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October 18, 2009
Lost That Loving Feeling – Part 3
Pastor Philip De Courcy
Time:
Revelation 2: 1-7
Scripture: 

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This series provides insight into Jesus' master plan for the church today. We cannot afford to ignore what Jesus thinks of the church. You've Got Mail will help deepen your understanding of the church and the essential elements necessary to remain healthy, holy, and faithful in today's society.

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Transcript

… God’s word. Let’s take God’s word and turn to Revelation chapter 2, Revelation chapter 2 and verse 1. As we come to look for a last time at the church at Ephesus, we’re in a series of studies on the letters of our Lord to the churches in Asia Minor, a modern day Turkey. And we have entitled the series You’ve Got Mail. And we have been spending some quality time in this letter. We’ll move through the other letters a little bit more speedily, but there’s much here. And what a message for us to get our heads and hearts around. Lost that loving feeling? Was there a time in your life when you loved Christ more than you do today? That was certainly the case with some of the saints at Ephesus. And Jesus has something to say about that condition.
“To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: ‘These things says He who holds the seven stars in His right hand, who walks in the midst of the seven golden lampstands. I know your works, your labor, your patience, and that you cannot bear those who are evil. And you have tested those who say they are apostles and are not, and have found them liars. And you have persevered and have patience, and have labored for my name’s sake, and have not become weary. Nevertheless, I have this against you, that you have left your first love. Remember therefore, from where you have fallen, repent and do the first works, or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place unless you repent. But this you have, that you hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. He who has an ear, let him here what the spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, I will give to eat from the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God.'”
While we trust God, the spirit will add his blessing to the reading and attend, with his blessing, to the exposition of God’s sufficient infallible word. A stranded teenage motorist sat by the side of the road with the car hood up. She had exhausted her knowledge of what might be wrong with the car and there she sat, a damsel in distress, but a good Samaritan pulled up alongside her. And with his mechanical knowledge, he quickly troubleshooted the situation. He turned to the stranded teenage motorist and said, “Honey, the problem is you’re out of gas.”
The naive teenager, who was deeply concerned that she may have ruined her chances for future driving by damaging her father’s car replied, “Will it hurt it to drive it home like that?” There’s a parallel to this in the Christian life. There are Christians, silly Christians, who think that you can advance the Kingdom of God on an empty tank of devotion to Christ. They think it’s possible to live for Christ without passionately loving Christ, but what’s true of driving is true of discipleship. You will not get very far with God without love for his son. Some things are indispensable in the Christian life. And one of those is love for Christ. Nothing else will do if it’s not there. That’s the message that comes out of the letter from our Lord to the church at Ephesus.
Some things are indispensable, and love for him is one of those things. You can have your doctrine nailed to the floor. That was true of the church at Ephesus. You can display spiritual giftedness. That was true of the church at Ephesus. You can be the last man standing, in terms of Christian commitment. That was true of the church at Ephesus. But when the results are in and it’s all added up, you can be left with a big fat zero without love for Christ. That’s the message that Jesus addresses to the church at Ephesus. He acknowledges their doctrinal act integrity. He acknowledges their patience and perseverance. He acknowledges that they have served him to the edge of exhaustion.
Yet nevertheless, he says this in verse four, “I have this against you. You have left your first love.” Listen folks, unless we maintain first love for Christ, we will come in dead last in the kingdom of God. [inaudible]has said, so eloquently and memorably, “It does not matter what is absent if love is present and it does not matter what is present if love is absent.” It doesn’t matter how well you do what you do if you do not do what you should do. Anybody ever answered the wrong question on an exam paper? I have. And it didn’t help my score, although the answer was excellent.
We can do and ought to do a lot of things, but what we must do is keep going back to the one thing that adds virtue and value to everything we do, namely loving the one who first loved us with a first love.
Now, before we get back into the text, just by way of further introduction, this is the last time we’re going to look at this letter. I want to remind you why love is so important and why love for God is most important. I mean, this church has got qualities galore. And Jesus acknowledges that there’s many things he likes about what they do. But there’s one thing they’re not doing well and it robs everything else of its value. It tarnishes everything else, in terms of its profitability. They lacked love for him. Why is love then so important? Number one, because God is supremely love. What do we read in John four verse eight? God is love and love is of God. And I want you to notice that love is not a quality that God possesses, but the essence of God himself. God is love.
