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Let’s take our Bibles and turn to Revelation chapter 1:19. Want to come back to finish a message I started last Sunday morning entitled There’s Only One Opinion That Counts. We’re looking here at these seven letters addressed to seven particular churches from the risen Lord. And while there are many opinions today on what the church ought to be in the world and what the church ought to do in the world, there’s only one opinion that counts. It’s not any pastor, it’s not any pollster, it’s not any minister, it’s not any marketer. It’s the Lord Jesus Himself. So we want to return and hear what the Risen Lord says because John tells us here in Revelation 1:19, the preface, the archway into these this material in the seven churches. “Write the things which you have seen and the things which are and the things which will take place after this.”
“The mystery of the seven stars, which you saw in my right hand and the seven golden Lamb stands. The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches and the seven Lamb stands, which you saw are the seven churches.” For you sports fans out there. Maybe you remember Leo the Lip. He was the famous coach at the Dodgers and then I think he finished his career as a coach with the Cubs. When he retired he was recognized as the fifth all-time coach in baseball history. And as I read something of Leo Durocher’s life and legacy, I was interested to learn that the explanation he give for his retirement said something of the changing emphasis on authority in our culture. As he was stepping down, he has reportedly said, “I’m retiring because, one, sit down, shut up and listen won’t work anymore.”
It seems that leaders today compared to leaders of the past ought to listen more, leaders ought to be more relational. Leadership is more of a shared experience and all ought to be at aside. I hope that the church of the Lord Jesus Christ recognizes that in the headship of Jesus Christ over the church, Jesus Christ has the royal right to tell us to sit down, shut up and listen. He has sent us seven letters and at the end of each of these letters, the spirit of God tells us, “He that hath an ear, let him hear.” Sit down, shut up and listen because the head of the church is speaking and His is the only opinion that counts when it comes to the life and mission and philosophy of those that claim to be New Testament believers.
And so we started into looking at these letters in a general way before we specifically and particularly look at each succeeding letter. We looked last week at the sender of the letters. If you take your outline in the bulletin, and we saw that the Lord Jesus Christ is the author of these letters and they are postmarked heaven. As we saw Him as the sender, we noted His centrality. He’s amidst the churches and we noticed His control. He holds the leaders of each local church in His hand. Then we moved on to look at the setting of these letters. We thought it was interesting to see where they’re placed in the overall flow of this prophecy we call the Book of the Revelation.
And as we looked at their setting in the flow of the book, we saw that the setting of these letters encourages us to long for the second coming. If you’re with us last week, we noted the parallelism between chapters 2 and 3, and chapters 21 and 22. Here you have a struggling church in a wicked world seeking to hold up the lamb stand, the light of the gospel for Jesus Christ, impure Christians and imperfect churches. But when you get to the end of the book of the Revelation, you have the temple of God among men. You have Christ as the light of heaven and earth itself. You have the saints basking in the glory of God’s righteousness and love for them. And it seems to wet our appetite that while we are the church and earth, we long to be the church in heaven.
It has us longing for that state of perfection for that coming day when all the wrongs will be made right. But it also encourages us not only to long for the second coming, it encourages us to live for the second coming. Let’s come back now and consider the setting of these letters. We have a tendency to leap frog over the opening chapters of the book of the Revelation. See, the prophetic buffs among us, we like to sink our teeth into the juicy passages that relate to the action-packed end of the world to the rise of Christ, to the demise of antichrist. And that’s all good and well, but you’ll miss something if you neglect chapters one through three, you’ll neglect the things which are.
Remember what John was told to write? “Write the things which you’ve seen.” That’s chapter one and the glorified Lord Jesus Christ in His exalted position no longer humbled before man, but He told also to write the things which are, that’s chapters two and three, the church on Earth with the prospect of the church age and the unfolding history of redemption among New Testament believers. And then there’s the things which will take place after this. And we may want to get to the things that take place after this, but we mustn’t neglect the things which are because prophecy is not a narcotic to dull us from the pain of life. It’s a steroid to stimulate holy and hopeful living. In fact, one eighth of this book is taken up with these seven letters.
