Summary: Using Revelation 2 and 3 as a spring-board, this is the talk given at our Church annual meeting 2012. I believe the Lord is calling us to return to him as our first love, and to listen to his voice through the Bible and in prayer.
[A note to the reader: This is not an expository sermon. I was asking the Lord what was his message for our 2012 church annual meeting, and Revelation 2 and 3 seemed to be the answer. What follows is a local attempt to interpret these chapters to our situation]
What is the Lord saying to His Church? What is he saying to His Church in the UK, and what is he saying to us here at Christ Church?
In Revelation 2 and 3 the apostle John is writing to seven regional churches, telling them what he has heard from Jesus for them. Let’s remember that it was still the 1st century AD. The Churches were around 50 years old, roughly the time that this building has been in existence; but as always we must remember that the church is the people not the building.
To the Church in Ephesus Jesus says, “I know your deeds, hard work and perseverance; but you’ve forgotten your first love. Repent!” (2:1-7).
To the Church in Smyrna, “I know your afflictions and poverty yet you are rich. Don’t be afraid of what you’re about to suffer, even to the point of death” (2:8-11).
To the Church at Pergamum, “You remain true to my name; but you have people who hold to the teaching of Balaam, enticing others to commit sexual immorality. Repent!” (2:12-17).
To the Church in Thyatira, “I know your deeds, your love and faith and perseverance, but you tolerate that woman Jezebel who calls herself a prophetess. By her teaching she misleads my servants into sexual immorality and eating food sacrificed to idols. To you that do not hold to her teaching – hold on to what you have (2:18-29).
To the Church at Sardis, “I know your deeds. You have a reputation for being alive but you are dead. Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your deeds complete in the sight of my God. Remember what you have received, and heard; obey it, and repent” (3:1-6)! Just 50 years after the cross these churches were in a muddle.
Sometimes I’ve heard people say, “What we really need to do is to get back to the New Testament Church.” I know what they mean, but what we find is that even after just 3 or 4 years, the New Testament Church had big struggles and challenges.
To Philadelphia Jesus says, “I know your deeds. I know you have little strength yet you have kept my word and not denied my name. Hold on to what you have (7-13).
To Laodicea, “I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other; because you are lukewarm I am about to spit you out of my mouth” (3:14-18).
Many of the original believers had died by this point, some due to persecution or martyrdom. Some in the churches were 2nd or 3rd generation believers; most were not eye-witnesses of the ministry of Jesus.
The pressure upon these churches was immense. Pressure to compromise was huge. For some there was massive pressure to return to their former ways in Judaism, devoid of Christ. Charismatic preachers and prophets with strange teachings were drawing some away from the gospel; and here are we, relatively comfortable; immensely rich in possessions and choices available to us.
In the Church of England nationally there is a gentle but growing pressure to conform to the standards of this world rather than conform to the way of Christ, the way of costly discipleship; but I can say that through national movements such as Anglican mainstream and the New Wine Network of Churches, I find friendship, encouragement and resources to help me and to help us in challenging times.
As I said in my short talk earlier, as we put men and women back together, the world also gets repaired. [A note to the reader: I had given a short talk for all ages using an illustration about cutting up a picture of the world and trying to put it right. Children in the story discovered the other side of the picture was of a man and a woman. They managed to put the man and woman back together, thus enabling the picture of the world on the other side of the page to also be put back together. J John uses this illustration]
Putting men and women back together is first and foremost about a relationship with a Heavenly father who made us and loves us deeply. It’s about recognising that God loves the people of this world and has a perfect plan for us; but humanity has chosen to be the master of its own destiny. Men and women have decided that we do not need God and this desire to be in charge of our lives instead of God can be summed up in one concept: sin. Humanity chooses to sin; but God in his love for the world sent his only Son Jesus to come and live the perfect life, walking in harmony with God every moment of every day, therefore making it a sinless life; and because he loves us so much Jesus, the sinless Son of God, died in our place on the cross, making a costly decision to take our sin upon his shoulders. As hard to comprehend as that is, it means that God took the consequences of our sin upon himself, opening a door for men and women to be put right with God, to be put back together again.