This is not something God occasionally does. This is something God always is. Love is second nature to God because God in nature is love. Amen? And the nice thing about that is, listen, he cannot help but love because that’s what he is. And I’m glad that the reason God loves is that He’s the reason. God is the reason God loves and aren’t you glad that God is the reason he loves you and not you? Secondly, because love for God is the first and greatest commandment. Over in Mark chapter 12, what do we read? In Mark chapter 12, the Lord Jesus Christ is answering some in his day concerning the greatest commandments. And in Jesus day, some of the rabbis had listed the law of God or the commandments of God in two categories. To add them together, you come up with 613 commandments. There’s some major commandments, minor commandments, and they fought over which commandment belonged to which category. But Jesus cuts through all of that. And he reduces the categories down to two and he reduces the commandments down to two.
And the first of those commandments is what? To love God. And the second of those commandments is to love your neighbor. Look at verse 28 of Mark chapter 12.
Then, one of the scribes came, having heard them reasoning together, perceiving that he had been answering them well and asked them, “What is the first commandment of all?” And Jesus said, “The first of all the commandment is, Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God, The Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. This is the first commandment.”
Friends, why should we love Christ? Why should we be devoted to God? Because God is supremely love and because love for God is the first and greatest commandment. The sum of all commandments and all religious service is love for God. In the beginning, God. And life must always begin with love for God if it is truly to begin because that is where life began. Nothing in life is more right and more rewarding than loving God. It’s the reason for which we were created. In fact, there’s a sense in which… And I want to be careful with these words. But there’s a sense in which love for God is a true loving of oneself. I don’t want to turn God into a utility. God is not there for us as much as we are here for him, but loving God is the best for us because God was first and life begun with a love for him.
And a life well lived and a life well enjoyed is a life that is centered and loving God. That’s why Augustine said, “Our hearts are restless until we find God.” That’s why CS Lewis said, in a very striking way, “Every time a man knocks on the door of a brothel, he’s really looking for God.” Life begins with God. And life begins with loving God. God was first and loving him as the first commandment. And thirdly, because love for others is next to love for God, Jesus goes on to tell us, doesn’t He, that the second commandment is like the first. You shall love your neighbor as yourself. Mark 12:31.
There is no other commandment greater than these. You cannot have one without the other. Love for God doesn’t just end with God. Love for God therefore will make us love like God, which means that our life will be fundamentally marked by loving others after the pattern of the cross. That’s why Francis Shaefer said that the right to judge a Christian is on the basis of observable love. Because in John 13 verse 35, what do we read? We are told to love each other as he has loved us. We must love God because God is supremely love, because love for God is the first and greatest commandment, because love for others is next to love for God, and because love is the touchstone of Christian discipleship. We’re to love our neighbors. That is those nearest to us in need. We’re to love them like God has loved us. And this is the mark of those who have been loved by God and touched by Calvary.
Just talking to my daughter this week, catching up, talking about her time at Villa Park and how she’s doing, she told me… You know what? She’s always being invited to parties. And she’s refusing them. And she told me about an incident just this week where she refused to go to a party and told the guy why she doesn’t want to go as a Christian. The things that go on there are not in keeping with her commitments and her love for God. And the guy said, “So then, you’re a Christian?” She said yes. And the guy went on to say this, “Are you the real deal? Are you a real Christian or one of these fake ones?” Which seems to infer there’s a lot of fake Christians running around Villa Park who seem to worship God in a Sunday and party with the world on a Monday. How does that jive?
Oh no, the authentic mark of discipleship, the true mark of a follower of Jesus Christ is a love, is a life marked by obedience and love for God and a concern for one’s neighbor based upon righteousness. There’s a fifth reason, just by way of introduction, because love is the crowning virtue of Christian character. When you get to the list of the fruits of the spirit, or the fruit of the spirit to be more accurate, in Galatians 5:22, that list is headed by love. Why? Why is it given pride of place? Because love is the queen of grace. To quote Thomas Watson, the Puritan, “It outshines the other graces as the sun does the planets. In fact, you see, love is the soil out of which all the other graces grow.”
