This sermon was preached at Peace Hill Christian Fellowship on March 8th, 2009. To listen to the audio of this sermon, just click on this link – Rev 3A.
Rev.3:1-6 — WAKE UP
Jesus Confronts The Church: “These are the words of him who holds the seven spirits of God and the seven stars.” The seven spirits – an image from Zechariah – are a picture of the watchfulness and livingness of Jesus – and his holding the seven stars suggests that he is holding the church both to protect and bless and to judge. What Jesus is saying to the church through these images?
~ I am watching – taking note of the spiritual state of my people
~ I am the true judge of what is going on with you – (we want affirmation from other people – Jesus is the only one who really sees who we are – where we are)
~ I am the source of spiritual life – of what you need to be spiritually alive. If you want to be alive you need to come to me.
Look at Jesus’ confrontation of these people and examine your own life: “I know your works; You have a (name) reputation of being alive – (zoe: spiritually alive) but you are dead”
This is a frightening statement. People on the outside who look at this church in
Sardis, think that it is a spiritually alive place – these people have a reputation of being alive which is not a reputation every church has. Sardis seemed like an exciting church to people – a church that believers generally approved of.
If you are a spiritually sensitive person, you are probably wondering, would Jesus say the same thing about me? Have I deceived myself into thinking that I am spiritually alive when I am not? What would that look like?
~ Some people think they are spiritually alive because they had an experience with God at some point. But there are lots of people in Scripture who had amazing experiences with God and yet who were not spiritually alive.
~ Some people think they are spiritually alive because they just feel close to God when they talk to him – when they worship – they feel good or happy and just like God is smiling on them.
~ Some people think they are spiritually alive because they are familiar with American Christian culture – They know how to act in church – they know hymns and worship songs and like to sing them – they are surrounded by Christian people who like them – they have been in the habit of going to church – they are outraged by society and its disregard for God.
~ Some people think they are spiritually alive because they go through Christian looking motions of behavior – they read their Bible – show up at church.
Let me say that though these things are not bad things, none of these things give any true indication about whether a person is spiritually alive or not. So how do we know if we are spiritually alive or not? Jesus tells this church to do three things…
Wake Up and Take Stock.
Keep Watch – Take Note of and Confess Sins and Weaknesses: ”Wake up! (Be Watching)”
What does it mean to keep watch? If I am evaluating my life spiritually, the first thing I do is to take note of the presence of sin in my life. Where have I compromised what is right? Where is my heart rebellious against God? Where am I weak? Where do I make excuses for my sin?
The history of the fall of the city of Sardis is an illustrates this point… at one time, Sardis had been one of the greatest cities in the world, and its wealth had been legendary. The king of the Lydians, Croesus, had ruled his empire from this city. “Croesus embarked upon a war with Cyrus of Persia… To get at the armies of Cyrus he had to cross the River Halys. He took counsel of the famous oracle at Delphi and was told: ‘If you cross the River Halys, you will destroy a great empire.’ Croesus took it as a promise that he would annihilate the Persians; it never crossed his mind that it was a prophecy that the campaign on which he had embarked would be the end of his own power. He crossed the Halys, engaged in battle and was routed.
However Croesus was not in the least worried, for he thought that all he had to do was to retire to the impregnable citadel of Sardis, recuperate and fight again. Cyrus initiated the siege of Sardis, waited fourteen days, then offered a special reward to anyone who would find an entry into the city.
The rock on which Sardis was built was friable, more like close packed dried mud than rock. The nature of the rock meant that it developed cracks. A certain Mardian soldier called Hyeroaeades had seen a Sardian soldier accidentally drop his helmet over the battlements, and then make his way down the precipice to retrieve it. Hyeroeades knew that there must be a crack in the rock there by means of which an agile man could climb up.
That night he led a part of Persian troops up by the fault in the rock. When they reached the top they found the battlements completely unguarded. The Sardians thought themselves too safe to need a guard; and so Sardis fell.”