You would have to conclude that these are important. Don’t be leapfrogging over to those juicy passages of blood and thunder and then time judgment. Now let’s think about the things which are how are we living in the light of Christ’s soon return. Does the glorified and risen Lord have authority in our lives? Are we sitting down and shutting up and listening to His word day by day and allowing it to be a light onto our path and lamp onto our feet? As Vance Havner has well said, “There are too many Christians who have all their dispensations right and all their dispositions wrong.” We need to master our dispensation before we go mastering other dispensations.
And so in the flow of this prophecy concerning the setting of these letters, what do we learn? We learn what Peter tells us in 1 Peter 4:17. The judgment begins where? In the house of God. Before the Lord Jesus Christ will judge the unsaved, He will discipline the saved. Before He proceeds to judge the world, He will discipline those whom He loves, His people. He will purge His church and make her ready as His bride for that eternal home he’s prepared for us. That’s why these letters constitute a call to the church to repent. Again and again, in five of the seven letters you’ll find the word repent. That’s the consistent call issued by the Lord Jesus to the church at Ephesus. “Remember therefore from where you’ve fallen and repent. To the church at Pergamum, repent therefore I’ll shall come quickly.”
“Thyatira, I give her time to repent and she does not want to repent. Sardis, remember therefore what you’ve received and heard and keep it and repent. Laodicea, be zealous therefore and repent.” Jesus is coming for them and considering the fact that they are compromising with the world, they need to return again to Him. There needs to be repentance and renewal in the church. Jesus wants to purify us as a people and that’s why five of the seven churches are told to repent. The house of God needs some spiritual renovation. Five out of seven, 70% of the churches in Asia needed revival and renewal. That means 70% of the Christians in Asia needed repentance and revival.
There was lovelessness at Ephesus, there was worldliness at Pergamum, there was ruthlessness at Thyatira, there was emptiness at Sardis, there was fullness at Laodicea, a pride, arrogance, lack of humility. They needed to make a new beginning. And is it not the case that what’s true of them is true of us? Are not we to be longing for the second coming and living for the second coming? It’s interesting that along with this call to repentance, Jesus stokes that thought with the prospect of His soon return and the attendant rewards that come with it. When he calls the believers in Israel to repent, He always kind of challenges them with regards to the life that is to come and the awards that are await those who are faithful.
To Ephesus, He says, “To him who overcomes our will grant to eat of the tree of life which is in the paradise of God.” To the church at Pergamum, he says, “To him, he overcomes, I will give some of the hidden mana and I will give him a white stone and a new name written on the stone which no one knows or receives.” To the church Thyatira He says, “And he who overcomes and he who keeps my deeds until the end, to him I will give authority over the nations.” And we could go on repeating this fact that as He calls them to repentance, He tells them to renew their dedication in the light of His soon and imminent return. They need to discipline themselves so that He doesn’t discipline them because Christ will discipline the church before he judges the world. Judgment begins at the house of God.
His return must lead to our return. Do some of us need to return this morning? Do some of us need to repent this morning of lovelessness, a lack of doctrinal integrity, a lack of moral integrity? Are we full of pride? Are we prayerless? Do we act as if we don’t need God or we need to trust His word on a daily basis? We need to put our houses in order before the master returns. We need to take time to tune up. Came across an interesting story this week by Mark Brewer in his book Spiritual Quotient. And then he tells the story of a man by the name of Henry who had a tumor in his brain. This was back in the sixties. And Henry decided along with his Dr. Penfield to operate. It was a very risky procedure back then. Risky enough now even more so back then.
They removed the tumor, which certainly preserved and protected his life, but as a consequence, he lost his long-term memory. He couldn’t remember anything about himself, where he was born. He actually had to be reintroduced to his doctor, to his wife, to his family, to his friends. He lost his long-term memory and yet that was complicated by the fact that he did have a short-term memory that returned occasionally. The story I read referenced the fact that he had a fevered uncle who had died the previous year and every time Henry asked about him out of his short-term memory, he was told that the uncle had died. And without a long-term memory and the scourge of this short term memory that come in and out, he would grieve all over again.
