We’ve been studying letters from Jesus to various 1st century churches. Often these churches are dealing with persecution from the outside. Whether it was ridicule, violence or temptation towards idol worship, the attack always came from the outside.
Sometimes the greatest attacks come from somewhere else.
I was playing soccer with some of the preschoolers. We divided up teams and I ended up on red team. We were trying to score against the blue team. And to be fair, it started with me doing that thing where I just dribble the ball by myself and let this entire wave of kids chase after me.
But eventually I decided I should let a kid from my team score. So, I passed the ball to him and…
He turned around and scored…
In our goal.
Today we are continuing our series called Dear Church. We’re going to hear about a church that was being attacked from within. Our goal is to identify how they were being attacked, hear God’s warning for our church, and learn what we can do to defeat attacks from within.
Before we begin, a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth, your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see, our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. Thyatira’s Problem from Within
This letter starts in Revelation 2:18 “To the angel of the church in Thyatira write: These are the words of the Son of God, whose eyes are like blazing fire and whose feet are like burnished bronze.”
A couple of notes:
Thyatira is to the east and south of Pergamum, the home of the last letter recipients. It’s located in the middle of modern Turkey.
It was the home of a woman named Lydia. If you remember from this summer’s sermon series, that’s the name of a purple dealer who was doing some work by the river when she heard the message of Jesus from Paul. She believed, was baptized, and then became part of the church’s mission work. As a result, it’s conceivable that she was one of the founding members of the church in Thyatira.
In this letter, Jesus introduces himself as the Son of God. It’s the first time in the book of Revelation. Using that name here, communicates that the letter isn’t from some bumbling human, but from God himself:
And the Son of God has eyes like blazing fire. That means he has divine vision. It’s better than 20/20 vision, better than X-ray vision, better than hawk-like vision.
He sees us…
Finally, he has feet of burnished bronze. If you’re an NFL running back, that isn’t the best footgear. With bronze, you can’t move quickly. If you’re in the NBA, bronze footgear won’t win the Dunk contest.
But if want to stand still without moving, bronze footgear is perfect.
Jesus has bronze footgear.
Because he doesn’t move.
And his Word is unshakeable.
Look at what the unshakeable Son of God who sees into the very hearts of his people had to say:
I know your deeds, your love and faith, your service and perseverance, and that you are now doing more than you did at first. (v.19)
That’s good. They’ve been increasing their faith filled acts amid a challenging environment:
A Roman government that hated Christians.
A Jewish influence that hated Jesus.
False god worship that led people away from following Jesus.
Yet, that isn’t all Jesus sees:
Nevertheless, I have this against you: You tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophet. (v.20)
Have you ever heard of Jezebel before? She’s an Old Testament queen of Ancient Israel. She’s most famous for being wicked. During her regime, she organized more idol worship in Israel than ever before, she commanded soldiers to murder God’s prophets, and led hundreds of thousands her subjects away from the true God.
One-time Jezebel’s husband Ahab was sad because he wanted this nice vineyard that a neighbor owned. He had asked the neighbor to buy it, but the neighbor wanted to keep it because it had been in his family. As a result, Ahab pouted.
“I want it.”
“It’s not fair.”
“I’m the king.”
When Jezebel hears his tantrum, rather than giving him a time out or a lecture on how, “You can’t always have what you want, and pouting won’t get you anything anyway…”
She had the neighbor killed.
Scholars doubt whether the New Testament woman at Thyatira was called Jezebel. The reality is that thanks to OT Jezebel, the name wasn’t that attractive. Most parents didn’t want to name their children after a villain. (It’s why there aren’t a lot of Darths, Maleficents, or Voldemorts—although Jezebel would have made a very scary Halloween costume.)
Rather than being her real name, this could simply be Jesus’ way of describing how similar this woman was to that ancient queen. Both found joy in challenging God’s authority and leading people away from truth.
Both attacked from within:
Old Testament Jezebel tried to attacked God’s kingdom from within the palace of Ancient Israel.
New Testament Jezebel did it from within the pews of the Thyatiran church.
Both used deadly weapons:
Old Testament Jezebel attacked God’s kingdom with actual swords.
New Testament Jezebel? With false teachings.
She was misleading God’s servants into sexual immorality and the eating of food sacrificed to idols. (v.10b)
It’s as if she’d gather her small group together and say: “I know pastor says that we shouldn’t sleep around, but…that’s unrealistic.”
Or she kept raising her hand during adult Bible study and said, “False God worship is just as good as fair as worship of Jesus. Equal rights!”
Or she wrote her own song to sing for meditation, “The church’s one foundation is illicit immorality.”
Or she taught the Sunday School Lesson, “The Bible says God created the world, but…that’s really not true kids. We’re all accidents evolved over billions of years. You don’t really matter.”
Jezebel was teaching falsehood within God’s church.
II. The Truth about False Teaching
That’s the difference from last week. If you remember, some of the people of the Pergamum church were holding to the same teachings of sexual immorality and false God worship. But none of them felt comfortable enough to teach them.
Jezebel, on the other hand?
She took every opportunity to teach falsehood within God’s church.
He takes this opportunity to express his opinion on false teaching:
God hates FALSE TEACHING in his church.
It’s like being a vegan. If you were a vegan and went to a healthy restaurant to get a Quinoa Burger. But then, as you took a bite of that Quinoa burger and it tasted like beef…You’d be upset.
But do you get the point? God is 100% for the truth.
In fact, Jesus said, “I am the truth.” (John 14:6)
That means God can have anything to do with falsehood.
And if his church, which is his body deals in falsehood, which he is against…
God isn’t happy.
He hates false teaching in his church.
And he hates it because…
False teaching is DANGEROUS.
Look at what was happening in Thyatira. The teachings of Jezebel were leading other members of the church into a sinful lifestyle and away from their Savior Jesus.
It’d be like driving along I-540 to the East. You go to the end of it where you’re supposed to segue onto 87. But instead of having you segue onto 87, Siri simply said, “Go straight.” And if you listened, Siri’s false teaching would lead you off the road to death.
False teaching does the same thing.
False teaching can lead people to hell.
And doubly so, when it comes within the church.
Because if you hear that teaching from someone in the church, you’ll probably trust it. You’ll think:
It was a church person who posted that message on Facebook…must be true.
It was a long-time member who said that thing in Bible study…must be accurate.
It was a big-time giver who wanted that thing in the leadership meeting…must be correct.
Now you might not think this is all that important for you.
You’re not a pastor.
You’re not a teacher.
But it absolutely is.
Sometimes people drop off books for us at Precious Lambs. And since we’re a Christian center, they often drop off Christian books. Seems safe, right?
A while back I was reading through a book all about Jesus’ life. It had cute little Jesus’ pictures. It had cute little rhyming words. It even had a child friendly picture of the cross.
But at the end of the book, it said this:
Jesus rose on Easter Day.
Following him is the way.
If we truly do what we should.
We’ll have heaven which is good.
We don’t do what we should.
We won’t have heaven by doing good.
And the point of Easter isn’t: Do good to earn God’s love.
The point of the Gospel is: You couldn’t do good, so Jesus earned heaven for you.
Can you imagine if a kid grew up hearing this?
The constant burden and weight of the law?
The guilt and shame of never being good enough?
The false teaching that they need to earn God’s love?
Rather than knowing her Savior.
Rather than knowing his love.
Rather than knowing forgiveness.
False teaching is dangerous.
Watch out for it in “Christian” books.
In “Christian” music.
In “Christian” friendships.
In “Christian” Facebook posts.
And if you find something that’s false, do something about it!
Because…TOLERATION of false teaching is a sin.
Look at whom Jesus is speaking to in this letter. It isn’t Jezebel. It’s the people that are tolerating her message.
And understand. Tolerate simply means, “to allow.”
And it can be a good thing.
It’s good to tolerate your country music.
It’s good to tolerate your kids’ TV shows.
It’s good to tolerate your coworker’s lunch smells.
If you tolerated an alligator, that had gotten into your living room….
If you didn’t call 911.
If you didn’t call Animal Control.
And that alligator bites your kid…
That’s on you!
God doesn’t just want you to not teach falsehood, but he also doesn’t want you to knowingly tolerate it.
Because he doesn’t tolerate it.
Because it will lead people to eternal danger.
Jesus will DEFEND his church.
That’s why Jesus speaks up. In fact, look at what he says about Jezebel:
I have given her time to repent of her immorality, but she is unwilling. So, I will cast her on a bed of suffering, and I will make those who commit adultery with her suffer intensely, unless they repent of her ways. I will strike her children (most likely a reference to people who followed her teaching) …I will strike them…dead. Then all the churches will know that I am he who searches hearts and minds, and I will repay each of you according to your deeds. (v.21-23)
This is one of those parts of the Bible that, maybe, sound harsh.
But it isn’t.
Jezebel was leading people to hell.
God wasn’t going to stand back and let that happen.
Think about it:
Jesus already went through hell to save us.
He lived perfectly on this earth.
He died innocently in your place.
He rose triumphantly for the forgiveness of our sins.
Through the Gospel, he has brought us into his kingdom.
God didn’t do all that to allow some false teaching to take us away from him.
He will defend his church.
And he will defend you.
In fact, that’s what he’s doing right now.
He’s calling out false teaching.
He’s warning us of its danger.
He’s calling his people to act against it
Because of his love for his church.
Because of his love for you.
III. Hold onto Truth
Look at what Jesus tells his church:
Now I say to the rest of you in Thyatira, to you who do not hold to her teaching and have not learned Satan’s so-called deep secrets, ‘I will not impose any other burden on you, except to HOLD ON to what you have until I come.’ (v.24)
And what they had was the truth.
Don’t cling to falsehood.
Don’t search for some ‘better’ teaching.
Don’t scour the internet for a more socially acceptable doctrine.
Hold onto truth.
Hold onto Jesus.
Hold onto God’s Word.
Hold onto the Son of God.
Hold onto the one with blazing eyes.
Hold onto the one with feet of burnished bronze.
TRUTH: The Truth will DASH falsehood to pieces.
To the one who is victorious and does my will to the end, I will give authority over the nations—that one ‘will rule them with an iron scepter and will dash them to pieces like pottery’—just as I have received authority from my Father.”
He mentions that falsehood, is a lot like a clay jar. It’s fashioned by humans. It’s shaped how they like it to be. It’s frail and fragile because a human put it together. You’ve got to be careful to handle it gently lest it fall to the ground, smash, and be exposed for the short-lasting thing that it is.
But that’s not the only metaphor in these verses.
There’s also an iron scepter. It’s bold. It’s strong. It’s intense. That’s what God gives his people to fight against falsehood.
The iron scepter?
Truth-holders are promised the MORNING STAR
A morning star is a scientific phenomenon. It’s not really a star. It’s a planet, like Venus, that on certain days can be visible from earth. Usually it’s visible just before morning. Hence, it’s called the morning star.
Because the morning star means…
…the night is almost over.
…the day is almost here.
…newness is about to star.
The morning star in the Bible?
Jesus said, “I am the morning star.” (Rev. 22:16)
Because of Jesus, the night is almost over.
Because of Jesus, the darkness will eventually end.
Because of Jesus, will experience something new.
Because of Jesus, we will shine…forevermore.
I was sitting down for a delicious lunch of homemade Lunchables in the PreK 4 classroom this past week. After discussing how delicious the ham and cheese combination was and whether or not it was an acceptable use of food to wear the deli ham as a necklace, the conversation turned to Halloween costumes.
One little girl was excited to tell me that she was going to be a unicorn.
Another little girl was excited to tell me that she was going to be a princess.
One more said that she would be a unicorn.
And a fourth said that was would be a princess.
Finally, the little girl, who had been waiting and shaking with excitement to tell me her costume got her chance.
And she told me she would be something different:
An Elsa Unicorn.
I was curious. “What did that look like? Cause that might be hard to be both.”
She said, “I wear a crown and a horn on my head. Princess unicorn.”
