Friday, September 25, 2015

150927 Restore Lost Love or Perish!

Revelation 2:1-7 “To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: ‘The words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand, who walks among the seven golden lampstands.
“ ‘I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance, and how you cannot bear with those who are evil, but have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and found them to be false. I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name’s sake, and you have not grown weary. But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent. Yet this you have: you hate the works of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.’
As we look at the letters to the seven churches we need to remember that these letters did not come from John — they came through John! These letters came directly from God as shown to Jesus Christ and then to John the apostle. Yes, it says, “John to the seven churches…” But John is simply the human agent who saw these things and reported them. We should never for one moment forget that this is God’s word and these are God’s churches.
Actually this first letter is addressed to the “angel” of the church in Ephesus. The word here used and normally translated “angel” can mean “messenger”. There are some who believe that these “angels” are the pastors of the churches. I am not certain that would be correct but it is nice to know that there are, for each of the churches, an “angel” and that Jesus has direct communication with that being. I am inclined to believe that there are specific angels that are spiritual creatures directed by God. Jesus spoke about little children, “in heaven their angels always behold the face of my Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 18:10). We are not guaranteed that that means each child has an angel assigned to them but may simply mean that angels who watch out for children have direct contact with the Father. Here in Revelation it seems that each church has a designated “angel” who has such a secure contact with Jesus that he is in Jesus’ right hand. During his ministry on earth Jesus assured us that no one could take us out of his hand. It’s wonderful to know that the Lord Jesus himself holds our angel in his hand and that he circulates among the lampstands that represent the churches around the world. Jesus begins his communication to the churches with…
The church in Ephesus. It happens that the apostle Paul wrote an earlier letter to the Ephesian church. Turn with me to Ephesians 1:1-2. Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, To the saints who are in Ephesus, and are faithful in Christ Jesus: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
This letter convinces us that the church in Ephesus existed at least 30 years before the Revelation was written. Paul in writing to the church refers to its people as “the saints” at Ephesus. These are the ones who began the church along with the ministry of Paul and others with him. These would’ve been some of the ones who enjoyed an active love that Jesus dictated to John. One thing that Jesus wanted them to know is that he knew all about them.
At the very beginning in the Garden of Eden whenever there was a break in the fellowship with God Adam and Eve hid themselves — as though God would not have known where they were. I believe sometimes we live our lives in the same way. We are confronted with temptation and find ourselves accidentally committing sin. Rather than recognizing that God always knows where we are and what we’re doing we, like the ostrich in the fable, hide our heads in the sand believing that no one will notice our wrong doing. We need to recognize that…
Jesus knows. Let’s look back at Vv 2-3. Jesus said to the church, “I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance, and how you cannot bear with those who are evil, but have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and found them to be false. I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name’s sake, and you have not grown weary.” Let’s unpack this passage little bit and see what he has to say to us. First Jesus told the Ephesians that he knew…
          Your patient work. Again we go back to Paul’s letter. Turn with me to Ephesians 4:1-3. I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
We, half-jokingly, say that we do not want to learn about patience because it always involves “endurance” and we certainly don’t want to have to bear up under any kind of difficulty. In those early days of the church in Ephesus Paul pointed out how the believers there should live their lives. He urged them to live a life that was worthy of the calling of God on them. He characterized that life as being one of humility, gentleness, patience, and bearing with one another in love. The church that does that will always be able to maintain a unity guided by the Spirit and do so in a bond of peace. A generation after Paul wrote these words Jesus could say that he knew their patient endurance and their work.
Work, toil, and patient endurance does not paint a “happy” picture of these people. No matter what they were going to continue on the road laid before them toiling and enduring rather than enjoying their progress in the Spirit. Not only did he note their patient work he also observed…
          Your rejection of evil people. Turn with me to the little letter of 1 John 4:1. Let’s see what John had to say about dealing with evil people in the church. Listen while I read. Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.
Those who received John’s little letter are warned not to believe every spirit. We are surrounded today by false prophets and false teachers. Paul also spoke about a time that was coming when people would not endure sound teaching. They would instead gather up teachers who suit their own passions (2 Timothy 4:3). Within a generation of the time Paul wrote to the Ephesians John would report that many false prophets have gone into the world.
They had gone into a world without radio or television or the Internet. Today, the digital world we live in is filled with false teachers. We need to come back to John’s little letter and see that there is a standard to judge these people by. What do they have to say about Jesus? If they teach that Jesus is the Christ and that he came into the world in the flesh we can begin to believe that they come from God.
