Sermons

March 1, 2020

20/20 Vision and Revelation 2

Jason Meyer | 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 names 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.’”—Revelation 2:1–7 

20/20 Sermon Series – February and March

We are now four sermons into our “20/20 Vision” series. We designed the month of February in such a way that there would be three formative texts on shepherding oversight and then a foundational text on Jesus as the Great Shepherd. Our ambition is to know our people more clearly, speak to them more specifically, and lead them more effectively. But this ambition must be understood as an aspiration because we know our limitations. Dave, Steven, and I cannot know everyone—even when we factor in our team of elders on each campus, we cannot know everyone sufficiently on our own. Elders also rely on shepherding structures like small groups and Sunday school classes and other types of relationships. And we know for sure that we cannot know anyone perfectly. We are not going to know you perfectly, or speak to you perfectly, or lead you perfectly, or love you perfectly. Only the Chief Shepherd does that. And under-shepherds perpetually love to point the flock to the Great Shepherd of the Sheep.

We are now going to build upon the foundation of those four sermons. This month of March we have five sermons in which we build upon the theme of oversight from another angle. If February focused on the work of the shepherds, then March will focus on the participation of the flock. If February emphasized the part that the leaders play, then March will highlight the part that the people play. In other words, we do not want people to think that our 20/20 Vision and Strengthening the Core is all about what the elders do. Perhaps February caused a question to arise within you: “I see what shepherds are supposed to do, but what am I supposed to do?” Our 20/20 Vision aims to answer this question in relationship to the doctrine of the church. When you ask, “What am I supposed to do?” that question assumes an understanding of what a church is and how a participant in the church is supposed to function. 

What is a church? A church is a gathered assembly of the citizens of heaven on earth. What happens when a church gathers? That is, what does a church do? Christians throughout church history have highlighted three marks of a true church gathering. A true church is a gathered assembly where at least three things happen: (1) God’s word is rightly preached, (2) the ordinances are rightly administered, (3) discipline is rightly exercised.

Introduction

First Mark of a True Church and Lessons From the Messages to the Seven Churches

Today we will look at the first mark of a true church: Preaching. Next week we will examine the mark of discipline truly exercised. The weeks that follow will examine the link between discipline and discipleship, life in the body of Christ, and the ordinances of Christ: the Lord’s Supper and Baptism. 

Today we are focusing on God’s word faithfully preached. What is preaching? I wrote a book on that question that said the ministry of the Word (of which preaching is a part) is stewarding and heralding it in such a way that people encounter God through his word. I am not going to preach that whole book and all the texts that form the case for that definition. 

I do want to look in general at Jesus’ words to the seven churches in Revelation 2–3 and make some observations. Then I will drill down even deeper with his message to one of the churches in particular. 

General: Bringing the Voice of Jesus by the Spirit of Jesus to the Church of Jesus 

In the letters to the seven churches, we get a picture of what preaching is supposed to do. The aim of preaching is to bring the voice of Christ to his church. Here is the picture we see in the Lord’s message to his seven churches: The Risen Christ knows his churches intimately, speaks to them specifically, calls them to respond immediately, warns them severely, and promises them extravagantly. 

The pulpit has a central place in the church because it is the place set apart to hear the Lord of the church speak to his church. Local under-shepherds want to steward that message and deliver that message as a faithful ambassador and herald. The point for our 20/20 Vision is also clear as we look at the specific differences of the letters to the seven churches. Christ had a distinct word for each church. Each assembly in these different locations faced different trials, temptations, and situations. Each church is commended, accused, admonished, and warned in different ways that are specific to each church. Campus-specific preaching seeks to come from a person who is an under-shepherd and walks among the church and walks with Christ so that he can deliver Christ’s word to the church.

I do not want to miss what these letters to the seven churches emphasize in the conclusion: Listen to what the Spirit says to the churches (Revelation 2:7, 11, 17, 29; 3:6, 13, 22). Who is speaking? I thought these were the words of Christ to his churches? Yes, they are the words of Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit. The words of Christ and the work of the Spirit go together. Jesus tells us in John’s Gospel that the Spirit will take what is mine and glorify it (John 16).

Preaching should be done in the power of the Holy Spirit, not in the performance of human oratory.

