I want to speak to you under the heading 'Pride And Punishment'. Some of you know 'Pride and Prejudice', well, this is 'Pride And Punishment'. Isaiah 14, beginning to read at verse 4 please, Isaiah 14 verse 4: "That thou shalt take up this proverb against the king of Babylon, and say, How hath the oppressor ceased! the golden city ceased! The LORD hath broken the staff of the wicked, and the sceptre of the rulers. He who smote the people in wrath with a continual stroke, he that ruled the nations in anger, is persecuted, and none hindereth. The whole earth is at rest, and is quiet: they break forth into singing. Yea, the fir trees rejoice at thee, and the cedars of Lebanon, saying, Since thou art laid down, no feller is come up against us. Hell from beneath is moved for thee to meet thee at thy coming: it stirreth up the dead for thee, even all the chief ones of the earth; it hath raised up from their thrones all the kings of the nations. All they shall speak and say unto thee, Art thou also become weak as we? art thou become like unto us? Thy pomp is brought down to the grave, and the noise of thy viols: the worm is spread under thee, and the worms cover thee. How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! how art thou cut down to the ground, which didst weaken the nations! For thou hast said in thine heart, I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God: I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation, in the sides of the north: I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the most High. Yet thou shalt be brought down to hell, to the sides of the pit".
Let us pray, please: Father, we thank You for Your holy word, we thank You that it is a lamp unto our feet, and a light to our path. We pray that it will shine light to the feet of some poor soul who has not yet found the road that leads to Calvary, the road of repentance and faith, where the burden of our sins can roll away into the empty tomb of Christ. O Lord, speak with a voice that wakes the dead, we pray. O Lord, we ask that You will have mercy tonight - in wrath remember mercy, save souls, and stir up those who might be in a backslidden state, and bring glory to the Lord Jesus Christ this evening as the gospel is preached. Help me Lord, for I need You much, Amen.
The Bible, in one sense, could be called a tale of two cities. Of course, probably the most commonly mentioned city in the whole of the word of God is the holy city of Jerusalem. I think it's mentioned round about over 300 times in the scriptures. Of course, Jerusalem means 'the city of peace', and Jerusalem is the city that God chose to reveal Himself to prophets, to kings, to various other holy men. Much of the word of God emanated out of the city of Jerusalem, and of course Jerusalem was the place where God ordained that a Saviour should die, just outside the city walls, on a cross for the sins of the world. That makes Jerusalem very, very special.
But the second most mentioned city in the Bible is the city of Babylon. If Jerusalem, we could call it, was the centre chosen by God for His earthly operations; Babylon was the city that Satan chose as the centre of his diabolical operations. Now what you may not know about the city of Babylon is: many scholars believe the traditional site, geographically, to be the place where we think the Garden of Eden actually was in the beginning of creation. Now, of course, if you know your Bible, you will know from the book of Genesis that it was in the Garden of Eden that Satan revealed himself to man, and began to lie to man about God. Now that's worthy of remembering, because that's something that Satan wants to do today, and has always wanted to do: to spin lies about almighty God.
Now following the flood in Noah's day, the kingdom of Babel came to be located around this same area - Genesis 10:10 tells us that. There was also a place called Shinar, now 'Shinar' is a word that is related to another word 'shina', and that word can mean 'shine', it can mean 'year', or it can mean 'repeat'. If you put those three ideas together: shine, year, to repeat - you get the idea of the yearly cycle of months, which might well be a distant allusion to astronomy or astrology. We do know that astronomy and astrology was first perfected around this area of Shinar or Babel. Of course, astronomy, there's nothing wrong with that, but the problem was: in ancient Babylon they began to associate with various planets and cycles of the stars and planets the ruler of heaven and earth. They associated basically false gods with our universe, and so Babylon is not only the place where Satan started to lie to men about God, but it is essentially the origination of spiritism - what we know as spiritualism or occultism today.