When Paul wrote to the Corinthians he shared with them the important truths they needed to hang on to. Jesus died for our sins according to the Scriptures, he was buried, he was raised on the third day fulfilling prophecy, he appeared to many people including the apostle Paul. And we need to keep these truths in front of us on a day to day basis. Not only did Jesus recognize their patient work, their rejection of evil people he commended them saying…
          You have not grown weary. And a generation before that Paul had written to the Galatian church about the same subject. Turn with me to Galatians 6:9-10. And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. 10 So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.
When Jesus had John write to the Ephesian church he was not overjoyed with them but he was commending them for these things. They had not grown weary but they had grown cold.
Indeed, we need to stubbornly stay on the path that God has given us until we have clear direction from God to another path. We must never give up the truth that we know. As the Ephesian church was stubbornly staying on the path…
Jesus had this against them. Turn with me to Ephesians 3:14-19. For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, 16 that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.
Again, we go back a generation to see what Paul had written to the same church. He prayed for them that they would be strengthened with power through the Spirit; that they would function in love and that they would know and understand the fullness of Jesus’ love for them.
This calls to mind the words of Jesus himself, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, just as I have loved you, you are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35) Love is characterized by Paul as being patient and kind; not envious; not arrogant or rude. Love is not self-centered and does not demand its own way. Love tolerates, believes, hopes and endures. (1 Corinthians 13:4-7)
The church in Ephesus that Jesus dictated the letter to had slid into a loveless existence. At least compared to the love they had at first. They did the work; they continued the task; they did not grow weary but they had abandoned the love they once had. This can happen in any individual’s life and in any church’s existenceThe church in Ephesus. It is my desire that our church be known as a lighthouse of solid, biblical truth that always speaks in love. If we will apply ourselves to the following three words:…
Remember. When a person comes to faith in Christ several things begin to happen to them. These things could be characterized in the fruit of the Spirit found in Galatians 5:22-24. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. 24 And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.
We need to remember what it was like when the Spirit brought us to salvation. The Holy Spirit produces love in our heart and this love binds everything together in perfect harmony (Colossians 3:14). When the Holy Spirit is working strongly in the church one evidence will be a beautiful harmony in the church community and overflowing love for one another as well as a love for God! We need to remember the joy and the peace that passes all understanding that once came into our life. When we discover that we’ve drifted away from that the first thing we need to do is…
Repent. Turn with me to 2 Corinthians 7:10. For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death.
We need to come to have grief over the things that are wrong in our lives. And that grief needs to produce repentance. A worldly sort of grief may involve great sorrow for one’s actions and probably also fear punishment. But there will not be any renouncement of sin nor any commitment to forsake it. The Bible tells us that Esau wept over the consequences of his choices but did not truly repent. (Hebrews 12:17)
King David committed a grievous sin. He took another man’s wife and had her husband put to death. The only good thing to see in this experience is that God can forgive even the worst of our sins. David would write about his repentance in two different passages. Turn with me to Psalm 32:2-5. Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man against whom the Lord counts no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit. For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer. Selah
I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not cover my iniquity;          I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,” and you forgave the iniquity of my sin. Selah
At first David kept silent until he was confronted by Nathan the prophet. With that confrontation David entered into godly sorrow. As he said, when he kept silent his bones wasted away and he groaned all day long. I can recall times in my life when I was so sorry for something I did but I could not make it go away I could only grieve until I confessed my sin. Praise God! When we confess our sin he continues to forgive our sins and cleanse us of all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9).
We need to remember where we fell from and repent of the wrong in our life knowing that godly sorrow leads to true repentance. We can never hide it from God! Nor, in fact, can we hide it from those who know us well.
True repentance is more than confessing our sin true repentance is renouncing our sin and turning away from it. In the Bible repentance and faith come together like the two sides of a coin. When we turn to Christ for salvation through faith at the same time we turn to him in repentance.
We need to remember where we came from before we fell into loveless labor and repent of our lost love and then we must, like King David…
Return. Turn with me to Psalm 51:10-12. Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. 11 Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me. 12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit.
David did not just ask forgiveness of God he asked God to do a special work in his life. David asked for a clean heart and a right spirit. He wasn’t just sorry he had committed sin even to causing a person to die he recognized that, in those acts, he had become dirty and needed cleaning. He also sensed a separation between him and God and he asked that the Holy Spirit not be taken from him — even though that’s what he deserved.
David did not ask that his salvation be restored because he had never lost it. What he had lost was the joy of God’s salvation. He asked that the joy of his walk with God be restored. I often find myself in a place where I no longer feel the presence of God’s joy in my life and I need to remember, repent and return.
If David could do it after his grievous sin anybody can do it. There is only one unpardonable sin and is not mentioned here. In the next few weeks we will look at these letters to see what Jesus had to say to the seven churches of Asia.
