Summary: This is the capstone sermon to the series on the Seven Churches of Asia titled, "Church Matters."
Turn with me to Revelation 1
Over the past several weeks, we’ve been looking at the seven churches of Asia from Revelation 2-3. Now that we’re done looking at each church individually, we’re going to go backwards. We’re going to look at how John introduced the letters. If you want to think of it this way, now that we’ve looked at all the articles in the magazine, we’re going to look at the index in the front. Another way you can look at this message this morning is like a picture album. We’ve looked at each of the pictures individually over the past several weeks. We’ve looked at the color, and the nuance, and the detail, of a picture of each individual church each week. We’ve seen each of their histories, and their good works and their shortcomings, and how Jesus saw each of them. How He commended them for the things they got right. And how He chastised them for what they got wrong. But there was a reason that God gave John each of these letters in one revelation. Yes, they were individual letters to individual churches in Asia Minor. But they were more than that. They were also a collection of letters to be taken together as a complete package. Each individual picture is combined into one single big-picture. A single big-picture of who Jesus is to His local churches and who His local churches are to be to Him. Or to use Paul’s language in Ephesians 5, it’s one big picture of Jesus as the bridegroom and His bride the church. So, what we’re looking at this morning is a wedding album. A wedding album in two parts. The first part shows us the bridegroom in all His glory and splendor. And the second part shows us His bride. It shows us the seven churches in all of their imperfection. It shows us the things that please Jesus about them and the things that displease Him about them. And if we pay attention, it shows us the same thing in ourselves.
The first thing our wedding album shows us Jesus Christ, our Bridegroom. In verse 11, the King James calls Jesus the Alpha and Omega, the first and the last. Here, the translators simply repeated the phrase Jesus used to introduce Himself to John back in verse 8 where He said, “I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending… which is, and which was, and which is to come, the Almighty.” What a way to introduce Himself! The last time John saw Jesus was when He ascended into heaven, 40 days after the crucifixion. Back then, John was a young man full of confusion and fear and expectation. By this time, John was an old man exiled like a criminal on the island of Patmos. He had served the Lord well over 60 years and was waiting for His return. He had seen the church born on the day of Pentecost. He had seen it grow exponentially in Jerusalem and throughout the known world through the ministry of Paul and the Apostles. And he had seen it persecuted. First by the Jews. Then locally by the Romans under Nero. And by this time the church was universally persecuted as a matter of public policy under the emperor Domitian. But in spite of all of that, the church grew. It grew and spread to the point that a century later, a man named Tertullian commented that the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church. It was in the midst of all of this that Jesus revealed Himself once again to the old man John. And what a revelation it was. He started by giving John the comforting reassurance that He is the Alpha and Omega. That phrase doesn’t mean a whole lot to us today. But it meant a whole lot to John. We don’t speak Greek—John did. And because he did, he knew that Alpha is the first letter of the Greek alphabet. He also knew that Omega is the last letter of the Greek alphabet. One thing you can say about the alphabet is, you can’t make a word without using the letters in it. And no matter what modern philosophers think, every bit of human thought and reasoning is expressed in words. So if all thought is expressed in words. And all words are made up of letters. Then the letters of the alphabet contain all thought. That’s what Jesus was saying when He called Himself the Alpha and Omega. The fancy theological word for that is that Jesus is omniscient. In other words, He has all knowledge. Jesus knows the end from the beginning. Nothing takes Him by surprise. Colossians 1 tells us that all things were created by Him and for Him and in Him all things consist. He is the Alpha and Omega and He is the first and the last. That doesn’t mean that Jesus had a beginning. It doesn’t mean that He will have an ending. It means that, before anything could ever have been called a beginning, Jesus is. After anything could possibly be called an ending, Jesus is. Jesus is always in the present tense. No beginning, no ending. The eternal, uncreated, everlasting Son of God. And He stood before John. He stood before John and told him to write a book. He told him to write a book so that His church would know who He is. Jesus told John to write a book to tell His bride about her bridegroom. You see, because Jesus is God, He is infinite. And because we’re His creation, we’re not—we’re finite. And the finite mind cannot fully comprehend the infinite. But because Jesus loves us, He reveals Himself to us in His Word