7th Sunday after Pentecost Sermon Series: “What a Revelation!”
July 24, 2022 Part 3, Rev. 2:1-7 (from Rv.Victor Marxhausen Bible study 94/08)
Dear brothers & sisters in Christ,
This morning is part 3 of our looking at the Book Revelation; our focus is on the first 3 chapters, which contain seven short letters, written to seven churches in Asia Minor. Today we’ll hear that first letter to the church in Ephesus. If you have not been here for the past 2 Sundays and would like to read how we covered the general overview of Revelation, you can either get a copy on the table in the hallway, or you can view the online service on Facebook for past Sundays, or you can visit Immanuel’s website and see the sermon transcript there. The key to understanding Revelation is this: before you read the book, first know what the purpose of the Book is, and how it is laid out.
The Apostle John was exiled on the Island of Patmos, about 40 miles out in the Aegean Sea, because he was proclaiming Jesus as the Christ = both Lord & God. The Roman world did not like the Christians making disciples of Jesus by teaching them to worship only the Triune God of Abraham/Isaac/&Jacob, instead of worshiping the emperor as a god. Many Christians were killed; John was abandoned to die. But the exile was part of the Lord’s plan. One Sunday during his worship time, the Risen Lord of Glory visited John, and told him to write down all that he would see & hear.
In Greek, this book is titled ‘the apocalypse’, which means it is the revealing or unveiling of God’s eternal plan of salvation for mankind. With various symbols, God shows how He has worked thru-out creation’s history, in order to reveal His Messiah, so as to save this fallen condemned world. The Book gives special attention to the NT time, from when Jesus arrived on earth and until He returns on Judgment Day. This Book is not in chronological order in man’s calendar; and yet, John’s vision does progress forward. It repeats the story of salvation in seven ways; and each time, it reveals more & more of God’s power, majesty, & control over all things.
God’s story humbles us; because we see that, in the great scheme of things, we are not more important than any of the billions of lives that have come & gone in world history. And yet(!), when the Son of God died, He died FOR YOU = you are important to Him.
This revelation gives us hope because this all-loving and all-controlling Savior is The One who has called you & me out of darkness into His marvelous light.
(we are baptized into His name; our names are written in His Book of Life!)
Even tho our lives don’t mean much to the world, He has given us worth & purpose for this life. We get to bear witness to this one & only Savior, sharing the message of forgiveness thru His death & resurrection. He wants everyone to come into His flock & family with us.
Now, these seven letters in Chtps.1-3 have a special purpose. They were real congregations of Christians in the time of John; but those churches also stand-in as representatives of ALL Christian churches thru-out the NT times = including ours. These letters are written to instruct us to avoid those same temptations & errors, which are spiritually dangerous; and to strive to be loyal & obedient to our coming Lord in all things.
These letters both commend and condemn, and that’s what imperfect people need. Because after God calls us to repent of our sin & error, He holds out His promise of forgiveness & restoration to true faith and true living. The letters themselves are not part of the prophecy of things-to-come, which the rest of the Book has. These letters are a warm-up & preparation for us. Jesus points out our faults, but then encourages us; and that makes us ready to hear of the things-to-come in the rest of the Book.
Now, all the letters have the same format. 1st: the one speaking identifies Himself with one of the references we heard last week from chtp.1. He is the ruling one with the robe & sash, blazing eyes & double-edged sword == those are symbols of Jesus in all His power & glory.
2nd: He says, ‘I know all about you,’ and each letter has something different mentioned. 3rd: He acknowledges that His church is doing good for Him in some way. 4th: But then He says “I have this against you.” This is a vital part of each letter, because these things make the Lord angry. These things interfere & threaten His saving relationship with us; and if we don’t turn away from them & do the right things, they will cost us our eternal blessing.
So, 5th, He urges us to repent. Then, 6th, by His own Spirit, He commands us to listen to Him; which means to understand and obey. Finally, 7th, He gives a gospel promise; which always has something to do with the heavenly life-to-come. So that’s the pattern for all seven letters.
