Revelation 3:14-22 // The Church that is Lukewarm

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TEXT: Revelation 3:14-22, NIV84

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

PRAYER FOR ILLUMINATION:

Eternal God and Father of Our Lord Jesus Christ, grant us Your Holy Spirit who writes the preached word into our hearts so that we may believe it, and be gladdened and comforted by it in eternity. Glorify Your Word in our hearts. Make it so bright and warm that we may find pleasure in it, and through Your inspiration think what is right. By Your power fulfill the Word, for the sake of Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord. Amen. [1]

 

INTRODUCTION:

I love the Rocky movies and Rocky 3 is one of my favorites. In Rocky 3, Rocky Balboa has been the heavyweight champion of the world for several years. The once obscure and impoverished street fighter from Philadelphia is now living in a Hollywood style mansion. He’s enjoying a life of wealth, fame, and self-indulgence. The day he plans to announce his retirement, he is challenged by an unknown behemoth named Clubber Lang played by Mr. T.

Rocky accepts the challenge. He trains for the fight in a circus-like atmosphere. He signs more autographs than he hits punching bags.


Meanwhile, Clubber Lang is in a meat locker, punching sides of beef and knocking around dock workers.

When the fight time comes, we might wonder whether Rocky can reach down and pull out one final victory, even though he is no longer at his peak.

Clubber Lang destroys Rocky in just three rounds, humiliated and dejected, Rocky tries to figure out what went wrong.


Apollo Creed, his opponent in the first two Rocky movies, tells him what his problem is. He said, “You used to have the eye of the tiger. You used to be hungry to win. You used to have the want-to. You used to be willing to pay the price to train. You used to fight with abandonment. You used to, but winning led to fame, and fame led to affluence, and affluence led to indulgence, and self-indulgence led to weakness, and weakness led to defeat.”

This morning as we look at the church at Laodicea, we will see that they have a similar problem. They are affluent, they are confident, and according to Jesus they say that they have need of nothing, but as we see their big problem is that they’re in denial about their condition.

When it comes to getting help for drug or alcohol addiction we’ve always heard that the first step to help is admitting that you have a problem. Well, the church at Laodicea doesn’t seem believe that they have a problem, and the you can’t help people that won’t admit that they have a problem.

 

Even when Jesus saves us, He first causes to see that we have a problem, and He is our solution. So, the first thing that needs to happen is that the church needs to see is their problem.

 

As we look at the text, we’ll see 2 Problems with the Church, 3 Things The Church Needs, and 3 Signs of Hope for the Church. So, if you’re keeping count, we have 8 points to cover.

 

2 Problems with the Church (v. 15-17)

“I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other!16 So, because you are lukewarm–neither hot nor cold–I am about to spit you out of my mouth.” – Revelation 3:15-16, NIV84

 

Problem #1: Lukewarm

Sometimes in order to understand what a text means we have to rule out what it doesn’t mean first.

  • When Jesus is saying “You are neither hot nor cold, I wish you were one or the other.” What we think that means is that Jesus wants would rather us be red hot, on fire for Him or He would rather us be cold and completely against Him, than to be completely indifferent, but that’s not the case.

  • Jesus isn’t talking about our passion, or how we might feel about Him. He’s talking about our usefulness.

Laodicea was a city that had two major springs near it, one was a hot spring that came down from Hierapolis, and the other was from a cold spring that came down from the side of Colossae, and by the time the water came together from where they would pipe it in near Laodicea [2] it became lukewarm and it was undrinkable. [3]

 

On a hot day, you can use a cold glass of ice water to cool you down, and you can use hot water to shower with, but you can’t hardly use lukewarm water for anything.

 

Here’s another way of thinking about it: here in the south, we consume a lot of tea. We can drink iced tea or we can drink hot tea. (Whenever we go to a mall in Little Rock or Fort Smith, my wife loves going to Teavana and getting different kinds of hot tea to make at home.) Hot tea and cold tea are both pretty good, but who likes lukewarm tea? Nobody.

 

Jesus is saying, “If you’re hot I’ll use you, if you’re cold I’ll use you, but I won’t use you if you’re lukewarm. I’ll spew you out of my mouth.”

 

  • The main question for us is: Do we want Jesus to use us?

 

If we want Jesus to use us, then we have to be honest about who we are, and that leads us to the second problem.

 

Problem #2: Self-Deception

“You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.”
– Revelation 3:17, NIV84

 

This is the source of all their problems. This is the very reason that they are lukewarm. When the people in Laodicea looked at themselves, they saw the perfect church. They were wealthy, powerful and they had arrived.

 

  • The city of Laodicea itself was so wealthy that when an earthquake hit in 61 AD and destroyed the whole city, Caesar offered troops, money, resources, and anything else he could think to help them rebuild. They refused all of it, and they rebuilt the city on their own. They didn’t need anyone’s help. They were self-sufficient. Now, there’s nothing wrong with being self-sufficient in the sense that you live on your own, pay your own bills, drive yourself back and forth, etc.

