The Worthy Lamb - Revelation 5

Frodo Baggins was the only one worthy to carry the one ring to fires of Mordor. Anakin Skywalker was said to be the only one worthy to bring balance to the force. The quest has now begun for the only worthy football coach can bring their team a championship. Only the worthy true king could pull the sword from the stone and deliver the people from tyranny. Only the worthy candidate can deliver us a political victory. Only the worthy Katniss Everdeen was able to dethrone President Snow. Only the worthy boy with the lightning scar could defeat the one who must not be named. Our world loves worthy heroes that bring deliverance out of hopelessness. Why? Is it just that we love a good story? Or is it something more?

            There are certain themes that are retold time after time from generation to generation because they reflect woven into the very fabric of our world. The worthy one who brings hope from hopelessness is at the core of our world. If you are not a Christian, I want to introduce you to the story above all other stories that all stories of redemption only dimly reflect. I want you to consider the only one truly worthy of our praise and adoration. And beloved, let us turn our hearts again to God’s glorious story of redemption so our hearts may give glory, honor and praise to the only One who is worthy.

            We continue with John’s vision of the throne in heaven. Chapters 4 and 5 are one scene. Revelation 4 gloriously pictures God sitting on his throne in all his glorious splendor surrounded by glorious heavenly beings who worship him by casting down their crowns saying, “Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.” (Revelation 4:11) As the scene continues, Johns moves us through the vision by telling the reader what he sees. He uses the word, saw or looked 4 times in this chapter to draw our attention to key aspects of the vision.

No One Worthy

            John begins by introducing a scroll that was held in God’s right hand. Revelation 5:1, “Then I saw in the right hand of him who was seated on the throne a scroll written within and on the back, sealed with seven seals.” First, notice that the scroll is sealed with seven seals. The number seven is used throughout revelation to communicate wholeness and completeness. The scroll being sealed with seven seals shows how completely and totally secure the scroll was from all who desired to see its contents. Second, we notice that this scroll was in the right hand of God. It was secure with seals as it was secure in the right hand of God’s strong hand. Lastly, we must consider what is written on this scroll. There have been several ideas put forward on what are the scrolls contents: the book of life, the last will and testament containing the inheritance of the saints, a contract deed or a book containing God’s redemptive plan. Based on the context of Revelation and the prophetic material (Isaiah 29:11, Daniel 8:26, Ezekiel 2:9-10), it is most logically a divine contract that details God’s redemptive plan. Remember in the beginning of chapter 4, John is told that he will be shown what must take place after this (Rev. 4:1).

            The sealed scroll that holds the details of all history is a theme in key prophetic books of Isaiah, Daniel and Ezekiel. The audience would have understood the significance of that scroll. It is also written on the front and back to show the comprehensiveness and extensive nature of the decrees of God. This is an extremely important scroll. After introducing the scroll, there is movement in the vision. Revelation 5:2-3, “And I saw a mighty angel proclaiming with a loud voice, ‘Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?” And no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to look into it, and I began to weep loudly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look into it.” The key word in Revelation 4 & 5 is worthy. Only one who is worthy can open the scroll and break its seals. And no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth is found worthy. The three-fold description covers everywhere. There is no one worthy anywhere in all of creation. God does not open the scroll himself, but needs a mediator. Who is the worthy mediator?

            We all know where this is going as we have read the text, but let us camp in the feeling of the Apostle John. John said, “I began to weep loudly, because no one was found worthy.” The unfolding of history and the God ordained future is shut up and no one will know. There is a hopelessness here. Imagine you have a little boy who you love with all your heart. He is your only son and the delight of your life. One day he is diagnosed with leukemia. He needs a bone marrow transplant. After a search of everyone in the family no one is a worthy match. Think of the pain of a mother and father in that moment when they realize that no one is worthy. They would weep loudly because no one was found worthy. Hopeless. Desperate. Helpless. John weeps, no for himself, but for the future events of God to go unrealized, “namely the coming of the final kingdom of God.[1]

            Have you ever been hopeless? Desperate? Helpless? Have you ever experienced the tears and agony of hope unrealized? The good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ will only be truly good news if you first understand the hopelessness of your own sin. The lie of too many of our churches is that people can be worthy of salvation by their works. If people serve the poor, feed the hungry, care for the least of these, or are just good people, then they are worthy of God’s salvation. Friend, no one is worthy in heaven, on earth or under the earth. We are sinners. The wages of sin is death. John weeps because God’s redemptive plan is left unrealized. He knows that he and the rest of humanity need a Savior. And those tears symbolize the hopelessness we have without redeemer. True joy can only come after you realize that you are hopeless in yourself. We are sinners to the core.

            Many churches do not preach about sin because its uncomfortable, but friend, without hearing of our sin and our hopelessness, how can truly appreciate salvation? Take yourself back to the hospital waiting room. Mother and father are on their knees weeping because there is no one worthy to save their son. Hopeless. Desperate. Helpless. Then, all of the sudden they hear footsteps of a doctor running down the hall. They look up from their knees and they hear the doctor screaming down the hall, “We found a match! We found a match! Weep, no more.”

No One Weeping

            It is hard to capture the magnitude of the reversal between verses 4 and 5. It is a glorious declaration that there is salvation. There is help. There is hope. “And one of the elders said to me, “Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.” Friend, weep no more. Let your tears turn to laughing. Let your weeping turn to shouts of praise. It is a glorious sentence. The Redeemer has conquered. Remember how each of the letters to the seven churches ends, “To the one who conquers.” Jesus has conquered for you to eat of the tree of life, to not be hurt by the second death, to receive a new name on a white stone, to give you authority over all nations, to clothe you in white garments, to make you a pillar in the temple of God, and to grant you to set on the throne with him. Jesus has conquered the grave for you who believe.

            Jesus is identified as the lion of the tribe of Judah and the root of David. These are both messianic terms. The first, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, is taken from Genesis 49:8-10,

Judah, your brothers shall praise you; your hand shall be on the neck of your enemies; your father's sons shall bow down before you. Judah is a lion's cub; from the prey, my son, you have gone up. He stooped down; he crouched as a lion and as a lioness; who dares rouse him? The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler's staff from between his feet, until tribute comes to him; and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples.

The Jewish people were expected the messianic warrior king to come from the tribe of Judah. Notice the military prowess in the description. The lion itself is known for power and ferocity in battle is a good picture how Judah will have its hand on the neck of its enemies. The Lion of the Tribe of Judah has conquered, just not in the way the Jewish people were expecting.

            The second term, the Root of David, is taken from Isaiah 11. Here again we see the Messiah as one who will reign in power.

There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit. And the Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD. And his delight shall be in the fear of the LORD. He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide disputes by what his ears hear, but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; and he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked. Righteousness shall be the belt of his waist, and faithfulness the belt of his loins.

These verses may not be as familiar to us, but to the audience who John’s prophecy, they would have been precious. As they were longing and waiting for the vindication of their messianic warrior King. However, the King they were expecting did not come in power, but as a lamb who was led to the slaughter.

Only One Worthy

            Christianity is a paradox. We conquer, not by sword, but sacrifice. We win through defeat. We have peace through the blood of the Lamb who was slain. Revelation 5:6-8,

And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain, with seven horns and with seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth. And he went and took the scroll from the right hand of him who was seated on the throne. And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints.

The Lion of the Tribe of Judah is a Lamb that was slain. The lamb had seven horns and seven eyes. The number seven is used symbolically throughout Revelations. These seven horns were to symbolize the complete power or omnipotence of the lamb. The seven eyes symbolize the omniscience or complete knowledge that God has throughout the earth. The eyes are further identified as the seven spirits of God referring to the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is sent by God the Father and God the Son to bring about his salvation through the earth. The Spirit, first poured out at Pentecost in Acts 2, is unleashed throughout the world to bring salvation from people from every tribe, language and nation.

            The Lamb is worshipped. He is worthy. He is worthy not merely because of virtue but because of authority. Only God is worthy. The Lamb is one with the Father. And as we shall see, he praised along with the Father as being worthy. The 24 elders and the 4 living creatures fall before the lamb and sing a song of praise. This song reveals to us the worthiness of the Lamb. Revelation 5:9-10,

And they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.

Worthy to Reward

            The Lamb is worthy to take the scroll and open its seals. The next several chapters reveal the effect of opening the seals upon the earth, but it is important for us is that the Lamb is the one who will reward people for their works. We know throughout Scripture that God will reward every man according to his works. God will reward humanity for their labors. As Romans 2:6-11 states,

 He will render to each one according to his works: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury. There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek. For God shows no partiality.

We will be rewarded for how we live. Beloved, let us live for God’s glory.

Worthy to Redeem

            The reason the Lamb is worthy is because he was slain and by his blood, he ransomed people for God.

Hebrews 9:2 says that, “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sin.” We are all sinners. We all have wronged God by rebelling against his good word. As in the garden, when God shed an animal’s blood to clothe Adam and Eve, so to God shed the blood of his own Son to clothe us with the righteous robes of Christ. Jesus died, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring to God. Ransom is a term used in the slave market to buy someone’s freedom. Jesus bought our freedom from sin by bleeding for us. His blood has brought us peace.

            There is only redemption through the blood of Christ. If you have not yet trusted in Christ, there is hope for you today. Today you can weep no more because God has paid for your sins with his blood. He died for you. And we know his sacrifice was accepted because of his resurrection from the dead. Jesus was a perfect sacrifice. He was innocent and paid the penalty for all that would trust in him. For our sake, he became sin who knew no sin so that we might become the righteousness of God. God does not merely want to save you from Hell but wants to save you unto eternal life. He wants you to live the new life of the Spirit. Trust in the redemption of the Lamb. Repent and Believe. T and T… Turn and Trust. Turn from your sin and Trust in Christ. He has made a way. Will you walk in it?

Worthy to Reconcile

            The beauty of God’s salvation is that it is never merely individual. God saves us individually to be part of his ransomed people. The Bible is God’s plan to make a people for himself who are zealous for good works. The reconciliation that God brings it far more than a personal reconciliation. We are reconciled to God and we are reconciled to brothers and sisters from every tribe and language and people and nation. We are a multi-ethnic, multi-generational family. God will save people from every nation, every language, and every tribe for his namesake. God is on a worldwide mission of redemption and He invites us to join. We are called to go make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit and teaching them to observe all that Jesus has commanded.

            Every year we give to the Lottie Moon Christmas offering because there are people who have never heard the name of Jesus. The Apostle Paul said he made it his aim to go to where the gospel has not yet been preached and believed. In giving to the Lottie Moon Christmas offering, we can participate in a small way of sending the gospel to the most unreached places through thousands of missionaries. And our missions giving does not have with Lottie Moon, but we can give to those within our congregation who are going to the ends of the earth on short and long-term assignments. Maybe God is calling you to go to the nations. Maybe God wants you to leave the comfort of your home to go a remote village in Africa or to the mountains or Nepal or a secular city in Australia. Maybe God wants you to stay here and hold the rope for someone else to go like Andrew Fuller to William Carey. Maybe God wants you to engage with people who do not look like you for the sake of the glorious name of the Lord Jesus.

            Over this past year, my heart has been saddened on how Christians have not been leading the way in reconciliation. The racial divide in our country has been so pronounced over the last couple of years. I see a lot of anger and frustration among Christians but not enough reconciliation. During a recent bible study, we were studying Ephesians 2 where Paul speaks how the gospel breaks down the wall of hostility between Jew and Gentile taking the two and making them one people of God. We asked why churches do not often reflect the multi-ethnic reality. One brother said that our Sundays don’t reflect a multi-ethnic reality, because our Monday through Saturday do not reflect a multi-ethnic reality. Beloved, the church is God’s plan to reach the world. We want to display the manifold wisdom of God in sending forth the Lamb to redeem people from every tribe, language and people and nation. The more we reflect a multi-ethnic, multi-generational family the greater the reflection of our heavenly citizenship. 

            Jesus is worthy to redeem and to reconcile. Let our redemption be reflected in how we are reconciled to all people. Let us never look at people according to the flesh, but through the eyes of Lamb.

Worthy to Reign

            The Lord Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, has made us a kingdom and priest to God. We shall reign on the earth and rule as coheirs with Christ. The kingdom means the church will reign and the priests means the church will serve. We will serve God and reign with Him for all eternity. Christians have been transformed. We are no longer in the old Adam, but in Christ. We belong to Him. We were bought at a price. We have been made a kingdom and priests unto God. We are holy priesthood that offers spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.

            Remember our victory is not by the sword, but sacrifice. Friends, we must lay our lives down for others. Jesus showed us the way of the kingdom by giving himself of us. We must give ourselves to each other and our lost and hurting world. If we want to reign, we must follow in the way of the lamb and suffer for the sake of others. The triumphalism that I see in the American church sickens me. It is not the way of the kingdom. The way of the kingdom is the cross. The cross of Christ conquers. The Lamb is worthy. And if the lamb is worthy, isn’t the way of the lamb worthy as well? The Lamb was slain for the sins of others so that they may be brought to God. Is not God asking us to bear with the sins of others so that they may be brought to God? The Lamb is worthy to reign because he was willing to suffer. “The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs with God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.” (Romans 8:16-17)

            The American church needs to be rebuked for our lack of willingness to suffer for Christ, but the seven churches of Asia would have rejoiced that they were counted worthy to walk with the Lamb.

            The heavenly scene closes a seven-fold doxological hymn to the Lamb followed by a four-fold hymn connecting the Father who sits on the throne to the lamb. The One who is on the throne and the lamb are one. Revelation 5:11–14,

Then I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!” And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying, “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!” And the four living creatures said, “Amen!” and the elders fell down and worshiped.

            There is in our hearts a deep desire to see one worthy. Let us train our hearts and minds that every time we see our world longer for a worthy one to bring hope amidst despair to turn in praise to the only One who is worthy. Let us forever rejoice that we shall weep no more for, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power, and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing.”

 

[1] Osborne, Grant. Baker. 252-253.

The Heavenly Throne

Have you ever seen something so beautiful that you couldn’t speak? The Grand Canyon, the Pacific Ocean, the Northern Lights, the Great Pyramids…If Apostle John was not commanded to write his vision down in Revelation 4, it would have been one of those moments for him. God opened heaven and gave him a glimpse into the majesty of God. I pray we would catch a glimpse of that majesty this morning.

The Throne of God

            The first vision in Revelation 1 lays the foundation for the opening section of the book. Each letter to the seven churches had aspect of the vision of Christ in Revelation 1. The vision dominated the first three chapters. The second vision of the book begins in Revelation 4:1, “After this I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven! And the first voice, which I had speaking to me like a trumpet, said, “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this.” The rest of the book will be dominated by this vision of the heavenly throne.

The interpretation of Revelation depends on how one views time. In Revelation 1:19, Jesus says to John, “Write therefore the things that you have seen, those that are and those that are to take place after this.” Many people that verse lays out the structure of the book of Revelation. chapter 1 would be the things you have seen, chapters 2-3 represent the things that are in the letter to the churches and chapters 4-22 represent the things that are to take place in the future. I believe chapters 4-22 primarily take place in the future, but just not exclusively in the future. We will have to be very careful in our interpretation of time as we move through the rest of the book.

The language of Revelation 4 is apocalyptic in nature. Jesus invites John into to heaven to see the future. As one commentary noted, “A true insight into history is gained only when we view all things from the vantage point of the heavenly throne.” There are three apocalyptic or “end time” images in this opening verse. The first two are combined with door and the open heaven. The door to heaven is like Jesus exhortation to strive through the narrow gate in Luke 13:24. Heaven was closed because of man’s sin in the garden. God banished man from paradise and placed the cherubim guarding the entrance with a flaming sword that turned in every direction, so no one could enter. However, Jesus has opened a door to heaven inviting John to bear witness. (We see heaven open at Jesus baptism, the death of Stephen, Peter’s vision and Paul’s vision). The third image is the voice like that of a trumpet like chapter 1 to announce the end time reality. All that to say, the audience would have been thinking of the eschaton.

It is important as we traverse through the rest of this book that we do not lose the historical context of the churches to whom this letter is written. The churches were struggling with intense persecution from false Jews and dealing with the compromise of the church to the imperial cult. Emperor worship and the cultic practices associated with the imperial cult are a major theme addressed in the letters. As each of the letters was not merely written for the individual church for we were commanded to hear what the Spirit says to the churches, Revelation 4 and following are speaking specifically to the seven churches but to all churches throughout history as well. We want to try to understand the details while not losing the big picture of the book. God is on his throne.

How precious would this truth be to a church that was facing intense persecution. God is on his throne. We judge our present reality by the future one. Throughout Scripture, God promises a reversal of fortunes for his people. The first shall be last, the last shall be first. He will vindicate his people and punish the wicked. The rich shall be poor, the poor shall be rich. The meek shall inherit the earth. Those who laugh will mourn, those who mourn will laugh. God is on his throne and He, and He only, determines our future reality. We are going to ascend with John into Heaven and the future reality so that we can find comfort and hope.

The Throne of Glory

            The main thrust of the vision is to show the glory of the throne of God. My former pastor would always say of Revelation that sometimes we have to look at the book like a twelve-year -old boy. Most twelve-year-old boys are not looking for deep meaning in all that they say, but simply say, “That is awesome.” When we approach the throne of glory there is a part of us that needs to push aside our desire to understand the meaning of every detail to simply say, “That is awesome.” Revelation 4:2-6,

[2] At once I was in the Spirit, and behold, a throne stood in heaven, with one seated on the throne. [3] And he who sat there had the appearance of jasper and carnelian, and around the throne was a rainbow that had the appearance of an emerald. [4] Around the throne were twenty-four thrones, and seated on the thrones were twenty-four elders, clothed in white garments, with golden crowns on their heads. [5] From the throne came flashes of lightning, and rumblings and peals of thunder, and before the throne were burning seven torches of fire, which are the seven spirits of God, [6] and before the throne there was as it were a sea of glass, like crystal.

The vision begins with one seated on the throne. This would have been an obvious contrast with Caesar and his small earthly throne compared to God’s heavenly throne. Remember the background of the imperial cult worship that has plagued the churches in Asia.

            God is often described as light. 1 John 1:5, “God is light,” 1 Timothy 6:16, “God dwells in unapproachable light.” The stones of jasper and carnelian and a rainbow with an appearance of an emerald are all meant to be taken together. Although the stones had certain qualities associated with them in the Ancient world, (jasper with majesty and holiness; carnelian with judgment; emerald with mercy), attempting to decipher the purpose for each stone is counter-productive. The stones should be taken together as they communicate God seated on his throne in splendor and majesty.

            Around the throne were 24 other thrones with 24 elders seated on those thrones who were clothed with white garments and wearing golden crowns on their heads. Who are the elders? The elders have been identified in various ways with the most common options being: (1) Stars (from an astrological background, (2) angels, (3) OT saints, (4), angelic, heavenly representatives of all saints, (5) patriarchs and the apostles representing the OT and NT saints together, and (6) representatives of the prophetic revelation of the twenty-four books of the Old Testament.

There is not enough time to unpack the different views, but after my study I believe that the most plausible option would be either a (4) angelic, heavenly representatives of all the saints throughout history (12 tribes of Israel representing all the OT saints and the 12 apostles presenting all the NT saints similar to Revelation 21:12, 14 describing New Jerusalem with 12 gates named after the tribes of Israel and the wall having 12 foundations named after the 12 apostles of the lamb). Or angelic, heavenly beings that function like the 24 priestly and 24 Levitical orders (1 Chron 24:1-25:13) to maintain worship of God in heaven. (We know from Hebrews that the earthly temple/tabernacle was a shadow of the things to come. Therefore, the worship of God maintained by the Levitical priesthood in the OT could serve as shadow the heavenly worship of God around his throne.) Regardless, the 24 elders on 24 thrones clothed in white garments with golden crowns continue to contribute to the overall picture of awe and wonder.

            God often communicates his power and presence through nature. We see that in verse 5. This would have brought back images of God in visiting his people on Mount Sinai and the images of Ezekiel 1. God is powerful and over all nature. Before the throne, the seven torches of fire represented the seven spirits of God, which is a reference to the Holy Spirit as seen previously in the opening Trinitarian doxology. Also before the throne there was, “as it were a sea of glass, like crystal.” It is not exactly a sea of glass, but appears to be like a sea of glass. This contributes to the wonder John’s view. Imagine the beautiful light reflected off the sea of glass. A sea of glass is mentioned 2 other times in revelation (15:2 and 21:1). As one scholar notes,

Here the crystal-clear sea of glass symbolizes God’s transcendent holiness and his awesome sovereignty that is a source of worship (4:6) and then becomes the basis of divine judgment (15:2) when God will eradicate evil from his creation.

Several scholars connect the sea of glass to Genesis 1:7 when God divided the waters that were under the firmament (the heavenly expanse) from the waters that were above the firmament. The floor of heaven and the ceiling of creation.

