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

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TEXT: Revelation 2:12-17, NRSV

PRAYER FOR ILLUMINATION:

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

 

INTRODUCTION:

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

THE SWORD OF HIS MOUTH

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

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

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

What the Sword Means

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

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

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

 

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

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

What the Sword Does

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

A TESTIMONY OF FAITHFULNESS

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

A TOLERANCE FOR CORRUPTION

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

THE INVITATION TO REPENT AND LISTEN

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

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

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

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

Here’s the invitation.

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

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

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

 

CONCLUSION

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

 

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

 

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

 

CLOSING PRAYER

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

___________________________________

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

Revelation 2:1-7 // 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.

When Your Sin is Exposed, Run to Jesus

When Your Sin is

“For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.

Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”
– Hebrews 4:12-16, NIV

Every pastor has a pastor – someone that they can talk with and go to for spiritual advice. If you’re a pastor, and you don’t have a pastor, then get one. You’ll go insane. At the very least, get a therapist. I don’t really recommend that option because therapists tend to charge by the hour and ask you about your feelings in a very unfeeling way, but I digress.

I was listening to a recent sermon my pastor (which can find at this link), and he briefly expounded on Hebrews 4:12-16, and I wanted to share with you my take away from his exposition.

Notice, first of all, that our passage tells us of the sharpness of God’s word, and how it is that sharpness that tears into the root of our being. And what is it that is at the core our being? Sin. We’re sinful, and the word of God exposes that sin before a holy God. The same holy God before whose presence Isaiah feared that he might die because he was a man of unclean lips. So, if this is the case, then what hope is there for us?

Our hope is that Jesus is a faithful high priest who has taken upon Himself the sins of those who run to Him for light and life. Because He always lives to intercede for us (Hebrews 7:25), we are able to approach the throne of grace and receive mercy in the time of need. And when do we need mercy? All the time, especially when we see our sin exposed before Him, and do you know what? We can rejoice because it has all been laid on Christ.

“Till on that cross as Jesus died
The wrath of God was satisfied
For every sin on Him was laid”
– Keith Getty & Stuart Townsend

“And they sang a new song, saying:

“You are worthy to take the scroll
and to open its seals,
because you were slain,
and with your blood you purchased for God
persons from every tribe and language and people and nation.
You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God,
and they will reign on the earth.”
– Revelation 5:9-10, NIV

Jesus paid for you, and He continually intercedes for you. Go in peace.

Believing Jane: Reflections on a Rape and it’s Cover-Up at The Master’s College & Seminary

believingjane

On this fine afternoon as thunder rumbles outside my window, my blood is boiling and my “injustice antenna” is sounding alarms. I just read a well-documented account of the rape of a Master’s College student. Her rapist was a student at the Master’s Seminary. Both of these institutions are associated with John MacArthur’s church Grace Community Church. When college and church staff learned of the rape, instead of supporting the victim, she was blamed, called to repent, and kicked out of school. You can read the full story on Marcy Preheim’s website at http://www.marcipreheim.com/2017/09/18/do-you-see-me/ but I will also provide a summary of the situation.

Jane (not her real name) was a 21 year old student at the Master’s College studying to become a Biblical Counselor. In her courses, she learned all about how to deal with situations of rape, including the importance of reporting it to the police. On a school break, she went to a restaurant with some friends who were students at the Master’s Seminary. (The restaurant was an approved location according to the strict guidelines for student behavior.) Also at the restaurant was a friend of her friends (also a Master’s Seminary student) who offered to buy her a drink. She said yes, and he brought her a Coke. But the coke was drugged. After she blacked out, the stranger carried her to his room where he raped her, drugged her again, and put her in a dress that was against the school dress code. He also repeatedly offered her alcohol to drink.