  • It’s one thing to not have to depend on other people in that manner, but when you have so much that you think you don’t need what God has to offer, then you’ve got a problem.

 

They looked at their position, their possessions and their power and they said, “We have everything!” Reality is that they were indifferent, apathetic, and unmoved and they believed they were in good shape.

 

You can be sure that the road to destruction begins when you say, “Nah, I’m good, fam. I don’t need Jesus.” Every time we think that we don’t need Jesus, every time we think our own righteousness, and our own works are enough to satisfy God, it’s because we have deceived ourselves.

If we were Laocedia and we were listening to this being read in our church, this is where we need to start asking ourselves, “Okay, what needs to be done to change this?”

  • Well, Jesus, in His mercy, tells us what to do.

 

3 Things We Need

“I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see.” – Revelation 3:18, NIV84

 

There’s three things here that Jesus says we need, and gives the reason as to why we need each of these.

Faith Worth More Than Gold

Here’s the question: what kind of gold is Jesus offering? Obviously this represents something. Jesus isn’t giving us real gold… you know, unless you believe the prosperity gospel.

 

  • I believe gold here represents faith. Jesus gives us faith as a gift, and not only does he give it to us freely, but it’s a real faith that can be put to the test because Jesus says that it’s gold that’s been refined in the fire.

  • In 1st Peter 1, Peter talks about how we can rejoice now in the inheritance that Jesus because we will suffer trials, and he says in 1 Peter 1:7, “These [trials] have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.”

Jesus is telling us to get faith from Him that can be tried in the fire. What does this look like? It looks like that man in Mark 9 who says to Jesus, “Lord, I believe, help my unbelief.” That’s how you get more faith. You go to the source of faith Himself, and say, “Lord, I need more faith. Help my unbelief.”

 

Clothed in His Righteousness

The next Jesus wants give us is “white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness.”

  • These clothes white clothes are the righteousness of Christ.

We already talked about it a little bit earlier, but in Genesis 3, Adam and Eve cover themselves up with fig trees, and God decides that that’s not good so Genesis 3:21 tells us, “The Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them.” The assumption is that God kills something and uses the death of whatever animal this was from to cover up Adam and Eve’s shame.

  • Why couldn’t they have just sewn together fig leaves? Because the work of their hands would never be good cover themselves up before God.

 

In Genesis 4, Adam and Eve have two boys. The boys names are Cain and Abel.

 

Cain is a tiller of the ground, Abel is a keeper of the animals in the field.

 

So, they both bring God sacrifices of their respective jobs. Abel sacrifices an animal, and Cain brings a sacrifice from the ground.

 

Well, God accepts Abel’s sacrifice, but not Cain’s. Why? Nothing died! Cain didn’t kill anything. Cain thought he could get by with the work of his hands, and that didn’t cut it. Something or someone has to die in order for your sins to be atoned for.

 

Well, for us, in this administration of the covenant, Jesus has died in our place for our sins, and He says, “Your righteousness isn’t good enough. Wear mine.”

 

And whenever Jesus gives us His righteousness to put on that’s a theological term called “imputation.” R.C. Sproul defines it this way, “Imputation means that the righteousness of Jesus is counted for me the moment I believe in Jesus Christ. That’s what Luther said. That that righteousness an “iustitia” alien—an alien righteousness. A righteousness that’s “extra nos.” A righteousness that’s apart from me, it’s not mine inherently. It belongs to Christ. And what Christ does is when I put my trust in Him, He imputes or counts to me His righteousness. And on the basis of that imputed righteousness, God declares me just right now.[4]

 

The third thing that Jesus wants to give us is salve for our eyes. 

 

Sight for Vision and Direction

This is the root problem for Laodicea, and it could be the problem for some of us, they’re blind, and Jesus wants to give them sight.

The third thing Jesus wants to give us is eyesalve so that we can see.

If you study the history of Laodicea as a city, then you know that all of these things – gold, cloth, and eyesalve – are all things had and produced in abundance. They were wealthy, they produced the finest cloth, and they were the leading producer of all kinds of medicines.

So, Jesus says, “If you think what you have is good, what I’m offering is better.”

Jesus says, “You can only heal people’s bodies, you can only appeal to their materialistic wants, but what I have is for their souls, people actually need what I have.”

And when we realize that, that’s when our eyes are opened. And the beauty of that, is that we Jesus opens our eyes we not only see where we are, but where we are going.

  • Jesus wants the church at Laodicea to see that if they continue to down this path of pride and self-sufficiency, then they are headed straight for destruction.

But see, out of all the problems with the church, there’s still three more things that should give us hope.

 

3 Signs of Hope for the Church

A Warning of Chastisement

“Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest, and repent.” – Revelation 3:19, NIV84

Compare what Jesus says here to what Solomon says in Proverbs 3.