I mean, what is temperance? It is love and harness. What is goodness? It is love and action. What is peace but love at rest? Love is the crowning virtue. So, is it any wonder, although Jesus sees many good things going on here at Ephesus, there’s another striking footnote to the report card. “I have this against you. You’ve left your first love.” And it really doesn’t matter what’s present if love is absent given the importance of love and love for God. Now, let’s get back into the text for the time that remains. We were working our way through the text expositionally under a number of headings. You’ll find them in your outline. We saw Christ’s comprehension. We saw the one who walks amidst the churches in Asia is fully aware of all that’s going on. He holds the seven stars, the leaders of those churches, in his hands. And he walks in the midst of the seven golden lamp stands.
We saw that Christ is aware of everything we do. And that smashes the illusion that you can get away with sin. Because remember, sin is often strengthened by the idea that you can escape the gears of God and the judgment of the life to come. Then, we moved on to see the commendation. The commendation. Christ acknowledges a list of things that are pretty impressive about this church. We noted their dynamism. We noted their durability. We noted their discernment. And if I might circle back to this whole idea of Christ’s knowledge of all that’s going on there… Because it’s Christ’s comprehension of them that leads to Christ’s commendation of them. The thought of Christ’s complete knowledge of us is, on the one hand, discouraging. We saw that. You cannot sin under God’s nose, so to speak. We sin in thought and deed in the full view of God’s holy consciousness.
There’s no immunity from sin. And we mustn’t deceive ourselves. There’s no hoodwinking of the holy. But on the other hand, the thought of God’s complete knowledge of us is rather encouraging because that means that God misses nothing, so that what we do will neither be forgiven or go unrewarded. Amen? That’s Hebrews six 10, right? “For God is not unjust so as to overlook your work and the love that you have shown for his name in serving the saints as you still do.”.
Listen to these words by Sam Storms. He hits the knee on the head. “Knowing that the Lord knows is not simply a reason to desist from sin. For the Christian, it is an encouragement and an incentive for perseverance and faithfulness and obedience. Perhaps you give some time every month to go and help in our children’s ministry. Maybe you work on our bulletins. Maybe you do things away from the spotlight of ministry here at the church. But you know this, my friend, Jesus knows your works. He sees you going into the prisons during the week. He sees you taking a meal to some in our body who are hurting. He sees you babysitting a young mother to give her a break. Jesus knows your works. And he’s not unjust to forget them or let them go unrewarded. And I think this is an encouragement as much as a discouragement.
It’s a discouragement from sin… to sin, but it’s an encouragement to indeed greater obedience. I like the story that Vance Havner tells in his book, Though I Walk Through the Valley, of an old and aged preacher in a small work. You’ll not read about this church in Christianity today. And there, he works. And one night, he was working late into the night on a sermon for a very small congregation. His wife inquired why he spent so much time on a message to gives to so few. To which he replied, “You forget my dear, how large my audience will be.”
He was conscious that there really is only an audience of one, even if there’s only two or three or four. In fact, Vance Havner adds, “Nothing is trivial when Heaven is looking on.” You may want to write that down. Nothing is trivial when Heaven is looking on. I know your works, your labor, your patience. You cannot bear those who are evil. And you have not become weary. We started to look then at the condemnation of Christ. Although, this was a five star church, the Lord Jesus Christ has a beef with them. And it centers around this. The one thing they must do above everything else, they’re failing to do, which affects the value and virtue of that which they do do. “Nevertheless, I have this against you, that you’ve left your first love.” And we saw that there’s nothing that can substitute for love; not service, not patience, not orthodoxy.
And those are things we hold very dear here at Kindred. We want to serve the Lord. We want to be fine standing when Jesus comes. And we want to be guardians of historic Protestant theology. But it’s not enough if it’s not all underwritten by a love for Christ which is spontaneous, first a kin of first love, that love that marks the early days of a marriage. And so, we started to ask three questions about this love; who, what, and when?
Who is it speaking of? What is it speaking of? And when did they leave it off? We answered two of those questions. I think it’s speaking mostly of love for Christ, some debate among the commentators over, could it not be love for the brethren? But one flows out of the other. I think it’s a bit of a chicken and an egg deal. But I think primarily it’s love for Christ because that’s the attention of the rest of the letters. And so, who has been left unloved? Christ. What is this first love that has been abandoned? We saw that it was the first flash of affection that binds two hearts together. It’s that time when the relationship in a marriage or a romance is personal and fresh and uninhibited and exciting and exclusive. And we don’t want to go back over that. But what about when? I think it’s important for you and I to realize that this predicament was not arrived at overnight, but over time. They left their first love in stages and by degrees.
