Archive for the 'Letters to the Seven Churches' Category

Neither Hot Not Cold Revelation 3:14-22

Monday, July 31st, 2017

The city of Laodicea was prominent and wealthy, famed for its banks and its merchants, and for the manufacture of linen and the production of healing eye ointments. And the church in Laodicea was similarly prosperous, wealthy and successful – on the outside.
Revelation 3 14 ‘To the angel of the church in Laodicea write:
These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation.
We do well to remember who it is who is speaking to the Seven Churches. It is the Risen Lord Jesus Christ, the ruler of all creation, the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords.
15 I know your deeds,
The Lord Jesus knows everything there is to know about every church and every individual. And his message to the church in Laodicea is this.
15 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.
Straight to the point. No words of praise. Not even a glimmer of encouragement. Just straight down to business. You are neither hot not cold. You are lukewarm. In other words – you are just playing at following Jesus. You are just pussyfooting around. You are half-hearted. Following Jesus is just a hobby for you – not the whole of your life. Neither hot nor cold.
Many people are wholehearted in many areas of life. Totally committed to their families, or to their careers. Some are totally committed to playing their sport and other just to watching sport or following their team. Others are totally committed to their hobbies or their favourite entertainments. The Laodicean Christians should have been on fire for God. But they weren’t. They were just lukewarm.
And because they were half-hearted in their faith, judgment was coming on the church at Laodicea.
16 So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth.
This is a very serious warning. I want to say two things about it. The first is that it is addressed to the church at Laodicea. It is not obvious what it means when Christ says he will spit them out of His mouth. But it is clear that these words are to the church as a whole. So it may mean that God was going to withdraw His blessing from this church, so that the church would shrivel and die. I guess we all know of churches where this has happened. Churches which once were thriving but may not even exist any more. That can be the result when a church becomes lukewarm and half-hearted and apathetic.
However we need to be clear that this verse does not tell us anything about how the Living Christ will treat individual Christians who are lukewarm. It is not legitimate to read this as a warning that Christ could “spit an individual Christian from his mouth”, whatever that would mean. And it does not tell us anything about whether an individual Christian can lose or choose to reject his or her salvation. This verse does not answer that question. The warning is addressed to the whole Church of Laodicea.
But the second thing I want to emphasise about this warning is just how serious it is. Because on the face of it what the church at Laodicea were doing wrong does not seem so serious. They weren’t worshipping idols. They weren’t compromising with pagan religions. They weren’t distorting the gospel with lies. They weren’t indulging in immoral acts. They are not accused of committing any of the terrible sins some of the other churches were. But they were still singled out for judgment. Why? Because they were neither hot nor cold. They were just pussyfooting around. They were half-hearted. They were complacent and resting on their laurels.
This is why it seems to me that in some ways this warning is more serious than any given to the other churches in Revelation. Because it reminds us a church does not have to fall into dreadful sins to come under the judgment of God. Judgment can come just because we are lukewarm. God loves us so much and Jesus is so wonderful that we should be on fire for God – anything less is inadequate. Lukewarm and half-hearted just isn’t good enough! A hot drink is warming. A cold drink is refreshing. But a lukewarm drink is neither one nor the other. It is just insipid. A hot shower is stimulating. A cold shower wakes us up. But a lukewarm shower is just unpleasant. Lukewarm just isn’t good enough.
Some scholars think that the Risen Christ is alluding here to two famous springs near Laodicea. Hot mineral springs at Hierapolis were thought to give healing. On the other hand, the cold water springs in Colossae provided refreshment. But the Christians in the church at Laodicea were not bringing healing to the spiritually ill. Nor were they offering refreshment to the weary. They were neither hot nor cold and that was no use to anybody.
So, just to be clear, what might a lukewarm church look like? A lukewarm church is not cold and dead. But neither is it on fire for God as it should be! It may prefer to call its lukewarmness charity, or meekness, or moderation, or tolerance. But the Bible says that such lukewarmness literally makes God sick! A lukewarm church is a comfortable Christian club built on shallow relationships. Shallow relationships with each other because their relationship with God is shallow. A lukewarm church doesn’t care about neighbours who are doomed to a lost eternity without Christ. It is satisfied and comfortable, thank you very much. But it just lacks enthusiasm. It is half-hearted, apathetic and indifferent, especially towards the things of God like prayer and worship.
Some sentences from Vernon McGee sum up what a lukewarm church looks like. “I wonder what God would say to us today as He sees all of our so-called Christian organizations in ceaseless activity but no action—motion but no movement. We are not standing on the promises; we are just sitting on the premises! We are not stalwart soldiers of the faith. We are seeking entertainment, not instruction or inspiration. We are paper dolls playing church.” Lukewarm and half-hearted. Just playing at church.
The story is told of a competition among the demons to find the best way of keeping people from being saved. Third prize went for the suggestion, “Tell people there’s no heaven.” Second prize was for the masterplan, “Tell people there’s no hell.” But the first prize went to the strategy which the powers of evil are using to this day. “Tell people it doesn’t really matter.”
C.S. Lewis wrote that “The devil will always see to it that there are bad people. The job of the demons is to produce people who don’t care, who just can’t be bothered!” A lukewarm church is simply a church full of people who just can’t be bothered.
The Laodiceans were neither hot nor cold. And they were putting their trust in the wrong things.
17 You say, “I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.” But you do not realise that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.
Like everybody else in their prosperous city, the Laodiceans were putting their trust in material possessions, in wealth and success. They thought they were rich – but in fact they were poor. In God’s eyes they were wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. They were chasing after treasures on earth instead of treasures in heaven. They were serving the false god of Money. Remember what Jesus said to the Rich Young Ruler.
Luke 18 22 …. ‘You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.’
23 When he heard this, he became very sad, because he was very wealthy. 24 Jesus looked at him and said, ‘How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God! 25 Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.’

The Laodiceans would have failed that same test as the Rich Young Ruler did. They were putting their trust in wealth instead of in God. God was not their master – Money was! They thought they were so rich and that they didn’t need a thing, but the reality was that they were spiritually bankrupt. Oswald Chambers wrote “Complacency and spiritual pride are always the beginning of degeneration. When I begin to be satisfied with where I am spiritually, I begin to degenerate.”
But you do not realise that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. 18 I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so that you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so that you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so that you can see.
Here is God’s prescription for this lukewarm church. Refined gold for the bankers – treasures in heaven not treasures on earth. White clothes to wear for the manufacturers of fine linen – the white robes which the redeemed of the Lord will wear in glory, described in a number of places in the Book of Revelation. And ointment for your eyes for those who sold that ointment. They were spiritually blind to their desperate situation. Only God could open their eyes so they could see the spiritual mess they were in. They needed things which only God could give them – gold, white clothes and ointment for their blindness.
They thought they were rich and that they didn’t need anything. Instead of trusting in the wrong things, the church of Laodicea needed to put their trust in God. They have to come to repentance.
19 Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent.
There is the good news! God doesn’t give up on people and God doesn’t give up on churches. Not even on churches like Laodicea. The warning is deadly serious – but so is the offer of a second chance. Be earnest. Be zealous. Take God seriously. And repent! Have a change of mind. See things as God sees them. Stop going your own way. Turn round and go God’s way. Repent.
20 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 that person, and they with me.

The church at Laodicea had shut God out. And Jesus was knocking to get back in. We obviously think of the painting “Light of the world” by Holman Hunt. I have written an article about this in the Summer issue of Haven News. The painting of the Risen Christ knocking on the door which only has a handle on the inside. This is often taken as an invitation to individuals who have been shutting God out of their lives – an invitation to open the door and receive the mercy and grace of God by letting Christ into their lives to be their Saviour. And that invitation is there. But in context, this is actually an invitation to churches that have shut God out – an invitation to open the door and invite God in again, to return to God and recommit themselves to Him. To put their trust in God instead of in human wealth. To repent of being lukewarm and become red hot for God again.
As Paul wrote to Timothy Fan into flame the gift of God (2 Timothy 1:6). Or to the Romans,
Romans 12:11 11 Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervour, serving the Lord.

