Monday, May 24, 2010

Sermon on Revelation 3:14-22, for Pentecost, "Laodicea--I Counsel You to Buy..."

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. Today we come to the end of our sermon series on the letters to the seven churches in Asia. In each letter we’ve seen how Christ spoke to the unique situation of the churches—calling them to repentance and to conquer with Him to receive His blessings. Continually He points us to our eternal hope through His resurrection. Last week we heard from Philadelphia, the church that had an open door to heaven through Christ, and also an open door of ministry and mission on earth. With boldness and faith they were to enter that door. The last of the churches is Laodicea—noteworthy as the worst of the seven churches. It receives the strongest condemnation from Christ, and is the only one that receives no commendation or approval from Him. But as we shall see, even to a lukewarm church in the final stage of spiritual death, Christ extends a compassionate and loving call to repentance and His grace. Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

Laodicea. A city of great wealth and prosperity, a center of banking, of medicine, and a key producer of clothing. Situated at a major crossroads, it was an important city—but lacked one essential feature: a clean and fresh water supply. Nearby Hierapolis had beautiful hot springs that were noted for their hot, soothing, and medicinal waters. On the other side stood Colossae, which had a cold, fresh water supply that was pure and refreshing. With no immediate source of water, Laodiceans had to resort to an aqueduct bringing water from some distance—a water supply that was heavy with minerals, and most likely had a strong, unpleasant taste, and arrived lukewarm. Neither hot and medicinal, nor cold and refreshing. Hear how Jesus addresses the Laodiceans: “I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.”

These pointed words were obviously connected to their everyday life. He called the Laodiceans lukewarm…neither hot nor cold, and that He was going to literally vomit them out of His mouth. Just like stagnant and impure water would make a person gag when they drank it, so Jesus was appalled at what this church had decayed into. What could provoke such a strong reaction from our Lord? Laodicea is a picture of a church tottering at the edge of a cliff, ready to plunge to their spiritual death, and Christ is calling them away from a deadly fall. They were on their spiritual death bed because of apathy, complacency, and ignorance of spiritual matters. Jesus’ diagnosis and proposed remedy or cure for their spiritual sickness is a strong wakeup call for us and all churches, not to fall into a similar condition of self-satisfaction and mediocrity.

They were self-satisfied, saying “I am rich, I have acquired wealth, and do not need a thing.” Finding our security and trust in money can be a deadly trap. Again and again the Bible warns against the danger of trusting in money instead of God. Even the wealthiest person’s fortune can vanish in a moment’s time. Plenty of people have gone from rags to riches, back to rags again. Lottery winners, sport’s players and celebrities, even successful businessmen have lost huge amounts of wealth and ended up penniless. But the worst part of such self-sufficiency, isn’t that you might lose it all, but when a person begins to think they’ve no need for God. “I can take care of myself; I don’t need a thing.” God is irrelevant to their lives, and all other distractions, whether money, entertainment, knowledge or pleasure, leave no time for God. We become apathetic, indifferent, like bad-tasting, lukewarm water.

Christ summed up their situation saying that they didn’t realize they were wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. Like dressing in the “emperor’s new clothes,” parading our finery while really naked—self-sufficiency is a delusion. We’re all completely dependent on God, even for merely life and breath—let alone any material things. There’s no sorrier sight than when a sinner is blind to their own sin-sickness—when we think we’re rich, but are poor.

So Christ says to us: “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.” What does Christ counsel the poor, blind, and naked to buy? He counsels them to buy from Him gold, white garments, and salve for their eyes. With what can we buy any of these things? How can those whom Jesus calls poor, buy anything from Him? Two beautiful Scripture passages show us the answer. Revelation 22:17 says: “Let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires come and drink the water of life without price.” Christ offers His gifts of grace, here the water of life, without cost or price. Secondly, in Isaiah 55:1, He says: “Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.”

Christ is advising us to buy from Him, and it’s like He’s giving us a free shopping spree! How many people would race to the grocery store if they announced they were giving away free groceries to whoever came? Come buy wine and milk without money! People would be lined up for hours to get free groceries! The gifts that Christ gives us are like a spiritual shopping spree. Gold refined by fire, so that we will be rich. Faith in Christ is more precious than gold, and it is refined by testing and trials that purify and strengthen it (1 Pet. 1:6-7). This is the true spiritual treasure we should seek, the treasures of God’s kingdom. I’ve noticed recently how fear of another economic collapse is driving some people to put their trust in gold. But even gold buys us no security with God. Gold is just one of many material treasures that count for nothing in the kingdom of heaven. Real treasure worth more than gold is Jesus, His Word, and Sacraments. These bring eternal security, and peace with God, even if nations and kingdoms fail.

Christ advises us to buy white garments to clothe the shame of our nakedness. The white garments of Christ’s innocence are the heavenly clothing of God’s people. I wear the white robe on Sunday’s in part to remind each and every Christian of the white robe of Christ’s innocence that we all wear by faith, in our baptism. In one remote village I visited in Madagascar, the Lutherans there wore white robes or coverings over their regular clothes, as a reminder that they were dressed in Christ’s innocence in baptism. The shame of our sin, the shame of whatever we have done wrong is covered by garments made pure and clean in Jesus’ forgiving blood.

