Monday, July 27, 2015

Words from Christ to a Church at War

We did it a little bit different of a lesson Sunday than the rest of the adults. Instead of using Lifeway’s guide exclusively, I mixed it with a small-group guide by David Platt’s former church. It was a focus on all of Revelation chapters 2 and 3, and not just a handful of the verses.

FIRST THOUGHTS

What's the difference in HEARING versus LISTENING?

What are some of the things that can get in the way of hearing clearly?

Today we're going to talk about how Jesus instructed believers back then to listen to what the Holy Spirit was saying, and how we are still expected to heed His commands today.

UNDERSTAND THE CONTEXT

*** Revelation was written by the apostle John about 95 A.D. while exiled by the Romans on the island of Patmos. (That's in the Aegean Sea, just south of Ephesus.)

*** Revelation is a prophetic book as given by Jesus to John. At first it seems like a frightening book full of apocalyptic imagery, but it’s really about Jesus Christ and a reminder that He is the ruler of the kings of the earth, not any earthly emperor.

*** Christians were being persecuted and followers were understandably discouraged.

*** Revelation chapters 2 and 3 focus on letters Jesus told John to send to seven important churches along the Asia Minor road (modern Turkey):

Ephesus
Smyrna
Pergamum
Thyatira
Sardis
Philadelphia
Laodicea

(The mailman of Revelation, arriving in Ephesus from Patmos, would have followed the road north and then traveled in a general clockwise direction. In this way, the letter carrier would have come to each of the seven cities in the order listed, arriving at Laodicea last.)

--- These churches had been founded 30-40 years before John wrote Revelation. Some had fallen into decline, and each church had its strengths and weaknesses, as pointed out in the letters. Jesus gives each one a distinctive challenge.

--- Even today we can still learn from the churches and their challenges. We will see that overcoming was in part about Christians hearing the message from Christ, trusting and obeying Him, and persevering in faith.

Revelation 2-3: The Letters to the Seven Churches

The Letter to Ephesus
2 “Write to the angel of the church in Ephesus:
“The One who holds the seven stars in His right hand and who walks among the seven gold lampstands says: 2 I know your works, your labor, and your endurance, and that you cannot tolerate evil. You have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and you have found them to be liars. 3 You also possess endurance and have tolerated many things because of My name and have not grown weary. 4 But I have this against you: You have abandoned the love you had at first. 5 Remember then how far you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. Otherwise, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place—unless you repent. 6 Yet you do have this: You hate the practices of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.
7 “Anyone who has an ear should listen to what the Spirit says to the churches. I will give the victor the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in God’s paradise.

The Letter to Smyrna
8 “Write to the angel of the church in Smyrna:
“The First and the Last, the One who was dead and came to life, says: 9 I know your affliction and poverty, yet you are rich. I know the slander of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. 10 Don’t be afraid of what you are about to suffer. Look, the Devil is about to throw some of you into prison to test you, and you will have affliction for 10 days. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life. 11 “Anyone who has an ear should listen to what the Spirit says to the churches. The victor will never be harmed by the second death.

The Letter to Pergamum
12 “Write to the angel of the church in Pergamum:
“The One who has the sharp, double-edged sword says: 13 I know where you live—where Satan’s throne is! And you are holding on to My name and did not deny your faith in Me, even in the days of Antipas, My faithful witness who was killed among you, where Satan lives. 14 But I have a few things against you. You have some there who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to place a stumbling block in front of the Israelites: to eat meat sacrificed to idols and to commit sexual immorality. 15 In the same way, you also have those who hold to the teaching of the Nicolaitans. 16 Therefore repent! Otherwise, I will come to you quickly and fight against them with the sword of My mouth.
17 “Anyone who has an ear should listen to what the Spirit says to the churches. I will give the victor some of the hidden manna. I will also give him a white stone, and on the stone a new name is inscribed that no one knows except the one who receives it.

The Letter to Thyatira
18 “Write to the angel of the church in Thyatira:
“The Son of God, the One whose eyes are like a fiery flame and whose feet are like fine bronze, says: 19 I know your works—your love, faithfulness, service, and endurance. Your last works are greater than the first. 20 But I have this against you: You tolerate the woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess and teaches and deceives My slaves to commit sexual immorality and to eat meat sacrificed to idols. 21 I gave her time to repent, but she does not want to repent of her sexual immorality. 22 Look! I will throw her into a sickbed and those who commit adultery with her into great tribulation, unless they repent of her practices. 23 I will kill her children with the plague. Then all the churches will know that I am the One who examines minds and hearts, and I will give to each of you according to your works. 24 I say to the rest of you in Thyatira, who do not hold this teaching, who haven’t known the deep things of Satan—as they say—I do not put any other burden on you. 25 But hold on to what you have until I come. 26 The one who is victorious and keeps My works to the end: I will give him authority over the nations—
27 and he will shepherd them with an iron scepter;
he will shatter them like pottery—
just as I have received this from My Father. 28 I will also give him the morning star.
29 “Anyone who has an ear should listen to what the Spirit says to the churches.

