Revelation: The Beginning of the End?

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When Suffering Strikes (Manuscript)

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The following is an unedited manuscript.

There are two universal languages in the world:  first, music; second, suffering.  We need not understand words to understand either of these languages.  Both have ways of communicating far more deeply than verbalization ever could.  Both say more, much more, than just the sounds an ear can hear.  Back from history, the believers of Smyrna speak to us today.  Founded a full millennium before Christ walked the earth, this ancient city has a long, colorful, and suffering past.  Within our text this morning, we will look deep into a scene that dates back to the end of the first century, during a time when a pocket of believers in Smyrna endured intense affliction.  So intense was their suffering that the Lord personally sent them a letter of encouragement via the pen of John.  It was designed to help them (and us) persevere.  Follow along as I read these four verses in Revelation, chapter 2, beginning at verse 8.  And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write, These things says the First and the Last, who was dead, and came to life: (9) I know your works, tribulation, and poverty (but you are rich); and I know the blasphemy of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. (10) Do not fear any of those things which you are about to suffer.  Indeed, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and you will have tribulation ten days.  Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life. (11) He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.  He who overcomes shall not be hurt by the second death.”’" 

 

Friends, we learned two weeks ago with the church at Ephesus that the first mark of the New Testament church is love for the Lord Himself.  The second mark is seen in the church at Smyrna, and its the ability to suffer and endure, which is really a demonstration of how effective and strong our love for the Lord really is.  Someone once said that all believers are like spiritual teabags.  When we get dunked up and down in hot water, whatever is inside of us comes out.  This past week, if things got hot, tense, tight, and hard, what came out of your life?  Was it an aroma like Christlike myrrh?  Or was it something less than that?  Listen, suffering, persecution and martyrdom has indeed been the calling of the Church of the Lord Jesus throughout her entire history.  At one time the book Foxes Book of Martyrs was a perennial best seller cataloguing the stories of men and women who gave their life for Christ.  Today, Voice of the Martyrs magazine updates us on the persecution and sufferings of our brothers and sisters around the world.  Open Doors does the same.  Time Magazine reported the number of Christian martyrs doubled between 2010 and 2013 (Jan. 8, 2014).  Nigeria led the way in 2012.  Syria in 2013.  Iran, Rwanda, North Korea and the Sudan are not far behind.  It is estimated that 100-150 million Christians have been martyred every year in recent decades.  Some estimate that 65% of all those martyred have taken place since the dawn of the 20th century (EWTN News, 5-10-02).  My friends, the truth of the matter is that more people have died for their faith in Jesus Christ in the 20-21st centuries than all previous years of church history.  This does not take into account those imprisoned, tortured, and persecuted.  

If the Lord tarries, we here in these United States could see the hammer of persecution begin to pound us with all kinds of persecution and suffering like many believers all over the world today are experiencing.            

We need to understand what it is that keeps people faithful unto death.  In order to be faithful unto death, the knowledge of Jesus must be greater to us than the reality of death itself. 

Four impactful truths about Jesus:  Who He is (v.8), What He knows (v.9), What He commands (v.10), and What He promises (v. 11). 

