The following is an unedited manuscript.
You may be aware that the was an advertising agency in Florida years ago that launched a billboard campaign displaying seventeen messages from God. An anonymous client paid for this massive campaign that delivered messages from God to motorists on America’s highways.
Perhaps you’ve heard about some of these messages. The entire billboard was black, the messages written in white letters with one name underneath, simply “God.” Maybe you saw this one, “Let’s Meet At My House Sunday Before The Game—God.” Another one said, “Have You Read My #1 Best Seller? There Will Be A Test.—God”. Or this one, “What part of ‘Thou Shalt not. . .’ Didn’t You Understand?—God.” Or, “Life is short. Eternity isn’t—God.” And finally this one, that read, “Loved The Wedding, Invite Me To The Marriage—God.”
This makes me wonder—if I were God and I wanted to deliver a unique message in this century to Christians living in New York, or North Carolina, or Brookfield, Wisconsin, what one sentence would I write on a billboard? Surely, the Bridegroom of the church wants to communicate to His bride—especially those hurrying down 41-45 or Capitol Drive.
Well friend, God does deliver a message to believers which He gives to His Son, Jesus, which is given to His last remaining disciple, John, to dictate. It’s the book of Revelation and it’s all about Jesus. It’s not on a billboard because we are privileged to have His letter it in our hands. Some people ask why do we see 7 churches in a book about prophecy? And the answer is that this is the final word on what a church needs to be. These letters to these 7 churches are the finest ____ of teaching in our Bible on what God loves and what God hates. This morning Revelation 2:1-7 teaches us that the great commandment of “love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind” (Matthew. 22:37), does matter to God.
As we learned last Sunday John had this marvelous revelation of Jesus. Jesus is seen standing amid the golden lampstands which we learned in verse 20, of chapter 1, are that the lampstands are the 7 churches. The first of seven letters Jesus Christ dictated to John on Patmos was this one addressed to the Ephesians. Ephesus was a thriving, busy metropolis—not unlike Chicago or Milwaukee. It was an area of concentrated activity. Within the boundaries of that seaport city was an assembly of believers, solid in their faith and well taught. This church was founded by Paul (Acts 19-20) and later served by such notables as Priscilla and Aquilla, Apollos, Timothy, and eventuallyJohn himself. Standing firm in this city for Christ was extremely difficult for it was an extremely immoral city and there was great confusion spiritually because it was at the center of the worship of Artemis—Artemis being the Greek name—the Roman name being Diana. The names of this statue indicates confusion, because Artemis appears to be a male kind of name and Diana a more decidedly female figure but you find in ancient occult religions the male/female identity of gods is switched all the time as a part of Satan’s ploy to mingle and confuse sexual identities. But this temple was the epic center of sexual perversion and mutilation. Thousands of priests and priestesses served in the temple, many as religious prostitutes. The whole hysteria around this temple became a frenzy of shameless sexual activity. This place of occult worship was looked on as one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient Word which was a source of intense civic pride. The other six wonder of the world you may or may not remember, but you had the Pharos Lighthouse in Alexandria, Egypt. The pyramids in Cairo; the hanging gardens in Babylon; the tomb of Mausolus in Halicarnassus; the Colossus at Rhodes and finally the statue of Zeus at Mount Olympus. But in the middle of this city of Ephesus was the Temple Diana which was a hideous looking statue that had breast all down the front of the statue representing a god of sex and fertility. One of Ephesus’ own philosophers, Heraclitus, was known as the frowning prophet, and he lamented over the immorality and wickedness of the city saying that its citizens were “fit only to be drowned, and that the reason he could never laugh or smile was because he lived amidst such terrible uncleanness.” It was a very ungodly place and right dap in the middle is this church and the Ephesian Christians were accomplishing much, but in the process of fighting for survival, the church began to erode in another area. This erosion so disturbed our Lord that He wrote specifically with what was on His heart. In examining these seven verses, we’ll discover the area of weakness that prompted Jesus to write to this church that had Everything But the One Thing. Follow along as I read for you these 7 verses, of Revelation chapter 2. “To the angel of the church of Ephesus write, ‘These things says He who holds the seven stars in His right hand, who walks in the midst of the seven golden lamp stands: (2) I know your words, your labor, your patience, and that you cannot bear those who are evil. And you have tested those who say they are apostles and are not, and have found them liars; (3) and you have persevered and have patience, and have labored for My name’s sake and have not become weary. (4) Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love. (5) Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works, or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lamp stand from its place—unless you repent. (6) But this you have, that you hate the deeds of the Nicolatians, which I also hate. (7) He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes I will give to eat from the Tree of Life, which is in the midst of the Paradise of God.’”