            Again, we cannot lose the overall portrayal of splendor, awe, and majesty this visual sight would have been. John was taken up into heaven to see the throne of glory. The beauty, majesty and splendor of what he saw was not meant for a precise description, but to create a sense of awe for the glory of God’s throne. John continues to describe what he sees around the throne, Revelation 4:6b-8a,

And around the throne, on each side of the throne, are four living creatures, full of eyes in front and behind: [7] the first living creature like a lion, the second living creature like an ox, the third living creature with the face of a man, and the fourth living creature like an eagle in flight. [8] And the four living creatures, each of them with six wings, are full of eyes all around and within

As in the 24 elders, there has been much speculation on who the 4 living creatures are. Some have associated them with the 4 gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke or John, but there is no evidence for this view. Others try to connect the four to Babylonian or Assyrian mythology, but there is no hint of Babylon imagery in Revelation. Others believe that they represent divine characteristics (courage and majesty with the lion, patience and strength with the ox, intelligence and spirituality with man, and sovereignty and swiftness of action with the eagle). The most viable and accepted view is that the four living creatures both transcend and represent all life in the created order (perhaps the noblest, strongest, wisest, and swiftest in God’s creation.[1]) These four creatures have eyes all around them to communicate God’s all-seeing knowledge and his ceaseless vigilance.

            We should be careful not to hold our convictions on the who and what of the 4 living creatures because there are several viable options. And yet, regardless of what they represent in Revelation,

These four living beings lead worship (4:6-9, 5:8-9, 11;19:4), stand sentinel at the throne (5:6 7:11, 14:3), and take the lead in outpouring of divine judgment (6:1, 3, 5-7; 15:7) … Most likely are the leaders of the heavenly court.[2]

All we know for certain is that these 4 living creatures represent the highest of heavenly beings and help contribute to the awe, wonder, and majesty of God.

            I believe there is value in understanding the different particulars of John’s description of heaven. There is value in discerning who are the elders and who are the living creatures, why did God use these particular stones, but all of the specifics are secondary to the overall vision of God’s glory. Remember this book was written to the seven churches dealing with persecution and the false worship of Caesar as Lord. God gave this vision to John to help the church persevere with him.

Regardless of what this earthly world praises, we must understand the awesome wonder and majesty of God. He is far above the heavens. He is worthy of worship. He is awesome. He is glorious.

The Throne of Worship

            There are two responses that should come when we hear of the majesty and splendor of God. Our hearts will either worship or fear. The heavenly beings worshiped God for holiness. Revelation 4:8b,

[8] And the four living creatures, each of them with six wings, are full of eyes all around and within, and day and night they never cease to say, “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!” [9] And whenever the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to him who is seated on the throne, who lives forever and ever, [10] the twenty-four elders fall down before him who is seated on the throne and worship him who lives forever and ever. They cast their crowns before the throne, saying, [11] “Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.”

The heavenly beings know exactly who God is and the only proper response is worship. We see the three-fold declaration of God’s holiness; He is holy, holy, holy. Then we see the elders declare that he is worthy to receive glory, honor and power for the Lord has created all things and by his will all they continue to exist. God is worthy of worship.

As humans, we too often focus on ourselves. We view our lives and our problems as the most important things in the universe. God is trying to correct that view in Revelation. We should always view life considering God who is seated on the throne of glory. The holy, splendor of God should create fear in those who do not know Him. How could man who is sinful stand in the presence of such an awesome God? When Isaiah saw the glory of God he replied, “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell I the midst of people of unclean lips, for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” When Peter saw the glory of God in Christ, he said, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” Have you ever truly understood who you are in the face of such a holy God? Have you ever been awakened to your own sinfulness?

            One of the greatest travesties of the modern church is a casualty and a lack of holy fear of awesome God. One reasons there is a lack of conversions in the church is that people do not realize they should fear God. The modern church’s love for authenticity and relationship hinders people from realizing their sin and their desperate need of forgiveness.

Our need to understand the depth of our sin is not just for the non-believer. I was with our college students on Tuesday night and I told them that one of my goals in my preaching is to help you see how utterly sinful you are. I want you to realize how wretched, poor, blind and naked we are before a holy God. Not exactly the feel-good message of the year, but it is only when you understand how utterly sinful you are that you will realize how incredibly glorious God is. And when we realize the transcendent majesty of a holy God compared to the depth of our depravity, it is only then, we can fully understand our need of forgiveness. If you consider yourself an unbeliever, do you have any fear when you hear of God’s glory? Do you believe that you will have to answer for what you have done? Christian, do you realize how much God has saved you from?

            The degree in which we love God and love others is determined by how view our own forgiveness. If we have a small view of God and a small view of our sin, our love for God and others will also be small. But if we have a large view of God and a large view of our sin, our love for God and others will be large. Jesus shared this story in Luke 7,

[41] “A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. [42] When they could not pay, he cancelled the debt of both. Now which of them will love him more?” [43] Simon answered, “The one, I suppose, for whom he cancelled the larger debt.” And he said to him, “You have judged rightly.” [44] Then turning toward the woman he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. [45] You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet. [46] You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment.  [47] Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.”

The sin of the Pharisee was not less than the woman, but the Pharisee viewed his sin as less than the woman and it affected his love for God and his neighbor. If we lose a high view of God, we also lose a high view of our sin, and lose our understanding of how much God has forgiven and lose our ability to love well.

            If one response to the majesty of God is fear, the other is worship. The elders and the living creatures worshiped God. And we can worship God because we belong to the Son. God is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. This glorious God sent his Son to be our Savior. We must read Revelation 4/5 together. The whole scene must be taken together. John does not only see God sitting on the throne in unapproachable light, but he sees the lamb who slain. We will dive deep in Revelation 5 in a few weeks, but can we just hear it as a 12 year-old boy and say, “That is awesome!” Revelation 5,

[1] Then I saw in the right hand of him who was seated on the throne a scroll written within and on the back, sealed with seven seals. [2] And I saw a mighty angel proclaiming with a loud voice, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?” [3] And no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to look into it, [4] and I began to weep loudly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look into it. [5] And one of the elders said to me, “Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.”

[6] And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain, with seven horns and with seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth. [7] And he went and took the scroll from the right hand of him who was seated on the throne. [8] And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. [9] And they sang a new song, saying,

            “Worthy are you to take the scroll

                        and to open its seals,

            for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God

                        from every tribe and language and people and nation,

            [10] and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God,

                        and they shall reign on the earth.”

[11] Then I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, [12] saying with a loud voice,

            “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain,

            to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might

            and honor and glory and blessing!”

[13] And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying,

            “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb

            be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!”

[14] And the four living creatures said, “Amen!” and the elders fell down and worshiped.

John began to weep loudly and the elders said weep no more. Friend, weep no more. The Lion of the tribe of Judah has conquered the grave because he was led, like a lamb, to the slaughter. And that my friend…is awesome!

 

[1] Osborne, Robert. Baker

[2] Osborner, Robert. Baker 234-235.

Member Profile - Helen Lovelace

1. What is your vocation? 
-Christian, housewife, mother

2. Tell us about your family
-I have six children, and they are all grown

3. Who was the main influence that lead you to a relationship with Christ?
- My mother

4. What is your favorite Bible Verse?
-Psalm 100

5. What has the Lord been teaching you over the last 6 months?
-To be patient and to trust Him

6. What is something most people don't know about you?
-My life is an open book

7. Do you have any specific prayer request?
-My church and my family
 

Empty Church (Revelation 3:14-22)

A.W. Tozer writes in his classic work, The Pursuit of God, “Complacency is a deadly foe of all spiritual growth.” Complacency is a feeling of smug or uncritical satisfaction with oneself or one’s accomplishments. An uncritical satisfaction with oneself is a deadly foe of all spiritual growth. When was the last time you critically examined your spiritual walk with the Lord? Every fall we hear of football teams growing complacent and losing games that should easily win. Likewise, we hear of Christians who have grown complacent and are losing battles that should easily win. Complacency in one’s spiritual walk opens to the door to town of stupid where Christians have drifted into secret sins and destructive patterns that cripple one’s life. Listen again to Tozer’s quote in context, “Complacency is a deadly foe of all spiritual growth Acute desire must be present or there will be no manifestation of Christ to His people. He waits to be wanted. Too bad that with many of us He waits so long, so very long, in vain.”
Spiritual complacency is birthed from a lack of desire for Christ. Do you desire Jesus to be manifested in your life? Is your greatest passion to know Christ and to make him known? Are consumed with his glory, zealous for his name, driven by his mission?
I drink coffee every morning. This fall I have been pumpkin spice creamer. It is delicious. And in all capital letters on the side of the bottle, it reads, “SHAKE WELL BEFORE USE.” I believe that God desires to shake us up before we can be effectively used by him. Complacency lulls us to sleep while Christ-centeredness wakes us up. I pray that I will help to shake you up so that you will be ready to be used by the Lord. I believe this was the Lord’s goal in his letter to the Laodiceans in Revelation 3.
Laodicea was a wealthy city on the main Roman trade route and the last stop of the postal route that made up the destinations of all the seven cities addressed in this letter. It was known for his soft, raven-black wool and its famous medical school known for its eye salve. The church had fallen victim of the prosperity of the city. Like Thyatira, commercial success in Laodicea meant participation in the cultic practices of the city. It appears that the church had compromised her integrity and fallen into the trap of financial gain.
Who is your Authority?
Jesus establishes his authority at the outset of this letter by offering three titles to himself. In each title, he is showing how he is different than the believers in the church at Laodicea. Revelation 3:14, “And to the angel of the church in Laodicea write: “The words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of God’s creation.” This is only the second place in all of Scripture where Amen is given as a name. The other being in Isaiah 65:16,
so that he who blesses himself in the land shall bless himself by the God of truth, and he who takes an oath in the land shall swear by the God of truth; because the former troubles are forgotten and are hidden from my eyes.
The Hebrew for truth in the verse is “˒āmēn.” Amen was used to confirm or verify a prayer or hymn in Scripture. Jesus used the word often to highlight and emphasized important teaching. Jesus is establishing that his word can be trusted, unlike the Laodiceans.
Jesus again refers to himself as the faithful and true witness. Revelation begins with referring to Jesus as the faithful witness (1:5) emphasizing his faithfulness to death on the cross. In Revelation, witness is connected to martyrdom. Jesus was the true witness who was slain for our sins. He was willing to die to show God’s love while the Laodiceans’ witness had become non-existent as its’ compromised, complacent lives had little reflection of Christ.
Jesus last tittle would have been especially familiar to the Laodiceans as it is a clear reference to the letter to their sister church in Colossae. Jesus is the beginning of God’s creation. The great hymn of Christ in Colossians 1:15-20,
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him, all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.
Jesus is author of creation and he is the beginning of the new creation through his resurrection from the dead. The Laodiceans had forgotten this reality. In their prosperity, there were living as if they were in control. They may have claimed Christ, but they were functioning as atheist. They were living as their own sovereign, autonomous and separate from Christ’ authority. Jesus was reminding them that He alone is in control. He is the source of all their wealth and power.
Prosperity breeds forgetfulness. Deuteronomy 8 is a powerful reminder that this has always been the danger of God’s people. “Beware lest you say in your heart, “My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth.’ You shall remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you the power to get wealth that he may confirm his covenant that he swore to your fathers, as it is this day. (Deut. 8:17:18)
How do you look at your wealth? Do you view it as primarily yours or the Lords? What about your home? Your car? Let’s shake up our view of our wealth. How often are your decisions primarily decided by money? How often is your peace primarily governed by your bank account? How often are you anxious about money? Do you pray before big purchases? Do you pray for how many specialty coffee drinks you get a week? Are you unwilling to admit you have a problem with spending? Debt?
Friend, if God is the Amen, the faithful and true witness who died for your sins, the beginning of all creation and the firstborn from the dead, is he not trustworthy with determining your resources. One of the reasons we do not seek the Lord regarding our wealth is because we are afraid what he will ask us to do with it. We want to hold on to it, so we don’t ask God what to do with it afraid that he will ask us to give it. It is a small view of God and a weak view of his mission. We should ask God if we are able to give it so that we can participate in his kingdom. Do we view God as our authority? And not just as our authority, but as our good, wise and loving authority who desires what is best us.
Laodiceans were struggling not with the mental assent of God’s authority, but in practical application.
How is your Application?
Wisdom is not only about knowing what to do but doing it. Jesus is not concerned with your head knowledge, but how that knowledge governs your life. Revelation 3:15-16, “I know your works: you neither cold nor hot. Would that you either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.” Jesus offers a stinging rebuke of the church. It is important to understand the context of the Laodiceans to fully appreciate Jesus’ words.
Laodicea was a prospering city, but it had no water supply. It depended on an aqueduct system to receive water from Hierapolis and Colossae. By the time the water arrived in Laodicea it was only a tepid, lukewarm. Jesus was trying to show the absence of spiritual fruit in their lives. The hot waters of Hierapolis were known for its medicinal healing effect while the cold waters of Colossae were pure, drinkable, and had a life-giving effect. The Laodiceans were neither providing the healing balm of the gospel to the city or the radiating the life-giving transformation that comes from knowing Christ. They were like the barren fig tree that Jesus withered (Matthew 21:19). The city was experiencing no spiritual healing and no life because of the compromising witness of the church. Jesus will vomit out the church for their lack of witness for his namesake.
Have you applied the gospel to your life? Friend, have you decided to follow Jesus as Lord and Savior? We all have sinned and need a Savior. God has provided a way to Him through his Son. Jesus died for us. He was raised for us. Anyone who puts their trust in Him will be saved. It is not the amount of our faith that will save us on judgment day, but the object of our faith. We must have faith in Jesus Christ to be saved from hell. We may not want to talk about hell, but in the quietness of your heart when you think about meeting God there is fear. If there was no fear of hell, people would not be afraid to die. But we are because there is. Friend, Jesus has provided a way to salvation. He died for all those who would turn and put their faith in Him. If you turn from your sins, and trust in Christ, you will be saved.
Beloved, how have you applied the gospel to your life? The gospel is not the diving board into the Christian life, but it is swimming pool. We never move on. We want our lives saturated with the gospel. We want the gospel to affect every area of our lives. And if we do, then we should never grow complacency in our walk with Christ. There is always room to grow. We can rejoice with words of John Newton, “I am not what I ought to be, I am not what I want to be, I am not what I hope to be in another world; but still I am not what I once used to be, and by the grace of God I am what I am.” We are all works in progress, but we are in progress. We labor and strive to go deeper with Christ. We should want to grow in our love for God, our knowledge of his word, in our love for the saints, and in our love for the lost. But do we?
We should, but that may not be the reality. “SHAKE WELL BEFORE USE.” The Lord desire to use us for his purposes. We may not be shaken up before we are ready to be used by him. God shakes us up with trials. He shakes us up with discipline. He shakes us up or prunes us, so we can bear more fruit. Are you applying the gospel in your life?
What do you Appreciate?
One of the ways we can determine if we are applying the gospel in our lives is by analyzing what we appreciate or value. The church of Laodicea valued their wealth but was spiritually poor. They valued their self-sufficiency but were in desperate need. Revelation 3:17, “For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.” Jesus showed their true spiritual condition. They were rotten to the core. Their hearts were deceitful, and they were far from God. There are five aspects of the same condition. They claimed spiritual and material wealth, but they were spiritually bankrupt. They claimed excellent sight and the town was even known for its eye slave, but they were blind to the things of God. They were known to make beautiful, raven-like wool, but they were naked, a sign of shame before God. Everything that they boasted in or appreciated about themselves, was a sign of their wretched state.
What we value in our lives reveals our spiritual condition. If we value the opinions of others, we may be more willing to gossip or lie or unwilling to speak the truth, because of fear of losing status in the eyes of others. If we value own wealth, we will be more willing to use our resources for personal gain rather than the corporate benefit of the church. It is clear the Laodiceans were valuing the wrong thing. What about you? What do you appreciate? Not just what you say you appreciate, but based on your time, your checkbook, your thoughts, ask the Holy Spirit what you truly value. This is heart work. This is gospel work. John Flavel writes, “The greatest difficulty in conversion, is to win the heart to God; and the greatest difficulty after conversion, is to keep the heart with God…It is the hardest work; heart work is hard indeed. ”
Jesus is after the hearts of Laodiceans. Jesus is after our hearts. And in his kindness, he lovingly invites us back to himself, Revelation 3:18-19, “I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see. Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent.” Jesus goes back and addresses every one of their blind spots. He invites them to be spiritually rich with gold refined by the fire. He invites them to clothe their nakedness with white garments. And he invites them to receive true salve to anoint their eyes that they may see. Jesus invites them to Himself. This is the most amazing reality in all the universe that a holy God would invite sinners into fellowship.
This spiritual complacent church is being reproved and disciplines so that they can know the Lord. I love to encourage people. I would much rather bring a word of encouragement than a word of rebuke, but God disciplines those he loves. Parents, disciplining your children is act love. Pastor/Elders, discipling the saints is an act of love. Church members, discipling each other is an act of love and gift of God. We should desire discipline. We may not desire discipline because we have become complacent. We do not value growth, so we hate discipline. The righteous should look for discipline. Proverbs 15:31–33, “The ear that listens to life-giving reproof will dwell among the wise. Whoever ignores instruction despises himself, but he who listens to reproof gains intelligence. The fear of the LORD is instruction in wisdom, and humility comes before honor.”
Friend, we all have areas of growth. Someone graciously pointed out a way to me this week of an area where I can grow in my use of words. Do you appreciate discipline? Do you value growth? Or are you complacent? Do you have an uncritical satisfaction with yourself and your achievements? Complacency is a deadly foe to spiritual growth.
How will you Answer?
Jesus desires to be in fellowship with you. There are excellent statements in the gospels about the purpose of the Lord Jesus. Mark 10:45, “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Luke 19:10, “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” Matthew 11:19, “The Son of Man came eating and drinking.” Jesus gave his life as a ransom for many to seek and to save the lost so that they could eat with Jesus. Jesus desires intimate fellowship with his people. Revelation 3:20, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.” Jesus is surprisingly outside the church. The church had drifted so far from the Lord that there was not even a definable remnant in the church. And yet, Jesus still desires to come in and eat with us. To share a meal was the beginning of reconciliation. Jesus desired to be reconciled with his church.
He is knocking on the door of the church. He is asking to come in. He is not forcing himself into the gathering but simply stands at the door and knocks. How will you answer? Will you repent and let him in? Or will you keep Christ shut out by staying in your satisfied in your complacency? Friend, where are you satisfied? What thing do you not want to give up? What area do you love more than Christ? How will you answer the glorious knocking of Christ? The King of glory condescends himself and invites you a wayward, complacent, wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, naked sinner to his table. He wants you!! How will you answer? We all know how you should answer, but that is not the question. How will you answer? 
How we answer determines our future. When we open the door for Jesus, we not only get to enjoy the messianic marriage supper of the lamb but also get to reign with Christ. Revelation 3:21-22, “The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’” The one who keeps their heart in Christ will be granted the privileged seat with Christ. It is not earned by our labors but given to us because of the labor of Christ. Jesus conquered the death and the grave through his resurrection from the dead. He has sat down with the Father on the glorious throne. He invites us to share in that victory. If we endure with him, we will reign with him. (2 Timothy 2:12).
Jesus wants to “SHAKE US BEFORE USE.” He wants to wake us up from our complacency. And it is only through the holy shaking of the Lord that our lives will be mixed with the good spiritual nutrients of a life devoted to Christ. Complacency is a deadly foe to spiritual growth as critical self-examination is essential for a life saturated by the Spirit and consecrated unto Christ.
Jesus has ended every one of these letters the same, “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” Friend, Jesus means for you to be changed by his words. We do not want to be hearers only, but doers of His Word. Allow the word to shake you out of complacency and spiritual malaise so that you can be a faithful and true witness unto Christ, daily dying to yourself and ONE DAY reign with him in age to come.

The Weak, Faithful Church

What does success look like for a local church? How should a church market itself? Or should a should market itself? Is success determined by the leadership of a denomination, the local newspaper or the pastor? Must a successful church have a lot of programs for its members? Must a successful have the proper signage and a spacious, well-lit parking lot? Do the Sunday School teachers have to have seminary degrees? How do you measure the success of a local church? How does God measure the success of local church? 
I get asked the question all the time, “How are things going at the church?” The question could easily be re-phrased, “Is the church going well? Is it successful?” Everyone has their own idea of success. Whether it is your physical health or your business, your family’s budget or your local church, we all have ideas what we consider successful. Unfortunately, we may not realize how easily our definition is not determined by God’s word, but our culture. America values bigness. American success usually is connected to growth in the number of people, money and programs. Therefore, a church is successful if it has more people, more money and more activities than the year before. But it that success?


