptation[a] has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted[b] beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted,[c] he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.
READ. Oh he conquers. He inhabits. He, who in contrast to the chaos of 666 is the perfection of 777. He not only reminds you of REFRAIN he empowers you to be your best you.
Because I want when you go to bed tonight to look back over the day with rigorous honesty and realize: I didn’t sent a text I shouldn’t have. I didn’t light up a joint today. I didn’t spend money I don’t have. I didn’t surf the internet. I didn’t take what wasn’t mine. I did not take the first step to my next disaster. Instead, I loved my mate. I cradled my kids. I honored my mom. I started the day away and alone with my Father. And I can’t wait to get up tomorrow and do it all over again.
You live like that, empowered by him, and you’ll never star in your own disaster movie again.