Message translation: Don’t burn out; keep yourselves fueled and aflame.

20 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 that person, and they with me.

Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. Of course, some people just don’t hear Jesus knocking! They are too busy, their lives are too full of noise, they are distracted by the world, just caught up in being entertained. There are even some Christians who have become deaf to the Lord.
Other people do hear Jesus knocking on the door of their lives, and won’t open the door. Some are houseproud! They aren’t willing to let Jesus into their lives because they know “the house isn’t clean”. But that’s silly! We cannot wait until our lives are spotless before we let Jesus in. That day will never come. Jesus is the only one who can clean up our mess! We can’t do it for ourselves. We need to let Jesus in so that HE can do what needs doing!
Then there are many people who do not open the door and let Jesus into their lives because they are simply too scared. Maybe scared because Jesus is a stranger and we should never open our door to strangers. Such people just don’t know Jesus. It is our job as Christians to reveal Jesus to our neighbours and friends, and to tell them about Jesus, so they can come to trust him for themselves. Then they won’t be scared to open the door and let Him in and get to know Him!
Some people won’t open the door because they are only prepared for Jesus to visit them for a while and then leave them alone, but they know He will wants to come in to stay and move in and make his home in their lives. Perhaps they are afraid he will want to make changes in our lives which they don’t want to make.
Some people are scared of what they might stand to lose. But Jesus is not some kind of thief who forces his way in to TAKE from us! The only things that Jesus wants to take from us are our sin, our worry, our hopelessness, our disappointments, our failures, our wasted years, our weakness and our pain!
Jesus isn’t knocking on the door of our lives to TAKE from us – but to GIVE to us! To give us eternal life, life in all its fullness. To give us love and joy and peace. So He can “eat with us and us with him” He doesn’t want to come in to rob us of our food and drink, but to feed us with the bread of life and the new wine of the Kingdom. Jesus longs for us to open the door of our lives so he can come in to be with us, to give us the pleasure of His company and the immense privilege of his presence. Jesus is knocking because He simply wants to give Himself to us.
20 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 that person, and they with me.

If we will only open the door – He WILL come in! That’s a promise! And there are so many wonderful blessings waiting for any person and any church who open the door of their lives and welcome Jesus in to eat with them.
21 To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I was victorious and sat down with my Father on his throne.
22 Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’

The Open Door which no one can shut Revelation 3:7-13

Tuesday, July 25th, 2017

Philadelphia is the smallest and the least significant of the seven towns and cities receiving letters from the Risen Christ in the book of Revelation. The church too was weak and struggling. But there is no criticism for the fact that they have little strength. Instead this letter is full of reassurance that our weakness counts for nothing and God’s strength counts for everything. God is on the throne. God is in control. For that reason this is the letter which perhaps has the most to say to us here in North Springfield Baptist Church. We may feel we have little strength. But that doesn’t matter! Because whatever challenges we may face, God is on the throne! Jesus Christ is Lord! And whenever we feel weak we should remember that He is strong!
v.7 These are the words of him who is holy and true, who holds the key of David.
We can depend on the one who is holy and true and totally trustworthy! Jesus is
HIM WHO HOLDS THE KEY OF DAVID
Here is a title from the promises of the Old Testament, especially from the prophet Isaiah.
Isaiah 20 20 ‘In that day I will summon my servant, Eliakim son of Hilkiah. 21 I will clothe him with your robe and fasten your sash around him and hand your authority over to him. He will be a father to those who live in Jerusalem and to the people of Judah. 22 I will place on his shoulder the key to the house of David; what he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open. 23 I will drive him like a peg into a firm place; he will become a seat of honour for the house of his father. 24 All the glory of his family will hang on him ..
The key to the house of David – a figure of authority and power. What he opens no one can shut and what he shuts no one can open.
Isaiah 26 1 In that day this song will be sung in the land of Judah:
We have a strong city; God makes salvation its walls and ramparts.
2 Open the gates that the righteous nation may enter, the nation that keeps faith.
3 You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you.
4 Trust in the LORD for ever, for the LORD, the LORD himself, is the Rock eternal.

The one who holds the Key of David is the one who opens the door to the Holy City and to God’s salvation. And this is fulfilled in Jesus the Messiah who opens the Kingdom of Heaven to all believers and holds the keys of Death and Hades, the key to eternal life.
Revelation 1 17 ….. ‘Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. 18 I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.
Jesus is the one who holds all authority and power. And He is always with us.
Matthew 28 18 Then Jesus came to them and said, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. ,,,, And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.’
Jesus is the One who holds the Key of David. And more than that,
What he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open.
It is the Lord Jesus Christ who opens the door to heaven and the door to eternal life. And NO ONE can close the door He has opened. God has opened the door to heaven for His children and NO ONE can keep us out!
But there is another door which the New Testament speaks about, and which this Letter may be pointing to. The open door for the gospel – the door which Jesus opens and which no one can shut. Paul talks about that door in 1 Corinthians 16 8 But I will stay on at Ephesus until Pentecost, 9 because a great door for effective work has opened to me, and there are many who oppose me.
And again in 2 Corinthians 2 12 Now when I went to Troas to preach the gospel of Christ and found that the Lord had opened a door for me,
And Pauls prays for such a door for the gospel in Colossians 4 2 Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. 3 And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains. 4 Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should.
Paul is praying for opportunities to preach the gospel – an open door which no one can shut! We need to keep on praying that God will open doors for the gospel in North Springfield. As we reach out to the community with Christ’s love and the message of Jesus. Through Toddlers and Café and Drop In. Through our services and special events. Through the conversations we have with friends and neighbours as we gossip the gospel. And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ. … 4 Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should.
This idea of an open door for the gospel may have been in John’s mind as he described the vision of Christ he had experiences to the church at Philadelphia.
8 I know your deeds. See, I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut.
When Christ opens a door for the gospel nobody and nothing can close it! The church was struggling. They felt that they were weak. But they were still remaining faithful to God. Unlike some of the other churches we have read about, they weren’t giving in to the pressures to compromise their faith. Despite persecution they were standing firm and hanging on in there.
I know that you have little strength, yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name.
They remained faithful because they trusted that God was in control. God’s people in every age are called to be His witnesses to an unbelieving world.
Isaiah 43 10 ‘You are my witnesses,’ declares the LORD, ‘and my servant whom I have chosen, so that you may know and believe me and understand that I am he. Before me no god was formed, nor will there be one after me.
11 I, even I, am the LORD, and apart from me there is no saviour.
12 I have revealed and saved and proclaimed – I, and not some foreign god among you. You are my witnesses,’ declares the LORD, ‘that I am God.
13 Yes, and from ancient days I am he. No one can deliver out of my hand. When I act, who can reverse it?’
Whatever may happen in our lives, God is in control. Jesus Christ is Lord of all. And he has opened the door which no one can shut! The call is to remain faithful to God, even in
THE TIME OF TRIAL
The Church in Philadelphia were called to be witnesses for Christ even as persecution was coming.
9 I will make those who are of the synagogue of Satan, who claim to be Jews though they are not, but are liars—I will make them come and fall down at your feet and acknowledge that I have loved you. 10 Since you have kept my command to endure patiently, I will also keep you from the hour of trial that is going to come on the whole world to test the inhabitants of the earth.
As we endure patiently whatever may come our way, God will give the victory. God will defend and protect us in times of trial and adversity and testing and even persecution. We may have little strength, but His grace will always be sufficient for our weaknesses.
2 Corinthians 12:7 I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. 8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. 9 But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
We can too easily put our trust in the wrong things. In our hard work. In our lovely premises. In our riches. In our warm fellowship. The church in Philadelphia were putting their trust in God. They expressed that faith through keeping God’s word and not denying the name of Christ and enduring patiently and holding firmly on to what God had given them. When we put our trust in Him, God’s grace will always be sufficient for our weaknesses. And Christ will open doors for the gospel as we acknowledge our weaknesses and put our trust in His strength. And as ever this Letter has wonderful promises for Christians who are victorious because hold tightly on to God to the end,.
11 I am coming soon. Hold on to what you have, so that no one will take your crown. 12 The one who is victorious I will make a pillar in the temple of my God. Never again will they leave it. I will write on them the name of my God and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which is coming down out of heaven from my God; and I will also write on them my new name.