  1. Who He is - v. 8 Jesus tells John to write to the angel of the church in Smyrna.”  Now, before we get into the context of the letter, let me make a few comments about where this church ministered.  It was in the city of Smyrna, which today is modern day Izmir, in Western Turkey.  It, by the way, is the only one of the seven cities of Revelation 2-3 still in existence today.                                                                                                 Smyrna was located about 35-40 miles north of Ephesus and, as you can see in this slide, it would have been the next stop a first century postman” would make in his rounds to deliver these seven letters.  Back then the Romans called Smyrna the Beauty of Asia,” and referred to it as a city of life” and strength, possibly because it had been destroyed once and then rebuilt by Alexander the Great.  Smyrna had a stadium in which famous games were held each year.  It had a magnificent library and one of the largest theaters in Asia Minor.  Plus, it claimed to be the birthplace of Homer, yes, that Homer who wrote all those books about Greek history.  What is important to understand about Smyrna is the fact that it was a city very loyal to Rome.  Their reverence for Rome was so strong that in 195 B.C. Smyrna was the first city in the world to erect a temple to the goddess Roma” a temple for the worship of the spirit of Rome.  And then in A.D. 26, when all the cities of Asia Minor were competing for the privilege of erecting a temple to the godhead of the emperor Tiberius, Smyrna won!  And with that Smyrna overcame her greatest rival, Ephesus.                                             Now in the beginning, emperor worship was nothing more than a spontaneous demonstration of gratitude (patriotism) to Rome, but toward the end of the first century it all changed under the rule of Domitian, who was Caesar of Rome.  Domitian made Caesar worship compulsory.    Domitian made emperor worship law all over Europe and if any city was to take this kind of law seriously it would be a city like Smyrna that had such a love affair with the Roman Empire.  So, this will be important to understand in our study because once a year, every person had to burn a pinch of incense and say three words, Caesar is lord” out loud.  When they did this, they would receive a certificate, a certificate that was required to get a job and make a living.  Domitian was a murderous dictator who launched extensive persecution against the church, which reached some kind of fever pitch in the city of Smyrna for believers were unwilling to make this claim.  Can you imagine sitting among the gathering of Gods people in Smyrna on a cold Sunday morning before sunrise?  A small, lamp-lit room houses the remnant of beaten and beleaguered church members.  In the dim light the pastor unrolls a scroll and begins to read with a calm, quiet confidence.  The entire group seems to hold its breath when they hear the message comes from the risen Lord Jesus Himself.  What a letter of encouragement this would be then and now, for Jesus tells them (us) who He is.     
  • First and Last - These things says the First and the Last.”  Jesus repeats this description of Himself from Revelation 1, verse 17, The First and the Last.”  Turn to Isaiah 41 and let me show you just one verse where God calls Himself the First and the Last.  Isaiah 41:4 we read, . . .I, the Lord, am the first; and with the last I am He.”  If youre taking notes Isaiah 43:10, Isaiah 44:6 and 48:12 are all places where God uses this same expression to identify Himself.  Here in Revelation that same title is used to designate Jesus Christ.  Revelation 22:13, Jesus again says, I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End, the First and the Last.”  This is to say then that Jesus Christ is none other than God Himself.  And yet though they be One He is distinct.  Jesus is the infinite God-Man.  Do you remember what  Thomas said seeing Him resurrected for the first time?  My Lord and My God” (John 20:28).  Look at what else Jesus says:   
  • Dead and alive - Who was dead, and came to life.  What a tremendous and encouraging statement for a group of suffering believers.  Its recorded in Johns gospel that Jesus earlier had said, Because I live, you will live also” (John 14:19b).  There is a song that says Because He livesI can face tomorrow.  There is nothing more powerful for us in a time of suffering than the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Jesus is greater than death.  Let me tell you that by applying to our fears the knowledge that Jesus is greater than death, it will help us to be courageous and persevering.  The Lord Jesus is God and He became man, entering into time, space, and history for the very purpose of dying.  Friends, that is how much He loved us.  That is the heart of the gospel.  Jesus died as man for sin and now lives by His resurrection as the glorified God-Man.  Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness:  by whose stripes you were healed” (I Peter 2:24).        
  1. What He knows - v. 9  The Greek word for know is eido. Its the knowledge of experience.  Jesus told those of Smyrna that He was no stranger to pain.  
