Revelation 3:7-13 // The Church that Jesus Vindicates

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TEXT: Revelation 3:7-13, NIV84

  • This ends the reading of God’s Word.
  • The Word of God for the People of God.

PRAYER FOR ILLUMINATION:

Almighty God, we bless You for the things we have read today concerning our Lord Jesus Christ. We pray that You would direct our meditations in light of the knowledge of Your glory in the face of Christ. We we would see Jesus, and it’s in His name we pray. Amen.

 

INTRODUCTION:

There’s one thing from last week’s message that I want to clarify.  Go back to Revelation 3:3 from last week’s passage. Look at the a clause.

“Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; obey it, and repent.”
– Revelation 3:3a, NIV84

What’s Jesus talking about? I believe He’s talking about the Gospel. I believe He’s talking about the good news concerning Himself, and concerning His kingdom. Now, we don’t often think about the Gospel (the good news) as something that needs to be obeyed, but it is.

  • Even the Apostle Paul says so in 2 Thessalonians 1:6-10.

“God is just: He will pay back trouble to those who trouble you 7 and give relief to you who are troubled, and to us as well. This will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels. 8 He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. 9 They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power 10 on the day he comes to be glorified in his holy people and to be marveled at among all those who have believed. This includes you, because you believed our testimony to you.” – 2 Thessalonians 1:6-10, NIV84

 

So, why am I bringing all this up? I feel after looking at today’s passage in Revelation 3:7-13 that the church at Philadelphia is one that has obeyed the Gospel.

 

  • They have believed God, and it has paid off for them. Believing in God and staying faithful to Him always results in a divine reward. It may not result in an earthly reward, but it will always result in a divine reward.

 

CHRIST’S CHARACTER

So, first thing we’ll see here is how Jesus presents Himself to this church.

 

“To the angel of the church in Philadelphia write: These are the words of him who is holy and true, who holds the key of David. What he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open.” – Revelation 3:7, NIV84

 

First of all, we need to see Jesus’ character. Jesus is holy and true, and it’s for these reasons you can trust Him. Not only that, but He describes Himself as holding the key of David.

 

  • Philadelphia was highly populated with Jews, and so most of the converts coming into the church at this time were Jews.

 

And because there were a lot of Jews in this area, they would often persecute the Christians, and they would hold it over their head that they were the ones that God brought out of Egypt, they were the ones that God provided for, etc.

 

  • And technically, they weren’t wrong that God had done all those things for their people, but He provided them a way of salvation in Jesus as their Messiah and they completely rejected Him.

  • In Deuteronomy 7:7-8, God describes His election of the people of Israel by saying, “The Lord did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. 8 But it was because the Lord loved you…”

The Jews were using their election as a weapon, but it was in the plan of God the whole time to have a people worshipped and loved Jesus as their Messiah, and it all has to do with the fact that God loved us before the very foundations of the world were laid according to Ephesians 1.

 

  • God electing love that He has placed us is not meant to be used as a weapon. It’s to make us humble.

  • There are some people, and some of those people are here this morning who might say, “Of course God loves me, I’m nice, I’m cute. I do everything right. I’m in church every Sunday morning. I pay my tithes on the gross and not the net. Why wouldn’t God love me?”

  • But the very thought of God’s electing love should make you say, “Me? He really loves me? He knew I would be a screw up and He loves me anyway?”

 

He loved us before we even knew what love was.

 

  • Listen, “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so” not “Jesus loves me this I know for I deserve it”

 

James Burton Coffman does a really good job of summing up the situation in Philadelphia:

“Secular Israel is still in power [in this part of the world] over the Jews in a religious sense, still pretended to have final right of determining who should or should not enter heaven, sternly resisting the claims of the Christians that they, the Christians, were the true Israel of God. To enforce their claims, the Jews cast out of their synagogues all Jews who accepted Christ… This passage emphasizes the truth that, “It is Christ alone… who can give men entrance into the messianic kingdom.” “Christ speaks as He by whom alone comes entrance to the Church, the spiritual house of God.” The imagery of “key of David” and other expressions here is from Isaiah 22:25, where the king of Israel deposed Shebna and appointed Eliakim as the chief-steward.” – James B. Coffman

The implication is clear: Jesus is showing the church at Philadelphia that He is the true king, and He holds the key of David.

  • So, what does the key of David mean? Think about it like this: This is Jesus’ authority to open and close the kingdom of heaven, and he’s saying to this church here: “The door is wide open! Go out into the highways and byways, and compel people to come in.”
  • So, what’s Jesus saying to us at Mount Carmel? “The door is wide open! Go out into the highways and byways, and compel people to come in!”

 

Jesus hasn’t sustained this church since 1883 just so we can have a neat little place for our family. This church isn’t simply for our individual families, it’s for His one big family, and we have an opportunity to invite more people into the family of God.

 

CHRIST’S COMMENDATION

“I know your deeds. See, I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut. I know that you have little strength, yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name.” – Revelation 3:8, NIV84

 

I think the second part of verse 8 is very profound – “I know you have a little strength.”

 

  • I asked you last week if you had an active and living faith. I didn’t ask you if you had a lot of faith, or even strong faith. All I asked you was if your faith was active and living. Why? Because that’s all it takes.

 

“The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” 6 He replied, “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it will obey you.”
– Luke 17:5-6, NIV84

 

So, what’s the idea that Jesus is communicating? He’s telling us that our faith isn’t based on how we feel or how big it may be. It’s not about the size of our faith, it’s about the object of our faith.

We may have a little strength, and we may have a little faith, but as long as our little faith is in our great big God, then He will supply all of our needs. (Philippians 4:19)

 

Jesus commends them more by saying, “yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name.”

 

They’re not like the church at Sardis that blends in so well that they’re not persecuted. They’re not compromising like Thyatira. They are faithful.

 

So, if we’re going to be faithful like them, what do we need to do?

 

  • We need to keep God’s word, and be faithful to His name.

 

Keeping God’s Word

  • Mainline liberal churches are dying, and churches with a more faithful approach to Scripture are growing.

 

When Mark Driscoll started Mars Hill Church in Seattle it, they didn’t start the church with the intention of it being a big church. They just wanted to start a Bible study because there weren’t that many churches up there to begin with, and the few churches there were, didn’t even act like they believed in the authority of Scripture.

 

They interviewed a newly married couple that started attending there not to long after Mars Hill started and the husband said, “I’ve been church since I was a little kid and this is the first place where the pastor actually reads more than half a verse when he preaches.”

 

  • We have to be faithful to the word of God if we’re going to be the kind of church that Jesus commends.

 

And not only do we have to be faithful to the word, but we have to be faithful to Christ’s name.

 

Faithful to Christ’s Name

Jesus tells the Church at Philadelphia at the end of verse 8, “you have kept my word, and have not denied my name.”

This means that the message we preach is Jesus. Paul said we preach Christ crucified. That’s it! (1 Corinthians 1:23) The Gospel of Jesus Christ is the only way that people are saved, and if they turn their backs on us and reject us let be because they are rejecting Jesus.

I am reminded of what Paul said in his introduction to Romans.

“Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God  2 the gospel he promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures 3 regarding his Son, who as to his human nature was a descendant of David, 4 and who through the Spirit of holiness was declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord. 5 Through him and for his name’s sake, we received grace and apostleship to call people from among all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith.” – Romans 1:1-5, NIV84

This is what it means to be faithful to His name!

  • The Holy Spirit empowers us to speak the same Gospel of God the Son that God the Father had promised since the beginning of redemptive history.

  • This message goes back to Genesis 3:15 when God told Satan, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; He will crush your head and you will strike his heel.”

 

And the most beautiful part is that the Gospel is not God’s Plan B! Satan was already defeated as soon as he got Eve to partake of the forbidden fruit.

 

  • Our Gospel, our message that we preach, is Christus Victor! Jesus is victorious over Satan, over sin, over death, and over Hell! And it’s because of His victory that we can bow before Him and call Him Lord.

 

So far, we’ve looked at Christ’s Character, and Christ’s Commendation, but now we’re going to see The Church’s Vindication.

 

THE CHURCH’S VINDICATION

“I will make those who are of the synagogue of Satan, who claim to be Jews though they are not, but are liars – I will make them come and fall down at your feet and acknowledge that I have loved you.” – Revelation 3:9, NIV84

 

If you remember, when we covered The Church in Smyrna, in Revelation 2:8-11, the problem there as well was that there were these people who were Jews and Jesus says they are of the synagogue of Satan. Jesus says that they claim to be Jews and they are not.

 

  • The issue is not that they are pretending to ethnic Jews and they’re actually Gentiles, the problem is that they are trying to cast doubt in the face of Christians by flouting their heritage.

  • This shouldn’t be too hard for us to imagine since this is exactly what happened during Jesus’ ministry in John 8.

    • In John 8:39, the Pharisees were claiming that because they were sons of Abraham they’ve never been enslaved to anyone, and Jesus took them to school, and told them that they were actually children of their father, the devil. (John 8:44)

    • So, this begs the question? Who are the real sons of Abraham? Who are the real Jews? This might ruffle some feathers, but real Jews are those who believe that Jesus is the Messiah. I’m not going to walk through it right now, but that’s what Galatians 3:6-29 tells us. Abraham believed God and it was counted to him as righteousness (Galatians 3:6) and so those who have faith are blessed along with Abraham. (Galatians 3:9)

This church is living in Philadelphia, among a people thrive on oppressing them, and yet, Jesus says that these false Jews will fall at their feet and acknowledge that Christ has loved them as His own people.

I think Sam Storms is spot on here when he says, “Literally, Jesus says he will “give” these false Jews of the synagogue of Satan to the church at Philadelphia, i.e., he will cause them to bow down at their feet and to know that Jesus has loved them. Does this imply that these Jewish opponents will become Christians? Some say Yes and contend that the “open door” of v. 8 pertains specifically to evangelistic opportunity and success among the Jewish population of the city.[1]

Oppression in any form is an opportunity to love our enemies and share the Gospel with them. 

One of the most interesting things about verse 9 is if you know the Old Testament fairly well, then you remember that there are many promises about the Gentiles coming to bow down before Israel in the last days, like in Isaiah 60:14 where it says “they” (the Gentiles) will call “you” (the Israelites) “the city of the Lord, the Zion of the Holy One of Israel” and yet, here in Revelation 3:9, Jesus seems to be saying the opposite that these Jews are going to bow down at the feet of these believers.

 

But what Sam Storms believes is that what the Old Testament prophets like Isaiah saw was the fulfillment of the Church as God’s people, and that there will be Jews who come into the Church because they finally see Him as their Messiah and their Savior.

 

And this is ultimately our goal. We want people to see Jesus in us, and realize, as Augustine said, that’s there’s a God-sized hole in their hearts and only Jesus can fill it.

 

CONCLUSION

Maybe you’re here this morning, and you realize your need for Jesus.

Maybe you already see your need for Jesus and you’re already following Him faithfully, but you need more power, more strength, and more encouragement.

I’m not going to walk you through the Sinner’s Prayer or have you sign a card, but I will pray for you and with you if you would like. We have elders here who will pray with you and for you.

Maybe you need healing, we believing in anointing with oil, and we believe that the effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much, and that the prayer of the faith shall save the sick.

We believe all of these things because Jesus has done all of these things for a lot of us in this room at one time or another. Let’s pray.