Prayer: Oh Lord, as we hear Your letter to the church at Ephesus, and listen to Your words to us. I pray that You would help u s to have ears to hear. Help us to have spiritual understanding so that Your message might be personal and very practical. We want to love You as at the first all the way to the end. We want to hold You in first place in our lives. We pray as we look through this letter, and Your Spirit illumines us, that You long for us to love You and not just to serve You. I pray that our love would be so evident in our lives and in our church lest our lampstand be removed, and we are no longer effective for You. We thank You in the name of Jesus. Amen
Let me ask you, what does Jesus think of His church? The question is not what does George Barna think about the church. He does a great deal of analysis regarding the church and culture today but that’s not the question. It’s not a question about what the church consultant thinks about the church though he may be helpful in certain situations. The question before us is simply this? What does Jesus think of His church? And more specifically, what does Jesus think about Brookside Baptist Church?
Friends, Jesus identified our greatest obligation as wholehearted love for God which declares to us that God is not pleased by dutiful obedience that does not flow from genuine love (Matt. 22:36-38). So, an all-knowing Jesus knows what we do and why we do it. Let’s look at what Jesus knows, what He sees, and what He says to this church.
- Jesus want us to know what He cares - v. 1 “To the angel of the church of Ephesus write, ‘These things says He who holds the seven stars in His right hand, who walks in the midst of the seven golden lamp stands.” Revelation 2:1 reminds us of two ways that Jesus was described in 1:9-20, so the vision that John saw of Jesus that he records should make the Ephesian church attentive to what Jesus says to them. First, He “holds (present tense) the seven stars in His right hand.” He is in possession of His “stars” the angelos, or the messengers, the representative, or the pastor of the church. Every church Jesus purchased with His own blood is dear to Him. Secondly, we are told here that He “walks” (present tense) among the seven golden lampstands.” Our Lord walks about among His people, His church. He is no absentee landlord or disinterested deity. He is here, up close and personal. What does Jesus do on Sunday mornings? He comes to church and oh, I know, in which He’s everywhere in being omniscience (all-knowing) and omnipotent (all-powerful) and omnipresent but there’s a sense that Jesus’ focus on the church is much more important to Him than let’s say the political picture of the world. He walks among the aisles this morning and He’s observing and what He is observing is the extent of our love to Him and that’s His agenda. He sees what we do and why we do it. He knows what’s in our hearts. This brings great assurance but it also brings to light great accountability. But why 7 churches when we know there were more than just 7 in the area? These churches loosely are representative of all churches throughout the church age and that’s why I gave you the assignment last week of which church in these two chapters of Revelation best represents Brookside? And secondly, which church best represents you?
Transition: To this church in Ephesus, Jesus will begin with four wonderful compliments of what He sees. Before He tells them what they are doing wrong, He tells them what they are doing right. We should try this pattern at home, at work, in the classroom where we teach—commend first, then correct.
- Jesus lets us in on what He sees - vv. 2-4 He will give so to speak a thumbs up and a thumbs down to what He sees.