13 Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.

Wake Up! Revelation 3:1-6

Thursday, July 20th, 2017

Some wise words from the internet.
“ Live churches are constantly changing. Dead churches don’t have to.
Live churches have lots of noisy kids. Dead churches are quiet.
Live church’s expenses always exceed their income. Dead churches take in more than they ever dream of spending.
Live churches are constantly improving for the future. Dead churches worship their past.
Live churches move out in faith. Dead churches operate totally by human sight.
Live churches focus on people. Dead churches focus on programs.
Live churches are filled with tithers. Dead churches are filled with tippers.
Live churches dream great dreams of God. Dead churches relive nightmares.
Live churches don’t have “can’t” in their dictionary. Dead churches have nothing else.
Live churches evangelize. Dead churches fossilize.”

Revelation 3:1 ‘To the angel of the church in Sardis write:
These are the words of him who holds the seven spirits of God and the seven stars. I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead.
Preachers have described the church at Sardis as “the church on its deathbed.” On the surface everything looked OK. But underneath the church was dying. They were living on their past glory and past successes. They were living on their reputation and resting on their laurels. That has been a risk for churches in every age. But it is particularly a danger in today’s world of image-makers and hidden persuaders, where people are so easily fooled by outward appearances. This letter is a solemn warning to many churches – NOT, I am happy to say, for North Springfield Baptist Church, because I don’t see the message here as applying to our church or to any of our members in any way at this time. But there are many churches today who do need to hear this message and it is vital that we also remain on our guard so that we NEVER become complacent or end up resting on our laurels.
Perhaps one of the reasons the church in Sardis was quietly dying was that the city itself appeared to be impregnable. It sat on a hill surrounded by high cliffs which it appeared that no army could scale. History should have taught them some humility because one night in 549 BC the armies of Cyrus King of Persia climbed those cliffs and overran the city. And in 214 BC Antiochus the Great surprised Sardis in exactly the same way. But perhaps it is the way of things that people who feel they are safe and secure can become complacent and satisfied with the status quo. Somebody has described that problem like this.
“Complacency is a blight that saps energy, dulls attitudes, and causes a drain on the brain. The first symptom is satisfaction with things as they are. The second is rejection of things as they might be. “Good enough” becomes today’s watchword and tomorrow’s standard. Complacency makes people fear the unknown, mistrust the untried, and abhor the new.”
The church at Sardis had fallen into complacency and overconfidence. They were satisfied with outward appearances and trapped in the curse of superficiality.
SUPERFICIALITY in the church
1 … I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead. 2 Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have found your deeds unfinished in the sight of my God.
You may have noticed that unlike the letters to the four churches we have looked at so far, this letter has no praise at all. No words of commendation for the church as a whole, only for the few who stood out as different from everybody else. In the church at Sardis as a whole there was nothing that was pleasing to the Risen Christ who is speaking to them. The problem was that the church had an enviable reputation for being alive, vibrant, relevant, maybe even exciting. But reputation is not enough and the reputation was not a true reflection of the reality. The church in Sardis had been lulled into a false sense of security. They had become complacent. They were on the point of death and they didn’t even know it!
for I have found your deeds unfinished in the sight of my God.
They had started so well, but they were failing to finish. Remember the saying from Mastermind – “I’ve started, so I’ll finish.” That church had been so pleased with how well things were going that they had given up half way through. They had just stopped trying.
Perhaps it was their courageous witness which was lacking. Other churches were standing firm for Christ, and some were even being martyred for their faith. Remember the good example of the church at Smyrna
Revelation 2 10 Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution for ten days. Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you life as your victor’s crown.
Perhaps it was the witness of the Christians in Sardis which was incomplete and lacking. Perhaps in the face of persecution they had stopped proclaiming that Jesus is Lord.
Or perhaps it was a church full of activity but empty of spirituality. Perhaps they were so busy in all kinds of things that they had made themselves too busy to pray.
Or perhaps in some areas they had retained the outward form without the inward reality. Their forms of worship might have been outwardly beautiful but lacking any heartfelt devotion. They could have had a packed programme of fellowship events but no sincere underlying brotherly love for each other. They might even have been busy with all kinds of good works serving the community, but too busy to share the gospel of salvation with those they were serving. They could have had perfect organisation without spiritual vitality. The outward form without the inward reality. I am sure you have come across churches like that church at Sardis. Outwardly alive but tragically spiritually dead. The dangers of superficiality are always there for churches, but they are there for individuals as well
.
SUPERFICIALITY in Christians
Christians can also be drawn into the illusion that outward appearances are sufficient. That image is everything and a good reputation is all that matters. We have thought recently about the prophet Samuel anointing David the Shepherd Boy to become the next King of Israel.
1 Samuel 16:7 But the LORD said to Samuel, ‘Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The LORD does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.’
We know that God sees right deep down into our hearts. The church in Sardis was dying because it was full of people each trapped in arrogance or self-sufficiency or pleasure-loving. Their lives were a lie – full of pretence. In many ways they were following the ways of the Pharisees, who faced such strong condemnation from Jesus in His earthly ministry.
Matthew 23 25 ‘Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. 26 Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean.
27 ‘Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. 28 In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.

Man looks at the outward appearance but God looks at the heart. God demands integrity. Image and reputation don’t matter. Integrity does. Here is a lesson this generation of media Christian superstars need to learn, the popular preachers who sell lots of books because they tell people what they want to hear rather than the truth of God and the celebrated “worship leaders” who sell lots of songs because they have good tunes rather than contain good words. The members of the church at Sardis had the good reputation and the great image, but in reality it was all illusion and pretence. Inside they were all still on the point of death.
“What a man is on his knees before God is all that he is.” Image, reputation, fame, popularity, power in human terms, all count for nothing before Almighty God.
God demands WYSIWYG Christians. “What you see is what you get.” Integrity. Sincerity. Transparency. For lack of those qualities in its members, the church at Sardis was about to die.
There is some good news.
4 Yet you have a few people in Sardis who have not soiled their clothes. They will walk with me, dressed in white, for they are worthy.
Even in a dying church there can be great saints. Those who remain faithful and holy and set apart for God. Their presence should have served as a rebuke for others who were complacent. Sadly, the presence of such saints can actually reinforce the false sense of security which other people feel. But for the church as a whole, the challenge was clear.
2 Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, I have found your deeds unfinished in the sight of my God. 3 Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; hold it fast, and repent. But if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what time I will come to you.
Wake up! Recognise there is a problem. Recognise the dangers of superficiality and complacency.
We might wonder why the Risen Ascended Glorified Christ would let a church get to the point of death before calling it to wake up. Perhaps for the same reason that lifesavers are advised to wait until the person in the water has stopped thrashing around trying to save themselves before attempting to pull them to shore. It is only when people realise that Christ is their only hope that they will throw themselves on the grace of God and allow Christ to save them.
Strengthen what remains and is about to die. Because this really is a matter of life and death. Spiritual mediocrity is not an option. Don’t live in the past. Don’t rest on your laurels.
Remember what you have received and heard. Hold it fast! The church has been entrusted with the gospel of salvation. Hold to the gospel. Live out the gospel.
Repent! Because if you don’t the Christ who holds the seven spirits of God and the seven stars and the destiny of every church and every individual in the palm of His hand will come like a thief in the night and bring judgment on you all.
The challenge is there. But so is the promise.
4 Yet you have a few people in Sardis who have not soiled their clothes. They will walk with me, dressed in white, for they are worthy. 5 The one who is victorious will, like them, be dressed in white. I will never blot out the name of that person from the book of life, but will acknowledge that name before my Father and his angels.

What wonderful promises! Those who are victorious because they are faithful will share in God’s blessings forever.

6 Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.