Christ advises us to buy salve for our eyes, so that we can see. The spiritual blindness of sin can be healed by His forgiveness and promised life. Jesus gave sight to the physically blind, which was a picture of the greater miracle of Him giving spiritual sight through His Word. Jesus opens our blind eyes to see the
poor, blind and naked condition we’re in without Him. He opens our eyes so that
we’re not deceived by a false self-reliance that says we have no need for God.

Again, consider who would come running if banks were offering free gold, if clothing stores were offering free clothes, or if the pharmacy offered your prescriptions for free? People would stampede banks and stores for such an offer. But for the spiritually lukewarm and apathetic, there is no such rush or stampede to receive Christ’s gifts, offered for free. “But Pastor, the gold you speak about can’t pay my bills, it can’t put food on the table. The clothing you speak of can’t be worn or hung in my closet. The medicine you speak of won’t cure my near-sightedness or cataracts.” The Bible speaks truly when it says that for many, their god is their belly (Phil. 3:19). Christ’s gifts aren’t to satisfy our stomach or cravings, but they’re gifts that we can hold onto and grasp with our heart, with our intellect, and our eyes. They’re gifts that satisfy the hungry and longing soul. They’re gifts that will really matter when gold turns to dust and clothes and material things are gone, and sight is lost.

But what’s so remarkable about this letter to Laodicea, is that of all the churches, they’re least deserving of Christ’s promises. Yet Christ calls them with a passionate love, saying “those whom I love I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent.” Not only does He offer them totally free gifts of His gold, white garments, and salve for their eyes, but He stands at the door of this church, knocking, seeking to come in. Because the change that they needed, breaking loose from their self-satisfied and self-sufficient trust, was a change that could only come from the outside. Christ can transform us from mediocrity and lukewarm works into people who bring a hot and medicinal message for those who are aching and sick with their sins. The soothing message of the Gospel that lifts the heavy burdens and stresses from our lives. Christ can transform us into people who bring a cold and refreshing message to those who are thirsty in a desert-like world, with the water of life bringing relief and vigor to the dying.

Jesus further offers that if we hear His voice and open the door to Him, He’ll come in and eat with us, and we with Him. How do we eat with Jesus? Today we have two young students being confirmed, and taking their first communion. They’ll give public testimony to their faith in Jesus, and join us in eating with Jesus in the Lord’s Supper. Jesus is both host and guest in the Lord’s Supper, as He offers us to eat His body and drink His blood for the forgiveness of our sins. Here’s a tangible and free gift of Christ, not to fill our stomachs but to cleanse our hearts and wash away our sins. The Lord’s Supper is a banquet of grace—better than a free meal. It’s Jesus extending His work on the cross to you as you receive His body and blood in hand and mouth. They stand here today, having studied God’s Word, having been catechized and taught the faith that’s worth more than gold, being dressed in white in their baptism. They’ve got spiritual eyes to see and discern Christ’s body and blood in the supper, and having repented of their sins, are worthy and well-prepared because they have faith in these words of Jesus: “this is my blood, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.”

As we gather around Jesus’ offered gifts, and stand together at His table, we come like beggars—poor, blind and naked on our own—nothing to bring but our sins and lukewarm works. But Christ supplies us with faith in Him that’s more precious than gold. He dresses us for His royal banquet in the fine white robes of His innocence. And He opens our eyes by faith to see Himself present, feeding us and forgiving us. Stand together with our new confirmands, reaffirming that faith that we all confess, that without Christ we are nothing, but with Him and His gifts we are rich and well supplied. Come, buy without cost, in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Now the peace of God which passes all understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, unto life everlasting. Amen.

Sermon Talking Points:
Read past sermons at: http://thejoshuavictortheory.blogspot.com
Listen to audio at: http://thejoshuavictortheory.podbean.com

1. Laodicea was a crossroads city and a major banking center, and had a medical school. It was notable for lack of pure water supply. Nearby Hierapolis had medicinal hot springs and mineral waters, while neighboring Colossae had a cold, pure and refreshing water supply. Laodicea’s was believed to be lukewarm. See Colossians 2:1; 4:12-16

2. Identify the following in the letter to Laodicea: (these basic features are repeated in each letter)
Image of Christ:
Local detail about the church:
What Christ sees: A) Good B) Bad
Call to Repent:
Promise to the One who Conquers:

3. How does Scripture warn against the danger of assuming our self-sufficiency without God? What things create the mindset that we have prospered and don’t need anything? Rev. 3:17; James 5:1-6; Eccles. 4:7-8; 5:10-12; What does Scripture teach us brings true satisfaction? Isaiah 55:1-3; Matt. 5:6; Psalm 65:4; 90:14; 103:5; 107:9

4. How can a church or individuals become “lukewarm” or mediocre? What is Jesus’ diagnosis of their real spiritual condition? What is the cure He proposes they “buy”? What does this cost us? Isaiah 55:1-3; Rev. 22:17

5. Why is discipline a sign of God’s love? What is the benefit of discipline? Hebrews 12:3-11; Prov. 3:11-12; 12:1; 13:24; 22:15.