Ok – why did Sardis fall? Because they did not pay attention to their vulnerability. We are so anxious to appear to be good people before one another, that we fear talking about our vulnerabilities. This creates a dangerous situation in which we hide our sin from one another – in which we have these secret worlds and struggles that no one knows about.
If I am sitting down with someone to find out how they are doing spiritually – the worst thing they can say is, “I’m fine” – Translation: “I have no struggles… I have no need to repent – no need of the grace of God – no need of help or encouragement from you or anyone.” Is this ever true for any of us? The man or woman who feels that they are “fine”, and who sees no great need for grace and mercy and help is a spiritual corpse.
Strengthen What Remains Through Submission to God: “Strengthen (establish) what remains and is about to die. For I have not found your works complete (fulfilled) in the sight of my God.”
Here is a question… What is spiritual strength? Is it effort? Is it a power you can get? Take a look at Mark 14:32-41 – Here Jesus is praying because he is in great need of spiritual strength. Take note of what the nature of the struggle is – what gives Jesus the ability to go to the cross – what gives him the strength? Submission – “… yet not what I will, but what you will”. In other words – Jesus says – my will and my desire is not to face what is painful but to preserve my life. God your will for me is good, but it is going to be painful and difficult – nevertheless, I won’t pursue my will, but yours.
What does it mean for me – and you – to be spiritually strong? If we are following the pattern of Jesus, spiritual strength is the extent to which I am willing to say to God – “This is what I want – this comfort, this desire, this reward – but your will for me is that I obey you even though it is going to be painful or difficult – and I am willing to put my will aside and follow yours.” I am spiritually alive and strong to the extent that I am willing to lay aside my attachments to my own wants desires, sin in order to be faithful to what God is calling me to do – in order to learn obedience.
So when Jesus tells the Sardians to strengthen what remains, he is telling them that there is still some sense in which this church is willing to pursue God’s calling to be a holy people. He is calling them to take note of these areas of service and obedience and to lay aside their own selfishness, their willfulness, their sinful pursuits – and to learn to give themselves to the desires of God.
Wrestle with What You Have Received and Keep It: “Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; Obey (keep) it and repent”
At this point we should probably be struggling with this message. Submission is difficult! If Jesus sweated great drops of blood, who am I to think that I can glibly submit myself to God? How is submission – the giving up of my life – my will – even possible?
Jesus’ answer is that we remember the Gospel – what we have received and heard. Remember that sin and willfulness are poisonous to our souls. Remember that God’s wrath is on the disobedient. Remember also that Jesus has taken that wrath on himself for those who believe and want to escape the corruption of this world. Remember that he has also become our example, our helper.
Submission is not a glib agreement – if Jesus is any example at all, submission is a wrestling and a struggle of desires in which we call out to God for help. Jesus is telling these believers to remember on their knees – to cry out to him for help and grace to lay aside their own comfortable wills. TO struggle is to be alive! Like Jacob, until we wrestle with God to lay aside our own schemes for making our lives work, we are not truly alive.
Favor: “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”
The promise for those who confess, submit and wrestle to receive the Gospel is the robe of righteousness – the reward of purity and honor which Christ himself will give to us before the Father.
This sermon was preached at Peace Hill Christian Fellowship on March 15th, 2009. To listen to the audio of this sermon, just click on this link – Rev 3B.
Rev.3:7-12 — DOUBT, FEAR AND THE OPEN DOOR PROMISE
Sometimes we all struggle with doubts about our faith. We can question whether we are truly forgiven for our sins… we can question how the resurrection can be real and whether there will really be a new heavens and a new earth… we can question whether these ancient writings from thousands of years ago can truly be inspired by God. Is that Ok – or is it wrong to doubt and question these things? Should we always be walking in unbroken, “blessed assurance”?
The church in Philadelphia struggled with doubt. On one side, the Jewish synagogue in the city was accusing them of turning against and abandoning what had been the accepted religion for thousands of years to join this new “Jesus cult”. On the other side, the Greeks in the city were telling the Christians that their new faith had no place in the city.
Whereas the Philadelphians were accused of abandoning the accepted religion – we are accused of holding onto an ancient religion – of living in the stone age and believing things that no rational, scientific person living in the modern age, should accept. Like the Philadelphians, what we believe runs against what our culture believes.