Today we are continuing our series called Dear Church. It’s a series based on letters from Jesus to his church. Today’s letter is to a church that was compromising. But not in a good way. Compromising in a way that made them look about as silly as an Elsa Unicorn compromise. Our goal today is to identify why Jesus was reprimanding their compromise, when compromise is bad in our Christian lives, and what to do about fixing it.
Before we begin, a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth, your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see, our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. The Good
This letter starts in Revelation 2:12 “To the angel of the church in Pergamum write: These are the words of him who has the sharp, double-edged sword.
Pergamum was an ancient city located on a lofty hill. It was also a key state in Roman control of their empire and home to the Red Basilica of the Greek god, Isis.
To put it simply, everywhere that the people of Pergamum looked there was symbols of authority:
The high impressive hills showing the authority of nature.
The Basilica reminded them of the authority Greek gods had in their culture.
The large amount of soldiers representing the authority of the Roman government.
No wonder Jesus starts his address by reminding the Pergamum church of where true authority resides: Himself. He says that his words are a sharp double-edged sword.
Not just sharp on the left.
Not just sharp on the right.
Sharp on both sides.
That means his words don’t just take out everything on the left.
Nor do they take out everything on the right.
But both sides. He has all authority.
Briefly, I don’t think this is a direct reference to American politics, but still… It might be worth saying:
The right isn’t the ultimate authority.
The left isn’t the ultimate authority.
Jesus is the ultimate authority.
Next, Jesus gives the congregation a compliment: “I know where you live—where Satan has his throne. Yet you remain true to my name. You did not renounce your faith in me, not even in the days of Antipas, my faithful witness, who was put to death in your city—where Satan lives.” (v. 13)
Pergamum was home to a large library of over 200,000 books. It was called The Library at Pergamum and is second in renown only to the Library at Alexandria.
Of course, this wasn’t Lifeway Christian Bookstore -- not all of these books were commentaries on the Bible. In fact, they often proposed ideologies and moralities in opposition to the Bible. These ideas from the books came influential in shaping Pergamum thought. Books that might have had titles like:
Greek Mythology – It’s not a Myth Anymore
101 Ways to a Good Relationship with the god, Isis
Temple Prostitution and You – a Beginners Guide
Food Sacrificed to Idols – 15 Minute Recipes for the Idol Worshiper on the Go
Pergamum was also home to a large theater. (Again, aptly named The Theater of Pergamum). It held over 10,000 people. By the way, its ruins are still there today.
At the time, attending the theater was a common way to spend the weekend. And common plays glorified things that weren’t so godly: worship of idols, pursuing money at all costs, adultery being okay as long as you sleep with the one you truly love, and generally bucking traditional morality and doing whatever you feel like doing.
In essence, this theater was doing what Hollywood does today.
That’s why Jesus calls this place Satan’s home.
There’s temptation everywhere.
There’s false teaching everywhere.
There’s evil everywhere.
In fact, it had gotten so bad that a believer named Antipas is killed.
Put to death because he witnessed to the truth of Jesus.
Pergamum was hard place to plant a church.
Yet… The church survived.
The church held onto FAITH in a city surrounded by VIOLENCE against it.
That word “held onto” means to “grasp firmly.”
It’s like playing tug of war with a dog. You are holding one end of the rope until your dog grabs onto the other end. Then…
It bares its teeth.
It shakes its head back and forth.
It growls as it tries to wrestle that rope way.
That’s what was happening in Pergamum – the culture was like a dog trying to wrestle faith away from the Pergamum church.
They didn’t let them.
They held on tightly to their faith.
That was good.
II. The Bad
But that’s also not the end of the letter. Look at what Jesus says next: “Nevertheless, I have a few things against you: There are some among you who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to entice the Israelites to sin so that they ate food sacrificed to idols and committed sexual immorality. Likewise, you also have those who hold to the teaching of the Nicolaitans." (v.14-15)
Notice the word that Jesus uses.
He says, “Some of you hold to” these teachings.
That’s the same Greek word.
The one that involves holding tightly as if you’re in a canine tug of way.
The church at Pergamum was holding onto the teachings of Jesus.
But also…other teachings.
We talked about the Nicolaitans in the letter to Ephesus. Not much is known about them other than that Jesus hated their practices. (Revelation 2:6) It isn’t surprising he wasn’t impressed by the fact that some of the Pergamum church was holding onto practices that he hated.
Balaam was a false prophet in the Old Testament. He dabbled in occult type stuff. (Appropriate for Halloween, right?) He used spells, secret chants, and the power of the devil to see the future and cast curses onto people.
He was good at it.
In fact, he was so good at it that a guy named Balak who was king of the Moabites, hired Balaam to cast a curse on the people of Israel. If you remember, the people of Israel were God’s people in the Old Testament. He guided and blessed them, because one day the Savior Jesus would come from their race. But this was back at the time when the Israelites didn’t own any land, but were simply desert nomads.
Still, at over one million people in camp, the nation was impressive. It’s why Balak was concerned that they might come into Moab and destroy his nation. So, he hired Balaam to curse Israel.
Balaam was a big fan of money, so he agreed.
He shook out his hands.
He began cursing:
Hocus, Pocus…Hocus Crocus…Hocus…How can I curse those whom God has not cursed? (Numbers 23:8)
Sorry, King. Let me try again:
Bibbiddiy, boddiy, bless….God has blessed Israel and I cannot change it. (Numbers 23:20)
Just a second. Maybe we need to change up the curse location. Let’s try over on that hill there:
Eye of newt and ointment of Gibraltar – God’s kingdom will be exalted. (Numbers 24:7)
Balaam couldn’t curse Israel.
God wouldn’t let him.
But Balaam was sly. He still wanted money. So, he offered some advice to Balak.
If you can’t curse them, maybe you can tempt them.
Send out some women.
Get their men, to…you know.
And you’ll become a part of their kingdom.
And lead them away from their God that way.
It worked. Numbers 31:16 says this: Some followed Balaam’s advice and enticed the Israelites to be unfaithful to the Lord.
Thousands of years later, the same problem was happening in the Pergamum church.
Sure, they were believers in Jesus. But some wanted to cover their bases:
I believe in Jesus, but I also believe that Isis might be able to help me with my crops. So, I’ll bring some offering to him and while I’m there I’ll sleep with the temple prostitutes. I’ll just have to remember to set my alarm so that I can get up for worship tomorrow. I’m ushering.
Some held onto a TEACHING violently opposed to JESUS’ TEACHING.
And I do mean violently opposed.
Balaam said, “Worship false gods.”
Jesus said, “Worship the Lord your God and serve him 0nly.” (Mt. 4:10)
Balaam said, “Do anything to store up treasure on earth.”
Jesus said, “Do anything to store up treasure in heaven.” (Mt. 6:19)
Balaam said, “Sexuality is yours. Do with it whatever you want.
Jesus said, “Sexuality is God’s gift. Use it within marriage as He tells us.” (Mt. 19:4-5)
Do you see the problem?
The Pergamum church held onto Jesus’ teaching.
But they also held onto things that were the exact opposite of Jesus’ teaching.
They were compromising.
III. The Compromise
Now usually compromising is a good thing.
Kids on the playground compromise and they both get to be Spider-man.
Teens in school compromise and they both work on parts of the school project.
Adults at work compromise and they go the meeting for half an hour today and half an hour tomorrow.
Spouses compromise and they have asparagus (like mom wanted) with Doritos sprinkled on top (like dad wanted).
Compromise can be good.
But not always.
I was listening to a podcast called the Liturgists the other day. (Sounds Christian right?) And the topic was pornography. I thought – That’d be good to hear. Some good tips on how to continually teach people the extreme danger of this destructive thing.
But as I was listening. One of the speakers said this:
I’ve had some experiences with porn. And I found it to be helpful. I think it allows the opportunity to learn about sex and explore one’s sexuality. It’s just the lusts of the flesh, so whom does it harm?
And I started thinking in my head:
Your wife: who will feel like she can’t live up to it.
The actress: who will continue to feel like her worth is defined by how many watch her.
The industry: as you continue to give dollars to greedy jerks who don’t care how they treat women.
Me: because society will still see it as monetarily valuable and pump out pop-up ads and sultry material on the most tame websites.
And Jesus…who said – “I tell you if you look at a woman lustfully, you are guilty of adultery.”
But the people on the podcast?
You’re right. Porn is good.
Here’s the TRUTH:
Compromise is wrong when it treats BAD as GOOD.
Jesus loves good.
Jesus hates bad.
And he doesn’t compromise.
Which means there is no compromise in the Christian faith.
You can’t love Jesus and love watching porn.
You can’t fill your spirit with Jesus and fill your stomach with moonshine.
You can’t be faithful to Jesus and be faithful to your spouse.
You can’t worship Jesus and worship your bank account.
You can’t say the Gospel is most important, but them make your traditions most important.
You can’t claim to follow Jesus and then, do whatever you want.
You can’t claim to have the truth and then hold to teachings opposed to the truth!
If you want to hold onto Jesus, you can’t hold onto things that are opposed to Jesus.
Look at what Jesus says:
Repent therefore! Otherwise, I will soon come to you and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth. (v.16)
And my words are sharp.
They will cut your soul.
Because if you want to keep compromising your faith,
And keep doing the things opposed to my kingdom.
Then, I’ve got compromise for you:
You get to keep doing all that sinful stuff.
And I get to kick you out of my kingdom.
IV. What Now?
Jesus says, “Repent.”
Look at your life.
See where you’re compromising your faith.
Drop anything that’s against your Savior.
Put your faith in your Savior.
Faith in Jesus isn’t about compromises:
Faith in Jesus is about promises:
To the one who is victorious, I will give some of the hidden manna. I will also give that person a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to the one who receives it.” (2:17)
Did you follow that section? It’s symbolic and yet rich with very real promises from Jesus:
(1) Hidden Manna
I had mentioned earlier that the people of Israel used to be nomads in the desert. Deserts don’t normally have a lot of food. There aren’t fast food places on every corner. Uber Eatz couldn’t bring you fried chicken. It wasn’t even a good place for growing your own crops.
So here what God did.
Early in the morning God send little pieces of bread, raining down from the clouds and landing softly on the ground next to their tents. These little wafer-like things tasted a bit like a honey, but not quite. A bit like bread, but not quite.
The food was so strange that the people simply called it: Manna.
In Hebrew, that means, “What is it?”
Manna was unexplainable. Its mystery was hidden. Yet God provided nourishment through it.
The same is true with the Gospel.
The message is mysterious.
Yet, God provides nourishment for souls filled with guilt.
In fact, Jesus said this: “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry.” (Jn. 6:35)
Because in his Word, he gives us nourishment.
For all the times we’ve compromised.
For all the times we’ve done what we shouldn’t.
For all the times we’ve loved evil more than Jesus, God’s Word tells you:
Jesus loved you.
Jesus died for you.
Jesus rose for you.
And through faith in him, you will be given a:
(2) A White Stone
In the ancient courtroom, a judge would lead the trial and give the verdict. But around the time of this letter, the Greek world began to introduce trial by jury. A jury would listen to the case. They would listen to the prosecution. They would listen to the defense. Then, they would vote.
If a juror found the person to be guilty, he would take a black stone and drop it into the official vote casting bag.
But if the juror found the person to be not guilty…?
Jesus says to the repentant: “I am giving you a white stone.”
You are innocent.
You are not guilty.
You are forgiven.
In fact, to illustrate the farther.
It says that on that stone will be…
(3) A New Name
Because if you are someone who has been compromising your faith, you might not have the greatest name.
You might call yourself:
A porn addict.
An easy woman.
A bad Christian.
He has a new name for you.
It isn’t based on you.
God calls you:
And there’s no compromise on that.
You are God’s.
Don’t compromise on him. Amen.
When I was in Seattle, WA, I had the goal to get to the top of the highest point in the lower 48 states, Mt. Rainier. I bought the right gear. I went into training. I learned from a woman who had been up Mount Everest three separate times.
On the day of the climb, we hiked up to Camp Muir, a base camp about 10,000 feet up. From there, we slept in a tiny wooden cabin to acclimate to the altitude and rest up for the final ascent. We went to bed at 6pm and woke up around Midnight. (You have to leave early in order to cross the ice bridges before the daylight gets too hot, the bridge melts and you fall to your death.)