6. How does Christ come and eat with us, and us with Him? Luke 22:14-20; 24:28-35; Acts 2:42; 1 Cor. 10:16-17.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Sermon on Revelation 3:7-13, for the 7th Sunday of Easter, "Philadelphia--An Open Door!"

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. As we come to the last two churches in our Easter Letters series this week and next, we come to the best and the worst of the seven churches, Philadelphia and Laodicea. Last week we heard of Sardis, which was called away from a false trust in their own reputation to a living exercise of their faith and love, and to walk with Christ in white. Today we hear the letter to the church of Philadelphia, noteworthy in that it was given no specific call to repent, and that it received a strong commendation from Christ. Jesus addresses a church that had little power, but held fast to His Word and Name, and Jesus had set an open door before them. Let’s consider today what our own open door is here on Maui. Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

Philadelphia. The city whose name means “brotherly love.” Struck by the same earthquake that devastated Sardis in 17 AD, Philadelphia never fully recovered, and was plagued with earthquakes and tremors for many years afterward. A nervous and fearful existence, living with unstable homes and buildings. A small population, mostly farmers, remained there. Those who’ve experienced an earthquake and its aftershocks like the one here on Maui in 2006, know how unsettling this can be, and how that feeling lingers. An earthquake really humbles you to realize that you have no power at all to stop it, and you’re reminded that God alone is in control.

When Jesus addresses the church of Philadelphia, He’s the one who has the key of David, who opens and no one will shut, who shuts and no one will open. What’s this key, and the obscure reference to opening and shutting? Of course the imagery is of a key and lock on doors, but what does it mean? In the introduction to these 7 letters Jesus says that He’s the one who holds the keys to death and Hades. Because of His death and resurrection, Jesus has ultimate power over death and life. God appointed Him judge of all the living and dead. Authority is given to Him as to who are saved eternally, and who aren’t. This is what Jesus means when He calls Himself the “door of the sheep” in John 10. Anyone who enters through Him, will be saved.

Isaiah uses this imagery to describe the palace steward who was entrusted with the tremendous power and authority to admit people into the presence of the king, or to exclude people from entry into the palace. This was what it meant to have the “key of the house of David.” Jesus is pictured in that same language as the one who controls the entry to the heavenly presence of God the Father. Jesus alone can bring people into God’s presence, or exclude them. When He opens the door that no one can shut, that means that He unbars the way to Paradise. Our sin barred us from God’s presence, and the original sin of Adam and Eve that sent them away from God and left an angel barring their reentry to Paradise. The bars of death that would keep us from life—these are all shattered and broken in Christ’s victory on the cross. For all who enter by Jesus, the door, the way stands open and no one in heaven or on earth can bar the way. Bars are broken and the way stands open to us through Jesus.

We enter through Jesus, the door, when we’ve put away our sins by repentance and are dressed in Christ’s innocence, to walk with Him in white. For anyone who tries to enter by another way, who seeks entry by any other method than by Jesus, their entry is blocked. When a person comes dressed in the clothing of their own sinful deeds, and expects entry, they’ll be cast out (Matt. 22:11-14). God has offered one Way, one Door, and who are we to refuse it or demand another? If Jesus shuts a door, then no one may open it. But for all who trust in Him, the door is open—enter through it!

To the Philadelphian Christians, Christ speaks again of setting before them an open door that no one can shut. In several other places in the New Testament, this phrase also describes a mission opportunity—an opportunity for the Gospel to be heard. He goes on to say that He knows they have but little power, but they’ve kept His Word and not denied His Name. Perhaps in this weakened and fearful community, the group of believers seemed small and weak—compounded by persecution they faced from the Jewish synagogue. Christ commends them for holding fast to His Word and Name—but they still needed boldness to go forward through the open door—to take full advantage of their mission opportunity.

Believers at Emmanuel, Christ has also set before us an open door! Do you know what it is? Do you see the mission opportunity set before us? The biggest opportunity that now lies before us—that’s been our focus for several years now, is to expand and grow our preschool and grade school programs, to reach more children on Maui with the saving news of Jesus’ love. To show more and more people the door to Paradise that Jesus holds open for us. We’ve been blessed with a great education program and staff that are committed to sharing Jesus’ love with the children. We’ve a huge opportunity that’s staring us in the face if we will take hold of it and go through that door. Yet you may say, “We have but little power!” We might feel small and weak, like the church of Philadelphia. Shaken by hard economic times, and uncertain of our future. Of limited financial means. You’d be right to say that we don’t have the power to do it on our own. But the God who saves us has no limitations. He calls on us to ask and to ask boldly. Some have pointed out that to ask too little of God in prayer is practically an insult to Him. Do we pray for crumbs of bread from the one who performs miracles?