We must be careful to consider the words that Jesus gave to the seven churches in the book of Revelation. It is so easy for us to fall into the same trap of continuing to plod along while letting our love fade. We need to remember how much love we had for the Lord Jesus when we were saved and the joy it produced. Then we need to repent of our current coldness and return to that love. Have you committed your life to the Lord Jesus Christ? Is he your Lord? Do your actions show that you love him? Remember… Repent… And Return!

All scriptures quotes are from: The Holy Bible: English standard version. 2001. Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

150920 John’s Vision of Jesus!

Revelation 1:9-20 I, John, your brother and partner in the tribulation and the kingdom and the patient endurance that are in Jesus, was on the island called Patmos on account of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. 10 I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet 11 saying, “Write what you see in a book and send it to the seven churches, to Ephesus and to Smyrna and to Pergamum and to Thyatira and to Sardis and to Philadelphia and to Laodicea.” 12 Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking to me, and on turning I saw seven golden lampstands, 13 and in the midst of the lampstands one like a son of man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash around his chest. 14 The hairs of his head were white, like white wool, like snow. His eyes were like a flame of fire, 15 his feet were like burnished bronze, refined in a furnace, and his voice was like the roar of many waters. 16 In his right hand he held seven stars, from his mouth came a sharp two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining in full strength. 17 When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. But he laid his right hand on me, saying, “Fear not, I am the first and the last, 18 and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades. 19 Write therefore the things that you have seen, those that are and those that are to take place after this. 20 As for the mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand, and the seven golden lampstands, the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.
In this part of the introduction we are told where John was; what he saw; and what Jesus said to him. John introduced himself as our brother and partner in the tribulation and the kingdom and the patient endurance that are in Jesus. The tribulation he spoke of must have surely referred to the oppression of the Roman governm­­ent. The kingdom also was surely referring to the rule of Christ in his people. And the references to patient endurance that are in Jesus is found mostly in the book of Revelation.
John was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day. What is meant by the Lord’s day? Beginning with Jesus’ resurrection on the first day of the week, his return to meet with his disciples the following Sunday and throughout the New Testament references to the Lord’s day always indicate that it was Sunday. The Sabbath, which is Saturday, is the memorial day of the old creation. It reflected the fact that God rested from all his work on the seventh day, or the Sabbath! During Jesus’ ministry he had clearly stated that he was Lord of the Sabbath. (Luke 6:5) In the writings of the early church fathers we find references to the believers gathering to worship on the first of the week. The Book of Acts tells us of their gathering together to break bread on the first day of the week. (Acts 20:7) Paul asked the Corinthian church to take up their offerings for the Jewish churches on the first of the week. (1 Corinthians 16:2)
So we find John, in exile, a prisoner of the Romans and yet he was worshiping on the Lord’s day. While he was worshiping he heard a loud voice behind him and turned around to see where this voice came from and thus began what was very likely John’s most exciting experience.
What did John see? First he saw…
Seven lampstands. Note that he did not see lights. He saw lampstands that were probably individual lampstands not a menorah. Turn with me to Matthew 5:14-16. See how Jesus identified those who believed in him. You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.
Jesus identified himself as “the light of the world”! (John 8:12 & 9:5) In the beginning of John’s Gospel Jesus is identified as the light that gives light to everyone. (John 1:9) Therefore it is reasonable that light is used to symbolize churches. True churches of Jesus Christ are the light of the world because they are his people gathered to worship him and provide a place for unbelievers to come to know him. The lights on the lampstands that John saw represented the seven churches that Jesus singled out in the province of Asia.
Next, in the middle of the lampstands John saw…
The Son of Man. Turn with me to Matthew 16:13-16. Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” 14 And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” 15 He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” 16 Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
The Son of Man was Jesus’ choice title for himself. The term is used by Jesus himself dozens of times in the record of the Gospels. It certainly identified him with the Old Testament prophets. Both Daniel and Ezekiel used the term. Ezekiel himself is repeatedly identified as “son of man”; Daniel is called “son of man” and Daniel also identifies Jesus as the “Son of Man” in his vision! (Daniel 7:13)
So far as we know, John had not seen Jesus after his ascension into heaven until this time. The Son of Man that he saw here was very different from the Jesus he had seen ascending into heaven. This Son of Man was clothed in a long robe with a golden sash around his chest. His hair was white as wool like snow. His eyes were like a flame of fire. His feet were like burnished bronze. His voice — oh his voice — was like a trumpet and the roar of many waters. He held seven stars in his right hand and out of his mouth came a sharp two-edged sword and his face was like the sun shining in full strength.
How did John react? John’s reaction to this vision of Jesus was very similar to the reaction of many others throughout history. At least four times in the Gospels we are told of a similar reaction. For my first example turn with me to Mark 5:21-23. And when Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side, a great crowd gathered about him, and he was beside the sea. 22 Then came one of the rulers of the synagogue, Jairus by name, and seeing him, he fell at his feet 23 and implored him earnestly, saying, “My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well and live.”
