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 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.

Homily: Ghosts in Church

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“And to the angel at the church in Sardis write: These are the words of Him who has the seven spirits of God and the seven stars: “I know your works; you have a name of being alive, but you are dead. Wake up, and strengthen what remains and is on the point of death, for I have not found your works perfect in the sight of my God. Remember then what you have received and heard; obey it, and repent. If you do not wake up, I will come like a theif, and you will not know at what hour I will come to you. Yet you have still a few persons in Sardis who have not soiled their clothes; they will walk with me, dressed in white robes, and I will not blot your name out of the book of life; I will confess your name before my Father and before His angels. Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches.” – Revelation 3:1-6, NRSV

Flannery O’Connor once said that while the south is hardly Christ-centered, it is most assuredly Christ-haunted. I thought that that was such a profound statement especially considering what part of the south I’m from. I live close to Russellville, Arkansas where there are roughly 120 churches. There is practically a church on every corner, and yet our town doesn’t seem very Christ-centered.

Of course, it’s easy for us to look outside the four walls of our church and see how morally bankrupt the rest of the world is, but what would we see if we looked in our own hearts? Will we find that are hearts are Christ-centered or Christ-haunted? Are we actively living our faith or are we simply ghosts, remnants of what used to be?

For the last couple of months, I’ve been doing a slow read through the book of Revelation and every once in a while it seems like the Holy Spirit will poke me on the shoulder and say, “Pay attention, I’m talking to you” and when He does I soak in the passage and I am drawn closer to Christ through an outcry for repentance. And that sounds all warm and fuzzy, but it’s not. It’s painful. I think sometimes I make it more painful than it has to be. I don’t know about you, but I find myself in a rush trying to be holy NOW, and then I end up messing up again. I want to hurry to do enough ‘holy’ things to make up for the sinful things I’ve done, but the reality of the situation is that my sin was already paid for by the blood of Jesus. So, what must I do? Listen.

Notice the last words of Jesus in this passage, “Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit says to the churches.” So, what will I hear if I listen? His voice telling me to “remember what I’ve received and heard and to obey it.” So, did I receive and hear? The Gospel. The good news that Jesus came to save sinners like me. How do I obey it? By repentance and belief. I must repent of my sins and believe that God raised Jesus from the dead to declare victory over all sin.

If I listen closely to what the Spirit saying, I can also hear Him telling me to wake up. One of my favorite passages is found in the book of Ephesians, and it says, “Sleeper, awake! Rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.” Paul quotes from an old hymn of the first century Church that alludes to Isaiah 26:19 which is a promise of God to His people that their dead shall awake from their slumber, and one stanza of that particular verse says, “O dwellers of the dust, awake and sing for joy!” The Holy Spirit is telling us that the time for taking a spiritual dirt nap is over! We must come alive, see the glory of God, repent and be saved, be sanctified, and be filled with the Holy Spirit!