There’s no sense in believing that this church left Christ as soon as they fell in love with him, not like they walked away from Christ during the honeymoon or the early days of their affection for him. In fact, when we come into the context of this letter, they have celebrated their Ruby anniversary. They are 40 years now established as a church from those days with Aquila and Priscilla and Paul and Anne, followed up by Timothy and John. This church has been 40 years in a relationship with Jesus Christ and second and third generation Christians have come, but they have fallen out of love with Christ. Look at verse five. “Remember therefore from where you have fallen.” The verb here is in the perfect tense, which indicates that a considerable amount of time has passed since the lapse began.
The perfect tense in the Greek speaks of an event that is complete and passed, but the effects of which continue to ripple forward. So, the departure point was some point back. They just didn’t fall out of love with Christ overnight. It wasn’t something that had just happened. It was something that had happened over time. The departure point was sometime back. And the effects of that departure had kept snowballing, to the point where the risen Christ has to step into the midst of this church and say, “You know what? Enough’s enough. I love all of this activity, but where’s the affection? I love all of this servant of me, but where’s this? Where’s the seeking of me?”
It seems that this had happened, imperceptibly, a step at a time. Let me say this. A creeping separateness was the problem. A chain reaction of inattention to spiritual disciplines, accumulated compromises, was the cause. The spiritual declension would be measured not in feet but in inches. In fact, there’s an interesting scenario going on in the harbor at Ephesus around this time. History tells us that this was a seaport city. It was a hub of commerce. It was the gateway to Asia. But over time, silt and sludge began to build up in the harbor at Ephesus, to a point where it affected transportation and trade.
Imperceptibly, beneath the waters of that seaport and that harbor, silt and sludge was building up that needed to be dredged. And it seems that, in this church, there was silt building up. The arteries of their love for Christ were hardening and closing over time, imperceptibly. They were close to a heart attack, spiritually speaking. And that’s why Christ stops in. And you and I need to remind ourselves that the killer of love is a creeping separateness. Listen. Marriages don’t blow up. They suffer from slow punctures. They don’t career off the road with a blowout. Usually, somebody falls asleep at the wheel. That’s the problem. Somebody’s not looking where they’re going. That’s the problem.
Listen to one writer. “The killer of love is creeping separateness, taking love for granted, especially after marriage. Finding separate interests, we turns into I, self, self-regard, what I want to do. The failure of love must seem to be caused by hate or boredom or unfaithfulness with a love. But these are the results. First came the creeping separateness. First came the failure behind the failures.”
And when people come into my office, they’re at each other’s throats. They’re about to throw the towel in, but we’ve got to take time to peel back the layers to get back to the failure behind the failures. And if you really get back to it, it’s a creeping separateness, inching away from each other, in prayer, in decision making in so many, many ways. And the failure behind any failure in the Christian life and one’s love for the redeemer is a creeping and seeping separateness from Christ.
But see, they were busy. They were busy doing all these things for Christ, while at the same time ignoring Christ. That’s the challenge, isn’t it? The problem is not paying attention to the relationship amid the busyness of service, and the call to duty, and the fight for truth. It’s that time of the year in the Midwest. June and I couldn’t believe it, but with the heat back up these past few days, we said, “Makes you miss the winter, doesn’t it?” And then, we caught ourselves on, going, “Are we crazy? 90 degrees, was it the last there too?”
We thought the summer was behind us. But in the Midwest, the summer’s over, the autumn’s coming on end, the leaves have changed color and now they begin to fall off… And things will turn rather cold. And if you go back, sometime in December, you’ll see some frozen lakes. June and I used to walk around a little lake near our home in Sylvania called Olander Park. It was one mile round in circumference. It was perfect for us kind of doing our exercises. It was often frozen. I saw that lake frozen but I never saw that leak freeze, because it happens imperceptibly. Just each week you go, deep down in the leak, the water temperature’s changing. And the frost and the freezing is building up. That’s not perceptible to the eye until, over time, you just kind of go round one day, and all of a sudden, the lake is solid ice and the kids are riding on it, playing ice hockey.