When Jane finally was conscious enough to realized that she had been drugged and raped, she confidently went to the police, knowing the importance of reporting such matters. She then spoke with her Residence Director, who was shocked–not at her rape, but at her use of alcohol and drugs. She was assigned a Biblical Counselor as well, who assured her that the only way to make this better would be to marry her rapist. She was also made to go see Rick Holland, the college pastor at Grace Community Church. He asked for all the details she could remember about her rape, much to her discomfort. (This is sexual harassment, by the way.) Rick consulted with Pastor John MacArthur and together they told her that she would be kicked out of school for violating school standards against alcohol and drugs. They were also angry that she had reported the situation to the police.

Jane was shocked at how people were responding to her, which was not at all in line with how she had been taught in her counseling classes to respond to allegations of rape. She was later contacted saying that she could finish her final year at the Master’s College under a few conditions. She found out that her rapist had confessed to raping her, specifically noting that their sex was not consensual. However, she was required to apologize to her rapist for her part in the matter. The second condition was she must consent to regular counseling sessions with her rapist. She refused, and was subsequently barred from campus. Up to that point she had received all A’s for her classes, but when she was expelled, the school changed all her grades to F’s. When she sought to further her education elsewhere, the appearance of her flunking out of college made that extremely difficult. After she left the Master’s College, she continued to receive messages from people associated with the Master’s College and Grace Community Church calling her to repent for fornication and drinking alcohol. The story was circulated that she was expelled for sleeping around and using drugs/alcohol.

That is Jane’s Story. She asks, do you see me? And yes, Jane! We see you! And I for one believe you! What happened to you, the rape itself, was a horrific crime! And the cover up and blame that ensued at the hands of “godly men and women” is unconscionable!

I know there are those who will blame Jane for coming forward with her story, for uncovering these “deeds of darkness.” Others will persecute her for daring to question their favorite Christian celebrities. Some will assume that she’s lying because of John MacArthur’s reputation and fame, even though she has documented evidence of the whole situation as well as a corroborating witness.

But for myself, I believe Jane. And I applaud her courage in speaking the truth.

I’ve heard enough stories like Jane’s to know that it’s possible for even famous Evangelical educational institutions and pastors to so grossly and horrificly mismanage cases of rape. I know that false allegations of rape are extremely rare. I also believe that faulty views on sexuality, authority, consent, gender roles, and submission played heavily into her story.
So I believe Jane. And I am angry at the injustice she experienced–the crime of rape, yes. But also the further injustice of being blamed, disbelieved, disciplined, and silenced as if she had been the perpetrator instead of the victim.

I also call to repentance the people at the Master’s College and Seminary who blamed and oppressed Jane. I call to repentance Rick Holland for his sexual harassment and punishment of Jane. And I call to repentance John MacArthur for participating in disciplining Jane for her drug and alcohol use (which was forced upon her!). These men and women have erred greatly and have caused harm to Jane and to the name of Christ. The best things for them to do now is to: acknowledge their wrong; repent; seek to make restitution to Jane, including clearing her name; seriously consider resigning from their jobs; and examine what sort of distorted theology can contribute to such gross injustice.

Jane asks “Do you see me?”

Yes, Jane, we do. We see you and we believe you.

A Mental Buffet // 30 Mar 2017

Mental Buffet

Some reading material for the eager mind and the hungry soul.

After Great Pain, Where Is God? – Peter Wehner

“I’m no theologian. My professional life has been focused on politics and the ideas that inform politics. Yet I’m also a Christian trying to wrestle honestly with the complexities and losses in life, within the context of my faith. And while it’s fine for Christians to say God will comfort people in their pain, if a child dies, if the cancer doesn’t go into remission, if the marriage breaks apart, how much good is that exactly?”

 

There is a Crack in Everything. That’s How the Light Gets In. – Matt Johnson

“God is at work despite the pee-drenched straw, the stubbed toes, and the waiting around in funeral parlors. When your life is in the crapper, when your church is torn apart by wolves, God is present even when you can’t see it, or feel his presence.”