Response: Jesus take me as I am

Let us respond to this message by reflecting on some words I have quoted before from A.W.Tozer
“COMPLACENCY. The man who believes he has arrived will not go any farther. The snare is to believe we have arrived when we have not. … Truth that is not experienced is no better than error and may be fully as dangerous.
Religious complacency is encountered almost everywhere among Christians these days and its pres¬ence is a sign and a prophecy. For every Christian -will become at last what his desires have made him. We are all the sum total of our hungers. The great -saints have all had thirsting heart. Their cry has been, “My soul thirsts for God, for the living God: when shall I come and appear before God?” Their longing after God all but consumed them. It propelled them onward and upward to heights toward which less ardent Christians look with languid eye – and entertain no hope of reaching.
Orthodox Christianity has fallen to its present low estate from lack of spiritual desire. Among the many who profess the Christian faith, scarcely one in a thousand reveals any passionate thirst for God. We fear extremes and shy away from too much ardor in religion as if it were possible to have too much love or too much faith or too much holiness.
Occasionally one’s heart is cheered by the dis¬covery of some insatiable saint who is willing to sacri¬fice everything for the sheer joy of experiencing God in increasing intimacy’. To such we offer this word of exhortation: - Pray on, fight on, sing on. Do not underrate anything God may have done for you before. Thank God for everything up to this point but do not stop here. Press On into the deep things of God. Insist upon tasting the profounder mysteries of redemption. Keep your feet on the ground, but let your heart soar as high as it will. Refuse to be aver¬age or to surrender to the chill of your spiritual environment. Unless you do these things you will reach at last (and unknown to you) the graveyard of orthodoxy and be doomed to live out your days in spiritual mediocrity!” (A.W.Tozer The Root of the Righteous)

The Challenge of Judgment Revelation 2:18-29

Thursday, July 13th, 2017

Tell me three things God does. You might say God loves, God creates, God forgives, God saves, God provides, God heals. It might take you a few moments to think of something else which God does – something mentioned 500 times in the Bible. But something which few Christians would think of first as the thing God does. But here it is in the Letter to the Church at Thyatira. God judges. This letter is a solemn warning of the judgment of the holy and righteous God who is judge of all. After some words of encouragement we will come back to later, this letter is mostly about
WARNINGS OF JUDGMENT
20 Nevertheless, I have this against you: you tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophet. By her teaching she misleads my servants into sexual immorality and the eating of food sacrificed to idols. 21 I have given her time to repent of her immorality, but she is unwilling. 22 So I will cast her on a bed of suffering, and I will make those who commit adultery with her suffer intensely, unless they repent of her ways. 23 I will strike her children dead. Then all the churches will know that I am he who searches hearts and minds, and I will repay each of you according to your deeds.
The Book of Revelation is what is called Apocalyptic language. Warnings of the apocalypse, written necessarily in language which is often symbolic rather than literal. So we need to be careful that we do not read too literally warnings like, “I will strike her children dead.” But there are other places too in the New Testament with solemn warnings of the dreadful judgment of God.
Hebrews 10 26 If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, 27 but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God. 28 Anyone who rejected the law of Moses died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. 29 How much more severely do you think someone deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified them, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace? 30 For we know him who said, ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ and again, ‘The Lord will judge his people.’ 31 It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.
That is just one passage among many which talks about the judgment God will bring on those who persist in sin and refuse to repent. 21 I have given her time to repent of her immorality, but she is unwilling. Judgment will fall on those who stubbornly refuse to repent.
It seems to me that many Christians have lost sight of this Bible truth in recent years. Many emphasise the love of God so strongly that they completely lose any sense of the holiness or the judgment of God. The popularity of Rob Bell’s misleading book, “Love Wins”, demonstrates just how many Christians prefer to think that everybody will be saved in the end. They forget or deliberately ignore all the passages in the Bible which are warnings of the reality of God’s judgment.

THE REALITY OF JUDGMENT
God’s judgment comes from the nature and character of God Himself. This is abundantly clear throughout the Old Testament. This is how God revealed Himself to Moses on Mount Sinai after He gave him the Ten Commandments for the second time.
Exodus 34 5 Then the LORD came down in the cloud and stood there with him and proclaimed his name, the LORD. 6 And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, 7 maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation.”
Love and faithfulness, and at the same time holiness and justice. This is the God of the Bible. In the Old Testament the judgment of God was revealed in the ten plagues which fell on Egyptians, as judgment on the Egyptians for all the false gods they worshipped. Then we see the judgment of God falling on his chosen people the Israelites many times when they rebelled against God as they wandered for 40 years in the wilderness, like the plague of snakes which came as they complained against God for bringing them into the desert. And we have thought before about the judgment which came on the nation of Israel as the Babylonians invaded Jerusalem and took all the people away into exile in Babylon. And the dominant theme of most of the prophets is the judgment of God on the sins of human beings.
In the New Testament we also read about instances of judgment. Usually judgment is deferred until the Last Judgment when Christ will return, But the story of Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5 reminds us of the holiness of God. Both were struck dead for lying to the apostles and the Holy Spirit. In both Testaments, it is clearly revealed that certain events are indeed the judgment of God. We cannot and should not look at events in today’s world and say, “That is God’s judgment.” Accidents and diseases and natural disasters are not examples of God’s judgment. But the Bible is completely clear in so many places that God is judge and that one day every human being will have to stand before the Judgment Seat of God. But why was judgment coming on Thyatira?