Luther wrote “If the richest and most powerful emperor were to [ask] a poor beggar [to] ask for whatever he might desire and were ready to give great, princely presents, but the fool were to beg only for a serving of common soup, he would justly be considered a rogue and a scoundrel” for making mockery of the Imperial Majesty’s offer. It would be shameful unbelief to think that God can provide us with nothing more than meager portions, when God is ready to pour out heavenly blessings on us. If you seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, then all these things shall be added to you (Matt. 6:33). God desires “the honor of giving far more abundantly and richly than anyone can comprehend, like an eternal, unfailing fountain…and He desires nothing more earnestly of us than that we ask many and great things of Him, and He is angry if we do not pray and petition with confidence.” (What Luther Says 3510)

In the eyes of the world, we may look weak, we may look powerless to achieve much—but see how greatly God has blessed us, and how eagerly He desires our bold and confident prayer! For those who have but little power, for we who are weak, Jesus is ready to establish and make us strong. Do you not know that God’s power is made perfect in weakness? Do we all see the opportunity that lies before us? Are our prayers small and timid? Or are we all praying bold prayers for God’s great and miraculous gifts, and that He would continue to open the doors of opportunity and pave the way for us to reach that dream of expanding God’s kingdom?

Starting with myself, I know we aren’t. I am not bold enough in prayer, and haven’t made it a consistent enough focus—and with the help of God I pledge to strive harder. I ask for all of you to raise daily prayers that God would open our eyes to ideas and opportunities that we may not see. That our doors would be open and welcoming. That we’d seek first His kingdom and His righteousness. That we’d strengthen what we already have, and cling boldly to His Word and His Name in all difficulty. That we’ll raise the necessary funds to accomplish this great undertaking of faith. That we’d wisely and carefully count the cost of constructing our new schools, and that we may each lend our talents and services and leadership where they’re needed.

We don’t know God’s timing, but we do know His power. We don’t know whether a major gift could be around the corner, whether there may be unused potential for our new property even now, whether there may be ideas yet to be explored. But we need His boldness to go through that open door. What was our slogan for the building program again? With Great Boldness, a New Tomorrow! Yes, we’ll go forth in boldness, and commit ourselves to prayer and service and generosity in this task. Psalm 127 says, “Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain.” If we commit our task first to God and His leading, and to the service of His kingdom, then He will undoubtedly bless it in His timing. But if we put ourselves first, or put our trust in our name and reputation, as we heard last week, then our task is in vain.

Finally, Christ promises many and great blessings to those who hold fast to His Word and don’t deny Him in difficulty and persecution. He makes a fascinating promise to the one who conquers—that He 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.” What’s this about Christ making us a pillar in the temple of God, with names written on the pillar? In Solomon’s temple, two magnificent pillars stood at the entrance of the temple, and both had special names. One was named Jachin, which means “He will establish”, and the other Boaz, which means “In Him is strength” (1 Kings 7:21). Established by God, we can stand firm and find strength in Him. In a place that is often shaken and faces hardship—whether that be from earthquakes and persecution, or from financial crises and indifference toward the faith—to find stability and strength in God is blessing indeed.

For those who have but little power, we’re made strong in Christ. Open doors and opportunities are set before us, and challenges are raised against us, but Jesus’ faithfully delivers us through. He desires to make us pillars—firm and unshaken. Built like living stones into His holy temple. We stand by Christ, the open door, and we show the way to life in His name. We invite people to meet God through the open door of Jesus, who brings us into the presence of our eternal God and King. Rejoice and be glad that this entrance stands open to us through Jesus’ life and death for us. And when Christ opens a door of mission and opportunity for us here on earth, then enter it with boldness and trust in the One who holds the keys of the kingdom and blesses us more richly than we can either ask or imagine. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Now the peace of God which passes all understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, unto life everlasting. Amen.

Sermon Talking Points:
Read past sermons at: http://thejoshuavictortheory.blogspot.com
Listen to audio at: http://thejoshuavictortheory.podbean.com

1. The name Philadelphia means “brotherly love” and commemorated the loyalty of the two Greek brothers Eumenes and Attalus, who founded the city. Historians and leaders of that time held up these brothers as remarkable examples of loyalty and devotion that others should imitate. Philadelphia suffered devastation in the same 17 AD earthquake that struck Sardis. For many years later it continued to be weakened by earthquakes, and so had cautious and few residents.

2. Identify the following in the letter to Sardis: (these basic features are repeated in each letter)
Image of Christ:
Local detail about the church:
What Christ sees: A) Good B) Bad
Call to Repent:
Promise to the One who Conquers:

3. Jesus has the “keys of David.” What “access” does He control? What does it mean that what He opens no one will shut, and what He shuts, no one will open? Isaiah 22:20-25; Matt. 16:19; John 20:22-23; Rev. 1:18. What door stands open to us because Christ holds these keys?

4. What door was opened for the church of Philadelphia? Cf. Acts. 14:27; 1 Cor. 16:8-9; 2 Cor. 2:12. What door (of opportunity) is open to us at Emmanuel on Maui? What steps do we need to take to go through it?