 

CLOSING PRAYER

Heavenly Father, we think about the promise You spoke to your prophets when You said, “I will be their God, and they will be my people” and we think, “That’s us? Really? We’re the best You could come up with?” But we quickly realize that You didn’t choose us because we were the best or even because we were good, but You chose us in Christ before the foundations of the world because You loved us. We don’t have to understand it, but we have to accept it for what it is.

______________

[1] Storms, Sam. “The Letter to the Church at Philadelphia (3:7-13).” Sam Storms: Oklahoma City, OK, http://www.samstorms.com/all-articles/post/the-letter-to-the-church-at-philadelphia–3:7-13-.

Revelation 3:1-6 // The Church that Looks Alive

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TEXT: Revelation 3:1-6, NIV84

  • This ends the reading of God’s Word.
  • The Word of God for the People of God.

PRAYER FOR ILLUMINATION:

Almighty and Everlasting God, since we do not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from Your mouth, make us hunger for this heavenly food, that it may nourish us today in the ways of eternal life; through Jesus Christ, the bread of heaven. Amen.

INTRODUCTION:

Pastor Donald Grey Barnhouse offered a scenario in his weekly sermon that was also broadcast nationwide on CBS radio. Barnhouse speculated that if Satan took over Philadelphia, all of the bars would be closed, pornography banished, and pristine streets would be filled with tidy pedestrians who smiled at each other. There would be no swearing. The children would say, “Yes, sir” and “No, ma’am,” and the churches would be full every Sunday . . . where Christ is not preached.[1]

Honestly, this is what some of us might want. We like the idea of clean streets, respectful children, and everyone being all clean and tidy.

After all, this is what we want, right? We want the nice, pristine picture of a simpler time when everyone was clean-cut, children who act like Beaver Cleaver.

“Big deal that Christ isn’t being preached in our churches, at least they’re not out in the streets listening to rock music and doing drugs, right? At least they’re in church, right?” That would be out rationale anyway.

This is the city of Sardis, this the condition of the church of Sardis. They’re having church every week. They’ve got programs for church members of all ages. They’ve got Bible studies and Sunday school classes. They’re doing all the busywork that makes them look very much alive.

  • Do you know what busywork is? Back when I worked in the convenience store business, I was the master of busywork. Busywork is the kind of work you do when you want to look busy. There was always a spot on the counter at Exxon that was so shiny you could see your reflection in it because I wiped that thing down when I got done with everything else because I knew if I didn’t, my manager would feel the need to get up from his easy chair in his office and tell me to find something to do.

  • This is what the Church of Sardis is doing! They look busy, they look alive, and Jesus says they’re dead as a doornail.

A Picture of Jesus

“To the angel of the church in Sardis write: These are the words of him who holds the seven spirits of God and the seven stars.”- Revelation 3:1a, NIV84

 

I mentioned last week that each of these pictures of Jesus that we see in these seven letters reflects the initial picture of Jesus that John saw in Revelation 1.

 

In Revelation 1:12-13, John sees Jesus walking through seven golden lampstands, and then John sees Him holding seven stars in Revelation 1:16, and then in Revelation 1:20, Jesus tells Him what these mean.

 

“The mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand and of the seven golden lampstands is this: The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.”
– Revelation 1:20, NIV84

 

Now, if we interpret Scripture with Scripture, and compare Revelation 1:20 to our text, then we see Jesus walking among seven lampstands, holding seven stars, and holds the seven spirits of God.

 

  • Seven stars – Angels/Messengers/Pastors
  • Seven lampstands – churches
  • Seven spirits of God – a picture of the fullness of the Holy Spirit

Jesus gives both the Holy Spirit and the word to His messengers, (“to the angel of the church of _____ write…”) and His messengers give the word of God to the churches, and the churches relay the word of God to the world, and Jesus is the head of it all. Jesus is involved in all of it.

Jesus is the one who sees His church, and is walking among the churches. He is the One to whom we, as the church, must give an account.

 

The Problem of the Church

“I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead. 2Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your deeds complete in the sight of my God.”
– Revelation 3:1b-2, NIV84

 

Thom Rainer, a pastor and church revitalizer, wrote a book a couple of years ago called Autopsy of a Deceased Church. Basically, this book is a compilation of the most common reasons he’s found as to why churches go under, and this written from 30+ years of ministry experience.

 

In his book he talked about a few things that contribute to the death of a church, and I’m just going to run through three of them, and then I want us to see the common thread that runs through all of these.

  • The Past is the Hero – Churches that have the past as their hero are blind to the reality of the declining church. Areas that they cling to are:
    worship styles, facilities, pastors of the past, our own needs rather than the needs of those without Christ, the way we have always done things so we are comfortable.

  • Refusing to Look Like the Community – Losing the children and grandchildren of those in the church, when the church does reach out, they ask the community to come to them rather than the church going to the community, the church becomes a fortress, keeping people and possessions on the inside safe while keeping people on the other side out. The church stops reaching and caring for the community.

  • Preference-Driven rather than a Gospel-Driven –  Attitude is self-serving, self-giving, self-entitled. A church by definition is a body of believers who function for the greater good of the congregation. When church members increasingly demand their own preferences, the church is steadily not becoming the church. The church dies because its members refuse to be the church.

  • Pastoral Tenure Decreases – The pastor comes to the church and leads in a few changes. The members don’t like the changes and resist. The pastor becomes discouraged and leaves. The cycle repeats.

Now, when we think of a dead church, we might think of one where the building is only open once a week for one hour on Sundays, and no programs, but there are many dying churches that have an abundance of programs, but it’s all busywork.

The common thread that runs through all of these is a lack of correct focus.

  • A church should be more focused on whether or not they’re actually pleasing God in worship than whether or not the songs they’re singing is coming out of the hymnal.

  • A church should be more focused on whether or not a family down the road might not have enough groceries to get through the week than whether or not they can build a new building or remodel their bathrooms.

 

There’s two passages of Scripture that really show us where our focus should be. I’m going to read these passages, and what I would encourage you to do is write these down or print them out somewhere where you can see this every day.

 

“Jesus said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and great commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.” – Matthew 22:37-40, NKJV

“Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. 4 Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.” – Philippians 2:3-4, NKJV

When we talk about success we always think about it in terms of results – how much money we make, how big our building is, how nice of a job we have, but a truly successful life is made of you loving God, loving your neighbors, and putting other people’s interests ahead of yours, and I can guarantee you that that was the problem is Sardis. They weren’t successful in the things that mattered.

 

  • You can’t love God, and love your neighbor and be a dead church. It’s impossible. So, if you’re Sardis, and Jesus says that you’re dead, then there’s something wrong with how you’re loving God and neighbor.

 

Part of the problem with Sardis is that they were really comfortable and secure.

 

The Church at Sardis didn’t suffer any persecution, and the reason for that is because there was a wealthy community of Jews in Sardis and Christians blended in so well that almost everyone outside of Sardis thought the church there was just a sect of Judaism.

 

  • G.B. Caird called the church at Sardis “the perfect model of inoffensive Christianity.”

  • I wonder how many of our churches we could say that about today. I wonder how many of our lives might reflect that statement.

    • “Jesus is Lord… but that’s just my opinion.” – This isn’t like our political opinions where we can just pick a side based on what think benefits us most, this is a matter of real truth.

 

“Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your deeds complete in the sight of my God.” – Revelation 3:2, NIV84

 

  • The city was located on a hillside, and it had a big city wall around it so if you were an enemy and you wanted to take the city, it would be very difficult. You would have to scale the mountain, and then find a way up, over, or through the wall.

  • Up to this point in the entire city’s history they had only been under siege twice, and both times it was because they got comfortable.

    • They were not watching, they were not on guard, and they were not prepared for the enemy.

When the members of the church at Sardis would heard this letter they would know that Jesus is making a direct reference to them being overtaken, and what Jesus wants them to know and us to know is this: “If you think being overtaken by natural enemy is bad, it’s nothing compared to being overtaken by the devil.”

You heard me quote John 10:10 last week, and I’ll say it again: the devil’s job to steal, kill, and destroy, but Jesus has come that you might have life, and life more abundantly.

 

  • So, what do you want? Do you want life or destruction?

 

If you want life, then run to Jesus, trust Jesus, sit at the feet of Jesus, and have an active and living faith in Jesus!

 

If you want destruction, then do what Sardis did:

  • live off your reputation

  • get comfortable in your pew

  • Lose your edge

 

The reason G.B. Caird said that the church at Sardis is the perfect example of inoffensive Christianity is because according to the Apostle Paul, the preaching of the cross is offensive foolishness to those who are perishing.

 

  • So, when the cross loses it’s offense, it’s because we’ve stopped preaching it properly.

 

“For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”
– 1 Corinthians 1:18, NIV84

 

  • When someone hears the Gospel and believes that they can stay the same afterward, it’s because they are perishing, but if they hear the Gospel and want to be changed, and they want the life that Jesus offers, it’s because they are being made alive!

 

The Solution Jesus Provides

And so, what does Jesus do? Is there any hope for Sardis?

“Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; obey it, and repent. But if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what time I will come to you.” – Revelation 3:3, NIV84


Now, if you remember, this is very similar to what Jesus told the church at Ephesus back in Revelation 2:5. Remember?

 

“Remember then from what you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent.” – Revelation 2:5, NRSV

 

This is almost the same threat. In Ephesus, He tells them that if they don’t repent He’ll remove their lampstand, and here in Sardis, He says that He’ll come like a thief. I think the message is clear.

 

Jesus is promising judgement to those who are not repentant.

 

Jesus is promising to judgement to people live off their reputation.

 

  • “Well, I prayed the Sinner’s prayer once and signed the back of my Bible.”

  • “I went to Vacation Bible School.”

 

Do you have an active faith in Christ now? I’m not asking if once had. I’m not asking if you prayed a prayer or became a member of the church. I’m not asking if you were baptized. I’m asking you right now, in this moment: can you look at Christ in faith and see Him as your Savior or do you see Him as your judge?

The question is very simple: are you alive? Is your faith alive?

  • I’m not asking if your faith is strong, I’m asking if it’s there. You can have a weak and puny faith, but God can work with that.

  • But if you have a dead faith, then you will come under the divine judgement of God unless you are made alive in Christ.


Yet you have a few people in Sardis who have not soiled their clothes. They will walk with me, dressed in white, for they are worthy. 5He who overcomes will, like them, be dressed in white. I will never blot out his name from the book of life, but will acknowledge his name before my Father and his angels.” – Revelation 3:3-5, NIV84

 

If your faith is alive even if it’s puny, then there’s a reward for you because you’re holding on. And the reason you’re holding on is because God is holding on to you because Jesus says, on no uncertain terms, “I will never blot out his name from the book of life.”

 

  • Hear me loudly and clearly: there is no possible way that you can twist this text to say that God will remove the names of His children from the Lamb’s book of life. If you’re a genuine believer with an active faith in Christ, then your name is there and it’s there to stay. Anything else is a lie from the pit of Hell and it smells like smoke.

  • If you’re a faithful believer and you’re stuck in a church like Sardis, then this is what you need to hear from Jesus. You need to know that your perseverance in not in vain.

    • You need to know that all those days you’ve spent believing in the Light in spite of the darkness around you isn’t for naught.

 

Jesus is saying, “Hold on, you can’t let go now! I’m going acknowledge you before my Father in Heaven.”

 

Do you realize the significance of that?