Turning to the First Message: What We Need to Hear

But I do not want to preach about preaching from a safe distance—a way that makes the message of Christ abstract and impersonal. I want to preach Jesus’ words to the first church because I think it so fits where we are and what we need to hear.

To the Church in Ephesus

“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.’”—
Revelation 2:1–7 

Outline

  1. Introduction (v. 1)

a) Holds the Seven Stars
b) Walks Among the Seven Lampstands

  1. Commendation (vv. 2–3)

a) Your Deeds (v. 2)
b) Your Doctrine (v. 2, v. 6)
c) Your Endurance (vv. 2–3)

  1. Accusation (v. 4)

a) Lost Your First Love

  1. Admonition (v. 5)

a) Remember
b) Repent
c) Return 

  1. Conclusion (vv. 5–7)

a) Warning: Remove Lampstand
b) Promise: Eat From the Tree of Life in the Paradise of God

1. Introduction (v. 1)

“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 do not have time to go into much detail here in terms of the debate about the phrase “the angel of the church.” The word angel means “messenger” and so the debate is whether this refers to a human messenger of the church (i.e., the pastor of the church) or a heavenly messenger (angelic beings). I agree with the majority of commentators who say that this is a reference to an actual angelic being—a heavenly representative of earthly congregations. There are 67 references to angels in Revelation and all of them outside of chapters 2–3 refer to angelic beings. Also, angels are identified with Christians as their heavenly counterparts elsewhere in Revelation (8:3-4; 19:10; 22:9).

I am not spending much space here in the sermon focusing on the angel because the focus is meant to be on Christ here. John highlights two characteristics of Christ: (1) he holds the seven stars, and (2) he walks among the seven lampstands. 

a) Holds the Seven Stars

“The words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand”

b) Walks Among the Seven Lampstands

“... who walks among the seven golden lampstands.”

Each of the messages to the seven churches begins with a description or a self-disclosure of Jesus. It establishes the identity of the One who speaks. The risen Christ has both sovereign power and intimate knowledge. The Lampstands are the churches and the stars are the angels that represent them. The picture we have here is that Jesus sovereignly holds the angels and walks among the seven lampstands. This once again is proof of Jesus’ promise of God with us—the God who is present with his people and knows them intimately so he can speak specifically. That is why the very next words are “I know your works.” The God who dwells with us knows us. We saw this last week: The Good Shepherd knows the Sheep like the Son knows the Father—perfectly, fully, totally, infallibly. Jesus never needed man’s testimony about man because he knew what was in man (John 2:44).

2. Commendation (vv. 2–3)

a) Your Deeds (v. 2)

“I know your works, your toil ...”

b) Your Doctrine (vv. 2, 6)

“... 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 ....

Yet this you have: you hate the works of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.”

c)  Your Endurance (vv. 2–3)

“ ... and your patient endurance .…  I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name’s sake, and you have not grown weary. 

Let’s summarize the picture. Jesus commends the church for being active and doctrinally sound and for running the race with endurance and patience. It seems like a strong commendation, but it turns out that appearances can be deceiving because when he moves to accusation it is devastating.

3) Accusation (v. 4)

a) Lost Your First Love

But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. 

Appearances can be deceiving. It looks like the church is active and pure and doctrinally sound and running the race with endurance, but they are losing their love for Christ. In fact, Jesus says it more definitively. “You have lost or abandoned the love you had for me at the beginning.”

Here is another way you could say it. The highest divorce rate in the country right now is among empty-nesters. Why? You would think that they made it through the difficult years of raising their children and seeing them leave the house. But that is the point. Something else became the focus. They lost sight of being spouses and just became parents. Once the kids were gone, they woke up and realized that they didn’t really have a relationship. There was nothing there anymore.

Are you not afraid of the same thing, Christian? Could it be that in the beginning it was all so clearly about love for Jesus as the all-consuming focus and then slowly the focus began to shift elsewhere? It is a subtle shift and a slow fade. They focused on how active they were—their toil, their works, the things they were doing. The focus became testing false doctrine, hating the works of false teachers. They told themselves that they are so doctrinally sound and pure and right. Maybe the focus was on just enduring patiently and just bearing up and grinding it out.