And that was repeated in so many different ways in his life. He was a slave to the moment. Everything provoked a reaction, either of laughter or grief, even the things he should have been aware of. He was a slave to the moment. And I was challenged by that story to remind myself that as a Christian I must never become a slave to the moment. I must always remember who I am, who’s I am, why I’m here and where I’m going. And I need to constantly repent. I need to constantly reorder my life in the light of the second coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. The thought of heaven must inform my values, determine my choices, motivate my holiness, drive my evangelism and put my worship into high gear.
That’s the setting of the letters. Compared to the end of the book they challenge us to long for the second coming. Compared to what follows the church age, they call us to live for the second coming. Let’s move on to the structure of the letters. We won’t spend a lot of time here. This is not where I’m going to hang my hat in this study, but you do need to note, and you’ll see it as we go through the letters, successively that there is a repeated format in each of the letters. There’s a symmetry to each section. There’s a definite literary structure to this correspondence from the risen Christ. Let me just give you the heads-up.
If you look at each letter in your own time this week, you’ll see it always begins with a command written to the angel or the pastor or messenger of the church that’s always followed by a self-description of Christ that’s taken from chapter one and made particularly applicable to the church it’s being addressed to, that’s followed by a condemnation of the church’s good works, that’s followed then by an accusation of sin in the life of the church. With that recognition and accusation of sin, there comes an exhortation to repent. Following the exhortation to repent, there’s an exhortation to discern the truth of what is preceded in that refrain, “He that hath an ear let him hear.” That’s repeated in every letter.
And then it’s always rounded up or for the most part with a promise to overcome. Do this, hang in there, continue to struggle for holiness and fight against the world that seeks to press you into its mold because in the end it will be worth it all when we see Jesus. That’s the structure, and I could leave it there. Maybe there is no application to me. Again, I’ve got to be careful about stretching the point, but I did think about the fact that these letters, as we noted, are really oracles. They’re prophecies. They are prophecies and there’s an order to them. And although this may simply be a piece of Bible trivia, I do think it has a secondary application to preaching or to the presentation of God’s word.
And I think the challenge is this, when you preach God’s word, when you present the Bible to people, do it in an orderly fashion. Communicate effectively. Jesus didn’t share his thoughts with his church in some kind of haphazard mish mash fashion. There’s not a jumble of thoughts here in these letters. Jesus takes them through a pattern. Jesus works within a structure and I think that’s a challenge to all preachers and teachers. Cut the tax straight and then as you yield truth from the tax, express it in a clear, cogent and compelling fashion. Martin Lloyd Jones defined preaching like this, “Logic set on fire. Logic set on fire.” What he means by logic, he doesn’t mean worldly wisdom. All true logic is derived from the Logos Himself. Christ who is the repository of all knowledge and truth. As we draw logic from the Logos, we then presented cogently and clearly and compellingly and I think God uses that.
That’s why for the most part preaching is not about sharing, it’s about declaring the risen Christ’s mandate to His church and we need to do it clearly. Hendricks is known for saying, at Dallas Seminary, “If there’s a mist in the pulpit, there’s a fog in the pew.” And there was no foggy thinking amidst the churches at Asia because Jesus took them through a structure. He gets the attention of the pastor. There’s a Christological centricity to all that’s going to be said. Christ recognizes the good, but He points out the body, calls into repentance and He excites them with the thought of heaven and rewards to follow. Sometimes when a man of letters or from a seminary or a professor with some theological background uses double joint words and obscure terms, everybody kind of goes, “Wow, he’s brilliant.” They didn’t understand a thing he said, but he’s brilliant.