It was about eight hours up when a blizzard kicked in. The air was sparse. The wind was frigid. My fingers were frozen. And it was only getting nastier. Some of the other climb groups had already turned around and gone back.
About an hour from the top, the lead expeditions said:
“This is getting pretty bad. I haven’t seen it this bad before. What do you think? We could go to the top and see the marvelous views, but…
If we don’t turn around, we could get frostbite or die.
So we thought about it and said:
“I’m sure Google images probably has some might fine photos of the top. So...
Sometimes suffering isn’t worth it.
Today we are continuing our series called Dear Church. It’s a series based on letters from Jesus to seven different churches. The letter for today looks at a church that was dealing with suffering…even suffering because they were believers. Our goal today is to understand what kind of suffering believers have to deal with and whether it’s worth that suffering.
Before we begin, a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth, your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see, our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. The One who Knows Suffering
This letter starts in Revelation 2:8: “To the angel of the church in Smyrna write: These are the words of him who is the First and the Last, who died and came to life again. I know your afflictions and your poverty —yet you are rich!”
A few notes:
The letter is again written to the angel. We said that’s most likely referencing their pastoral leadership which, in turn, means it’s a letter written to the church in Smyrna.
Smyrna was an ancient Greek city at a central point on the Aegean coast. Because its positioning allowed for advantageous port conditions and an easily defendable city, Smyrna was full of people. In other words, it was a great place to start a church.
And someone had. We don’t know the exact apostle or disciple that founded it, which shows that the Gospel was spreading beyond the work rate of the apostles alone. This church was probably not started by one of the 12 apostles, yet Jesus considers it a church. Similarly, our church wasn’t started by one of the Apostles, yet Jesus would call it a real church.
Because the Holy Spirit was at work in the word.
Here in Raleigh.
So, both are churches.
Finally, the speaker is Jesus. This is his letter. And since this is a letter to a church that is suffering, he offers his credentials on the subject:
(1) Jesus Existed before SUFFERING
These are the words of him who is the First (v.8) Jesus existed eternally long before suffering ever existed. He created a world that was perfect, apart from suffering. Then, he watched as humans foolishly were led by the devil into suffering.
Don’t think that Jesus’ main goal is to end suffering?
To bring life back to the way that it once was?
It’d be like cleaning your living room, putting all the toys in their place and removing all the crumbs from the floor – making the place a gorgeous Better Homes and Gardens style living area.
Then, your kids happen.
And you’d like to see it back to the way it was when you were finished cleaning.
The same is true for God. He has on his heart a desire to bring things back to the way they were long before suffering happened.
And here’s the good news about that:
(2) Jesus will OUTLAST Suffering
These are the words of him who is the Last. (v.8) As in, he will last beyond all suffering.
He will outlast cancer.
He will outlast financial difficulties.
He will outlast persecutions.
He will outlast terrorism.
He will outlast racism.
He will outlast the little angry emojis that people put upon Christian content on Social Media.
He will outlast every form of suffering.
That doesn’t mean he hasn’t suffered.
(3) Jesus is FAMILIAR with suffering
These are the words of him who died. (v.8)
Do you know how Jesus died?
He was arrested by a mob.
He was beaten by that mob.
He was smacked and slapped till the early hours of the morning.
He was whipped thirty times with a 7 stranded leather whip that had metal shards on the end. (Also known as flogged)
He had a crown of thorns smashed down onto his head.
He was hit with a staff.
He was laid down upon two giant pieces of wood.
He had one nail driven through his right hand.
He had another nail driven through his left hand.
He had one more nail driven through his feet.
He hung on that cross as his lungs slowly collapsed.
He was abandoned by his friends.
He was betrayed by his disciples.
He was crucified by his people.
He had our sin and guilt and shame plaguing his soul.
He was familiar with suffering.
Suffering even to death!
Now – he lives.
He lives and walks among his churches.
(4) Jesus Knows YOUR suffering
Pause and reflect on that truth.
Because it’s easy to think:
No one knows my suffering.
No one understands.
No one gets this sadness I feel.
No one grasps the loneliness that I go through.
No one truly gets the depths of my depression.
Jesus is speaking to you. He says:
I know it feels like no one knows, but I know.
I know what it’s like to suffer.
I know that you are suffering.
I know what it is you’re suffering:
I know that you feel so poor because you are suffering.
In the midst of suffering…
You are rich.
(5) Jesus Gives Eternal RICHES to the Suffering
You are rich.
Rich in my love.
Rich in forgiveness.
Rich in the promise of eternal life.
You have a place in my family that all of the money in the world would be unable to buy.
You may be suffering, but you are not suffering from a lack of my promises.
II. Truths about Our Suffering
After giving his credentials as to why he is an expert in suffering, Jesus has a few things to say about the suffering that the people of Smyrna were going through. He says:
I know about the slander of those who say they are Jews and are not but are a synagogue of Satan. (v.9)
Apparently there was a group that was slandering the church. It was a group that claimed to be Jewish but wasn’t. This isn’t genealogical. Jesus is referring to people who were did not have a faith that matched the Old Testament faith, but pretended they did.
Because the Old Testament Jewish faith was that God would send a Messiah to save us from our sins. Overtime some Jews abandoned that faith and replaced it as, “God doesn’t need to save us from our sins, because I am Jewish and do Jewish things.”
When Jesus showed up, a “phony” Jewish faith is exactly what the Pharisees had. Jesus was the Messiah. The real Jewish faith would have believed in him. Instead, the “phony” Jewish faith rejected Jesus as Messiah because “they were good enough Jewish people on their own.”
Now after Jesus, this group was persecuting the church in Smyrna and it was bad enough to be called “suffering”:
Maybe they were calling them names.
Maybe some of them worked on the local tax board and were taxing their church building heavily.
Maybe some of them paid of the Roman soldiers to throw church members in prison.
Regardless, the church was suffering. What did Jesus say about this suffering? A few things:
(1) Believers WILL Suffer for their Faith
Look at what Jesus says in Verse 10: Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. At first glance, this seems comforting. But if you are a Smyrnian, don’t you think they read this and responded by saying:
What? About to suffer? You mean this isn’t even done yet?
That’s the truth.
For the Smyrnian people.
And for us:
The truth is that believers in Jesus will suffer.
Some suffering will happen because we’re on a sinful world where sinful people hurt one another. (Gossip, racism, and unfaithfulness)
Some suffering will happen because we’re in an imperfect world. (Cancer, pollution, and natural disasters)
Some suffering will happen because we’re believers in Jesus. (Things like angry comments on your Christian blog, being excluded from parties because you’re “That lousy Christian,” being yelled at by your spouse because “I’m not into that Jesus junk.”)
Jesus said this:
Whoever listens to you listens to me; whoever rejects you rejects me. (Luke 10:16)
Just like you might not like a football team and, as a result, you don’t like fans of a certain football team.
Or you don’t like a politician and, as a result, you don’t like followers of that politician.
It’s the same thing with Jesus:
If someone doesn’t like Jesus.
They don’t like his followers.
If sinners made Jesus suffer,
They will make his followers suffer too.
(2) The Real Villain is the DEVIL
Because if it was just a bunch of humans making us suffer, you might think:
I can take them, Jesus. I took a few defense classes once, so…I got this.
But these people aren’t the real ones behind it. Look at what Jesus says about who was really behind the Smyrnian suffering:
I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you. (v.10b)
Now it wasn’t as if the devil showed up with a red pitchfork in his hands and pointy ears like some kind of Halloween costume.
But he influenced.
He gave people ideas like:
You should tell that Jesus supporter that he’s an idiot.
You should tell that Roman guard that Christian is breaking law by praying in public.
You should break up with your wife because the amount of Bible talk she has is crazy.
The same is true today.
The real villain isn’t whoever is persecuting you.
It’s the devil himself.
(3) Suffering Lasts for AWHILE
Because look at what Jesus says next:
You will suffer persecution for ten days.” (v.10c)
That doesn’t sound awful.
It’s the reason I sign up for ten days at a fitness camp. I figure – that’s not too long. I can handle it.
Or maybe you sign up for a ten day visit to your in-laws. You figure – that’s just over a week. I got this.
10 days of persecution? That’s doable.
But here’s the thing about numbers in revelation. They are metaphoric:
The number 3 represents God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
The number 4 represents humans. Humans were created in God’s image, but aren’t God.
The number 7 represents the church. It’s 3 plus 4, where God connects with humans.
The number 10? It represents completeness.
Meaning the church at Smyrna would suffer until the suffering was completed.
In other words, for a while.
And the reality is that Christians will suffer…until their suffering on earth is completed.
Suffering will be a part of your life when you’re 5.
When you’re a teenager.
When you’re middle aged.
When you’re a senior.
Even suffering for your faith…
…will be a part of your life for a while.
Only for a while.
(4) The faithful will receive the CROWN of LIFE
Look at what Jesus says at the end of verse 10:
Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you life as your victor’s crown.
Back at this time, the victor’s crown was associated with the Olympics. It was made of olive branches and given to the winner.
To the winner of the 100-meter dash: Victor’s crown.
To the winner of the 1600-meter run: Victor’s crown.
To the winner of the pole vault: Victor’s crown
To the winner of the steeple chase (whatever a steeple chase is): Victor’s crown.
After all the training.
After all the sweating.
After all the suffering.
A victor’s crown.
Look at what Jesus promises to those who are victorious.
Who go through suffering in this life.
But hold on to Jesus:
A victor’s crown.
But not just any victor’s crown. This isn’t made from olive branches.
It’s made of life.
Do you get it?
If you hold to Jesus despite the suffering this life brings, you will have eternal life.
Death won’t win.
You will defeat it.
Just like Jesus defeated death, you will defeat death too.
You will live.
And about this life…
It won’t be one of suffering.
(5) The Faithful’s SUFFERING will END
Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. The one who is victorious will not be hurt at all by the second death. (v.11)
That’s sounds awful.
First death is bad enough.
It’s nothing but suffering.
Nothing but awful.
Nothing but hell…
…because it is hell.
But dear believers, that’s not anything you have to be worried about. The faithful will not be hurt even in the slightest by hell.
Because in heaven? There is no hell.
In heaven? There is no death.
In heaven? There is NO suffering.
No suffering for faith.
No arguments with spouses.
No rebellious kids.
No ostracization from friends.
No suffering of any amount, variety or kind.
In heaven, SUFFERING is done.
Because you’re with the one that defeated suffering.
You’re with Jesus.
III. WHAT NOW?
Jesus’ words are simple: Be Faithful.
Because when being a believer gets hard, it’s tempting to not be faithful.
“I became a believer and I still get sick.
I still have work problems.
I still have financial difficulties.
Only now people ridicule me for my faith.”
It might seem easier to stop being faithful so that you won’t have this momentary suffering.
If you stay faithful, in the midst of the momentary suffering, you will have eternal blessings.
Because God is faithful.
That won’t change.
He sent his Son Jesus for you.
And through faith in him you will be removed from suffering…forever.
When you go to a restaurant, you can often tell what’s important to them based on what happens while you’re there:
A restaurant might have hired a five-star chef, serve food you can’t pronounce, and for a price you can’t afford because they love quality.
Another might have a laid-back atmosphere, chilled jazz music, and eclectic decorations because they love atmosphere.
Another might have inexpensive prices, smiling faces, and quick turnover on dishes because they love customers.
There’s a restaurant on one of Gordon Ramsay’s show a while back called Amy’s Baking Company. And after watching the episode, it’s pretty obvious that Amy’s Baking Company loved their own Amy. There were photos of her hanging throughout the restaurant. The food took hours to complete because Amy needed her time to work. The customers were sent away without any of their complaints being answered because Amy was always right. Even Gordon Ramsay left the show without turning the restaurant around because they didn’t love becoming a good restaurant as much as they loved Amy.
It’s easy to tell what a restaurant loves by looking at how they operate. It’s the same thing with churches:
This church loves community outreach.
This church loves beautiful music.
