Summary: The first churches in history were just like the churches now...and they have a lot to teach us about staying close to Jesus.
Sermon for CATM – December 28 – Churches of Revelation – Ephesus and Sardis – Revelation 2:1-7; 3:1-6
Today we begin a 5-part series on the Churches of Revelation. Yes, it is a bit odd that we’re beginning such a series on the last Sunday of the year and that we will be starting the new year with such a course.
But I’m excited about this short series because it’s about people, like us, who shaped the character, the feel, the ethos or vibe of some of the first Christian churches that ever existed.
And as we go along in this series I hope that you and I get a stronger sense of how it is that we as individuals shape the church that is called, “Church at the Mission”, and how we, by ourselves and corporately, influence the Kingdom of God in our community.
So today we look at two of the early churches that are described in the book of Revelation. Each church is described in chapter 1 as being a lampstand, and each church is described as having an angel.
We begin in chapter two, with Christ Jesus dictating, apparently, to John what He wants to say to the churches:
Rev 2:1 "To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: These are the words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand and walks among the seven golden lampstands: 2 I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked men, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false. 3 You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary. 4 Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love. 5 Remember the height from which you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place. 6 But you have this in your favor: You hate the practices of the Nicolaitans???, which I also hate. 7 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.
So with the church at Ephesus Jesus takes one certain approach. This is the church to whom the book of Ephesians is addressed, of course".
Jesus’ approach with this church is to start by identifying three of their strengths. First, Jesus says that He knows their deeds, their hard work. This is not a lazy church. This is not a church that has taken its calling lightly.
This is a church known for its hard workers and its hard work. This was not one of those congregations where 20% of the people do 80% of the ministry, as is often the case in this day and age.
This suggests that the people in the church at Ephesus took their call to BE the church very seriously. The lived out their faith. They acted on what they believed and it showed.
It’s said that you can tell what a person believes by how they LIVE far more than by what they SAY they believe. This church believed and embraced the gospel. This was no nominal church or glorified social club. And Jesus commends them for their work.
Secondly this is a church that is not muddy about what the gospel is. That’s evident by the fact that they show diligence in testing their teachers…they tested those who claimed to be apostles, or ones sent to build and strengthen the church by teaching and by personal encouragement.
They tested them because it mattered to them that their teachers were for real, and that their teachers taught the truth. That suggests that they knew the truth to begin with.
So with a strong knowledge of the gospel they tested the teachers, the self-proclaimed apostles, and they found certain ones to be false. Their life and their faith didn’t agree, or their testimony of Jesus was ultimately false.
Now this point was very important because in the early centuries of the history of the church there were a great number of attempts to alter the gospel, to water-down the importance of Jesus, to alter the facts of His life and death and resurrection.
The gospel and the church have been under assault, really…for as long as they have been around. That’s part of our heritage. So we don’t need to be surprised or discouraged in the least by the sometimes aggressive attempts you will hear about or read about that people make to discredit faith in Christ. In fact, we are wisest if we EXPECT those assaults on Christ, on the church and on the faith.