 

The end of verse 5 is a direct reference to Luke 9:26 when Jesus says, “If anyone is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when He comes in His glory and in the glory of the Father of the holy angels.”

This is right after Jesus says, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” (Luke 9:23)

 

If you’re not ashamed of bearing the shame of the cross, then there’s a reward for you. This is exactly what we sing in The Old Rugged Cross.

To the old rugged cross/I will ever be true
It’s shame and reproach gladly bear/Then He’ll call me some day
To my home far away/Where His glory forever I’ll share

This kind of proclamation is strange to the world, but this is power for us. The proclamation of the cross is what causes us to see Jesus dealing with our sin by His death and resurrection.

  • We can’t afford to blend in like Sardis and live off of our reputation.

  • We can’t afford for the world to look at us and just assume we’re like everybody else.

We have to make our stance clear: we are a people that believe that Jesus has come in the flesh, Jesus has died, Jesus has risen, and He will return in power and glory to judge the living and the dead.

Let’s pray.

CLOSING PRAYER

Heavenly Father, we come before You, and our hearts are exposed. You see all of our faults, our failures, and our shortcomings. You see everything laid out before You. We ask You to forgive us. Cleanse us by Your blood, and make us new creatures. Grant us life and repentance, and it’s in the name and by the power of Your Son, Jesus Christ, that we pray these things. Amen.

____________

  1. Horton, Michael Scott. Christless Christianity: the Alternative Gospel of the American Church. BakerBooks, 2012.

Revelation 2:18-29 // The Church that Tolerates Terrible Teaching

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TEXT: Revelation 2:18-29, NRSV

  • This ends the reading of God’s Word.
  • The Word of God for the People of God.

PRAYER FOR ILLUMINATION:

Give us grace, O Lord, to answer readily the call of our Savior Jesus Christ and proclaim to all people the Good News of His salvation, that we and the whole world may perceive the glory of his marvelous works; who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. [1]

 

INTRODUCTION:

Between 1933 and 1936, the Spanish Civil War raged on and toward the end of that three year conflict, the fascist general Emilio Mola addressed a buttoned down Madrid, warning of the Republican government’s impending fall. He told of four army columns moving on Madrid, and then coined a term that has become synonymous with clandestine, subversive activities. He said that as the four regular columns marched on Madrid, within the capital his militant supporters whom he dubbed his “fifth column” would undermine the government from within the city. His prediction came true.

Since that time, others have used the term fifth column to refer to a group or organization within a country or political organization where their loyalty was expected, but instead, undermining and subverting from within. By the perception of loyalty, they carry out their plans of political anarchy or destruction.

Such a fifth column in the followers of the prophetess Jezebel was found in Thyatira, and exposed by Jesus Himself. This church so far, had done well in the face of opposition. But, unless the church took action, they would collapse from within.

Jezebel’s fifth column militants regularly infiltrate churches with an aim to destroy. It’s not that all realize what they are doing. They may lack any external structure for what they do. There may be no conspiracies or organized threats to the church. It’s just that they find the gospel too narrow, the Bible too outdated, and the sufficiency of Scripture too limiting; so that they eat away at the biblical foundation of the church like a horde of termites consuming wood. [2]

 

Of the seven cities of Revelation 2-3, Thyatira was the least important. And that’s where we need to begin.

To help us understand this, perhaps we should find some modern-day counterparts.

  • For Ephesus, we might think of a city like Dallas, Texas. Lots of commerce and religion.

  • For Smyrna, think of a city like Cairo where the Coptic Christians are regularly under persecution from the Islamic community around them.

  • For Pergamum the closest equivalent might be Washington, D.C. with its worldly power and marble monuments.

 

What, then, would correspond to Thyatira? Perhaps we might think of Russellville.

  • Population of both is around 20-25,000 [3]

  • Both are fairly ethnically diverse

  • Both are industry cities. Most of the people in the River Valley (not all, but most) that have been at the same job for a long time are either factory workers or they have a trade.

    • Although they didn’t have factories in Thyatira, they had a lot of trade guilds, and these guilds basically functioned as worker unions, and these guilds had members who practiced their trade and that contributed to their economy.

 

This morning, there’s a few ideas I want us to see here, hopefully we’ll see more than a few, but we’ll cover at least a few.

 

Jesus Sees His Church (v. 18)

First of all, notice the picture of Jesus that we see here. His eyes are a flame of fire, and his feet are burnished with Bronze.

If you didn’t know this already. Each of the images in the Seven Churches are connected to the description of Jesus that John gives back in Revelation 1.

 

“I was in the spirit on the Lord’s day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet 11 saying, “Write in a book what you see and send it to the seven churches, to Ephesus, to Smyrna, to Pergamum, to Thyatira, to Sardis, to Philadelphia, and to Laodicea.”

12 Then I turned to see whose voice it was that spoke to me, and on turning I saw seven golden lampstands, 13 and in the midst of the lampstands I saw one like the Son of Man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash across his chest. 14 His head and his hair were white as white wool, white as snow; his eyes were like a flame of fire, 15 his feet were like burnished bronze, refined as in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of many waters. 16 In his right hand he held seven stars, and from his mouth came a sharp, two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining with full force.” – Revelation 1:10-16, NRSV

 

Each of these images are significant and they say something about Jesus.

  • When I think of eyes flaming like fire and feet with burnished bronze, I think that Jesus knows what’s going on. I don’t see Him sitting and gazing at the earth like some psychic might try to gaze into a crystal ball, He really knows what’s going on.

  • One of God’s qualities is omniscience – His all-knowing ability. This means He doesn’t learn anything new because He already knows everything. He doesn’t change His plans on the fly because we do something with our free will that He didn’t expect, and I don’t we can comprehend that, and honestly, I don’t think we’re supposed to.

    • That’s a lot of things we just don’t about what it’s like to be God, and that’s because it’s none of our business.

So, Jesus sees what’s going on, and because Jesus sees what’s going on, His feet are burnished with bronze. He’s ready for action.

  • As I was reading the text, I thought of Romans 10:15 where Paul quotes Isaiah 52 by saying, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” And then in Ephesians 6:15 when Paul is listing of the different pieces of the armor of God, he says we should have our feed shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace.

Now, in both of those passages, Paul is talking about how we should be ready to carry the Gospel, but think about the picture of Jesus’ feet here in Revelation 2. He’s getting to bring the Gospel of peace.

  • You might ask, “Well, how is that?” Jesus creates peace by getting rid of those who are against the peace that He seeks to establish. Now, you can get rid of those people in two ways:

    • You can convince them that what they’re doing and how they’re thinking is wrong, and they should repent, and fall in line with God’s Word.

    • Or, you can directly remove them, and that’s what Jesus is threatening to do in verses 22-23 when He says things like, “I am throwing her on a sick… I will strike her children dead…”

 

I said a couple of weeks ago that we like the idea of Jesus being able to see us in our weakness because He can identify with us and help us as Hebrews says, and that’s true, but we often don’t like the idea of Jesus seeing us in a state of unrepentant sin because then we can’t get away with it anymore.

 

  • Jesus sees us, and there’s mercy for us to repent, but there awaits judgement for us if we do not.

  • Notice, I didn’t say, “mercy for us when we repent.” God’s mercy meets us where we are even in our sin, that’s why Jesus says about Jezebel, “I gave her time to repent.” You have mercy all the way up until it’s time for judgement, but when judgement comes it’s too late. When judgement comes every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord to the glory of God the Father (Philippians 2:10-11). You can repent of your sins and bow the knee to Him now while you have mercy because if He has to make you (and He will if you refuse now), then the time for mercy is over.

If you live your entire life never knowing Jesus, and never repenting of your sin, then your entire life is lived as what Jonathan Edwards would describe as “a walk over the pit of Hell with a rotten covering.”

But back to the main idea here: when we talk about Jesus seeing His church what we’re describing is Jesus’ to see not only the bad and the ugly, but also the good.

  • Jesus is taking everything into account.

 

Jesus Sees the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (v. 19-23)

“I know your works—your love, faith, service, and patient endurance. I know that your last works are greater than the first.”
– Revelation 2:19, NRSV

 

Jesus acknowledges that they are a disciplined people, and here’s what I mean by that: faith, love, service, and endurance are things that our Christian life should be known by.

 

  • It’s weird living in an area of the country called the “Bible belt” because I don’t think we’ve earned it. I’d be more comfortable calling this area the “church belt” maybe, but we’re certainly not a Bible belt.

    • You all know what happened in New York this last week. The south is just as secular as they are, they’re just more honest and open about it up there. We can’t think that just because we’re a red state, and all our friends on social media are talking about being pro-life that we’re not living in a secular region. The only difference between Arkansas and New York is that many of us below the Mason-Dixon line are just using Christian language and sub-culture as a facade.

    • There’s a church on every corner here, and if we really lived up to the name ‘Bible belt’ then, homelessness and healthcare wouldn’t be issues.

 

Well, I think I’ll meddle just a little bit. Read Matthew 5-7; Acts 2:42-47; 1 Timothy 5-6; and the entire book of James. After you’ve read all of that, be honest with yourself, “Does modern-day Christianity really look like this?”

A recent survey said that there are 2.19 Billion Christians in the world. The World population is about 7.5 Billion. If you do the math, that puts ⅓ of the population as professing Christians.

 

  • If I took 1 pound of hamburger meat and seasoned it with ⅓ pound of salt, then that stuff would be so salty that you couldn’t eat it. So, don’t tell me that the body of Christ can’t do more to alleviate some of the suffering in our world.

If you don’t believe me, then find someone with a problem this week and help them find a solution. It doesn’t matter who it is, and it doesn’t matter what the problem is, big or small. Help someone find a solution to problem this week, and then watch what happens.

  • Then magnify that effect by billions and tell me we can’t do more.

So, again back to the text, Jesus sees their faith, their love, their service, and their endurance. And not only does He see these things in them, but He sees them improving because He says, “I know your last works are greater than your first.”

  • Jesus recognizes and affirms that there’s progress happening, and this is good news because sometimes growing up, we didn’t always get the affirmation that we needed from our fathers, but God is a perfect father, and He recognizes when we’ve done well.

Now, even though Jesus sees the good, he also sees the bad and the ugly.

“But I have this against you: you tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophet and is teaching and beguiling my servants to practice fornication and to eat food sacrificed to idols. 21 I gave her time to repent, but she refuses to repent of her fornication. 22 Beware, I am throwing her on a bed, and those who commit adultery with her I am throwing into great distress, unless they repent of her doings; 23 and I will strike her children dead. And all the churches will know that I am the one who searches minds and hearts, and I will give to each of you as your works deserve.” – Revelation 2:20-23, NRSV

I mentioned earlier that Thyatira had guilds, and these guilds were basically workers unions. Now, if these guilds had simply been worker unions of their time, then there would have been nothing wrong with that. After all, we have work unions now.

But these weren’t simply labor unions, according to Leon Morris, “membership involved attendance at guild banquets, and this in turn meant eating meat which had first been sacrificed to an idol. . . . That these meals all too readily degenerated into sexual looseness made matters worse.”

There were people in the church who were leaders, Jesus identifies them as Jezebel, and they were telling people that it was perfectly acceptable to participate in these festivals and ceremonies where guild members would act out in fornication and idolatry because after all, “these are times we’re living in, you gotta make a living somehow.” At least, that’s how I imagine they justified it.