Is it ok to have doubts about what we believe? Of course. We live in a culture that dismisses faith as useless or dangerous. If we are honest people, and not a mind-controlling cult, then of course we are allowed to wrestle with doubt. The things we believe are amazing. We should not take faith for granted.
Jesus does not rebuke the Philadelphians for struggling with doubt – rather, he gives them a message of comfort and reassurance. This morning we want to look at this message of comfort and to take comfort ourselves that Christ knows our doubts and fears and has promised not to condemn, but to support and help us in the face of doubts…
Even When We Struggle With Doubt, Jesus Reassures Us.
Notice the titles that Jesus takes for himself – “holy and true”.
Jesus is the Holy One: Notice that though the Philadelphians struggle with this basic gospel question of whether Jesus was able to justify them before the Father – Jesus speaks only comfort. The Philadelphians struggle with the fear that, having left the established religion of Judaism, they have turned from God. Jesus reassures them that he is holy – that he is standing in the pleasure of the Father, intervening for them – for us.
This is our confidence – not that we never doubt, question Amazing grace – but that, even when we do question, Jesus continues to be our righteousness – our holiness – who faithfully brings us before the Father to declare us righteous, clean and forgiven.
Jesus is True: Again, Jesus uses a title that gets at the core of the Philadelphians’ struggle – He is true. Here is a church questioning whether the Jesus is truly who he says he is – The Son of the Father – the resurrection and the life. Jesus tells them that he is true – that they can believe what they have heard and been taught.
Not only are Jesus’ claims true – but what he has said about the Father and about what pleases God is true – and there is no other source who, as John 1 says, so completely explains what the Father is like.
Again, notice, Jesus does not berate the Philadelphians for their doubts and questions – but gives them reassurance that he is the truth – the way to the Father – the source of what is truly life. Jesus, who made us as spiritual beings, capable of glory and appreciating beauty, wants to remake our lives in a way that is glorious and meaningful.
Even As We Struggle with Doubt, Jesus is at Work.
Jesus Opens the Door that No One Can Shut: How does Jesus respond to the struggle of doubt going on within the Philadelphian church? … with encouragement. Notice, he does not say – “Because you doubt and struggle with these things I cannot use you” – but rather – “See, I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut. “
What does this mean? The open door is a picture of the power of God at work to bring people into the kingdom – in this context, the enemies of the believers in Philadelphia. In fact, Jesus says (in vs.9-10), that those who are now hostile, who are rejecting the Philadelphian church and rejecting Jesus and who seem so hard hearted and set against them… in fact some of them are going to come and fall down at their feet and receive Jesus and confess that the Philadelphian Christians have the truth.
Notice: Jesus is going to do this work through the Philadelphian church…
~ vs.8 – even though they are a weak church vs.8 should not be translated, “you have a little strength” – which would suggest that, while some do struggle with doubt, still there are some who “remain strong”. The translation, instead should be, “I know that you have little strength, yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name.”
~ vs.9 – even though they are despised – The Jews in the city clearly despise these believers and have become their accusers. They are not attractive or accepted by the citizens of Philadelphia, they are a blight – and to join the church in Philadelphia is to become part of the blight – part of the problem. Even so, some of those who now consider them a blight will be joining them – not because becoming a Christian became attractive all of a sudden – but because Jesus himself will draw them through the open door that they cannot shut – cannot ignore.
Jesus is the open door, who works through those who follow him and do not renounce him (confess him openly) – even though they may be weak and despised people. Jesus uses us even as we struggle. He opens the door to those in our family who are far from him – who reject the truth and seem unreachable. He opens the door to those who we work with who despise us. He is faithful even when we struggle to believe.
Very often we do not confess him openly because we feel that we have not been a good enough witness – because we fear we will not speak well enough, know enough – have enough confidence or faith. In those situations we only need to be open about our faith and not to shrink back – because Jesus is the open door at work – and he will use us.
Even Though We Struggle with Doubt, Jesus Will Bring Us to Glory.