The Letter to Sardis
3 “Write to the angel of the church in Sardis:
“The One who has the seven spirits of God and the seven stars says: I know your works; you have a reputation for being alive, but you are dead. 2 Be alert and strengthen what remains, which is about to die, for I have not found your works complete before My God. 3 Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; keep it, and repent. But if you are not alert, I will come like a thief, and you have no idea at what hour I will come against you. 4 But you have a few people in Sardis who have not defiled their clothes, and they will walk with Me in white, because they are worthy. 5 In the same way, the victor will be dressed in white clothes, and I will never erase his name from the book of life but will acknowledge his name before My Father and before His angels.
6 “Anyone who has an ear should listen to what the Spirit says to the churches.

The Letter to Philadelphia
7 “Write to the angel of the church in Philadelphia:
“The Holy One, the True One, the One who has the key of David, who opens and no one will close, and closes and no one opens says: 8 I know your works. Because you have limited strength, have kept My word, and have not denied My name, look, I have placed before you an open door that no one is able to close. 9 Take note! I will make those from the synagogue of Satan, who claim to be Jews and are not, but are lying—note this—I will make them come and bow down at your feet, and they will know that I have loved you. 10 Because you have kept My command to endure, I will also keep you from the hour of testing that is going to come over the whole world to test those who live on the earth. 11 I am coming quickly. Hold on to what you have, so that no one takes your crown. 12 The victor: I will make him a pillar in the sanctuary of My God, and he will never go out again. I will write on him the name of My God and the name of the city of My God—the new Jerusalem, which comes down out of heaven from My God—and My new name.
13 “Anyone who has an ear should listen to what the Spirit says to the churches.

The Letter to Laodicea
14 “Write to the angel of the church in Laodicea:
“The Amen, the faithful and true Witness, the Originator of God’s creation says: 15 I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish that you were cold or hot. 16 So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I am going to vomit you out of My mouth. 17 Because you say, ‘I’m rich; I have become wealthy and need nothing,’ and you don’t know that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind, and naked, 18 I advise you to buy from Me gold refined in the fire so that you may be rich, white clothes so that you may be dressed and your shameful nakedness not be exposed, and ointment to spread on your eyes so that you may see. 19 As many as I love, I rebuke and discipline. So be committed and repent. 20 Listen! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and have dinner with him, and he with Me. 21 The victor: I will give him the right to sit with Me on My throne, just as I also won the victory and sat down with My Father on His throne.
22 “Anyone who has an ear should listen to what the Spirit says to the churches.”

WORDS FROM CHRIST TO A CHURCH AT WAR

Revelation 2-3 reveals four truths from Christ to the church:

*** Jesus knows us truly.

*** Jesus loves us deeply.

*** Jesus guards us zealously.

*** Jesus uses us purposefully.

--- Jesus wants to send us out so that others may know His grace, His mercy, and to advance His kingdom.

--- 3:22 – “Anyone who has an ear should listen to what the Spirit says to the churches.” Let us all have ears to hear what Jesus says to us.

Jesus commends His church.

*** For faithful perseverance in the Word of Christ.

In the letters to the churches, 5 of the 7 begin with criticism of the church, then transition to encouragement for those who do Christ’s work.

--- Jesus commends the church for guarding the church internally.

2:2 says Jesus knows that the Ephesians “tested those who call themselves apostles and are not.”

*** For faithful proclamation of the name of Christ.

--- In the midst of opposition (religious, governmental, social, and economic).

Jesus tells the church in Smyrna that you’re going to be tested. Trust God and you will be given the crown of life. You don’t understand, but trust. Persevere in faith.

Polycarp, a bishop in Smyrna, refused to blaspheme God by worshipping Rome, and he was burned alive at the stake. His statement to his judge was that he had trusted Jesus for 86 years and not been let down, so why would he abandon God now?

*** For trusting God amidst testing in the world.

--- The church at Philadelphia was commended for its perseverance, for enduring despite a weakness:

3:8 - “I know your works. Because you have limited strength, have kept My word, and have not denied My name, look, I have placed before you an open door that no one is able to close.”

--- God is sovereign, and he uses suffering to sanctify us.

We will have to stand strong even though we might be tempted to lighten our faith to fit in. Remember in January when two Muslim terrorists murdered several people who worked at Charlie Hebdo magazine for daring to criticize Islam and Muhammed. Leaders marched, everyone said “Je Suis Charlie,” but in the end, fewer publications are willing to publish images of Muhammed than ever before. It’s easier to give in than to challenge the world and take the risk that someone will criticize you, or in some places, even kill you.

*** For loving God amidst temptation from the world.

--- Even the churches that are rebuked are given credit for those who haven’t fallen away, such as Thyatira who avoided false teachings:

2:24 “I say to the rest of you in Thyatira, who do not hold this teaching, who haven’t known the deep things of Satan—as they say—I do not put any other burden on you.”

Jesus rebukes His church.

*** For compromise.

--- Tolerance of evil (idolatry and immorality).

The churches at Thyatira and Pergamum were infected with sexual immorality and they were eating meat that had been sacrificed to idols.

--- Tolerance of error (false teaching and false teachers).

Teachers were not confronting evil in their midst.