Then Jesus comes and wants to clarify the relationship. In all your deeds and your doctrine and your endurance, you lost me. I am no longer the focus. You traded the primary for the secondary. You are running on the relational fumes of what you once had. The light of our relationship is slowly dying out and you don’t even see it because you have lost sight of me.

All that he commended was good in and of itself. Hating error is good. Patient endurance is good. Working hard is good, but it is not the main thing.

Hating error is not the same as loving Christ. Being active is not the same as adoring Christ. Enduring hardship is not the same as enjoying Christ. What are they to do with this devastating diagnosis? Jesus now turns to admonish them with three points.

4. Admonition (v. 5)

a) Remember: Remember therefore from where you have fallen
b) Repent: Repent …
c) Return: ... and do the works you did at first. 

a) Remember

If they are going to return to the love they had at first, then they will need to go back and remember it. Go back with the express purpose of bringing the past into the present. See what it was like. Feel what is what like. Put yourself in that place again.

b) Repent

Once they have remembered where they were, they have to compare and contrast that with where they are now. Once that contrast is clear they will see how far off they are and will need to repent of it. Repentance is a response to seeing how far off course we are. It is the idea of a plumb line—we have been eye-balling something and then we put up a plumb line to it and we see how far off we are. Or we go some distance and then check the map and see that we took the wrong road. I remember once we were hiking and we were going on a trail to reach a summit. The trail was not well marked and we ended up missing where we were supposed to turn. What was supposed to be a two- mile hike ended up being an eight-mile hike. It was painful to realize how far off we were and then the sinking realization of how far we had to go in order to go back to the original trail. 

c) Return

But notice what Jesus says about what this return looks like. I love the Bible. It is unlike any other book. Jesus’ response seems a little surprising or counterintuitive. Jesus does not denigrate works. He does not say, “Stop being so busy with works and just focus on loving me.” After they remember and repent, they return to the original works. The original love should lead to the original works.

In other words, works were not the problem, the order is the problem. They have become disordered. Things had subtly shifted for them and now they had things out of order. What is the problem? It looks like they had endurance, but actually they were going to run out of steam. Here is a word picture. Jesus is saying that the lead engine of the train must be love for Christ. We cannot put anything else at the front. I am imagining that coal burning train now and putting coals into the burning furnace that keeps the train going. If that guy quits shoveling coal into that furnace the train is going to keep going for a while, but it is going to die. If a flower is cut, it may be pretty for a while and you can display it for a while and smell it for a while, but a cut flower is a flower that will wilt and die. Jesus is saying that Ephesus was a cut flower and needed to be connected again to the vine in love for Christ. Love for Christ must be the fuel for the lampstand to shine bright.

Where is your focus? How can you have a relationship with someone without focusing on them? And if Christ is to be your pre-eminent relationship, he must be your pre-eminent focus. We should know him better than we know anything else, love him more than we love anyone else. What has been your focus? If you spent more time looking into the coronavirus than the Lord Jesus Christ, then that should be a sign of spiritual danger. Our desires and our focus are always in danger of becoming disordered. What is exactly is at stake with this danger? 

5) Conclusion (vv. 5–7)

a) Warning: Remove Lampstand (v. 5)

If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent.

When the love runs out, the church dies out. Jesus snuffs it out – he removes it. We are going to talk about church discipline and removing a member from the assembly – Jesus is the one who carries out the discipline here by removing the entire assembly. 

b) Promise: Eat From the Tree of Life in the Paradise of God (vv. 6–7)

“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.”

The promise is the paradise of God and enjoying eternal life by eating of the tree of life. Some people just hear this as “paradise” instead of the “paradise of God.” When you go to someone’s house, does it first enter your mind that you are going there because they have cool stuff there—good food, fun entertainment? Hear this as you are going where God is—and you will enjoy it there forever.

Main Point: Contending for Christ must flow from the fountain of love for Christ. Putting this in the right order will result in extravagant eternal blessings. Getting these out of order will have devastating consequences for our souls and for our church.

That is my question for you today. We are in a situation that is like the church of Ephesus. There is work to be done. There are errors to refute. There is doctrine to clarify and champion. There is a race to run. But above all else there is a Savior to be loved. Do you love Jesus?