I measure success by our love for God, his people and the lost. Are we growing in our love for God? I want to see a greater love of the gospel of Jesus Christ, a desire to grow in the Word, and a desire to grow in holiness. We want our lives marked by a holy love of God. Are we growing in our love for each other? I want to see a greater familial love between each other. I want to see self-sacrifice and concern for each other, bearing one another’s burdens and sharing one anothers joys. We want our lives marked by a holy love for one another. Are we growing in our love for the lost? I want to see a regular sharing of the gospel of Jesus Christ with unbelievers. I want us to hold fast to the faith once and for all delivered to the saints. There is one way to God and that is through repenting and believing in the gospel of His Son. Jesus Christ is the door that leads to heaven. We want our lives marked by a holy love for the lost.
The church of Philadelphia was a failure in the eyes of the world. They were small in number and had little impact on the culture. They were ridiculed and maligned by the religious elite in the community, but they were faithful to Jesus Christ. Philadelphia, along with Smyrna, were the only two churches that were not rebuked by Jesus. I pray that we learn true biblical success by seeing what the Lord Jesus Christ values in his church.


The One Who Holds the Keys


The great question that Israel was concerned with in the Old Testament is, “How can one be right with God?” How is someone righteous? Or how can one enter God’s kingdom? Jesus establishes with his opening words that He is the one who holds the key. Revelation 3:7,


And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write: ‘The words of the holy one, the true one, who has the key of David, who opens and no one will shut, who shuts and no one opens.


Jesus is holy and set apart from the world. He is the true and genuine Lord. He holds the key of David. 

The key of David is only used one time in the Old Testament in Isaiah 22:22-23 referring to Eliakim. Isaiah of Eliakim, 
And I will place on his shoulder the key of the house of David. He shall open, and none shall shut; and he shall shut, and none shall open. And I will fasten him like a peg in a secure place, and he will become a throne of honor to his father’s house.
Eliakim was going to be given the key to the sanctuary of God. He was going to determine who was able to enter into God’s house i.e. who would be able to enter his kingdom and be saved. There were Jews in Philadelphia who were claiming that right and Jesus wanted to make clear that it was not these false Jews who were representing the synagogue of Satan, but him and him alone. This reference to Eliakim would have been clear to the audience as the rabbis taught Eliakim was a messianic prophecy. Here are 5 reasons why Eliakim was a messianic prophecy.

• The house of David is almost always a reference to the Messiah
• Eliakim is called “my servant” which would have been heard in light of Isaiah 40-53 where “my servant” is used 13 times of the Messiah
• Eliakim is given the administrative responsibility of the house with very similar language of Isaiah 9:6-7, “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore.” 
• Lastly, according to G.K, Beale, “main typological correspondence between Eliakim and Christ is that Christ, like Eliakim, was to have absolute power over the Davidic throne as king. Whereas Eliakim’s control was primarily political, Christ’s was to be primarily spiritual, as well as ultimately universal in all aspects; whereas Eliakim was to rule over Jerusalem, Judah, and the house of David, Christ’s sovereignty was to extend over all peoples. ”

Here is the point, the people are being reminded to judge their existence in relation to the only one who holds the key. Jesus is the only entrance into the kingdom. 

The One Who Honors the Weak

After establishing that he is the one who allows entrance into his holy sanctuary, Jesus goes not to explicitly states that he has opened the door for them. Revelation 3:8, 

“‘I know your works. Behold, I have set before you an open door, which no one is able to shut. I know that you have but little power, and yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name.”

Again, Jesus knows the works of the saints at Philadelphia. And he reassures them that have been given access to his kingdom for He has set before them an open door. And no one, even the powerful religious elite, can shut it. 
The church has little power. They weak in the eyes of the wall. They are small. They are apparently insignificant and yet, they have kept the word of Christ and not denied his name. Here we see one of the most important determiners of success of Christ’s church: faithfulness to God’s Word. Are we faithful to the Word of God? We must determine our success not from the benchmarks given by a denomination or the local newspaper, but on our obedience and faithfulness to the Word of God. What does that look like? Let me offer two ways. 

First, we hold fast to the gospel. We believe that Jesus is the only way to heaven, God’s sanctuary. There is salvation in no other name. No one is justified by their works. People are only saved by repenting of their sins and trusting in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ as our only hope for salvation.

Friend, if you are not a Christian this may seem oppressive, narrow, and close-minded. But I want you to consider how beautiful, humbling and glorious this idea truly is. We all know how sinful we are in our hearts. We know our pride, our jealousy, our anger, our lust, our greed, and our self-centeredness. We cannot deny we have done wrong. Now, our world wants you to believe that God will overlook those sins, but he can’t. God cannot allow evil into his holy sanctuary. He stands at the door guarding the purity of his kingdom. We know we are impure so how can we enter through door? Thanks be to God; Jesus Christ has set before you an open door. Jesus came and lived a pure life. He perfectly obeyed God in every way. And although he was pure and innocent, he chose to die as a criminal on the cross. Jesus chose to pay for the treason and the impurity of all who would turn and trust in him. He died for sinners. And God raised him from the dead. The resurrection is our proof that the door of salvation is now open for all who trust in Christ. 
Friend, we live in a world that wants to believe all will be saved, but we know deep down that this is not true. Salvation is only open to those who know Jesus. You may look at this as narrow and oppressive, but how beautiful and glorious is it that God has made a way for impure, wretched sinners to enter his presence. Friend, Jesus has set before you an open door. You only have to walk through it. Will you trust in Christ? 

Beloved, we must continue to be faithful to this gospel. There is no other way to heaven, but through Christ. We must be diverted from our mission to proclaim the goodness and glory of the gospel of grace. We may be the biggest church in the United States, but if we are not faithful to the gospel we are failures in the eyes. Let us judge our success by the One who holds the key. 

Secondly, we hold fast to entire counsel of God’s word. Are we trusting what God’s word says about a holy life, marriage, entertainment, church order, the poor, friendship, money, etc.? We have to get the gospel right, but if we have been transformed by the gospel our lives will look radically different than the world. It is easy to say we love God, but it is harder to love God’s people. We can test our own love for God, but testing our love for God’s people. How are we loving God’s church? Are we willing to lay down our preferences for others? Are we willing to lay down our time to serve others? Are we willing to give of our resources or open our homes to those in need? Are we willing to show we have been transformed by the gospel of grace? We may be small in number, but we can make an eternal impact by holding fast to Christ and His Word.

The One Who Protects His People

Our labor for Christ is never in vain. The Lord holds out promises for us. He promises that if we hold fast to him he will vindicate from our enemies and protecting during the day of trial. Revelation 3:9-10,
Behold, I will make those of the synagogue of Satan who say that they are Jews and are not, but lie—behold, I will make them come and bow down before your feet, and they will learn that I have loved you. Because you have kept my word about patient endurance, I will keep you from the hour of trial that is coming on the whole world, to try those who dwell on the earth.
Here again, we see Jews are called the synagogue of Satan. They claimed to be Jews, but they are not. Paul spends significant time in Romans explaining that a true Jew is one who has experience not an outward circumcision by one of the heart. A true is one inwardly not outwardly. 

These Jews in Philadelphia were claiming that held the key into entrance of the sanctuary. They were trusting in one’s ability to keep the law, but we know that no one is justified by the works of the law. Jesus promises that one day these Jews will bow at the feet of the Gentile believers and they will know that God has extended his love to them in the Messiah. The faithful saints will participate in the judgment of God’s enemies. These Jews claimed to know God, but they will be proven wrong. A side note, remember that it was John, a Jew, who was writing this book, and Jesus, a Jew, who gave the revelation. These are not anti-Semitic statements, but helping to show how true Jews trust in the Messiah, the long awaited one who will hold the key of the house of David.

God will not only vindicate his people, but he will also protect his people from the day of trial. Revelation 3:10 has some of the most commentary on the entire book of Revelation. Let us read it again, “Because you have kept my word about patient endurance, I will keep you from the hour of trial that is coming on the whole world, to try those who dwell on the earth.” There are several times we will encounter specific verses that teach specific view of eschatology or the end times. The interpretation of this verse has many implications on one’s view of the millennium or the 1,000-year reign of Christ. There are three main views: premillennialism, postmillennialism, amillennialism. We will spend more time on this in the coming months, but this verse has helped promote a modification of historic premillennialism that taught a post-tribulation rapture to one that taught a pre-tribulation rapture. This view was proposed in a theological system called dispensationalism. Dispensationalism was first taught by John Darby in the mid-1800s and was later popularized by the Scofield study bible at the beginning of the 20th century. 

The key question is regarding verse 10 is what does Jesus mean by, “I will keep you from the hour of trial that is coming on the whole world.” Does Jesus mean he will protect them from the trial by removing them from the trial or by providing safe-keeping through the trial? As I said before there are is much commentary on this verse that I do not have time to dive into, but would happy to find a time to discuss it. I believe from the context this letter and the rest of Scripture that Jesus is teaching that he will keep his people safe from the trial that is coming on the world. The church in Philadelphia has kept God’s word during trial so God will keep them amid trial. Jesus says in his high priestly prayer, also written by the Apostle John, John 17:15, “I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one.” A biblical theme is throughout the Bible is God’s sustaining and growing his people through trial rather than removing them from it. I interpret this verse as a reference to God sustaining his saints during the trial that is coming upon the earth, spiritually protecting them in their pursuit of Christ. God will keep his people in Him. Revelation shows that God will protect them from the wrath of God as they experience the wrath of the dragon. Grant Osborne summarizes this well,

It is certainly true that the saints are the focus of intense persecution (indeed, martyrdom) from the dragon and his followers (6:9–11; 12:12–13, 17; 13:7; 16:6; 20:4). There is a great difference, however, between the wrath of God and the wrath of the dragon. Throughout the NT, persecution is seen as the believers’ lot, indeed their great privilege (e.g., Mark 10:29–30; John 15:18–16:4; Phil 3:10; Col. 1:24; 1 Pet. 3:13–14). In Revelation martyrdom is seen as a victory over Satan, not a defeat (6:9–11; 7:14–17; 12:11). As when he put Christ on the cross, Satan defeats himself whenever he takes the life of one of the saints. Therefore, the point is that the Philadelphia church (identified with all faithful believers here) will be protected from the wrath of God against the unbelievers but not from the wrath of Satan, and that this protection is within and not a removal from (as in a pretribulation rapture) that wrath. 
Jesus continues to encourage this weak, but faithful church in saying, “I am coming soon. Hold fast what you have, so that no one may seize your crown.” Jesus is again encouraging the church to hold fast to Him and his promises. He wants them to remain steadfast in the midst of trials so that they will receive the crown of life. Philadelphia was known for its games and festivals, so this imagery of an athlete’s crown would have been especially relevant.

Friends, persevere in Christ. Hold fast to him. Where else can you turn? He is the only one who holds the key to the kingdom of God. He has set before us an open door. We must walk through it. Forget what is behind and press on towards the door of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Where are you being tempted to waver? Friend, wherever you are tempted to turn, it’s not worth it. Remain with Christ.

The One Who Promises His Name 

Jesus is full of promises. We should look often at what he has promised to those who love him. Hear the promises of the One who is holy and true, 

The one who conquers, I will make him a pillar in the temple of my God. Never shall he go out of it, and I will write on him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which comes down from my God out of heaven, and my own new name. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’ 

The church was threatened to be expelled from the sanctuary of God, but here they are promised to be a pillar in the temple of God. This is like the language of Isaiah 22 when Eliakim was to be fastened like a peg in a secure place. Philadelphia was a city on a major fault line. In AD 17, there was a devastating earthquake that crippled the city so bad that the emperor accepted no taxes for the next five years to aid in the recover. A church that knows the devastating shaking of earthquakes and the vindictive exclusive from the sanctuary by the Jews, this promise to be a pillar in the temple of God would have been immensely encouraging. Jesus speaks to us uniquely to encourage to follow him. Even the next line that they shall never leave the sanctuary would have been powerful for a people who often had to retreat to the hillside for protection against the earthquakes and its aftershocks.

The saints will also be given the name of God, the name of the city of God, and the new name of Christ. To have the name of God, is to belong to him. We do not belong to this world, but belong God and his kingdom. The name of New Jerusalem is significant as it symbolizes our citizenship belongs there. We are not of this world, but our citizenship is in heaven as is the promise of this verse. We are also given the new name of Christ. The most incredible idea of this passage is not what the names specifically mean, but that we have the Name at all. We are sinners deserving of eternal wrath, but God shows us mercy by giving us his name. We are no longer slaves, but we are sons. We are no longer seen as sinners, but as saints belonging to the new Jerusalem. 

Beloved, what is true success? A nice home? A nice car? A nice retirement? True success is being faithful to God. True success is to hold fast to One who holds the key to the kingdom. True success is loving God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength. True success is loving your neighbor as yourself. Do not be deceived by the culture of temporary success, but let live for the forever King who promises us a forever place in his forever kingdom to experience his forever glory. Now to the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.

A Sleeping Church Revelation 3:1-6

         One spring day in 2004, I was invited to bring a group of High School football players to an elite Nike Sports combine. I was one of the coaches of Dunbar Senior High School, a powerhouse football program, in Washington, D.C. We brought four athletes that were in the top 100 recruits in the nation. At twenty-four, I thought I had all the energy in the world. We left Friday after school, drove 4 hours to Penn State University, crashed in a hotel before walking up at 6 to register at 7:30 am. I coached the camp for 2 hours and ran the combine for 2 more ate lunch and then hit the road. After the combine, we all piled in my car to go home.

            We all jumped in my car exhausted. We started are four-hour trek back to the national’s capitol. Twenty minutes later, I woke up rumbling through the grass in the median at 70 miles and away, with big 6’7 320 pound Kevin Wiggins, looking at me saying in a calm and collected voice, “Coach Kiehn, you alright?” I was obviously not alright. I feel asleep and was driving in the median. Kevin’s words saved my life and the lives of everyone’s in the car. I jerked the car back on to the highway and was finally awake. It took someone else’s words to wake me up.

            There are many Christian churches who are so busy living life and immersed in the secular culture that their spiritually “asleep at the wheel.” I hope to help you as Kevin Wiggins helped me that fateful day 13 years ago by asking, “Friend, you alright?” And if you are spiritually sleeping at the wheel that today you would wake up and turn to Christ.

The Spirit of Church

            Sardis was once a powerful city established around 1200 B.C. It was wealthy and strong. It was situated on a cliff making it a strongly defensible city. Because of the city’s great military position, the Greeks had a saying, “capturing Sardis” as a way to communicate doing the impossible. Although it appeared impregnable due to its superior military position, it was captured several times because the watchman neglected to guard the gate. It was once a prominent, powerful city, but at the time Jesus spoke to the church it was a shadow of its former self. It was living off the prosperity of years. Jesus begins his rebuke to Sardis, “And to the angel of the church in Sardis write: ‘The words of him who has the seven spirits of God and the seven stars.” The seven stars are representative of the seven churches. In the vision of Revelation 1, Jesus is seen holding the seven stars in his right hand. He is one who has control and authority over all the churches. Jesus reminds the church of his sovereignty over the affairs of the church of Sardis.

The “seven spirits of God” is most likely a reference to the Holy Spirit. We see the same term, “seven spirits” in chapter 1 in the trinitarian formula at the opening of the book. The imagery of the seven spirits is taken from the Zechariah’s prophecy. The Holy Spirit is the agent that brings life to church and completes the work of Christ. Jesus is speaking to this sleeping, almost completely dead church, reminding them that it is only the Holy Spirit who can wake them up from their spiritual slumber.

            The church was created and sustained by the Holy Spirit of God. As we moved throughout this letter, let us ask the Holy Spirit to guide and illumine our hearts. It is very easy to think that this letter is written for “those churches,” but this letter has application for our church and for your heart. Let us be ready to hear what the Spirit says to our church.

The Sin of the Church

            Jesus continues by identifying the sin of the church. He says, “I know your works. You have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead.” The church of Sardis was like the city of Sardis. It once was powerful, but now it is living off the fruitfulness of ages past. They have the reputation of being “Christians” but their Christianity was in name only. They were nominal believers because their church was undistinguishable from the world. Jesus is not fooled by their worldly reputation for he knows their works.

            Friend, Jesus is not fooled by your outward appearance, he knows the works of your heart. He knows what lies in the corners and the crevices of your life. Before we get to the solution of sin, we must first identify the sinful areas of our life. Where are you sleeping in your faith? In what areas do you need to hear, “friend, are you alright?”

 Friend, are you alright with your finances? Are you spending your money to the glory of God? Are you giving your resources to Christ? Are you spending your money without regard for the lost? Are you generous with yourself and stingy with others?

Friend, are you alright with your entertainment? Are you watching TV shows that would make Jesus cringe? Are you spending more time looking at screen or your Bible? Do your entertainment choices reflect your relationship with Christ? Do your entertainment choices reveal idols in your heart?

Friend, are you alright with your words? Do your words encourage or tear down? Is your humor used to spread love or boast? Are you quick to speak or quick to listen? Do your words reflect a life submitted to Christ?

Friend, are you alright? We all have blind spots in our life and we all have strengths in our life. One of the blessings of the church is that our strengths help to reveal the weaknesses of others as the strengths of others help to reveal our weaknesses. We need each other in the body of Christ. The only way in which we will be sharpen and help sharpen others is if we are in relationship with each other.

The Solution of the Church

            Jesus gives the solution for our sinful sleeping in five imperatives. Imperatives are not suggestions, but commands given to us by the sovereign Savior of our souls. Revelation 3:2-3,

Wake up, and strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your works complete in the sight of my God. Remember, then, what you received and heard. Keep it, and repent. If you will not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know what hour I will come against you.

Sardis fell twice because their watchmen did not protect their gates. The church is now likewise being called to renew their vigilance to Christ.

            We are called to wake up. There is an urgency here. Imagine you hear sirens of a fire truck. The sirens are called to alert you to danger. We often hear those sirens and they become background noise, but what if those sirens where in our drive way to alert us that the fire was in our home. There would be a different level of urgency. The fire of destruction is coming to the church. We cannot sleep any longer, but must wake up! The church does an excellent job critiquing our secular culture. The church does an excellent job critiquing other churches. The fire is not in “out there,” it is in here.

            After we wake up, then we strengthen what remains. To strengthen is to stand up on its feet. Think of paralyzed man in Mark 2, who was stood up and walked. The church of Sardis had a reputation of being alive. They were doing alright by the world’s standards, but their works were not complete in the sight of God. The quantity of their works as well as the quality of their works were left lacking. If they did not strengthen what they had, even that would not remain.

            Verse three has the essential marks of the entire of Christian life. “Remember, then, what you have received and heard. Keep it, and repent.” We remember what we have received and heard. We have heard the gospel and received salvation. Friend, the first step in being alright with God is understanding that you may not be alright with God. The Bible says that all have sinned and fallen short of his glory. And because of our sin, we deserve God’s wrath against our sin. We deserve to go hell for our disobedience against a holy God. The first step towards God is a realization that we are apart from him. It is only when we realize we are sinners that we recognize our need for a Savior. God sent Jesus Christ, his Son, to be our substitute. Jesus died for all those who would repent and believe in Him. He died to pay our penalty. And God accepted his sacrifice on our behalf, by raising him from the dead. Jesus is now at God’s right hand holding the seven stars with the seven spirits of God. Have you ever heard that gospel? We are sinners and that God sent Jesus to die for our us and to be raised for us.

If Jesus died for us, we would do well to remember. The church at Sardis was living on past grace. Friend, the grace of Jesus is an everyday reality. Our salvation is not only a one-time reception, but daily process. We are saved, are being saved and will be saved. We must keep what we have received. We must hold fast to Christ as He holds fast to us. And every time we realize we are asleep at the wheel of our Christian life, we repent.

      If you haven’t read your bible in a month, repent and pick up today. If you have lusted with your eyes and heart, repent today. If you have withheld your giving, repent today. If you have spoken unkindly, repent today. Friend, are you alright? If you are not, repent. Turn from your sins and be saved. Turn from your sins and return to your salvation.

      There are serious dangers if we do not repent. God offers grace today in repentance, but if you do not repent, he will come in like a thief in the night. It will be unexpected and terrible. God will not be mocked. Hear Jesus words, if we do not repent, the sovereign Lord of lords and King of kings, who holds the seven stars with the seven spirits of God says, “I will come against you.” Friend, do not stay in a spiritual slumber. Wake up! Remember the gospel and the grace of Christ. Remain in Christ.

The Saved of the Church

            The church should be full of saved people, but many are self-deceived. They have reputation of life, but they dead. And yet, even in a spiritually diseased church there are those who remain faithful. Every true church has true believers. Jesus says, “Yet you have still a few names in Sardis, people who have not soiled their garments, and they will walk with me in white, for they are worthy.” They are worthy not because of what they have done, but because they have remained with Christ. They have continued to walk with Christ.

The image of clothing as a representative of the Christian life is woven throughout the Scriptures. From the priestly attire in the temple to the robe of prodigal to the clothes needed for the wedding banquet, the image of having the proper attire for the proper occasion is part of the ancient world. The ones who remain true to the gospel will walk in white with Christ is probably a metaphor for the white worn by the Roman citizens to celebrate military conquest. For a city known for losing decisive battles, the promise of being with Christ at the final victory would have resonated with the church. As Christ comes in the final victory, his followers will walk with him in the triumphal procession.