And if you worked in a trade in Thyatira and you weren’t a member of a guild, then it was very hard to make a living, and if you did somehow manage to generate a lot of business, the guild members would either pressure you into joining the guild or run you out of town.

And even if you did join the guild, it was considered a major insult to abstain from engaging in all the drunkenness and debauchery.

I want you think about this: last week Jesus’ problem with the church at Pergamum was that they tolerated people who held to the teaching of “Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the people of Israel, so that they would eat food sacrificed to idols and practice fornication.” (Revelation 2:14)

This week, Jesus is talking to the church at Thyatira, and what’s the problem? They tolerate Jezebel, another negative Old Testament figure, who is leading people to do what? She is “teaching and beguiling my servants to practice fornication and to eat food sacrificed to idols.”

So, what’s going on here? What’s the big deal about eating meat sacrificed to idols? According to Paul in 1 Corinthians 8:4-9, there’s nothing wrong with eating meat sacrificed to idols in and of itself, listen to what he says:

“So, what about eating meat that has been offered to idols? Well, we all know that an idol is not really a god and that there is only one God. 5 There may be so-called gods both in heaven and on earth, and some people actually worship many gods and many lords. 6 But for us,

There is one God, the Father,
   by whom all things were created,
   and for whom we live.
And there is one Lord, Jesus Christ,
   through whom all things were created,
   and through whom we live.

7 However, not all believers know this. Some are accustomed to thinking of idols as being real, so when they eat food that has been offered to idols, they think of it as the worship of real gods, and their weak consciences are violated. 8 It’s true that we can’t win God’s approval by what we eat. We don’t lose anything if we don’t eat it, and we don’t gain anything if we do.

9 But you must be careful so that your freedom does not cause others with a weaker conscience to stumble.” – 1 Corinthians 8:4-9, NLT

Eating meat sacrificed to idols holds no real power over you because the idols aren’t real gods. They don’t exist.

  • The real question isn’t “Will this sacrificed meat harm me spiritually?” The obvious answer is ‘No.’ The real question is, “Will this offend my brother who is from a pagan background?”

Now, let’s bring this back to our passage in Revelation 2. In Corinth, you might have been able to get away with having a Diana burger and some Zeus fries without bowing down at their altars, but this wasn’t an option in Thyatira or any of the other surrounding areas like Pergamum and Ephesus.

  • If you were eating their food then you were worshiping their god, and if you weren’t eating their food this was an insult.

On top of all of this, you have a figure who is in leadership in the church, and she’s encouraging people to participate in paganism.

  • It’s awfully hard to read this letter and not think of our current state of affairs.

You have people going to divinity school who are training to become pastors and priests who aren’t even saved, and they want Christians to have some commonalities with the world.

  • I’ve been binge-watching Stanley Haurwas lectures for the last two days (some of you have probably seen some of his quotes that I’ve posted), and he was talking about giving a lecture at Hendrix College in Conway, Arkansas some years ago, and after his lecture, there was an extremely liberal theology professor who approached him (obviously angered by something he had said), and said, “Dr. Haurwas, may I ask why you failed to provide us with a theory of Christ that would allow Christians to have an open dialogue with Buddhists?”

  • Stanley Haurwas said, “Exactly how many Buddhists do you have in Conway, Arkansas? And even if you had a theory, what good would a theory do you?”

People need the real deal. People need the real Jesus, they don’t need a theory.

The question we need to ask ourselves is are we giving people the real Jesus? Or are we just giving them a Jesus who looks and sounds like us and always agrees with us?

  • If God always agrees with you, then maybe there’s something wrong.

Or maybe I should say it the same way Anne Lamott did, “You can safely assume you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.”

  • Now, our problem when we hear something like that is to say, “Well, I don’t hate anybody” because we’ve been taught rightly how bad of a sin hate is, so instead we just mask our hate with a thing we’ve called ‘dislike’ and Ta-Da! Jesus doesn’t see it anymore because now it’s a socially acceptable prejudice.

Here’s the thing: if the Jesus we’re offering is one created in our own image then we’re no better than the Jezebel in Thyatira. It’s something we ought to give some serious thought to.

But Jesus doesn’t stop there.

 

Jesus Offers Encouragement and a Promise to Conquerors (v. 24-29)

“But to the rest of you in Thyatira, who do not hold this teaching, who have not learned what some call ‘the deep things of Satan,’ to you I say, I do not lay on you any other burden;” – Revelation 2:24, NRSV

  • Remember Jesus is doing the same thing here that we saw last week, he’s making a distinction between the wheat and the tares. He knows which ones are the sheep and which ones are the goats.

“only hold fast to what you have until I come. 26 To everyone who conquers and continues to do my works to the end,

I will give authority over the nations;
27 to rule them with an iron rod,
   as when clay pots are shattered—

28 even as I also received authority from my Father. To the one who conquers I will also give the morning star. 29 Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches.” – Revelation 2:25-29, NRSV

If you’re not falling for the nonsense, then the best thing you can do is keep on keeping on because it’s gonna be a bumpy ride.

“It is I, Jesus, who sent my angel to you with this testimony for the churches. I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star.” – Revelation 22:16, NRSV

In the end: we get what we started with: Jesus!

“Our Lord promises us Himself with all of His fullness and glory. What more could we dream or hope for? Listen, those of you who have ears to hear. The Spirit is talking to all the churches. We all need this reminder. We all need to hold on to this hope.[4]” – Danny Akin

Let’s pray.

CLOSING PRAYER

Heavenly Father, grant us life and peace as we pursue You and the life You have for us in Yourself. Remove all of the sin in our lives that builds barriers between us and You and us and one another. Give us a genuine love and appreciation for one another as we seek glorify You. In the name of Your Son, Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.

__________

  1. Book of Common Prayer, pg. 215, Third Sunday after Epiphany
  2. “South Woods Baptist Church.” Sermons from the Book of Revelation, archive.southwoodsbc.org/sermons/revelation_02.18-29.php.
  3. “The Church at Thyatira.” Faithlife Sermons, sermons.faithlife.com/sermons/46100-the-church-at-thyatira.
  4. Akin, Daniel L., et al. Exalting Jesus in Revelation. Holman Reference, 2016.

Revelation 2:12-17 // The Church that Compromises

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TEXT: Revelation 2:12-17, NRSV

PRAYER FOR ILLUMINATION:

God of all Wisdom, we have gathered before You to read your holy Word and to be guided by it. Send your Spirit to this place that we might feast upon Your word and digest its meaning to fill our souls with Your wisdom and truth.  In name of Your Son, Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen. [1]

 

INTRODUCTION:

If you were to travel to the West African country of Liberia 25 years ago, the danger was clear and present. Civil unrest. Armed insurgencies. Political instability. In the 1990’s, the country had become a killing field. But if you would have traveled to Liberia just five years ago, the danger would not have been so obvious. Most likely, you would not find yourself looking down the barrel of a machine gun. But 5 years ago, a simple sneeze could have killed you. As we now know, the Ebola outbreak was just beginning. As of October 2014, almost 2500 Liberians had died from the disease.

This morning, as we once again explore the book of the Revelation together, we will also discover that sometimes, we can become blind to what is truly dangerous. [2]

Some of the most dangerous poisons are the ones that go undetected until it’s too late. Nothing will poison the body of Christ like the poison of compromise. [3]

 

Just listen to what some of those who have gone before have us about this.

 

    • “Indeed the safest road to Hell is the gradual one–the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts…” – C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters

    • “A new Decalogue has been adopted by the neo-Christians of our day, ‘Thou shalt not disagree,’ and a new set of Beatitudes too, ‘Blessed are they that tolerate everything for they shall not be made accountable.’” – A.W. Tozer

    • “Truth always carries confrontation. Truth demands confrontation; loving confrontation nevertheless. If our reflex action is always accommodation of the centrality of the truth involved, there is something wrong.” – Francis Schaeffer

 

 

 

 

THE SWORD OF HIS MOUTH

“And to the angel of the church in Pergamum write: These are the words of him who has the sharp two-edged sword” – Revelation 2:12, NRSV

We know from the context clues of the rest of Scripture (Revelation 1:16; Hebrews 4:12; Revelation 19:11-16), that this sword is God’s authoritative word.

  • Whatever God speaks, happens. His word doesn’t go forth void.

What the Sword Means

  • According to Paul in Romans 13:4, governments bear a sword.

    • Swords are symbols of authority, and unless someone isn’t using their authority correctly or their being immoral (etc.) then you typically shouldn’t argue with someone that God has given authority to.
    • Just like guns are typically (not always) symbols of authority. A police officer pulled me over on Friday and he said I was going too fast. I didn’t believe him, but I don’t think it would have behooved me to argue with someone who wields a firearm.

  • Jesus is telling them to fear the sword of God rather than the sword of the government.  

 

“As the earliest Christians found in Acts, the church always has to be able to say ‘We must obey God rather than human authorities’, even if the ‘authorities’ in question are not the official magistrates (though the magistrates, too, may pose a threat if the Christians refuse to join in with state religion) but simply the insidious pressures of people saying ‘but this is what everybody does’.

Jesus’ response is clear. The Roman governor may wield the sword, but Jesus has the sharp two-edged sword coming out of his mouth (verses 12, 16, as in 1.16). His word will cut through the half-hearted spirituality that is happy to face both ways at once.“[4] – N.T. Wright, Revelation for Everyone

What the Sword Does

This sword that’s coming out of Jesus’ mouth is the word of God.

 

God’s word is His is message to us, but it’s not just His message, it’s His authority, and listen to what it does.

“Indeed, the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. 13 And before him no creature is hidden, but all are naked and laid bare to the eyes of the one to whom we must render an account.” – Hebrews 4:12-13, NRSV

  • The word of God reveals everything when it gets inside of us, and it has to. When you go into a room in your house to clean it out, you’ve got to turn on the light to see what’s in there so you know what to throw away, and that’s what God’s word does with us.

  • According to James 1, the word of God is like a mirror and when look at it, and don’t do what it says it’s as if you look at yourself in the mirror and then walk away forgetting what you look like.

 

But our passage in Revelation 2 describes the word of God as a two edged sword. The two edges of the sword are God’s ability to kill and make alive by His word. Look at Deuteronomy 32 just a minute and listen to part of the song of Moses.

 

“See now that I, even I, am he; there is no god besides me. I kill and I make alive; I wound and I heal; and no one can deliver from my hand. 40 For I lift up my hand to heaven, and swear: As I live forever, 41 when I whet my flashing sword, and my hand takes hold on judgment; I will take vengeance on my adversaries, and will repay those who hate me.”
– Deuteronomy 32:39-41, NRSV

 

Now, the question is which edge of the sword are you going to get?

Some might say, “Well, that’s just Old Testament stuff. We’re under the new covenant now. God was mean and nasty then, but since Jesus came along He’s really chilled out.”

 

  • A lot of people really interpret Scripture that way, but God hasn’t changed.

 

This is what’s going to happen, according to Revelation 19, in the New Testament.

 

“Then I saw heaven opened, and there was a white horse! Its rider is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war…  13 He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is called The Word of God… 15 From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron; he will tread the wine press of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. 16 On his robe and on his thigh he has a name inscribed, “King of kings and Lord of lords.” – Revelation 19:11, 13, 15-16, NRSV

 

This is what Jesus means in verse 16 of our text when He says, “Repent then. If not, I will come to you soon and make war against them with the sword of my mouth.”