The church at Pergamum was tolerating false teachings, to Balaam and to the Nicolaitans.

*** For the sake of financial gain, social acceptance, and personal safety.

Teachers were saying to go ahead, compromise your faith to fit in, to not stir the waters. It is so easy to try to blend in with the world and avoid being the center of attention in a world that considers you backward, a zealot, a bigot.

--- QUESTION - Why were the churches in today’s text tempted to compromise their beliefs? In America, why is it often easy for the church to blend in with the world? What happens when Christians’ lifestyles are indistinguishable from the world? In what areas of your life are you indistinguishable from the world?

*** For complacency.

--- To the church in Laodicea, Jesus criticized them for being neither hot nor cold but lukewarm, The thrill was gone. The joy was gone. And the Christian routine took over. The city was wealthy and healthy, so they didn’t need anything from Rome, and they didn’t perceive that they needed anything from God.

This was so distasteful that in 3:16 Jesus says he will “vomit” them out of His mouth.

Jesus commands His church.

*** Remember…

--- Who you are and what Jesus says.

The church at Ephesus had forgotten how it used to love: “You have abandoned the love you had at first.”

The church in Ephesus was one of the most important in all of Christianity. It’s where Paul set up shop and Timothy took over. It’s where John the apostle took leadership. Making this church work was very important. It's a sad day when a church fails to shine in the darkness.

*** Repent…

--- Turn from sin and trust in Jesus.

The church at Sardis thought of themselves as spiritually healthy, but they were actually dead.

Jesus isn’t writing off the churches. He tells Sardis to “Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; keep it, and repent.” There is time.

*** Receive…

--- Find your treasure in Jesus, clothe your life in Jesus, and fix your eyes on Jesus.

A key danger the church faces: When lured by physical prosperity, we become blind to our deep spiritual poverty. If we are not careful, we surround ourselves with all our wants and wane in our want for God.

--- QUESTION - How does what we choose to value affect how easily we are enticed? What habits reveal your values? What habits change your values?

Jesus warns His church.

*** God gives warnings to Christians about falling away to keep Christians from falling away.

3:3 – “But if you are not alert, I will come like a thief, and you have no idea at what hour I will come against you.”

3:19 – “As many as I love, I rebuke and discipline.”

What of those you know who have fallen away? 1 John 2:19 – “They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us.”

*** By grace through faith, true followers of Christ will persevere to the end.

--- Anyone who is born again, will never perish.

1 Peter 1:3-5 - "Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time."

*** By grace through faith, true followers of Christ work to persevere to the end.

--- The Christian life is never described as a smooth life. It’s a race, it’s a battle.

Matthew 24:13 – Jesus says “the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.”

Hebrews 3:14 – “We have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original conviction firmly to the very end.”

Hebrews 10:36 – “You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised.”

Jesus rewards His church.

Jesus promised his followers glory in heaven for not bowing to the world:

*** Total vindication of Christ’s ways in this world.

--- 2:17 – “I will give the victor some of the hidden manna. I will also give him a white stone, and on the stone a new name is inscribed that no one knows except the one who receives it.”

*** Triumphant victory over Satan’s powers in this world.

--- Every letter uses the term “victor” to talk about Christians who resist Satan’s temptations.

2:11 – “The victor will never be harmed by the second death.”

*** Secure protection from the horror of hell.

--- 3:5 – “In the same way, the victor will be dressed in white clothes, and I will never erase his name from the book of life but will acknowledge his name before My Father and before His angels.”

*** Shared participation in the reign of Christ.

--- 3:21 – “The victor: I will give him the right to sit with Me on My throne, just as I also won the victory and sat down with My Father on His throne.”

*** Permanent citizenship in the city of God.

--- 3:12 – “The victor: I will make him a pillar in the sanctuary of My God, and he will never go out again. I will write on him the name of My God and the name of the city of My God—the new Jerusalem, which comes down out of heaven from My God—and My new name.”

*** Perpetual celebration in the presence of God.

--- 2:7 – “I will give the victor the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in God’s paradise.”

TAKE AWAY POINTS

Spoiler alert: Jesus wins. And we, because He promised to bring us with Him, also win.

But there are truths in these seven letters that cannot be understood in terms of human wisdom; they are spiritual truths.

Every letter uses this phrase: “Anyone who has an ear should listen to what the Spirit says to the churches.”

1 Corinthians 2:12-13 - "Now we have not received the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who comes from God, so that we may understand what has been freely given to us by God. We also speak these things, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual things to spiritual people."

The Holy Spirit talks to us. Talks through us. But if we aren't seeking the Spirit, we are in trouble.

Dr. Carl Bates said years ago “if the Holy Spirit were to suddenly die, most of our churches would meet next Sunday and go right on and never know the difference.”

We have to deal with background noise from the culture around us —and sometimes from problems within Christianity — that demand careful listening to know what the Spirit is teaching.

*** If you are in a spiritual rut, remember those precious days when you first found joy in the Lord. Go back and do it the way you worshiped back then.

*** Go over the promises of Jesus to the churches this week during your Bible study. Be assured of your salvation as a believer in Christ, and of your future in eternity!