And you know what? What’s true of marriage is true of ministry. What’s true of our love for each other can be true of our love for Christ, this creeping separateness. You and I have got to be checking in with Christ all the time and letting Christ check up on us. We can be busy for him. Here’s a church that was doctrinally straight. Here’s a church that was fervently busy. Here’s a church that was standing for Christ in a crumbling culture. They were busy falling out of love with the Lord Jesus and they didn’t even see it. The departure point was sometime back. And a creeping separateness had brought them to a place where the Lord Jesus Christ had to step in.
I think you’ve heard me tell this story entitled Stages of the Cold. The husband’s reactions to his wife’s colds during seven years of marriage, the first year “Sugar dumpling. I’m really worried about my baby girl. You’ve got a bad sniffle and there’s no telling about these things with all the strap going around. I’m putting you in hospital. I know the food’s lousy, but I’ll bring you in meals from whatever favorite restaurant you choose.”
Second year. “Listen darling, I don’t like the sound of that cough. I’ll call the doctor. He’s rushing over. Now, you go to bed like a good girl for papa.”
Third year. “Maybe you’d better lie down honey. Nothing like a little rest when you feel lousy. I’ll bring you something. What about a can of soup?”
Fourth year. “Now, look dear, be sensible. After you feed the kids and do the dishes and mop the floor, you’d better rest.”
Fifth year. “Why don’t you take a couple of aspirin?”
Sixth year. “If you just gargle or something instead of sitting around barking like a seal all night.”
The seventh year. “For Pete’s sake, stop sneezing. Do you want to give us all pneumonia?”
I know that’s a bit of a parody, but isn’t it true? It often happens in marriage. The sweet nothings aren’t said anymore. The sacrifices aren’t made anymore. There’s this creeping separateness, this familiarity, this getting accustomed to one another. Those early days were marked by doing anything, at any time, to please the other person or be with the other person. Gone. The pressure of making a living, the burden of raising a family, the multiple commitments [inaudible]. The so many things pull us like a team of horses in a hundred directions. And the center goes, that center between husband and wife, and it’s true in ministry, that center between Christ and his church, which brings us to Christ’s correction. Christ’s correction.
Having diagnosed the problem, Jesus now writes a prescription, a prescription that will restore the blood flow to the heart of this damaged relationship. Look at verse five. “Remember therefore, from where you’ve fallen, repent and do the first works or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lamp stand from its place unless you repent.”
The prescription has three elements to it, three commands, three imperatives in the Greek. The Lord wants them, in seeking to rekindle the relationship, to remember, repent and repeat. Remember, repent and repeat. Now, before we get to those quickly, I want you to notice again something we made note of in our first sermon on this letter. This is a life or death prescription. I want to be honest about it. I’m pretty bad at that. I’ve actually prescriptions sitting in my home the doctors wrote probably a year ago. Thankfully, none of them are life or death prescriptions, but you know this is a life or death prescription. This church just didn’t have the sniffles. This was a church that had a life-threatening disease, a lack of love for Christ. And that would kill any ministry and kill any minister. And Jesus tells them and warns them, they better take this prescription, and they better swallow the medicine, “or else I’ll come quickly and remove your lamp stand from its place unless you repent.”
Basically, Jesus is saying, “If you don’t remember, if you don’t repent, and if you don’t repeat, the lights are going out in Ephesus.” Wow, the lights are going out in Ephesus. Didn’t God remove his glory from Israel? And right over a generation [inaudible] the glory has departed. You don’t think Jesus will close churches down that don’t honor his word, remember his Sabbath, keep his law, love his commands, preach his gospel? Of course, he will, because Christianity without Christ is useless. And Jesus will close the doors or he’ll just vacate the premises. Listen to this. The implication of this [inaudible] is that churches are continually on trial. This church is on trial. Christ wants to know, is his glory safe with us? Is his gospel safe with us? In the midst of all are doing, are we doing the things that really kind… loving him and loving others according to his word? Nothing is guaranteed. Churches comatose, denominations die, ministries implode that get away from this.