A TESTIMONY OF FAITHFULNESS

“I know where you are living, where Satan’s throne is. Yet you are holding fast to my name, and you did not deny your faith in me even in the days of Antipas my witness, my faithful one, who was killed among you, where Satan lives.” – Revelation 2:13, NRSV

 

The commendation here is simple: considering, you live where Satan lives, you’ve been faithful.

 

“Pergamos was the first city in Asia to build a temple dedicated to the worship of a living emperor. Hence, Satan’s throne, where he holds court, can also indicate the altar where Caesar was worshiped as lord, and/or where the Roman governor sat in his judgment seat, dealing out capital punishment by the “law of the sword.”
– Orthodox Study Bible

 

  • As I said last week, in that time and in that part of the world, there was no separation of church and state. In that time and place, the state was the church, and caesar was their god. The motto of the state was “Caesar is Lord.”

  • The phrase “Jesus is Lord” is not simply a religious message, it’s a political message. It’s political message that says we will have no king, but Christ.

 

“According to tradition, the early martyr Antipas was bishop of Pergamos and was martyred in AD 92 by being burned to death in a heated bronze bull, having witnessed before the Roman governor that Jesus is Lord.” – Orthodox Study Bible

 

We need pastors and church leaders like Antipas with a backbone who will stand up and say, “Hello, World! Jesus bought this place with His blood. Deal with it.” (Tony Sumpter, Blood-Bought World)

So, so far we see that they have a Testimony of Faithfulness, but unfortunately, they also have a Tolerance for Corruption.

 

A TOLERANCE FOR CORRUPTION

“But I have a few things against you: you have some there who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the people of Israel, so that they would eat food sacrificed to idols and practice fornication. 15 So you also have some who hold to the teaching of the Nicolaitans.” – Revelation 2:14-15, NRSV

 

The first problem Jesus addresses is that there’s people who hold to the teaching of Balaam.

 

  • In order to really understand that you have to go back and read chapters 25-31 of Numbers. Basically, Balak is a king of Moab and he’s afraid that the people of Israel are going to come in and take up his land. What he doesn’t know is that God commanded Israel earlier not to touch anything that belonged to Moab.

  • So, he acts out of fear and contacts a man named Balaam. Balaam is a Moabite, he’s not an Israelite, he’s a pagan Gentile. Brandon Hanson actually describes Balaam like this: “He was a thief and a trickster who meddled with powers beyond his comprehension… He was one who regularly dealt with demons disguised as various deities, making deals and inquiring of them for the knowledge he needed to perform spells and incantations, blessings and curses. Like Prometheus who stole fire from Zeus, Balaam sought to steal “fire” of his own—divine knowledge for his personal gain.” [5]

 

  • Balaam was the kind of guy you would contact if you wanted a voodoo doll made. He was a Hocus Pocus Hitman.

  • Balak contacts Balaam to put a curse on Israel, and Balaam soon realizes that he can’t. God speaks to him several times and actually causes him to bless Israel instead of curse them. Balak finally parted company with Balaam who could do nothing but bless Israel. But as Balaam is leaving, he offers one last piece of advice: Moab might defeat Israel if he told the Moabite women to prostitute themselves amongst Israel and invite them to worship their gods, eat their food offered to their idols, and sacrifice.

  • What Balak is really saying is “If you can’t put a curse on them, then maybe you can get them to do things that are conducive to a curse. All you have to do is get them to do things that will invite chaos and destruction into their life, and they will take care of themselves.”

Satan doesn’t have to come into your house and knock stuff around for you to be under a curse. All he has to do is get you to do things that invite chaos into your life, and I’m not talking about something stupid like yoga or whatever.

  • Pride, Envy, Lust, Wrath, Greed, Sloth, Gluttony – There’s a reason the Catholic Church called these the seven deadly sins. Every time you sin, it’s because you give in to one of these seven things.

    • The cycle of sin is usually the same: we think we’re entitled to something, or we think we deserve better than what we have (pride), so we want something we can’t have (envy, greed, lust), so we lash out at those around us (wrath), and then we’re depressed and we overindulge in the things that we can have (sloth and gluttony.)

 

So, what then is the teaching of Balaam? The teaching of Balaam is that if you don’t like God’s Word, then just change it. Believe a different word. Balaam basically told Balak that if he didn’t like God’s word of blessing, then maybe he could get Israel to go whoring after other gods and get them to believe a different, a word other than the one God has spoken.

  • This is what people do when they don’t like God’s word, they try to change it. This is what society does when they say, “Well, I identify as…. Whatever.” God has established reality, and whenever people think they do something like change their gender, what they’re saying is, “I don’t like what is true so I’m going to change it.” What else do you expect from a society that believes truth is all relative?

    • The cry of much of the LGBT community is “Live your truth.” No, live THE truth. There’s only one truth, and you can’t change it.

 

One more thing that I thought was so profound about this passage is the way that Jesus addresses the church.

  • He doesn’t say, “You people are a bunch of heretics and Nicolaitans and heretics.”

  • Instead He says, “You have heretics and Nicolaitans among you.”

And what this reminded me of was Jesus’ parable of the wheat and the tares. That kept coming to my mind all week while I was reading this passage. I want us to think about the parable and see if there’s some comparisons that can be drawn here.

We remember the parable of the wheat and tares, right?

  • You’ve got a wheatfield. And then while everyone is asleep an enemy comes in and plants tares or weeds among the wheat.

  • One of the slaves notices it and said to the owner of field, “I know you have sown good seed, but an enemy came in and planted these weeds.” And the slave asks, “Do you want us to pull up the weeds?”

“But he replied, ‘No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. 30 Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.’” – Matthew 13:29-30, NRSV

 

So, what you have here is a congregation that has wheat and tares.

  • Jesus is addressing the wheat, and He’s saying, “I have this against you that you have some here who are tares.”

And what is Jesus’ solution to all of this? He doesn’t say, “Kick these people out.” He doesn’t tell them to go on an inquisition in an effort to “cleanse” the church – He simply tells them to repent.

 

THE INVITATION TO REPENT AND LISTEN

“Repent then. If not, I will come to you soon and make war against them with the sword of my mouth.” – Revelation 2:16, NRSV

What Jesus says is very simple – repent. He doesn’t lay out a 5 step church growth program or anything like that, just repent.

  • Repentance means turning to Christ, and turning away from your sin. When the church as a whole begins the process of repenting together, then you won’t have to weed out the tares, they’ll weed themselves out.

People who don’t want the uncensored, unfiltered Gospel of Jesus Christ won’t stay in a place where it’s preached for very long. 

Here’s the invitation.

“Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches. To everyone who conquers I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give a white stone, and on the white stone is written a new name that no one knows except the one who receives it.” – Revelation 2:17, NRSV

Why hidden manna? Why a white stone with a new name?

It’s simple. They’re living in a secular, pagan wilderness where they are in danger of being killed for their faith, and while everyone else is out in the open, running to the temple of Caesar, and worshipping at the altar of Zeus in search of some blessing, they don’t need a temple. Their bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit. Their sacrifice is one of praise and reasonable service. (Romans 12:1-2; Hebrews 13:15)

 

CONCLUSION

It’s the same for us. Our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, we have been bought with a price, and our sacrifice is one of worship and reasonable service.

 

  • And part of our reasonable service to proclaim to the world that Jesus bought this place with His blood, and He sits on His throne.

 

Think about it, Jesus tells the church, “You live where Satan’s throne is.” Their job was declare that is Jesus is on His throne even though Satan was on his throne. That’s bold, and that’s possible because Jesus already defeated Satan 2,000 years on an old rugged cross, and Jesus got up three days later to affirm that victory. Jesus lives and because He lives, so do we. Let’s pray.

 

CLOSING PRAYER

Heavenly Father, Your Word is life and light. Give us the power to declare Your name even in the darkest of places, even where Satan’s throne is. Give us strength to share Your victory with those feel as those they’re defeated. In the name of Your Son, Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.

___________________________________

  1. Based on the Prayer for Illumination found here: “Prayer for Illumination | Epiphany 3C | January 24th, 2016.” Liturgy & Hymns By Stephen M. Fearing, http://www.stephenmfearing.com/liturgy//prayer-for-illumination-epiphany-3c-january-24th-2016.
  2. Church Plant Media. “Pergamum: Constant, But Compromised (Revelation 2:12-17).” Way of Grace Church: Buckeye, AZ, http://www.wayofgracechurch.com/sermons/sermon/2014-10-19/pergamum:-constant-but-compromised-revelation-2:12-17.
  3. Akin, Daniel L., et al. Exalting Jesus in Revelation. Holman Reference, 2016.
  4. Wright, N. T. Revelation for Everyone. Westminster John Knox, 2015.
  5. Hanson, Brandon. “Revelation 2:12-17 | To the Church in Pergamum: Part 2 | 016.” Christ Hold Fast, 16 Jan. 2019, http://www.christholdfast.org/blog/revelation-212-17-to-the-church-in-pergamum-part-2-016.
  6. ” “

Revelation 2:8-11 // The Church that is Suffering and Afflicted

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TEXT: Revelation 2:8-11, NRSV

PRAYER FOR ILLUMINATION:

Almighty God, whose Son our Savior Jesus Christ is the light of the world: Grant that your people, illumined by your Word and Sacraments, may shine with the radiance of Christ’s glory, that he may be known, worshiped, and obeyed to the ends of the earth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with You and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, now and forever. Amen. [1]

INTRODUCTION:

Smyrna was founded in 1200 B.C. That is two hundred years before King David, and back in the days of the judges of Israel. In the sixth century B.C., Alyattes, king of Lydia, conquered Smyrna and dispersed the inhabitants into tiny villages throughout the area, where they could be no threat to his rule. For almost four hundred years, Smyrna was in eclipse. Alexander the Great wanted to rebuild it, but the task fell to his successor, who rebuilt the city around 300 B.C. on the slopes of Mount Pagus, about two miles south of its former site. It had wide and spacious streets. Its major street (called “the street of gold”) began at the harbor, curved around Mount Pagus, and ran on to the foothills away
from the sea.

Smyrna had been destroyed, yet she had come back to life. It was remarkable, and Smyrna ended up with the nickname “the city that was dead, yet lived.”

  • Jesus reminds them, “You may be a resurrected city, but I am a resurrected savior.”

Smyrna was not only beautiful and prosperous, she was extremely nationalistic. Three hundred years earlier (265-146 B.C.), when Rome was fighting for its life against the Carthaginian empire, Smyrna had sided with Rome. She was the first city in Asia to declare allegiance to Rome, and she built a temple to Roma, the goddess of Rome. That was in 195 B.C., almost one hundred years before Julius Caesar.

In 26 A.D., when the whole world wanted to be friends with Rome, eleven cities competed for the privilege of erecting a temple in honor of Tiberius Caesar. Smyrna won the honors. Rome considered Smyrna the most noble and worthy of the cities of Asia. Cicero called Smyrna “the most faithful of our allies.” Roman nobility came to visit and vacation there. After 70 A.D., when Jerusalem was destroyed, Smyrna was a favorite place for Jewish settlement, and the Jewish community there was large and influential.

So the scene is set. Smyrna is beautiful, prosperous, highly patriotic, and of esteemed reputation. Its citizens are proud of their city, and they feel fortunate to live there. [2] Sound familiar?

No one really knows the origin of the church at Smyrna, but the facts are clear. They are guaranteed suffering, and this is completely antithetical to North American Evangelicalism.