This is what we do in terms of the work of the church. This is why we preach. This is why we raise our children in the nurture and instruction of the Lord—not just to know the Bible, but to love the Lord. This is why we meet in small groups—not simply to get to know one another, but to stir one another up to love and good deeds, to love for the Lord and love for others. The world will know we are his disciples if we love him and have love for one another. 

We keep stirring each other up in this way because if the light of love goes out, then the church goes out with it. When the light of love is done, then this church is done. Don’t you want to be this kind of church? What do you want people to say about Bethlehem? We don’t just want to be a place where people say, “They know their Bibles,” but a place where people say, “They love their Bridegroom.” 

This word from Jesus did its work in me. I remembered the way that I used to pray and read Scripture and witness to others when I first met Jesus and he was everything to me. I immediately repented and started trying to figure out how to get back to that place. I began to feel burdened and fearful as the focus shifted to all that I needed to do. But then as I pondered what I needed to do, I kept reading. I came to Revelation 3:20 and it was a moment of gracious confrontation: 

Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.

Jesus lovingly and forcefully spoke to me, “Do you think this is all about your pursuit of me? I am pursuing you! I want to be with you even more than you want to be with me. I am calling. I am knocking. All you have to do is open the door.”

That is when a flood of repentance came over me. I thought about all the times that I heard the knock and told Jesus that I would spend time with him later. I had other things to do like write sermons and answer emails and parent children. But I remembered when, earlier in my faith, how eagerly I would answer every call and every knock—I was excited for every “interruption” as an invitation to fellowship with Jesus. I am eager to go back to that place again in my life!

What about you? What are the distractions and the subtle shifts that have caused you to put Jesus off and displace him from the place of preeminence in your life? Repent and return!

Conclusion: The Lord’s Supper

The Lord’s Supper is meant to help us carry out the admonition of the Lord to remember. “Do This in Remembrance of Me.” To remember is not just recalling something—it is to bring the past into the present. The Lord’s Supper is not just an invitation to a meal, but to a relationship. If someone invites you over for a meal, it is not necessarily the meal that is the main thing, but the invitation to friendship or an invitation to spend time together—similarly, with the Lord’s Supper, that is the invitation we have to commune with Christ. 

The Lord’s Supper is a rhythm of remembering, repenting, and returning. We go back so that we can see how far off we are. We can see if our flame of love for Christ is burning bright or flickering and growing cold. We return to how this relationship began—we take our torch to the flame of his love so that our love can be rekindled.

Sermon Discussion Questions

Main Point: Contending for Christ must flow from love for Christ. Putting these in the right order will result in extravagant eternal blessings. Getting these out of order will have devastating consequences for our souls and for our church.

Outline

  1. Introduction (Revelation 2:1)
    a. Holds the Seven Stars
    b. Walks Among the Seven Lampstands
  2. Commendation (Revelation 2:2–3)
    a. Your Deeds (Revelation 2:2)
    b. Your Doctrine (Revelation 2:2, 6)
    c. Your Endurance (Revelation 2:2–3)
  3. Accusation (Revelation 2:4)
    a. Lost Your First Love
  4. Admonition (Revelation 2:5)
    a. Remember
    b. Repent
    c. Return
  5. Conclusion (Revelation 2:5–7)
    a. Warning: Remove Lampstand
    b. Promise: Eat From the Tree of Life in the Paradise of God

Discussion Questions

  • Who is Jesus in verse 1? How does this picture of Jesus relate to the words of Jesus that follow?
  • What does Jesus commend in the Ephesian church?
  • What is the devastating diagnosis that Jesus has for the Ephesian church?
  • In verse 5, what is Jesus’ admonition or solution for them?
  • How does the flow of the passage lead to the main point of the passage? In other words, how do Jesus words in Revelation 2:1–5 lead to the blessing and curse of Revelation 2:5–7?

Application Questions

  • What did your original love for Christ look like and feel like? Go back and remember.
  • Compare and contrast that original love for Christ with your current relationship with Christ. What observations would you make? Are there places where you have taken a wrong turn or have things in the wrong order? What do you need to do to return to the nature of those original works that flowed from your first connection with Christ and love for Christ?
  • What part of this message do you need to share with someone this week?

Prayer Focus
Pray for a grace to know Christ better than you know anything else and to love him more than you love anyone else.

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