“My son, do not despise the Lord’s discipline and do not resent his rebuke, 12 because the Lord disciplines those he loves, as a father the son he delights in.”
– Proverbs 3:11-12, NIV84

If you fast forward to Hebrews 12 in the New Testament, the author of Hebrews actually tells us what it means for us to be disciplined and chastised by the Lord.

 

“In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. 5And you have forgotten that word of encouragement that addresses you as sons:


  “My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline,
      and do not lose heart when he rebukes you,
  6because the Lord disciplines those he loves,
      and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son.”


7Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father? 8If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons. 9Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of our spirits and live! 10Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. 11No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.” – Hebrews 12:4-11, NIV84

 

The writer of Hebrews seems to be telling us that God allows hardships in our lives for the sake of disciplining us.

So, when Jesus tells the church at Laodicea “whom I love, I rebuke and discipline,” he’s giving them the rebuke now, but the discipline is coming, and the discipline is coming in the form of hardships.

The Church has had it easy, but it will not always be that way. That’s one of the reasons why this letter is so relevant for our day. We’ve had it easy, and we’ve got it easy now, but it will not always be this way and we need to be ready.

The fact that Jesus is giving this rebuke is a sign that He’s still holding on to them. They are still his, and He’s not letting go.

The second sign of hope is that He invites them to fellowship.

 

An Invitation to Fellowship

“Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.” – Revelation 3:20, NIV84

We’re all familiar with the painting of Jesus standing on the outside of the door, and we all know the symbolism of the painting and how there’s no doorknob because we have to let him in, etc.

But this invitation is to the church. We’ve heard evangelists take this verse out of context and tell us, “Oh, sinner, just open the door to your heart and let Jesus in. Can’t you see that He’s knocking on your heart’s door?” Listen, every once in a while Jesus kicks down some doors.

Jesus is showing up and saying, “I’m at the door and I’m coming in. You can either fellowship with me and benefit from that fellowship or you can be like Laodicea and believe that your own resources are good enough.”

Jesus has told several churches so far that He is coming and they had better be ready, but here Jesus is telling Laodicea that He’s so close that He’s at the door, and they had better be ready to fellowship with Him.

 

  • Jesus is coming to dinner, and He’s the bread of life. If we want life, then we need to run to Jesus and feed off of Him. We can’t feed off the world expect to be sustained. We have to take our food from Jesus, and the good news is that Jesus is inviting us to do just that.

    • He’s not withholding Himself. John 6:37, “Everyone the Father gives me will come to me, and the one who comes to me I will never cast out.” That’s a promise straight out of Jesus’ mouth.

 

The Promise for Overcomers

“To him who overcomes, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I overcame and sat down with my Father on his throne. 22 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” – Revelation 3:21-22, NIV84

 

If we’re being honest with ourselves, we hear that and we think, “How can I possibly overcome when I feel like I’ve been defeated so many times by temptation, by sin, and by my suffering. Sometimes I feel like that soil in Mark 4 where the seed of the word has been choked out by the cares of this life. How can I overcome?”

  • If you’re fighting on your own, then you never will overcome, but if you trust in Christ, then you will overcome because He already has.

 

“…those who are conformed to Christ in his trials and victories shall be conformed to him in his glory; they shall sit down with him on his throne, on his throne of judgment at the end of the world, on his throne of glory to all eternity, shining in his beams by virtue of their union with him and relation to him, as the mystical body of which he is the head.” – Matthew Henry

 

How are you conformed to Christ? By being made new. If you’re a new creature in Christ, then this victory is already yours. All you have to do is trust Him.

 

So, the next logical question: how can we trust Him?

 

Look at what Jesus says about Himself at the end of verse 14: “These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation.”

  • CSB – “originator of God’s creation”

 

According to what the Apostle Paul says about Jesus: He is God’s ‘yes’ and ‘amen’ to everyone of His promises. (2 Corinthians 1:20) How do you know God will keep His word? Because Jesus, who is Himself God in the flesh, died and rose again.

  • Revelation 19:11 even tells us that one of the names of Christ is Faithful and True. So, can you trust Him? Yes, you can.

 

Let’s pray.

 

Closing Prayer

Heavenly Father, sometimes we’re flawed, we’re faulty and we’re unreliable, but Lord, You are Faithful and True. You are consistent when we are not. If you change us, and conform us to the image of Your Son, then we’ll be faithful and true to You. Lord, we are physically made in Your image, but conform us spiritually to the image of Your Son, in His in holy name we pray. Amen.

_________________

  1. Luther’s Prayer to Receive the Word
  2. NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible
  3. Sermons and Outlines, https://www.sermonnotebook.org/new%20testament/Revelation%203_14-22.htm
  4. “An Alien Righteousness.” Ligonier Ministries, http://www.ligonier.org/blog/alien-righteousness/.

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

SevenLettersGraphicP4

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

 

sevenlettersgraphicp1

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.

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  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.