Not really. I think it was Rogers said, “A muddy river’s not always deep.” We don’t need preachers like Alan Greenspan. You remember him? No, let’s not think about him at all. The Federal Reserve Board chairman at one point is famous for kind of double-jointed words and obscure terminology. In fact, one time a little bit tongue in cheek, he’s reported to have said, “If I seem unduly clear to you, you must have misunderstood what I said.” But that should never be said of a preacher or a teacher. Okay. The structure of the letters, the sender of the letters, the setting of the letters. Here’s an interesting thing, the solidarity of the letters. For the most part, I’ll bet you most of you missed this thought. And the point here is this, that these letters, although written to particular churches are also addressed to the church at large.
There’s a certain catholicity to these letters and there are a number of letters in the New Testament we call Catholic letters. The word Catholics, not a word to be frightened of when you put Roman in front of it maybe. But the word itself just means universal. Universal. These letters are Catholic letters like Paul had a couple of Catholic letters, one was Colossians. And what do we mean by that? Was when you read Colossians at the end of that letter in Colossians 4:16, he says the same thing in 1 Thessalonians means 5:27. He wants that correspondence to be read by other churches and by other Christians. While it had a particular relevance to a local assembly, it was Catholic in appeal, Catholic in nature.
And it’s the same here, and here’s how I know it. Number one, every letter finishes with a conjunction. All right, sorry. Every letter begins with a conjunction after the letter to the Ephesians. Look at chapter 2:8, “Onto the angel of the church in Smyrna.” Look at chapter 2:12, “Onto the angel of the church in Pergamos.” Look at chapter 2:18, “Onto the angel of the church in Thyatira.” And that’s true of all the other letters. They’re joined. They’re joined together by this conjunction. These letters are bound together in one book so to speak. They belong to the book of the Revelation. Now while the book of the Revelation got to Ephesus, it was read in Thyatira and it was read and Sardis. And so those churches read about the other churches and the other churches read about those churches. There’s a solidarity to those letters.
You’ll also see it by the fact that the end of each letter you have that refrain, “He who has an ear let him hear what the spirit says to the church at Ephesus.” No, it doesn’t say that, right? It says to the churches plural. These are Catholic letters. There’s an appeal beyond the immediate recipients. And I think that’s so important. And I want to make a couple of applications that I think is rather challenging and applicable today. If someone wants to describe Kindred Community Church, they may describe it like this. We are a Bible believing, independent, non-denominational church. That’s okay, but we got to be very careful with that language. And I’ll just underline one phrase in that language, independent church. We are not an independent church. We were never called to be an independent church because we are in union with all those who are in union of Christ.
And we’ve got to be careful about language. I know what we’re trying to say because as biblicists, we believe that every local church is autonomous. We don’t believe in a papacy, we don’t believe in an episcopy. We don’t even believe in a presbytery in the sense that Presbyterians understand. That we believe that every local church is self-governing, self-sustaining, self-propagating. And so there is a doctrine of the independence of the local church, the autonomy of the local church. But I don’t want to take that too far lest we take from that where some isolated group that’s cultish, that’s cultish. No, we are an independent church under Christ, hopefully led by godly men, driven by the word of God.
We are independent in that sense. But you know what? We’re only one little chapter of the story. We’re only one part of the family. And you know what? Right across Orange County this morning, other clumps and other parts of the family’s meeting, and there’s a certain community or what the old theologians call the communion of the saints. We belong together because we belong in unity with Him. And so I wanted to make this statement and if you’re thinking, “Man.” You’ll write it down and think about it. While each church is a whole church, each church is not the whole church. And so in the Bible you’ll see an independence recognized, but you’ll see an interdependence recognized, that’s biblical.
In fact, if you read the New Testament, you’ll see that they leaned on each other and they learned from each other. They didn’t stand in isolation from one another. The Bible seems to hold out a beautiful balance between autonomy of the local church and loving interchurch fellowship. They had a certain conscious awareness that they belong to a kind of cosmic family of believers beyond themselves. Look at Colossians chapter 1:6. Colossians chapter 1:6, and you’ll see what I’m talking about when Paul says this. In fact, we’ll back up into verse five, “Because of the hope which is led up for you in heaven, of which you heard before the word of the truth of the gospel, which has come to you as it also has in all the world and it’s bringing forth fruit as it is also among you since the day you heard and knew the grace of God and truth.”
