Week Commencing 4th February 2018   With a PDF found here

Notes for next Sunday’s sermon on Revelation 2:1-7, “To the church in Ephesus.”

You may find it helpful to sit down this week and read all seven letters before slowing down and considering each one in detail. When you do, you’ll see a common pattern (with a couple of exceptions!)

  1. Recap – picking up one of the descriptions of Jesus from ch 1
  2. Commendation – what the church is doing well (missing from Sardis and Laodicea)
  3. Admonishment – where the church is breaking God’s heart (missing from Smyrna and Philadelphia)
  4. Exhortation – how to put things right and get back on track (including a warning about implications if they don’t); and a repeated phrase “whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”
  5. Promise – there is a specific promise pictured for the church who overcomes their trials and challenges – drawn from the imagery of chapters 21-22.

DAY 1: Read Revelation 2:1-7

Each letter begins in the same way: “to the angel of the church in ___________, write”. It may never have occurred to you that each church has an angel! And why would John be ordered to write to each church’s angel and not their elders? We need to remember that the word for ‘angel’ in the Greek, is actually the word ‘messenger’. We have to discern from the context, the meaning of the word in each case. Does the word refer to a heavenly and supernatural messenger or an earthly and human messenger? It is more likely that an earthly and human messenger is being referred to here. Each church may have sent a messenger to John on the isle of Patmos who would take back instructions and a scroll for each church.

Ephesus was the city closest to Patmos and therefore the first city to which John’s book would have been brought and read. Its population was 250,000 and it was a very commercially active and successful city, due to its harbour port. (When the river Cayster later silted up and disappeared, Ephesus ended up ‘stranded’ 10kms inland!) The most notable feature of Ephesus was its divine patron, the goddess Artemis (or Diana). There was a massive temple devoted to her. The associated religious practices and the revenue generated by tourists and devotees, dominated much of the city’s life. However, the temple was also the source of great social upheaval, because within the temple, asylum was granted to all manner of criminals.

Christians in the city were barely tolerated. The Roman historian Tacitus, said that Christians ‘hated the human race’ and ‘were hated’ by the society in which they lived (Annals XV44). His friend Pliny, governor of Bithynia, described Christianity as an ‘insanity’, a ‘contagion… a superstition’, characterised by ‘obstinacy and unbending perversity’ (Epistle X). [1] Says Paul Barnett, “It is not too difficult to imagine how the Christians’ steadfast refusal to worship Rome and her emperor would have been seen so negatively by these provincial governors.” Life would have been therefore, very difficult for the Christians there. And yet in the midst of such opposition, Jesus commends them for their hard work and your perseverance; they have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary. They also rejected false apostles and resisted the influence of a movement within the churches known at the Nicolaitans. We don’t know anything about this movement today.

As I consider our situation, we do not face anything like the same persecution as did our brothers and sisters in Ephesus in the 1st century nor many of our brothers and sisters in Egypt and Afghanistan and Syria or Nigeria or Indonesia or Pakistan (and many other places) in this century. Yet, many of you have similarly, worked hard and persevered against discouragements, hardships, challenges, ridicule and despair. Well done you good and faithful servants! Thank you for your example and the model you are to younger Christians!

DAY 2: Read Revelation 2:1-7

Jesus not only commends the Ephesians for what makes his heart rejoice; he rebukes them for what he sees that breaks his heart. Specifically, he challenges them in regard to having forsaken their first love and calls on them to remember the height from which they had fallen. It would appear that they have a zeal for orthodoxy (the truth and right beliefs), but they are lacking that most essential element of love.

Note then, that it is entirely possible to be intolerant of ungodliness and intolerant of false teaching, but to be tolerant of your love for God having grown cold! It’s possible to be morally upright and doctrinally correct, but have no love; without which (says the Lord through the Apostle Paul) we are nothing!  How sad is this! Good morals, right doctrine, but no love – either for God or one another. A Christianity that is external and cerebral, but not heartfelt; without passion, without emotion. We must take notice of the warning. We must realise that it is possible for love to grow cold.

How do we ensure it doesn’t? We make sure our Sunday services are rich and real; not empty and formal. We make sure our connect groups are places where we draw close to God and one another and not just toss around academic ideas. We are careful to speak to God in private prayer and read his word seeking not just to learn truth and mouth words, but to truly engage with him. We make sure that we actually pour out our hearts to him; tell him what we are thinking and feeling. We stop and consider how much he has blessed us and we thank him. We come to him in sorrow for sin and ask forgiveness. We are moved again by his love for us in the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus and we say, ‘thank you’. May it never be said of us, that we have forsaken our first love. May it never be true of you!

DAY 3: Read Revelation 2:1-7

Note Jesus’ exhortation in the light of a love that has grown cold: Remember the height from which you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. ‘Repent’ means a change of mind and results in changed behaviour! They are to recapture the love and passion and therefore behaviour which characterised their early Christian lives. Do what you did then, says Jesus and the love will follow and flow. And if there is some sin in the road – repent – put it right! Return to the Lord your God, for he is compassionate and gracious, and abounding in love for you.

I wonder if you have reflected since yesterday about your love for the Lord Jesus? Has it grown cold? Are you less passionate for the things of Jesus then you were at first? Have you allowed many things to distract you from him and from putting him first? What would it take for you to restore him to No. 1? What would need to change? I encourage you today to pray and think this through.

DAY 4: Read Revelation 2:1-7

As we consider this letter again today, our focus shifts to the warning (v5b) and the promise (v7). Jesus warns the Ephesians that if they did not repent and do the things they did at first, he would come and remove their lampstand from its place; that is, that he would remove his presence from the church. Jesus is zealous for his church. He will not endure evil – especially not in the church!

That lamp he threatened to remove – was indeed removed. Church and city together have vanished. There is still the promise of life in paradise for the individual who remembers from where they have fallen and returns to their first love, but let the loveless church beware! Again, quoting the Lord via the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 13: “If I have prophetic powers and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing” (1 Cor 13:2).

How are we going as a church?  Is there a risk we are big on being doctrinally correct and zealous for the truth, but are short on love? Love for God; love for the Lord Jesus; love for one another? It breaks my heart when I hear of churches torn apart by petty grievances. I grieve for churches full of pride over their doctrinal correctness, but their version of the Christian faith is almost completely cerebral, and any expression of emotion is practically frowned upon. May this never be us! May we have a heartfelt passion and love for Jesus which is just like people who have first discovered the riches of God’s love for them. May we be as passionate for Jesus, as we were at first; overcome the challenges to love anything else before Jesus, and revel in our eternal life.

References: Paul Barnett (see p1) and Michael Wilcock in ‘The Message of Revelation’ in the BST series

[1] These historical quotes, as referenced by Paul Barnett in Revelation: Apocalypse now and then.