In his desire to see his daughter healed Jairus fell at Jesus’ feet! Later, a woman whose daughter was sick also fell at his feet. (Mark 7:25) A Samaritan who had been healed of leprosy fell on his face at Jesus’ feet. (Luke 17:16) Mary greeted Jesus in a similar manner after Lazarus died. (John 11:32) There are other examples.
Upon seeing the awesome image of Jesus presented to John on the Isle of Patmos he quite naturally “fell at his feet”! However, Jesus laid his right hand on John and spoke to him.
What did John hear? First…
Don’t be afraid. The first thing that Jesus said was a repeat of something he had said to him during his last days on earth. Turn with me to Luke 12:32. Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.
Jesus was teaching his disciples not to be anxious about anything. He wanted them to know that the Father knows what we need and will provide it when we really need it. Not only would our needs be met but the Father was pleased to give us the kingdom as part of the legacy of the “little flock”!
I will never forget the first time this verse of Scripture was driven home to me. Cherlyn and I had gone to visit Catherine Baham in Charity Hospital in New Orleans. I asked Catherine if there was anything she wanted me to read for her before we prayed. She said, “Read to me where Jesus called me his sheep.” I was caught flat-footed so I had to guess which passage she meant. Soon I discovered what she wanted me to read for her, “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”
John heard these encouraging words, “don’t be afraid” and then was lifted to his feet by none other than the Lord Jesus Christ! Then he heard Jesus say these powerful words…
I AM! These first two words in Jesus’ reply were used by him, I believe, consciously identifying himself as God! Turn with me to Exodus 3:13-15. Moses has just been instructed to lead the people of Israel out of Egypt. Then Moses said to God, “If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” 14 God said to Moses, “I am who I am.” And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘I am has sent me to you.’ ” 15 God also said to Moses, “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘The Lord, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you.’ This is my name forever, and thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations.
God identified himself as Yahweh, or “I Am who I Am ”. It is also possible to translate this statement “I will be what I will be”. Indicating that God is eternal in his existence. He has always been and always will be. Later, Jesus would identify himself with this description…
Turn with me to John 8:56-59. When confronted by the Pharisees, rather than try to calm them down Jesus made this very provocative statement. Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad.” 57 So the Jews said to him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?” 58 Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” 59 So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple.
In this confrontation Jesus clearly identified himself as God. He didn’t say that he existed before Abraham as some would like it to say. Jesus identified himself as, “I am”. They fully understood what he was saying because they immediately determined to kill him. I am not sure what the phrase “Jesus hid himself” means. He was in a very public place and it seems unlikely that he could have stepped into another room. I prefer to think that he just simply cloaked himself with invisibility and walked away.
Jesus went on to say that he was the first and the last — again identifying himself as God. He said that he was the living one — again identifying himself as God. He said I died and I’m alive forevermore — again identifying himself as God. And then he said, “I have the keys of death and Hades.” This statement tells us that Jesus has the authority to grant entrance and exit from death and Hades.
In a sense, Satan doesn’t even have the key to his own residence. Jesus, and Jesus alone, has power over life and death!
Toward the end of his earthly ministry Jesus had said, “For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.” John 10:17-18
Without a doubt Jesus claimed that he had power over life and death and when called upon to prove it he had no problem. Not just in the times that he brought someone back temporarily to life only to die again but in the permanent experience of his own resurrection. Jesus, at the right time, laid down his life! From the cross he said, “It is finished.” And he departed that station leaving the battered body behind only to bring it back to life in a far, far better condition than he left it on the cross! Jesus came, he said, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10)
Then John heard Jesus say…
That being true, write!
There are times when we need to act on the authority of Jesus Christ. John had such an opportunity on the Isle of Patmos! Since Jesus is the first and the last, the living one, who died and is alive forevermore, and has the keys of death and Hades John could write what he saw and what he would soon see.
This is a similar concept to what Jesus gave in the great commission. There Jesus said that, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20) Since Jesus has all authority we can make disciples as we are going through our day-to-day life!
John is now prepared to take what he has seen and share it with the seven churches in the province of Asia. These were not the only churches in Asia. At the time there must have been many more churches as we read the Book of Acts and the travels of the apostle Paul. These seven churches are either representative of the other churches or they have specific needs that the other churches did not have. We are going to learn from the seven churches things that should be done in our church and in our individual lives. The most important thing in your life is to have accepted Jesus as Lord and Savior. Is he your Lord? If not, today can be your day of salvation!

All scriptures quotes are from: The Holy Bible: English standard version. 2001. Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.