Let’s listen to the first letter (2:1-7 follow in the handout)
Ephesus was an interesting city in its day. It was one of the wealthiest & most affluent, with a population of about a quarter of a million people. It was the ‘marketplace of Asia’. It was the vital link in three large trade routes; between the mighty Roman Empire and the rest of the world, both by land and by sea. It was a melting pot of peoples & religions. It was an impressive city = nearly everything was tooled marble. It’s streets & sidewalks, its temples & public meeting places – all chiseled & designed. And since there is no marble in Asia Minor, it all had to be shipped in from Greece, across the Aegean Sea.
It had an amphitheater that could seat 24,000 people. Not only did each seat have its own water drain for rain, but there is also evidence that there was a movable papyrus dome for the whole thing. The city’s harbor had ‘mud pumps’ to keep the harbor open for all the ships. And underlying the whole city are huge clay tile pipes that carried both hot & cold water, as well as sewage. They had all this 2,000 years ago. This was a great city.
Ephesus was the center of worship for the heathen goddess Artemis, also called Diana, the goddess of ‘love’. Her image was a grotesque figure covered with many breasts, which symbolized fertility; prostitution was part of her worship. The temple of Diana was recognized as one of the ‘seven wonders of the world’. It was 425 ft long, 220 ft wide, with 125 pillars of shining marble, covered with gold & gems. It was a literal ‘shopping mall’ for religious charms, ornaments & idols.
Thousands upon thousands of people traveled to Ephesus, either for trade or for Diana. One of the most important trinkets of that day was a 6-inch silver statue of Diana that people would have at home, or would sew into their clothing, supposedly to guarantee their safety. The Apostle Paul planted the Christian church there in Ephesus. Recall from Acts 19 that Paul offended the silversmith’s union when he came to town, and preached Christ and not Diana. Their statue sales plummeted, and they nearly rioted against Paul in the theater.
Timothy & Apollos served the church at Ephesus before John came to be the pastor there. This Christian church became the 3rd most important center of early Christianity, behind Jerusalem and Antioch. In their letter, Jesus COMMENDS them; they were a very strong church; and in their area, they had to be. They were strong in judging false doctrine, and in exercising church discipline against false teachers, like the Nicolaitans mentioned.
This speaking for truth & against falsehood was good & necessary; and it was hard, unpopular work = as you & I know it can be! In being faithful, The Lord Jesus is pleased. However, it seems that in their zeal they were losing their ‘first love’ for Christ and His mission. Here we’re reminded of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. About 35 years earlier, Paul writes to this same church, and commends them for their faith and their love for all the saints. He urged them -back then- to live a life worthy of their salvation, and to bear with each other ‘in love.’ And they were to speak the truth ‘in love.’ For the saying is true: truth is not helpful without love; and love is not complete without the truth.
In writing to the Corinthian church, Paul says, “If I have a faith that can move mountains but have not love, I am nothing.” The true spirit & motivation of keeping the faith pure, and in being about the Lord’s mission-work in the world is remembering the love of Jesus Christ for us. We are to love one another in the way we have been loved. God’s kind of love does not just ‘tolerate’ anything, and His truth is not just some religious facts, so as to judge others. At first, they were doing well, but now they had lost their first love. Jesus told them: ‘if you have an ear, hear what my Spirit is saying to you! Repent! Turn back, or else I will remove your lampstand; that is: I will remove your church & its place in the kingdom.
So, what happened in Ephesus? How did it turn out? Today that city of Ephesus lies in ruins in the country of Turkey; all that beauty & technology & worldly importance is a heap of rubble. That rich open harbor is now 6 miles of swamp or is dried up. More importantly, all that potential harvest of souls for God’s kingdom stopped. There is no Christian church left in Ephesus today; and there are -basically- no Christians there.