Jesus continues his exhortation to follow him by promising, “The one who conquers will be clothed thus in white garments, and I will never blot his name out of the book of life. I will confess his name before my Father and before his angels.” We bring soiled, dirty garments to Christ, but he cleanses us and gives us white garments. We who were unholy become pure and blameless with Him. We are no longer identified with our sin, but with our sinless Savior. We were once defiled, but will be pure. Jesus will never blot out our names from the book of life. Our names are only in the book, because we have been given new clothes. We no longer wear our filthy rags, but the righteous robes of Christ.

As a former capitol city, Sardis would have been home to all the records of the empire. In that culture, if one committed a serious crime, their names were removed from the book. In the Old Testament, a removal of a name meant capital punishment. Even in the New Testament, a removal from the church was a sign that one’s name was not written in the book of life. The modern-day concept of membership and being on a church roll is viewed as legalistic and unnecessary. Although it seems unnecessary, it is a helpful practice to remind us that our names must be written in the book of life. And it is clear throughout Scripture that there was a clearly defined number in the body of Christ (1 Cor. 5/2 Cor 2).

Church membership rolls should reflect the book of life. The church should be full of saved people whose names are in the book. We should keep accurate records so if we believe someone’s name is not in God’s book, we can warn them that Jesus will come like a thief in the night. As a congregational church, every member is responsible for that roll. If someone is on our church membership roll, what we are saying is that we believe that they have not soiled their garments and will walk with Christ in white and whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.

The Supper of the Church

             The last promise that God gives his church is that he will confess our names before the Father and his angels. Jesus is the final arbiter of our salvation. When we stand before God in judgment, surrounded by his mighty messengers, our only home is Jesus confessing our names as forgiven and redeemed. Jesus said, “So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is heaven.” How do we acknowledge Jesus before men?

Although we acknowledge Jesus by living for him in every area of our lives, he gives us two specific ways to acknowledge him: baptism and the Lord Supper. When we are baptized we confess that we believe in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus as our only hope for salvation. And every time we come to the Lord’s Supper, we proclaim our trust in name of Christ crucified and risen again. Jesus said that every time we take the Lord’s Supper, we do so in remembrance of him. Jesus calls us in Revelation 3:4 to remember what we have received and heard. God in his kindness gives us the Table to help us remember and to give us an opportunity to proclaim the Lord’s death and resurrection until he comes.

The Supper is also a visual reminder for us to wake up from our slumber. The Apostle Paul says, “Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and the blood of the Lord. Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup.” We should not come to the table if we are not trusting in Christ. The table is for sinners but for a certain kind of sinner: a repentant sinner. If you are a baptized believer and a member of good standing of a church of like faith and order, you are welcome to the table. But if you know you are spiritually asleep and are not trusting in Christ, let the bread and the cup pass. If you are Christian who has been walking in sin, see this table as an invitation to return to Christ. Come to the table and confess the name of Christ. Proclaim his death again until he comes.

I hope that every time we approach that table we are reminded of our oneness with Christ and our oneness with one another. Today, is especially important as this is the first official gathering of Fellowship Baptist and Park Baptist as one congregation. We come to this table together as one body. As we come to the table, I would like all of us to take a few moments and remember the covenant we make with one another as members together of Christ’s church. I want us to stand and read our church covenant together. And as we read, I want you to repurpose in your heart to commit yourself to these promises. If you are guest with us, I would invite you to see our commitment to each other and find a church where you can carry out the spirit of these commands:

Having, as we trust, been brought by Divine Grace to repent and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and to give up ourselves to Him, and having been baptized upon our profession of faith, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, we do now, relying on His gracious aid, solemnly and joyfully renew our covenant with each other.

 

We will work and pray for the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

 

We will walk together in brotherly love, as becomes the members of a Christian Church, exercise an affectionate care and watchfulness over each other and faithfully admonish and entreat one another as occasion may require.

 

We will not forsake the assembling of ourselves together, nor neglect to pray for ourselves and others.

 

We will endeavor to bring up such as may at any time be under our care, in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, and by a pure and loving example to seek the salvation of our family and friends.

 

We will rejoice at each other’s happiness and endeavor with tenderness and sympathy to bear each other’s burdens and sorrows.

 

We will seek, by Divine aid, to live carefully in the world, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, and remembering that, as we have been voluntarily buried by baptism and raised again from the symbolic grave, so there is on us a special obligation now to lead a new and holy life.

 

We will work together for the continuance of a faithful evangelical ministry in this church, as we sustain its worship, ordinances, discipline, and doctrines.  We will contribute cheerfully and regularly to the support of the ministry, the expenses of the church, the relief of the poor, and the spread of the Gospel through all nations.

 

We will, when we move from this place, as soon as possible, unite with some other church where we can carry out the spirit of this covenant and the principles of God’s Word.

 

May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with us all.  Amen.

 

Please be seated. As the deacons come and prepare the table, please take the next few moments to prepare your own heart before the Lord.

Avoid the Scheme of Ingratitude

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. (Ephesians 6:10-11)

Beloved,

It has been a rough year for the Chicago Bears U9 Flag Football Team for the Fort Mill YMCA. We have yet to win a game. We are heading into the playoffs with a 0-6 record. We are hoping that we will surprise everyone in the playoffs by finally stopping the offensive schemes of the opposing team. The challenge has not been not knowing what the other team is going to do, but rather stopping them. As coaches we know what is coming, but our team is surprised at how the other team attacks our defense.

We often are like the Chicago Bears U9 Flag Football Team. Our coach has told us what is coming, but we are still surprised at the schemes of the devil. The devil is cunning and will use everything at his disposal to work us woe. Pastor Tim Challies writes,

Satan is a schemer. He will use any tactic, any strategy. He has spies who study you and look for your weaknesses and he will exploit any weakness he finds. He will try everything he’s got to see what works well and what doesn’t. He may use temptation like he did with Jesus. He may use false doctrine, trying to get you to deny what is true or trying to get you to believe and teach error. He may use division, doing what he can do come between you and other Christians, giving you reasons to turn your back on other Christians. Whatever it is, he will do all he can and he is always plotting against you.

Do you know the tactics and strategy Satan uses against you? Do you know how he is scheming to disrupt our fellowship? We must not be unaware of the devil’s schemes.

One of the devil’s tactics is to provoke us to ingratitude. He reminds us of all that we do not have and all the ways people have sinned against us and what God has “withheld” from us. He gives us reasons to be ungrateful. One of the repeated sins of Israel was their ingratitude for what God has done. Their ungratefulness was expressed in murmuring and complaining, anger and forgetfulness, arrogance and complacency.

Beloved, let us be strong in the Lord and the strength of his might by being grateful for God’s kindness. When you are tempted towards bitterness when the devil reminds you of a friend’s failure, be grateful that God in Christ has forgiven you. When you are tempted towards anger when the devil reminds you of what you don’t have, be grateful that God has given you life through the Son. Don’t complain, but rather give thanks. Don’t murmur, but rather praise God for his tender care.

Thanksgiving is an essential part of our Christian life. The Lord’s Supper is called the Eurachrist which means “give thanks”. Every time we partake in the Lord’s Supper we give thanks for God’s salvation in Christ. We give thanks that when we were dead in our trespasses and sin, God saved us through his shed blood on the cross. We give thanks that when we were far from God, he brought us in near in Christ. We give thanks for the resurrection to come.

As we enter the season of Thanksgiving, let us not fall to the scheme of ingratitude expressed in complaining, and bitterness, but rather let us remember the kindness and mercy of God our Savior. We always have much to be thankful for because we have Christ. And if we have Christ, we have enough. Be strong in the Lord and the strength of his might by always giving thanks for the gospel of the Son.

 

Member Profile - Daniel and Jen Huddleston

1.)    What is your vocation? Daniel - I’m an Enviromental Lab Technician for the City of Rock Hill. Jen - Director of Human Resources at Healthstat in Charlotte.


2.)    Tell us about your family: We’ve been married for 11 years this past June. We have 3 girls- Hannah 8 years old, Chloe 6 years old and Lily 4 years old. And yes our quiver is full! 


3.)    Who was the main human influence that led you to a relationship with Christ? For both of us it would be our parents.


4.)    What is your favorite Bible Verse?  Daniel Romans 8:1 and Jen- I love 2 Corinthians 4 in totality but if I have to pick one verse it would be verse 8.


5.)    What has the Lord been teaching you over the last 6 months?  Daniel- That His grace knows no bounds particularly as it relates to Ephesians 3:20. Jen - To keep my eyes on eternity and that my children’s spiritual life is my biggest mission field. 


6.)    What is something most people don’t know about you? Daniel stated and I quote “I hold a class D biological waste water operator license for the state of South Carolina.”  Jen butchered her first cow when she was 9 years old on her grandma’s farm. Oh these were good laughs - LOL.


7.)    Do you have any specific prayer requests?  Continued grace to be disciplined in His word daily and a deeper prayer life.  Parenting our children and raising them in the knowledge of the Lord. 
 

The Searching Strength of the Son of God (Revelation 2:18-29)

Rock Hill was built on the back of mills. There was the Hiland Park Mill, the Aragon, the Bleacher, Celanese, and Bowater. Each Mill had its own community. Neighborhoods were built to support the families of the mill workers. As neighborhoods were built so were churches. Park Baptist Church received its name from the Hiland Park Mill a few blocks away. Of course, not everyone worked at a mill, but everyone was affected by the Mill. The mills were the center of economic life in Rock Hill. Now imagine if each mill formed its own guild. Guilds were organizations of workers who bonded together to protect their economic interests and craft secrets for each vocation. To work at the Aragon, one would have to join the Aragon Guild and if one wanted to continue to receive raised or promotions then one would have to participate in the guild activities.
If there were guilds of workers in the 1940s and 1950s in Rock Hill, SC, the rituals and activities would most likely be non-offensive for Christians. The workers may include activities such as joining the local softball team or attending one of the area churches. Christianity was the dominant religion in Rock Hill so mill guilds would not have asked their workers to do anything that opposed their faith. Now would if the dominant religion in Rock Hill in the 40’s and 50’s was not Christianity but overtly pagan. What if the activities and rituals the guilds asked you to participate in would be to sacrifice animals in honor of the United States President. What if the only way you were going to continue to get raises and promotions is by participating by having sex with a prostitute to show your devotion and oneness to the “mill god.” The lack of participation would mean eventual mean the end of your job.
 Every mill would have its own guild and every mill would require practices that were in direct contrast to the Christian faith. What would you do? How would you provide for your family without the mills? Would reject the guild practices and starve? Or maybe you would participate in the activities but only do so for a show without real devotion to the guild? Or would you fully participate in the activities so that you could gain more influence in the guild as time went on?
These were the questions faced by early Christians in Thyatira. Thyatira was 40 miles southeast of Pergamum on the road to Sardis. The town was relatively unknown until the Pax Romana enabled safe travel among the empire. The town’s economic and social life was centered around the various guilds of each trade. The town’s religious life was focused on the worship of Apollo, the sun god, and son of Zeus. Almost all worship was centered through the guilds or at the temple of Apollo. It was into this culture seeped pagan worship that 1st century Christians found themselves. And it was these Christians facing hard and perplexing questions of survival that the Lord Jesus spoke to. I pray as we study the letter to the church of Thyatira you empathize with their courage and learn from compromising spirit.
The Searching Son of God
 
As with each of the letters, Jesus begins by identifying himself with a specific aspect of the vision in chapter 1. Each letter begins with a unique descriptor which was most needed for each church. Revelation 2:18, “And to the angel of the church in Thyatira write: ‘The words of the Son of God, who has eyes like a flame of fire, and whose feet are like burnished bronze.” Jesus begins by identifying himself as the Son of God. This is the only usage of the title in Revelation. Jesus is letting the people know that he is the only and true Son of God, not Apollo. Son of God is a title frequently used throughout John’s other writing that depicts majesty and divinity. Jesus is defining himself as the supreme divine king in his opening words.
            Jesus then provides two descriptors: eyes like a flame of fire and feet like burnished bronze. The first-century audience would have immediately known what each of these images represented. The eyes of burnished bronze were to show the penetrating gaze of Jesus. He sees and knows all. He not only sees but he sees and will judge perfectly based on his sight. Nothing will escape his gaze. A Christian in Thyatira needed to be more concerned with the searching gaze of the true Son of God over the watching eyes of the guild and the false god and son of Zeus, Apollo. Jesus drives this home later in the letter when he says, “And all the churches will know that I am he who searches mind and heart, and I will give to each of you according to your works.” Be careful how you live because the Lord sees and will judge you accordingly.
            The feet like burnished bronze would have communicated the strength of the Lord. The burnished bronze would also have been an attack against the leading “polished bronze” guild of the city. The bronze would have been primarily used for the military and even Apollo was pictured as a divine warrior god wielding a bronze double ax. Jesus is the one with burnished bronze feet and is the true divine warrior king who will execute his strength upon the church based on his perfect judgment. It is important to notice that God sees perfectly and the judgments he makes against his people are perfect (eyes of fire). He also has the power and strength to execute his judgment (bronze feet).
            The Christians of Thyatira needed to be reminded of the searching strength of the Son of God: Not to bow down to false gods, but to hold fast to Him who knows and sees all. Beloved, we need the same reminder. We may not be asked to bow down to Apollo, but we are asked to bow down every day to the idol of tolerance and sexual freedom. Beloved, there is one God whose penetrating gaze sees all and will judge accordingly. Stand fast.

The Loving People of God

The people of Thyatira were not with evidence of conversion. They were growing in their faith and love. Revelation 2:19, “‘I know your works, your love and faith and service and patient endurance, and that your latter works exceed the first.” It is the opposite of Ephesus who left their first work of love. The church was growing in their love and faith. Love and faith are essentials for a Christian church. Faith is the most central characteristic emphasized in Revelation. John wants people to have faith that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God and that by believing one may have life in his name. Persevering faith is the overarching theme in this book. The church had faith, but it was their misunderstanding of love that began to corrupt that faith.
Love is the strongest and most basic of Christian virtues. The two greatest commandments are to love God and love our neighbors. Christian love is intoxicating to the gospel. It draws people into faith. Jesus said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this, all people will know that you are my disciples if you have love for one another.” Love should be the aroma of the Christian community. By God’s grace, I see love evident in our body. It is so encouraging to see how you are caring for each other throughout the week. Love gives itself to one another. 1 John 3:16, “By this, we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.” Jesus teaches us what love is. He laid down his life for us. He showed us his love that when we were still sinners he died for us. The heart of our faith is the gospel of love.
If you are a non-Christian, I pray that you see a window through our love for each other to the love of God has shown us in Christ. God loves you. We desire to love each other in an authentic, deep, true way to model the love God has shown us. Christians often fail in loving each other for we are sinners. We want to grow in our love because Christ died for us. We recognize our inability to love and serve others without Christ because of our sin. The Bible says that every heart is deceitful and desperately sick. It is only the Lord that can change a person’s heart. Our hearts were changed because we realized that we are sinners deserving of severe punishment, but God in his mercy sent Christ to take our place. Jesus died for our sins on the cross. He was dead and buried but God raised him from the dead. He now gives us the opportunity to call on him as Lord and Savior. We want you to see our love not because we want your praise, but because we want you to see the love that God has for you in Christ. God sent Jesus to die for the ungodly. We love because he first loved us. I pray that you would know the love of God in a small way by witnessing our love for each other.
Beloved, may we always desire to grow in love. Let us love one another more. Let us love deeper. Let us love in spirit and in truth. Who can you love better? Is there someone who is not like you, maybe age or ethnicity, that you can go out of your way to love? Our love helps people find Christ. Never underestimate the power of love between God’s people.
The Christians in Thyatira were a loving people, but their love was not according to the truth.

The Tolerant People of God
 
Love is not total agreement. True love has a corrective punch to it. I love my kids enough to correct them when they are wrong. I hope my friends love me enough to speak words of truth to me when they see me doing something that will hurt me, my family or my faith. Love without truth is dangerous. I believe that the Christians of Thyatira desired to love deeply, but their misunderstanding of love paved the way for a compromising spirit in the church. Revelation 2:20, “But I have this against you, that you tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess and is teaching and seducing my servants to practice sexual immorality and to eat food sacrificed to idols.” The key word is: tolerate. They allowed the existence and practice of false teaching without interference.
There is no uniform agreement on who Jezebel is in Thyatira. Jezebel was the wife of King Ahab. She led him to the worship of Baal and sorcery. Her name has become synonymous with false teaching. Some believe that Jezebel mentioned here is a specific woman teaching false doctrine. Women were free to prophesy in the church as we see in 1 Corinthians 11:5. Others believe that Jezebel was more a symbolic picture of the entire church for John calls the church the “elect lady” in another letter. Others view Jezebel as the wife of the leader of the Thyatira translating woman as a wife. Regardless of who Jezebel is, whether one woman or a group representing a Jezebel spirit, she was teaching compromise. She encouraged the church to participate in the cultic worship of the guilds. She encouraged Christians to eat food sacrificed to Apollo and to engage with sexual immoral activities practices in worship. These were in clear violation of God’s Word and the word of the Church. During the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15:29, the church decided, “that you abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols, and from blood, and from what has been strangled, and from sexual immorality. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well.”
Remember the church was immersed in a culture that demanded participation in cult practices. If the church refused to eat food sacrificed to idols and to participate in the sexual immorality of the guilds, they would have been ostracized economically. They would have not been able to find work and could starve for holding true to Christ. There was probably a group in the church that said, “We should just go along with the culture so that we can survive.” Or “We should just follow their ways so we can gain influence in their circles.” Or “We should be patient with them as they practice these things because God was patient with us.” There are many reasons the church may have tolerated false teaching.
We may be shocked that a church of the Lord Jesus Christ would have such a compromising spirit, but this type of tolerance has befallen the church throughout history. Even today we see the Western church falling to a spirit of compromise. First, I believe that compromise and tolerance in the church is often motivated by love. The church wants to love people so they feel like they should allow people to live the way they want. “Who am I to judge?” We are taught that accepting and tolerating is the highest form of love.
Our culture wears this kind of love as a badge of pride. Churches today hang rainbow flags on their buildings to show the world that it is a place of love, but in so doing they deny biblical love. Biblical love accepting of all people in Christ. There is no previous sin that can keep people from Christ if one repents. If one turns to Christ, his arms and the arms of his church are open wide. The cross is the greatest picture of love the world has ever known. And in the cross of love, we see a condemnation of sin. The cross does not make light of sin but punishes it. God hates sin so much that Jesus had to bear it in his own body on the cross. The intensity of facing God’s wrath against sin was so great that Jesus was sweating drops of blood pleading for another way. But there wasn’t another way. Sin could not be tolerated. Friends, in our efforts to love people let us not condemn them by allowing them to continue in sin. Let us not tolerate those who would propagate false teaching. False teaching false hope and false hope leads people to hell. It is very serious.
It does not matter how pure the motive is, biblical love does not tolerate sin. And yet, how we deal with this sin should be done in a spirit of kindness and patience as we wait for repentance.
The Patient Son of God
 
            God hates sin. He hates false teaching. And although he hates it, he is patient with his people. He has extended patience but there is coming a day when that patience will end. Revelation 2:21-23,
I gave her time to repent, but she refuses to repent of her sexual immorality. Behold, I will throw her onto a sickbed, and those who commit adultery with her I will throw into great tribulation unless they repent of her works, and I will strike her children dead. And all the churches will know that I am he who searches mind and heart, and I will give to each of you according to your works.
 The world often portrays God as vengeful and harsh when judgment is discussed. How could a loving God punish people? But how could a good God not hate sin? Notice how patient God is here. He has given the church time to repent. Even after this letter is written God offers grace. He pronounces what he will do, but says, “unless they repent of her works.” Let me pause and say to those here living in sin or tolerating sin, there is still time to repent. Turn from your sin. Trust in Christ. I plead with you: continue in your sin no more.
      Before I was a pastor, I ran a group home for teenage mothers. We were the last stop for many of the girls. They had made poor choices and could no longer be placed in foster homes so they were brought to our home. The choices of the girls would not only affect themselves but their children and all the residents in the home. I spent many days pleading with those girls to change and live for the Lord. By God’s grace, some did, but others didn’t. The saddest days were when I had to make the decision to put someone out of the home. Caseworkers would come in two cars. The mother would be taken in one and the child in the other. It is a good picture of what happens to those who do not repent. The repentant one is taken to the Father and welcomed into his kingdom while the one who refused to repent is sent away into outer darkness.
The false teaching that was tolerated gave birth to others who followed that teaching. Jesus said I will throw her into a sickbed and those who commit adultery with her and will strike her children dead. False teaching always will affect others. It is like gangrene that spreads to the entire body. If the diseased part is not cut off, it will corrupt the entire body. God is very patient, but his patient will one day come to an end. Do not presume on God’s patience tomorrow; repent today.
God is not only concerned with the church of Thyatira but all his churches. Revelation 2:23b, “And all the churches will know that I am he who searched mind and heart, and I will give to each of you according to your works.” God is the one with the blazing eyes of fire and feet burnished with bronze. He will give you all what you deserve according to your own works or he will give you mercy due to the work of Christ. Why would you not repent? Accept his mercy. Trust in the work of Christ crucified and risen again.
The Steadfast People of God
 
            By God’s grace, there were some that did not participate in the false teaching but held fast to the faith once and for all delivered to the saints. Revelation 2:24-25, “But to the rest of you in Thyatira, who do not hold this teaching, who have not learned what some call the deep things of Satan, to you I say, I do not lay on you any other burden. Only hold fast what you have until I come.” The deep things of Satan were probably referring to the practices involved in the cult worship of the guilds and the temple of Apollo. Some remained innocent of these things but holding true to the word of Christ. Parents, I pray that you would be diligent to protect your children of the deep things of Satan in our culture. I pray that as our children come to Christ and give their testimonies that it would not those who left the faith for the world, but who were raised in godly homes and were taught the faith from an early age. Let us protect our kids from the deep things of Satan in our culture.
            The church that was faithful was not given any additional burdens but simply to hold on to what they had; to hold onto Christ.
Now, Lord, I would be Yours alone
And live so all might see
The strength to follow Your commands
Could never come from me
Oh Father, use my ransomed life
In any way You choose
And let my song forever be
My only boast is You
Hallelujah! All I have is Christ
Hallelujah! Jesus is my life

Friends, let this be our prayer. Let us hold fast to Christ until he comes. We know he will come. Great Baptist missionary Adoniram Judson once said, “The motto of every missionary, whether preacher, printer or school master, ought to be ‘Steadfast for life.” Friends, there are coming definitive crossroads for the American church. We will face many choices on whether to bow to economic prosperity and participate with the cultural idols or to hold to Christ. Friends, the decision may appear hard, but it is simple. Remain steadfast for life.
 