In fact, I want to tell you something. This is sad, because I speak of my home country. Many churches in Europe are being turned into mosques. In fact, I was reading a statistic yesterday, in Britain, Muslims now out number attendees to the Church of England, the state church. And in a few years, they will outnumber all church-going people in totality. And we could focus on the Islamic invasion. But I want to tell you something. The reason that those churches became mosques is because those churches left off loving Jesus Christ. Jesus closed those churches. They had one too many daffodil tea parties. They had one too many things going on that pleased man rather than God. They stopped preaching the word. They started accommodating people. Instead of slaying people’s bloated self-esteem and preaching repentance, they were talking up the goodness of man, which lays an ax to the tree of Calvary, where the power is in the preaching of the gospel.
You see Christ’s correction here? Guys, if you don’t do this, lights out. This church is under trial. May we indeed heed the warning of Christ. Now, we do know from history just a little footnote here. We do know from history that this church continued on to the fifth century. In fact, there was a council at Ephesus in 40… 431 AD. It was a council to condemn the Nestorian heresy, which taught that the Lord Jesus Christ existed in two separate persons, one divine and one human. So, we know that this church probably did repent to some degree, but we also know that, sometime on into this, the doors of this church closed and the lights went out. And if you visit Ephesus today, there is no history of a church in that community in recent years. In fact, by the 14th century, the whole city was uninhabited, quickly.
They were to remember. They were to repent. They were to repeat. The first commanders to remember. It’s an imperative. It’s in the present tense. It means keep on remembering, keep holding in your memory. What? The memory of the first love you’ve left. Remember, we believe that this concept is the early days of a love between a man and a woman. And it has its spiritual counterpart. It’s those early days when the grace of God swept you off your feet, when you were charmed by the love of God, when your heart fluttered at the thought and sight of the Lord Jesus Christ made known to you in the Holy Book.
Christ is calling them to go back to the very beginnings of grace, to those early days when the flesh of first love marked their lives in Christ. So, Jesus wants John to provoke them and to prod them by the use of memory and comparison of better days, sweeter fellowship, freer worship. And that is a good thing. One of the things you have to do in marriage counseling is to help the couple get their heads above the fog and look back to some better days, because they feel, with their nose pressed up against the problems, that it’s always been like this. No, it wasn’t always like this. There were better days, and so at the church at Ephesus. There were better days, sweeter fellowship, freer worship. Our Lord wants this church to remember life before they were saved and life immediately after they were saved.
In fact, we won’t turn to it, but Ephesians two verses one through 10 talks about that. Remember? He says, “You know what? You used to walk according to the course of this world. You were part of that company called the Children of Wrath. You were without Christ. You were without hope in this world. You were without God, but God in his mercy saved you. And he has planned works for you to do from all of eternity that will echo out into the life to come.” You and I, my friends need to spend time again and again remembering, remembering what you were without Christ, remembering what you have in Christ. Is that not one of the purposes of the Lord’s day?
I’m still very much for trying to keep Sunday as distinct as possible, not legalistically. I know, under the old covenant, the Sabbath had all kinds of rules and regulations. And according to the book of Hebrews, Christ now is my Sabbath and his grace is my rest. But it’s interesting, if you go back to Deuteronomy five, verse 15, you’ll read about the use of the Sabbath, that they are were to remember the Sabbath, to keep it holy. And they were to remember that they were once slaves in Egypt, but God, with an outstretched arm and a strong hand redeemed them. Remember, you were slaves. Is that not what the Lord’s days all about, you and I coming together singing great songs about the cross and what we were without Christ, his wrath abiding upon us? But the Damocles sword of God’s holy justice was lifted because of what Jesus did and because we have put our faith in him. Is that not the design of the Lord’s table, once a month we gather?
And we remember to do this as he has appointed us. We must keep remembering the psalms. Doesn’t he [inaudible] 103? “Bless the Lord, oh, my soul and forget not all his benefits.” That’s the problem. We forget all that he is and has become to us, all that we were, and undeserving what he has given to us.
John Stat said to look back and be sinful, but to look back and also be sensible. No point looking back over spilled milk. That doesn’t change anything, get caught up in regret and go over old sins, sins that have been forgiven. You need to put a flag over those sins. No fishing. Don’t go back there. And don’t go back and get lost in nostalgia, the good old days that weren’t so good. All of that’s just sinful and not helpful. I’ll tell you what’s helpful, to go back and remember how God reached down and saved you, how he changed your heart, how he fixed your marriage, how he mended your home. Go back to those early days, those beginnings of grace. Towards the end of his life, John Newton, who wrote Amazing Grace, began to lose his memory.