This church loves fantastic architecture.
Today we are continuing our series called Dear Church. It’s a series in which we examine letters from Jesus to seven different churches. The letter for today looks at a church that had the wrong love. Our goal: Identify what that love is, compare it with what we love as Gethsemane Church, and consider what we should love most of all.
Before we begin, a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth, your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see, our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. The Wrong Kind of Love
The lesson comes from Revelation 2:1. Take a look at the beginning of this letter from Jesus: “To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: These are the words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand and walks among the seven golden lampstands.”
A few notes:
The letter is written to the angel. That’s either a reference to (1) an actual angel or more likely (2) the pastor of the church in Ephesus. Angel literally means “messenger” and since the pastor is the messenger bringing God’s Word to the people, the angel could easily represent that.
This church is the one in Ephesus. Ephesus was a church that started up after Paul did some groundwork there during his second missionary journey. If you remember, that’s the place where Paul stayed for two years until a riot started by the merchants and workers behind the Artemis of the Ephesians industry. Granted that would have been around 45 A.D. and Revelation would be around 90 A.D. So, a great period of time has passed within this church.
The one writing the letter is John, but these are the words of Jesus. Flashback to last week’s sermon:
Jesus is the one holding the seven stars.
Jesus is the one walking among the golden lampstands.
Jesus is the one speaking to his churches.
And remember, Revelation 1:20 reveals that the lampstands are the churches.
The symbolism is that Jesus walks amongst his churches.
He is there with his people.
He is with believers.
He is with YOU.
This was true for the Ephesian church. Jesus had been with the Ephesian church, he knows a thing or two about what is important to them. Look at what Jesus says to them:
I know your deeds. (v.2a) I know how you’ve been bringing bread to the local widows. I know how you’ve helped the poor in your community. I know how you’ve been kind to any foreigners who come to the area.
I know your hard work and your perseverance. (v.2b) I know that you’ve been battling city ordinances aimed against you at the hands of idol making industry. I know that some of your members have left because of persecution. I know that you’ve gathered up extra funds just to keep the church’s budget above water.
I know that you cannot tolerate wicked people. (v.2c) I know that you speak out against the greed of the city. I know you speak out against the temple prostitution ring. I know that you speak out against the local merchants as they go get wasted every evening after work.
I know that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not and have found them false. (v. 2d) I know that people have been coming to you claiming to be from Jesus, but they teach anything but Jesus. I know that rather than keep them around, you called them out. You pointed out their hypocrisy. You told them what was right.
You have persevered.
You have endured hardships for my name.
You have not grown weary.
Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken the love you had at first. (v.3b-4)
Do you see the problem? Because as the letter begins, Jesus addresses them doing a bunch of things that a church ought to be doing!
It looked like there wasn’t any problem with what they were doing.
At least, not to the human eye.
Jesus’ eyes, are blazing fire. (1:14)
And his eyes saw the heart.
And their hearts had forsaken their first love.
And their hearts now had the wrong love.
TRUTH: The Ephesian church had the WRONG love.
Because they had forsaken their first love. Their first love was Jesus. When Paul had brought the message of the Gospel to them forty years earlier, they had loved the incredible news that he brought.
They loved how Jesus had been the only real God in a city of fake gods.
They loved how Jesus had made them a part of His kingdom.
They loved how Jesus had brought them forgiveness.
They loved how Jesus gave them confidence in the promise of eternal life.
But now, years later…
But now, years removed from when they first believed.
But now, they loved something else.
Now they had the wrong love.
Since this letter was written down and preserved, we’re able to reflect upon it today. Here’s where it’s a big deal. When our love becomes anything other than Jesus.
1) Doing Good
There’s a lot of good for churches to do: Food banks, food drives, working with youth, working with seniors, working with children, helping widows, helping veterans, singing down at the retirement home, knitting sweaters for refugees, collecting Toys for Tots, Bottles for Babies, and Doritos for Daddy’s.
It’s not wrong to do good.
It’s not wrong to love doing good.
In fact, if you aren’t doing any good, there’s a problem in your church.
If the thing you love most is simply “doing good” …
Did you know that the Church of Satan has a Facebook page? It’s a church dedicated to worshipping Satan. The page is filled with pictures of the devil and ancient cult-like worship. But it’s also filled with a request for socks.
The church of Satan ran a sock drive. They collected dry socks to give out to the homeless in their area. The idea was simply to “do good” and help people in the community.
And so I ask…
If all we love is doing good, then what’s the difference between this church and the church of Satan?
If we leave out Jesus, then what’s the difference between us and anything else?
Enduring as a church can get hard. You lose a couple of members. The cost of keeping a building open increases. The budget becomes harder and harder to make work.
So, if you have been around for a while, that’s awesome. You might love the fact that you’ve been around for awhile and you might be wiling to do whatever it takes to continue to be around for a while.
But if you love enduring more than anything…
Then, maybe you don’t teach what God’s Word says about hell. (We don’t want people to leave.)
Maybe you don’t rebuke that church member for sleeping with his girlfriend. (We don’t want to upset him.)
Maybe you don’t call out that church leader who gives a lot of money for bitter attitude because (We need his funds to survive.)
Suddenly, you’re enduring.
But not as a church of Jesus.
3) Hating Evil
Understand. God hates evil, too.
In fact, God is holy.
That means he hates evil more than you ever could.
But if our first love is pointing out evil:
Then, I imagine my sermons would just be about how bad everyone is out there.
Your homework would be to go on Facebook and put an angry face next to every article that supports something evil.
Our elder’s job would be to simply go onto blog posts and write angry messages.
Without mentioning Jesus.
Imagine that you were struggling with lying. Lying is a sin. Lying is evil. Then, you came to me and said: “Pastor, I have been lying. It’s wrong. It’s a sin. I’m so sorry.”
And I leaned in.
Looked you in the eye.
Then said: “You know lying is an awful sin deserving of God’s hellfire wrath. Go and do better or else.”
How do you feel?
Close to Jesus?
Here’s the truth:
If we loving “Hating evil” more than Jesus, then it leads us to not teach Jesus.
And if we don’t teach Jesus, isn’t that…
4) Being Right
At the time of the Early Church, pastors would travel from city to city. They’d introduce themselves as “a pastor of Jesus” and then ask to preach in the local church.
The problem is that some people weren’t really teachers of what Jesus taught. As they’d begin preaching things that Jesus didn’t teach and say things that Jesus didn’t. So, it was good for the church in Ephesus to point out where those apostles were wrong so that they didn’t lead people away from Jesus.
The problem was that over time the church seemed to stop teaching what was right because it would lead the people to Jesus, but because it meant “they were right.”
I think this is an especially important warning for our church. As Lutherans we trace our roots back to people who defend the truth. 500 some years ago a monk named Martin Luther defend the truth that we are saved by faith in Jesus against Catholic teaching that we had to earn it. 50 some years ago our group of Lutherans decided to hold to the truth instead of teaching what the Bible doesn’t say like so many other varieties of Lutherans.
But if our main love becomes “Being right” instead of “teaching Jesus”, then suddenly:
We aren’t right.
And all of this about the wrong love is a big deal. Look at what Jesus says next: Consider how far 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. (2:5)
Remember what the lampstand represented?
Remember who walks among them?
And Jesus says that you if you are a church that keeps having the wrong love, he’s going pick up your lampstand, remove it from where he walks, and leave you by yourself.
Do you get it?
If you are a church whose first love is not Jesus, then, you are NOT a church.
If you aren’t a church, then you aren’t part of God’s family.
And if you aren’t a part of God’s family, then you’re far from Jesus.
II. The Right Love
The word used for love in verse 4 is AGAPE. AGAPE is a Greek word that means, “unconditional love.” It’s a love that’s all the time. It’s a love that’s independent. It’s a love that continues from one side, even when the other side does not reciprocate.
It’s also a type of love that humans fail miserably at.
That’s why in the Bible humans aren’t often described as having that type of love.
Most often the one described as having that type of love is God.
Because God is AGAPE…This is AGAPE: not that we AGAPED God, but that he AGAPED us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. (1 Jn. 4:8, 10)
Do you get it?
Even when our first love is lost.
Even when we love other things more than God.;
Even when our love for Him grows cold.
God’s love for us does not.
God’s first love is YOU.
God loved you more than being in heaven.
God loved you more than staying away from this world.
God loved you more than suffering.
So, God came to earth.
God loved you more than his own blood.
God loved you more than his own breath.
God loved you more than his own life.
God lived for you.
God died for you.
God rose for you.
And that “first love” is more than just ordinally. As in, “you are my number one.”
God also loved you chronologically “first.”
Because God didn’t say: “I’ll wait up until you love me back before I do this.”
While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8)
While we were still with the wrong love, God showed love for us.
While we were still void of love for Him, God filled our hearts with His love.
In fact, that leads to a second truth:
Because God loved us FIRST God is our FIRST LOVE.
It’s like Kool Aid. If had a cup of Kool Aid and I wanted to give you Kool Aid, but didn’t have any Kool Aid in my cup, then I couldn’t give you any Kool Aid because of my severe lack of Kool Aid.
When God is involved.
And God is a pitcher of Kool Aid.
And God pours his love in my heart.
Then, God has just enabled me to show love.
Love for God.
Love for Jesus.
Love for the Gospel
Love for others.
1 John 4:20 says this, “We love because Christ first loved us.”
The truth is that God’s loved empowers us to love him.
And our love for Jesus compels everything else.
Because notice that after Jesus reprimands the church for losing their first love, he gives them a compliment. He says: “But you have this in your favor: You hate the practices of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.” (v.6)
Who exactly the Nicolaitans were is unknown.
That’s lost to history.
What isn’t lost to history is that Jesus was against them.
Which means the stuff that the Ephesians church had been doing, they should continue to do.
They should do good.
They should endure.
They should hate evil.
They should hold to what was right.
But they should do so, because of their love for Jesus.
Instead of doing good because “I love being called good;” we do good “because God is good to us.”
Instead of enduring because “I enjoy enduring;” we endure because “God’s love keeps us enduring.”
Instead of hating evil because “I like to think of myself not evil,” we hate evil because “God has saved me from evil.”
Instead of holding to what is right because “I like to be right,” we hold to what is right because the truth of Jesus is what saves.
III. WHAT NOW?
Look at how Jesus ends this letter to the Ephesians: Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. (v.7a)
And if you’re wondering if that applies to you, put your hands to the side of your head.
Do you feel some flappy, cartilage things?
Those are ears.
You have them.
Please listen to Jesus’ letter.
Because I can’t look at your heart.
And you can’t look at mine.
So, God is asking each of us to look within ourselves:
To see where has our love grown cold.
Where have we loved other things more than Jesus.
When we find the answer, to repent:
To confess the wrong love that we have.
To return our first love, Jesus.
Look at Jesus’ promise: To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.” (v.7)
Doesn’t that sound good.
For you, paradise might be a trip to the beach, sitting under a fancy umbrella, sipping martini’s and listening to Bob Marley.
But this is the paradise of God.
What’s God’s version of paradise?
Being with you.
Apart from things that get in the way.
Apart from sin.
Apart from fear.
Apart from shame.
Apart from guilt.
Apart from pain.
Apart from death.
By the tree of life.
So you’re with him forever.
That’s God’s version of paradise.
To be beyond the very last, with his very first love.
May God keep our hearts strong with him. Amen.
At Gethsemane, we get a goodly amount of mail. At times, I’ll open the mailbox and it will be chocked full of letters. If I’m honest, I feel excited. Maybe I’ll get something cool.
So, I read the envelopes:
Precious Lambs’ Director.
Precious Lambs’ Director.
Letter to Julianna.
Letter to Julianna.
Let me look inside:
I didn’t have Julianna’s address.
Could you get this to her.”
Maybe you feel the same way. If the letter is for someone else, it isn’t that exciting to you.
Our next sermon series is called Dear Church. It’s a study of the first chapters of Revelation. These first chapters contain a collection of seven letters written to seven first-century churches.
Yet none of these letters are addressed to “Gethsemane Church in Raleigh.”
None of them have the address of delivery listed as 1100 Newton Road.