5. For those who have “little power”, of what comfort is it to know that we conquer together with Christ? That we are established and made firm as pillars in His temple? Eph. 2:19-22; 1 Pet. 2:4-10; 1 Cor. 6:19

Monday, May 10, 2010

Sermon on Revelation 3:1-6 for the 6th Sunday of Easter, "Sardis--Walk With Me"

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. Today is part five in our sermon series, the letter to the church of Sardis. Last week we heard about the church of Thyatira which was being lead astray into immorality and idolatry, and was called to repent and hold fast to Christ. Today’s letter is addressed to the church of Sardis, which was the most prominent of the 7 cities, and had a rich, storied history. Like the city they were in, they were a church that lived in the glory of their reputation. But Christ saw that they were in fact dead and dying. He calls them and us to wake up and strengthen what remains. Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

Sardis. One of the great cities in antiquity—greatly admired by the Greeks. Once the capital of a kingdom, situated high on a rocky ridge with great cliffs—it held the reputation of being an impregnable fortress. The old saying went that to capture the citadel of Sardis was to do the impossible. But this pride in its secure position led to its downfall on more than one occasion. The original capital city, and also later military strongholds were infamously captured because it’s defenders were caught unaware. They assumed the safety of their high position, and were defeated by surprise attack. Yet they continued to believe in their reputation of invincibility. They were also humbled by a devastating earthquake in 17 AD, early in the lifetime of Jesus, which was regarded by one ancient historian as the greatest disaster in human memory. This earthquake doubtless was etched in the minds of the citizens of Sardis, and would’ve resonated in their minds when they read about the various earthquakes prophesied in Revelation.

Christ, who holds in His hand the seven stars or seven angels of the churches, told the church of Sardis: “I know your works—that you have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead.” He spoke to people in a community that was proud of its great legacy. This same over-confidence was present in the church as well. Though they had an outward reputation of being alive, they were stuck in a carelessness that if unchanged, was heading toward the death of their faith. They were caught in the trap of resting on their reputation, of believing their own hype. These words were meant to shake them out of their sleep, to “wake up and strengthen what remains and is about to die!” Like the defenders of Sardis who weren’t watchful or vigilant, the believers could be caught off guard and be unprepared when Christ returned like a thief in the night. Would they be repentant of their sins when Christ came at an unexpected hour?

They should be words that startle us out of our slumber. We can fall into the same trap of resting on our laurels, counting our past achievements but having no drive for the future. We have to avoid the danger of over-confidence that would have us admire our own reputation rather than showing ourselves to be alive through humility and living deeds of service in the present. A businessman warned of the same mistake of “believing your own press” for several reasons. First, fame is only temporary, and reputations can change in an instant. Scripture warns: “If anyone thinks that he stands, take heed, lest he fall” (1 Cor. 10:14). Secondly, by trusting in your reputation, you won’t be hungry—you lose the drive and the intensity that got you there. Christ said their reputation was of being alive, but in fact they were dead! Complacency is an enemy of spiritual growth. We’ll miss new opportunities for growth and service if we’re not hungry.

Also, you can actually harm your own reputation by believing in it too much. How many athlete’s believed too much of their own hype, and were shamed when they didn’t deliver in the crucial moment, or their lives come crashing down around them. By contrast, how much more respect do you have for the athlete’s who show humility and a competitive edge, and show real sportsmanship? It’s not that one can’t be appreciative of compliments or accolades. But overconfidence or pride, goes before a fall. Finally, both in everyday life as well as in our life as a Christian church, it’s a marathon we run, not a 50 yard dash. The letter to the Hebrews tells us to run the race with endurance, looking to Jesus (Heb. 12:1ff). In other words, we shouldn’t stop running before we’ve finished the race.

We ought never put our trust in our name or reputation or what we have accomplished in the past. We shouldn’t boast of full calendars or full parking lots, though these might give the reputation of being “alive”. We can’t live in the memory of a time when churches were the centers of the community, or a time when we were seen as a community asset or whatever reputation we might have or think we have. It’s not even helpful to dwell on negative aspects of a past reputation. We live here and now, and the call for us to serve and live with humility is here and now, and it’s in the present. If we live in the past, we’ll hear the same words of Jesus to Sardis: “I have not found your works complete in the sight of my God.” You’re not finished! You haven’t crossed the finish line yet! There’s work to be done! For all these reasons, and for the sake of avoiding false security, Jesus calls us to wake up! Strengthen what remains! Don’t be caught sleeping or off-guard.

We’re called to repent, wake up, and remember what we’ve heard. Remember the word of Christ that was spoken to you that first awakened faith and fervor in your heart. Remember what first drove your passionate service and humble commitment to Christ’s kingdom. Stir up your hearts and encourage one another toward acts of service (Heb. 10:24). Does this mean you have to drop everything and come volunteer 20 hours every week at church? That would be nice…but no, your acts of service aren’t limited to the church—they are found in whatever your vocations or callings in life are. As a father, mother, son, daughter, husband, wife or worker. As a citizen, teacher, student, banker, accountant, or electrician. Wherever God has placed you in life, there are ample responsibilities and opportunities for the Christ-like loving service that we’re called to do. If this is our passion and life, then we need not live in the past, but it will be our present life that gives glory to Christ and His church. So are we hungry to serve? Are we looking for opportunities and striving for our spiritual growth and the growth of others?