Now from this general area of Babylon, a man named Nimrod - who ended up being the first king of Babylon - came on the scene. Incidentally, his name 'Nimrod', means 'let us revolt'. Babylon was a city that was marked with a rebellious spirit against God. 'Babel' itself means 'the gate of God', and we see this rebellion toward God in Genesis 11, where they built a tower thinking they could get a gate to God, and that the tip of this tower, the Tower of Babel, could be the entrance that man could make for himself into heaven without God, without God's prescribed method of salvation. Of course, therefore, we find that Babel was also the birthplace of idolatry - idolatry and paganism originated there.
So I hope we're beginning to get a picture of what type of place Babylon was. Of course, when God judged the builders of the Tower of Babel - if you know the story - turning the one-world language, as it was then, into many languages, there was confusion came about. Though Babel means 'the gate of God', it has come to be known as meaning 'confusion'. Of course there's a great deal of confusion in our world today, it's an apt description of how things are in our day and generation. I think you've already gathered that from the inception of this second most mentioned city in the Bible, Babylon, in Genesis chapter 10, it was a place that was marked as being insidiously anti-God. It came to represent doing things man's way, rather than God's way. To coin a phrase, the Babylonian influence, the spirit of Babylon, has been felt right throughout history - whatever generation you care to choose. Babylon has come to be synonymous with everything in society that is opposed to God's truth.
So you could say that every age has its Babylon, a spiritual system and an influence that has sought to control people's minds, and ultimately control their eternal destinies. Now, if you want to find out where the Babylonian influence is today, you don't have to look very far: look to false religions, political powers in our world, worldliness in general, the influences of sin and self that we see all around us. So from Babylon was founded in Genesis 10 until today, we can see its tentacles reaching out right across the globe through all the annals of history. Incidentally the book of Revelation, in chapters 17 and 18, tells us that just before the Lord Jesus Christ returns again during a tribulation period upon the earth, Babylon will raise its head again. Religious Babylon, Revelation 17; and commercial Babylon, Revelation 18 - and our Lord Jesus Christ will destroy Babylon when He comes again.
Isaiah 14, historically speaking, was written in a day when Babylon had become a great political empire. In Isaiah 14 what we have, effectively, is a taunting poem against the sovereign and the system of Babylon. Now, Isaiah the prophet had warned, prophetically, that the kingdom of Judah would be taken into captivity by Babylon. That happened, historically, in 586 BC. It was the prophet Jeremiah who prophesied that Judah would be 70 years in captivity in Babylon, and they were there until 539 BC when Darius, the Median Emperor, captured Babylon and freed the Judaeans and brought them back to their homeland eventually.
So what we have here in Isaiah 14, historically speaking, is the depiction of the fall of the Babylonian Emperor, Belshazzar. The message is very simple: Belshazzar's pride brought him to destruction. Now, if you want the details of this story, it can be found in Daniel chapter 5 - we're not going to read it all today. Let me summarise it for you: Belshazzar was having an orgy of decadence in his court, and he ordered that the vessels, the holy vessels that had been captured from the Temple of God in Jerusalem, should be brought - and he began to drink his wine out of them. He was engaging in sacrilege and blasphemy, and Daniel 5 verse 4 says: 'They drank wine, and praised the gods of gold, and of silver, of brass, of iron, of wood, and of stone'. That's what people are praising today in our world: the gods of gold, the gods of materials. We are living in a materialistic age in the West, we're living in a sensual age expressed in this decadence.
Then, here's something that Belshazzar hadn't accounted for - like many people in our world today - God entered his life! Verse 5 says: 'In the same hour came forth fingers of a man's hand, and wrote over against the candlestick upon the plaister of the wall of the king's palace: and the king saw the part of the hand that wrote. Then the king's countenance was changed' - it's amazing how, when God breaks into a person's life, everything changes! 'His countenance was changed, and his thoughts troubled him, so that the joints of his loins were loosed, and his knees smote one against another'. To cut a long story short, the writing on the wall said: 'Your kingdom has been weighed in the balance and found wanting, it's over! Your reign is finished!'. At the end of the chapter we read: 'In that night was Belshazzar the king of the Chaldeans', the Babylonians, 'slain. And Darius the Median took the kingdom, being about threescore and two years old'.