None of them have your specific name on it.
So, you might wonder: “How valuable is studying a bunch of ancient letters that aren’t written to me?’
Today our goal is to identify the author, identify the recipients and discover the value these letters have for us. Before we begin, a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth, your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see, our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. The Writer
Our lesson starts in Revelation 1:1-2. It says: The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servant what must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, who testifies to everything he saw. (Revelation 1:1-2)
A couple of notes:
The word Revelation is the Greek Word apocalypsis. It’s where we get the word Apocalypse. It means the “unveiling of something that previously was hidden.” In this case, what is being unfolded is the future of the Christian church.
The writer is a guy named John. This is John the Apostle. The apostles were a special group of twelve men that Jesus had specially called to follow him for three years of ministry and continue his ministry after he left. During the time he was with Jesus, John learned deep theological truths and witnessed other worldly miracles.
In fact, John was one of a group of three Apostles that were witness to a few special events:
John saw Jesus’ face transformed into a brilliant sun like light.
John saw Jesus touch a dead girl’s hand and bring her back to life.
John saw Jesus in deep anguish as he prayed deep within a garden the night before he died.
John saw Jesus die.
And John was an eyewitness to Jesus’ resurrection.
As a result, John wanted to share his experience. He wrote a book in the Bible called John. In that book, he wrote about all that Jesus said and did while on earth. Later, John wrote a letter to believers everywhere called 1st John. It encouraged believers in their Savior Jesus. Finally, John writes two more letters called: 2nd and 3rd John that deal with supporting the truth of God’s Word.
That’s four books of the Bible that John had already authored. Revelation is his 5th book.
This letter has value, because it comes from a guy whose life was intimately connected with our Savior.
Look what else John says about himself: I, John, your brother and companion in the suffering and kingdom and patient endurance that are ours in Jesus, was on the island of Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. (1:9)
Notice that John calls himself brother. Even though he has led an impressive life, John does not refer to himself as “The apostle” or “the guy who knows a lot more than you.”
John calls himself a brother.
A brother in sin.
A brother in salvation.
A brother in faith.
A brother in the church.
A brother in suffering.
Like you, John knew suffering.
He knew the physical pain of life on this earth.
He knew the emotional pain of being ridiculed for his faith.
He knew the spiritual pain of fighting sin, of fighting guilt, of fighting loneliness.
Matter of fact, John wrote this letter while he was on the island of Patmos. He had been exiled there because of his faith. He was alone. He probably felt lonely. He was familiar with suffering.
This letter has value, because it comes from a guy who understood the struggles of believers.
II. The Voice behind the Writer
John wasn’t a millennial.
He’s never been to the Triangle.
He didn’t own an iPhone.
He wasn’t familiar with how to run Windows 10.
He didn’t know any of the characters from Stranger Things.
John didn’t know what it was like for 21st century believers in Raleigh NC.
His letter might be valuable for a history class,
But not nowadays…
Look at what John writes next:
On the Lord’s Day I was in the Spirit. The Lord’s Day would have been Sunday. The fact that John was in the Spirit seems to indicate that he was in some form of worship.
Maybe singing songs to God’s praise.
Or on his knees in prayer.
Or preaching himself a sermon and writing down his own sermon responses.
In the middle of worship all by himself.
On the island all by himself.
In prayer all by himself.
John heard someone else:
I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet, which said: “Write on the scroll what you see and send it to the seven churches.” (v.10)
Do you get it?
John’s letter; isn’t his own.
He wrote it down.
But it came from someone else.
It’s kind of like Siri. If you’re driving down the road and you don’t want to text and drive (because you shouldn’t text and drive), you can tell Siri: “Siri. Text Julianna: Hi Love, I’ll be home at seven.” Siri will write it down. Siri will send the message. Siri will let Julianna know: “Hi Bub, I’ll be home at eleven.”
Jokes aside. When you send a message through Siri, Siri writes it down, but it’s really your message.
It’s the same thing here.
John wrote it down, but the letter come from this voice.
So, who is the one behind John’s letter? The text is full of clues:
(1) Trumpetlike Vocal Chords
It says the voice was like a trumpet. (v.11) On the one hand, it could be a reference to the decibel level. A trumpet is loud and boisterous, so this simile may be a reference to the voice being loud and boisterous. (There’s a reason the trumpet plays the daily wakeup call in the military)
Or perhaps has a brass instrument like quality to it. It literally sounds like a trumpet with a nasal, air filled quality to its melodies.
Either way, trumpetlike vocal cords are other worldly. Because most people can’t speak louder than a trumpet. And most people can’t speak in a voice that perfectly mimics a trumpet. (Go ahead and try – I’ll wait.)
(2) Surrounded by High Priest Gear
When John heard the voice, he turned around to see where it was coming from. He wrote, “When I turned, I saw seven golden lampstands and among the lampstands was someone like a son of man, dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash around his chest. (v.13)
All that language is very Old Testament.
Old Testament worship involved these very ornate golden lampstands that held the burning candles during worship.
Old Testament worship was led by a high priest who wore a long white robe reaching down to cover his sandals.
Old Testament worship robes were decorated by a golden sash across the chest.
John, who was familiar with Old Testament worship, would have understood that this was a high priest.
The only thing he wouldn’t have understood was…
Where did the high priest come from?
And how did he set up the lampstands without making a sound?
And can you get the golden sash on sale down at Target?
Look at John’s description of the high priest. He describes him as, “like a son of man.” (v.13)
A son of man is a human.
Just like a son of a cow is a calf.
And the son of a cat is a kitty.
But John is careful in his words. He doesn’t say, “a son of man,” but, “like a son of man.”
As in similar, but not quite.
As in like, but also unlike.
As in human, but more…
(4) Otherworldly Facial Features
Verse 14 describes why John didn’t consider him your average human. He writes, “The hair on his head was white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire.”
White hair isn’t unheard of. It’s common. Yet the emphasis on it being “white like snow”; gives the impression this is an otherworldly type of white.
And check out the eyes!
Yes, there are now contacts that exist that you can put into your eyeballs to change the color of your iris. If you have blue eyes and want brown, there’s contact lenses for that.
If you have brown eyes and want blue, there’s contact lenses for that.
If you have regular colored eyes and want yours to look like fire, there’s contact lenses for that.
Those colors contact lenses weren’t invented until 2010.
And contact lenses in general didn’t exist until 1887.
That’s fire in his eyes.
And that’s not it for the otherworldly facial features:
In verse 17 it says, “Coming out of his mouth was a sharp double-edged sword.”
And in verse 18 it says, “His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance.”
(5) Otherworldly Footwear
Look at verse 15: His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace.
Bronze is a precious metal. It’s used in making beautiful plates, decorations, and lampstands.
How many of you today are wearing bronze shoes?
How many of you own bronze shoes?
How many of you have ever seen bronze shoes?
But then, notice that the bronze was glowing! Did you know that bronze begins to glow & melt at about 1562 degrees Fahrenheit?
This is other worldly.
(6) Trumpetlike Riverlike Vocal Chords
I love this note. Because earlier John said that the voice was like a trumpet. And then at the end of verse 15 he says, “his voice was like the sound of rushing waters.”
What’s the deal? Can John not tell the difference between the sound of trumpet and the sound of a river? Nope.
John’s just in such shock at the other worldly voice of this being that he is struggling for metaphors.
The voice is that amazing.
(7) Star Grasping
Verse 16 records, “In his right hand he held seven stars.” There is no distinction here.
It doesn’t say, “In his right hand were seven things like stars.”
It doesn’t say, “Seven lights like stars.”
It doesn’t even say, “Seven shapes like stars.”
Legitimate, gas burning entities.
Three white dwarves.
Four red giants.
Four red dwarves
And three blue giants.
Regardless, the fact that this being has legitimate stars in his hands…
(8) The First & the Last
Because the voice speaks again and said this: “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last.” (v.17)
Think about that.
The voice says He is the First.
As in before all the sun.
As in before the moon.
As in before the earth.
As in before Adam.
As in before Eve.
As in before everything.
And the voice says He is the Last.
As in after the sun.
As in after the moon.
As in after the earth.
As in after all Adams.
And after all Eve.
As in after everything.
(9) Formerly Dead
The voice continues, “I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive for ever and ever!” (v.18)
How many people do you know who are dead? Lots.
How many people do you know who are dead, but then came back to life?
Did you know the Bible records at least 9?
The widow of Zarephath’s son…dead; brought back to life.
The Shunnamite woman’s son…dead; brought back to life.
A random Israelite body…dead; brought back to life.
The young daughter of Jairus…dead; brought back to life.
The young man at Nain…dead; brought back to life.
Jesus’ friend Lazarus…dead; brought back to life.
Tabitha, the faithful church widow…dead; brought back to life.
Eutychus, the sleepy church goer…dead; brought back to life.
But did you know…
All those people died again.
There’s only one.
Only one who died.
came back to life.
And stayed alive.
This letter is from JESUS.
The one who lived for you.
The one who died for you.
The one who rose for you.
The one who lives for you.
The one who protects you.
The one who rules all things for you.
The one who will take care of you.
The one who will bring you home to heaven.
The one who will grant you eternal life.
This is a letter from Jesus Christ himself!
III. The Recipients
But there’s more. Look at the people to whom Jesus wrote this letter:
Jesus said, “Write, therefore, what you have seen, what is now and what will take place later. 20 The mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand and of the seven golden lampstands is this: The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.”
And to be fair John mentions the seven churches that will receive the letter earlier. The churches of Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea. (v.11)
Numbers are important in Revelation.
A few numbers come up frequently.
3 is the number of God. It represents the Triune God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
4 is the number of humanity. It’s close to God, but not quite. It represents the four corners of the earth that humans live upon.
7 is the sum of the two. It represents God in communion with humanity. It represents where God graciously connects with the souls he loves. It represents the place where God brings sinful lost humans into his family.
We’re talking about the Church.
Here’s the truth:
This is a letter written to YOU.
These letters are important.
Because they are written to YOU.
And they have been preserved for YOU.
And they are being proclaimed to YOU.
And these words are from Jesus for YOU.
IV. What Now?
There is no letter you have ever received more important.
No letter you’ve ever received with more value.
No letter you have ever received that comes from a higher place than these letters from Jesus himself.
Make sure you’re here.
If you can’t be, listen online.
Don’t miss the very important words of Jesus himself.
He loves you.
He cares for you.
He has a message for you, dear church.
Today we are continuing our series called The Kingdom of God is Like. It’s a series all about parables. Parables are short earthly stories that teaching about the eternal kingdom of God. So far, we have heard that the kingdom of God is like buried treasure—which, to be fair, seems like a very flattering comparison.
Treasure is valuable
Treasure is beautiful.
Treasure is worth selling anything and everything to make yours.
Treasure seems like a great comparison for God’s kingdom.
We compare God’s kingdom to a fishing net.
Fishing nets are stinky.
Fishing nets are smelly.
Fishing nets come with those some of those little algae goobers encrusted on around the edge.
It’s not as flattering of a comparison.
Why is God’s kingdom like a fishing net? Before we look at this strange comparison which teaches us some very important truths about God’s kingdom, a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is the truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; open our ears to hear what you want us to hear; open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. 1st Century Fishing
Jesus’ parable is from the parable-filled Matthew 13. It comes right after the parable of the treasure and stands in stark contrast to it. Remember – each parable emphasizes a different aspect of the Kingdom of God. The parable of the Treasure reveals the value of God’s kingdom; the parable of the net reveals methodology.
Look at what the parable says:
Once again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was let down into the lake and caught all kinds of fish. When it was full, the fishermen pulled it up on the shore. Then they sat down and collected the good fish in baskets, but threw the bad away. (v.47-48)
Anybody here go fishing? Nowadays fishing consists of packing up a rod and reel, stopping by the local bait shop, picking out a nice, big juicy earthworm (or maybe a wriggly, black leech), then heading out to the local pond, casting, stopping to untangle the line from the tree branch behind you, casting again, watching as your line drifts into the middle of the lake…and then…
And waiting some more.