The Reigning Son of God
 
            Jesus makes our decision easy. Considering the grand reality of his sovereign reigning over history, what other choice is there? Hear the word of Jesus Christ, the Son of God,
The one who conquers and who keeps my works until the end, to him I will give authority over the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron, as when earthen pots are broken in pieces, even as I myself have received authority from my Father. And I will give him the morning star. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’
Jesus ends his letter to the church at Thyatira reminding them that he has been given all authority in heaven and earth and he will the nation with the strength of his power. Jesus is drawing on Psalm 2 (and Daniel’s interpretation of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream). Their true king will rule over all nations.
            And the utterly amazing thing is that God allows his people to reign with him. He shares his authority with his people. How utterly astonishing is the kindness of God towards his people? The morning star is probably another way of stating the initial promise of authority as the one who is over the stars is the one shown as the ruler. Apollo may be view as the god of the sun, but the saints of God will receive the morning star as they reign with Christ. Romans 8:15-17,
For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.
We have been adopted as sons and daughters of God. We will reign with Christ but provided we are willing to suffer with him now. Our suffering for Christ is but short night that will turn into an everlasting day.  
            Life is full of choices. We will always be confronted with options, but the choice will always be simple. Choose Christ. Choose the King of kings and Lord of lords. Choose the bright and morning Star. Choose Him who bled and died and rose again. Choose Him who will hold us fast. Choose Jesus for there is truly no other choice.
 

Member Profile - Espich's

1.)    What is your vocation? Casey is a 7th grade history teacher at A.R. Rucker Middle School in Lancaster, along with working at Park as the Director of Youth & College. Casey working at Park has been a huge blessing to our family. Anna has worked for 5 years in Charlotte as a Payment Operations Specialist at an agriculture company, AGDATA. Together, we raise our boys, take care of our family & our home.

2.)    Tell us about your family: Casey is from KY; Anna is SC born and raised. We got married in June of 2010. We have 3 good dogs who make us a little (Casey - a lot) crazy. The day after Christmas of 2015, we welcomed our first wild baby boy, Abram Charles. This past May, we welcomed his little brother, Hudson Locke. They have changed our lives in the best ways & melt their mom's heart daily.

3.)    Who was the main human influence that lead you to a relationship with Christ? Anna: I attribute much of my spiritual growth to strong people of God in my family. All of my grandparents have lived lives that deliberately reflect the gospel. This was carried on in my parents, who have showed me dedication to the local church & faith, in even my earliest memories. Casey: I accepted Christ after getting involved in Young Life during high school. My young life leader, Dan, played a major role in teaching me the gospel & leading me from darkness to light. Since then, my friends Devon & Pastor Dave have continued to teach me to be a godly man, never stop growing, & lead my family.

4.)    What is your favorite Bible Verse? Anna loves Galatians 5:1 & 2 Corinthians 4:8-11. Casey loves John 1:5 & 2 Timothy 4:2-4

5.)    What has the Lord been teaching you over the last 6 months? Anna: I think God has been teaching me that when life gets hectic, to maintain perspective on the things He values. I am also learning to trust God to lead me when my life changes, and ministry and routines look different than they have before. Casey: God has been teaching me to surrender my schedule to Him. He has also been teaching me how to best love & serve my family in this current season of life.

6.)    What is something most people don’t know about you? Anna played basketball competitively from age 7 through high school & has a degree in Sport Management. Casey is an avid reader, built his own computer, & loves Premier League soccer.

7.)    Do you have any specific prayer requests? Pray for rest & balance for our family. Pray that we seek & trust God's guidance & provision as our life continues to change. Pray for a job for Anna that is closer to home. Continue to pray for Casey as he leads the OP group and the college co-ed Bible study.

 

The Piercing Word (Revelation 2:12-17)

Ellen and I began our teaching career in New York City. New York is truly the city that never sleeps. There seems to never be a moment without noise. Although Ellen and I both went to school in bigger cities, Philadelphia and Atlanta, respectively, New York is even more jarring on one’s senses. One evening Ellen went into a restaurant for dinner and someone thought it would be funny to light a string of black cat fireworks. When the fireworks went off, “pop, pop pop,” everyone from New York in the restaurant hit the ground thinking it was gunshots. My wife, on the other hand, lifted her head and moved toward the sound. My wife soon realized that in New York City there are certain sounds that one must react with speed and precision. Certain sounds demand a reaction.

The scream of one of your children. The security alarm in your home. The train whistle over the railroad tracks. The middle of the night phone call. There are certain sounds that penetrate our ears like no others. Our world is full of beeps, buzzes, and bangs. When you live in a city, police and fire sirens become background noises, but their certain sounds that pierce through the cacophony and stop us in our tracks. They pierce through the noise and demand a reaction.

The Word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. God’s Word must pierce through the cacophony of worldly clamor to open our eyes to the One whom we must give an account. My prayer for you is that you will allow the penetrating power of the Word of God to pierce your heart, to break your love of the world, and encourage you to hold fast to Christ.

The Piercing Word Brings Judgment

In each of Jesus’ letters to the seven churches of Asia, he begins with a particular description of the vision of chapter one (Revelation 1:9-20). The vision of Jesus is, therefore, applied to the churches in a specific situation. Although Jesus addresses each of these churches individually, we know that he intends for the message to be applied to all churches throughout history. Jesus beings his letter to Pergamum, “And to the angel of the church in Pergamum write: “The words of him who has the sharp two-edged sword.” Pergamum was the center of the Roman government and the Roman pagan religion in Asia Minor. The city boasted of being the “throne warden” to the worship of Caesar. It only defended the worship of Caesar, but the freedom to worship all sorts of deities. It was a polytheistic city.

Jesus confronts this “many ways” city by proclaiming that he is the one who holds the sharp two-edged sword. The sword was meant to invoke the image of judgment. Jesus was going to judge the pagan city with the sword. Paul writes in Romans 13 that the state was given the sword to execute judgment against lawlessness. Christians were not called to repay evil with evil but to overcome evil with good leaving judgment in the hands of the State and thus, ultimately, in the hands of God. Here, Jesus is reminding the church that he is the one who wields the sword of judgment. He will judge the kingdom of Satan. He will judge the apostate or the one who abandons the faith handed down from the apostles. Jesus is sovereign over all for he has the sharp two-edged sword that will cut through any worldly philosophy and pagan religion.

The sword imagery is meant to comfort and convicts the saints in Pergamum. The letter is dominated by Jesus’ rebuke of the churches permissive spirit of false teaching and false teachers. Jesus spends much of the letter rebuking the church from drifting from the truth and calling for their repentance to return to the church. Jesus also wants to encourage the faithful in the church. Even in the most dysfunctional churches, there is a remnant. There are always true believers in the true church. Jesus says to this mixture of true and drifting saints, “I know where you dwell, where Satan’s throne is.” There are many possible options of what Jesus means by “Satan’s throne” but the most probable option is that he is referring to Pergamum’s prominence in emperor worship.  The main reason for Christian persecution in John’s day was Christians unwillingness to bow to Caesar.

How comforting would it have been for Christians to hear Jesus say, “I know where you dwell, I know how challenging it to stand for me in the midst of intense, violent and aggressive emperor worship. I know the depth of the sin of the city.” There is a great comfort to rest in the fact that God knows what we are dealing with. Regardless of your trial today, God knows what you are going through. He knows your battle. Take comfort in God’s knowledge.

The Piercing Word Brings Joy

God does not only have knowledge of the saints of Pergamum, but he also has joy because many have remained steadfast in the truth even amid trial. Revelation 2:13b,

Yet you hold fast my name, and you did not deny my faith even in the days of Antipas my faithful witness, who was killed among you, where Satan dwells.

The church continued to trust in the name of Jesus Christ. They were tempted to deny Christ when one of their numbers was killed for his faith. There is no scholarly agreement who Antipas was, but only that he was given the name ‘faithful witness’ the same name given to Jesus in Revelation 1:5. Jesus was pleased that the church held fast to his name amid intense persecution. There have been many faithful witnesses to the Lord Jesus throughout history. As we move closer to the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, we are reminded of all the faithful witnesses that held fast to the name of Christ.

Jan Hus was a preacher in the early 15th century. After reading the writings of John Wycliffe, Hus became impassioned for the authority of Scripture. He lived during rampant immorality among the clergy of the Catholic Church. As he started preaching against them, he was labeled a heretic and sentenced to death. As he was chained to a stake like a dog, he said,

My Lord Jesus Christ was bound with a harder chain than this one for my sake, so why should I be ashamed of this rusty chain?...What I taught with my lips I will now seal with my blood.[1]

Hus held fast to the name of Christ even unto death. Hus’ faithfulness continued to fuel the true church’s passion for the Word of God. Hus knew that the two-edged sword would continue to pierce the hearts of Europe. When Hus, which means Goose in Czech, was sentenced to death he said, “You may roast the goose, but a hundred years from now a swan will arise whose singing you will not be able to silence.” About 100 years later, Martin Luther became that swan igniting the Protest Reformation which has yet to be silenced. Hus had confidence in the God of the Word and Word of his God. His joy in the Word fueled his willingness to defend with his blood.

Do you have joy in the word of God? Is reading God’s word a delight or a burden? Jesus is pleased when we delight in his Word.

The Piercing Word Brings Division

The Word of God brings division. Jesus came to bring division. He came to divide the world based on how they respond to Him. The Word of God continues to bring division. There are churches who are beginning to waver on the Word. Let us learn from the error of Pergamum so that we would not drift from the Word but hold fast to it. Revelation 2:14-15,

But I have a few things against you: you have some there who hold the teaching of Balaam,

who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel, so that they might eat

food sacrificed to idols and practice sexual immorality. So also you have some who hold the

teaching of the Nicolaitans.

Balaam was a prophet in Israel. He was asked by the king of Moab, Balak, to pronounce curses on Israel, but instead only pronounced blessings. In Number 25:1-3, it relates how the people of Israel fall into sexual immorality among the pagans in Moab and sacrificed to their kings. Jewish tradition relates the cause of this apostasy on the account of Balaam’s advice referenced in Numbers 31:16.

The Nicolaitans were like Balaam in that they encouraged the church to eat food sacrificed to idols and to practice sexual immorality. If the church ate the food sacrificed to idols they would have participated in the imperial cult worship of Caesar. The church still believed in Jesus Christ, but were encouraged that it was fine to participate in the cult worship of Caesar. It may have been encouraged for their own safety or to help them have influence in the culture, either way, it contradicted the letter from the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15:28-29,

For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay on you no greater burden than these requirements: that you abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols, and from blood, and from what has been strangled, and from sexual immorality. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well. Farewell.”

The Nicolaitans were not only encouraging participation in the imperial cult but were also loosening the sexual boundaries of marital monogamy.

The problem in the church was a permissive spirit in accepting the culture of the world. We are not to be conformed to the world but transformed by the renewal of our minds. We are not to live in the world, but not be of the world. The Nicolaitans were encouraging the church to become like the world. We do not know their motives for this advice, but we can see similar advice in our day. The spirit of the Nicolaitans is alive in the American church. Churches are loosening their requirements on what is appropriate sexual ethics. It goes beyond the acceptance of homosexuality as a viable Christian lifestyle to the wide acceptance of cohabitation as normative for the church. They divide right doctrine with right living. Heterodoxy with heteropraxy.

The rebuke was not that everyone in the church held to the teachings of the Nicolaitans, but that the church was permissive that some did. Paul similarly rebuked the Corinthians because of their unwillingness to deal with sin in the church. He warned that a little leaven leavens the whole lump. Jesus also warned his disciples to beware of the yeast of the Pharisees that can affect the whole body. The problem in the American church is not that there is widespread homosexuality or sexual immorality in its members, but a permissive compromising spirit with those who engage in such things.

The Word gives us instructions on how we are called to live and how we are called to conduct our churches. We do not want to be a church of right doctrine without right practice. We want to believe the right things and live the right way. This pleases God. What areas of sin are you most permissive? Where are you most tempted to worldly compromise? Are their areas as a church where we are tempted to drifted into compromise? The desire to be accepting and welcoming is a God-given desire, but we can never go beyond what is described in the Word of God.

The Piercing Word Brings Direction

Jesus again redirects us with his Word. He calls the church to repent. Repentance is to turn from trusting in anything other than Jesus Christ and his Word. We must turn from our own ways and trust in God’s ways. There are times we may not understand the what and the why of the Christian life, but when we become Christians we no longer have the right to disobey Jesus. He is our commanding officer. He is the one with the sharp two-edged sword that by it will judge all governments and all people.

If you are not a Christian, listen to the gravity of Jesus’ words and what he commands of all people, Revelation 2:16,

Therefore repent. If not, I will come to you soon and war against them with the sword of my mouth

The call of Jesus is very simple. It is a call of repentance. Why do we need to repent? It is fair to question one that is utterly challenged in our day. The Bible states that God is the creator of the world and all human beings. And as the creator, we are called to obey his word. He created the world good, but man disobeyed God. Man rejected the good word of a good Creator and chose to follow their own desire to be like god. They attempted to usurp God’s authority. Instead of following God’s law, they desired to follow their own law. The world has been corrupted by this selfish pride ever since and now the human heart is corrupted and bent towards self.

The Christian worldview says that every human being has sinned and has a sinful heart. Of course, Christian acknowledge that even the worst of humanity has elements of good in them, but their core is opposed to God. The punishment for sin is eternal death. When an eternal God is offended, then that eternal wrong must be punished as an eternal crime. Now it may appear harsh that God would exercise that degree of punishment, but in only understanding the severity of that punishment can we appreciate the kindness of Jesus’ word: repent. We are sinners deserving of eternal hell and God says there is another way. Jesus came to seek and to save sinners. He lived a perfect life. He never sinned. He always perfectly trusted God. He trusted God to death. He gave himself for our sins. He paid for all the wrongs we have done in his death. But God raised him from the dead. His resurrection opened the door to salvation. We now can be saved, not because of anything good in us, but because of the goodness and mercy of God.

Friends, Jesus is a kind, merciful Savior. He willingly took hell on the cross so we could repent. The one who calls us to repent is the one who bled and died for us. And this same one who gave himself for us is the one who says that if you do not repent then he will bring war against you with the sword of his mouth. Jesus desires your peace, but that peace came at a price. He offers you peace, but if and only if, you repent. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. Let God’s Word pierce your heart. I urge you to turn to Christ and live.

The Piercing Word Brings Deliverance

The surgeon’s scalpel hurts but brings healing. The call of the gospel may bring worldly pain in this life as you stand for truth, but it will bring deliverance. Revelation 2:17,

He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, with a new name written on the stone that no one knows except the one who receives it.’

There are various interpretations on what exactly the “hidden manna” is referring to, but it is most likely connected to the manna God provided for Israel in the wilderness. God gave bread from heaven to strengthen and sustain his people as they travailed through the wilderness. The Israelites feasted on the manna as we feast on the bread of life. Jesus said,

I am the bread that came down from heaven…I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats this bread, he will live forever. (John 6:44;48-51)

Beloved, we feed on Christ by faith. He is the food our souls need to live.

Jewish tradition believed that white stones fell along with the manna in the wilderness. The manna itself was referred to as a heavenly stone (Exodus 16:31; Numbers 11:7). The white stone was also known as stone given to the innocent at their acquittal. Beloved, those of us who feed on Christ, the bread of life, will receive a white stone of acquittal. We will be fully and finally declared not guilty because the Jesus gave his body to be broken for us. The only way we get the white stone of acquittal is through the broken bread of life. And it is only when we continue in faith with Christ do we receive the new name of Christ.

The new name has several implications. It is a fulfillment of the prophecy in Isaiah 62:2, “The nations shall see your righteousness, and all the kings your glory, and you shall be called by a new name that the mouth of the Lord will give.  The end-time people of God fulfill this reality when we are named after God. As one scholar notes,

Believers’ reception of this name represents their final reward of consummate identification and unity with the intimate, end-time presence and power of Christ in his kingdom and under his sovereign authority. Identification with this name actually begins when Christ reveals himself to people and they confess his name by faith.[2]

Beloved, Christ has given us his name now and one day he will fully identify us with that new name and will enjoy our new status in the intimate presence of Almighty God. Revelation 22:4 says that we, “will see his face and his name will be on our foreheads.” What a gift to be bear the name of Christ.

Friends, let us never forget the name of Jesus. Let the name of Jesus be the piercing word that brings us back from wandering. Let the name of Jesus be the piercing word that causes our hearts to stir. Let the name of Jesus be the piercing word that ignites the passion in our soul to hold fast to his name. Jesus, Jesus there is something about that name.

Jesus, Jesus, Jesus

There’s just something about that name

Master, Savior, Jesus

Like the fragrance after the rain

Jesus, Jesus, Jesus

Let all Heaven and earth proclaim

Kings and kingdoms will all pass away

But there’s something about that name.

[1] https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/the-goosefather accessed 10.8.2017

[2] Beale, G. K. (1999). The book of Revelation: a commentary on the Greek text (pp. 254–255). Grand Rapids, MI; Carlisle, Cumbria: W.B. Eerdmans; Paternoster Press.

Member Profile - Ben Oliver

 

1.)    What is your vocation?

 

My vocation is to be a foreign missionary. I am finishing my undergraduate degree at Winthrop in Physical Education and would love to use playing sports or coaching as a means to share myself and the Gospel of Jesus Christ with those who are lost. 

2.)    Tell us about your family:

I grew up in Rock Hill with an older sister, Carly, my mother, Rebecca, and my father, Scott. My father taught me all of the sports that I know and love today and we would always play them together. My sister and I have grown to have a strong relationship and I value her now much more than I did when I was younger. My mother is the most generous woman I have ever met and is always looking for ways to serve the ones that she loves. I am truly blessed to have the family that I was born into.

3. 3.)    Who was the main human influence that led you to a relationship with Christ?

 The main human influence that I have had on my life that led me to a relationship with Christ is Casey Espich. I met Casey when I was in high school and he discipled me to know and fear the Lord and still pushes me to know our Lord all the more today.

4.)    What is your favorite Bible Verse? 

My favorite Bible verse is John 20:30-31. "Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name."

5.) What has the Lord been teaching you over the last 6 months?

Over the past 6 months, the Lord has been teaching me to be still and know that He is God. I continue to try to make plans instead of asking what God's will is for me and He continues to show me what His will is after I think that my plans are set. He continues to show me that He is sovereign.

6.)    What is something most people don't know about you?

Most people do not know that I am very competitive in all things, especially silly things like card and board games.

7.)    Do you have any specific prayer requests?
 That the Lord would use me on Winthrop's campus to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ with the lost so that they may find life in His name.