Now Isaiah 14 is a poem all about that, how Belshazzar has exalted himself in his pride, but his pride brought his own destruction. But I have to tell you tonight that there is a deeper spiritual significance to Isaiah 14, because the King, Belshazzar, is portraying the epitome, and is effectively an illustration of Satan, the devil himself. The idea in this poem is that Babylon the city, and its king Belshazzar, is like a personification of Lucifer - whose fall and fate was identical to Belshazzar's fate.
Now, what am I talking about? Well, I'm really saying to you this evening that this isn't just a story about Belshazzar, but it's a story about the prince of this world - that's what the devil is called in the Bible, the god of this age who is still working his anti-God influence, it is very operational in our world scene at present. His own personal biographical history is simply that he was most likely the highest of all God's created angelic creatures, but he had a desire in his heart, that was filled with pride, to usurp God's throne and to receive to himself the worship that is due to God alone. The Bible says that he was cast out of heaven. One day, Revelation 20 says, he will be cast into hell.
Now you might be sitting here tonight and saying: 'Well, that's all very very interesting, but why are you giving us this history lesson, or this spiritual history lesson?'. Well, simply this: because it's extremely personal to you, and you may not know it. Whether God is dealing with kings, or whether He is dealing with angels, it doesn't matter - the principle is still the same that we find in Proverbs 16:18: 'Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall'. You've heard the expression: 'Pride comes before a fall', you might never have known it was from the Bible. This poem in Isaiah 14, believe it or not, could say as much about you as it does about any Babylonish king, or even Satan himself.
Now, how does it? It was C. S. Lewis who said: 'Pride is the sin that made the devil the devil'. How true it is, and pride is the sin that makes us like the devil. You see, we've all got pride, if we're honest - each of us has enough to sink a fleet! I know I have. You say, 'What could you have to be proud about?' - I know, but we all struggle with it, don't we? Isaiah 14 verse 14 says that Satan, like Belshazzar, said 'I want to be like God'. You should count, in these verses, verses 13 and 14, how many times the word 'I' is found. He had 'I' trouble: 'I will ascend above the heights of the clouds', 'I will be like the Most High'. You say: 'I don't want to be like God', well, you want to rule, and run, and reign in your own life, don't you? You want to call the shots, not God. You want to be the determiner of your own destiny. You don't want God's Lordship encroaching on your plans and your schemes - that's the way people are today, that's the way we all are. None of us are different, because we all have this problem of pride. Isaiah says later on in his prophecy, chapter 53 verse 6, 'All we like dumb sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to our own way'.
I was conducting a funeral about a week and a half ago, and the undertaker was telling me about an epitaph he had seen recently in another cemetery, and it just simply read 'I did it my way'. Imagine that on your gravestone! 'I did it my way'. He was a believer, this undertaker, and he said that all he could think of was Proverbs 14:12: 'There is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death'. It's only pride could make a man say, even on his deathbed, 'I did it my way'.
Now people say: 'Look, you're preaching to me, and I'm not a bad person. I mightn't be a Christian the way you understand it, but I try my best. I try to help my neighbour, and I try to be an upstanding member of the community and society in general'. Listen, you're missing the point, and many people do miss the point: you could be the most moral person, and at the very same time be the most proud person in the world - why? Because you refuse to go God's way, you refuse to submit to God's wisdom. That is a grave problem, even with religious people - they are filled with pride. All of us have it, but what we do with it is the issue. My friend, the reality is: pride is the sin that made the devil the devil, and pride is the sin that will make us like the devil!
What do I mean? Well, verse 9, if you look at it, is a strange verse: 'Hell from beneath is moved for thee to meet thee at thy coming: it stirreth up the dead for thee, even all the chief ones of the earth; it hath raised up from their thrones all the kings of the nations. All they shall speak and say unto thee, Art thou also become weak as we? art thou become like unto us?'. Now, you've got to imagine this: Isaiah is describing what it was for Belshazzar, this Babylonian Emperor, to enter into hell - imagine that! With all his wealth, and with all his pomp and glory, he enters hell - and it's sort of sarcastic here, I think - Isaiah is saying that the other kings that are in hell, it's as if they stand to greet this great King of Kings on earthly terms. They stand to their feet, they are depicted as being excited at this man coming into the realm of the dead, and they stand to welcome him - but listen to their words, verse 10, they all speak: 'Art thou also become weak as we? art thou become like unto us?'.