Now stop and reflect on what is that word that spurs us on to such love and service? What does it mean when Christ commends those few in Sardis who’ve not soiled their garments, but will walk with Him in white? What does it mean that Christ promises that we’ll be clothed in clean white garments and our name will never be blotted out of the book of Life? This message is the saving Gospel that we’ve heard and that gave us our life. That Jesus Christ, who calls us to repent of sin, took that sin upon Himself at the cross, and bore it into death. He cleansed and purified our garments with His blood, so that we can be forgiven and innocent (Rev. 7:14). The garments we’re clothed with in Baptism are the pure and clean robes of Christ’s innocence. Saved by Christ’s innocence. Our new identity in Christ. This is what it means to be Christian—to have Christ’s forgiveness covering your sin, and embraced by His love.

Do we wear those clean garments honorably? Striving to avoid sin, and walk in all that Christ has taught us? Or do we get back into the dirt of our sins? Do we soil our garments by compromising with the world and being conformed to its patterns? To say that we have no sin, is to deceive ourselves, but to confess our sin is to be free of it, as Christ is faithful to forgive and cleanses us of guilt. So the white garments are the clothing of Christ’s innocence. But it’s also symbolic of the victory that we have and share in Christ.

For believers in Sardis, a city that was notorious for defeat and unfulfilled promises—to have the promise that they’d conquer together with Christ was Easter hope for sure! White garments were also worn in victory celebration in Roman times. To the one who conquers, they’ll walk with Christ in white. Imagine for yourself the victory parade when death has finally been conquered, and we’ve gone home to be with our Lord Jesus. “Walk with me,” Christ will say. We’ll march with Him in a victory procession that leads to our heavenly Father’s throne. There will stand before the throne of God a great multitude without number, of people of every nation, tribe, people and language, clothed in white garments, waving palm branches crying out with a thunderously loud and joyful song of victory: “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”

It’s an incomparable honor to walk with Christ and stand in the awesome presence of our God—cleansed from our sins by Christ so we can stand unashamed before the throne. Taking His book of Life in His hands, Christ will read the names of believers who’re written there by faith. Hear Him reading your name? Naming you as one who trusted in Him and bore His name as a Christian here on earth? Jesus says He’ll confess our name before His Father and all the angels. He’ll keep His promise that whoever confesses Him before men, He’ll confess before His Father in heaven, and whoever denies Him before men, He’ll deny before His Father in heaven (Matt. 10:32). He will acknowledge your name as one of His faithful followers.

You see, Christ calls us away from the false confidence in our own reputation…away from building our trust in the accolades and approval of mankind. Because whatever works, talents, or achievements we have in this life—while some might boast of them before other men—they are nothing to boast of before God (Rom. 4:2). They don’t impress God, He doesn’t grant us salvation based on our “record”, He shows no favoritism toward men. But as Christ calls us away from this kind of false trust in reputation and any name we have built for ourselves, He is preparing us for a “name” and reputation that will last and will never be erased. Not a name chiseled in a stone monument, or penned in a history book, or even a name that is plastered in magazines, TV and across the internet. No, the names of those who conquer with Christ will be written in the book of life—never to be erased—an everlasting name and reputation.

So is this then our boast? Finally we hear again the words of St. Paul that remove any grounds of boasting in ourselves, and show us the one true boast we have: “far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” (Gal. 6:14). The Christian has one boast, and that is in our Lord Jesus Christ and His cross, which is the source of our salvation, the reason we can be conquerors over sin, death, and the devil. We boast in Christ alone, who is the only reason any of us will walk with Him in white and stand before the throne of God one day, and the one who for His great love for us will confess our names before our Father. May our boast only be in Christ crucified, and may we be living testaments of His love and service as we extend His love to all those around us. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Now the peace of God which passes all understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, unto life everlasting. Amen.

Sermon Talking Points:
Read past sermons at: http://thejoshuavictortheory.blogspot.com
Listen to audio at: http://thejoshuavictortheory.podbean.com

1. Sardis was the capital of the Lydian kingdom, then was overthrown by the Persians. It had a long history of being a military stronghold due to its strategic location and steep cliffs. Yet it had been captured several times when the soldiers were caught off guard. How does this give insight into Jesus’ warnings here?

2. Identify the following in the letter to Sardis: (these basic features are repeated in each letter)
Image of Christ:
Local detail about the church:
What Christ sees: A) Good B) Bad
Call to Repent:
Promise to the One who Conquers:

3. In the description of Christ, what do the seven stars He holds represent? Rev. 1:20. What might the seven spirits refer to? Rev. 1:4; 4:5; 5:6; cf. Isaiah 11:2; Zech. 4:1-4 (esp. v. 6).

4. What are the dangers and costs of living off your reputation? How do we keep free of over-confidence or lack of vigilance? Prov. 11:2; 16:18; 29:23. How does humility serve us better in our growth and maturity? For what reason should we be watchful?