Paul’s recognizing when this church was formed and he’s rejoicing in it, but he wants them to know just as you God, sea of them started the form as an assembly of New Testament baptized believers across the world that was happening also. You belong to a big family, the body of Christ, all those baptized into the body by His spirit. And what happens in one congregation should gain the full interest of another congregation. Stay that letter. Go to chapter 4:16, I referenced it earlier. “Now when this epistle is read among you, see that it also read in the church at the Laodiceans.” Was the letter addressed to the Laodiceans? No. But what was going on in Colossi was important to those in Laodicea. And then those in Laodicea should have been important to those in Colossi. No competition in the early church.
They also were guided by directives that went to one church and then was put out to all. I’ll just give you a verse in that direction. 1 Corinthians chapter 7:17, Paul says this, “But as God has distributed to each one, as the Lord has called each one, so let Him walk. And so I ordained it in all the churches.” There’s certain things you’ll see in the New Testament letters that what Paul expected in Corinth, he expected in the other churches in the other cities. That’s why although churches are different, although as you travel even within our own county or across the world, you’ll see different expressions of the life of Christ in the body of Christ. There should be at the core a certain familiarity.
There should be certain things that mark churches that own the name of Christ. And we could go on extrapolating and explaining this, but I think the point I simply want to make and it bears maybe some further preaching someday, in the truest sense of the word there’s no such a thing as an independent church. Every church is enriched by the support and resources of other churches and other Christians. We do not write our own Sunday school material for the most part, we do not compose our own songs. Many of the missionaries we support come from other fellowships. Rugged individualism, territorialism has nothing to do with New Testament Christianity.
A highly independent church with a fortress mentality is an ugly thing in the sight of God. I want to say that again. We need to hear it. A highly independent church with a fortress mentality is an ugly thing in the eyes of God. Some applications for us as elders and for us as a church, we need to do more thinking about how do we enrich ourselves with enriching relationships with other churches of like faith and practice. Maybe a start will be the 16th of January where we work with Compass Bible Church and Lisa Viejo for a prophecy conference to benefit both our churches and other believers in our community. In application we must seek a greater involvement in the worldwide body of Christ with all its varied histories and cultures.
In application we must guard against, “And I only am left,” mentality. Remember Elijah? “I only am left, pure me, but Lord I’ll hold the fort.” And God says, “You idiot, there’s 7,000 who haven’t bowed the knee.” We should shun the idea that we are the only ones doing it. You know what? I’ve picked that up a little. Sometimes I can escape from my lips or from our lips. We need to guard that kind of thinking Because we are not the only show in time so to speak. We’re not the only place that God is doing a work. And the true badge of distinction for a church is love not that we are not like other churches
In application, we must recognize Christ in others even other traditions. Now, I don’t mean at the expense of the gospel. I won’t fellowship with anybody who doesn’t know who Jesus is and what He did on the cross. And that faith alone is the means by which we secure the imputed righteousness of Christ where we’re made justified by God’s grace. No compromise on the gospel and the fundamentals of the faith. But we also realize that there are points of genuine theological difference among good people. We don’t have to be identical twins, as when someone told me, to be brothers and sisters in Christ. I like the story of the man who ran to stop another man from flinging himself off a bridge into a river.
He said, “Why are you killing yourself?” And the man said, you know what? I have nothing to live for.” The guy said, “Don’t you believe in God?” “Yes I do.” “What a coincidence, so do I. Are you a Jew or are you a Christian?” The guy said, “I’m a Christian.” “What a coincidence, so am I. Protestant or Catholic?” “Protestant.” “What a coincidence, so am I. Baptist or Anglican? “Baptist.” “What a coincidence, so am I. Pre-millennial or a millennial?” “Pre-millennial.” “What a coincidence, so am I. Pre-trib, mid-trib?” “Mid-trib.” And the guy pushes him off the bridge and as the guy falls dying, he shouts, “Die you heretic.”
