This sermon is from our expository study of the Book of Revelation and was preached at Cornerstone Baptist Church in Cherry Log, Georgia on Sunday, April 27, 2014 by Pastor Paul Mims. You can hear this sermon at www.csbccl.org
Revelation 2:1-7Time magazine, last week, offered their usual detractions of the church and the gospel that they do at Christmas and Easter. Their cover story was entitled “Finding God In The Dark.” It centered around Barbara Brown Taylor who now lives on a farm near Clarksville, Georgia. She is a former Baptist who became an Episcopal Priest and was noted by a Baylor University study as one of the ten greatest preachers in the English speaking world. She served the Grace-Calvary Episcopal Church near Clarkesville and became so popular that the tiny church could not hold the crowds that came. The locals did not like the crowds so there was tension that led to her leaving the church. She wrote a book called “Leaving Church” which told of her loss of faith. She says, “Words like sin, salvation, repentance and grace began to mean less and less to me.” She now attends church two or three times a month and rarely at the same place. She says, “I am too religious for the spiritual-but-not-religious crowd, and I get called new age, pantheist, witchy by the religious crowd. Christian tradition is where I have gotten the teaching that has allowed me both to claim Christian tradition and to move out from it. The one thing most emerging Christians will say is that the faith they inherited from their elders is all worn out.” She hopes that her journey will prompt others to follow in their own ways and find God in the dark. So the message is “Don’t look to the Church or to classical Christianity for answers!”
As strange as it may seem, Jesus said something similar about the church at Ephesus. A church without a passion for Christ may be well organized and functioning in ridged orthodoxy, but he is willing to give up on it if they do not really love him.
The letter of Paul to the church at Ephesus is the greatest statement of what a church should be in the whole Bible. In Acts 19 and 20 we read of how the Apostle Paul served there for three years from A.D. 55 to 58 to build this congregation in this thriving pagan city.
Ephesus was on the major trade route that brought thousands to the city. It also had one of the seven wonders of the world at the time – the Temple to the goddess Diana. The Temple was longer than a football field and housed the art treasures of the nation. It was also a banking center and a Temple of refuge for persons who were being pursued.
Diana was a goddess whose statue they believed fell from heaven. She was worshipped with forms of sexual immorality. But here a strong church was formed as people gave up their pagan beliefs and turned to Christ. This was one of Paul’s greatest achievements.
Paul had been executed in the middle 60s. In 69, persecution of the Christians in Jerusalem by the Roman forces caused many to flee. You remember that from the cross Jesus entrusted the care of Mary to the Apostle John. It is thought that John then brought her to Ephesus and they joined the disciples in this Ephesian church.
Then came the persecution of the Roman Emperor, Domitian, in the mid 90s. John who had ministered to the church was targeted as a Christian leader to be stopped and was sent to the Isle of Patmos, which was an island about forty miles from Ephesus. It was there that the Lord appeared to him on the Lord’s Day and gave him the Revelation.
We have now come in our study to the letters to the seven churches in chapters 2-3. I have entitled this study “SEVEN DIFFERENT KINDS OF CHURCHES.” The first kind is “ORTHODOXY WITHOUT PASSION” which describes the Ephesian church at this time in their history. In his letter to the saints at Ephesus, Jesus gives five things that he expects of them and of us.
I. JESUS EXPECTS US TO SEE HIM AS HEAD OF THE CHURCH.
“These are the words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand and walks among the seven golden lampstands.” (v.1)
In the vision, John saw Jesus in his high priestly robe. His eyes were as piercing flames understanding all that is going on in the church. This vision places him in authority over the church. As head of the church he is holding the pastor in his hand and is protecting the believers from the onslaughts of Satan and giving them victory over falsehood. Gone was Paul who had taught them the depths of the gospel. Gone was John who had loved them and ministered to them for a while. Gone was Mary who had likely died by this time. Domitian wanted to eradicate the world of Christians so that he could be god alone. You can see that the book of Revelation was a great encouragement to these first century Christians as it is also to us. We are reminded that he holds us in his hand.
The great expositor, G. Campbell Morgan, said: “At times when I am depressed and concerned over my life and ministry, I read the Revelation and there I am reminded again that Jesus holds me in His hand.”
Jesus expects us to see him as Head of the church, guiding the ministry, interested in every detail, concerned by the way things are going, and providing strength and encouragement to the congregation.
II. JESUS EXPECTS US TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE IN OUR COMMUNITY.
“I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked men, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false. You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary.” (vv.2-3)
You remember that when Paul was there he encountered the silversmiths who were making the images of Diana. And so much did the gospel impact the silversmith industry that they called a labor meeting at the giant arena which could seat 24,000 people. There they asked, “Who is this fellow that is causing our business to go downhill?” And for the space of three hours they shouted, “Great is Diana of the Ephesians!” “I know your works. You made an impact on this pagan city for me,” Jesus said.