And one, day a friend was talking to him about that. And he says, “You know what? I have lost retention of many things, but there are two things I remember very much, that Jesus is a great savior and John Newton was a great sinner.” It’s good to keep the memory of those beginnings of grace alive. It’ll keep you falling in love with the Lord Jesus. They were to remember. They were to repent. To repent of what? To repent of the fact that they have fallen. Remember therefore, from where you have fallen. Repent then.
Their loveless ness was a sin that had to be shed, taken off and set aside like a soiled garment. The tense is the aorist tense, which signifies a single action of lasting value. Jesus was saying. “Enough of this. I know you’re serving me. I know the word’s being preached. I know you’re persevering, but here’s what you’re not doing. You’re not loving me in an uninhibited, spontaneous, free unguarded manner. And enough of it. Stop it right now. It might have taken you a while to get here, but it’s got to stop here.”
Jesus is issuing that command to us. The sin was grave, the danger of discipline immediate. Therefore, repentance had to be swift and total. And if Christ is putting his finger on things in your life, where you’re beginning to leave your first love, you immediately need to turn around. That’s what repentance says. It’s an about turn. It’s not a simple, sorry. It’s a coming to one’s senses. It’s an acknowledgement of the wrong perpetrated. It’s a confession of that wrong. And it’s a commitment of a heart by God’s grace that’s going to change the behavior that was marked by that wrong. Repentance is not for the squeamish. Repentance is not a shine away from the pain of fixing that which has been broken or dislocated.
I’ve told you the story, haven’t I? Of the man who would pray almost every week in the prayer meaning, “Oh God, blow the cobwebs from my heart.” And what he was asking God to do was bring about a change. And he repeated this prayer again and again, to a point where our brother got frustrated. And after the man get up and said, “Oh God, blow away the cobwebs of my heart,” the brother prayed, “Oh God, kill the spider.” It’s like, oh, let’s get to the root of the issue. Acknowledge it and change. Commit yourself to change. Just keep… Don’t keep repeating the sin and repeating the confession. Repent. William Colonel, the Puritan, said to foresee sin is to leave it without any thought of returning again. They were to repeat. They were to repeat. The command itself is in the present tense. It’s a tap on the shoulder by the Lord calling this backsliding church to return to repeating the things they did at first. He wasn’t asking them to do new things so much as he was asking them to do old things, but in a new way.
Oh, in those early days they served, and in those early days they stood up for the gospel. In those early days, they turned their faces into the wind of adversity and persevered. But they did it out of this overflow and over over spill of love for Christ. And now, they were just doing those things without that motive, without that goal in mind to please him. They were asked to go back and repeat what they had done from the beginning. In two minutes, as the team prepares to come up, Christ’s compensation. I want to get to this. Then I will close in with the closing song.
Look at verse seven of chapter two. “He who has an ear, let him here what the spirit says to the churches.” By the way, Christ, up until this point, has addressed them in the second person, plural. Now, he calls him to repent in the singular. “He who has an ear, let him hear.” Hear what? Hear remember, hear repent, and hear repeat. Churches don’t repent. Christians do. And although we are hearing this together, this message has a particular individual application to you. And you’ve got to hear what the spirit’s saying. Is there a creeping separateness to your walk with Christ? But here’s what he says. “To him who overcomes, I will give to eat from the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God.”
This is a promise to those who overcome. The over comers are those who return to a proper love for Christ and persevere to a final victory. And their reward is access to the tree of life in the paradise of God. I think the tree of life, which you find back in the Book of Genesis, is simply a symbol of all the goodness that God wants to lavish and knows he loves.
And the word paradise here is a word from the Persian culture. And it speaks of luxurious gardens and parks that kings would walk in. It speaks of companionship and the intimacy of friends. And here’s the promise. If you’ll overcome, you’ll get to eat from the tree of life in the midst of the paradise of God. It’s really a promise of heaven, a fellowship with God. Of all that God will lavish upon those, I have not seen and near half not heard, neither has entered into our heart all the things that God wants to do us.