THE SINS OF JEZEBEL
I don’t think it is likely that the woman’s name was actually Jezebel. But it is clear that there was a woman in Thyatira who was leading the church astray and she referred to here by the name which had been used symbolically of evil women for more than nine hundred years since Jezebel the wife of Ahab, the King of the Northern Kingdom of Israel we read about in 1 Kings 16.
29 In the thirty-eighth year of Asa king of Judah, Ahab son of Omri became king of Israel, and he reigned in Samaria over Israel for twenty-two years. 30 Ahab son of Omri did more evil in the eyes of the LORD than any of those before him. 31 He not only considered it trivial to commit the sins of Jeroboam son of Nebat, but he also married Jezebel daughter of Ethbaal king of the Sidonians, and began to serve Baal and worship him. 32 He s,et up an altar for Baal in the temple of Baal that he built in Samaria. 33 Ahab also made an Asherah pole and did more to arouse the anger of the LORD, the God of Israel, than did all the kings of Israel before him.
Ahab was an appalling king – but the Bible is clear that it was Jezebel who led him so far astray. Jezebel was such a wicked woman that her name has been applied to many controlling and deceitful women since. She was from the pagan nation of Sidon and by manipulating her husband the King of Israel Jezebel led the Israelites to worship the pagan gods the Baals. We also read how Jezabel arranged the slaughter of hundreds of the prophets of God in Israel. She opposed and persecuted Elijah the prophet and had Naboth killed off so that Ahab could get his vineyard. In the Old Testament Jezebel was a very nasty piece of work and she met a suitably grizzly end trampled underfoot by horses and then eaten by dogs. But she had a worthy successor in a false prophet who was leading the church astray at Thyatira.
20 Nevertheless, I have this against you: you tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophet. By her teaching she misleads my servants into sexual immorality and the eating of food sacrificed to idols. 21 I have given her time to repent of her immorality, but she is unwilling. 22 So I will cast her on a bed of suffering, and I will make those who commit adultery with her suffer intensely, unless they repent of her ways.
We see many of the same sins here as we did last week in the church at Pergamum. Compromise. Idolatry. Dabbling in the occult. The references to sexual immorality may be metaphorical, spiritual unfaithfulness betraying Christ as the true husband of his Bride, the church. Or they could equally be physical acts of adultery. Or quite probably both, because the two so often go together. God’s judgment on Jezebel is very clear.
21 I have given her time to repent of her immorality, but she is unwilling. 22 So I will cast her on a bed of suffering, and I will make those who commit adultery with her suffer intensely, unless they repent of her ways. 23 I will strike her children dead. Then all the churches will know that I am he who searches hearts and minds, and I will repay each of you according to your deeds.
This is grim stuff. Suffering as a consequence of sin. Some people nowadays are saying that God would never punish people for sin in such ways. They are mistaken. Through Jesus and the cross, God saves Christians from the guilt and the penalty and the power of sin in our lives. But He does not always save Christians from the consequences of our sins. Christians who persevere in compromising their faith, who persevere in immoral behaviour, who persevere in occult practices, may be forgiven. But unless they completely repent they will always carry the consequences of their sin and disobedience in their bodies and in their minds. There will always be scars.
Who is it who speaks these solemn words of Judgment? Again, some Christians like to make a distinction between the Old Testament God of Judgment and the New Testament God of Love as revealed in our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. But notice who it is who speaks these warnings of judgment.
V 18 These are the words of the Son of God, whose eyes are like blazing fire and whose feet are like burnished bronze.
V 23 Then all the churches will know that I am he who searches hearts and minds, and I will repay each of you according to your deeds.
It is Jesus Christ who is appointed Judge of All who declares that He will repay everyone according to their deeds. Jesus the holy Son of God who searches hearts and minds and Those who try to deny the reality of judgment by saying, “Jesus just loves everybody,” can only do so by missing out huge chunks of what Jesus Himself taught. Too many Christians are being lulled into a false sense of security by popular but cosmically mistaken books from authors such as Rob Bell and Brian McLaren. Let me move from the words of Christ revealed in a vision in the Book of Revelation on to the words Jesus spoke in the Gospels for a minute to make this point completely clear.
The Bible speaks in so many places about the reality of God’s judgment. If there were no other sayings, there is one phrase Jesus uses on no less than six separate occasions in Matthew’s Gospel which warns of the terrifying consequences of God’s judgment. Six times Jesus talks about judgment using the same striking couplet, “weeping and gnashing of teeth.” Speaking about the example of the centurion’s faith, Jesus warns that some people who do not have faith,
will be thrown outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. (Matthew 8:12)
The parable of the Weeds in the Field warns about the last judgment.
41 The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. 42 They will throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. (Matthew 13:42)
The parable of the net gives the same warning.
The angels will come and separate the wicked from the righteous 50 and throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. (Matthew 13:50)
The parable of the Wedding Banquet talks about the generosity of the King who welcomes everybody, even the outcasts. But it comes with a sting in the tail with the idea that some people might try to sneak into the banquet who do not belong there.
13 “Then the king told the attendants, ‘Tie him hand and foot, and throw him outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ 14 “For many are invited, but few are chosen.” (Mathhew 22:13)
The parable of the two servants talks about the reward prepared for the wise servant who is ready when his master returns, but it also talks about the punishment which falls on the wicked servant who is not ready, but mistreats his fellow servants and eats and drinks with drunkards.
50 The master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he is not aware of. 51 He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the hypocrites, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. (Matthew 24:51)
In the parable of the talents, the servant who is judged to be worthless does not just suffer by having his one talent taken away from him.
30 And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. (Matthew 25:30)
In each of those six parables, Jesus talks about the blessings of those who are saved. But then he goes on to emphasis the judgment which will come on those who are not faithful. If the gospel message was all about love, there would be no need to talk about judgment or punishment. But still Jesus specifically adds warnings of “weeping and gnashing of teeth.” This may be symbolic language, but whatever form it may take the judgment and the punishment will be real. The warnings are abundantly clear – in the Gospels and not just in the Book of Revelation – from the mouth of Jesus Himself!
The Letter to the church at Thyatira does start with praise. 19 I know your deeds, your love and faith, your service and perseverance, and that you are now doing more than you did at first.
Love, faith, service, perseverance, signs of growth. All good things. And there is some more good news. Not all the Church in Thyatira have been led astray by Jezebel. For them there are words of encouragement. Hang on in there.
24 Now I say to the rest of you in Thyatira, to you who do not hold to her teaching and have not learned Satan’s so-called deep secrets, “I will not impose any other burden on you, 25 except to hold on to what you have until I come.”

And as in all the Seven Letters to the Seven Churches, there are wonderful promises of blessings for those who stand firm. It is not obvious what those blessings actually are – as in so much of Revelation, they are in symbolic language.

26 To the one who is victorious and does my will to the end, I will give authority over the nations—27 that one “will rule them with an iron sceptre and will dash them to pieces like pottery”—just as I have received authority from my Father. 28 I will also give that one the morning star.

As ever, the blessings are promised to those who are victorious – to those who stand up against the lies of Jezebel and who hold fast to Christ. But for everybody else, Christians and not Christians, the warnings of this Letter to Thyatira is clear and deadly serious. Wherever there is compromise. Wherever there is idolatry Wherever there is immorality. Judgment is coming!

29 Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.

The Call to be Holy Revelation 2:12-17

Tuesday, July 4th, 2017

12 ‘To the angel of the church in Pergamum write:
These are the words of him who has the sharp, double-edged sword. 13 I know where you live—where Satan has his throne. Yet you remain true to my name. You did not renounce your faith in me, not even in the days of Antipas, my faithful witness, who was put to death in your city—where Satan lives.

Pergamum was the Washington DC of the Ancient Near East. It was the political and cultural capital of Asia Minor. It was also the stronghold of pagan worship with its temples to Athena, Hera, Dionysus and a huge altar to Zeus, all built on the Acropolis with its pillar of rock 800 feet high – “Satan’s throne”. It was at Pergamum that the first Temple to the Roman cult of Emperor worship was built to honour Augustus in 29 BC. Every citizen of the city was expected to join in that civil religion. So Pergamum was not an exceptionally difficult place to stand firm as a Christian, especially when some Christian leaders like Antipas were being martyred. The church at Pergamum was being attacked on all sides by the pressures of a pluralistic multi-faith pagan society. And sadly some were giving in to its temptations – falling into the errors of Balaam and the sins of the Nicolaitans. So God calls that church to repent of its sins.
16 Repent therefore! Otherwise, I will soon come to you and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth.
But what were the sins the church at Pergamum had to repent for? We find two in verse 14.
14 Nevertheless, I have a few things against you: there are some among you who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to entice the Israelites to sin so that they ate food sacrificed to idols and committed sexual immorality.

IDOLATRY
This was Balaam’s first error, leading the Israelites in the wilderness to worship the Baals, the false gods of the Moabites.
Numbers 25 While Israel was staying in Shittim, the men began to indulge in sexual immorality with Moabite women, 2 who invited them to the sacrifices to their gods. The people ate the sacrificial meal and bowed down before these gods. 3 So Israel yoked themselves to the Baal of Peor. And the LORD’s anger burned against them.
Numbers 31:16 makes it clear that the blame for this idol worship fell squarely on Balaam.
Decades earlier the apostle Peter had also referred to Balaam’s sin to warn Christians of the dangers of idolatry.
2 Peter 2 13 They will be paid back with harm for the harm they have done. Their idea of pleasure is to carouse in broad daylight. They are blots and blemishes, revelling in their pleasures while they feast with you. 14 With eyes full of adultery, they never stop sinning; they seduce the unstable; they are experts in greed—an accursed brood! 15 They have left the straight way and wandered off to follow the way of Balaam son of Bezer, who loved the wages of wickedness.
We may feel that idol worship is not so much of a problem today. I could talk about other religions as worshipping idols. When we looked at the Ten Commandments I talked about the false gods of Entertainment and Celebrity. For tonight let’s remember the words of Colossians 3:5 Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry.
Greed is worshipping the false God of Money. Our world is full of temples to that false god, the shopping arcades. Our homes are invaded by shopping channels and online shopping. And now with smartphones for the first time people can buy anything they want, literally anywhere at any time. We live in a world where how much somebody earns and how many possessions they have is considered so much more important than what kind of person they are. We have that institutionalised idol the National Lottery. There are pressures from all sides to worship and serve that false god of Money. Remember the warnings Jesus gave in the Sermon on the Mount.
Matthew 6 19 ‘Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
22 ‘The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light. 23 But if your eyes are unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!
24 ‘No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.