  • He knows our works - There is never anything that youve done for the Lord that He doesnt know about.  But so often you hear folks say how discouraged or burned out that what they do for God seems to go unnoticed.  No one seems to thank them and they feel so insignificant.  Dont get discouraged because Jesus knows what you do.    
  • He knows our tribulation - The word tribulation in Greek is thlipsis which means, trouble or pressure.”  This is a word that was used in the day for a man crushed to death by a huge boulder.  Jesus is saying, I know the crushing pressures in your life.”  Without a doubt, the pressure in the church at Smyrna was two-fold:  first, was the hatred they endured by the Jews who lived in their city.  We will see this a little later.  Secondly, the pressure of Caesar worship, which we discussed earlier was extremely difficult.  These believers refused to claim Caesar is lord.”  So, they dont get a job and they are severely persecuted.  Friends, dont miss this very important principle here:  the church that suffers persecution becomes purged, becomes pure.  Hypocrites dont stick around to be persecuted.  False Christians dont want the pain.  They dont need it.  Theyre not willing to make the sacrifice.  Persecution, trials, tribulations and suffering will always destroy false faith, but those same things will strengthen true faith.  So, we look at this church and we see a model of a suffering church.  And they are being commended by Jesus Himself for they have been faithful even unto death.  We need to know also that its inevitable that there will be some suffering for us.  II Timothy 3:12 states, Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.”  I found it interesting to discover the the Greek word Smyrna” means myrrh.”  Myrrh was a fragrant spice used as perfume.  It was obtained when the flowering myrrh treeor thorn bushwas crushed giving off a fragrant smell.  It was used for Jesus’ burial.  Jesus knew what it was like to live under the death sentencefor the suffering Savior would die for the sins of the world.   
  • He knows our poverty - know your poverty (and then notice this little footnote) (but you are rich).  The Greek word ptocheia happens to be the strongest word for poverty and it mean destitute.  This was no doubt owing to the fact that their jobs and homes and livelihoods had been taken away.  Many of the believers in Smyrna probably endured similar acts to that which the Jews suffered in Nazi Europe.  Their homes were vandalized in broad daylight.  Their shops were broken into and all the goods stolen.  But dont you just love the phrase Jesus gives, but you are rich?  Let me try to explain that phrase with this example.  Suppose your are a very poor person.  Some of you are probably thinking, This does not require much of an imagination.”  I mean, you have nothing in your bank account.  You do not have money for gas, food, or utilities, and the bank is going to foreclose on your home.  However, suppose I am a millionaire.  Now that will require some imagination.  I come to you and say, Listen, Hankor LauraIve been doing some research on my family tree and youll never believe this but your great-great uncle was my great-great-great grandfathers nephew.  Were actually way distant cousins.  And, as is my custom, I give every family member of mine one million dollars.  So heres your check for one million dollars.”  I hand you the check and now what do you do?  You run to the bank.  However, before you get there, let me ask, Are you poor or rich?”  Keep in mind, you have not deposited this money into your account, but youre going to the bank as fast as you can.  You would answer, Im rich!”  But oh?  All you have is a piece of paper in your hand.  Ah, but you know the signature is good and that this piece of paper is supported by the wealth of your donor.  Friends, you have a check, effectively written with your name on it.  And the riches of heaven are your inheritance.  You might be poor right now but at the same time you have the riches of God.   
  • He knows our endurance - I know the blasphemy of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan.”  These may have been Jews as far as their racial origin is concerned but spiritually speaking they were not true Jews.  Paul brings this to light in Romans 2:28-29, For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh; but he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the Spirit, not in the letter; whose praise is not from men but from God.”  These were Jews who had not accepted Christ as Messiah.  They produced a false claim and their true identity was given by Jesus, but are a synagogue of Satan.”  One of the most troubling passages of Scripture for Jewish people is right here.  To put the word synagogue with Satan is extremely hard to take, but this is what Jesus says.  He was saying in a sense, though physically Jewish, they are spiritually pagan.  Jesus told the Jewish religious leaders, You are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father you want to do” (John 8:44).  This is telling us that if you want to look for the devil, you dont find him among the alcoholics because his demons can do that work.  You wont find him among the pornographers for the demons can also do that work.  You look for the devil in the midst of religious institutions.  He loves giving people a false sense of security through his distortion of the gospel.                                                                        Jesus is saying to this church, you have endured the slander from those who claim to be religious but who use their religiosity to persecute the church.  Is this happening today?  Religion persecuting true born-again believers?  Absolutely!  In fact, this past week a sitting president for the first time ever, called on countries in the UN to put a stop to the persecution of Christians. 
