Sunday, February 18, 2018

The Reproofs Of Discipline Are The Way Of Life (Revelation 2-3)

I encourage you to read Revelation 2-3 in preparation for this post and next Sunday’s sermon.

It has been hard for us to generate a sense of momentum in our series through the book of Revelation due to the breaks from it we have had. When I originally mapped out the schedle for it, I knew we would have two weeks out of Revelation—the week that I was in Peru and then this past week, with Bob Walz here to preach. What I did not count on was the week we had to cancel our service due to weather. What it has created is an inability for us to get a sense of where we have been in the book and where we are going. Because of this, I am starting my post with a review of where we have been so far.

Thus far we have discovered that first and foremost Revelation is a highly symbolic unveiling of Jesus Christ, and this such that if readers respond, the result will be great happiness (1:1-3). Much of this revelation of our Savior is designed to change our view of the world and of the church so that we see: 
·         Those of us who are in Jesus Christ have been saved by him, freed, and so we have the resources of the triune God to empower us for following Jesus. (1:4-8)

·         We are part of the kingdom and so can live underneath God’s reign, on mission, and to his glory. (1:9)

·         Because we live on mission in a broken and sin-cursed world, our following of Christ and love for the world brings push-back, even persecution sometimes, and this all in addition to the other trials we face. (1:9)

·         Yet, genuine believers endure through this, even if not perfectly. (1:9; ch’s. 2-3)

·         A big part of why we can be faithful growing in Jesus, serving him, and also sharing him with others is that he has us in his hands and he is in our midst to empower and encourage us. (1:12-20; ch’s. 2-3)

·         Much of the way we are propelled forward is both because of our love for Jesus Christ that leads to holiness and mission (2:1-7) and also by focusing upon the promises of eternal reward Jesus Christ makes to us. (2:7, 11, 17, 27-28; 3:4-5, 12, 20-21)

·         Additionally, we should be motivated to repent as needed, when confronted with our disobedience and idolatry. (2:4-5, 14-16, 20-23; 3:1-3, 15-20)

The need to repent prepares us for the last main message Jesus Christ wants churches in Revelation 2-3 to hear so they can be happy and healthy in him:  We must respond to and give correction. God wants us to respond to his correction and discipline he brings our way because he loves us (Prov. 3:11-12; Heb. 12:5-6); he wants us to make corrections to self as we see the need in his Word (Ps. 94:12; James 1:22-25); he wants us to be willing to give correction to and receive it from others (James 5:19-20), and all of this is necessary because, even though we have been saved and transformed by Jesus Christ, we are still inclined to all kinds of evil and can easily deceive ourselves (Heb. 3:12-13). The willingness to receive correction from and to give it to others is one of the marks of a true and healthy local church (see Mt. 16:19; 18:15-20; 1 Cor. 5:1-13; 2 Thes. 3:14-15; Titus 3:10)! Consider these contemporary confirmations of that point.

Gerald Bray (God Is Love, chapter 6 [emphasis added]) writes: 
Church discipline is too often understood in terms of who should and should not be allowed to belong to the fellowship of believers. People want to know what others believe and what commitment they can expect from them before admitting them to membership, which is perfectly understandable. However, the real task of church discipline begins after people have joined the fellowship—it is designed to help church members grow, not to chase away those who our human minds think are undesirable. It is hard not to think that the church could avoid a great deal of trouble by realizing that it is a home for sinners, not a company of the righteous who have no need of repentance. It can begin to do this by structuring its sense of discipline to focus not on punishment and exclusion but on forming a Christian mind and heart in those who have come under the teaching of the gospel.

Mark Driscoll and Gerry Breshears, Vintage Church: Timeless Truths And Timely Methods (Wheaton: Crossway, 2008), 38, write (emphasis added):  
The local church is a community of regenerated believers who confess Jesus Christ as Lord. In obedience to Scripture they organize under qualified leadership, gather regularly for preaching and worship, observe the biblical sacraments of baptism and Comunion, are unified by the Spirit, are disciplined for holiness, and scatter to fulfill the Great Commandment and the Great Commission as missionaries to the world for God’s glory and their joy.

Mack Stiles, “Nine Marks Of A Healthy Parachurch Ministry,” 9 Marks eJournal, 8, 2 (March/April, 2011) explains (emphasis added): 
The church is the God-ordained local assembly of believers who have committed themselves to each other. They gather regularly, they teach the Word, celebrate communion and baptism, discipline their members, establish a biblical structure of leadership, they pray and give together. Certainly the church may do more, but it is not less than this.

Notice how all three agree with Scripture and what the Church has historically affirmed, that one of the marks of a healthy and true church is discipline. In other words, there is a willingness to give and receive correction.