Jared C. Wilson, who is a Christian, wrote an article this week about how Christian movies are sending the wrong message, and he said:

“There is a kind of prosperity gospel that pervades contemporary Christian art. It’s there in Christian Music radio, of course, and it’s all over Christian movies, including the ones based on true stories. The team has to win. The sick person has to defy the odds. (If you can get a sick person and a sports team in the same story, you’ve hit Christian movie gold.) The atheist professor must get owned. The unbelieving spouse must be converted. On and on it goes. Why? Because “if you just believe,” you can win.

Christian movies have embraced a theology of glory rather than a theology of the cross. This is why, apart from inauthentic dialogue and stilted acting, Christian movies ring so untrue to ears tuned to reality. We know real life doesn’t work this way — even for believers. The world of Christian movies is uncomfortable sitting in the ambiguity of suffering, confusion, or chaos for too long. But if we must have Christian movies, they above all others, should be brave enough to tell us the truth, which is messier than what the market usually wants to hear.[3]

There is an implicit lie within Christian media that if you believe hard enough you’ll always win in life. Try selling that to starving Christians in Venezuela.

In John 16:33, Jesus said in no uncertain terms, “In this world you will have many trials and sorrows.” That’s the bad news and it’s important that we remember because it makes the good news so much sweeter.

  • The good news is the rest of John 16:33, “Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.”

So, as we look at the text this morning, I want us to see three things: A Picture of the Savior, A Promise of Suffering, and A Promise for Faithful Conquerors.

 

A PICTURE OF THE SAVIOR

“And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write: These are the words of the first and the last, who was dead and came to life: 9 “I know your affliction and your poverty, even though you are rich. I know the slander on the part of those who say that they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan.” – Revelation 2:8-9, NRSV

What we’re mostly dealing with in these two verses is who Jesus is and what Jesus knows. And, if you’re suffering, both of those things should be comforting.

  • Jesus told us I would have trouble. He knows we’re in trouble, and He is the Son of God who conquers the world that is giving us trouble.

The first thing Jesus says is that these words are the words of the first and the last.

In the Revelation 1:17, the first thing that Jesus says to the Apostle John is, “I am the first and the last.”

  • This is Jesus affirming Himself to John. This title of the first and the last is something that God says about Himself three times in the book of Isaiah, and by telling John, “I am the first and the last” his mind immediately goes back to Isaiah 44:6 where God says, “I am the first and I am the last; besides me there is no god.”

 

The second thing is, “These are the words of the first and the last, who was dead and came to life”

  • Resurrection is authentication. This proves that Jesus is who He says He is. So, Christ’s resurrection is central to the life of the Church.

    • His resurrection means our resurrection.

  • How much do we really believe this though? Here’s the test: Imagine if Jesus’ had never risen from the dead. If Jesus had never risen from the dead, and you [as a church, not an individual] can go on living how you’re living now, and function as you are now if Jesus had never risen from the dead, then you are not living in the power of His resurrection.

“and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” – Galatians 2:20, NRSV

“I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, 11 if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead.” – Philippians 3:10-11, NRSV

Let me say this again: Christ’s resurrection is central to the life of the Church. If the life of the church wouldn’t be any different if Jesus hadn’t risen from the dead, then we are not living by the power of His resurrection.

The next thing that we learn about Jesus is in verse 9, “I know your affliction and your poverty…”

Jesus knows our affliction and our suffering. He identifies Himself with the poor, the afflicted, the suffering. He identifies Himself with the marginalized.

“He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not.” – Isaiah 53:3, KJV

A man like this isn’t coming for the righteous, but the unrighteous. He’s not coming for people who don’t suffer. He’s coming for the oppressed. He’s coming for the victims.

  • He’s coming for people who mourn, people who are hungry and thirsty, people who are meek. Because, according to Matthew 5, they’re the ones who receive the blessing.

The fourth idea here is that He knows our hearts.

“I know your affliction and your poverty, even though you are rich. I know the slander on the part of those who say that they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan.” – Revelation 2:9, NRSV

So, who are the Jews in question? Are they actual Jews by lineage and race or is Jesus using the word “Jew” to mean something else?

“For a person is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is true circumcision something external and physical. 29 Rather, a person is a Jew who is one inwardly, and real circumcision is a matter of the heart—it is spiritual and not literal. Such a person receives praise not from others but from God.”
– Romans 2:28-29, NRSV

  • Just as a side note: Romans 2 is the key to understanding Romans 11, when Paul says, “All Israel will be saved.” He’s not talking about the nation of Israel or all ethnic Jews. He’s talking about all those who trust Jesus as their Savior and Messiah.

In Revelation 2, Jesus is saying “I know those who say they are Jews and are not, they are not they are of the synagogue of Satan.”

  • In Smyrna there was a Jewish synagogue not too far from where the church would meet, and the Jews would do all kinds of awful things to get this church in trouble with political authorities.

  • They would even come into the church and pose as converts and try to tear the church apart.

Jesus knows who they are. Jesus knows who is a genuine believer and who isn’t. Jesus knows who really loves Him and serves Him and who doesn’t.

In this passage, not only do we see A Picture of the Savior, but we also see A Picture of the Suffering.

 

A PICTURE OF THE SUFFERING

“Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Beware, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison so that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have affliction. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.” – Revelation 2:10, NRSV

When we talk about suffering in terms of persecution, I always want to make sure that if we’re suffering, then we should be suffering for the right reasons.

“Now who will harm you if you are eager to do what is good? 14 But even if you do suffer for doing what is right, you are blessed… Keep your conscience clear, so that, when you are maligned, those who abuse you for your good conduct in Christ may be put to shame. 17 For it is better to suffer for doing good, if suffering should be God’s will, than to suffer for doing evil.” – 1 Peter 3:13-14a, 16b-17, NRSV

Now, listen to what Peter says in the next chapter.

“If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the spirit of glory, which is the Spirit of God, is resting on you. 15 But let none of you suffer as a murderer, a thief, a criminal, or even as a mischief maker. 16 Yet if any of you suffers as a Christian, do not consider it a disgrace, but glorify God because you bear this name.” – 1 Peter 4:14-16, NRSV

Let’s put this in perspective: Revelation, 1st and 2nd Peter, and Jude, and John’s Letters are all written to Christians who are suffering under persecution, and Peter is saying: If you’re going to suffer (and you will because Jesus said you would) then do so for the right reasons.

This important information for us because here in America we think we’re being persecuted when someone says, “Happy Holidays!”

Meanwhile there are Christians in China who are actually suffering for their faith.

  • If we’re suffering we need to evaluate why we’re suffering. Are we really suffering for our faith or are we suffering because we are “mischief makers” as Peter says.

Jesus knows the suffering of the Church of Smyrna, and it appears that they’re suffering for the right reasons, and so He tells them, “the devil is about to throw some of you into prison so that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have affliction.”

This is not the message of the prosperity Gospel. You’ve got people in the charismatic movement who will walk saying, “God told me to tell you x.”

  • There are really people with prophetic gifts and I don’t want to disparage that, but when you claim to have that gift and all of your “prophetic words” are encouraging and positive, then I’ve got to wonder what’s real and what isn’t because in the Bible, not even all the messages from the men and women who spoke for God were positive and encouraging.

The prosperity Gospel will not tell you that you are going to suffer, but Jesus does. Jesus doesn’t beat around the bush, but there’s good news here.

  • He says, “for ten days you will have affliction.” Here’s the thing: you can interpret this a million different ways, but ultimately it all means the same thing. Jesus named a specific amount of time that their affliction would last and that tells me that it’s temporary.

Your suffering, your affliction, your trouble is temporary. If you’re a believer, if you’re a Christian, then Jesus personally sees to it that your suffering is only temporary.

  • Satan is at work to make sure you have pain and trouble, but Jesus is has come to make sure your suffering isn’t forever.

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” – John 10:10, NRSV

Not only do we see A Picture of Jesus, A Picture of Suffering, but we also see A Promise to Faithful Conquerors.

 

A PROMISE TO FAITHFUL CONQUERORS

“Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life. 11 Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches. Whoever conquers will not be harmed by the second death.” – Revelation 2:10b-11, NRSV

Listen to what’s being promised:

  • Be faithful until death and you’ll receive a crown of life.

  • Conquer and you will not be harmed by the Second Death.

Here’s the thing: because we haven’t faced the real threat of death for our faith yet, I don’t think we appreciate this as much as Smyrna did.

According to John MacArthur, this place was the hotbed of emperor worship. You must treat the caesar as a god.

  • In America, what little emperor worship we see is voluntary; in Rome it was mandatory, and it was all over the place.

  • The promise of a crown of life is more valuable to you when you live in a state that tries to suppress any kind of hope that you have simply because you’re giving your worship to Whom the worship is due, namely Jesus.

    • Jesus is always a threat to secular authorities because He has what they want and they’ll never have – absolute power and authority.

 

Jesus’ promise of a crown of life means that we can look at those earthly kings and rulers in face and say with boldness, “Do your worst.”

Do you know Jesus this morning? Do you understand that this promise to the Church of Smyrna is for you?

“Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches.” Let’s pray.

CLOSING PRAYER

Heavenly Father, this is Your Word and we are Your people. When suffering comes, give us the strength to endure. Send Your Holy Spirit to give us power and strength when we need it most in the name of Your Son, Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.

_______________________________________________

  1. Book of Common Prayer, pg. 215, Second Sunday After Epiphany
  2. Revelation Sermon Series – Bruce Van Blair
  3. “Why Christian Movies Are So Terrible.” For The Church, 7 Jan. 2019, ftc.co/blog/posts/why-christian-movies-are-so-terrible. 

Revelation 2:1-7 // The Church That Lost Its First Love

 

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Text: Revelation 2:1-7

PRAYER FOR ILLUMINATION:

Almighty, Gracious Father, since our whole understanding of salvation depends upon our true understanding of your holy Word, grant to all of us that our hearts, being free from worldly things, may hear and understand your holy Word with all due diligence and faith, that we may rightly understand your gracious will, cherish it, and live by it with all our hearts, to your praise and honor; through our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen. [1]

INTRODUCTION:

This morning, we are going to start on a journey through the seven letters to the seven churches in Revelation.

As some of you may know, this is the first Sunday in the season of Epiphany. The term epiphany means “to show” or “to make known” or even “to reveal.” In Western churches, it remembers the coming of the wise men bringing gifts to visit the Christ child, who by so doing “reveal” Jesus to the world as Lord and King. In some eastern churches, Epiphany or the Theophany commemorates Jesus’ baptism, with the visit of the Magi linked to Christmas. [2]

So, most of the time, pastors might preach on the baptism of Jesus, the three wise men bringing gifts to Jesus when he was a child, or some might even preach on Jesus’ first miracle, turning water into wine.

One of the reasons why I feel like this is appropriate for Epiphany is because one of the major practical applications that we take from the book of Revelation as a whole is that Jesus sees His church, and His church sees Him seeing them (as funny as that sounds) because He’s revealed to them. That’s what the word, “Revelation” means, it means ‘revealing.’

Jesus sees His church in their sufferings, their trials, their temptations, but He also sees the sin. We like the idea of Jesus seeing us in sufferings, trials, and temptations because we know that He can relate to those things, and He can sympathize with us in those things, but we don’t like the idea of Jesus being able to see our sin because if He sees our sin, then we can’t get away with it anymore.