  1. What He commands - vv. 10-11 
  • Call to fearlessness - Do not fear any of those things which you are about to suffer.  Indeed, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and you will have tribulation ten days.  Be faithful until death 
  • Prediction of suffering - Jesus doesnt say, It will over with soon.”  No, He doesnt say that.  He says more is coming.  But dont be afraid.  It reminds me of Psalm 56:11, In God I have put my trust; I will not be afraid.”  Friends, be of good cheer for Jesus says, I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).  Does this in some sense apply to us in America today?  The answer is unfortunately, yes.  Try giving a valedictorian address and mentioning Jesus.  
  • Person behind suffering - The devilknow your enemy.  Paul told the Thessalonians, But the Lord is faithful, who will establish you and guard you from the evil one” (II Thessalonians 3:3).  Peter warned the believers, Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil (adversary means enemy) walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom He may devour” (I Peter 5:8).  Make no mistake, Satan is the enemy of the believer.   
  • Purpose of suffering - Satan is always trying to destroy true faith and it doesnt matter how hard it gets for you, He cant destroy true faith.  Example:  Job, period.  He said, Though He slay me yet will I trust in Him” (Job 13:15).  Sometimes God brings trials and suffering in our lives to strengthen us and to send the signal to the domain of Satan that true believers will persevere.  One pastor said to his congregation, Dont you understand that when Jesus throws you into the furnace to test you that He always keeps His hand on the thermostat.  And the heat and temperature is determined by Him.”   
  • Period of suffering - Ten days.  There are different thoughts on this statement.  Were not sure if its a literal 10 days or 10 periods of time.  But heres the point and dont miss it.  The length of time of the persecution is determined by Jesus Christ.  And if Jesus Christ says the persecution will be 10 days there is no combination of demons on earth that can make it 11.      
  • Call to faithfulness 
  • Through suffering - We will have tribulation.  Be prepared for the jarring truth that those who opposed and rejected Christianity in the first century, will be like those who are going to oppose and persecute us.  Not only will they say we are wrong, they will say we are bigoted, dangerous and evil.  We will be slandered as anti-choice, anti-diversity, anti-gay, anti-inclusive, anti-tolerant.  Our response?  Dont be afraid, stay faithful. 
  • Unto death - Be faithful unto death.”  G. Campbell Morgan, a pastor and author from a century ago, pointed out that this word faithful is from the same Greek root which means to be convinced; to be convinced in Jesus’ power and His grace and His will and His plan.  In other words, remain convinced even in the face of death that Christ is worth following and faithfully follow Him.  To illustrate the hatred that existed in this city we look no further than to the most famous martyr at this time the pastor of the church in Smyrna, Polycarp.  He had been a disciple of the apostle John.  Polycarp was taken to the arena in front of a frenzied mob and the proconsul gave him the choice of making a sacrifice to Caesar and claiming Caesar is lord,” or face death.  He then made one of the most famous statements in Church history, Eighty and six years have I served Him, and He has done me no wrong.  How can I blaspheme my King who saved me?”  And with that, this man in his 90s, who had been faithful to serve the Lord, was burned at the stake. 
  1. What He promises - vv. 10c-11  He promises victory! 
  • A crown of life - James 1:12 says, Blessed is the man who endures temptation [trials] for when he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.”  Whats coming for us is far better than anything experienced in this life 
  • A consequence of no consequence - No second death.  If you have been born twicephysically and spirituallyyou die once.  But for those only born once physically, the consequence of all consequences for rejecting Christ is the second death.  Revelation 20 tells us what it is.  Listen, And they [those who have rejected Christ alone for salvation] were judged, each one according to his works.  Then Death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire.  This is the second death.  And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire” (Revelation 20:13-15).   