Eventually some fish grabs the hook, line and sinker.
You pull him in and…
If he’s an acceptable length and weight – you keep him.
If not …plop!
If it’s a delicious looking salmon, in the basket.
If it’s a creepy looking dogfish, not so much.
Back at Jesus’ time, the fishing is a bit different. Fishermen would drag their nets to the shore and paddle to the middle of the lake. Then, they’d toss a weighted net overboard. Then, slowly they’d move along with the waves, while their net dragged against the bottom collecting any and every fish that happened to get in the way of the net. When they’re done fishing, they pull up the ropes, cinch the corners and pull the net up.
But here’s the thing:
Can you tell which fish are bad?
Can you tell which fish are good?
Can you tell which fish are future 5-star restaurant menu items?
And which fish belong on some Discovery Channel documentary on deep sea monsters?
No. It’s too much of a jumbled-up mess!
So…what do the fishermen do?
They take the net back to the shore.
They open the net and begin separating:
Too much like Uncle Joe…
Fishing at Jesus’ time required a lot of sorting. But…
The fish cannot be sorted from the good from the bad while they are in the net; rather they are sorted when the fishing is finished.
II. A Priceless Treasure
But remember – this is a parable.
Parables are short earthly stories that teach about the kingdom of God.
Things are about to get real.
Real and a bit uncomfortable.
Look at the meaning of the parable:
This is how it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come and separate the wicked from the righteous and throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. (v.49-50)
At first glance, this might seem to be another parable.
The parable of the furnace…
But – let’s be clear: The second half of the parable the part about the blazing furnace and the angels, that’s not the illustration part.
It’s the explanation.
It’s not an illustration, but the reality.
In fact, this parable is all about realities.
Realities that are quite uncomfortable.
(1) Hypocrisy is Real
Because… that dragging net represents the kingdom of God at work. And there is no greater representation of the kingdom of God at work than visible local churches.
In a church, God’s Word is proclaimed.
In a church, people are baptized.
In a church, people celebrate the Lord’s Supper.
In a church, people pool resources to go and plant the Message of Jesus in the Hearts of North Raleigh.
In a church, God’s kingdom is at work.
And when God’s kingdom is at work, it’s like a big old net that collects people of all type and varieties.
Big and small.
Young and old.
Black and white.
Tarheel fans, Wolfpack fans and Duke fans.
But most importantly to this parable…
People that are a part of God’s kingdom.
And people that only look like it.
NOW STOP! Immediately. Because what some of you are about to do is quietly, sheepishly raise your finger and slyly point at someone else here. “Pastor, I think it’s him…”
NOPE. That’s not the point.
In fact, the point is the exact opposite. Because remember – while the net is in use – that is, while the people of God are using God’s Word – it’s impossible to see which are true believers and which are hypocrites.
It’s kinda like trying to identify which fish are good and which fish are bad when they’re still in the net.
You won’t be able to tell who’s a hypocrite and who isn’t in a church simply by looking at them.
You won’t be able to tell most hypocrites simply by looking at them.
But there is one person in the church…
That you should be able to identify as good or bad.
You know you.
You know your heart.
You know if your heart is following Jesus or if this is all just some big show.
Something you do because your parents told you to do.
Something you do so pastor will get off your back.
When it comes to facing the reality of hypocrisy, it doesn’t start by looking into the world…
Or looking into another Christian church…
Or looking at other people in this church…
It starts by looking in your heart.
(2) The End is Real
The second reality has less to do with now and more to do with later.
Take a look at Jesus’ words – This is how it will be at the end of the age. (v.49) He then goes on to describe angels, divine, holy messengers of God – no longer invisible – fully and completely perceptible - picking people up like fish and separating them.
If you are a hypocrite, you need to pay very close attention to this section.
Because, truth is, you might be able to fool other Christians.
You might be able to fool them with a fish sticker on the back of your car and “Christian” listed on your Facebook profile’s religious preference.
You might be able to fool others at church.
You might be able to fool me.
You can’t fool God.
And at the end, you will be separated.
And placed wherever it is you belong.
And can I say something obvious? There’s one place that you don’t want to be your final destiny.
(3) Hell is Real
Look at the description of where the bad fish go:
“The blazing furnace where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (v.50)
Notice. The verbs are present tense.
Notice. The verbs are continuous.
That’s because this is eternal.
Stop – real quick – because the devil is doing everything possible right now to make you say:
“Pastor has gone off the deep end. Pastor is talking all mean like. Pastor is saying thing I wish he wouldn’t.”
I am because I love you.
And I don’t want you to go to this very real and very awful place.
But more importantly Jesus loves you.
After all, look at whose words about hell these are:
The same guy who told the blind guy to see…and he did.
The same guy who told the deaf guy to hear…and he did.
The same guy who told the lame guy to walk…and he did.
The same guy who told the storms to stop…and they did.
The same guy who told the Pharisees to go ahead and kill him because he would come back to life…
And they did…
And he did.
Jesus has street cred.
Whatever he says will happen, will happen.
And to those who reject Him?
This hell thing?
(4) Good Fish are Real
I’m not gonna lie.
Thus far this is one of the least uplifting sermons of all time.
Because – if we are talking about bad fish – how do you not begin to be filled with absolute fear!
We are sinners.
All of us.
And I am included!
I’m like some ugly carp at the bottom of a mutant ooze infested landfill with three eyeballs where his gill should be.
I’m gross and my sins are gross.
I think -- There is no reason that God would ever want to collect me in his basket and take me to heaven!
Here’s something interesting. When Jesus uses the word “end” here in verse 50, he uses the word: syntelia. That’s a form of the world telos which means: the end.
The end is when judgment will happen.
The end is when God will bring justice against sinners.
Now – here’s where things get really interesting.
Because about a year and a half after Jesus spoke this parable --
Jesus spoke something else.
On the cross.
Right before he died.
Which is the exact same root words that Jesus used in our parable to denote the end times.
IT IS FINISHED.
In other words, judgment has happened! From God’s perspective – Jesus has been judged as the bad fish.
And you – friends—you have been judged righteous.
Think about that!
We are sinners.
We are filled with a yucky past.
We are grody to the touch.
Yet because of what Jesus has done, you have been declared GOOD.
Ready to take home in the take basket.
And understand this point too:
We are not judged by our good merits.
We are not judged by our good deeds.
We are not judged by our good tries.
We are judged entirely by what Jesus did for us on the cross!
And we are judged righteous.
And by faith in Jesus, we are the good fish!
We will not be thrown out.
We will be collected and taken home.
(5) Heaven is Real
Because that’s what the good fish have to look forward to.
This parable just touches the surface of it. It says that the good fish, will be placed into baskets.
But what it doesn’t say is that those baskets have someone’s name written on the handle.
They have someone’s name written in Black, Permanent Marker.
Because the good fish – that is – those made holy by faith in Jesus Christ – will be brought to God’s home.
The kingdom of righteousness.
The home of peace.
And unlike this world --
With danger lurking on every corner…
And predators chasing after us…
And giant waves of life hitting us again and again…
Heaven is peaceful.
Heaven is a place of forgiveness.
Heaven is a place of peaceful rest.
Heaven is yours.
Friends! Praise the Lord for being caught in the net and taken home to heaven. Amen.
Do you have anyone coming over for the holidays? Family? Friends? Third cousins twice removed? Ever notice how your preparation for guests depends on who the guest is?
For instance, if my mom is coming to visit I’ll deep clean the house, strategically place photographs of my family on all of the walls, and make sure that there are only organic, Gluten free, healthy food choices lining our shelves.
It's different with my college buddies. No cleaning required, a couple of old WWF DVDs on hand, and a bunch of bags of Doritos ready for supper—and lunch.
What if Jesus was coming to your house? What would you do? Throw out your explicit rap CDs? Dust a few Bibles off their shelves and place them opened on the tables? Print off some inspirational Scripture verses and hang them on your wall? ("I always have these up Jesus!") Train your live in boyfriend to say, “No, I’m just stopping by for a visit. I don’t live here.” What would you do if Jesus was coming?
Guess what? Jesus is coming. He’s coming for you! Take a look at Revelation 22. It’s our final vision and in this vision John sees and hears Jesus saying this, “Behold, I am coming soon!” Listen to the words that John hear from Jesus himself:
Take a look at that first phrase. Notice that adverb. “Soon.” That’s very nonspecific, isn’t it? The Packer game will happen soon. Thanksgiving is coming soon. Christmas is coming soon. This sermon might get done…’soon.’
Since it is so general, I fear we can often delay getting ready. But that's not smart NOR is it what Jesus wants us to do. The word implies urgency. Jesus is very specific. He is coming soon. Not later. Not after a while. Not after a delay. “I am coming soon.” Whether he comes for you specifically to take you to heaven OR whether returns on the Last Day – Jesus wants you to be ready, because either one of those things could happen at any time.
Now you might be thinking, “So what? Why should I prepare to see Jesus? What’s the big deal? What makes him any different than preparing to see my dentist?” The next part of the text gives us three reasons why Jesus coming is a big deal. Look at verses 12-13, “My reward is with me, and I will give to each person according to what they have done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.”
1) Jesus is Bringing an Awesome Reward
Whenever my grandma visits, she always brings gifts. Specifically, she always bring Chex Mix. It’s delicious. So…when I know she is coming, I get excited for such an awesome gift.
What is Jesus’ gift? It’s better than Chex Mix. It’s heaven! Remember last week’s sermon – Heaven is a pretty sweet gift. Heaven means no more evil. Heaven means no more sin. Heaven means Jesus is completely and absolutely victorious forever. Heaven means Jesus wins. Heaven means no more temptation, no more fear, no more guilt, and no more pain! Heaven means that Jesus rules and we are servants in his kingdom. Heaven means people of all races, nations, and cultures joining together in one loud continuous Hallelujah to the King!
Heaven is awesome. It’s the awesome gift Jesus brings. Since he is the Alpha and Omega, the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet, Jesus is in control of all things. He's the start of all things. He is the end of all things. He alone is the reason that you have life on this earth. He alone will be the reason that anyone has life in heaven!
Heaven is not too difficult of a gift for Jesus to produce.
2) This Reward Depends on What You have Done
Look at what verse 12 reminds us, “I will give to each person according to what they have done.” Simply put. God will give you heaven if you have earned it.
Remember the old Raisin Bran commercials? They said, “You deserve to scoops of Raisin Bran.” And maybe you do. Maybe you smile enough to deserve two scoops of oats and raisins. But…what about heaven? Have you done enough to earn it? Have you done enough to earn an eternity of evil-less, joyful existence with the perfect and all holy God?
Look at what happens if you haven't done enough to earn heaven in verse 15, “Outside are the dogs, those who practice magic arts, the sexually immoral, the murderers, the idolaters and everyone who loves and practices falsehood.”
Being outside of heaven isn’t where anyone wants to be. Time to rethink your actions.
3) This Reward Depends on The King’s Opinion
Now it’s real easy to hear that declaration and think, “I’m fine. God and I are good. I’m in a decent position to get to heaven.”
But consider verse 13. Jesus says, “I am the Alpha and the Omega. The First and the Last. The Beginning and the End.” There is no one else who has the authority he does. No one ever has. No one ever will. He is the one who always has ruled. He is the one who is ruling right now. He is the one who will rule into eternity.
Despite what the world wants you to think: YOU ARE NOT IN CHARGE. You never have been. You never will be. You aren’t in charge of your life. You aren’t in charge of whether your morality was good enough. You aren’t in charge of if you should be let into heaven.
If that were the case, we'd have hundreds of billions of different standards of morality each being declared by one person (the one who lived that morality) as "good enough."
Your opinion doesn’t count when it comes to whether you should get into heaven or not. That matter is decided by God himself.
Brothers and sisters, do you see the urgency? You don’t know when Jesus is coming and when he comes he will only hand out the reward of heaven to you if you have done enough good in his own eyes!!!!
So, stop putting this off. Stop waiting to get ready for Jesus "until I get older, have kids, and it's important for them." Get ready now!