In Revelation 2-3 we discover this need for correction in three main areas.

1. We Are To Give And Receive Correction In Regard To False Teaching And Practice. 
We see this several places in these two chapters. Jesus commends the church in Ephesus for correcting false teachers (2:2), and for hating the works of false teachers, as Jesus himself does (2:6). Yet, he goes on to tell them they have left the love they had at first, need to repent, and to return to it (2:4-5). This certainly can be at the heart of much false belief and teaching. Jesus exhorts the church in Pergamum for allowing idolatrous, false teaching, and immorality (2:14-15), and he similarly exhorts the church in Thyatira for the same reasons (2:20). He even goes so far as to tell the church in Sardis they are dead and need to wake up (3:1-3).

What we see over and over again in these chapters is that we must be willing to be corrected, to make corrections to self, and to correct others in regard to false teaching and practice. The receiving and giving of correction in love to one another is particularly important since there are so many aspects of our thinking and behavior that we can be blinded to by the hostile and anti-Christian cultures around us. It is easy for us to be like the proverbial frog in the kettle. In other words, as the heat is turned up around us and pressue is put on us to change our beliefs to match those in vogue around us, we keep giving in little by little until we find ourselves in boiling waters of great compromise and heresy!

There is a second area in which we must give and receive correction.

2. We Are To Give And Receive Correction In Regard To Deafening Idolatry. 
Idolatry is “believing in created things, rather than the Creator, for our hope and happiness, significance and security” (New City Catechism, #17).

Idolatry is a strong emphasis throughout these two chapters seen in the exhortation at the end of each message, “he who has an ear, let him hear what the spirit says to the churches” (2:7a, 11a, 17a, 29; 3:6, 13, 22). This statement arises from the reality that we become like what we worship—blind and deaf (Psalm 115:4-8; Isaiah 44:9) and so we do not have ears to hear what God is saying to us (Isaiah 6:9-10). Idolatry, which usually includes love and desire for good things, makes us wobbly, unstable, and unresponsive to those things that are important to God, as if we are drunk on other things (Revelation 14:8). Typically these other loves and desires are confirmed by the cultures around us that make them seem normative, the way things ought to be. When this happens we simply don’t hear what God is saying to correct us or we explain it away as too extreme to follow—the weird and unusual view of a pastor or teacher.

This is why gospel community is so important. In other words, we need to come together by the gospel’s influence on us and for the purpose of helping each other live out the effects of the gospel—to correct one another when we are in danger of sin’s hardening and deception (Heb. 3:12-13), and also to spur each other on to love and good works (Heb. 10:24).

Keeping away from idolatry is so important that John ends his first epistle with the admonition, “keep yourself from idols” (1 John 5:21). Yet, we usually need the aid of each other to do this.

One of the ways to do this is to commit to a Bible Fellowship and an Iron Man/Woman team.

The final area in which we are to give and receive correction is a catch-all. In other words, it is every and any other area.

3. We Are To Change Course No Matter What Wrong Path We Are On. 
If we are not willing to do this, Jesus may: War against us (2:16); remove our lampstand, i.e. our witness as a church (2:5); bring sickness and death (2:22-23); come upon us for discipline as a thief, unexpectedly (3:2-3); and remove from us his protection and empowerment (3:15-20).

Whether or not we live faithfully, on mission, for God’s glory, as joyful followers, and endure in this all truly matters. Whenever we are off the path we are to make corrections. If God speaks to us through the Word as we read it alone, through a fellow believer, in a book, by a sermon, or while sitting under someone’s teaching, we are to receive and make corrections. We also are to help our family members, our brothers and sisters in Christ, to do the same.

It is a fearful and sober thing, to ignore the conviction and/or correction of God—directly upon conscience, through a friend/fellow believer, or through a pastor or teacher. Therefore, we need to develop a responsiveness to how God wants to grow us and change us, rather than protection against what he wants to do.

We should remember “…the reproofs of discipline are the way of life” (Proverbs 6:23). And, we need to help each other in this whole matter because of the joy of growing in our knowledge of Christ and of following Him (Rev. 1:1-3).

Monday, February 5, 2018

And You Will Be My Witnesses (Revelation 2-3)

Because we did not have our service on Sunday, I will preach the message next Sunday (Feb. 11) that I had planned for this past Sunday (Feb. 4). What that means is that the sermon I had originally planned for Feb. 11 I will not preach at all. So, that material will be covered only in this post. So, to be clear, the post that prepares us for next week’s sermon was last week’s post. This week’s post will not be followed up by a corresponding sermon.

