Friday, February 26, 2016

Singing With the Exiles: Breaking Down the Gates - February 28th

Message notes for a sermon by Pastor Ewings based on Isaiah 45:1-8
Babylon was the city of paradise of its day.  The name “Babylon” means “gates of the gods” and this ancient city was given that name because the inhabitants believed that, when you stepped through the gates of Babylon, you were as close as you’d ever get to heaven on earth.  Renowned throughout the world for its beautiful hanging gardens and priceless works of art, Babylon was a wonder of the world in its own right.
Not only was the city known for its beauty, but it was also the stronghold of the mightiest military forces of its time.  Through military conquests, Nebuchadnezzar II would come to rule an empire that stretched from the Persian Gulf to the borders of Egypt.  He even captured Jerusalem—twice!—which led to the destruction of Israel’s temple and the deportation of many Jewish inhabitants to Babylonia. 
Hundreds of bronze gates were erected in and around Babylon, making it the world’s most fortified city.  Babylon was also surrounded by a series of walls, two of which enclosed the rectangular city.  The innermost wall was twenty-one feet thick and the outermost was eleven feet deep.  Three hundred and sixty watchtowers were on the walls every sixty to sixty-five feet.  A moat-like system in front of the outer wall hindered direct attacks on the city.  The Ishtar Gate opened up to a long processional way called “Aibur-Shabu” which means  “the enemy shall never pass.”
The children of Israel found themselves trapped behind these gates.  Their fate seemed certain behind the security of the walls of Babylon.  How could they escape from the mightiest army of the day?  It would take a miracle for an exiled people to leave the dungeons alive.  A miracle is exactly what they got as the Lord used His anointed, the pagan king Cyrus, to break down the gates of Babylon and rescue His captive children. 
The historical events predicted in Isaiah 45:1–3 unfolded as follows. In 539 BC, Cyrus, the Persian lord, surrounded the city of Babylon, and the pagan priests submitted and declared him Marduk’s chosen monarch. Then they opened up the city gates and allowed the Persians to walk in, proclaiming Israel’s freedom at the same time.  The Lord used Cyrus for three reasons: (1) so that Cyrus would know the Lord is his “Sponsor”; (2) so that Israel would benefit from the Persian’s military victories; and (3) so that all might know the Lord alone is God and there is no other.

Lesson 1:  Isaiah 45:1-8
Lesson 2:  2 Peter 3:8-13
Gospel:  Matthew 16:13-19

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