PLEASE CONTACT JOHN WHITEAKER IF YOU ARE WILLING TO FILL OUT A MEMBER PROFILE

Be faithful Unto Death (Revelation 2:8-11)

The most famous disciple of the Apostle John was a godly man named Polycarp. Polycarp became the Bishop the Smyrna. Smyrna was a densely populated Jewish city with strong ties to Roman loyalty. Polycarp would have been in his mid-twenties when he first heard brief John’s Revelation and the letter from Jesus Christ to the church at Smyrna. As a young man he had to make a choice to follow Jesus Christ. In choosing to follow Jesus, he was choosing a life of persecution, of earthly poverty and constant opposition. Polycarp made the choice to follow Jesus. According to Church history, Polycarp was a disciple of the Apostle John. John was probably 60 years older than Polycarp, but John’s influence over this young man strengthened the church at Smyrna during his day and long after the Lord called him home.

      John served as a missionary to the future by giving his life to the next generation. The message John gave in life was a message embraced by those in face of death: to be faithful to Jesus Christ. I pray that whatever stage of life you find yourself this morning, a young man or woman in the beginning of your life or a senior saint nearing the end, I pray that you would be faithful to Jesus Christ. He is worth it.

Be Faithful to the Living One

            Jesus begins every one of his letters to his churches with an aspect of the vision of Revelation 1:9-20. Jesus begins his letter to the church at Smyrna with a reminder that He is God and in control of all things. Revelation 1:8,

And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write: ‘The words of the first and the last, who died and came to life.

Jesus is alone sovereign over all history. He is eternal. He is the beginning and the end; the first and the last. The prophet Isaiah uses this phrase three times in his chapters of hope (40-48). Every time he uses the phrase, he is referring to God. Jesus is God. He is the second person of the Trinity. He is equal to God the Father and although his is equal to God the Father he as a very different role in our salvation. Jesus is our mediator who purchased our salvation by offering himself in our place.

            It is hard to faithful to God in a fallen world. Faithfulness is unswerving allegiance and steadfast trust in God. There is a multiplicity of temptations for believers. There is wealth, comfort, and pleasure that appears more attractive than the life of poverty, tumult, and denial. How can we remain faithful? We remain faithful by looking to Him who calls us to be faithful. The One who calls us to be faithful was the one who was faithful on our behalf. Jesus died for our sins. He committed no wrong. He knew no sin. He was innocent of all transgression. He was faithful to every word and in every way to God the Father. And although he was perfect, he remained faithful unto death. He was obedient to death even death on the cross. The One does not only demand your faithfulness, he provides you an example.

Jesus was faithful unto death, but he also came back to life. There is a great promise in faithfulness. The resurrection is our reward. Romans 6:5, “For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.” 1 Peter 1:3, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled and unfading, kept in heaven for you.” Psalm 16:6, “The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places, indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance.” Psalm 16:11, “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence, there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.”

Following Jesus is worth it. He is glorious Savior and promises a glorious inheritance. When we are tempted to drift from Jesus, we must remember what he has done for us and what he has promised to us.

Polycarp was arrested for his faith. There was a warrant out for his arrest and he was traveling from house to house to avoid capture. During one period of prayer, it was revealed to him by the Lord that he was to be burned for his faith. Polycarp was brought into the stadium surrounded by a crowd that wanted him dead.

“Are you Polycarp?” the Roman proconsul asked. “Yes.” “Swear to Rome, and I will set you free. Curse Christ!” “For eighty-six years,” replied Polycarp, “I have been his servant, and he has never done me wrong. How can I blaspheme my king who saved me?”

In the hour of Polycarp’s greatest test, he remembered the kindness and mercy of the Savior. Jesus had done him no wrong, but saved him. In the hour of your temptation, whether it be at a computer screen, in your office, or at the dinner table with your family over the holidays, remember the Jesus is the first and the last, who died for you and came to life again. He will do you no harm.

Be Faithful in the Loss of Wealth

            There are threats to our faithfulness. One of the greatest threats is a loss of wealth. Jesus begins the letter to the church, “I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich).” Jesus knows the cost paid by his disciples. Smyrna was a largely Jewish city with strong ties to the Roman imperial cult. The imperial cult permeated virtually every aspect of the city and often even village life in Asia Minor, so that individuals could aspire to economic prosperity and greater social standing only by participating to some degree in the Roman cult.[1] As Christians refuse to participate in the Roman cult, they were ostracized from society and became poor. They would not have moved up the social ladder, but would most likely not been hired in the first place and/or the community would have avoided their businesses. To follow Christ in the 1st century often meant choosing a life of poverty. And yet, Christians chose to be poor rather than denying the Lord Jesus Christ.

            Will you be faithful in the loss of wealth? Will you choose to be poor rather than deny Jesus Christ? There are members of our church that have made that decision. Members who were part of businesses with dishonest practices that chose to walk away from those businesses rather than dishonor Christ. Beloved, we have members now who are daily pressured to deny Christ in their workplaces. Are you praying for their strength to be faithful? As the moral revolution continues to unfold, more and more Christians will lose their jobs simply by holding to a Christian sexual ethic. Holding to a biblical view of marriage will cause you to lose your job. When you are facing the temptation of the loss of wealth, will you be faithful?

One of the marks of the early church was a familial sharing of resources. They all gave to each other as any had need. Faithfulness in the loss of wealth is a community project. We must be willing to bear each other burdens including financial burdens when our brothers and sisters stand for Christ in the public sector. Let us choose to be poor with Christ than rich without him. Jesus reminded the church that even though we are poor in earthly means, we are rich in the spiritual realm. Even here Jesus is reminding us to follow him, 2 Corinthians 8:9, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor so that you by his poverty might become rich.” Jesus became poor so we would be rich.

Beloved, do you view your wealth as a tool to make others spiritually rich? As we move into a season of increased persecution for the church, it will take the resources of the entire body to encourage faithfulness. Let us commit to living as a spiritual family and give freely to all who have need.

Be Faithful in the Loss of Reputation

            The Christians at Smyrna also faced persecution in their reputation. Proverbs 22:1, “A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches, and favor is better than silver or gold.” The reputation of Christians was under attack at Smyrna because certain “Jews” were more interested in protecting their own freedoms. Jews had certain rights under the Roman law. They did not have to worship Caesar as Lord. They were afforded certain rights for the peace of the Roman empire. Christians were initially viewed as a Jewish sect and were afforded similar rights under the Jewish umbrella.

As Christianity grew, Jews began to slander Christians and further separate themselves from believers. Jesus offers some strong words to encourage the church, “I know…the slander of those who say that they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan.” Paul writes in Romans that a true Jew is not one outwardly, but inwardly and circumcision is a matter of the heart done by the Spirit. These Jews in Smyrna were not true Jews at all but were following Satan. Satan is the Accuser of the brethren. He is the one who spits false accusations against God’s people. These were false Jews and followers of the Slanderer.

Do you realize that every time you slander another person (speaking untruth to harm their reputation) you are following the ways of Satan? The tongue is hard to control. James says it is a restless evil. We must recognize sins of the tongue and repent of how we may have fallen into temptation. We also must be resolute in trusting Jesus with our reputation. It is natural to want to defend ourselves to others. When my reputation has been slandered, there is a part that wells up in me that wants to defend myself against those false accusations. Slander hurts for more than one’s pride but can hurt the reputation of the gospel and witness of Christ. And yet, God is first and the last. He is still in control of it.

Here again, we must look to Christ, 1 Peter 2:23, “When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.” We want to treat others with gentleness and respect so that when we are slandered those who revile our good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. (1 Peter 3:16). If we are insulted for the name of Christ, we are blessed. (1 Peter 4:14) We must continue to entrust ourselves to our faithful Creator while doing good to others. (1 Peter 4:19). Give your reputation to Lord.

Be Faithful in the Loss of Breath

            The church at Smyrna was facing the very real possibility of death. Jesus exhorts them not to fear because he is the living one. We always face death as Christians remembering that our God has promised us a resurrection. Revelation 2:10,

Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life.

The devil is going to work through human agents to persecute the church. He always has and he always will use earthly agents to tear down the church. And God is going to use the wickedness of persecution to purify his church. The church will be tested. 1 Peter 1:6-7,

In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.

God will use our trials to strengthen and confirm our faith. And our trials, don’t miss this, will result in praise and glory and honor of Jesus Christ.

            The ten days of tribulation are probably not referring to a literal ten-day period of persecution, but a symbolic period of testing where they can prove themselves faithful. The ten-day test is most likely alluding to Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego ten-day fast in Babylon where they chose not to defile themselves with the king’s food. Daniel and friends have always been models for faithfulness in the face of death. God spared Daniel from the lion’s den. God spared Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego from the fiery furnace. Therefore, God will spare the church at Smyrna by giving them the crown of life. As God will spare us if we are faithful to the end. 

            Polycarp would have heard these words as a young man. As he grew into the bishop of Smyrna, there were probably many times when he recited these words to the people. Be faithful unto death and Jesus will give you the crown of life. And by God’s grace, he lived by those words. Polycarp was brought into the Roman stadium and was put on trial. They asked him to recant by shouting and waving his hands towards the Christians saying, “Away with the atheists,” as Christians were referred to that day. Instead, Polycarp was commanded to look behind him to the Christians but instead looked toward the crowd in front of him and waving his hands bellowed, “Away with the atheists.” The Proconsul continued to threaten Polycarp,

“I have wild beasts,” said the proconsul. “I shall throw you to them if you don’t change your attitude.”

“Call them,” replied the saint. “We cannot change our attitude if it means a change from better to worse.”

“If you make light of the beasts,” retorted the governor, “I’ll have you destroyed by fire, unless you change your attitude.”

Polycarp answered: “The fire you threaten burns for a time and is soon extinguished. There is a fire you know nothing about—the fire of the judgment to come and of eternal punishment, the fire reserved for the ungodly. But why do you hesitate? Do what you want.”

The proconsul was amazed, and sent the crier to stand in the middle of the arena and announce three times: “Polycarp has confessed that he is a Christian.” The crowd roared in unison that Polycarp must be burned alive.

Polycarp was trusting in the words of Savior and King, “Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life.” Polycarp has stood in a long line of faithful Christians who stood faithful unto death. They trusted Jesus for the crown of life.

Be Faithful for the Life to Come

            There are two deaths in this world. There is the first death when our bodies perish from this life and there is the second death where our bodies and soul perish forever in hell. Revelation 20:14, “Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.” This is what Polycarp meant when he said, “There is a fire you know nothing about—the fire of the judgment to come and of eternal punishment, the fire reserved for the ungodly.” The ungodly are those whose names are not written in the book of life.

Jesus desires your name to be written in the book of life. Jesus came to give life and live more abundantly. Jesus says, “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. The one who conquers will not be hurt by the second death.” Jesus calls out to all who will hear his voice. The one who conquers in faith will not be hurt by the second death. They will perish in this life only then will experience the blessed inheritance of the saints.

The one who conquers will not be hurt by the second death. How do we conquer? The way we conquer is to be conquered. We are only conquerors if we try to save ourselves. We cannot save ourselves. We are ungodly and unrighteous. We deserve the second death, but God sent through the Living One. Jesus Christ came to die and rise again. Jesus conquered the second death through his resurrection. We conquer by allowing Jesus to be our conqueror. We surrender to his Lordship. We bow to him as King. It is only by being conquered by Christ that we will conquer with Christ in the life to come.

We all must make a choice. Will we bow our knee to Christ or to our own will? Polycarp was a young man when he made the choice to follow Christ. He said, “For eighty-six years I have been his servant, and he has never done me wrong. How can I blaspheme my king who saved me?” When the time came and the wood was placed his feet, Polycarp prayed,

O Father of thy beloved and blessed Son, Jesus Christ, through whom we have come to know thee, the God of angels and powers and all creation, and of the whole family of the righteous who live in thy presence; I bless thee for counting me worthy of this day and hour, that in the number of the martyrs I may partake of Christ’s cup, to the resurrection of eternal life of both soul and body in the imperishability that is the gift of the Holy Spirit.[2]

Polycarp took the cup of Christ of death and the hope of his resurrection. He believed in the promise, “Be faithful unto death and I will give you the crown of life.” Friends, I pray who heed the words of Christ as Polycarp did. Be faithful, be steadfast, be immovable in the hope of the gospel, be loyal unto Christ, be faithful to death. Be conquered by Christ so that you will conquer the second death with Christ. He has promised the conqueror’s crown; will you receive it?

[1] Beale, G. K. (1999). The book of Revelation: a commentary on the Greek text (p. 240). Grand Rapids, MI; Carlisle, Cumbria: W.B. Eerdmans; Paternoster Press.

[2] Boa, K., & Kruidenier, W. (2000). Vol. 6: Romans. Holman New Testament Commentary (403–404). Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

Remember Your First Love (Revelation 2:1-7)

            Do you remember your first car? My first car was a 1972 red Buick Skylark convertible. I loved driving that car. I suddenly became excited to run errands for my parents. I was thrilled to run out for a gallon of milk. I always offered to be the one behind the wheel. I have been driving now for over twenty years and do not have the same joy in running errands for the family. The initial excitement of a sixteen-year old driving his first car is like the excitement of a new Christian living out their faith. A new Christian can’t wait to talk about their faith. They can’t wait to read their Bibles and gather with God’s people. They tell anyone who will listen what has happened to them. And yet, over time the early excitement of new faith begins to fade. The initial joy slows fades away. Although it fades, it can be recovered. I can close my eyes and be transported driving down Hicks road in Palatine, IL for the first time by myself with the top down 20 years ago. As I can close my eyes and be transported on a rock in Lake Champion, NY looking up at the stars awestruck that the one who created the world loved me a sinner. We all have the moment of first loves. The love of the freedom of our first car. The love of the feeling of our first kiss with our spouse. The love of the Savior of our first hearing of the gospel.

            As we approach our text this morning, I pray we would be reminded of our first love or the love we had at first. It is in the love of Christ, we approach his word today. Let us approach our text today by asking several questions. First,

 

Who is the Angel of the Church?

 

            In John’s vision in Revelation 1:9-20, John sees the Lord Jesus holding seven stars in his right hand. Jesus interprets the vision in saying, “As for the mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand, and the seven golden lampstands, the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.” The stars are the angels of the seven churches addressed in this letter. The first letter written to Ephesus begins, “To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: The words of him who holds the seven stars in this right hand, who walks among the seven golden lampstands.” Who are the angels in chapter 1 and who is the angel representing each church?

            There is no uniform agreement among scholars who the angels represent. There are two camps of interpretations and then variations within each of those camps. Either one views the angels as a heavenly being or a human being. Those who believe that the angel is an actual person, either believe it is the teaching pastor of the church or the representative from the church who visited John to receive this letter. Although the word angel can be translated messenger as it is in other places in the New Testament, John only uses the Greek word for angel in Revelation to communicate a heavenly being. The strongest argument for an angel being a human representative of the church is that the letter requires real actions which would be hard to carry out if the main audience was a heavenly being.

            The second camp views the angels as heavenly beings. Some believe that God has assigned an angel to each church to guide and protect the congregation. Others believe that the angel is a symbol of the prevailing spirit within the congregation. I believe the best interpretation would fall somewhere in this camp where the angel is connected to the heavenly places. The two main reasons I believe the angel is connected to a heavenly being is because John only uses the Greek word in Revelation to communicate something other worldly. The second reason is the purpose of John’s writing. He is trying to encourage the persecuted church by reminding them that they do not have merely an earthly existence, but a heavenly one. The Bible consistently emphasizes a future glorious heavenly hope to overcome present earthly challenges.

            As we begin our study in revelation, it is important to note there will be certain concepts that we will not be able to be definitive in our interpretation. We are reminded to have humility in our interpretations and charity towards others in theirs. Although we do not exactly know who the angle is, we do not who is speaking. The one who holds the seven stars in his right hand who walks among the lampstands. The Lord Jesus Christ is speaking. The one who has all power and authority is in our midst. Jesus is present with us and Jesus is powerful for us. Those twin truths should anchor us in the raging sea of earthly trials.

 

What are the Works of the Church?

 

            After the introduction, Jesus always begins with two simple words: I know. The Lord Jesus is omniscient; he knows everything. As we gather today, we can be confident that the Lord knows all. Revelation 2:2-3,

I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance, and how you cannot bear with those who are evil, but have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and found them to be false. I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name’s sake, and you have not grown weary.

Jesus begins his letter to the church of Ephesus commending them for their works. The church’s works can be seen with three headings.

They have Patient Endurance

            Jesus understands the trials that we face. He is one who sticks closer than a brother. Jesus patiently endured evil as he worked on the earth and now he sees his church walking in the same manner. He is encouraged that the church has held fast to sound doctrine and continued in the faith regardless of their circumstances. They are pressing on to the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. There is something to be said for patient endurance.

            William Wilberforce fought vigorously to stop the slave trade in the late 18th century. He faced opposition from within and outside his own party. There are points he was left utterly exhausted and almost ready to give up. One of the encouragements that kept Wilberforce fighting against the slave trade was a letter he received from John Wesley. Six days before his death, on February 24th, 1791, Wesley wrote to Wilberforce,

Dear Sir…Unless the divine power has raised you up to be as “Athanasius against the world,” I see not how you can go through your glorious enterprise in opposing that execrable villainy, which is the scandal of religion, of England, and of human nature. Unless God has raised you up for this very thing, you will be worn out by the opposition of men and devils. But if God be for you, who can be against you? Are all of them stronger than God? O be not weary of well-doing! Go on, in the name of God and in the power of His might, till even American slavery (the vilest that ever saw the sun) shall vanish away before it.

Wilberforce endured because a letter reminded him of the presence and power of God. The church at Ephesus endured because a letter reminded them of the presence and power of God. I pray our church would endure as we are reminded of the presence and the power of God.

            God is pleased when we, as the Ephesians, bear patiently with him. They did not grow weary in their fight and I pray we will follow their example.

 

           

They Hate Evil

            The church also hated evil. They did not tolerate sin in their midst. In Paul’s last words to the Ephesian elders, he prophesied that there were going to come false teachers from within the church. Acts 20:28-32,

Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish every one with tears. And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified.

Paul’s word proved true. There were false teachers that came to Ephesus and the church resisted them. There were two main ways they recognized and resisted these false teachers. First, they rejected their way of life. Jesus said, “Beware of false prophets…you will recognize them by their fruits.” In the Didache, a 1st century document for the church said that one can test a true prophet by if, “he have the behavior of the Lord.[1]

            Beloved, must continue in the spirit of the Ephesians saints and fight for purity in the body of Christ. We must pursue godliness and hate evil. One of the tactics of the devil is to lessen our hatred of evil. If we laugh at sin, we are more likely to commit it. Be on guard against the subtle acceptance of sin. Train your mind to see sin in its most horrific light.

            The Ephesians also rejected false teachers by their message.

They believe in True Teaching

            They discovered these apostles to be false because their teaching did not accord with godliness (1 Timothy 6:3). Ephesus was a place that loved sound doctrine. They loved the truth. They would have been the church to host conferences on expository preaching and systematic theology. They loved the truth. And because they knew and loved the church, they rejected the false teachers. Including the teaching of the Nicolaitans, which we will revisit in more depth in a few weeks.

            Jesus is pleased how the Ephesians loved sound doctrine. I hope Jesus is pleased with us in our zeal for sound doctrine. We are growing more and more in our love for the truth. People often ask me what I am most encouraged by in the life of our church and for last several months, it has been our zeal for the truth. It is so encouraging to see so many people desire to know the riches of God’s Word. We are a word-saturated church. Praise God for his kindness in what he has done and what He is doing in our midst. It is such a blessing to see a people built around the word of God.

            And as it so often is, one of our greatest strengths can become one of our greatest weaknesses.

 

What is the Danger of the Church?           

 

            Jesus was so pleased with how the church loved sound doctrine and purity, but he was discouraged with their love. Revelation 1:4, “But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first.” It is never a positive thing to hear the Lord Jesus say, “I have this against you.” For all the positives in the life of the church, they had abandoned love they had at the beginning of their walk with Christ. What is this love that the church had lost? John does not separate the love of God and the love of the body. Our love for God is manifested in our love for others. Or our love for others is fueled by our love for God. There are intimately connected. G. K. Beale notes that the love John is referring to is the love of the lost. The church has lost its zeal to witness to the world. Jesus presents himself as one who holds the golden lampstands and the one who has the power to remove its lampstand from its place.

            This is a great danger. It isn’t though they had forgotten about God for they were zealously pursuing the truth. The danger was that they were pursuing the truth apart from a heart saturated with the love of God. You can be a word-saturated church without love-saturated hearts. Are you loving the body? Has any bitterness grown in your heart towards others? Do you have unresolved anger towards someone in the church? How is our love?

            Also, how is our witness? Are we loving those outside our walls? Are we zealous to witness to the world? This past weekend, we had a campout in the backyard. I told the boys that it was their job to keep the fire going. They had to make sure there was enough wood. And if there wasn’t wood, then they had to go find it. It was their job to fan the flame to keep the fire burning. They had to tend it because it is natural for fire to go out. It needs fuel to burn. It is natural for love to grow cold. If we do not fan the flame of our love for God, his church, and the world, it will cease to burn. Has our love grown cold for the world? Have we forgotten that Christ shines through us to the world? We are the lampstand.