Have you ever heard the expression: 'Death is the great leveller'? That's what they're saying. With all that he was as the greatest king on the earth at that time, when he enters into the realm of the dead it matters nothing. There are no kings there, there's no status, no class, no wealth. Our Lord Jesus Himself, did He not teach us that in Luke chapter 16, where He told the story about the beggar and the rich man? It was the beggar, Lazarus, who went to heaven; and it was the rich man who went to hell. The thing that He taught there was that it doesn't matter how much money you have, your money can actually be an obstacle to you in eternity, it can take you to hell! Being poor won't stop you getting into heaven.
In verse 2 the Emperor is addressed as 'Lucifer', which gives us a clue that more is being spoken of here than Babylonish history. 'Lucifer' is a Latin name, and it means 'the morning star' - but there's something significant being taught there: the morning star only appears for a little time, and God is saying that the king's glory, the great glory of Babylon, has only appeared for a flash and it's gone. That's what James said in his epistle: 'What is your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away'. Even lives that are filled with great glory, making a mark on history for mankind, it's only a morning star - it shines, and as soon as the Sun comes out it's swallowed up in the light of the glory of the Sun.
My friend, the message is simply: pride is the sin that made the devil the devil, pride makes us like the devil, and pride can prevent people getting into heaven and lead them to hell - and they don't realise that, in eternity, it doesn't matter who you are, it doesn't matter what you've done, it doesn't matter what you've achieved, what wealth you have amassed, nothing of it matters in eternity! Nothing! 180 years after the death of Charlemagne, the king of the Francs, around the year 1000, officials of the Emperor Otto opened the great King's tomb. They saw an amazing sight, for there in the great sepulchre were all the king's treasures and wealth surrounding him. There they were arrested as they saw the skeletal form of the King himself actually seated on his throne with a crown on his bony skull. But what was most remarkable was: his scrawny finger was pointing down to his lap, where there was a copy of the Gospels. His bony finger was found to be resting on Mark 8:36, Jesus said: 'What shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?'.
What are you living for tonight? What are you sweating for? What's your life blood being poured into? Do you know it's all going to come to nothing when you die? Oh, you might leave some kind of legacy for someone, or for yourself, but in the end it will not matter anything to you where you're going - for there is an eternity, and what we do in this life doesn't reflect on that, in the sense that death is coming to us. In Genesis 2:17 God told mankind, Adam and Eve, that of all the fruit of the garden you can eat, but of this tree of the knowledge of good and evil, in the day you eat of it, you will die - and they ate of it, and they died spiritually before God, and they began to die physically, for the wages of sin is death! If you ever wanted proof that we are sinners, you only need to go to the cemetery. You only need to go and look, on an average day, at the hearse going up your road. Go to the hospice!
But there's a strange picture here in verse 9, because most people are terrified of the grave - we understand that - but we have never ever understood the grave to be excited at the dead coming towards them, that's what we have here. Hell, the grave, is moved for your coming, Belshazzar! Isn't that more accurate? We're all terrified of death, perhaps, as humans - but the reality is that we can try to run from it, we maybe don't expect it, or ignore it, or think we'll cheat it; but in the end, it's excited, because it always gets what it wants, death. What we have here in verse 9 is death warming his hands. You see, Belshazzar thought he could avoid death, didn't he? He was partying, he thought he had everything to live for, and all of a sudden God's hand breaks into his consciousness and says: 'It's time! You're weighed in the balance, and found wanting' - and he died that very night, and his whole kingdom passed into another man's hands.
The Lord Jesus said you don't have to be an emperor, you could be a mere farmer, a successful businessman. Luke 12: he had everything to live for, his barns were bursting so he had to build greater ones - but he hadn't accounted for God. His accounts were great, but he never accounted for Him. That night God said: 'You fool, for this night your soul shall be required of thee: then whose shall those things be, which thou hast provided?'.