Application: 

  1.  My Lord knows all about me and my circumstances 
  1.  If things stay the same, stay faithful, there is no reason to 

       fear or run 

  1. If things get worse, He will see me through  

Conclusion:  As we close this morning, we need to be reminded of Jesus’ words in John 15:20, If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you.”  Dear Friends, eternity is coming and its a long, long time.  A really long, long time. 

Maybe youve heard this story that came out of the Boxer Rebellion in China.  It was called the Boxer Rebellion because they were trying to rid China in the early 1900s of Western influence and in that rebellion many, many Christians were martyred.  It was one of the darkest moments in Asian history.  Or was it?  One incident during that terrible time, at least, shined like a beacon.  It happened at a little mission school, not long after the Boxers took over Peking which is now called Beijing.  They surrounded the little missions college and rounded up every studentChinese Christiansand they herded them into a room to wait for execution.  A few of the boxers broke into the chapel, pulled a large cross off the wall, their commander knew how to use it for his evil purpose.  He had the men throw it out into the muddy courtyard where it sank halfway into the mud.  There he gathered the horrified students together and told them that they were free to leave and that they could go back home to their friends and families if they liked.”  But he then gave one condition:  On your way out, you will have to step on that cross, trampling it into the mud.  If you do, youre free to go home.  If anyone refuses, you will be shot immediately.”  For the first eight students, it was an easy enough decision.  One by one they stepped out into the courtyard, trampled on the cross, and then walked to their freedom, while the Boxer troops laughed and cheered them on.  But things hit a snag with the ninth student who was a tiny nineteen-year-old young lady.  She had come to Christ at the mission college and she was in no way going to dishonor her Savior by stepping on that cross.  She bowed and prayed for God to give her the grace to do what she knew she should do, and she quickly walked around the cross in honor of her Savior and she was immediately shot.  After her decision, she was followed by ninety-two of her classmates who also went to their death by refusing to dishonor the cross of Jesus Christ.  Scoffers would ask, Did she win in this life?”  No, at nineteen years of age she was shot and killed.  Many would say, What a waste!”  Friends, nothing is ever wasted in Gods economy.  Martyrs have always inspired generations of Christians to live courageously for Jesus Christ even when facing death.  Because after death all we face then will be our Savior saying, Well done, [you] good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25:21).  One courageous teen in China inspired others.  Remember the Columbine shooting?  Cassie Bernall who refused to deny Christ was shot and killed and the many she inspired to follow Christ.  

Friends, never turn down an opportunity to represent Jesus, no matter the cost, Be faithful unto death.”  Persevere until the end!  We are on the winning side! 

Everything But the One Thing (Revelation 2:1-7)

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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 Americas highways. 

Perhaps youve 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, Lets Meet At My House Sunday Before The GameGod.”  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. . .’ Didnt You Understand?God.”  Or, Life is short.  Eternity isntGod.”  And finally this one, that read, Loved The Wedding, Invite Me To The MarriageGod.”   

This makes me wonderif 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 brideespecially 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.  Its the book of Revelation and its all about Jesus.   Its 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 metropolisnot 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 ArtemisArtemis being the Greek namethe 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 Satans 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, well 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 names 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 placeunless 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 thats not the question.  Its 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.  Lets look at what Jesus knows, what He sees, and what He says to this church.        

  1. 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 Hes everywhere in being omniscience (all-knowing) and omnipotent (all-powerful) and omnipresent but theres a sense that Jesus’ focus on the church is much more important to Him than lets say the political picture of the world.  He walks among the aisles this morning and Hes observing and what He is observing is the extent of our love to Him and thats His agenda.  He sees what we do and why we do it.  He knows whats 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 thats 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 teachcommend first, then correct.      

  1. 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 Hes all-knowing, He knows our motives about why we do work in His church.  He knows whether were 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.  Im 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 oclock on through the entire day there is much activity.  The pastors 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 Gods Word.  Its 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 Gods Word.  What a church to be a pastor of:  a beehive of activity and I dont 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 werent 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 Im 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 lets commend this church that they discerned false teaching and they nailed them and said, You are a liar.”  Praise God for their discernment.  Its needed today. 
  • Devotion - v. 3 and you have persevered and have patience, and have labored for My names sake and have not become weary.”  In other words, you havent quit.  Why?  The phrase in the text should tells us why they hadnt quit.  Do you see it there?  For My names 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 hadnt.  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 didnt 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 youwhat?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 heightto know the love of Christ which passes knowledge.”  And now here we are 30-35 years down the road and were talking second generation Christians.  Were 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.  Thats 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 casedivorced spouses, frustrated parents, burdened family memberswhat 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 youre just trudging through, hanging on, doing your duty. So whats the answer?  Jesus Christ provides the four-step program in Revelation 2:5-6  
  1. 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 placeunless 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 isnt just something you need to adjust to, or just live withno, according to the Scriptures its a sin that demands your repentance.  You might say to me, Pastor Ken, youre right my heart is cold and indifferent but I dont know why?  Ill 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.”  Youll 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 its so important to keep the order that Jesus has just given.  You dont get your love back by doing the works you did at first simply by beginning to pray, or read the Scripture, thats 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 faiththe 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 dont take anything for granted.  If the church doesnt 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 youre doing when it comes to the Nicolatians.  We dont 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 its 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 1800s.  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! 

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