5. Having faith in Christ grants us the clean garments of His righteousness (innocence). How do some “soil” their garments? Jude 23; Romans 12:2; 13:11-14; Ephesians 4:17-32. What does it mean for us to be clothed in white and walk with our Lord? How is this an image of final victory for the one who conquers? Revelation 7:9-14; Galatians 3:27

Monday, May 03, 2010

Sermon on Revelation 2:18-29, for the 5th Sunday of Easter, "Easter Letters: Hold Fast!"

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. Today is part four of the sermon series, “Easter Letters,” and focuses on the church in Thyatira. Last week we heard about the church in Pergamum that was enticed by the rampant idolatry around them. They were called away from false worship at Satan’s throne to the true worship at the throne of God, and His hidden manna that sustains. Today we come to the longest and perhaps most difficult letter to understand, to the church in Thyatira. This was the least remarkable of the seven cities, the one for which we have the least historical background. We do know this was the city where the faithful believer Lydia, a seller of purple cloth, was originally from. She and her household were baptized by Paul on one of his missionary journeys. Today we’ll hear how the church of Thyatira and us are called to “hold fast” to their faith in Christ until the end. Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

As Christ addresses this church and us, He is described as the one with eyes like flames of fire, and with feet like burnished bronze. Further on He says that He is the one who searches hearts and minds and gives to each according to their works. Those eyes of fire see into every heart and mind just like the two-edged sword of God’s Word from last week discerns sin in our thoughts and intentions. This is to say that nothing is hidden from God’s piercing gaze. His feet of burnished bronze stand firm and immovable, as He is the One who rules the earth with all authority. His searching eyes saw something shocking in Thyatira—a promiscuous woman had taken great prominence and influence within the Christian church. She styled herself as a teacher or “prophetess,” and was seducing people into idolatry and sexual immorality. Apparently there was a significant number within the church who’d been lead astray into these sins.

Thankfully we have no such “prophetess” leading people into promiscuity in our congregation. But this doesn’t mean that we’re clear of any such danger—the temptations of the world are a “Jezebel” to us, that would try to change what we hold fast to, and substitute all of the idolatry and immorality of the world for Christ. The way of Jezebel ultimately leads to death for her and her followers, but by contrast the way of Christ leads to eternal life for all who follow Him. The title “Jezebel” echoes back to the wicked queen of Israel who promoted widespread idolatry and incited her husband King Ahab to much evil, including murdering innocent Naboth and many of God’s prophets. The name Jezebel still carries that connotation of someone wicked and shameless. It’s striking that she was already given time to repent, but refused. God apparently had given an extended opportunity for repentance to this unknown woman and her followers. We might even consider this letter as one last warning to her and her followers. Could Jesus forgive even such a sinner as her? Certainly in His ministry, Jesus encountered such sinners, and He extended to them the forgiveness of sins, when they repented. Yes Jesus will forgive even such hardened sinners, but only after they repent and turn from their sin. But here, to cling to such sin and defy repentance, and even openly leading others to do the same—there was no forgiveness for this.

This is not an easy lesson, and it’s difficult to say there’s been much progress over time in our readiness to repent. The same sin-born tendency to cling to and protect our sins, and excuse them away, is present in each of our lives. The more pleasurable and comfortable the sin, the more other people are doing it, the less we feel obligated to repent and acknowledge that its wrong before God. But suffering and consequences may follow such unrepentant sin. Jesus said He would give to each according to his works. A man reaps what he sows. Indeed there’s only one way to escape the eternal punishment that we deserve, and that is by repenting of our sins and clinging to the innocence of Jesus. Letting our sins be condemned at the tree of the cross by repenting of them, and putting the sinful nature to death—so that we might stand un-condemned, covered by the innocence of Jesus that’s counted to our favor by faith.

Yet despite one of the strongest calls to repentance for all the churches, Thyatira also received one of the strongest commendations for those who held fast to the faith in that church. “I know your works, your love and faith and service and patient endurance, and that your latter works exceed the first.” Here was a church that had made much progress in faith and good works up till now. They are commended for excelling beyond what they had done at first. In regards to their love, faith, service, and patient endurance, they were a model church. It was their tolerance of Jezebel that was their great sin of which they needed to repent. Yet He spoke encouragement to those who did not hold to her false teachings or learn the so called “deep things of Satan.” Those who avoided the immorality and false worship promoted by some within the church.

Here at Emmanuel, as a church that strives to hold fast to Christ’s Word, we know that we’re far from perfect, and that we’re in constant need of repentance. There’s no room for complacency or self-congratulation. We need always to consider whether we display love, faith, service, and patient endurance. Do we reflect those qualities to our community? While we’re not judged on what other people think of us, but by whether we hold fast to Christ, nevertheless we’re to strive for godliness in all things. Even if we face slander or misunderstandings, people should still be able to see in us the kind of godly love and service that sets us apart as the body of believers, the church.