            In the temple, there was one lampstand representing Israel. Israel was called to be a light to the Gentiles. Isaiah prophesied that Israel would not just be a light to the tribes of Jacob, but to the ends of the earth. Isaiah 49:6,

It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to bring back the preserved of Israel; I will make you as a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”

Notice in Revelation there is not one lampstand, but seven. The seven golden lampstands represent the seven churches. The church is called to be a light to the ends of the earth bringing the glorious salvation of Christ to all people.

            We probably all can remember those early days of our salvation. We so loved the Lord that we could not wait to share him. We wanted to tell our parents, our friends, our neighbors, and coworkers, of what God did in our lives. He saved from hell and adopted as sons. He paid for my sins and gave me new life. One of the gifts God has given our church is new life through our young people. The zeal our students have for the lost has changed our congregation and protected us from abandoned our love for the lost. And yet, we do not fan the flame of our love for God it will grow cold. How do we continue in a white-hot love for God, his church and the lost?

 

What is the Response of the Church?

 

            Jesus gives commands to his church to recover their love. Let us heed his words as they were not given only to Ephesian believers, but all Christians.

Remember

            Revelation 2:5a, “Remember therefore where you have fallen.” The first task is to remember. We must remember our history. We must remember how Israel, our forefathers, had their lampstand removed because of their unwillingness to shine to the nations. They did not witness to the nations but became like the nations. God sent them to exile and disciplined them. Let us learn the history of the people of God so we do not repeat it. And not only are we to remember Israel’s history but our own. Do you remember how lost you were without Christ? Do you remember your sin and trials? Do you remember when someone first shared the good news with you? That although your sin has put you under divine judgment, God has sent forth his Son to take your punishment. You deserve hell, but Jesus has taken hell for you on the cross. How glorious is it to remember all that God had against you was swallowed up in the cross of the Lord Jesus?

            Non-Christian, do you know how far you have fallen? Do you know that God created you for his glory? He created you to love him and serve and to glorify him, but you, like the rest of us, went astray. You walked away from God’s love and lived for yourself. The Bible says that every lie, every selfish act, every lustful thought, every self-righteous decision has to be punished. The wages of sin is death. We all deserve death for our sin, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ. Jesus came to die for sinners. He paid the penalty for everyone who would repent and believe in him. Friend, search your heart. If you are honest, you will realize your imperfection and your need for a Savior. Come to Jesus. He is a loving and kind Lord.

Repent

            After we do the mental work of remembering, we must then follow through in repentance. To repent is to turn. It is to change your mind about the place of Jesus Christ in your life and then act upon that change. It is an “about-face” when we make a 180-degree turn. We change the direction our lives. Repentance is not merely mental but requires works. A tree will be judged by its fruit. Jesus says,

Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent. (Rev. 2:5b)

We show our repentance in our works. Faith without works is dead. True repentance always has actions. Our growth in the Christian life is often slow, but its aim is sure. We aim to live a life of repentance unto the Lord. Right doctrine without right living is a false religion. See the consequences if we don’t repent; the Lord will remove our lampstand.

            There is probably both a present and future aspect of judgment. John does not always differentiate from present chastisement and future punishment. The Lord desires his church to be a light; a witness of his grace to the world. We must take his warning seriously. We do not want to have our light snuffed out, but to continue to shine.

Hear

            To drive home his point, Jesus reminds the church of the importance of hearing and heeding his words, as he did while he was on the earth. Revelation 2:7, “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” Notice that Jesus does not say hear what the Spirit says to the church, but to the churches. Jesus is speaking to Ephesians as he is speaking to us. The Spirit of God has given us the Scriptures. The Bible is God-breathed (2 Tim 3:16). The words were written by men carried along by the Spirit (2 Peter 1:21). The challenge in John’s day is the challenge in our day, “Will we hear the Word of God?”

            One of the reasons we make the preaching of the Word of God central to our services is we want to obey this command. God speaks. We hear. This is how the church has lived for over 2,000 years. The Word of God is declared and the people of God hear and obey. We do not need new methods, but better ears.

           

Conquer

Jesus closes with one last picture of hope given to this church. Jesus brings them back to the Garden of Eden and then points them forward to the new and more glorious Eden,

To the one who conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.’

After Adam and Eve sinned against God, they made coverings for themselves, but there can be no covering without the shedding of blood so God took an animal and clothed Adam and Eve with its skin. Then Genesis 3:22-24 says,

Then the LORD God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil. Now, lest he reach out his hand and take also of the tree of life and eat, and live forever—” therefore the LORD God sent him out from the garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken. He drove out the man, and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim and a flaming sword that turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life.

There was no way to the tree life. Man had been expelled from the Garden, but in Revelation, Jesus promised that if one conquers they will be granted the ability to eat of the tree of life in paradise with God.

            To conquer in the biblical sense is to overcome the world by believing in Jesus Christ. To conquer is to keep the faith in the gospel. Jesus Christ is the only one who grants access to the tree of life. The only way we can receive the tree of life in paradise is through believing in the tree of life; the cross. Jesus brought life through a cursed tree so that you and I would be granted the privilege of eating from the tree of life. The “tree” of Christ in the only way to the tree of life. 1 Peter 2:24, “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness.”

To conquer is to persevere. To conquer is to patiently endure with Jesus. To conquer is to believe in Jesus who began a good work in us and will carry it to completion. To conquer is love Jesus and the tree where he bored our sins to bring us life. Salvation is gift. It is granted to all who have the Son. He who has the Son has life. Beloved, let us always remember that he who is in us is stronger than he who is in the world. Let us conquer in holding fast to Christ and the tree which brings life. We let never forget to love the tree of life.

 

[1] Mounce, R. H. (1997). The Book of Revelation (p. 69). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

The Vision of the Son (Revelation 1:9-20)

Max Phillips is one of my favorite people. I have never met anyone like him. He joined Park Baptist Church in 1936 when he was 14 years old. He has been a member of Park Baptist Church for 81 years. Max never pays for food at Red’s Grill (Rock Hill’s longest continuous restaurant) because the owner saw Max’s love and tender care for his wife, Molly and decided his money was no good there. Max goes out to eat regularly with his Dentist. He visits the Bank simply to talk to all the young ladies who work the counters. Max is never slow with encouragement, but he is also never slow with his opinion. Max is 95 years old and does his best to get to church as much as he is able given his ailing back. Max has seen this church through many different seasons and different pastors. Park Baptist Church celebrates its 110 year anniversary today and Max has experienced almost 75% of the church’s total ministry.

            God has been incredibly kind to Max. At 95 years old, his mind is as sharp as ever. My relationship with Max has helped me understand John’s relationship to the seven churches in Asia. Max is the elder statesman of our congregation. He knows the history of this congregation better than almost anyone. He has lived through tremendous change in our country, but has remained faithful to Jesus Christ. The greatest thing about Max Phillips is his love for and his faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Max knows his time on earth is near an end, but he does not fear death. He knows Jesus Christ. His faith in the Lord Jesus, like many others throughout the last 110 years in this church, is the reason this church has kept her faithful witness. We come to celebrate today what God has done in our church over the last 110 years. We come to give Jesus Christ praise, honor and glory for he loves this church and has freed us from our sins by his blood and made us a kingdom and priests to his God and Father.

            The church in John’s day was beginning to face growing persecution so God sent a vision through his 90 plus year old servant to remain steadfast to the faith in Jesus once and for all delivered to the saints. God has sustained this church for 110 years and as persecution and hostility grow toward the church in America, I pray that you will hear this word and remain steadfast in the hope of our great and glorious Savior.

The Setting of the Vision

            John was a well-respected leader in the church. He was the last living apostle who walked with Jesus. He writes, Revelation 1:9-11,

I, John, your brother and partner in the tribulation and the kingdom and the patient endurance that are in Jesus, was on the island called Patmos on account of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. I was in the Spirit on the Lord's day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet saying, “Write what you see in a book and send it to the seven churches, to Ephesus and to Smyrna and to Pergamum and to Thyatira and to Sardis and to Philadelphia and to Laodicea.”

John identifies with the churches as a brother and a partner. Of course, being a brother is connecting him to the Christian faith in general. He is a brother in the faith, but it is far more than a mere connection to the larger big “C” Church. John is intimately connected to these churches as a member of their family.

            One of the most consistent and clearest pictures of the Christian life in the New Testament is being part of a family. When one comes to Christ, they become part of a new family, the family of God, and are called to live out their faith in Jesus in that family. There may be some of you here who have not officially stepped out in obedience to Jesus and joined the family by becoming a member of the church. Can I challenge you to consider identifying yourself as Christians have identified themselves for 2,000 years as brothers and sisters of the family of God? Do not be a spiritual orphan, but in obedience God and his Word tether yourself to his church.

            It was the obedience to God’s Word that led John to his exile on the island of Patmos. Patmos was a small island off what is modern day Greece in the Aegean Sea. John was sent there instead of being killed probably because of the respect he had among Christians and his death may have caused outrage among the people. John’s exile was on account of the Word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ. John was in exile because of the gospel of Christ. Therefore, he could not only identify himself as a brother but a partner in tribulation, the kingdom and the patient endurance that is in Jesus.

            John was experiencing the same kind of persecution of the churches. There is something that binds people together who share common trials. When Ken Tedder was battling his cancer, he often shared how much comfort he received by talking to others who were facing his same battle. Shared common experience helps to deepen friendship and trust. I say often to those walking through trial in our congregation, I may not know what you are dealing but I do know there are people in our body who have walked that same road. Share your burdens with the body.

            John also is a partner in the kingdom of God. He desires the reign of the Lord Jesus Christ is fill the earth. He wants people to come to King Jesus and serve him as Lord. Brothers and sisters, we have been made a kingdom of priests by the Lord Jesus. Let us faithfully exercise the keys of the kingdom by testifying to the gospel and inviting people to receive Jesus as Lord. Praise be to God in how our congregation is growing in evangelistic zeal. I am grateful that God has brought us Grant Hinson and his family. They model a consistent and faithful kingdom witness in the neighborhood and our city. If you want to grow in your own evangelism, may I encourage you to spend time with Hinsons.

            One of the exhortations that fills the pages of this prophecy is to patiently endure with Jesus Christ. If you desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus, you will face persecution. You will face weariness in obedience. You will have opposition to the gospel. You will be afflicted in every way, but not crushed. You will be perplexed, but not driven to despair. You will be persecuted, but not forsaken. You will be struck down but not destroyed. Jesus Christ will hold you fast. When the tempter would prevail, He will hold you fast. When your love is often cold, Christ will hold you fast. The Revelation of Jesus Christ is to encourage you to patiently endure with Jesus. If your interpretation of this book does not lead you to persevere with Jesus, then you may have missed its main point.

            John was in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day most likely referring to Sunday, the first day of the week, which Christian set aside to worship God. Long before Christians received Sunday off for worship, Christians would rise early in the morning to gather before they had to work remember the resurrection of Christ. Christians set aside Sunday as the Lord’s Day; to gather with the saints, to hear the Word of God and to sing the praise of the Savior. God has given us the Lord’s Day to help us patiently endure a fallen world in the hope of the gospel of Jesus Christ. We may have a lot of frustrated discouraged drifting Christians in the West, because of their neglect of the Lord’s Day.

            As John was in worship, he was commanded to write down what he saw and share it with the churches in Asia. These seven churches were probably seven cities on a postal route making distribution of the “book” easy, but these seven churches are also representative of all churches throughout the ages. The number seven is used strategically in Revelation to communicate wholeness and completeness. This vision was to be given to and for the whole church.

The Son of the Vision

            After understanding more of the setting, let us turn our attention to the actual vision. It is important to note that although John saw the vision, we are simply hearing it. We do not live in the age of the eye, but the age of the ear. We are commanded to hear and obey. Blessed is the one who hears the words of this prophecy and who keeps what is written in it. Revelation 1:12-16,

Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking to me, and on turning I saw seven golden lampstands, and in the midst of the lampstands one like a son of man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash around his chest. The hairs of his head were white, like white wool, like snow. His eyes were like a flame of fire, his feet were like burnished bronze, refined in a furnace, and his voice was like the roar of many waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, from his mouth came a sharp two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining in full strength.

 

It is hard for us to fully appreciate and understand this vision as it is full of Old Testament imagery. The first century church would have heard this vision in light of the prophecy of Isaiah, Ezekiel, Daniel and Zechariah. It is not meant to be taken literally as if Jesus physically appears like this now, but rather it is meant to communicate who Jesus is in his character and his role in our redemption and judgment.

            First, Jesus is in the church’s midst. The voice of the one speaking was in the midst of the lampstand. Jesus is our Immanuel, God with us. Jesus promised that he will be with us always even to the end of the age. Jesus has not abandoned his church, but he is in our midst. How comforting would it be for the early persecuted, marginalized church to know that Jesus is in the midst? How about you? Are you comforted to know that Jesus is in your midst? He has not left you. He has not left his church. We will prevail.

            Second, he is in our midst as our Messiah. Jesus is one like a son of man. John is clearly drawing on the Daniel’s well-known prophecy that the Messiah would be one like a son of man. He is not communicating that Jesus is merely like us as a human, but is the long-awaited Messiah who would become like us to free us from our sin with his blood. This would not have been lost on the first-century audience.

            Third, this Messianic, Son of Man, was clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash around his chest. The long robe and sash is properly communicating two specific ideas. First, that Jesus is the ruler of the kings of the earth. We see the kingship of Jesus established early in Revelation 1. The vision is to show that Jesus is ruler above all earthly powers. Caesar is not God. There is only One God.  Second, Jesus is our high priest. The high priest was identified in Exodus as wearing a sash around his chest (Exodus 39:39). Jesus is both our king and our high priest. (He is in the order of Melchizedek; Psalm 110:4, Hebrews 7-9). Hebrews 2:17-18,

Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.

Jesus is in our midst as our high priest. He suffered and died to pay for the sins of the church, to all who would repent and believe in Him. There cannot be a more encouraging picture. The Elder John and our elder Max do not fear death because One has paid for their sins. We do not have to fear because our debt is paid because our high priest is in our midst interceding for us. And because of his intercession we can patiently endure the tribulation of this world. Pope Francis recently stated, “The Lord does not leave us orphans: we have a Mother, the same one as Jesus. Mary takes care of us and always defends us.” The Bible does not show Mary as the one who cares for us and defends us, but the faithful witness Jesus Christ. Jesus is our Advocate who ever lives to intercede for us.

            Fourth, Jesus is pure. His hair being white like wool, like snow should draw our minds back to Daniel 7:9 and Isaiah 1:18. Jesus is pure. His purity should encourage us in two ways. His purity should cause us to rejoice because his sacrifice pure meaning that we can be freed from our sins. The righteous, pure One paid the penalty for the unrighteous and impure ones; Jesus for us. His purity should also resolve us to fight sin. We now belong to the pure one so we should fight for purity.

            Fifth, his eyes were like a flame of fire. His gaze is penetrating. He sees and knows all; nothing is hidden from his sight. Jesus is the only Sovereign who sees and knows all. He knows all history and he knows all your history. There is a Latin term, coram deo, which means before the face of God. We always live before the face of God. He sees what is done in secret. He sees who you pray tireless of others. He sees how you labor in your Word to know Him. He knows your burden for the lost in your family. He also sees your lust and greed, impatience and bitterness, your indifference and discontent. When we stand before the face of God at the end of history, his judgment will be perfect. Let us live, coram deo, now; before his face as we know that one day we will stand face to face and the secrets of men will be exposed by Jesus Christ (Romans 2:16).

            Sixth, his feet were burnished bronze, refined in a furnace. This is to communicate strength and power. In the ancient world, one’s feet were a sign of strength especially in regard to battle. Good footwear was essential for success in battle due to long marches over vast terrain. The army with the best shoes was often victorious. The enemies that stand against God and His people will face his strength and power.

            Seventh, his voice was like the roar of many waters showing the power of his Word. We see his word being a like a trumpet and hear like the roar of many waters. When God speaks, He commands attention. His Word will pierce and disclose all like a sharp, two-edged sword. Hebrews 4:12-13,

For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.

This same image is used again in Revelation 19 when his Word will strike down the nations. We remember 2 Thessalonians where it says the breath of the Lord will destroy the Anti-Christ. There is power in his Word.

            Eighth, he holds seven stars in his right hand. He will look at the stars more next week, but merely see that he is the one who is in control. The right hand of God is to communicate power and control. He is the only Sovereign.

            Lastly, his face was like the sun shining in full strength. He was brilliant and majestic and powerful. This should bring back the transfiguration when the inner three saw Jesus dazzling white. It is impossible to stare at the sun in full strength, we must look away.

            The vision would have been easily understood by its first-century audience and it was meant to show the power and majesty of the Son of Man, Jesus Christ, above and over all earthly powers. There would have been an emotive effect when they heard this vision. Sometimes in our efforts to understand the prophecy of Revelation, we miss the emotion and the purpose to our hearts. Jesus is in our midst. Our King and High Priest is in our midst with purity, power and piercing perception. Who can stand before him?

 

The Sentiment of the Vision

            There is no casualness in John’s approach to Jesus here. He sees God and falls down before him as though dead. Like Isaiah, Joshua, and Ezekiel before him, when John is face to face with the awesomeness of God, he falls as though dead. I believe it is instructive for us in how saints approached God. There is a casualty in our day that obscures the reality of the holy and awesome nature of God almighty. God is in our midst, but he is also God and should be honored as such. And yet, this awesome God is a kind and gracious God. Revelation 1:17-20,

 

When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. But he laid his right hand on me, saying, “Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades.

Jesus laid his right hand on John in a loving, tender touch saying, “Fear not, I am the first and the last.” This is a direct quote from Isaiah 41:4, “I, the Lord, the first and with the last; I am he.” Isaiah continues with great verse which is the favorite of many here, Isaiah 41:10;13-14,

Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand…For I, the Lord you God, hold your right hand; it is I who say to you, ‘Fear not, I am the one who helps you.’ Fear not, you worm Jacob, you men of Israel, I am the one who helps you, declares the Lord; your Redeemer is the Holy One of Israel.

He with us and we are in his right hand. The God of the Universe, then only one who can condemn says, “Fear not.” You no longer have to fear death, because Jesus is the Living One. He died and Behold he is alive forevermore and holds the keys to Death and Hades.”

 

            Christian, does it give you hope that our Jesus died you and rose for you? He is alive forevermore and as he is so you shall be. Oh beloved, let the gospel of Jesus give your heart courage to patiently endure with him. Yes, life can be challenging. We will face many trials and tribulations to enter the kingdom of God (Acts 14:23). And yet, we have a faithful high priest who died for us to pay our debt. We have a Sovereign King that commands us to, “Fear Not.” Jesus lives. He lives forevermore. We can face tomorrow because we know he lives today.

            Non-Christian, please know that the tender touch of God and his kind words of acceptance that are spoken here are only for those who trust in Christ. They are offered to you freely and without charge. Jesus died for whosoever would believe, but only for those who would believe. If the Bible is true, one day you will stand before this awesome God and fall on your face as though dead and one of two things will happen: He will either reach out his hand and say, “Fear not. Welcome home,” or he will say, “As you have denied me, so I deny you. Depart from me.” Friend, this vision was given to you as a warning. When you stand before the face of God, where will you place your hope? Turn to Jesus Christ. He is the Living One. There is no other God. He is our only hope. He is a kind Savior and a fierce Judge. I pray that you embrace him as Savior so you will not experience him as Judge.

             Park Baptist Church has held out the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ for 110 years. This church has helped many find Jesus Christ. Max Phillips heard the gospel and believed and has been patiently enduring with Jesus for over 76 years (joining at 14 but truly repenting and believing at 18). There have been scores and scores of people who have heard and believed in the gospel through the ministry of this church. As our church, like the first century church, continues to face growing hostility to the gospel, I pray that we would partner together in the tribulation and the kingdom and the patient endurance that are in Jesus for we belong to the first and the last, the living one. We have an awesome and glorious Savior who is in our midst. Beloved, fear not our Savior has prepared a place for you and he is coming with clouds to bring us home. One day the trump will resound and the Lord will descend, even so, it is well with our souls.

My Hope and Joy

“For what is our hope or joy or crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus at his coming? Is it not you? For you are our glory and joy.” (1 Thessalonians 2:19-20)

Beloved,

There are many days that I sit and pray and long to be in the presence of the Lord Jesus. I meditate about seeing our glorious Savior in all his glory. I long for his loving embrace and words of welcome into his eternal kingdom. It is humbling to know that my hope, my joy and my crown of boasting before the Lord Jesus Christ on that day is you. It is an incredible gift to shepherd and serve you as your pastor. I feel an incredible joy and thankfulness that God has given me the pleasure of pastoring the Park Baptist Church. The love that my family and I consistently feel from this congregation is truly overwhelming. I believe that I am the best loved pastor in all of Rock Hill.