This is our fifth week in the book of Revelation and I am sure that we have been surprised by what the book has talked about so far. After all, many of us anticipated this series because of the fantastic visions and material in the book, as well as the possibility we would look into the future. Certainly there are those visions and there is that forward look into the end times. Yet, we miss what the book is about, if we do not see it exhorts churches today, living between the first and second comings of Christ, with how to remain faithful in holiness and mission in the midst of hostile cultures.

As we make our way topically through the messages to the seven churches in chapters 2-3, we especially see this very practical bent. Last week we discovered the importance of retaining and growing our love for Christ so we can have adequate motivation to pursue holiness and live on mission. Now, this week, we look more closely at who this Jesus is, why his presence with us, and his knowledge of us, along with his promised future reward, all should captivate our hearts so we will be his faithful witnesses.

To start, let’s look at what this Jesus is like who is in our midst.

Let’s look at the different ways Jesus is described in these two chapters.

A. He Is In Our Midst And We Are In His Hands. 2:1
In this verse we read: “To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: ‘[Thus says the one] who holds the seven stars in his right hand, [the one] who walks among the seven golden lampstands.” Since we looked at this verse and truth last week, we need spend little time on it, other than to remind ourselves that Jesus is present with us as a congregation, to empower us for mission and against difficulties. Additionally, we are in his hands and so nothing can happen to us that he has not at least allowed. This means he can not only bring good out of it, but also can work in our behalf to help us.

In the rest of the descriptions of Jesus given to the other churches we see even more about why his presence and sovereign plan for our lives should make a difference.

B. He Is Sovereign Over History As The Eternal One And, At the Same Time, Is The Resurrected Lord Who Has Accomplished New Life For Us. 2:8
Here we read: “Thus says the first and the last, who was dead and came alive.”  These same two descriptions of Jesus are tied together in the chapter one vision of him (1:17-18): “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, 18 and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades.’”

This description of Jesus shows he is God and, as such, is stronger than those who may oppose our ministry (cf. Is. 41:4; 48:12; Rev. 1:8). He is in control of history and so can work in our behalf—and yet not only this, as the resurrected Savior he has secured our life and future. As such, as he exhorts the church in Smyrna, so we must remain faithful to him even in the face of opposition, push-back, and full-out persecution (Rev. 2:8-11)! The point is similar to what Paul makes in 1 Cor. 15:58: “Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.”

C. He Judges And Disciplines Those In And Out Of The Church, As Needed. 2:12
Here is how he is described: “And unto the angel of the church in Pergamum write: ‘Thus says the one who has the sharp two-edged sword.’” To a church located in a place filled with much pagan and imperial religion and also a strong Jewish population—and so they would have faced much push back and persecution—Jesus exhorts them to overcome this idolatrous spirit so they can avoid discipline, judgment, and can have eternal life. That he has the “two-edged sword” refers to the fact he is judge and one who can discipline (see Rev. 19:15). Additionally, because he knows the state of each church infallibly, he also knows those who need comfort in the midst of affliction and those who need to be afflicted since they are inappropriately comfortable.

This certainly corrects the current popular view of Jesus Christ among most evangelicals who see him as a Mr. Rogers-type figure who would never judge or discipline!

D. He Is The Only Son Of God, The One Worthy Of Worship, And The Only Ultimate Judge. 2:18
Because the situation at Thyatira was similar to that of the church in Pergamum, Jesus gives a similar picture of himself: “And unto the angel of the church in Thyatira write: ‘Thus says the Son of God, the one who has his eyes as a flame of fire and his feet like burnished bronze.’”  The message here is stronger since the church had moved that much further down the road of idolatry.

E. He Is The One Who Brings The Fully Empowering Spirit Of God To Us. 3:1
To a church in a town that twice in its history had been captured by enemies due to lack of vigilance, Jesus speaks with warnings about their lack of vigilance, reminds them they are in his hands, and also reminds them his Spirit is present among them, not only to reveal where they truly are, but also to empower them so they can be vigilant: “And unto the angel of the church in Sardis write: ‘Thus says the one who has the seven spirits of God and the seven stars.’”

F. He Is God, The Only One Who Can Save Sinners. 3:7
Referring back to the chapter one vision (1:18), we read: “And unto the angel of the church in Philadelphia write: ‘Thus says the holy one, the true one, the one who has the keys of David, the one who opens and no one will shut, and who shuts and no one opens.’”

Regarding Philadelphia one commentator explains: 
In appreciation for imperial reconstruction aid after an earthquake (a.d. 17), Philadelphia was briefly renamed Neocaesarea (“Caesar’s New City”), but Jesus promises his suffering church an infinitely greater name, “the city of my God, the new Jerusalem” (v. 12). Philadelphia lies near a fertile valley, especially suited for growing wine grapes. Inscriptions from Philadelphia mention worship of Zeus and Hestia, and the Roman imperial cult was already present by the first century a.d. An inscription from a nearby town mentions a synagogue in that town. Christians in Philadelphia later received a letter from the early church father Ignatius (c. a.d. 110), and they suffered during the martyrdom of Polycarp (c. 155).