- Jesus’ commendation - vv. 2-3;
- Diligence - v. 2a He says, “I know your deeds,” or “works.” By the way because He’s all-knowing, He knows our motives about why we do work in His church. He knows whether we’re late or early to church. He knows exactly our thought and actions like no consultant could possibly know. Jesus knows the good things the Ephesians have done. I’m sure they helped the sick, responded to those who were lonely. They were a beehive of activity just like it is here at Brookside Baptist Church throughout the week. But beginning Sunday morning around 8 o’clock on through the entire day there is much activity. The pastor’s and the choir start arriving around 8. Sunday school teachers, nursery workers, and ABF teachers begin coming in around 8:30. And then all kinds of things begin to happen and it stays busy throughout the day, with choir practice and then the AWANA workers coming at 5:30 in the evening to help our children learn and memorize God’s Word. It’s a busy day and Ephesus was a busy church but it was also busy outside of its wall as we are in serving people, inviting them to retreats and dinners where they will hear the gospel and be taught God’s Word. What a church to be a pastor of: a beehive of activity and I don’t thank many of you enough who are busy working for the Lord. But Jesus sees you. The church at Ephesus matched its diligence of work to the Lord as much as the citizens of Ephesus diligently served their goddess, Diana. Jesus then commends them for their:
- Determination - v. 2a “I know your labor, your patience” He uses two words here that mark their commitment to Christ and His work. These believers were not the kind of Christians who wanted the box seats. They weren’t the kind of Christians who wanted to be entertained. They wanted to be on the field and involved. The first word Christ uses to commend them is the word “labor.” The Greek word is kopos. We get the English word, copious like a student taken copious notes, hypothetically speaking. The word kopos is emphasizing that they have been working to the point of exhaustion, or sweating for the Kingdom of God. The second word Jesus uses here is the word “patience,” which is the Greek word hupomone meaning to abide under a heavy load, to persevere, endure, to stay with it, not to drop out of the race. Remember the context of Acts 19 when the church of Ephesus had started and Paul was taken to the outdoor amphitorium, which seated more than 25,000, and in Acts 19:28 we read the people chanted for two hours, “Great is Diana of the Ephesians!” Demetrius, a member of the silversmith union I’m sure was leading the charge against Paul and the believers. You can only imagine how these believers were marginalized, persecuted, ridiculed and mistreated especially when it came to getting a job in the city. Jesus commends them for their determination for pressing on for Him. Christ further commends them for their:
- Discernment - v. 2b, “and that you cannot bear those who are evil. And you have tested those who say they are apostles and are not, and have found them liars” This was a doctrinally discerning church. The church had kept their truth in tact. Paul had specifically given the church at Ephesus this warning before he left them and later died, “For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. Also from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves. Therefore watch, and remember that for three years I did not cease to warn everyone night and day with tears” (Acts 20:29-31). Now some 35 to 45 years later, Christ commends the church for their discipline of the immoral man and the false teacher. Friends, one of the greatest needs of believers today is this need for discernment. You may have friends who urge you to avoid a dogmatic approach to biblical truth and, instead, want you to tolerate all sorts of deviant beliefs that are in direct conflict with Scripture. Truth, it seems nowadays, is in the eye of the beholder. When it comes to what and whom you believe, the question for you this morning is this: are you equipped to accurately unravel right from wrong, biblical from unbiblical? Need to be careful to who you follow especially the preaching on TV, but let’s commend this church that they discerned false teaching and they nailed them and said, “You are a liar.” Praise God for their discernment. It’s needed today.
- Devotion - v. 3 “and you have persevered and have patience, and have labored for My name’s sake and have not become weary.” In other words, you haven’t quit. Why? The phrase in the text should tells us why they hadn’t quit. Do you see it there? “For My name’s sake.” I love that phrase at the end of this verse, “have not grown weary.” Do you remember Galatians 6:9 where Paul reminds the Galatians, “Do not grow weary in well-doing.” You can, you know, from disappointment, ingratitude, criticism, rebellion, lack of response, but they hadn’t. They were faithful to the Word, faithful to the work, and faithful to the Lord. This is a great church. Yet after being commended for all their diligence, discernment and devotion, Christ in verse 4 gives a grievous condemnation to the church. And we come to that word “Nevertheless” or “But” here we go.