So, during this Epiphany season, I want us to see Jesus and hear Jesus. I want us hear what the Spirit is saying to the churches.

All of these letters in Revelation follow the same pattern: there’s a picture of Jesus, a message from Jesus, and an explicit command to hear what the Spirit is saying.

You’ve probably heard people teach on these letters and say that these churches are a timeline of Christian history, and then they’ll pull out their charts and graphs and try explain how each of these seven churches fit the timeline, but the problem with believing that is that when you say that this letter applies to “this part of church history” and “that letter applies to that part of church history” what you’re actually saying is that only one part of it applies to us today, and that’s not the case.

The letters that John wrote to the seven churches are for every church in every age. For we are told in verse 7, ”he who has an ear, let him hear what the spirit says to the churches.”

When CB radios became popular in this country you might tune in to find someone to talk to and you would ask each other ”do you have your ears on?”

That’s similar to what Jesus is saying here. He’s saying, “If you’ve got your ears on, then hear what the Spirit is saying to the churches.”

The picture of Jesus here, according to verse 1, is that he’s holding seven stars in his hand, and he’s walking among the seven golden candlesticks. These are representations of the church. Jesus doesn’t just see what’s going on from afar, but He’s personally active among His people.

This morning, as we look at the letter that Jesus tells John to give to Ephesus, we will see that there three things we need to deal with: There’s An Assessment of the Church, An Accusation Against the Church, and An Answer for the Church.

AN ASSESSMENT OF THE CHURCH (v. 2-3)

“I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance. I know that you cannot tolerate evildoers; you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them to be false. 3 I also know that you are enduring patiently and bearing up for the sake of my name, and that you have not grown weary.” – Revelation 2:2-3, NRSV

As we look at these two verses we find that there are three things that characterize the assessment of the church.

They Were Energetic (v. 2a)

Jesus says, “I know your works, your toil…”

They were an active congregation. They are at all the community events. They’re the first ones to welcome new people who move to their area. Their Sunday School programs and Bible Studies were filled with rich discussion, and they gave heartily to all the right causes.

They Were Established (v. 2b)

Not only were they energetic, but they were established.

Look at the second half of verse 2 – “I know that you cannot tolerate evildoers; you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them to be false.”

They hated moral evil. – They didn’t want to see anyone mistreated. They stood up for their fellow man.

They also hated ministerial evil. – They didn’t tolerate people who taught false doctrine. Jesus even tells them in verse 6, “this is to your credit: you hate the works of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.”

  • No one knows much about the Nicolaitans, but what scholars can come up with is that they were a sect of apostate Christians who tolerated idolatry and fornication, and the church here at Ephesus wasn’t having any of it, and Jesus commends them for it.

Not only were they energetic and established, but they were also enduring.

They Were Enduring (v. 3)

In verse 2, Jesus says, “I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance…” and then in verse 3, Jesus says, “I also know that you are enduring patiently…”

They’re in this thing for the long haul. They seem to be ready for whatever comes their way. On the outside, this looks like a healthy church.

Who wouldn’t want to be apart of a church where they’re energetic, established, and enduring?

So, what’s the problem? The problem is on the inside and it goes deep. On the surface, everything looks healthy, but there’s something going on on the inside that only Jesus can see, and that’s what warrants the accusation. Maybe it’s the same way with some of us. Maybe we look fine on the outside, but on the inside we’re lacking. On the inside we are weighed in the balances and found wanting, and Jesus sees it even no one else does.

THE ACCUSATION AGAINST THE CHURCH (v. 4)

“But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first.” – Revelation 2:4, NRSV

The accusation is that they lost their first love. What does that mean? Obviously they love something. Their church doesn’t look healthy on the outside because they’re just going through the motions. Jesus doesn’t accuse them of “going through the motions.” They actually love what they’re doing, and it shows in the quality of their service.

  • The problem isn’t with what they love, but who they’re not loving.
    • They loved service more than the Savior. They loved form, but not godliness.

“We can get so focused on the work of the Lord that we forget the Lord of the work.” – Denny Duron

We can strive to make a better image for ourselves, and make our brand bigger and better, but if we are not focused on Jesus, then it’s all in vain.

  • Our motivations are ultimately the litmus test. Do we want to help others find and follow Jesus? Or do we just want others join our social club so they follow our vision of what we think the church ought to be?

One theologian describes Ephesus leaving their first love like this:

“They had lost the first flush of excitement in their Christian life and settled into a cold orthodoxy with more surface strength than depth.” [3]

  • (Illustration: This kinda reminds me of a story I heard where there was a woman who felt like her husband was neglecting her. They had been married for several years, but she felt like the fire was going out.

    One day a newly wed couple moved in next door, and everyday when he left for work he would grab her and hug her and plant a long kiss on her lips. The neglected neighbor watch this until she could take it no more. She dragged her husband to the door, made him watch what was going on and asked, “Can you do that?” He thought about it a minute and said, “Sure, I guess I could, but I don’t think her husband would like that too much.”)

As continue to look at the passage, we’ll see that not only is there an assessment of the church, not only is there an accusation against the church, but Jesus also provides An Answer for the Church.

AN ANSWER FOR THE CHURCH (v. 5)

“Remember then from what you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent.” – Revelation 2:5, NRSV

Remember

First, he calls them to remember. The present imperative form of this verb beckons them to “keep on remembering.” Never forget what you have lost. Go back and note when and where the flame of love grew faint. Take an inventory and evaluate where you are now compared to where you were then. Go back to the time when your love for Jesus was a burning passion and all that mattered. [4]

Memory is a powerful tool. Almost everything sacramental that we do in the life of the church calls us to remember.

  • In baptism we remember that just as God brought Moses and the people Israel across the Red Sea so He brings into out of the captivity of our sin and into the promised land of the Church.
  • In the Lord’s Supper, we remember what makes our salvation and our baptism possible – the shed blood of Jesus. His body is broken for us, and His blood is poured out for us. Those are things we are called to remember.

And the church at Ephesus is called to remember a time when they loved God, and they remembered what He did for them.

Not only does He call them to Remember, but He calls them to repent.

Repent

Think about the word, “repent.” In the Greek this is metanoeō “to think differently” or “reconsider.”

  • What do they have to reconsider? What do they have to think about differently? When we ask that we also have to understand that this is for us so what is that we have to think about differently?

We have to think differently about our sin—sins of indifference, religious formalism, legalistic routine. Repentance requires that we change our minds from thinking that our good deeds are meritorious and earn God’s favor.

In calling for the Ephesians to repent (and ultimately, calling us to repent), Jesus reminds us that labor is no substitute for love, purity is no substitute for passion, and deeds are no substitute for devotion. We can’t pat ourselves on the back for doing good things for the wrong reason. [5]

Repeat

The NRSV that I use says, “do the works you did at first,” but the New King James is probably more correct when it says, “do the first works.” The reason that’s important is because that word “first” is the same as the word “first” in verse 4.

It speaks of that which is “first in rank and importance”. In other words, Jesus isn’t calling them to go back and do what they did before, instead He calls them to return to the things that are most important.

What is most important when it comes to our relationship with Him? The Lord’s call here is for the Ephesian believers to return to the simple fundamentals of the faith.

It is a call to return to the altar of prayer.
It is a call to come back to the Word of God.
It is a call to return to a place of worship.
It is a call to return to the sacraments.
It is a call to obedience to His will.
It is a call to walk in holiness before the Lord.

  • Now, when we think about holiness we tend to think of moral purity. Although some aspects of our holiness might involve that, there are lost people who don’t know Jesus who are more moral than some of us are.
    • So, what is holiness? What does it mean to be holy as God is holy? (1 Peter 1:16) Holiness is ‘other’ness. When the Bible speaks about God being mean it means that He is complete set apart from everything. There’s literally nothing else in this universe like Him.
  • So, when the church is called to be holy as He is holy, when the church is called to walk in holiness. It means that we are to walk in otherness. We are a called out people. It doesn’t mean we’re better than anyone else, but it does mean that something has been done for us that we couldn’t do for ourselves.
  • We are ‘set apart’ precisely because Jesus attained a victory for us that we couldn’t get on our own. So, in giving an overview of the seven letters in Revelation, M. Eugene Boring says, “The Christian life called for in chapters 2–3 is not adherence to moralistic norms but a life lived in view of the reality of the Christ event in the past and the victory of God in the eschatological future.” [6]

Being holy means understanding that we look forward to a time when our faith will be sight. In the end, Jesus wins, and because He wins, we win.

Jesus is still calling the church to return to these basic, foundational truths.

CONCLUSION (v. 5, 7)

“Remember then from what you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent.” – Revelation 2:5, NRSV

There’s a lot of debate over the symbolism involved here about what this lampstand could mean, but I think there’s a practical truth to taken from this statement that Jesus makes – a church cannot expect to keep its light, if it doesn’t keep its love.

(Illustration: Henry Grady was the editor of the Atlanta Constitution. After a great speech entitled, “The New South” he was hailed as a national hero, but Grady knew something was desperately wrong in his life.

One day he left his downtown office and started back to his boyhood home in the mountains. When he arrived he found his mother sitting on the porch reading her Bible. He quickly confessed to her that he had lost something and desperately needed to find it. That night after supper they sat on the porch together. As he placed his head in her lap as he had done as a young boy, she started talking about her Lord Jesus Christ. She talked about how good He’d been to her throughout the years, and how wonderful it was to serve Him.

Henry Grady began to feel something in his heart grow warm once again. When it was time to go to bed he and his mother walked up to his room where they knelt together. That night he didn’t sleep much. He spent the night remembering and repenting.

The next morning, his mother said, “Henry, you look so different.” He said, “Mom, I am different. I have found what I lost.”)

Do you need to find what you lost this morning? You can. Let’s pray.

CLOSING PRAYER

Heavenly Father, You love us. You loved us so much that You sent us Your Son to deal with the problems of our sin, our guilt, and our shame. You also not only call us to repent, but You grant repentance as gift. Grant us repentance this morning. Send the Holy Spirit to convict us of our sins, and bring us closer to You. In the name of Your Son, Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

____________

  1. Prayer based on the Strasbourg Liturgy of 1539
  2. http://www.crivoice.org/cyepiph.html
  3. Osborne, Grant R. Revelation. Baker Academic, 2008.
  4. Exalting Jesus in Revelation (Christ-Centered Exposition Commentary) (Kindle Locations 967-969). B&H Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
  5. ” “
  6. Boring, M. Eugene. Revelation: Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching (pp. 89-90). Presbyterian Publishing Corporation. Kindle Edition.

The World is Not Enough // 1 John 2:15-17

1 John 2_15-17

Text: 1 John 2:15-17

Prayer of Illumination:

Almighty and Everlasting God, we are tired. We are worn down by the cares of this world, but Lord, you have told us to cast all of our cares on You because You care for us. Lord, we ask that you relieve us these cares so that we can faithfully carry your yoke. Your yoke is easy and Your burden is light. This morning, we ask that You would open up Your word to us so that it would set us free from the bondage of the world, and that we can live freely in the world that You’ve made for us. In the name of Your Son, Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.

Introduction:

What do you think of when you think of worldliness? Do you think of wild parties? Do you think of debauchery? Do you think of rock music? What do you think worldliness really is?

Are you really safe from it just because you distance yourself from those things?