Money is not the only false god, of course. Whenever we trust people or possessions or position to do for us what only God can do, then that is idolatry. J.I.Packer perceptively wrote, “The list of other gods is endless, for anything that anyone allows to run his life becomes his god and the claimants for this prerogative are legion. In the matter of life’s basic loyalty, temptation is a many-headed monster.”
Worshipping idols was Balaam’s first error. But there was a second too.
14 Nevertheless, I have a few things against you: there are some among you who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to entice the Israelites to sin so that they ate food sacrificed to idols and committed sexual immorality.

SEXUAL IMMORALITY
Pagan worship, false religions, cults and the occult have always lured people away from God through sexual immorality. Through immoral rituals and practices to seek the illusion of pleasure from each other’s bodies instead of drawing close to God to find His peace and joy and love. Again in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus warned against immorality
Matthew 5 27 ‘You have heard that it was said, “You shall not commit adultery.” 28 But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29 If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. 30 And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.
There are so many pressures from the world around. Our society has abandoned any pretence to sexual morality. The content of television programmes which used to be reserved for late night viewing now showing when children are watching. Material which used to be in top-shelf magazines, and much worse, is now freely available through the internet. Along with everybody else, it is an increasingly difficult battle for Christians to live holy lives. In His first Letter, John gave this challenge.
1 John 2 15 Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them. 16 For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world. 17 The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives for ever.
The lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life – pleasure, possessions and position each of which are worshipped and pursued by so many people.
Balaam’s second error was leading the people into sexual immorality. Telling people that it doesn’t matter how they behave.
And then the church at Pergamum had fallen into a third sin.
15 Likewise, you also have those who hold to the teaching of the Nicolaitans.
We met the Nicolaitans in the first Letter to the Seven Churches where the church at Ephesus were commended for hating the practices of the Nicolaitans. Sadly the church at Pergamum had fallen for the lies of the Nicolaitans. Their sin was

COMPROMISE
The Nicolaitans were a group within the church who taught that you could be a Christian and also worship other gods at the same time. That you could serve Jesus and the Greek gods and the Roman gods and worship the Roman Emperor as a god all at the same time. That was a very prudent approach when the alternative for Christians was persecution and imprisonment and even martyrdom. But it was based on a lie – a heresy. The truth is as Jesus says, you cannot serve two masters.
History tells us that the influence of Nicolaitans expanded to many parts of the church through the second century. They were the ancestors of modern liberal theology and easy-going morality. In this world of tolerance and “political correctness” we find the same false ideas spreading into the church today. Pressures to play down the truth, in order to avoid conflict with the world around. The idea that “all roads lead to god”. The false belief that Muslims and Sikhs and Buddhists will all be saved which leads to the emptiness of so called “multi-faith worship”. Worse than that is the wrong idea that it is acceptable to incorporate elements of other religions into our Christian life and worship and that pagan immorality is acceptable for Christians. Such beliefs and practices are a denial of the uniqueness of Christ. It is a rejection of the central confession of Christianity that Jesus Christ is Lord – the one and only Lord of all.
G.K.Chesterton said, “Compromise used to mean that half a loaf is better than no bread at all. What it really means is fooling people that half a loaf is better than a whole loaf.”
Tremendous pressure is put on Christians nowadays to “be charitable”. People demand that we should “not be judgmental” and “to accept other people.” But that is a deception. Truth is truth even if nobody else believes it. Lies are lies even if everybody else believes them. And the truth is that Jesus is the only way to God and the only way of salvation. We should not compromise!
So here is the challenge of this letter to the church at Pergamum. God calls us to be holy. To refuse to worship the false gods of Money and Entertainment and Celebrity or any other false gods of other nations. To resist all kinds of temptations to immorality. To refuse to compromise the truth of the gospel. And there is a wonderful promise to all who do remain faithful to the one true and living God.
To the one who is victorious, I will give some of the hidden manna. I will also give that person a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to the one who receives it.
The hidden manna – the bread of heaven of God’s blessings which are so much greater than anything and everything that this world can offer. And the white stone – in a society where judges indicated their judgment by a black stone for the guilty or a white stone for those they pronounced innocent. Christ promises a white stone – because being holy and innocent in God’s eyes is more important than anything else in the world!
Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.

Hang on in there! Revelation 2:8-11

Monday, June 26th, 2017

One of the most famous church leaders in the second century was Polycarp of Smyrna, a city in Turkey. Polycarp was one of the three prominent Apostolic Fathers alongside Clement of Rome and Ignatius of Antioch. Polycarp had actually been a disciple of the apostle John himself and it had been John who had ordained Polycarp to be Bishop of Smyrna. It is generally agreed that Polycarp was put to death around 155 AD, just as it was recorded in a document called “The Martyrdom of Polycarp.” He was bound and burned at the stake because he refused to burn incense in worship to the Roman Emperor. When the fire did not touch him, Polycarp was then stabbed to death. At the stake he said this. “Eighty and six years I have served Him, and He has done me no wrong. How then can I blaspheme my King and Saviour? You threaten me with a fire that burns for a season, and after a little while is quenched; but you are ignorant of the fire of everlasting punishment that is prepared for the wicked.” As he died Polycarp prayed, “I bless you Father for judging me worthy of this hour, so that in the company of the martyrs I may share the cup of Christ.”
Polycarp of Smyrna was one of the earliest and best-known martyrs, those inspirational believers who remained faithful to Christ even to the point of death. Half a century earlier this Letter of the Risen Christ to the church at Smyrna is in essence a call to martyrdom. It is a rebuke to naïve triumphalism and a challenge to all who dare to follow the way of the cross.
8 ‘To the angel of the church in Smyrna write:
These are the words of him who is the First and the Last, who died and came to life again. 9 I know your afflictions and your poverty—yet you are rich! I know about the slander of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. 10 Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution for ten days. Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you life as your victor’s crown.
11 Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. The one who is victorious will not be hurt at all by the second death.
This letter is a prophetic warning of just how much it may cost to declare “Jesus is Lord” in a hostile world.
THE CERTAINTY OF PERSECUTION
10 Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution for ten days. Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you life as your victor’s crown.
Here is the reality. Persecution is the devil’s attack on Christians and on the church. We are all in a spiritual battle. Jesus had warned his apostles that there would be fierce persecution throughout the last days.
Mark 13:9 9 ‘You must be on your guard. You will be handed over to the local councils and flogged in the synagogues. On account of me you will stand before governors and kings as witnesses to them. 10 And the gospel must first be preached to all nations. 11 Whenever you are arrested and brought to trial, do not worry beforehand about what to say. Just say whatever is given you at the time, for it is not you speaking, but the Holy Spirit.
12 ‘Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child. Children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death. 13 Everyone will hate you because of me, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.

In his Gospel, John had recorded the words which he himself had heard Jesus speaking.
John 15 18“Does the world hate you? Remember that it hated me first. 19If you belonged to the world, it would love you like one of its own. But you do not belong to the world. I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you.
20“Remember the words I spoke to you. I said, ‘A servant is not more important than his master.’ If people hated me and tried to hurt me, they will do the same to you. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also. 21They will treat you like that because of my name. They do not know the One who sent me.

John himself was the only apostle to survive to an old age through the terrible times of persecution under the Emperor Nero. Now the Risen Christ gives this warning to the Church at Smyrna – a terrifying warning of imprisonment and even death. It reminds us that we are not promised an easy life as Christians. The Bible makes it clear that as we follow in the steps of the Son of God who the world hated and rejected, the world will hate and reject Christians as well. We have no right, no right at all, to expect our Christian life to be any easier than it was for those Christians at Smyrna and those martyrs like Polycarp. If we want to follow Christ, we need to take up our cross. But for any Christians experiencing suffering, here are wonderful words of comfort.
These are the words of him who is the First and the Last, who died and came to life again. 9 I know your afflictions and your poverty—yet you are rich! I know about the slander of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan.
“I know.” “I know your afflictions.” All the pressures you are under. All the terrible experiences you are suffering. “I know” your poverty. That you are poor materially. But remember, despite that material poverty, you are rich spiritually. “I know” about the slander and the opposition from those who claim to be Jews but are actually serving Satan. “I know” everything you are going through. These are the words of the one who is the First and the Last and the living one. The one who was dead but now is alive again and hold the keys of death and Hades. And the Risen Jesus Christ says, “I know what you are going through.” Not just, “I know because I can see everything and I am watching everything that is happening.” But, more than that, “I know – because I have been there.” “I know because I have suffered just as you are suffering. And more!”

