Summary: The local church at Ephesus had a rich history of strong Christian leadership from Paul, through Timothy to John. They had been very effective in keeping their doctrine pure. But, in their zeal to keep themselves doctrinally pure, they left their first l
It seems as if the news is filled every day with scandals. Government scandals, corporate scandals, all kinds of scandals. It seems that even our own WVU is involved in a scandal. And this one doesn’t have anything to do with the football team. It seems that the governor’s daughter was awarded a master’s degree that she didn’t earn. Now I don’t know the details about it or anything that’s going to come of it. But here’s what I do know. I know two things that will come of it. First, if it stays in the headlines much longer, someone will call for a “top to bottom” review of the university. And second, somehow someway, somebody will try to blame this on Coach Rodriguez leaving and going to Michigan. But seriously, whether or not they bring Coach Rodriguez’s name into it, you can mark my words. If it stays in the headlines, someone will call for a “top to bottom” review. You can mark it down, because that’s what happens with most scandals. Back when the Savings and Loan crisis happened—congress called for a review. Every time something goes wrong in Iraq, congress calls for a review. When video of the horrible barracks at Ft. Bragg hit the internet, the Army called for a review. Any time there is a corporate scandal, CEOs call for a review. It’s even happening in churches. There are now specialized people called “intentional interim” pastors. These people specialize in coming into pastorless churches who have split or have been involved in scandal or conflict. And guess what the first thing they do is? They go through a “top to bottom” review. That’s all well and good. But we shouldn’t have to wait until things fall completely apart before we take a look at them. And I believe that’s why Jesus gave us these letters to the seven churches here in Revelation 2 and 3. So that we can review ourselves in the same way that Jesus reviews us. Over the next seven weeks, we’re going to look at Jesus’ “top to bottom” review of seven first century local churches in Asia Minor. We will look at each of the seven churches differently because Jesus looked at each one of them differently. Each church was unique. Each one had different problems. And each one needed different solutions. Over the years, people have looked at these seven churches different ways. Some have seen them not as historical first century churches but rather as seven different ages of the church. They have looked at church history and broken it down into seven different ages that correspond to each letter. That thinking has led to some very powerful sermons that compare our present church age to Laodicea. There are some valid comparisons there. And it is possible to see elements from different ages of church history in each of the seven churches. But that moves away from the real power of God’s Word in these letters. The real power is in seeing that these were seven letters to seven literal, real churches in Asia Minor at the time. And in each of those churches we see problems that have plagued local churches throughout history. Not only have they plagued local churches throughout history, they continue to plague churches today. As a matter of fact, if we allow the Holy Spirit to convict us over the next seven weeks, we will begin to see some of these same problems in our own church. But Jesus didn’t have John write these letters just to wag His finger at the problems. He wrote these letters to point out the solutions. So while I’m sure that we’ll see ourselves in many of these letters, my prayer is that we won’t just see ourselves in the problems. My prayer is that we’ll see ourselves in the solutions that Jesus gives us.
This morning’s text takes us to the local church at Ephesus. Ephesus was a tremendous city. As a matter of fact, it was the largest and most important city in the Roman province of Asia Minor. If you were able to find it on a map today, you would find Ephesus on the western coast of Turkey, straight across the Aegean Sea from Athens, Greece. Ephesus was known for many things. It was known as one of the most important trade centers of the Roman Empire. It was a port city and was built on the crossings of four major trade routes. Up to ½ million people lived there at any one time. It had the latest in art, entertainment and commerce. It was like the NYC or San Francisco of the Roman Empire. It also had the temple of Diana or Artemis. Diana was the Roman name of the goddess. Artemis was the Greek name. This temple was known as one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. The temple housed one of the most important banks of the day. It also became a sanctuary for criminals and people looking to make a quick buck. Worship in the temple was really little more than open orgies. Thousands of male and female temple prostitutes were there. One commentator puts it like this—“The temple grounds were a chaotic cacophony of priests, prostitutes, bankers, criminals, musicians, dancers, and frenzied hysterical worshippers. And it was right in the middle of this city that Paul’s ministry partners, Priscilla and Aquila, planted a church.