- Jesus’ condemnation - v. 4 “Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love.” They were doing all the right things, but sometime in the past, they had forsaken the right motivation. They did not have a head problem, but a heart problem. Labor is no substitute for love. Purity is no substitute for passion. Deeds are no substitute for devotion. Do not pat yourself on the back for doing good things for the wrong reason. Friends, the reality of loving Jesus is at the very core of a saving relationship to Him. I believe many of us love Him this morning but it is subject to fluctuation as to our intensity of love for Him. All Christians love the Lord Jesus but all Christians do not love the Lord Jesus with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength as we ought to. And there is no better illustration of the seriousness of an eroding of our love than this letter to the Ephesians. When the church got started there was the enthusiasm, commitment to Jesus, a reckless abandonment in their giving. They were a witness for Christ. They didn’t have the 80-20 principle that most churches experience. You know where 20% of the people do 80% of the work. But what had happened to them can happen to us today. We can substitute a lot of busyness for the Lord and not do what is most important and that is love Him with all of our heart. Jesus wanting to identify the spiritual condition of Peter in John 21 asked him three times the same question, “Peter, do you”—what?—“love me?” There is the substance of your spiritual identity. Tom Bergeron read for us this morning what the apostle Paul in Ephesians 3 had prayed, “that you being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height—to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge.” And now here we are 30-35 years down the road and we’re talking second generation Christians. We’re talking about children whose parents were on fire for the Lord but they themselves had not picked up this same zeal. So their love had grown cold and indifferent. Still busy, still doctrinally discerning, but without a passion and love for Jesus. What makes us lose our first love? The Old Testament reveals to us how God dealt with Israel. He had chosen Israel to be His bride, but over and over we read that Israel had gone after other gods (Ezekiel 16:8-14; Jeremiah 3:20). What will most assuredly ruin a marriage? Someone who draws your love away and steals your affection from the person you are committed to. That’s what happens. This church in Ephesus was from 30-40 years old. I was very interested in reading what Ray Stedman had to write on this paragraph. Ray pastored Peninsula Bible Church for over 40 years. He writes, How easy it is over time to become mechanical. . .routine. . .dull. You listen to the Word of God or to a powerful sermon or hear the testimony of a fellow Christian, and you feel you have heard it all already. You become critical of others. You become a complainer. You become more selective in your friendships, singling out only those who match your thinking, your level and your status. Your needs become more and more important in your thinking and the result is division and schism. We become focused on ourselves, our own agenda, our own programs and our own interests. The frightening thing is that there is nothing particularly unique about the Ephesians crisis. We have all been “Ephesian” in our faith at one time or another. And the light of the church flickers, falters, and fails.” What is it that happens to people between the wedding day, so earnest, so joyful and the day the divorce papers are signed? What happens to parents between the day the child is born and the day they complain about that frustrating, disobedient child? What happens to us between the day a loved one is diagnosed with some awful condition and the day that loved one, whom we cherish, becomes a burden to us? In each case—divorced spouses, frustrated parents, burdened family members—what happens is a loss of first love. Gradually, what was once done from passionate fervor becomes little more than a duty, a chore. Maybe this is how some of us feel about Christianity. Perhaps you’re just trudging through, hanging on, doing your duty. So what’s the answer? Jesus Christ provides the four-step program in Revelation 2:5-6
- Jesus gives direct _____ with what He says - vv. 5-7
- Jesus’ challenge - vv. 5-6 “Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works, or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lamp stand from its place—unless you repent.” All was not well in the church but all was not lost. It never is with Jesus if we will listen to what He says.