Years ago, in some churches, mostly Baptist and Pentecostal churches, when you became a member you had to commit to not dancing. You had to commit to not smoking, and in some congregations you also had to commit to not playing cards and using dice.

The problem is as long as we limit worldliness to what “those people” do “out there” then we’ll never stop and examine the worldliness that we’re actually harboring in our own hearts.

  • We’re not safe from worldliness just because we live out in the middle of nowhere where there’s more cows than people per capita.

Worldliness is more than what goes on “out there.” It’s bigger than that. It’s also what goes on, and I think as we examine the passage you’ll see what I mean.

Mixing Up Our Worlds (v. 15)

First of all, look at verse 15.

“Do not love the world or the things in the world. The love of the Father is not in those who love the world” – 1 John 2:15, NRSV

Now think about John 3:16.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” – John 3:16, NRSV

How can God love the world and then tell us not to love the world? What’s going on? It’s the same Greek word – ‘cosmos.’ John isn’t changing the word, so what’s the deal?

The deal is the usage for ‘world’ in John 3:16 is different than the usage for ‘world’ in the 1 John 2:15.

  1. The Human Race, at large in need of redemption. (John 3:16)
    We are called to love the same people that God loves. If God loves the world in this sense, then we should also love the world. It’s our mission field. It’s the place where God has planted us. The world has God’s fingerprints all over it because every single person is made in the image of God including the people that we wish weren’t.

    • If we can’t use our power to get people to do, to act, and think like we do, then we feel like we have to do something about it. And if we can’t do something about it then we just give up and assume that we’re better than they are. Of course, we never say that out loud because that’s not polite so instead of saying it out loud we just act like we’re better. Why? Because it makes us feel good. That’s the lust of the flesh. Anything that feeds our ego. Pagan Society that is opposed to Christ’s Lordship. (1 John 5:19)
      Jesus is reigning now. His reign isn’t something we have to wait for. 1 Corinthians 15:25-26 says that Christ must reign until He puts all enemies under His feet, and the enemy to be destroyed is death. Christ is the one with all power, and all the Lordship, but the problem is that the world doesn’t recognize it because the world is held under the captivity of who John calls the evil one.

      “We know that we are God’s children, and that the whole world lies under the power of the evil one.” – 1 John 5:19, NRSV
      Call him Satan, call him Old Scratch, call him the philosophical embodiment of evil, it doesn’t matter, it’s all the same. As long as the world ignores what is true about Jesus, namely that He is Lord whether they like it or not, then they’ll always be blind and they are responsible for their blindness.

      James Montgomery Boice writes that John’s use of ‘kosmos’ in this section is in its ethical sense: “The idea here is of the world of men in rebellion against God and therefore characterized by all that is in opposition to God. This is what we might call “the world system.” It involves the world’s values, pleasures, pastimes, and aspirations. John says of this world that the world lies in the grip of the evil one (1Jn 5:19), that it rejected Jesus when He came (Jn 1:10), that it does not know Him (1Jn 3:1), and consequently that it does not know and therefore also hates His followers (John 15:18,19, 20, 21; 17:14). It is in this sense that John speaks of the world in the passage before us.”

      Our problem is that we mix up our worlds. We tend to hate the John 3:16 world while loving the 1 John 5:19 world. We end up doing that falling into the temptations that John mentions and then when others don’t agree or share the same affections that we do, we hate them.

      If you don’t think you do this then just discuss politics with someone you disagree with. You quickly forget that the person you disagree with is made in the image of God.

      It’s true that you don’t have to agree with someone to love them, but if we’re all honest then I think sometimes we tend to have a little less respect for people who aren’t like us, and I think that’s a symptom of mixing up our worlds.
      We end up loving the 1 John 5:19 world, and hating the John 3:16 world because we get just as enraged or triggered as everybody else except in the opposite direction about opposite thing realizing that there’s ditches on both sides to avoid, and a whole world of people who need the hope that is within us regardless of what ditch they’re in.

      I think the Apostle John speaks about the things that keep us from loving the John 3:16 world.

      Temptations of the World (v. 16)

      Notice verse 16. I’m actually going to look at this verse from the King James so some of the wording may be more familiar to those of us who grew up under that translation.

      “For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world.” – 1 John 2:16, KJV

      John gives us three things to look out for and he says that everything in the world, everything that is contained in a society that rebels against the rule and reign of Christ can be summed up in these three categories. And I’m actually going to start with the second of the three categories because I think this is where the downward spiral begins.

      The Lust of the Eyes – Attractions
      What looks good.

      Everything looks good when you’re on a diet. I know this because Brittany has decided to start a diet which means I’m also going on a diet. I’m told that I’ve chosen to go on this diet of my own free will and volition. I would appreciate your prayers during this trying time in my life.

      In August of 1986, Reader’s Digest published this little story: “A man was on a diet and struggling. He had to go downtown and as he started out, he remembered that his route would take him by the doughnut shop. As he got closer, he thought that a cup of coffee would hit the spot. Then he remembered his diet.

      That’s when he prayed, “Lord, if You want me to stop for a doughnut and coffee, let there be a parking place in front of the shop.” He said, “Sure enough, I found a parking place right in front—on my seventh time around the block!” As Robert Orben said, “Most people want to be delivered from temptation but would like it to keep in touch”

      Whenever you’re tempted, you’re always tempted by something that looks good at the moment. Think about compared this passage in James.

      “Blessed is anyone who endures temptation. Such a one has stood the test and will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him. 13No one, when tempted, should say, “I am being tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil and he himself tempts no one. 14But one is tempted by one’s own desire, being lured and enticed by it; 15then, when that desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin, and that sin, when it is fully grown, gives birth to death.” – James 1:12-15, NRSV
      Sin always starts with desire, then desire leads to disobedience, and disobedience leads to death. That’s what James 1 says. It always begins with what we think looks good.

      • We always think about lust in terms of being something purely sexual, but sometimes there are things in life that we think look good that have nothing to do with sexuality, but they always have a trap door underneath them. There’s always bad ideas that disguise themselves as good ideas.

      The Lust of the Flesh – Appetites
      What feels good.

       

      • If lust isn’t always sexual, then this idea of lust of the flesh isn’t always physical.

       

      • Good Example: On 64, the speed limit is 60 so that means I usually drive between 65 and 70. However, sometimes I’m behind someone who insists on going 20 below the speed limit. It would probably make me feel good to give them a tap on their back bumper just to give them a little encouragement, but I know as soon as I do, they may want to check their breaks, and then that would create more harm than good.

      Sometimes there are things in life that we think will make us feel better, but in end they do damage to us.

      But those are the things we crave, right? That’s what our appetite wants. Our appetite is to feed our ego. Nothing feeds our ego more than power. We want to have power.

      • If we can’t use our power to get people to do, to act, and think like we do, then we feel like we have to do something about it. And if we can’t do something about it then we just give up and assume that we’re better than they are. Of course, we never say that out loud because that’s not polite so instead of saying it out loud we just act like we’re better. Why? Because it makes us feel good. That’s the lust of the flesh. Anything that feeds our ego.


      “For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.”
      – Romans 12:3, NRSV


      The Pride of Life – Ambitions
      You hear me mention this a lot so I won’t spend a lot of time on it, but I think the American Dream is deceptive. I actually don’t think it’s a dream at all. It’s nightmare.

      Because what happens is that you start out working to make a living for you and your family which is good and honorable, but then when you realize that you’ve got a nice house, multiple cars in the driveway, and a whole bunch of other amenities you keep working even though it takes you away from your family, away from your community, away from the things that are really important because you want to keep up with the Jones’.


      • The Pride of Life is that we have to have more, more, and more, and then when you have enough it’s never really enough.

      • And I don’t think it matters where you are in society, I think at some point you have to ask yourself, “Is there anything in my life that I’m working to keep that I don’t need?” It doesn’t even have to be material things either. What’s the baggage that you’re hanging on to? What’s the biggest source of pride in your life?

        • Pride is the killer of Christian joy. Joy is all about our sense of security within our salvation, but pride is about what we’ve done, what we’ve accomplished. But in salvation, Paul says that there’s no room for boasting. You are saved by grace, not of yourselves, lest any man should boast. (Ephesians 2) If you want to separate yourself from real joy, from the joy that comes with your salvation, then allow pride to consume you.


      Alternatives to the World – Doing the Will of God (v. 17)

      Finally, notice verse 17 in our passage of 1 John 2. John gives us an alternative to the ways of the world.

      • If you’re following along in your bulletin outline the last point should say, “Alternatives to the World,” not “of the world.”


      “And the world and its desire are passing away, but those who do the will of God live forever.” – 1 John 2:17, NRSV

      There was a Christian comedian back in the 80’s who turned out to be a fraud, but he used to say something I thought was clever, he would say, “Pagans tell me all the time that Christianity is just a religion of do’s and don’t’s and I always tell them, ‘yeah, but if you spend your time doing the do’s, you won’t have time to do the don’t’s that you don’t need to do in the first place.’”

      I think that’s good practical advice, but like everything else, you have to see it in context.

      John tells us that those who do the will of God abide forever. Think about our passage this morning, 1 John 2:15-17, as a tall building. Well, like any good structure, it’s got to have a foundation.

      • By telling us to do the will of God, John tells us to aim high. Go to the very top of this building, but we can’t get to the top without starting the ground floor. The groundfloor of the building that John has given us is found right behind these verses in 1 John 2:12-14.

      “I am writing to you, little children, because your sins are forgiven on account of his name. 13I am writing to you, fathers, because you know him who is from the beginning. I am writing to you, young people, because you have conquered the evil one. 14I write to you, children, because you know the Father. I write to you, fathers, because you know him who is from the beginning. I write to you, young people, because you are strong and the word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the evil one.” – 1 John 2:12-14, NRSV
      This is what your foundation is made of.

      You can do the will of God because your sins are forgiven, and because your sins are forgiven you know God as your Father, and because you know God as your Father, Satan is a defeated enemy.

      So, what’s John talking about when he’s talking about doing the will of God? He never specifically says what it is, but if you read the entirety of chapter 2, then I think you can conclude that “doing the will of God” comes down to three things:

      1. Having your sins forgiven

        1. “My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; 2and he is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.”
          – 1 John 2:1-2, NRSV

      2. Loving one another

        1. “Whoever loves a brother or sister lives in the light, and in such a person there is no cause for stumbling. 11But whoever hates another believer is in the darkness, walks in the darkness, and does not know the way to go, because the darkness has brought on blindness.”
          – 1 John 2:10-11, NRSV

      3. Doing what is right.

        1. “If you know that he is righteous, you may be sure that everyone who does right has been born of him.” – 1 John 2:29, NRSV

      You may hear that and think, “Well, that’s really broad, he’s not giving us enough information.” Actually, that’s the point. John is giving you all the information you need.

      • This is good news because this means that Christianity isn’t as complicated as we want to make it out to be. We don’t have to go on some crusade. We don’t have to legislate people’s behavior. We just have to our sins forgiven, love God, love each other, and do what is right, and then let God do the rest.

      And you know what the best part is. That first one has already been done for us. Remember what John says, “Your sins are forgiven.”

      Conclusion

      If your sins are forgiven, then you have citizenship in a kingdom that is not of this world which means that the cares of this world do not belong to you. They are not yours to deal with. So, this morning if you feel weighed down, if you feel like you’ve spent too long worrying about things that don’t belong to you, if you feel like you would like to love Jesus more, then talk to Him this morning.