Remember, heaven is the absence of all that is bad, the presence of all that is good. And in Revelation 22, you’ll read about the tree of life being in the new garden of God, the new heavens and the new earth. Let me say something quickly, less I’m misunderstood, and make the closing point. This does not imply that you get the heaven because you overcome. Heaven’s not a reward. Heaven’s a gift. Salvation’s by grace, through faith, not of works lest any man should boast. Rather heaven is the lot of those who are saved and those who are saved overcome. Jesus assumes that some people won’t hear this. They’ll never see the tree of life. They’ll never enter heaven. But those who are overcoming ones, true Christians, those who persevere in faith, they will see Christ and they will enjoy heaven. And it’s not a reward.
Overcoming is simply another designation for being a Christian. This isn’t a special category of Christians. In one John four and five, verses four and five, we read that our faith overcomes the world. An overcomer is someone who’s got faith in Christ and they overcome the world in Christ. And so, there’s this promise of heaven. And the language is beautiful, isn’t it? Time doesn’t allow me to explore it, but it takes us back to Genesis, the Tree of Life, the Garden of Eden. And remember what we said in our first study in Revelation? Revelation’s kind of one of the book ends. And the other book end is Genesis. All that was begun in Genesis will be brought to a final conclusion in Revelation.
Sin began in Genesis and will be put to an end in Revelation. The promise of redeemer and the work of salvation was outlined in Genesis and it comes full circle in Christ, in the redemption of a people that can’t be numbered. You have this beautiful picture of the tree of life. And we are invited to come to it. But remember, after man’s sin, back in the Book of Genesis, man was put out of the garden. And a cherubim was put at the gate to the garden of Eden to fend man off.
But now, access is now being offered because of another tree, the tree called Calvary, where Jesus Christ, the son of God, virgin born, sinless in life and behavior and nature, gave himself an atoning death for us. And the wrath of God was poured upon him. He became the sheath for the sword of God’s righteous anger, directed towards those who had broken his law. It was a just anger. It was a right indignation. And Christ assumes that sentence. Christ assumes that anger so that God, a holy God, can turn and offer us forgiveness. And the cherubim has been replaced by Christ. The flaming cherubim has been replaced by a bleeding savior. Christ is. In the greatest sense of it, the tree of life himself.
My father told me of a visit he made the France just a couple of years ago. He went to one of the war sites of the first World War, an area called the Somme. The battle of the Somme was one of the most bloody engagements of that futile war, in many ways. In the first day, the British lost 60,000 men; 20,000 dead, 40,000 casualties.
And my dad told me about an interesting tree that you’ll find petrified in the no man’s land between the British and the Canadian, the Australian and the French lines, and the Germans. It was called the danger tree because there it set, kind of out there in the middle of no man’s land. All the other trees had basically been flattened. But somehow, this tree stood. And today, you can find it standing there alone, petrified because of the shells and the explosions. But the thing is, when the British or the Canadians or the Australians got to that tree, it was the danger tree because it was there that they met with a wall of German machine gun bullets. And bodies would be piled high. The danger tree. To go past that tree or to get to that tree was a dangerous thing.
My friend, as we close and we sing a song about God’s amazing love, you need to understand that the Lord Jesus Christ turned the tree that he hung on, which was an instrument of death, into a tree of life. And to those that come to that tree, there is life, there is forgiveness, there is a way back to God from the dark paths of sin. There is a door that is opened and you may go in. It’s at Calvary’s cross. That’s where you begin, when you come as a sinner to Jesus. But I want to warn you, as we close, you go past that tree, you ignore the blood, you think there’s another way beyond Christ and you will walk into a wall of God’s weathering anger in a future day.
We trust, if you don’t know him this morning, that you’ll put your faith in him. If you do know him, I think the final promise and the point is this, I loved you like this and I want you to love me back. Let’s pray. Oh God, we come this morning and pray that the word of Christ will find a home in our hearts, that indeed we will be challenged to think about a creeping separateness between us and him.
Oh God, the world badgers us every day to leave him. Sometimes, we can get so busy doing good things, we don’t get around to doing the best things. We can work without praying. We can turn even the study of your word into an academic exercise and leave off confronting and encountering the truth himself. But God, cause us to remember, cause us to repent, causes to repeat. And help us to fall in love again with the one who showed to us such amazing love. Amen. Let’s stand and sing.