in ways that our finite minds can grasp. As He spoke to those seven churches of Asia, He revealed different aspects of His love and His nature. When Jesus showed them their deepest need, He revealed how He was the only One who could fulfill that deepest need. In the face of the lovelessness of Ephesus, Jesus showed that He is love. In the face of the persecution of Smyrna, Jesus showed that He is hope. In the face of the doctrinal compromise of Pergamos, Jesus showed that He is the uncompromising Word. In the face of the terrible immorality of Thyatira, Jesus showed that He is the righteous judge. In the face of the deadness of Sardis, Jesus showed that He is life. In the face of the faithfulness of Philadelphia, Jesus showed that He gives opportunity. In the face of the lukewarm complacency of Laodicea, Jesus showed that He is calling and knocking. Jesus is not a magic genie that you can rub to make everything peaceful and prosperous. He’s not a divine lottery ticket that will take away all of the things in your life you think are your needs. Because most of the things we think are our needs aren’t. Jesus meets needs. He meets the needs of His bride. And the beautiful thing is, He meets our truest needs. The needs that most of the time we don’t even see. At least, we don’t see them until His Holy Spirit convicts us of them. One word that came up in each of these seven letters was the word “know”. In each of the seven churches, Jesus tells them that He knows what’s going on. The bridegroom knows everything there is to know about His bride. Jesus knows everything there is to know about this church. He knows everything there is to know about you—both good and bad. He knows your heart. He knows your motives. He knows your thoughts and intents. He knew them before the foundation of the world. And He loves you anyway. And He demonstrated that love in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. But not only does Jesus know His bride, He challenges His bride. Each one of the letters to the seven churches closes with the words, “He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.” Jesus knows us. He knows you. And even though He knows you, He still loves you. He loves you enough to give you His Word. He loved you enough to take on flesh in order that He might take the punishment for your sin. He loves you enough that He willingly gave Himself to die on the cross as a substitute for your sins. He loves you that much. He loves you enough to call you and convict you and urge you and to draw you. But He also loves you so much that He won’t force you. He gives you ears. He speaks through His Spirit-illumined Word. And He challenges you to hear. He who has ears, let him hear. Jesus has given you ears—is He calling you now? Is He drawing you now? Is He convicting you now? Don’t tune Him out. Don’t push Him aside. Listen—respond—hear. Answer His challenge and do what He calls you to do. Jesus knows His bride, He challenges His bride, and He promises His bride. A third thing Jesus says in each of the 7 letters is a promise. He makes a promise to him who overcomes. I’m sure that each of those 7 churches was filled with people who had at one time or another made a profession of faith in Christ. I’m sure that they were filled with people who had been baptized. The same thing can be said for most of our churches today. But the sad thing was in the case of the 7 churches of Asia, most of those people acted like they were lost. And we know from the book of James, that if you continually, unrepentantly act like you’re lost, the odds are that you are lost. The New Testament is filled with the idea of perseverance. Sometimes we Baptists like to use the words “Once saved always saved.” While it’s a true doctrine, many times it is misunderstood or misrepresented. It doesn’t say that if you’ve walked an aisle somewhere, you’re saved and on your way to heaven. It doesn’t say that if you’re a church member, you’re saved and on your way to heaven. It doesn’t even say that if you’ve been baptized, you’re saved and on your way to heaven. What it says is that if Jesus has saved you, He won’t lose you. You will persevere until the end. You will overcome. That’s a promise. When Jesus saves you, you can say with Paul in Romans 8:38-39: “For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Our bridegroom promises that His bride will overcome and will persevere until He comes back for her. What a glorious promise. What are you trusting in to make you overcome? What are you trusting in so that you will persevere until the end? Are you trusting in something you’ve done? Are you trusting in your works? Are you trusting in your goodness and good works? Or are you trusting in the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross on your behalf? All those other things will fail you miserably. But the fact that on the cross, Jesus said, “It is finished,” means that all that was ever needed to be done for your salvation is complete. And because Jesus finished the work on Calvary, you can overcome until He returns. We can overcome until He returns. His bride will overcome until He returns as our bridegroom. What a glorious picture we have of our bridegroom. But not only do we have a picture of our bridegroom, our wedding album has given us a picture of the bride.