This 3rd most important center of the early Christian church had lost their first love, and they refused to listen to Christ when He called out for them to return before it was too late. So Jesus did as He said: He removed their lampstand. Jesus’ words are always a vital message, because He will always do as He says. I hope we never think that it is by our strength, our faith, and our money that this church continues year after year. We are His lampstand by His strength & grace, and for His purpose; or else we are nothing.
What did the Ephesian church lose? The priority, the obedience, & the mission of Christ that it had at first grew cold.
At first, they were balanced with being strong in the faith, standing firm in the truth, and they had a strong compassion & care for sinners being called out of the world and into Christ & true life. They reflected Jesus Himself – who always had mercy, but never compromised.
Maybe they had lost their ‘first love’ & this balance of ‘law & gospel’ because they were fighting so many false teachings & teachers, that they were just overwhelmed. You’ve heard is said that we are to ‘hate the sin, but love the sinner.’ There’s truth to that, but it’s not always that easy to divide those. Can you do that very well?
So, they correctly hated the practices of the sinners around them, but their love for sinners had grown cold. They stopped trying to call souls out of darkness and into the marvelous light of Christ. After they themselves had been rescued by the gospel of mercy & forgiveness from their sin, & then been taught what is right & good to do, it seems they closed the doors & give up on all those repulsive sinners ‘out there’ who aren’t worthy to hear the gospel. But the message of Jesus’ cross & forgiveness is for ALL = even for those false teachers.
The Nicolaitans were a religious group of the day who, in the name of spiritual freedom, practiced any & every kind of sexual immorality. They probably started out as a Christian group, getting their name from a leader named Nicolaus. In our day we might compare them to a Christian group that accepts -& even encourages- various perverse sexual practices, as long as you say you ‘believe in Jesus.’ There are groups that teach wrongly that God makes some people ‘homosexual’, or transsexual & changeable genders, & that it’s loving to accept those things = = when it’s not. The Law identifies sin; but it’s the Gospel that changes hearts & lives. The Lord Jesus praises the Ephesians for their hate of the practices of Nicolaitans; but they lost their love of trying to win them back to Christ & to righteousness.
Every congregation of Christians is faced with this kind of imbalance. They can be doing the mechanics of religious things & avoiding sin, but no longer have their first love of the Lord’s purpose & mission & care. That church will be tempted to close itself off from the sinful world; to stop being ‘salt & light’ in Christ; to become cold & loveless. If so, they are forsaking their first love; and He will not put up with it. And the fact that Jesus gives this warning is a sign of hope.
The Risen Lord of Glory speaks; His voice is authority, and like the sound of rushing waters. He is still shepherding & leading His Church, recalling US from being wayward, and back into action. How? By His own Spirit, He delivers to us His Word and His love.
His true love is shown in that He rebukes and warns us; otherwise we would not know that we must turn. He turns us from sin, and reminds us again that His own blood & cross is our forgiveness before God. Under that mercy, we begin again and He guides us into obedience & life as His faithful church.
You & I have been given a great gift = we have been called into Immanuel Lutheran Church, of the Lutheran Church ~ Missouri Synod. Not a perfect church; but when measured against the plain understanding of God’s perfect Scripture, I believe that there is no other church that has a more firm grip on the clear truth and right practice of the Word of Christ.
By God’s grace & Spirit, that is in our favor. And our church will continue to be His lampstand = but only inasmuch as you & I cling to our first love = which is Christ, His Word & Sacraments, and as we work to balance both His Law and His Gospel of mission-purpose.
We are to love others as He has loved us. We hold out His truth against sin, and we hold out His forgiveness for sinners to repent & receive, just as we have received it. This is how we, His Church, makes disciples until He returns in glory. The truth is not helpful without love; and love is not complete without the truth. Only with a balance of both will He keep us as His precious lampstand, which calls others to come out of the world, out of death, and into eternal life. His promise is that, with both His truth and His love, we will be blessed eternally and eat from the tree of life in the paradise of God.
God grant this to us in the name of our Lord Jesus. Amen.