Who Overcomes? vs.11 – The one who overcomes is the one who holds on to what they have – the Gospel. Is it ok to struggle with doubt – to wrestle with doubts about what we believe? Yes! because what we believe is so glorious – so amazing – so overwhelming. It is ok to struggle with doubt as long as, in our struggle, in our wonder, in our questioning we continue to put our trust in Jesus – continue to believe that what he offers us – the life he offers us – is the truth. It is ok to struggle with doubts as long as we hold onto the cross and the resurrection of Jesus as our only way to the Father.
In this sense, Jesus is the open door to us. Jesus does not close the way to the Father or turn away from those who doubt – he sets before them an open door. We can come to him honestly with our doubts and questions without fear of condemnation.
Those Who Overcome Will Be Honored as Pillars of Faith: “Him who overcomes I will make a pillar in the temple of my God. Never again will he leave it. “
Faithful priests who served the Temple over a lifetime had pillars erected to them when they died. Jesus promises to reward those who struggle with doubt and overcome by continuing in faith to the end. He will make them pillars of faithfulness – their struggle will become their glory.
Those Who Overcome Will Find it Was All True: “I will write on him the name of my God and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which is coming down out of heaven from my God; and I will also write on him my new name. “
Names are incredibly important in Scripture. The writing of the name on those who overcome echoes the promise of Jeremiah 31:33-34, in which God promises to write his name on the hearts of his new people. The image suggests a new empowering to believe and love God with a renewed heart. Jesus promises to write his new name, the name of the Father and the name of the New Jerusalem on their hearts. In other words, those who overcome by holding on to what they believe now in doubting and questioning, will receive, on that day, an assurance and a confidence – a settled, powerful peace and confirmation that they are, indeed, Christ’s, and that every promise of the New Heavens and the New Earth was true.
This sermon was preached at Peace Hill Christian Fellowship on March 29th, 2009. To listen to the audio of this sermon, just click on this link – Rev 3C.
Rev.3:14-22 — LAODICEA: THE NEEDLESS CHURCH
Laodicea was famous for its sheep, which had soft, violet-black wool. Laodiceans were able to mass produce outer-garments of good quality, cheaply, and to sell these valuable garments because they were on the main great road through Asia Minor, and so received a lot of travelers. Believers had apparently become quite prosperous through this trade.
Reject the Lies of Needlessness.
Needlessness is a Lie We Tell Ourselves: “you say, ‘I am rich, and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing’ and you do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked.”
There is a spiritual pressure to be needless – to say that we are spiritually well and that we have no need – not to look needy or broken. We feel that pressure from those around us who are uncomfortable with need. We feel that pressure internally to say that we are adequate and able to take care of ourselves. The same pressure causes us, when we are struggling with sin, to move away from people and try to fix ourselves – rather than to seek help.
The Laodiceans had given in to this pressure. They had believed their own lies and become deceived, “luke warm” in their faith. Jesus expresses disgust towards this condition (“I am about to vomit you out of my mouth”).
This morning we want to confront “luke-warmness” in our faith – lack of conviction and zeal. We want to expose the lies of needlessness that cause us to be “luke warm”, that kill our need and desire for Jesus…
#1 I Don’t Need to Suffer to Follow Jesus: “You say, ‘I am rich and have become wealthy… and you do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor… I advise you to buy from me gold refined by fire that you may become rich.”
They Laodiceans had made a living and become wealthy by going quietly about the business of making money and not making too big a deal about their faith. They had nice clothes but a rotting and impoverished witness in the city. They had managed to blend in and to appear no different from anyone else.
The lie that we don’t need to suffer to follow Jesus – that we do not need to share in his sufferings – is powerful. We want to measure how we are doing spiritually by whether we are financially prosperous, by whether we are liked, by whether we are comfortable and unruffled. But, as Paul tells Timothy – “Those who want to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will suffer hardship” This, according to Jesus is real gold – refined by the fire of suffering.