Christ calls us to “hold fast” to what we have. What can that command refer to? I’ve already begun to say that we’re to hold fast to Christ and to hold fast to faith. To hold fast is to have a tight grip, that won’t let go. To cling to something with tenacity is to have such a fierce determination that you won’t let anything get between you and what you’re holding on to. Like the way a mother bear protects her cubs. We’re called to hold fast to what we have, so that nothing the world throws at us will get between us and Christ. That we won’t lose our grip.

Several passages of Scripture help us to see what we are to “hold fast” to. In the explanation of the parable of the sower, Jesus describes the good soil as being like those who hear the Word of God and hold fast to it with a good and honest heart, and so are able to bear much fruit with patience (Luke 8:15). This would be the kind of person Jesus saw in Thyatira, whose love and faith and service and patient endurance were the fruit of holding fast to Christ and His Word. God’s Word will bear fruit if we hold fast to it in our hearts. The transformation within us may not always be so immediate and dramatic, the way a plant grows and matures slowly over time from a seed. So also with patience, God’s work will be evident in our lives.

Elsewhere Paul tells believers to “hold fast” to the word that was preached to them—the Gospel of Jesus’ death and resurrection (1 Cor. 15:2). By holding fast to this good news, we’re saved. He calls believers to test every prophecy they hear, and to “hold fast” to what is good, and abstain from what’s evil (1 Thess. 5:21-22). Again the Christian is called to discern what’s right and wrong, and to hold fast to what’s right in the face of pressure to do wrong. And one more example comes from Hebrews, where we’re told to “hold fast” to the confession of our hope, because He who has promised is faithful (Heb. 10:23). Here we’re told to cling to our confession of hope—that hope we confess in the creeds, for example. Confessing that we believe in the one Holy Christian and apostolic church, we acknowledge one Baptism for the remission of sins, and we look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come. We confess that hope in the forgiveness of sins and the promised resurrection to life that we have in Jesus. And we can be confident of that hope, because we know that the one who promised is faithful.

This is a crucial point for us to consider. The foundation for our confidence is the faithfulness of God. Everything around us may be shaken, may fail, may prove unreliable—but God alone is immovable. He has the longest track record of faithfulness, and has shown His mercy to generation after generation. When we’re called to hold fast to Him, we know that He alone can deliver us. I mentioned earlier the tenacity of a mother bear guarding her cubs. Think now of God as that mother bear, and how protective He is of His cubs. How you would not want to be the one robbing Him of His precious cubs, or stealing them away. Our salvation is secure if we hold fast to Christ because Christ holds fast to us with tenacity against the devil, but gentleness toward us. As we heard last week in the passage about Christ the Good Shepherd, Jesus promises this to His sheep: “I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one” (John 10:28-30).

Our security in salvation rests in the power and the faithfulness of our God to deliver what He promises. He protects all those who hold fast to Him. Those who repent of their sins and believe in Jesus Christ seek His protection from all that would lead us astray. He promises that in the end He will give believers authority over all the powers that currently hold us in subjection. Finally there will be deliverance for the persecuted, and all oppression will end. He gives an additional promise to the one who conquers: that Christ will give them the morning star. He is that bright morning star, and to all who hold fast to Him by faith, He is our sure and certain possession.

Ultimately we are called to hold fast to what we have, because clinging to Christ and His promises in the Word will never let us down. He never fails, because He holds fast to us in love and grace. He embraces the repentant sinner, He guards our foot from stumbling, and He fights against the evil one who would try to snatch us out of our Father’s hand. He’s watchful like a good shepherd for all that would cause us harm. It’s in His strong arms that we find refuge. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Now the peace of God which passes all understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, unto life everlasting. Amen.

Sermon Talking Points:
Read past sermons at: http://thejoshuavictortheory.blogspot.com
Listen to audio at: http://thejoshuavictortheory.podbean.com

1. Thyatira was an army post and center of commerce where vice and immorality were rampant. We know little from history or the Bible except that Lydia, a convert, was from there (Acts 16:14-15).

2. Identify the following in the letter to Thyatira: (these basic features are repeated in each letter)
Image of Christ:
Local detail about the church:
What Christ sees: A) Good B) Bad
Call to Repent:
Promise to the One who Conquers:

3. Look at parallels to the image of Christ here. Daniel 10:6; Jer. 17:9-10; 11:20; Ps. 7:9ff; 2:8-9; Rev. 22:16; Num. 24:17; Dan. 12:3.

4. Who was Jezebel in the Old Testament? 1 Kings 16:31-33; 21:25-26; How is she a fitting comparison to the “Jezebel” of Thyatira? What must all who are caught in sin do? How does God respond to the repentant? The unrepentant? Ezekiel 18:21-24; John 7:53-8:11.

5. What should we “hold fast” to? Luke 8:15; 1 Cor. 15:2; Col. 2:19; 1 Thess. 5:21; Heb. 3:6; 10:23; Cf. Hosea 12:6; Psalm 46

6. Who is the “morning star”? Cf. Rev. 22:16; 2 Peter 1:19; Num. 24:17; Daniel 12:3. How does the believer receive this?