At 6:21 a.m. on Tuesday 21st of April 1992, a man by the name of Robert Alton Harris became the first man in 25 years to be executed in the state of California in the gas chamber. There were 49 witnesses, including the father of one of the two teenage boys Harris had killed. They looked on as a packet of cyanide granules was lowered into dilute sulphuric acid in a reservoir just under the chair where that condemned man sat in San Quentin jail. Harris had been sentenced to death 14 years earlier, but his lawyers succeeded in obtaining four stays of execution. The very last of those four was at 4 a.m. that particular morning - he was already strapped to the chair of death. But then the fifth appeal came and it failed - and as that realisation came upon his mind and heart, he asked that a note be written and his words be released to the press after his death. Do you know what he wrote? Listen: 'You can be a king or a street sweeper, but everybody dances with the Grim Reaper'. You can be a king or a street sweeper, but everybody dances with the Grim Reaper. Someone said: 'The debt that all men must pay is death'. Another said: 'It is the most democratic of institutions on earth, it allows no discrimination, tolerates no exceptions. The mortality rate of mankind is the same the world over: one death per person'.
It's what we pay for being sinners. My friend, you can't avoid it - and the tragedy of death is: outside of Christ, hell does move to meet you. How could a God of love send people to hell? How often do I hear that! This is a story about Lucifer, and the Lord Jesus Christ Himself, from His own lips - Matthew 25:41 - said that the everlasting fire, hell, was prepared for the devil and his angels. I can say, I think categorically, on the authority of those words and Scripture, that hell was not created for mankind. You say, 'Well, why is there a king there? Why is Belshazzar there? Why are you saying the rich man in Luke 16 is there?'. Listen carefully: hell was invented for a proud devil, pride makes us like the devil, pride will lead us to hell. My friend, if you follow the devil and not God, you will follow the devil to hell - that's serious. This is why people don't like preachers talking like this today! We've got to grow up! You've got to face the consequences of your own moral and spiritual choices! There are consequences! If you break the law of the land there are consequences, what do you think is going to happen if you break the law of the holy God? Consequences, and eternal ones at that!
As water drowns and fire burns, pride damns souls - pride of men and women who say: 'I don't want God's way! I don't want God's salvation! I'll go my own way, I'll live for myself!'. You choose to go your own way, you must face the consequences of your choice. People say: 'How does a God of love send people to hell?' - that is an abhorrent statement. Now Woody Allen was no Christian, but in - I think - the introduction to one of his films, which I haven't watched I hasten to add, 'Crimes and Misdemeanours', these words are stated: 'We', as human beings, 'We are, in fact, the sum total of our choices'. What a statement! C. S. Lewis went further, and he said: 'There are two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, 'Thy will be done'; and those to whom God says in the end, 'Thy will be done'. All those in hell choose it' - and he's right!
My friend, have you faced the consequences of the life you're living: breaking God's law, rebelling against God's justice and commands, shunning God's love? One day in the American Senate there was an argument broke out, and one senator told the other senator to 'Go straight to hell'. There was a whole furore erupted, and the presiding officer that day was Vice President Calvin Coolidge. He brought the two offending men into his office, and they started having it out together. Calvin Coolidge just sat there with a book open on his table. They thought it was the rulebook, but it was actually the word of God. As they were fighting with each other, he interrupted them and looked up from the book, and he said: 'Gentlemen, I'm glad to tell you, you don't have to go there'. Go straight to hell? You don't have to go there.
Can I tell you something this evening that brings me great joy? You see right at the beginning of time when man and woman sinned in the Garden of Eden, the place we think was probably Babylon later? There, at that moment when men sinned, God promised a Saviour. He promised that from the seed of that woman would come a Saviour who would crush Satan's head. Later on in the same place, Babylon, God called a man called Abraham out of Ur of the Chaldees, Babylon, to follow Him - an idol worshipper, a pagan, to follow Him. God told him that out of his seed all the nations of the earth would be blessed, because from his nation, Israel, would be born a Saviour. We're skipping a lot of Bible, but Galatians 4:4 says that, 'When the fullness of time came', when it was time on God's calendar, 'He sent His Son, born of a woman'. Galatians says, 'To redeem', what does 'redeem' mean? To buy back what was lost - everything that was lost by man going in his own way, and his sinfulness, Jesus came to redeem. How did He do it? The book of Hebrews tells us that, just like children take the flesh and blood of their parents, Jesus Christ took flesh that He might destroy the one who had power over death, that is the devil.
