Summary: The first in a series of seven. This is an expository, alliterated sermon with practical application based on the letter to Ephesus in Revelation. PowerPoint is avialable if you e-mail me.
You’ve Got Mail: Ephesus
Scott R. Bayles, preacher
First Christian Church, Rosiclare, Illinois
Imagine if Jesus were to write a letter to Fist Christian Church here in Rosiclare. Imagine walking down to the post office, opening your PO Box and discovering an envelope with 777 Heaven Way, New Jerusalem as the return address. I wonder how much postage that would take? Of course, today I imagine Jesus would probably use a more contemporary form of correspondence—e-mail or twitter maybe. But regardless of the form in which his letter arrived, what do you suppose he’d have to say to our church? Would he compliment us on our evangelistic impact on the community, our sound doctrine and diligent Bible study, or our boundless love toward the harassed and helpless people of society? Or would he criticize us for the lack of those very things?
If he were to challenge us or command us to do one thing differently, what would it be? And imagine if he were to say something about himself. Would he describe himself as the Lamb of God, slain for your sins and mine, or as the Lion of Judah, powerful and ready to protect his pride.
For seven young churches off the coast of the Mediterranean Sea in the province of Asia, they didn’t have to imagine. Roughly thirty-some years following the death and resurrection of Jesus, the apostle John was given a vision from heaven. Jesus himself stood before him in radiant glory and told him, “Write on a scroll what you see and send it to the seven churches: to Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea” (Revelation 1:11 NIV). Jesus then proceeded to give John seven brief messages—seven letters to each of the seven churches.
Today, many have allegorized these letters, believing them to describe seven epochs of time in church history, but that kind of revisionist interpretation, I believe, misses the point of the message altogether. The truth is—these letters were sent to seven very real churches in seven real cities, each one with a very specific message for each local congregation and other churches that have faced similar struggles down through the centuries. The first of these seven letters was written for the church in Ephesus.
And here it is:
“Write this letter to the angel of the church in Ephesus. This is the message from the one who holds the seven stars in his right hand, the one who walks among the seven gold lampstands: I know all the things you do. I have seen your hard work and your patient endurance. I know you don’t tolerate evil people. You have examined the claims of those who say they are apostles but are not. You have discovered they are liars. You have patiently suffered for me without quitting. But I have this complaint against you. You don’t love me or each other as you did at first! Look how far you have fallen! Turn back to me and do the works you did at first. If you don’t repent, I will come and remove your lampstand from its place among the churches. But this is in your favor: You hate the evil deeds of the Nicolaitans, just as I do. Anyone with ears to hear must listen to the Spirit and understand what he is saying to the churches. To everyone who is victorious I will give fruit from the tree of life in the paradise of God.” (Revelation 2:1-6 NLT)
Each one of these seven messages begins the same way—with a word about the author—Jesus Christ. So let me start out the same way—with the Christ of the letter.
Jesus gives himself a very colorful and fantastic description in the first verse, picturing himself as “the one who holds the seven stars in his right hand, the one who walks among the seven gold lampstands” (vs. 1 NLT). The Book of Revelation is full of this color fantasy imagery—bizarre images, vivid word pictures, supernatural creatures and cryptic language. Bible scholars have argued for centuries about the meaning of various symbols. Fortunately for us, Jesus himself explains this particular image: “This is the meaning of the mystery of the seven stars you saw in my right hand and the seven gold lampstands: The seven stars are the messengers of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches” (Revelation 1:20 NLT). Pretty simple, huh?
So the lampstands represent the seven churches and the stars represent the messengers (preachers or prophets) of those seven churches. The real question is—why does Jesus describe himself as walking among them and hold them in his hand? The answer, I believe, is that Jesus wanted the church in Ephesus to understand that he knows what is going on in their church, he is with them, and he is in control.