 

The Plow of God – Douglas Wilson

“God plows his people. He deals with us, and He deals with us here in the Supper. He deals with sin in the Supper.”

 

A Mental Buffet //9 Mar 2017

mental-buffet

Some reading material for the eager mind and the hungry soul.

How Flocks Are Protected – Douglas Wilson

“Shepherds need, in Paul’s terms, to “take heed.” They need to take head to themselves, and they need to take heed to the flock. A man who is not taking heed to himself cannot watch out for the flock. And if a man is not watching out for the flock, then he is clearly not taking heed to himself—he is guilty of a gross dereliction of duty.”

 

Throw Like a Girl: Why Feminism Insults Real Women – Rebekah Merkle

“The idea that women are equal to men is not a feminist idea; it’s a Christian idea. The apostle Paul said it long before Elizabeth Cady Stanton or Gloria Steinem when he taught us that in Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female (Galatians 3:28). And he said it nearly two millennia before the women’s rights people came along.

The feminists try to take credit for something that is the fruit of the gospel, working its way into culture like yeast through a loaf. We need to stop letting the feminists act as if they somehow achieved our equality.”

 

Why I Am a Continuationist – Sam Storms

“If signs and wonders were designed exclusively to authenticate apostles, we have no explanation why non-apostolic believers (such as Philip and Stephen) were empowered to perform them (see especially 1 Cor. 12:8-10, where the “gift” of “miracles,” among others, was given to average, non-apostolic believers).”

 

Evolution and the Historical Fall: What Does Genesis 3 Tell Us about the Origin of Evil? – J. Richard Middleton

“…the narrative of disobedience in Genesis 3 is not simply about a single event in the past (though that is not thereby excluded), but describes what is typical in the process of temptation and sin in human experience. Indeed, when preachers expound the Garden story they tend to emphasize how this is true for all of us, rather than locating it in a singular event long ago.

Once we are open to viewing the Garden narrative in this manner, the dialogue between the woman and the snake in Genesis can be seen as a profound study in the phenomenology of temptation and sin, which may be applied not only to our own present experience of temptation, but also to the experience of early Homo sapiens.”

Reflections on the Valley of Vision: Sincerity, Part 2: Commentary on the Prayer

reflections-of-sincerity


“You desire truth in the inward being;

Therefore teach me wisdom in my secret being.”
– Psalm 51:6, NRSV

(Full prayer may be read here)

In my last post, I shared some thoughts on sincerity and authenticity, and I ranted about Christians who don’t seem to appreciate authentic Christianity. Maybe they only want authenticity when it’s nice, neat, and doesn’t have to do with struggling with the really dirty sins. Regardless of the reason, I’ll probably rant about it later in another blog post or even on the podcast. Right now, I mostly want to talk about the Sincerity prayer found in the Valley of Vision.

The Elector of Saints


“Elector of Saints,”
Notice how the prayer opens up. It addresses God as Elector of Saints. The prayer recognizes the sovereignty of God in the election and predestination of His people. If you read the Bible and believe in the inerrancy of Scripture then you can’t deny that God is sovereign in salvation and the author of this prayer is making it clear that he is thankful for this divine sovereignty.

Blessed is the Man…


“Blessed is the man whom thou choosest
     and callest to thyself.
With thee is mercy, redemption, assurance,
   Forgiveness;”

When I read this portion of the prayer, my mind immediately goes to Romans 4:4-8 (particularly verses 7 and 8) which reads like this:

“Now to one who works, wages are not reckoned as a gift but as something due. But to one who without works trusts him who justifies the ungodly, such faith is reckoned as righteousness. So also David speaks of the blessedness of those to whom God reckons righteousness apart from works: “Blessed are those whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; blessed is the one against whom the Lord will not reckon sin.” – Romans 4:4-8, NRSV

In this prayer, we acknowledge God as the one who elects His saints, and calls them to Himself by grace through faith. Pay close attention to verses 4 and 5. Verse 4 states something that’s common sense. We know that if someone works then they deserve a wage, and when you give the worker their wage that is something that they have earned by their work. Then Paul contrasts that idea in verse 5 when he says that God justifies the ungodly without works so that when faith is granted to them God counts it as righteousness. I think the NIV communicates verse 5 the best when, instead of using the word, “reckoned,” it uses the word, “credited.” God “credits” righteousness to us according to the very faith that He grants to us.