I know it’s a silly story, but if we can get by the humor of the tragedy is that’s sometimes what happens. So much commonality in Christ, so much agreement around the gospel. There’s some things you have to think through. Al Mueller did it in an article a number of years ago, really helped me called it Theological Triage. If there’s an accident, multiple casualties that come into an ER ward and the triage nurse, it’s a French word, has to decide who gets the treatment first. And we do need to apply a certain theological triage. We ought to be cooperating with believers where we center on the gospel. Could we plant the church with someone that doesn’t believe in believers’ baptism or the autonomy of a local church? Probably not. And you have to think through those issues of levels of involvement. But what we don’t want is a silo mentality. A kind of hunkered on us only mentality.
I remember when the elders were interviewing me, they were asking me, I don’t know for themselves or for people in the congregation, “Are you going to turn Kindred Community Church into a Baptist church?” And I think I knew what they were trying to say, but at the same time I want to step back from up and ask myself, but let’s make sure that we don’t just stay this kind of independent, non-denominational church kind of doing our own thing. Whatever you are, associations are good and fellowships with those who love Christ are good where you co-opt and work together and for the sake of the gospel and the spread of the Savior of the Lord Jesus Christ across the world. You see the solidarity of these churches. Spurgeon said it all was odd to him that some people think so much about what God teaches them and so little about what God teaches others.
Okay. The symbolism in the last few minutes, the symbolism of the seven churches. Why seven letters? Good question. What’s the significance of seven letters sent by Christ through John to these particular churches? Because there were other churches actually in Asia of equal importance. In fact, some probably of greater importance if you measure it a certain way. There was a church in Troas, Acts 20:5. There was a church in Colossi. There’s a whole letter addressed to the church in Colossi. They’re in the Lycus Valley, they are an Asia minor. They’re not far from Laodicea. Colossians 1:12, you’ve got Hierapolis, Colossians 4:13. Other churches in Asia. Why the seven? Here’s my best answer.
Here’s my best answer. Since seven is the number of completeness, it’s probably the key that although these letters are addressed to real churches in concrete situations, they are generally representative of conditions existing elsewhere and conditions that will persist until Jesus comes. I think you’ve got seven because these seven churches and their particular problems and the particular circumstances they’re in is rather representative of what the church at large faces. And that’s why we have at the end of each letter, “He that hath an ear, let him hear what the spirit’s saying to the church.” To say what’s going on in Ephesus is probably going on over where you’re at. What’s going on at Pergamos is probably happening where you live.
And so that’s how I understand the symbolism of these letters. These seven churches are real churches and these letters were written first of all to them to address a problem. But you know what? They’re representative of things that are kind of universally true by way of obedience or disobedience in the life of all other churches. Christian Stem said this, “Just as the seven spirits in the book of Revelation are none other say of the Holy Spirit.” In chapter 1:4, we read of the seven spirits of God. We know there’s not seven spirits. There’s one spirit, but seven’s being used there as a term of completeness. So he says, “Just as the seven spirits in the book of Revelation and none other say of the one Holy Spirit and the completeness of His activity, so from one aspect the seven churches are but one church of Christ.”
Now, time’s gone on me. So here’s what I’ll say. If you want this answered, ask me for the information, but I want you to know I do not believe that these seven churches represent seven ages across church history. Many pre-millennial, especially prophetic scholars offer up the idea that they’re kind of chapters in the unfolding of church history. The Ephesus, the apostolic church, Smyrna, the Roman persecution, Pergamum, the age of Constantine, Thyatira, the age of the dark ages in the Catholic Church, Sardis, the Reformation, Philadelphia, the missionary movement, Laodicea today in the apostacy that’s going on. I don’t believe that’s true for a whole lot of reasons and you’ll have to ask me.
