Scripture
Revelation 2:1-7
Sermon Series
"JESUS SPEAKS TO HIS CHURCH"
Date
July 8, 2018
Speaker
Pastor Witt

 

 

Greeting: How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!

 

Text: 1) 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 lamp stands.  2) I know your deeds, your hard work, and your perseverance.  I know that you cannot tolerate wicked men, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false.  3) You have persevered and have endured hardships for My name, and have not grown weary.  4) Yet, I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love.  5) Remember the height from which you have fallen!   Repent and do the things you did a first.  If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lamp stand from its place.  6) But you have this in your favor: You hate the practices of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.  7) He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.   To him who overcomes, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.

 

Introduction: One of the great questions that comes to a person’s mind and soul is the question of God’s care.  Does God truly love us and care about us?  We can point to answers in several places.  We see it in God’s creation of the world, in God’s provision for His creatures, in Christ’s redemption of the world and in God’s encouraging instruction in His Word.  We find one of the most amazing sections of God’s encouraging instruction in chapters 2 and 3 of Revelation, the last book of the Bible.  During the months of July and August, we are going to take a very careful look at these chapters in which Jesus Christ reveals His special messages to the seven churches.

 

In these messages, Jesus briefly addresses seven Christian congregations in Asia Minor (which is in the modern-day country of Turkey).  He speaks at the end of the 1st century A.D. with words that apply to God’s believers of all time.   The letters to the churches contain portions of praise that commend believers for their faithful actions, sections of rebuke that point out a failure or danger that threaten spiritual life, points of admonition about things that must be changed and promises of blessing to encourage continued faithfulness.

 

The letters to the seven churches reveal Jesus Christ’s passionate interest in our spiritual welfare as we journey through a changing, challenging world.  His letters address the key concerns of our faith and life as God’s people.   Over the course of the summer, we will review these letters.  By the power of the Holy Spirit, we will listen carefully to what the loving Lord says to His people.

 

The first letter is addressed to the church in Ephesus.  What a place Ephesus was!  It was the largest city of Asia Minor and a place of great political, commercial, cultural and religious importance.  Ephesus was situated at the intersection of three major trade routes,   It was a top-tier city like Rome, Alexandria, and Antioch.  It was the center of pagan worship dedicated to Diana, the fertility goddess.   The great Temple of Diana was hailed as one of the seven wonders of the ancient world.   What a church Ephesus had!   The church was founded by Saint Paul on his 2nd missionary journey.   It was a center for significant evangelism.   The church was served by such gifted and dedicated pastors such as Timothy, Apollos and Father John.

 

At the start of His letter, Jesus greets the Ephesian Christians.  He reveals Himself as the Person in the vision that John had reported on in Revelation 1.  Jesus holds 7 stars in His right hand and walks among the lamp stands.  He is the Lord of the Church. The introduction shows us that Jesus is very concerned about His Church and is present and active with His believers.   Jesus reveals that He is more powerful than the powerful city of Ephesus.

 

As Jesus observes and analyzes His Church, He finds things to commend and praise.  1) The believers in Ephesus have worked hard for God.   They have endured great hardships.  They have not grown tired and weary of serving Him.  2) The believers also demonstrated that they would not tolerate wicked people.   They had tested and exposed false apostles who had tried to deceive them.   Jesus mentioned that they hated the teaching and practices of the Nicolaitans.   The Nicolaitans were a religious sect that taught that it was permissible for followers of Jesus Christ to make moral compromises with pagan religions and worldly culture.   They Nicolaitans insisted that a Christian could live any way he or she pleased without it affecting his/her relationship with God.   They condoned such things as the worship of idols and the committing of adultery).  They promoted the view that it was permissible for a person to accommodate sin rather than have to resist it.)  Jesus found much that pleased Him in the faith and life of the Ephesians.

 

As Jesus looks at His Martin Luther people in Saint Louis and His Christ Our Savior people in Collinsville, He can find similar things to praise in the life of His people.   He could say to us: “You have worked hard for Me.  You have endured troubles with grace.   You have given Me steady, reliable kingdom service.   You have a healthy intolerance for heretical teachings and practices.   You soundly reject sinful compromises.  All these things are good and are wonderful evidences and fruits of your faith.”  Oh, that we would continue to be fruitful in responding to His saving love and redeeming grace in these and other ways.