The letter to Smyrna is unique among the letters to the seven churches is one very important respect.
THERE IS NO REBUKE
We saw last week the challenge to the church at Ephesus, “Yet I have this against you. You have forsaken your first love.” Each of the other letters will also contain words of criticism and challenge. But not to Smyrna. There is absolutely nothing they are doing wrong. No failure to love God or other people. No disobedience. No compromise. They weren’t being persecuted because they weren’t walking close to God. Persecution would come precisely because they WERE close to God. But then here is another surprise.
THERE IS NO EASY WAY OUT EITHER
We might have hoped for some cheering words. Maybe, “I am with you.” Maybe even, “You will be miraculously delivered from your suffering” as the angel had brought John and Peter out of prison in Acts 5. But there is no promise of divine help here. No hope of escape at all. Just simply “grit your teeth and bear the pain.” That would be the reality of persecution for the church at Smyrna, as it has been for countless Christians through the ages and is still the experience of some of our brothers and sisters around the world even today. This is the reality of following Christ. Hang on in there! No easy way out. No encouragement in this life – just a wonderful hope.
THE PROMISE OF HEAVEN
God is not offering any way out of their suffering in this world. The only hope offered is for the next world,
Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you life as your victor’s crown.
Here is the hope for Christians – Heaven is our true home. So we should fix our hopes on Heaven.
Colossians 3:1 You have been raised up with Christ. So think about things that are in heaven. That is where Christ is. He is sitting at God’s right hand. 2Think about things that are in heaven. Don’t think about things that are on earth. 3You died. Now your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4Christ is your life. When he appears again, you also will appear with him in heaven’s glory.

There are times when this world holds nothing for Christians but suffering. Maybe persecution. Maybe the ravages of illness. Times when all our eggs are in the one basket of Heaven.
11 … The one who is victorious will not be hurt at all by the second death.
Our first death, our physical death as human beings, may be agonising. But we will not have to taste the second death. Eternal death which is the opposite of eternal life. Revelation 20 warns about the judgment of the Great White Throne and the punishment of eternal death.
Revelation 20 11 Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. The earth and the heavens fled from his presence, and there was no place for them. 12 And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. 13 The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what they had done. 14 Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. 15 Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire.
This Second Death will be the destiny of all who have not put their trust in Christ. In contrast, believers have nothing to fear.
11 … The one who is victorious will not be hurt at all by the second death.
The Greek here is emphatic. “Ou me.” “Will not be hurt at all by the second death.” Will certainly not be hurt.” “Not in the least.”
So the message is simple. “Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer.”
Do not be afraid even of death. And that message comes from a trustworthy source.
These are the words of him who is the First and the Last, who died and came to life again.
Echoes here of the Risen Christ who appeared to John as “One Like a Son of Man” in Revelation 1 and said this. ‘Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. 18 I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.
There are times when all we can do as Christians is entrust ourselves to the loving care of the One who is the first and the last and the living one. There will be times when this world holds NOTHING for us and our only hope is to look forward to the world to come.
For such times, this letter to the Church at Smyrna is A CALL TO BE FAITHFUL
V 10 . Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you life as your victor’s crown.
“Be faithful.” This exhortation will come 8 times in the Book of Revelation. Remain faithful. Stand firm in your faith. Cling to God and put your trust in His grace. The letter to the Church at Ephesus last week talked about perseverance. Keep on keeping on. Here the call is to trust and keep on trusting. Hang on in there!
By God’s mercy we have been spared this kind of persecution. We do well to keep praying for our brothers and sisters around the world even today who are facing imprisonment and suffering and martyrdom. And we claim this promise for them.
Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you life as your victor’s crown. The one who is victorious will not be hurt at all by the second death.
The one who is victorious. The one who overcomes all the challenges of life and stays firm to the end. Every one of these 7 letters to the 7 churches ends with a wonderful promise, but in each case the promise is only for the ones who are victorious – the ones who overcome. They will share Christ’s victory! And John has spelled out in his first letter how we are victorious.
1 John 5 4 for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith.
And later in Revelation John will say more about how to overcome.
Revelation 12 10 Then I heard a loud voice in heaven say:
‘Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God, and the authority of his Messiah.
For the accuser of our brothers and sisters, who accuses them before our God day and night, has been hurled down.
11 They triumphed over him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony;
they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death.

Victory comes through the blood of the Lamb – the sacrifice Jesus has made for us and the sacrifices he calls us to make for Him as we follow His example. And victory comes through the words of our testimony – through the faithful witness of Christians in the face of persecution and even of death. And there is one more secret to victory.
They did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death.
As Tertullian put it, “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.”
Sometimes we can be tempted to complain about all our sufferings. Sometimes Christians stop trusting in God because life gets too hard. Sometimes we can be tempted to compromise in our witness because we are scared of being ridiculed or rejected. Any time when life gets hard through opposition or persecution, the letter to the church in Smyrna and the examples of the martyrs challenge us to hang on in there and remain faithful.
Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you life as your victor’s crown. The one who is victorious will not be hurt at all by the second death.
11 Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.

You have forsaken your first love. Revelation 2:1-7

Monday, June 19th, 2017

The letters to the Seven Churches in the book of Revelation started as a circular letter to that group of churches in Asia Minor. They found their way into the New Testament because their relevance was not limited to the churches they were addressed to, or only to churches in the first century. God speaks to Christians as clearly half way around the world and almost 2000 years later. They are God’s words to His church.
‘To the angel of the church in Ephesus write:
These are the words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand and walks among the seven golden lampstands.
Last week we meditated on the vision of the Risen Christ which the apostle John received late in His life in exile on the island of Patmos. It reveals the Risen Jesus walking among the seven lampstands which represent the seven churches. Indeed Christ holds the life of the seven churches in the palm of His hand. These letters are the Words of the Risen Ascended Glorified Lord. The Letters speak like a sharp two-edged sword into the heart of the life of each church. And each letter asks us today, is your church like that? If the cap fits …
In this first letter to the Church at Ephesus we can find 3 examples to follow, 1 sin to avoid and 3 commands to obey.
THREE AREAS FOR PRAISE
2 I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked people, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false. 3 You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary.

HARD WORK
2 I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance.
We know that the Christian life should be full of joy. Sometimes we forget that it also demands hard work. Christians put huge amounts of time and effort into their daily work and some into their hobbies as well. If only we were to put as much hard work into our prayer and our worship and our discipleship and our evangelism. The Christian road is a hard uphill climb, if we are doing it right! Thanks to God’s grace, the church at Ephesus was not lacking in hard work.
SOUND DOCTRINE
I know that you cannot tolerate wicked people, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false.
In these days of pluralism and pressure to tolerate other religions, it is as important as it was in the Early Church to know the truth and hold fast to the truth. We need to be a church who believe what we preach and preach what we believe. The Church at Ephesus was such a church.
6 But you have this in your favour: you hate the practices of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.
The Nicolaitans were a group who were trying to compromise with pagan religions in the world around. They adopted their pagan beliefs and also their pagan immorality. The Church at Ephesus rightly refused to compromise in beliefs or in morality – and neither should we.
PERSEVERANCE
3 You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary.