I am not only overwhelmed because of your love for me, but your love for the Lord Jesus Christ, your passion for the Word of God, your desire to serve each other as brothers and sisters of the same family, and your passion for the glory of God to be manifested across the earth. Your hope, your joy and your faith is my hope and joy and crown of boasting before Christ. I am so incredibly proud to be your pastor. You have been taught by God to love one another and I exhort you to do so more and more. Your love for Christ and his church will draw many others to receive the kingdom of God through receiving Jesus as Lord as we manifest God wisdom in living as a radical transformed redeemed family of God. I am so glad that I am part of this family of God.

            Although God has given me the joy of serving as an under-shepherd of this church for 5 years, Jesus Christ has served as the Chief Shepherd of Park Baptist Church for 110 years. The good work that God has begun in Park Baptist Church, he will carry to completion on the Day of Christ Jesus. Let us pause and thank God for this faithfulness to this Park Baptist Church. Praise God for the warm heartedness of our congregation. Praise God for the spiritual fervor. Praise God for his ever-present faithfulness. Praise God for his steadfast love. Let us not merely remember what God has done in and through Park on Homecoming, but let us share all month long of God’s kindness to us in Christ.

            May the God of hope fill us with all hope and joy as we continue to trust in Him so that we may overflow with hope in the power of the Holy Spirit. God has been kind to Park Baptist Church for 110 years. God has been kind to me these past 5 years by making you my hope, my joy and my crown of boasting at the coming of Christ. May God give us many more anniversaries and Homecomings together.

Member Profile - Paige Kisker

1.)    What is your vocation?

I believe the Lord has called me to do international missions. I am working on a Biblical Counseling degree from Southeastern, and I have a passion for loving and counseling women, especially teenagers that struggle with self-confidence and self-worth issues.

2.)    Tell us about your family:

 

My mom, dad, and little sister, Hannah, mean the world to me. My parents have always loved and encouraged me to the best of their ability. Like every family, we have our differences, but I have never doubted my family's love for me. 

3.)    Who was the main human influence that led you to a relationship with Christ?

Mary Courtney was my Younglife leader in high school. I believe she definitely planted the seed, but I did not grow and mature in my faith until I came to Winthrop. She taught me how we were designed to be in a relationship with Jesus. I believe my friends I made freshmen watered the seeds if you may. My community truly exemplifies what brotherhood and sisterhood in Christ looks like, and they are continuing to grow and challenge me in my walk with the Lord.   

 

4.)    What is your favorite Bible Verse?

2nd Corinthians 5:17 

5.)    What has the Lord been teaching you over the last 6 months?

The Lord has been teaching me how to more genuinely and consistently rely on Him in my current season of transition. He is humbling me, showing me how I do not handle change as well I thought I did. During this new and challenging time in my life, I am learning that He is my true rock to lean on, not my worldly circumstances or even my close friends and family. This world is only temporary, but God, His promises, and His redeeming love are everlasting. 

6.)    What is something most people don’t know about you?

I find it oddly satisfying to cross things off my "to-do" list. Embarrassingly enough, I sometimes will make a silly, unnecessary list just so I can scratch things off throughout the day. :) 

7.)    Do you have any specific prayer requests?

Please pray that I am able to glorify the Lord through my new teaching job at Providence Classical School. Sometimes, I feel very anxious and a sense of inadequacy. I just pray that He works through my insecurities, and I am able to love and grow those children I have been entrusted with. 

The Revelation of Jesus Christ (Revelation 1:1-8)

    In June of 2017, three friends Nick, Ian and Arman, were hired to paint the home of a prominent Muslim citizen in Marawi Philippines. This routine job turned into a nightmare when ISIS went on a door to door “cleansing” of the city. Christians and Muslims have long lived side by side in peace in Marawi, but the spread of Islamic extremists had finally arrived in their city. On May 23, a group of militants declared their intent to make an Islamic caliphate in the Philippines. As the persecution and violence intensified against Christians, these three believers were forced to cower and hide in the basement for weeks. Imagine the thoughts of these three young men sitting in that Philippine basement wondering what would be their future? Would the constant barrage of gunfire fall upon their heads? Would they survive to see their families again?

            After weeks of worrying and praying for their survival, they decided to escape. They ran throughout the city hiding in thick shrubs before making to the river. As they approached the water, they heard bullets fired by nearby snipers whizzing over their heads. They dove into the rushing water and eventually climbed out on the other side safe from harm. They recalled their thoughts to a NY Times reporter saying,

We said we’d try to get rescue for them if we made it out. We also told ourselves that our fate was with the Lord. We told each other, whatever happens, happens. If we get hit and die, that’s our fate. But we had to escape. Or at least die trying.[1]

            For years these men lived at peace with Muslims friends and coworkers, but persecution had come. Their fate was with the Lord. Now imagine if I this didn’t happen in the Philippines, but in Columbia, SC. How would it change your perspective of hearing the story? Our ears usually perk up if we believe that what is being said is relevant to our life and our situation. Many of our brothers and sisters face intense persecution for their faith. This story happened only a few months over this summer in 2017. Persecution and violence against Christians may be closer than we think. What would the Lord say to encourage and strengthen the resolve of persecuted believers who were in constant fear of their future? We do not have to wonder because God has already spoken. The book of Revelation was written to strengthen and encourage the hearts of believers facing intense persecution in the first century.

            Revelation can be an enigma for Christians. There are some who are fascinated by the prophecy and symbolism in Revelation and spend most of their Bible study trying to discover the hidden meaning of the book. There are others that ignore the book altogether because it of mystery that lies in its message and how confusing and challenging the message appears. Most pastors are terrified to preach through it because there are so many different interpretations and incredibly strong convictions of the book. And yet, God wants us to read and study and meditate on this book because it is part of his holy, precious, perfect Word. As we approach this book, let us understand that this book was written to encourage and strengthen our faith in Jesus Christ. I pray as we study through Revelation that you will understand more of the prophecy and that your heart would be resolved to follow hard after Christ.

The Definite Future Reality

            One of the main purposes of the book of Revelation is to show that there is only One who is in control of the future. Our fate is in the hands of the Lord. Revelation 1:1-2,

The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show to his servants the things that must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, who bore witness to the Word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, even to all that he saw.

The book begins with its title “revelation” from the Greek word “apocalypse.” The use of the word is to communicate the unveiling of things that have been previously hidden. Many approach Revelation as mysterious, but the intent of the book to “reveal” the things that must soon take place.

            The source of the prophecy is Jesus Christ himself. God the Father gave this word to Jesus who then gave it to his servants through his angel. John, the beloved disciple of Jesus, received this word and bore witness of this word to the church. (John’s other writings will be important to help us interpret this book.) The revelation is from Jesus and about Jesus. We know that all Scripture is ultimately about the person and work of Jesus Christ. On the road to Emmaus Jesus said, “that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” (Luke 24:44) Revelation is both from Jesus and about Jesus. The full of title of Jesus Christ is found three times in the prologue and does not appear in the rest of book, but simply the name Jesus.

            John writes that this revelation was to show us, “the things that must soon take place.” Soon could be interpreted in the sense of suddenly or without delay. It could also be interpreted from of standpoint of certainty of the events in the book. Many scholars view the idea of soon from the perspective of the Lord. 2 Peter 3:8, “But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.” Others believe that the events that must soon take place were the coming persecution of the church which indeed happened quickly from the completion of this book. The most compelling perspective is to place the concept of time in a prophetic outlook. In prophecy, the end is always imminent. This is a common theme through the New Testament. Jesus said that he would give justice speedily in Luke 18:8 and Paul writes that the God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. If we approach the idea that the end is imminent we will be ready for that day. Jesus wants us to be ready for his return. Are you ready? Are you obeying Jesus today as you look forward to that day?

The Blessed Obedience

            There are seven blessings in the book of Revelation (Rev. 1:3, 14:13, 16:15, 19:9, 20:6, 22:7, 22:14). The number seven is an important number in the Bible and especially this book as it communicates wholeness and completeness. The seven blessings of the book point to the complete and comprehensive blessing of God for his people. We would do well to pay attention to these blessings, Revelation 1:3,

Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written in it, for the time is near.

This blessing is very familiar with word Jesus in the gospels about the blessed of both hearing and obeying the Word of God. The concept of the blessing of obedience should show us that the book is not merely meant to teach prophecy, but to provide moral instruction and practical implications for our daily life. Revelation is not meant to only be read as we look into the future, but it is relevant to our lives today.

            Are you obeying Jesus today? Do you desire to hear the Word of God and obey? What areas of your life are in contrast to the word of God? Blessed can be translated happy. Do you want to be happy? Obey Jesus. Your struggle with happiness and joy today may be a result of living in a fallen world, but it also may result from a lack of obedience to Jesus. The concept of hearing and obeying the word of God is a theme that is prevalent throughout Revelation. The letters to the churches end with the repeated admonition, “Let the one who has an ear hear what the Spirit says.” Keeping and/or observing God’s commands are found ten times in the book (Rev. 1:3, 2:26, 3:3, 3:8, 3:10, 12:17, 14:12, 16:15, 22:7, 22:9). As one scholar notes the purpose of the book, “is not merely to outline the future intervention of God or to portray the people of God symbolically in the light of divine reality but to call the saints to accountability on that basis. This is a prophetic book of warning as well as comfort to the church.”

            Allow this book to affect your heart. Are you comforted with the truth that you will be blessed as you are obeying the Lord Jesus? Or are you convicted with your lack of obedience? Beloved, the time is near. Be ready. We are only blessed when we hear the Word AND when we obey the Word.

The Trinitarian Promise

            Revelation is written to the seven churches that are in Asia. The seven churches are listed in chapters 2 and 3. These aren’t the only churches in Asia but represent groups of churches. John strategically again uses the number 7 to communicate that this book is not only written to these seven churches but to all the church of Jesus Christ. John begins the body of his letter with a Trinitarian Promise. The word "Trinity" is not found in the Bible, but the concept is found woven throughout the Scripture. Revelation 1:4-5,

John to the seven churches that are in Asia: Grace to you and peace from him whom is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before the throne, and from Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings of the earth.

The blessing of this salutation is that the triune God offers grace and peace. Grace and peace only come from God. Grace is always first because it is only through grace that we are brought peace.

John begins by establishing the absolute sovereignty over time of God the Father. God is and was and is to come. A church that is struggling with persecution and violence is encouraged when they are reminded that God is in control of all history. “An uncertain future calls for One who by virtue of his eternal existence exercises sovereign control over the course of history.” John is giving the people courage as they face uncertainty by reminding them that God is one without a beginning or an end. He is in control, he always was in control and he always will be in control. John modifies does not say, “who will be,” but rather draws out the central theme of the book by saying, “who is to come.” Our minds are drawn consistently and repeatedly to the One who is to come and give his church final victory over evil.

The seven spirits who are before the throne is a reference to the Holy Spirit. There are some scholars who are unsure if this points to the Holy Spirit, but I believe it does for several reasons. First, grace and peace only come from God because God is the only one who can give grace and peace. The seven spirits are giving grace and peace, therefore, must be God. And we know the Holy Spirit is God through John’s Gospel. Second, John uses the number seven to communicate wholeness as we have already seen in this book. John is showing the wholeness and perfection of the Holy Spirit in using a specific, symbolic name for Him. Third, Isaiah 11:2 references the Spirit of the Lord using seven descriptions, “And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.” Lastly, Zechariah 4 mentions a prophecy of seven lamps and seven lips and the angel in clarifying the meaning says, “This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel: Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of hosts.” The perfect victory over evil described in Revelation is done by the Spirit of the Lord. The use of seven spirits is found also in Revelation 3:1, 4:5, and 5:6 that we will look at in the coming weeks.

John ends the Trinitarian promise of grace and peace with Jesus Christ. The normal trinitarian blessing is the Father, then the Son, and then the Holy Spirit. The order is changed here most likely because of the doxology that flows from the description of Jesus Christ. Jesus is defined as the faithful witness, the first born of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. First, Jesus is the faithful witness. Witness is taken from the Greek word (martys) where we get our English word martyr. Jesus was the faithful one who was willing to die. John uses the word throughout the book to show the penalty of death that results from a firm and constant witness (2:13, 11:3, 17:6). As the church in Asia was facing intense pressure of violence, they needed to be reminded that their plight was no different than that of their master. Jesus was the faithful witness unto death, but he was also the faithful witness of the testimony of God. Jesus said before Pilate, “For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.” (John 18:37) Let us be the ones who hear Christ’s voice and bear witness to it in our lives. For to us, to live is Christ and die is gain.

Jesus is also the firstborn from the dead. Colossians 1:18 says, “And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent.” Jesus was not the first one who was resurrected, but his resurrection gave him priority and sovereignty as the messianic king. Psalm 89:27 states, “And I will make him the firstborn, the highest of the kings of the earth.” The position of the firstborn was the place of authority and inheritance. Jesus was placed in the highest place and given the name that is above every name.

Therefore, Jesus is not only the firstborn from the dead but the ruler of the kings of the earth. John foreshadows of the unfolding of the prophecy when we will see Jesus declared the Lord of lords and King of kings in Revelation 17:14 and 19:6. Jesus will give ultimate victory for his church should that not encourage you to remain faithful to him. Do not chase after lesser things. Do not run after the idols of our day. Hold fast to Christ. Only he is the supreme King of kings.

            The description of Jesus is an unfolding of the gospel. Jesus was the faithful witness unto death on the cross. Jesus was declared to be the preeminent firstborn from the dead in his resurrection. Jesus was exalted to the right hand of God given all authority in heaven and earth. The most important aspects of Jesus ministry were his death, his resurrection, and his ascension. And when we think of the gospel, we should exalt in praise. This is exactly what John does as moves to a hymn of worship of Jesus.

The Blood-Bought Kingdom

            Jesus deserves to be worshiped by his people for how he has loved us and how he has rescued from sin. Revelation 1:5b-6,

To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.

Notice the verb tenses. Jesus loves us. This is not past tense, although Jesus has loved us. This is not future tense, although Jesus will love us. No, this is present tense, Jesus loves us. Know this beloved, Jesus loves you. He has set his love upon you. Do not let anything rob of the joy of knowing the love of Jesus, the sweet, sweet love of Jesus. But also notice the past tense of the second phrase, Jesus, “has freed us from our sin by his blood.” We are forgiven. We are cleansed. Our ransom has been paid. His blood has brought us peace. Believer, know of Christ love and the redemption in his blood.

            Non-believer, can challenge you to consider the reasons why Christians give glory, honor, and praise to God? Christians are not perfect, but rather recognize how imperfect we are. We are often more aware of our sins and conscious of our faults. What separates a Christian and non-Christian, is that Christians recognize there is nothing we can do to change our sin. We realize that we cannot overcome our sin with good works and good words, but we need a Savior. We need someone to pay for our mistakes. We realize we need Jesus and his cleansing, freeing blood. I hope that you would consider your need yourself. How will you overcome your sins without Jesus?

            Another reason to glorify Jesus is that he made us a kingdom and priest to the Father. God has given the church responsibilities on earth. We have been given the keys of the kingdom of God. We invite people to bow their knee to King Jesus through the proclamation of the gospel. We are reigning with Christ through the preached Word. We have already been made a kingdom. We are also priests who offer our lives a spiritual sacrifice unto the Lord. We have given a responsibility to mediate Christ’s royal and priestly authority to the world. We have been restored in the new Adam to exercise dominion through his reconciling gospel now and will one day soon exercise that dominion with him forever and ever.

The Coming King

            John ends the introduction of this book by drawing our eyes to the past and to the future. He begins Behold. John uses this in all his writing to focus our attention,

Behold, he is coming with the clouds and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of him. Even so. Amen.

This first is full of Old Testament imagery. Jesus is the long-awaited Messiah promised in Daniel 7:13-14,

I saw in the night visions and behold, with clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he to the Ancient of Days and was present before him. And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom that all people, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away.

Notice he does not come on the clouds, but with the clouds. It is a clear picture of his divine authority. The prophecy of Daniel, Ezekiel and Zechariah are important for us as we interpret Revelation.

            The second and third phrases, “every eye will see him, even those who pierced him and all the tribes of the earth will wail on account of him.” are alluding to Zechariah 12:10. John quotes Zechariah 12:10 in John 19:37, “They will look on him whom they have pierced.” Zechariah speaks of the repentance that will come to Israel when they realize that the one whom they pierced was the Messiah. Israel will mourn over their sin and accept the humble piercing on their behalf. And yet here in Revelation, John does not reference Israel wailing, but all the tribes of the earth. John is reminding us of God’s great promises to Abraham that all the families of the earth will be blessed through his offspring. The people will not only include Israel but all tribes of the earth. God is bringing his salvation to all people. The victory of Jesus Christ will bring the nation, Israel, and the nations to repentance.

            Of course, this end-time victory will also produce wailing of another kind. Those who do not know Christ as Savior will experience his judgment. They will weep because the time has passed for them to be saved. Friends, these things must soon take place. The time is near. Are you ready? Do you fear his coming or long for it? One day we all will stand before the Lord Almighty. He is the Alpha and the Omega.  He is and was and is to come.

            He has fixed day for his return. He is coming but is demonstrating his patience because he desires that any should perish, but all should reach repentance. Friend, Jesus is a glorious, merciful, kind Savior, but he will soon come as a glorious, powerful, victorious Warrior. You can experience his love now and be cleansed of your sin and brought into his kingdom by repenting of your sins and calling him Lord.

            Beloved, we cannot predict the future. We do not know what persecutions lie ahead for the church, but we know who sits on the throne. Jesus is the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last. He has bought us peace with his blood. Let us, therefore, live as priests to God our Father sacrificing our lives for the cause of the gospel of Christ. He is worthy of our lives. He is worthy of worship. He is worthy because He is and He was and He is to come.

           

[1] https://www.nytimes.com/2017/06/17/world/asia/marawi-philippines-islamic-state-christians.html?mcubz=1 accessed on 9.10.17

           

 

Member Profile - Weston Beck

1.)    What is your vocation?

I am an Inside Sales & Service Representative at Continental Tire. I have been working for Continental since October 2016.

 

2.)    Tell us about your family:

I have 3 brothers and 7 nephews/nieces.... and counting.

 

3.)    Who was the main human influence that lead you to a relationship with Christ?

The main human influence that lead me to a relationship with Christ was my oldest brother, Travis. I looked up to him a lot. He invited me to what I thought was a beach trip 7 years ago, but turned out to be a Youth Retreat at his church. I rededicated my life to Christ at that retreat. Since then, one of the most influential brothers in Christ I have had is John Whiteaker. He has helped and continually encourages me tremendously in scripture.

 

4.)    What is your favorite Bible Verse?

My favorite Bible verse is John 16:33, "I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”

 

5.)    What has the Lord been teaching you over the last 6 months?

The Lord has been teaching me patience and to trust in His Will.

 

6.)    What is something most people don’t know about you?

Most people don't know that I was a 3x state champion in wrestling in high school and planted a career record of 235-9. Seth and I, along with my other 2 brothers, were inducted into the Rock Hill High School Wrestling Circle of Champions this past year.

Member Profile - Ashley Porterfield

What is your vocation? My vocation at this time is a student

Tell us about your family: Sharon Jackson birthed me and my older brother with help from Albert Porterfield, they separate when I was younger. My mother lives in Blythewood and is a receptionist for the Radiologist department at Moncrief Army Clinic, formally a hospital. My father lives in Montgomery, Alabama with his wife Letitia Porterfieldand her two children, Zechariah and Destiny. My father works for a company who send medical history to different hospitals. My brother, from my mother and my father, isArmonte and is 9 months older than I am.

 

Who was the main influence that led you to a relationship with Christ? I believe my father was my main influence, when I was younger he would read my children’s stories about stories in the Bible. Back then I didn’t know what he was doing and mostly saw it as a chore, so I didn’t really enjoy it. After that a teacher in high school really showed me that Christians don’t have to be perfect. I remember vividly of him coming in late one day and explaining to us that his wife’s car broken down, so he had to take her to work and their baby to daycare. But he wasn’t anger or upset he was calm and knew that God would make a way like he always did. He would also read scriptures to us in class and teach us about really life things that helped me out in my future.

 

 

What is your favorite bible verse?

 Philippians 4:11-12 NIV “I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstance. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whetherwell fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.”  

 

 

What has the Lord has been teaching you over the last 6 months? I believe that God is teaching to “Just Do It”. Join that Bible study, talk to that person, post all about how Jesus being the light in the dark world and that we can be the light too and not to being afraid to hanging out with that group of saints I don’t know that well. Be that positive person in that long Wal-mart lines that just happy I get to see other people. Along with the last example God had taught me that every single person is on the same level and we all deserve love.

  

 

Do you have any specific prayer requests? That I get a job, so I can have a real vocation. That my mother seeks him face and her heart is changed. That I can get through this Anatomy and Physiology class I am taking.