He says the same thing to us as he looks at Cornerstone. He sees what you do and how you are sticking with it and not giving up.
You would think that with those words of commendation that there could not be anything wrong with a church like that. They made a powerful impact on the city, they did not tolerate falsehood, they did not grow weary in their service to the Lord. They were orthodox and faithful in doing what had to be done. Everyone would want a church like that. What could possibly be wrong?
III. JESUS EXPECTS US TO LOVE HIM SUPREMELY.
“Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love.” (v.4)
It does not matter primarily what we do in programs or in the man activities that are generated, but it does matter above all else whether or not we love Jesus supremely. We can be orthodox – meaning that our theology is correct and that we protect it from falsehood and that we are doing everything that is expected of us – and we can still lose our passion for Christ. That was the experience of the Ephesian church and of many churches today. Orthodox in doctrine, faithful in practice, but no passion – no red hot love for Christ. Jesus said, “You have ceased to love me supremely! Where is the love you had at the beginning?”
Love for Christ and for each other in the congregation has to be nourished just as love between husband and wife. Across the years in counseling I have heard husbands and wives say to each other, “My love for you has died. I don’t love you anymore.”
I have tried to nourish the heart of Janice over our 56 years and not harm her in any way. She wrote me a note on one of our anniversaries and said, “I love you totally!”
That is what our Lord wants to hear from us as individuals and as a congregation.
IV. JESUS EXPECTS US TO REPENT.
“Remember the height from which you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place.”
What is repentance? It is a change of mind toward Jesus in that we have made him secondary in our thinking we need to make him supreme in our lives.
In essence Jesus is saying, “Remember the days when your heart was warm toward me? Remember when the enthusiasm for fellowship with me engulfed you? Remember when you spoke boldly to others of your faith in me? Remember the time when you were reading your Bible with spiritual hunger every day? Remember when prayer was exciting and you really connected with me? Remember when you were so excited to be a Christian and you wanted to win the lost to me? Remember and repent!” Repent that you have become a casual Christian. Repent that you have neglected the disciplines of daily Bible Reading, mediation, and prayer. Repent that you make decisions about your life without seeking divine guidance. Repent that your worship has become habit and not vital so as to empower your life. Repent that you have become more changed by the world than you have by the teachings of Christ. Repent that you have not grown much in your faith but have remained a babe in Christ. Repent that you don’t think enough of Christ’s church to make your membership vital.
Jesus said to the Ephesian church, “If you do not repent, I will come and remove your lampstand (or candlestick as some translations say) from its place.”
The lampstand or candlestick was an emblem of the right of the Ephesian congregation to be a church and to speak for Christ to the world. It was lit at each service and the fire was an emblem of the Holy Spirit and the light was representative of the light of the gospel. So Jesus is saying, “If you do not repent and love me supremely as your first love I will remove your lampstand which represents your right to be a church and to speak for me.”
Look on the Communion table and you will see a candlestick. We have put it there to remind us that God has given us the right to be a church as long as we love Jesus supremely. I would love to see it lit every Sunday with its full meaning to our congregation, but have not suggested it because of the phobia we as Baptists have against candles as some other churches make use of them.
V. JESUS EXPECTS US TO OVERCOME.
“He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.” (v.7)
Do you remember that in Genesis 3, God said to Adam and Eve: “One tree you can’t eat of in the midst of the garden…”
It wasn’t that God was just holding it back – but they were not ready for it. Now in Christ we are remade and as we overcome and are victorious the tree of eternal life is open to us.
Did the Ephesian church repent and return to their first love? We think that the generation of those living then did. But other generations of that congregation likely did not. Less than 160 years after Jesus sent this letter to them they began to decline. The Goths came and destroyed the Temple to Diana and took the art treasures over the Turkish world and in time the city was leveled. Water flooded the city and it silted in so that for hundreds of years the city of Ephesus could not be found. In the 1865 archeologists from the British museum started digging and at a depth of 20 feet found it. The church was gone. The pagan temple was gone. The city was gone.
A couple was driving home from church. The wife was sitting in the front seat on the far right side. Her husband was in his usual place behind the steering wheel. Seemingly, a large gulf separated them. With lonely eyes, she looked at him and said, “Honey, do you remember when we first met, how close we used to sit to each other? You used to put your arm around me. What happened to those days?” With one hand firmly attached to the steering wheel, and the other resting on the empty seat between them, he said, “Well, I haven’t moved.” The distance was not because he had moved. A separation resulted because she had moved away. She had left her first love.
Even though you may have lost your first love in Christ – you can always come back – if your heart longs to be near him.
PRAISE BE TO HIS NAME!