Now, when we examine justification, we see in Romans 5:1 we see that the only way a person can be justified is by faith. So, where does the faith come from? I believe we just established that faith comes from God.

So, we see Scripturally that God calls us, and justifies us by faith that He grants to us therefore we say with the Puritans in our prayer, “With thee is mercy, redemption, assurance, forgiveness.”

Deliverance from the Pit


“Thou hast lifted me, a prisoner, out of
   the pit of sin
 and pronounced my discharge,
   not only in the courts of heaven,
   but in the dock of conscience;
 hast justified me by faith,
   given me peace with thee,
 made me to enjoy glorious liberty as thy child.”

The beginning of this passage of the Sincerity prayer seems to be inspired by the words of Psalm 40.

“I waited patiently for the Lord;
   he inclined to me and heard my cry.
2He drew me up from the desolate pit,
   out of the miry bog,
and set my feet upon a rock,
   making my steps secure.
3He put a new song in my mouth,
   a song of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear,
   and put their trust in the Lord.”
– Psalm 40:1-3, NRSV

Psalm 40 gives us a picture of God’s delivering power. In the Sincerity prayer we see the author using the idea of a pit to describe sin, and I think it’s important to note that right after he talks about the ‘pit of sin’ he says that God has ‘pronounced [his] discharge not only in courts of heaven, but in the dock of conscience.’ The author has a clear understanding of his assurance. In this prayer the author points out that Christ not only declares us righteous before our Father in heaven, but He speaks to the storm of thoughts that ask these questions:

“What if Christ’s sacrifice wasn’t enough?”
“What if I can’t really be assured of my salvation?”
“What if I have blown it and presumed the grace of God too many times?”

One of my favorite quotes is from Jon Acuff. If you know anything about Acuff you know that he’s a Christian comedian and is very quick with his witty observational humor, but he made a very serious statement: “”It is finished.” May those words land on your bones for the nights when fear tells you the cross was a beginning and you must finish grace.” I almost want to speak in tongues every time I read that. God’s grace is sufficient bring us up from the pit of sin. It is finished.

And notice the last part of this section, the author says that God has made us to enjoy glorious liberty as a child. We’re free. I can spend a dollar on a scratch-off lotto ticket (as unwise as that may be) without some old fart telling me that I’m “scratching my soul into hell.” (Yes, I’ve actually heard that in the pulpit.)

I can have a cigar and a scotch to the glory of God. I’m not free to rebel against God because I won’t want to rebel against God. A circumcised heart has no desire to turn away from the One that has set it free.

Assurance, Sincerity, and the Difference Between These Two Animals


“Save me from the false hope of the hypocrite:
May I never suppose I am in Christ unless I am
   a new creature,
 never think I am born of the Spirit
   unless I mind the things of the Spirit,
 never rest satisfied with professions of belief
   and outward forms and services,
     while my heart is not right with thee.
May I judge my sincerity in religion
 by my fear to offend thee,
 my concern to know thy will,
 my willingness to deny myself.”

The author believes that the standard for sincerity in our religion comes from our fear of offending God, our concern to know God’s will, and our willingness to deny ourselves. No doubt these are good things and these are signs that God is at work in our lives in a positive way. However, let us be careful not to assume that we can look to these things for the assurance of our salvation. Our assurance is only found in Christ. There will always be someone who fears God more. There will always be someone who is more concerned to know God’s will more than we are. There will always be someone who is more willing to deny themselves than we do.