Christ commended the church for its enduring witness—a witness he will enable them to keep. He also encourages them to persevere by his grace so they can experience his full end-times rewards.

The reality he can fully save them and all believers should encourage us to remain faithful, no matter what level of trials, push back, or persecution we face.

G. He Is The Creator And The Ultimate Faithful And True Witness. 3:14
One commentator helpfully provides some historical background to this town:
Damaged by an earthquake in a.d. 60, self-sufficient Laodicea, a commercial center and site of thriving medical and textile industries, declined imperial disaster relief. The city did not see itself as “poor, blind, and naked” (v. 17), nor did the complacent church within it. In this last church alone Jesus finds nothing to commend. Laodicea was famous for its worship of Zeus, who appears on some of the city’s coinage.

Referring to the supply of tepid water in the town that was unlike the cold water that was piped into Laodicea for drinking and unlike the hot water springs in the area that were good for medicinal or therapeutic purposes, Jesus unveils through the pen of John that the church was useless, for they had an ineffective witness and mission. They were in such a deplorable situation that there was nothing for which he could commend them.

Yet, he, as the Creator (the one who could change and re-create them) and the true witness (who could also work in them to be faithful witnesses) can transform them, if they are willing to answer his call and return to fellowship with him (3:20).

Part of the reason that we must look to Jesus’ empowering and correcting presence is that we face trials, as well as temptations simply to give up. This is why we must pay attention to the main take away in these two chapters, to endure patiently.

Though we won’t spend a lot of time here, consider what is said to each church…

A. 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. 3 I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name's sake, and you have not grown weary.”

B. 2:9-10: “I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich) and the slander of those who say that they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. 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.” (Dependent upon Daniel, see Beale)

C. 2:13, 17: “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…. To the one who conquers….”

D. 2:19, 25: “I know your works, your love and faith and service and patient endurance, and that your latter works exceed the first…. Only hold fast what you have until I come.”

E. 3:4: “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.”

F. 3:10-11: “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. 11 I am coming soon. Hold fast what you have, so that no one may seize your crown.” (Compare to John 17:15)

G. 3:15-20: “I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! 16 So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. 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. 18 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. 19 Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent. 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. 21 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. 22 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’”

So, we are not only called to faithful worship and witness, but to endure in these, even in the face of trials, persecution, and the temptation to give up.

Right now, our challenge in southcentral Nebraska is not full-blown persecution. Instead, it is our fear of what might happen, if we were his witnesses: Rejection, people thinking we are weird, losing our accolades from others, being seen as different, out-of-step, and maybe even negative employment results.

How do we deal with this?  It is found in the empowering, encouraging reality of Christ’s presence—especially as we grasp all the reasons why he is sufficient to take care of us and empower us.

Yet, there is another motivation for us…

Consider all the promises made to the churches in these two chapters, if we persevere in and by Christ. They are all also mentioned in the last chapters of the book of Revelation, which not only shows the book is tightly tied together, but these rewards are very important motivations for godly living.

A. 2:7b (eat of the tree of life [cf. Gen. 2:9; 3:24]).

B. 2:10, 11b (crown of life and not hurt by the second death).

C. 2:17b-c (eat of hidden manna and white stone with new name).

D. 2:26-28 (rule over the nations and given the morning star).

E. 3:5 (clothed in white, not blotted out of book of life, confessed before Father).

F. 3:12 (pillar in temple with name of God and God’s city written on them).

G. 3:21 (sit with Jesus on throne).

In Acts 1:8, after Jesus told his disciples to wait in Jerusalem for the promised Holy Spirit to come upon them, he also explained what the result would be: “And you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” Part of the permanent and powerful indwelling of the Holy Spirit that the New Covenant Church experiences is that we are transformed into those who want to and can be witnesses unto Jesus Christ before others. Part of the way this happens is that the Spirit applies the person, power, presence, and work of Christ among the church and the Spirit can do this since Jesus Christ won for the church this pouring out of the Spirit through his death and resurrection (cf. Acts 2:33).

The church is not only empowered for mission by the presence of Christ and his Spirit among the church, but also encouraged toward faithfulness and perseverance by focusing upon the presence of Jesus Christ (and why he is sufficient to help us face trials, push back, and persecution) and the eternal rewards he promises to those who endure.

These first chapters of Revelation surprise us by calling us to this central question: Are we pursuing holiness and living on mission for the glory of God, even when to do so puts us at odds with the cultures around us?  There are ample motivations here either to start this pursuit or to persevere in it.

Joyfully Serving As A Witness To Jesus With You,