But fundamentally, these are letters are addressed to churches and that’s what the tax tells us. It doesn’t tell us that their ages, they tell us their churches. Seven kinds of churches that have existed in each period. And a careful analysis of church history will show you that you really can’t fit those together that tidily. You ever hear of Procrustes? He’s part of Greek mythology, and when he got his enemy, he had a bed and when he put them on the bed, if they were too long, he cut their heads off and they were too short he stretched them to fit the bed. That’s Procrustean hermeneutics. When you try to fit all those ages into those seven churches, it just doesn’t work.
Here’s the point, they’re typical, the representative. Let’s quickly go through them in about two or three minutes. The church at Ephesus is a church that although hive of activity was busy falling out of love with Christ. Does that ring a bell? Can anybody identify with that? The danger of carrying Christ in your Bible but not in your heart? Here’s the church made up of second generation Christians who had lost the authenticity and fervor of their fathers who had left their first love. The church at Smyrna was a church that kind of at a privilege not only to believe on Christ but to suffer for him. They’re told to be faithful on the death. Martyrdom for them was a lifestyle, not just an event at the end of one’s life. This was a church made up of people who understood the Christianity costs you something. “A Christianity that costs you nothing,” says JC Ryle, “Is worth nothing.”
The church at Pergamum represents the church that’s become a country club. Worldliness and sexual immorality was infiltrating the church of Pergamos in chapter 2:13 through 15. This was a worldly and accommodating church. This was a church made up of people who were happy that Christ died for their sins, but they never intended to die to their sins. The Church of Thyatira was a church of theological compromise. They had been listening to the false prophetess. Chapter 2:20, this was a kind of buffet style faith, take the bit you like, discard the you don’t like. There was no theological discernment. They had watered down the gospel and there was a theological liberalism that began to breed moral libertinism. Bad theology leads to what? Bad behavior. This was a church made up of people who were happy to be in error and sin.
What about the church at Sardis? They had a name that they were alive, but what? They were dead. Here’s a church living off its reputation. Here’s a church that was living in the afterglow of others’ authenticity and others’ work. This was a church made up of Christians who simply were going through the motions. Ring a bell? Challenge anybody? Does it seem applicable this morning? These are seven churches that you’ll find alive today. These are seven churches full of sin, all kinds of Christians who struggle with their walk with God. This church at Philadelphia took the open door of opportunity. Here was a church that was given to missions and passion for evangelism. They lived as Christians for a dying world.
And the church at Laodicea full of itself but empty of God. Is that not a frightening letter? Full of self, empty of God. This was a church made up of Christians who were pride and prayerless, and who were in the crosshairs of God’s discipline. As the team comes up and we get to our closing song, 70% of these churches and these Christians needed to repent. Do we not need to repent? In fact, let’s be honest about it. As some of the old puritans used to say, “We even need the repent of our repentance because too often it’s not real.” Too often it’s shallow and weak. As we look this morning in closing in the mirror of God’s word, do we not see reflections of ourselves among the Christians at Ephesus and Sardis and Smyrna and Philadelphia and Pergamum and Laodicea?
Surely we do. I have this week as I’ve spent time there and we’re going to look at each letter successively like the story. Dr. Robert G. Lee, famous pastor of a church in Memphis where leader Adrian Rogers was the pastor until his death. He preached one excoriating sermon against sin one day, he pulled no punches. And at the end of it, a lady whose fathers had been ruffled met him at the door and said, “Pastor, I didn’t appreciate the sermon one little bit.” To which Dr. Lee replied, “The devil didn’t like it either.” Classify yourself.
The thing is we go through these letters as we look at each of them in each city, in each church will have to classify ourselves. Am I falling out of love with the Lord Jesus? Am I not watching and guarding my doctrine and theology? Am I impacting the world or is the world impacting me? Do I have a heart for the lost? Am I involved in evangelism and missions? Is martyrdom a lifestyle? What am I willing to give up to move the purposes of God forward in my life? Or am I so full of myself that there’s no room for God? Oh God, we need you every hour. Would you meet us at the end of this hour. Speak into our lives. We pray in Jesus name. Amen.