As Spurgeon put it, “By perseverance the snail reached the ark.” God calls us time and time again to say, “I’ve started, so I’ll finish,” in whatever good work He has called us to do. The prayer attributed to Sir Francis Drake puts it like this.
‘O Lord God, when thou givest to Thy servants to endeavour any great matter, grant us also to know that it is not the beginning, but the continuing of the same unto the end, until it be thoroughly finished, which yieldeth the true glory; through His for the finishing of Thy work laid down His life, our Redeemer, Jesus Christ.’
That is perseverance. The Church at Ephesus, founded by Paul, led at one time by Timothy, were doing well. Hard work. Sound doctrine. Perseverance. All good things. But even all together they were not enough in God’s eyes. Because Among all these good things, one vital ingredient had gone missing.
YOU HAVE FORSAKEN YOUR FIRST LOVE
4 Yet I hold this against you: you have forsaken the love you had at first.
“You do not love as you did at first.” The Church at Ephesus was founded on Love. In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul praised them for their love. And Paul prayed that they would know and experience more and more of God’s love.
Ephesians 3:17 And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.
But Paul had written to the church at Ephesus early in the 60s AD. Revelation was probably written in the 90s AD while the church was suffering great persecution under the Roman Emperor Domitian. And in those 30 years the Christians had lost their first love. This probably had two sides to it. They had lost their love for God. And they had lost their love for other people.
LOVE FOR GOD
We say we love God. But how much does that love actually show in our praying and our worship? Like starry-eyed lovers beginning a relationship, new Christians often show so much exuberant and unreserved devotion. But as the years go by, us more mature Christians can become more inhibited. That is understandable of course. Decades of hard work wear us out. Years of doing battle with false doctrine wear us down. Persevering to the end is painful and exhausting. Especially if it is the case that we end up doing all these things in our own strength instead of in God’s strength we are bound to get weary and it is almost inevitable that our love for God will fade. We lose our first love. There is another word which means loving God less than we used to. I hesitate to use it. That word is “backsliding”. But the truth is, if our love for God is not still growing then we are probably not just standing still. We are probably sliding back. Be honest – do we really love God as much as we used to? And these things are just as true for our love for other people as well.
LOVE FOR OTHER PEOPLE
Loving other people with God’s kind of love is hard work. Loving other people as Christ has loved us. Forgiving other people as God has forgiven us. Love in pastoral caring. Love in welcoming. Love in sharing the gospel. “All you need is love. Love is all you need” Sounds so easy – but that was the Beatles not the Bible. Loving other people is not easy.
1 Corinthians 13 4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonour others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. 8 Love never fails.
That is God’s kind of love. It is not easy. It is exhausting. No wonder the Ephesians had lost their first love, love for God and love for each other. But what can Christians do if we have lost our first love? What’s the way back to enthusiasm and passion and being on fire for God?
THREE COMMANDS TO OBEY
5 Consider how far you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first.
CONSIDER
In other words, take stock. Take a good long look at where we are now.
Consider how far you have fallen! We should think back to the early days in our Christian lives. To times in the past when we have been closer to God. When we loved God with a passion. Times when we really did love other people as God has loved us!
REPENT
Repentance means a change of mind. Seeing things the way God sees them. Acknowledging our shortcomings and failures. And seeking God’s strength to change and live a new life.
Repent and do the things you did at first.
DO THE THINGS YOU DID AT FIRST
Look back at the high spots of our love for God and for each other. Then use that as the baseline – the starting point – the bare minimum we will offer to God in the future. Loving God and loving other people as much as we used to – and then more!
Remember – repent – do! Three commands which are as much for any of us as they were for the Church in Ephesus.
And these challenges come with a warning and they come with a promise.
If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place.
This is not a warning to individual Christians. This is not a threat that Christians can lose their salvation. But it is a solemn warning that congregations and churches and even denominations can lose touch with God. And if that happens, then even whole churches can come under the judgment of God and miss out on His blessing. Which is why it is so important not to lose our first love! But along with the warning, comes a wonderful promise.
7 Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.

This promise is for all Christians in every age, and even for us today. To all who are victorious through hard work, sound doctrine and perseverance. Above all for all who are victorious through love.
To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.
7 Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.
Or in other words, “if the cap fits.”

A PRAYER FOR REFLECTION AND RESPONSE

Merciful God, I confess to you now that I have sinned.
I confess the sins that no one knows
and the sins that everyone knows;
the sins that are a burden to me
and the sins that do not bother me
because I have got used to them.
We confess our sins as a church.
We have not loved one another as Christ has loved us.
We have not given ourselves in love and service for the world
as Christ gave Himself for us.
Father, forgive us.
Send the Holy Spirit to us, that He may give us power
to live in the way that, by your mercy, you have called us to live.
I confess that I have lived superficially.
I have pushed to the back of my mind the questions that trouble me.
I have not found time to face the emotions that disturb me.
I have hidden from life behind habit, activity and entertainments.
I have avoided You, God, even as you came after me.
In my relationships I have given less than my whole self,
and have been closed to receiving from others
what they wished to give me of themselves.
I have responded to needs for justice with a hard heart.
I have allowed imagination and sympathy to wither.
Routine has been my ally and honesty my dread.
Lord God, we have shut ourselves up.
Come after us again, knock once more, that we may open up to meet others, rediscover ourselves, know your love, and live again.

One like a Son of Man – a meditation on Revelation 1:9-20One like a Son of Man – a meditation on Revelation 1:9-20

Wednesday, June 14th, 2017

“The question: “What can I learn from all this?” is not always the right one to ask. Some parts of Scripture serve not to speak about joy, but to give joy; some serve not to instruct us about reconciliation but to reconcile us. The Bible not only tells us about Christ, but also brings Christ to us.” (David Watson)
Revelation 1 9 I, John, your brother and companion in the suffering and kingdom and patient endurance that are ours in Jesus, was on the island of Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. 10 On the Lord’s Day I was in the Spirit, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet, 11 which said: ‘Write on a scroll what you see and send it to the seven churches: to Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea.’

12 I turned round to see the voice that was speaking to me. And when I turned I saw seven golden lampstands, 13 and among the lampstands was someone like a son of man,

Daniel 7 13 ‘In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. 14 He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all nations and peoples of every language worshipped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.

someone like a son of man, dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash round his chest. 14 The hair on his head was white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire.

Matthew 17:1 After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. 2 There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light. 3 Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus.
4 Peter said to Jesus, ‘Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you wish, I will put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.’
5 While he was still speaking, a bright cloud covered them, and a voice from the cloud said, ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!’

15 His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters. 16 In his right hand he held seven stars, and coming out of his mouth was a sharp, double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance.

Hebrews 4 12 For the word of God is living 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. 13 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.
17 When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead.

Daniel 10:5 I looked up and there before me was a man dressed in linen, with a belt of the finest gold round his waist. 6 His body was like chrysolite, his face like lightning, his eyes like flaming torches, his arms and legs like the gleam of burnished bronze, and his voice like the sound of a multitude. 8 I was left alone, gazing at this great vision; I had no strength left, my face turned deathly pale and I was helpless. 9 Then I heard him speaking, and as I listened to him, I fell into a deep sleep, my face to the ground. 10 A hand touched me and set me trembling on my hands and knees.
15 … I bowed with my face towards the ground and was speechless. 16 Then one who looked like a man touched my lips, and I opened my mouth and began to speak. … “I am overcome with anguish because of the vision, my lord, and I am helpless. 17 How can I, your servant, talk with you, my lord? My strength is gone and I can hardly breathe.” 18 Again the one who looked like a man touched me and gave me strength. 19 “Do not be afraid, O man highly esteemed,” he said. “Peace! Be strong now; be strong.” When he spoke to me, I was strengthened.”

Then he placed his right hand on me and said: ‘Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last.

Isaiah 44 6 “This is what the LORD says – Israel’s King and Redeemer, the LORD Almighty:
I am the first and I am the last; apart from me there is no God.
7 Who then is like me? Let him proclaim it. Let him declare and lay out before me
what has happened since I established my ancient people,
and what is yet to come – let him foretell what will come.
8 Do not tremble, do not be afraid. Did I not proclaim this and foretell it long ago?
You are my witnesses. Is there any God besides me? No, there is no other Rock; I know not one.”

18 I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.

Romans 6 8 Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. 9 For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him. 10 The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God.

19 ‘Write, therefore, what you have seen, what is now and what will take place later. 20 The mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand and of the seven golden lampstands is this: the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.