- Remember - In other words, keep on remembering. Go back to the time when your love for Jesus was a burning passion and all that mattered. We must all this morning examine our hearts. Do you remember how you felt that day or evening when you put your trust in Jesus Christ to save your soul? Oh, I remember it and I have taken inventory of my life this week because spiritual drifting for a believer can occur so easily.
- Repent - We would never be asked to repent from something unless it was a sin. So, as you look into your heart today and I look into my heart today and if there is a coldness and indifference it isn’t just something you need to adjust to, or just live with—no, according to the Scriptures it’s a sin that demands your repentance. You might say to me, “Pastor Ken, you’re right my heart is cold and indifferent but I don’t know why? I’ll tell you what one pastor told a member in his church who was wondering why he was so cold and indifferent to the Lord. He said, “Get on your knees and guess at it, just guess at it.” You’ll be amazed at what the Holy Spirit will point out to you. Give God 5 minutes or 10 minutes and you will discover why the love has drifted and the passion is gone. Then repent of your sin. Proverbs 28:13 states, “He that covers his sin will not prosper but whoever confesses and forsakes them will have mercy.”
- Return - “to the first works” and it’s so important to keep the order that Jesus has just given. You don’t get your love back by doing the works you did at first simply by beginning to pray, or read the Scripture, that’s part of it but you have to repent first. The place where you first fell in love with Jesus was probably somewhere near the cross. I Peter 1:8 says, “Whom having not seen you love. Though now you do not see Him, yet believing you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, receiving the end of your faith—the salvation of your souls.” Make Christ the priority in your thinking; begin a conversation with Him that goes on and off and on and off throughout the day. Returning and doing the first works will keep a church from losing its witness and eventually its existence.
- Remove - “Your lampstand” This is very serious and incidentally all 7 churches written to in Western Turkey are gone today. Yes, Jesus said “I will build my church and the gates of hades shall not prevail against it” (Matt. 16:18). But no church can say we have a permanent place in the economy of God. I say to myself, to Brookside Baptist Church, to future generations don’t take anything for granted. If the church doesn’t take this warning seriously, Jesus will take their standing away as a church. Jesus does give one final positive characteristic here and we find it in verse 6.
- Remain - keep doing what you’re doing when it comes to the Nicolatians. We don’t know a lot about them but we will spend more time discussing them when we get to the church at Pergamos which was holding to the doctrine of the Nicolatians. Let me just say that when God says He hates something in the Scripture it’s usually about some type of moral perversion.
- Jesus comfort - v. 7 “‘He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes I will give to eat from the Tree of Life, which is in the midst of the Paradise of God.’”
- Prevail - “To him who overcomes” Each of the 7 letters in Revelation 2-3 end with a promise drawn from the end of the book. Each, in some way, is related to the wonderful theme of eternal life and eternal security. And though each letter is written to a specific church, each letter is for every other church as well. In short, the one who overcomes is a born-again believer (I John 5:14).
- Promise - ‘’Tree of Life, which is in the midst of the Paradise of God.’” “The Tree of Life” takes us back to the Garden of Eden (Gen. 2:9; 3:22-24 and forward to Revelation 22:3). What Adam and Eve forfeited through sin we regain in Christ. Heaven is paradise regained and more.
Conclusion: Bottom Line then is that Doctrine is not a substitute for devotion and Labor is no substitute for love. Gustav Dore was a very famous painter in Europe in the mid 1800’s. He painted many biblical pictures and in one he painted Jesus. And someone said to him, “Oh, you must love Him to paint Him like that.” Gustav Dore said, “I do love Him, but if I loved Him more I could paint Him better.” Can we as a church today commit ourselves to loving Him more so that we can paint Him better? Are you with me here? It struck me that Christ did not condemn the Ephesians for having to start over. I am convinced that the Christian life is filled with starting over again and again. Can we commit ourselves to repenting and returning to our first love? Or else!