My friend, do you realise that the Lord Jesus Christ came into this world, the Son of God took sinless flesh, in order to go to a cross and bleed and die for your sins? Do you know something? If you want to understand what hell is like, look at Calvary - because everything that the Lord Jesus experienced there, it says He tasted death for every man, but whatever it is for an eternity of hell for an unknown number of sinners to be compressed into three hours of darkness when Jesus hung on the cross, that is what He experienced there. Isn't it amazing?
'What he endured no tongue can tell
To save our souls from death and hell!'.
You look at how hell is described in the Bible: weeping, wailing, gnashing of teeth - look at what He endured on the cross! Was it not similar? Hell is described as a place of outer darkness, and there were three hours of a darkness on Calvary that was a supernatural darkness. Hell is a place of separation, and there on the cross came that desolate cry: 'My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?'. Hell is a thirsty place, and the Lord Jesus said: 'My tongue cleaves to the roof of my mouth' - not a drink for the Saviour on Calvary. Hell is a place of torment, the Bible talks of flames. Now there were no flames outwardly at Calvary, but I'll tell you this: Isaiah himself said that the soul of the Lord Jesus was made an offering for sin. In other words, just as an Old Testament sacrifice was engulfed in flames and consumed by the fire, the Lord Jesus on the cross, in His own bosom, he consumed the fire of God's wrath toward sinners, toward you, toward me! Why? Because He loves sinners, because He loves you, because He would redeem you, because He would save you for all eternity.
'Why did they nail Him to Calvary's Tree?
Why? Tell me, why was He there?
Jesus the Helper, the Healer, the Friend,
Why, tell me, why was He there?'.
Here's the answer:
'All my iniquities on Him were laid -
He nailed them all to the tree.
Jesus the debt of my sin fully paid -
He paid the ransom for me'.
That's why He was there. He rose again the third day, hallelujah - which makes Him the all-victorious Saviour over sin, over death, over hell, over the devil himself; and so can you be tonight if you put your faith in Him! Let us pray.
Now while your heads are bowed, let me say this: I seek the Lord for a message, and this is the message I have tonight, and I believe it's for someone here. So that makes me conclude that you are being spoken to, whoever you are, by God - for His word has been preached tonight, the word that He has for you, you have received it. Now whether you have truly heard it or not, well, you've got to answer that - but you have got a responsibility now, if God has spoken to you, to respond. You say, 'What do I do? I realise I've been proud in my own heart. I realise that I have broken God's law. I realise, just like breaking the law of the land, there's going to be a penalty and punishment for my pride and for my transgressions. What do I do?'. Listen: it's all been done! Jesus did it all, you've heard that tonight - but what you must do to receive it is come in simple faith. That's all that is required of you: repentance is understanding in your mind what your sin is doing, and realising that it's going to damn you, and that the only one that can save you is the Lord Jesus - and turning to Him in faith. You could say from your heart, just where you are now: 'Lord Jesus, I confess that I am a sinner, but I thank You that You died for me. I ask You to save me now, save me from my sin, save me from my pride, save me from an eternal hell. Redeem me, take me to heaven one day'. You could say that, where you are, by faith, from your heart - and you know, He has promised, He has guaranteed to answer you.
We urge you tonight: Oh, Belshazzar didn't think that night his number would be up, but it was. None of us know when our time will come, that's why we need to be ready, that's why the prophet Amos said: 'Prepare to meet thy God'. Are you prepared?
Lord, we thank You for Your word, and we just leave it with the people. We can't see their hearts the way You can, but we just pray that Your word and Your Spirit would do the work, and Christ would receive the glory as people are plucked as brands from the burning, rescued by the grace of God. Amen.
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This sermon was delivered at Emmanuel Baptist Church in Lisburn, Northern Ireland, by David Legge. It was transcribed from the recording, titled "Pride And Punishment" - Transcribed by Andrew Watkins, Preach The Word.
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