We can’t confuse assurance and sincerity. In the context of soteriology proper, I would say that sincerity is being sure of the substance that supports our profession of faith and assurance is being sure of what Christ has done to give us that substance.

One Thing Needful: Learning at the Feet of Jesus


“Let not my temporal occupations injure
   my spiritual concerns,
 or the cares of life make me neglect
   the one thing needful.”

At the end of Luke 10, we encounter Jesus teaching in the home of Martha. Her sister, Mary is there and she has chosen to sit at the feet of Jesus while Martha does all the work around the house.

“She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. 40But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.” 41But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; 42there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.” – Luke 10:39-42, NRSV

Without getting into the revolutionary aspects of the thought of a woman sitting at the feet of a rabbi, we see that Jesus is showing us that the “one thing needful” for us is to learn at his feet. The author of the prayer is praying for empowerment to recognize that nothing is more important than learning at the feet of Jesus, and the first step to learning is admitting that we know nothing.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” – Matthew 5:3, NRSV

““Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. 29Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
– Matthew 11:28-30, NRSV

Life is a burden and Jesus wants to see that we can’t carry the load on our own. We need Him. The only time we’re going to see any progress in our relationship with God is when we admit that He’s our source of life, our source of salvation, our source of joy. In Psalm 87:7, the New Living Translation poetically says it this way, “As they make music they will sing, “All my fountains are in you.”

To the Laodecian church, in Revelation 3, Jesus says, “I know your works; you are neither cold nor hot. I wish that you were either cold or hot. So, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I am about to spit you out of my mouth. For you say, ‘I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing.’ You do not realize that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.”

How do you convince people that believe they are rich and have need of nothing that they’re actually naked, poor, and blind? Until we can admit that we’re blind we’ll never see Jesus clearly, and we’ll never see that the invitation to sit at His feet and learn is for us.

God’s Dealings


“May I not be inattentive to the design
   of thy dealings with me,
 or insensible under thy rebukes,
 or immobile at thy calls.”

As Christians we have the Holy Spirit living on the inside of us and He is the means by which God deals with our hearts, and we must be sensitive to the voice of the Holy Spirit. Over and over again in chapters 2 and 3 of Revelation we are exhorted, “He that hath an ear, let Him hear what the Spirit saith.”

“And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which you were marked with a seal for the day of redemption.” – Ephesians 4:30, NRSV

Ephesians 4:30 is one of my favorite verses because it clearly states that the Holy Spirit has sealed us until the day that Jesus comes back. And what Paul, the author of Ephesians, is saying is that we can grieve the Holy Spirit by harboring bitterness towards others in our heart. We harbor bitterness when we remember the pain and grief that someone else has caused us. Instead of listening to the voice of pain and grief, we must listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit and be sensitive, as this prayer says, to God’s dealings with us.

A Holy Art
“May I learn the holy art of abiding in thee,
 of being in the world and not of it,
 of making everything not only consistent with
   but conducive to my religion.”

“Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. 5I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. 6Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned.” – John 15:4-6, NRSV

Abiding in Christ is the intention of God for His elect sons and daughters. According to Ephesians 1, God chose us in Christ before the foundations of the earth. (Ephesians 1:4) God’s choice of our election does not alleviate us of any responsibility to abide in Christ, but at the same time because God has chosen us in Christ, we are held firm by His grasp and can never be removed from His hand. It’s a paradox of God’s sovereignty and our responsibility.

Our abiding in Christ doesn’t come from our own ability to stay in Him because we just don’t have that ability in and of ourselves. As an old hymn writer has said, “Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it, Prone to leave the God I love.” Our ability to abide comes from the fact that the Holy Spirit abides in us. If you read John 15 without considering the context of Jesus’s talk about the Holy Spirit abiding with us in John 14, then you’ll walk believing that abiding is entirely dependent upon you.

This is why we pray. We pray because in prayer, God empowers to keep abiding and to lean on him for our every need. This is the holiest of arts.