How? How do you get ready to meet this Eternal, all Holy King when he returns? It has nothing to do with cleaning up your house or making a nice pie. It has everything to do with making sure your spiritual self is right with God. And there is only one way to do that. Look at verse 14 “Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life and may go through the gates into the city."
Certain places enforce a strict dress code. Private schools might require students to wear a polo and khakis. A fancy restaurant might require a tie. Most gas stations require you to wear shoes and a shirt.
What do you need to wear to get into heaven? A clean life worn like a beautiful robe. As you might have noted, our sins sully our clothes. They set in deep. They are impossible to remove. Our clothing is filthy and grimy like the clothing of one of those Spartan Races who trudges through a mud obstacle.
But blessed are those who wash their robes.
Jesus' robes weren't white. Not on Good Friday. On Good Friday, they were stained by the blood of brutal beatings, the dirt of falling on the ground, and the sweat of a failing body.
But what happened to His clothing on the outside, is nothing compared to the staining that happened to his soul on the inside.
He took on your guilt.
He took on your sin.
He took on your impossible to get out stains.
And He got rid of them.
Blessed are those who wash their robes. Not in Tide. Not in bleach. Not in their own efforts. But in the blood of the Lamb. The blood of our Savior. Because in Jesus, the dirtiness of our sinful addictions is washed off. In the waters of baptism, the slime of sexual sin is removed. The blood of our Lord penetrates even the deepest stains of pride and completely clean us off! Then, with faith in Jesus as your Savior, you wear Jesus’ perfect life as your clean, white robe. You are dressed appropriately “You may go through the gates into the city.”
How is that last statement so confident? Through faith in Jesus I will be in heaven!?! How can anyone possibly say it so confidently?
Because they have been cleaned to the specifications of the one in charge of setting the cleanliness specifications for heaven!
Think about it: In your household, who does the best job on the dishes? It’s usually mom, right? Mom is picky about those dishes being clean. She doesn’t want any smudges on the glasses or an crusty food in the corner of the oatmeal bowl. So when mom does the dishes, there are no send backs. Every dish is clean. Every dish passes her inspection and specifications.
Similarly, the one who determines whether you are ‘holy’ and able to enter heaven – is also the one who promises in Scripture to clean up your sin filled life and makes it Holy. He promises “I really hate sin and I really demand perfection. So I’m gonna do this myself. I’m going to live perfectly. I’m going to die innocently. I’m going to rise triumphantly. Then, you will put your faith in me. And with your faith in me, all of your sin will be removed. You will fit my standard of cleanliness…You will be perfect.”
By the way, THIS IS ALL TRUTH!
Look at what Jesus says next in verse 16, “I, Jesus, have sent my angel to give you this testimony for the churches.” It’s important that Jesus says this. It’s so easy to doubt the message of sins forgiven and the promise of Jesus’ righteous robes covering our sinful flesh. But look at these words again! This isn’t something the pastor made up. It is a message from Jesus himself. Remember: Jesus gave this message to John who wrote it down and who had his scroll copied at which point a translator translated it, then printers printed it, Biblegateway put up a web page, our church secretary copy and pasted and then printed, I presented and you read it. But it still came from Jesus! Your King! The Alpha and Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End…the one who has the authority to make such powerful declarations again and again: He is the One who speaks this message to you!
Get Ready! Consider what the last couple of verses mean for your preparation:
1) He is The ROOT…so stay connected to Him. Just like a root sucks up nutrients and passes them on to the rest of the plants, so Jesus nourishes all who are connected to him. And the connecting point? That’ s faith. Through faith he nourishes you for your everyday life. He strengthens you with the peace of sins forgiven, the love of God the Father, and the promise of eternal life.
2) He is The Offspring of David…so say prayers to Him. David was a king. So was Jesus. Kings listen to requests. Jesus will listen to yours too. Whatever your requests may be, feel free to lay them at the feet of your king. He is always in charge. Always on the throne. Always accepting these requests – no matter when, no matter how much, no matter how great! Keep talking to your King – and you’ll stay ready for Jesus’ return.
3) He is the BRIGHT MORNING STAR…so gaze on his beauty. See the aurora borealis of salvation. Look at the bright sunlight of salvation. Gaze at the beauty of his bloodstained brow. Marvel at the joy of the cross. Take time each day…take time later this afternoon to appreciate just what Jesus had done for you. Don’t look away from Jesus and you’ll stay ready for his kingly return.
4) Come. Come. This is a message not only from Jesus, but also from the Spirit – the Holy Spirit himself, also true God – and the bride, that is the church, all the saints in heaven cheering down to you – say, “Come!” But come where? Come to Heaven, certainly! But heaven comes through the message of Jesus. Thus, again, the Bible – Jesus – the Holy Spirit—and the Christian church encourages you – come and learn at the feet of Jesus. Come to Bible study. Come to devotion. Come to church. Come to the radio. Come to WELS Daily devotions. Come to our website to check up on sermons. Come. Come anywhere you can hear the message of Jesus!
5) Tell others to Come! Literally it says, “Let the one who hears say, “Come!” Did you hear? Good. Then say “Come!” Tell your family. Tell your friends. Literally tell them to come to church with you next week. Do it! The message that Jesus is literally that fantastic!
In fact, now that I think about it, why wait? Why wait for Jesus to come? His gifts are so awesome – forgiveness, peace, love, and joy. Why wait for him to come?
Why not come to him...now?!?
Jesus says this, “Let the one who is thirsty come" – thirsty for forgiveness? Come. Thirsty for peace? Come. Thirsty for purpose? Come. Thirsty for love? Come. Thirsty for salvation? Come. Come…and take, "take the free gift of the water of life.”
So what are you waiting for? Jesus is coming soon, but why wait?
Why not come to Him now!?!
Last week we took a glimpse into the future. We saw that every human being will have to face the Ancient of Days – God himself as judge – a judge who absolutely hates sin and absolutely punishes it with eternity in hell. But we also saw that because of our awesome lawyer—Jesus Christ, we will be acquitted—pronounced guiltless and sent to heaven!
So…are you excited? Are you excited for heaven?
Maybe you’re thinking, “Sure, I guess. I mean…it’s better than the other options, but...I'm certainly in no hurry to go. I like life here. I’d miss building my career. I’d miss Pumpkin Spice Lattes. I’d miss Sunday afternoon football. I’d miss the sweet deal I got on Hulu Plus. Can you connect to the internet in heaven? I know it's in the clouds, but does it have The Cloud? Otherwise how am I going to keep my iPhone apps updated?”
But seriously, won’t I miss my friends? Won’t I miss my job? Won’t I miss my family? I don’t see how dying and going to heaven can be all that great of a thing to look forward to.
It’s too sad a thought.
What's heaven like? Today let's take a look at our second vision of the end. It’s from Revelation chapter 19. It’s actually, literally, a glimpse into heaven. See if you can decipher the tone:
"After this I heard what sounded like the roar of a great multitude in heaven shouting: “Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God, for true and just are his judgments. He has condemned the great prostitute who corrupted the earth by her adulteries. He has avenged on her the blood of his servants.
“Hallelujah! The smoke from her goes up for ever and ever.”
4 The twenty-four elders and the four living creatures fell down and worshiped God, who was seated on the throne. And they cried: “Amen, Hallelujah!”
“Hallelujah! For our Lord God Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory!" (19:1-6)
One word echoes throughout that section. “Hallelujah!”. It’s a Hebrew word. It literally means, “Praise to the Lord.” And this should give you a clue as to the atmosphere of heaven. Because “Hallelujah,” is not a word that you shout on sad occasions. It’s not appropriate when your football team gets blown out or your girlfriend breaks up with you.
Hallelujah is a word of the utmost excitement and praise and notice who’s saying it? A great multitude! That’s a lot. Think of all the football stadiums in America being filled to the brim with people and then some. That’s how many people are geeking out excited to be in heaven!
Ok. So why? Why is this heaven so great? Why is everyone so excited?
Look no farther than our text for the answer. Because these verses list 4 separate Hallelujahs for 4 different reasons – each one is so awesome, it’ll make you want to shout Hallelujah on this earth!
Verse 1 gives the reason for it, “Salvation and glory and power belong to our God, for true and just are his judgments." This is something that we heard about last week. God is holy. He is just. He punishes evil. But this part of Revelation gets specific: "He has condemned the great prostitute who corrupted the earth by her adulteries. He has avenged on her the blood of his servants!”
Who is he judging? “The Great Prostitute.” And this isn’t referring to an actual person. Literally in the Greek it says, “The Great Porn!” What an awful nickname, huh? It’s disgusting really.
The Great Prostitute desserves that disgusting nickname. Because it refers to evil itself. It’s a reference to the evil that is on this earth.
Why then are the people in heaven so happy? Because evil has been judged! It has gotten it’s due. God has no longer remained silent, but has destroyed the great evils of this earth.
This is something to be thrilled about? Will you really miss porn and how it ruins your marriage? Will you really miss drunkenness and how it ruins your relationships? Will you miss drugs? Murder? Angry Facebook posts that drive a stake between you and your friends? Will you miss the messiness that comes with sex outside marriage? Will you miss the lies, betrayal, and gossip of the office?
BOTTOMLINE: Will you really miss anything bad? If the answer is…"yes, I will miss my porn! I will miss my Jack Daniels. I will miss not getting to see the next episode of Scandal." You've got your priorities all mixed up!
But it's more than just evil. The thing is that evil is personified in this verse. Evil is not a concept in existence on its own. Evil needs people to do it. Evil is done by evildoers. Then, this is an absolutely Biblical truth too: In order for evil to be judged, evildoers must be judged too!
Right away, you might feel a twinge of happiness! All evildoers will be judged to hell. And there’s a long list of people that most people agree to be evil – Terrorists. Angry Atheists. Serial killers. Rapists. Abortion Doctors. False Prophets. Racists.
But that’s not enough for God. God hates all evil. Not just some. All evil. Listen to 1 Corinthians 6:9, “Do you not know that evil people will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor people who tell lies nor deceivers will inherit the kingdom of God!”
So. You’ve got to add to your list of evildoers that will be judged – White lie tellers. Rumor spreaders. Government grumblers. Yelling at wife-ers. Not every Sunday church goers. Four letter word sayers. Sleeping with my girlfriend guys. Living with my boyfriend girls. Once in awhile porn lookers. “Think-that-they-are-better-than-others-because-they-didn’t-hear-a-sin-that-they-currently-do-on-this-list” –ers.
Panicking a little right now? Thinking: “Hey I do some of those things. I am a sinner. I’ve done evil! How can anyone be saved?"
Let me share with you the rest of 1 Corinthians 6:11 “Evil is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of your Lord Jesus Christ.” You were washed clean of sin in the waters of Baptism. You were sanctified and brought to faith in your Lord and Savior. You were justified--declared innocent of all evil doing by Jesus, Your Lord.
Brothers and sisters, that "you" is YOU! Jesus died for you. He suffered God’s angry judgment against your evil deeds on the cross. Through faith in Jesus, the crowd cheering in Revelation 19, that will be you.
You'll be cheering because you’ll be seeing it clearly. Seeing sin for what it was – an awful infection that leads to pain, sorrow, and death AND seeing God for who he is – your incredibly loving, awesome, undefeated Lord who experienced the awful pain and sorrow of sin as he gave up his life on the cross in order to get you a new life in heaven from sin, pain, and sorrow!
CAN I GET A HALLELUJAH!?!?
The crowd in heaven. Future “you” in heaven continues the celebration. Read verse 3, “And again they shouted: “Hallelujah! The smoke from her goes up for ever and ever.”
Anybody ever played a Mario Bros. video game? Ever beaten Bowser, the big bad guy? Here’s the thing about Bowser, he’s persistent. He always comes back. You might have to beat him three or four times in the game and then there’ll be another money making game on the next entertainment system on which you have to beat him all over again.
Sometimes evil feels like that. It always comes back. There’s always bad news on the TV. One evildoer might get locked up for another evildoer to strike. One school shooting, then another. One terrorist bombing, then another. One murder, then another.