 

Jesus continues His words to the Ephesians with a key criticism: He says: “I have this against you.   You have forsaken your first love.  Remember the height from which you have fallen.”  The Lord had noticed a problem that had developed in the hearts of these believers He loved.  For their own good, He had to point it out to them.   The Ephesians had fallen into the dangerous spiritual condition called “loveless orthodoxy.”  They held the right beliefs, but they had the wrong spirit.   Their lips confessed the truth, but their hearts were lacking in love.

 

Jesus said of them and to them: “You have forsaken your first love.”   Their love for God and for people was much less than it used to be.   Their bodies were present, but their hearts were withdrawn.   They were operating more out of a sense of duty and habit than out of a sense of engaged concern and deep regard for the Lord, other believers and other people.   The lack and forsaking of the eager, earnest love is a tragedy and it is to be lamented.   A Christian named Angelus Silesius made this insightful comment on this loss of first love.   He said: “Alas.   Love is dead!  How could it perish?  No one has taken care of it.   It has died of cold neglect.”

 

Friends, this was the danger the Ephesians experienced.   It is also a danger we face.   It is a real danger.   It is a great danger!   It is very easy for a person, over time, to neglect and then to lose a deep, sincere love for God and for people.   The God who was once the great joy of our life is no longer our great delight.   The people for whom we once had such great affection are not longer a pleasure to be with.  The heart changes.   It becomes more distant and detached from God, colder and more calloused toward people.   It happens because the first love requires proper, continual tending.   The first love is injured when that tending is not given. It withers and dies of neglect.

 

The Lord of the Church and of our lives announces that a return to that first love is entirely possible and extremely necessary.   Jesus said to the Ephesians: “If you do not repent, I will remove your lamp stand from its place.”   He warns them if they do not turn from their loveless orthodoxy and recapture their first love for Him and for others, He will have to forsake them.  Then they and their church will perish.

 

How does one return to the first love condition?  The key is to regain a clear perspective on God and His love for us.  The person who loses the first love is like the driver who continues to drive without ever cleaning the windshield of his car.   The dirt and bugs and grime accumulate and build up and block out a clear, undistorted view of the road.   What a difference it makes when the driver takes the time to clean the glass thoroughly!   So for us, we may have some cleaning to do of the things that have accumulated that distort our view.   It may involve a humble assessment of ourselves as people who are slow or not so willing to understand that the way God directs our lives is not meant to harm or crush us, but to improve and strengthen us.   It may involve a willingness to patiently bear the weaknesses of others instead of impatiently chafing at them.   It may involve accepting God’s will instead of resisting it and forgiving others instead of resenting them.  It all comes down to heading God’s call to repent and then to remember the great and never-failing, never-decreasing first love that God has for us.

 

Charles Spurgeon offered this challenge and exercise to people to determine just how much God loved them.   He said: First go and measure the heavens with your ruler.  Then, go and weigh all the mountains of the world on your scale.  Then, go and count all the grains of sand on the shores of the earth’s lakes and oceans.  When you have finished, then you can tell how much God loves you.   He has loved you long.   He has loved you well.   He will love you forever.   To Spurgeon’s words, we might add.  Consider that Jesus Christ was willing to suffer and die for all of your sins so that you would not be forgotten or forsaken by God as you deserve, but would be forgiven and cherished always.

 

To encourage the Ephesians and us, Jesus promised: “To the one who overcomes, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life in the paradise of God.”  For those who will listen to their Lord and regain their first love,   Jesus promises the precious thing that Adam and Eve lost when they sinned.   He promises the right to live forever in paradise.   He promises the blessing and joy of living in God’s first love conditions forever.   May God give us ears that are ready and willing to hear His call and invitation to be renewed in our love.  May the Lord who loves you more than anything restore you and keep you in that first love condition of great delight in your God and deep affection for others.  Amen.