#2 I Don’t Need to Be Broken By My Sin: “you are… blind” The lie that we don’t need to be broken – (aware, sorrowful, alarmed, needy before God) – is also very powerful. If you think that this is untrue, ask yourself how often you publicly confess the real struggles of sin to other believers (the hateful or prideful or lustful or grasping attitudes of your heart – or the sinful actions which you are ashamed of). We present ourselves as basically ok – even as good people – and give the impression that we are spiritually needy – and perpetuate this harmful lie.
#3 I Don’t Need to Be Concerned About Good Works – That’s Legalism: “you are… naked” Legalism is a matter of declaring ourselves to be right before God because we have kept a certain standard or code of righteousness. But Rev. 19:8 tells us that the saints of God are to be clothed in GOOD WORKS. Philippians 2:12 tells us that we are to work out our salvation in fear and trembling – Titus 3:11-13 says that Jesus died to create a people for himself… “… zealous to do good works.”
These lies – these attitudes push away any sense we have of our need for God and create luke warm, useless faith.
Repent of Needlessness Therefore and Be Zealous!
Jesus is standing outside of the church at Laodicea – because they have pushed him out the door by having no need for him. The King of Creation is standing outside the door of the church of those he died to save, knocking and asking for hospitality – it is meant to be a horrifying image.
How, then, are they supposed to Open the door and allow him in to come in and eat with them? They can open the door by repenting and exchanging their needlessness for zeal – or devotion and passion in following Jesus.
Open the Door by Openly Following Jesus: Luke 6:22 & 26 “Blessed are you when men hate you, when they exclude you, insult you and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man… But woe to you when all men speak well of you, for that is how their fathers treated the false prophets.”
Openly following Jesus leads to suffering. You don’t need to go looking for trouble – and, in fact, Scripture says that none of us should suffer because we have been a trouble maker. But Jesus tells his disciples that they will suffer for 2 things (1) doing what is right, and (2) Following him openly before men. This opens the door to depending on God for help and to sharing in the sufferings of Jesus and to being a light in the world.
Open the Door by Looking at Sin in Your Life and Confessing It: Clearly, we have not loved God with all our hearts, souls, minds – with all the expression of our lives. Clearly we have not been perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect.
~ Some of us are drawn by evil appetites and practices which are hateful to us – or which need to become hateful to us.
~ Some of us are cold hearted, self contented, unloving, prideful and self-righteous.
~ Some of us are apathetic, luke warm, heedless of our greed and carelessness and foolishness.
But whoever you are and whoever I am – we need to be heartbroken and deeply troubled by our sin. We need to see that we are broken people – that we are not what we were made to be. We need to long to be made whole. We need to confess our sin, our apathy, our pride, our failure before God to be holy people. This opens the door to change through repentance and to the call to be holy people, receiving help and grace from God.
Open the Door by Being Zealous for Good Works: Clothe yourself with good works. 1Tim. 6:16-17 describes generosity as a good work – Micah 6:8 describes doing justice and loving mercy as good works – James 1:26-27 describes keeping a reign on our tongues and helping widows and orphans in their need and staying unpolluted from the evil practices of the world as good works – in John 9, Jesus describes opening the eyes of the blind as a good work.
The problem with good works is that they are often more difficult than they first appear. It is hard to help the poor – they may resist help. It is hard to do justice when injustice is systemic. It is hard to be generous because we can be taken advantage of. But this does not change the fact that we are called to be clothed in good works – to think about and investigate how these things can be done.
Those Who Overcome Will Find True Rest.
Receive the Discipline of the One Who Loves You… “Those I love I reprove and discipline; Be zealous therefore, and repent”
This is Jesus – the amen and yes of God – the king of creation – humbling himself to knock on the door and wanting to come in and eat with those who behavior has made him nauseous.
This sermon should not lead us to despair, but to hope. The King of Creation is lovingly inviting us. On the other hand, we do not dare neglect his call.
… And You Will Find Rest and Honor: Those who overcome will sit down with him – the picture of having finished the work – on his throne (this is such a privilege that it sounds blasphemous – that we could even think of sitting on God’s throne. It is a picture of rest and honor.