In heaven? That’s all over. “The smoke--from evil being smoted by God – goes up forever and ever.” There is no return! Evil is conquered. This victory by our awesome God is permanent! There is no sequel. There is no part two. There is no To Be Continued!
God wins; the end!
CAN I GET A HALLELUJAH!?!?
Our third Hallleujah builds on that last one. Take a look at verse 4, “The twenty four elders and the four living creatures fell down and worshiped God, who was seated on the throne. And they cried; “Amen, Hallelujah!”
Amen. Ever heard that word before? We say it at the end of our prayers. It means “This is the truth! So shall it be.”
The truth is that God is victorious and evil has lost. So the struggle is over:
No more temptation! No more getting distracted at the gym by ‘sexiness’ of someone else’s workout gear. No more smell of vodka that sends you into shakes unless you have a drink. No more waking up every morning, promising to fight off temptation, and then quickly losing your temper because someone ate all the Pop Tarts and feeling the guilt that goes along with another battle lost. TEMPTATION IS GONE!
No more fear! No more threats of terrorism. No more Ebola. No more AIDS. No more Cancer. No more poverty. No more not having enough money. No more gang violence near your house. No more getting worried that your alcoholic relative will call you at two in the morning to scream violently at you. No more fear! FEAR IS GONE!
No more guilt. No more waking up in the middle of the night with dreams of when you did something awful. No more reminders on Facebook of relationships that you have soured. No more nervousness to talk to people in church, because you wronged them once upon a time. GUILT IS GONE!
CAN I GET A HALLELUJAH!?!?
Then, verse 5, “A voice came from the throne saying: “Praise our God, all you his servants, you who fear him, both small and great!” That’s everybody. Long time believers and new believers. Young kids and mature adults, Caucasian Americans, African Americans, Asian Americans, Latino American – Duke fan Americans, State fan Americans, even Tarheel fan Americans—even non American! All believers in Christ will get to experience this awesome release from evil and they will join together for one final awesome celebration. One final hearty, incredible HALLELUJAH!
And listen to how much louder this one will be, “Then I heard what sounded like a great multitude, like the roar of rushing waters and like loud peals of thunder, shouting: Hallelujah! For our Lord God Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory!”
Of course, God has always been in charge. He has been in the past and is right now. But…it doesn’t always look like it, does it? Not when evil is in the streets, immorality is the law of the land, and governments across the world are corrupt.
But in heaven, there will be no doubts AND there will be no other ruler. God himself will reign and be with his people!
That means there will be no corrupt governments. No immoral media forcing us to accept sin. No peer pressure forcing us to tolerate evil. No anger taking control of our words. No addictions taking control of our actions. NOTHING and NO ONE in control but GOD!
God who is all powerful! God is all good! God who loves you with his dying divine breath!
CAN I GET A HALLELUJAH!?!? Rejoice and be glad and give God glory!
Sometimes I wonder. What are my Grandpas doing in heaven?
What about my Grandpa Dave? Maybe he’s eating handfuls of my Grandma’s famous Chex mix? Maybe he’s driving a semi truck? Cheering for Cornhusker football?
Then there’s Grandpa Kiecker. Maybe he’s driving a tractor to plow the fields for the next supply of heavenly corn? Maybe he’s a model for heavenly overalls? Maybe he is in charge of tweaking of entrant into heaven nose and pretending like he took it off with his thumb.
Honestly. I don’t know exactly. But what I do know. What I know is this: In heaven, with God, they couldn’t be happier.
Maybe you’ve got a Grandpa Dave or a Grandpa Kiecker—a beloved believer in Christ.
Know this: We might not know just what they’re doing right now, but we do know this: In heaven with God, they couldn’t be happier!
And one day – through faith in Jesus Christ – you will be the same kind of happy right with them.
Can I get a Hallelujah!?! AMEN.
Do you ever get nervous about what’s going to happen to you in the future? Will you get a good grade on the test? Will you ever make enough money to pay the bills? Will you ever get your dream job? Will you ever find the right guy to marry? Will you get cancer? Will you get ebola? How long will you live? Will you be happy?
It’s nerve racking to think about the future. The reason is that we don’t know what the future holds!
Except…sometimes, we do.
We know exactly what will happen.
Normally when we gather together on a Sunday morning for worship, we discuss things that have already happened. The Israelites sinned; God punished; they repented. Jesus lived; Jesus died; and Jesus rose. But this Sunday we’re going to begin a three week series where we take a different glimpse at the timeline. Instead of looking back, we’re going to look forward. Through the eyes of the prophets, we will look not into the past, but into the future.
Nervewracking? Maybe, not as much as you think.
Our first glimpse into the future comes from Daniel. He’s the guy who was in the lion’s den last week, but God kept him safe. So you know…Daniel was on God’s good side. In fact, the following vision takes place before the Lion’s Den. Again, you know it’s going to be truth…otherwise God would have let those lion’s tear him to pieces in response to any lies Daniel had written down.
But since God protected Daniel, we know God was also protecting the truth. Here is the truth God revealed to Daniel about the future.
In his vision, Daniel saw 4 beats rise up out of the earth. One looked like a winged lion; one was like a flesh eating bear; one was like a leopard, and was a giant, iron crushing beast that was so destructive it was hard to describe.
But suddenly, all of these beasts stop their destruction. They stop their fighting. Because someone more incredible than any type of creature J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings could never come up with what had appeared. Daniel describes it this way:
As I looked, thrones were set in place, and the Ancient of Days took his seat. His clothing was as white as snow; the hair of his head was white like wool. His throne was flaming with fire, and its wheels were all ablaze. A river of fire was flowing, coming out from before him. Thousands upon thousands attended him; ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him. The court was seated, and the books were opened. (Daniel 7:9-10)
Wow. It’s amazing, isn’t it? Despite the destruction, despite the scariness of these beasts, they are nothing compared to this judge. He commands their attention and they stop.
Why does the world stop for him? You’ll find the answer in who that judge is. Look at the clues in the text:
1) He’s Experienced.
Verse nine calls him, “The Ancient of Days.” Ancient means “around a long time.” He’s garnered respect with his judgments in the past since the Genesis of the world.
In fact, Genesis – the first book of the Bible – records some judgments made against sinners. A flood to destroy the blood thirsty, unbelieving people at the time of Noah, a confusion of language for the proud who wanted to build a tower to heaven, fire from heaven to burn up the sexually deviant of Sodom and Gomorrah.
The judge in question judged then AND he will judge in the future.
2) He’s Holy.
Look at what the judge is wearing: “Clothing as white as snow; hair as white like wool.” This isn't written down to tell us that the judge was a clean freak. Nor it is a quick subliminal message in the Bible for Clorox bleach.
The truth is that the color white in the Bible – pure white, not beige – stands for purity.
The point then is not that the judge is a certain race. The point is that the judge is pure! He is without sin. He is without corruption. He is holy. He doesn't accept bribes. He doesn't let things slide. He doesn't let people off easy. He uphold the Law.
3) He’s Powerful.
If you’ve ever been to a court room, you’ll notice the judge’s seat is very professional looking. It usually has a large back and is very ornate. The higher up you get in court the more ornate. Supreme court? Rich mohagany, right?
Look at what this judge’s throne is made of. Look at verse 10 it says, “His throne was flaming with fire, and its wheels were all ablaze. A river of fire was flowing, coming out from before him.”
You ever sat down on fire before? Me neither.
This shows you the power of this judge. He is not some guy phoning into the police that “the kids are on my lawn again,” whom the police ignore, and the man remains powerless to stop these kids.
This is a judge who has a river of fire at his disposal. And then, just so that we get a real clear picture of his power, listen to how verse ten continues, “Thousands upon thousands attended him; ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him.”
Of course, if you saw him riding his river of fire, it’d probably be in your best interest to serve him, right?
Then, perhaps the scariest thing happens. The judge opens the books. Court is in session. It’s time for this all powerful, completely holy, no nonsense, all experienced, fire wielding judgment judge to put men on trial.
“Boy,” I bet your thinking, “I’d hate to be the bloke who got stuck with him as the judge for his trial.”
Umm. Here’s the truth. You…are…that…bloke.
Because this judge, Daniel reveals later in chapter 7, is “the Most High,” and those mythical beasts were none other than different kingdoms on earth. Each rules for a time, but then is that kingdom’s time is judged to be up. Judged by the ONE in control of it all….God.
And you…are a part of all nations. You too will have your time on earth come to an end. You too will be judged by God.
This is what Jesus recorded in our Gospel. On the Last Day God will separate the sheep from the goats…the righteous from the unrighteous. (Mt. 25:32) And he will do it, by looking at your deeds.
How do you think you’ll do? When you face the fire wielding, dressed in holiness, sin hating, history of judging with complete wrath Ancient of Days…how will that court session go?
Immediately, you might want to start gathering evidence for your case. Find the list of charity donations you've made in the past year. Print off photos of you doing nice things for your kids. Get a few signed testimonies from your coworkers about how nice you.
But then again, what can you do? You can’t delete your Internet History files. You can’t hide in a portion of the mountains where the satellites haven’t been trained to pick you up yet.
The judge is God. He knows all sin. He hates all sin.
This is not good news.
But here’s the thing. The Bible tells us more about this End Time Court room in the book of Revelation. Revelation 20 tells us that God actually will open two books. The first will contain all the deeds of unbelievers. Those who rejected their Savior. They will have to answer for all their deeds on their own.
Here’s a mystery. In Revelation 20 there is another book opened by God. This book is different. It’s shorter. It doesn’t contain deeds. It only contains names. It isn’t written in ink either. It is written in red. Blood red.
This is the book of Life and it is the only book that matters. For this is the book that Jesus promises to place the name of every believer in. Revelation 3:5 has this promise from Jesus, “He who overcomes will, like them, be dressed in white. I will never blot out his name from the book of life, but will acknowledge his name before my father and his angels.”
Do you get what’s going on here?
When someone is getting ready for court, it’s important to get your documents straight. It’s amazing how many times in People’s Court, someone may have a case, but they don’t bring any photos, any documents, any bills, nothing. Because you need proof. You need evidence to prove your innocence.
What do you need to prove your innocence before your Father? Only one thing. EXHIBIT A: An empty cross.
Remember what the Bible says, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace in Christ Jesus. (Romans 3:23) Justified is a courtroom term. It means “Declared not guilty.” And it means “Declared not guilty” by faith in the Son of God. Not by our works. Not by our trying harder. Not by our “not being so bad.” But by faith in Jesus, our Savior.
Understand then. This is your future. One day you will meet God. God will judge you at this meeting. If you choose to go to this meeting based on your own merit, you don’t stand a chance! But if you go with your Lord Jesus, well, you’ve got one awesome lawyer working for you. Through faith in Jesus you will be saved from condemnation and you will enjoy eternal life.
1) Sleep peacefully. You don’t have to convince God worthy of being saved. Jesus did that for you. He is your proof. He is the evidence God needs to set you free from eternal condemnation.
2) Live thankfully. If you just got off of death row, what would you do? Celebrate? Give thanks? Find the people you love and squeeze them real tight? Why not do the same thing this afternoon!?! You have just been taken off of spiritual death row! Celebrate. Go to Golden Corral. Give thanks to God!
3) Tell others about your awesome lawyer. Perhaps you’ve seen those commercials on TV for lawyers. The commercials have real people (you know they are real because of how bad the acting is), but these people are excited to share their story. They are excited because they had good lawyers and they want you to use the same good lawyers. There is no better lawyer than Jesus. And he doesn’t just save you from earthly lawsuits. He saves you from eternal punishment. Tell your friends about him. Pass this sermon onto your friends. Pass invites out to your friends. Tell them to come and hear about what Jesus will do for them.
Here’s the truth about the future. Nowhere in the Bible does it tell us who we’ll marry, where we’ll live, when we’ll retire, and when our favorite football team will win the Super Bowl again. The Bible doesn’t get into the specifics for such minimal things.
But when it comes to our eternal salvation the Bible is clear: God will judge you. But through faith in Jesus, right before he strikes the gavel, He will look at you, smile, and say something marvelous, “This one is innocent. They will enter paradise.” Amen.