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June 17, 2018

Sermon Revelation 2:1-7 . . . “Bible places:  Ephesus”

“Bible places:  Ephesus”

Revelation 2:1-7

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus.

In an article entitled, Ten Important Historical Letters Nearly Lost to Time, author Elizabeth Anderson writes:  “Before the advent of texting, email, and social networking, the most efficient way people who lived far apart could exchange messages was through writing.”  And she writes, “Since most letters aren’t meant for public consumption, it’s not surprising that they often reveal astounding secrets when we snoop through them.”

So what does she suggest are ten important historical letters nearly lost to time?  In November of 1940, a young twelve-year-old boy wrote a letter to President Roosevelt.  He said:  “My good friend Roosvelt (sic), I don’t know very English, but I know as much as write to you.”  He then went on to say how delighted he was to hear that Roosevelt had been elected president.  And he asked that, if he could be so kind, would he send him a green, American, ten dollar bill, because he had never seen one.  He signed it, “Good by (sic).  Your friend, Fidel Castro.”

In 1957, President Eisenhower became the first United States president to entertain the queen of England.  And since she enjoyed her stay in America so much, she invited him, two years later, to visit her at her castle in Balmoral, Scotland.  And apparently, while he was there, he loved her scones.  So in a letter thanking him for his visit, she sent the recipe--enough to feed sixteen people.

And in October of 1860, an eleven-year-old girl wrote a letter to President Lincoln.  And in her letter, she suggested that he grow a beard because, she said, his face was thin and he would look better with it.  Then she added, “Women love beards and they might even coax their husbands to vote for him in the elections.”

Four days later, Lincoln wrote her back and grew a beard.

The Bible is full of important letters too.  Think of Paul’s letter to the Romans, or his letters to the Corinthians, the Philippians, and the Colossians.  He even wrote three letters to pastors--two to a man named Timothy, and one to Titus.

And in the book of Revelation, the very last book in the Bible, we find seven more letters to the seven churches of Asia Minor--Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea.

But these letters weren’t written by an apostle, a prophet, or an evangelist.  They were written by Jesus Christ Himself.

Please turn with me in your Bible to page 1311, as I read the words of our text.  I’ll start where it says, “To the Church in Ephesus,” Revelation chapter 2, verse 1:  “To the angel of the church in Ephesus write:  ‘The words of Him who holds the seven stars in His right hand, who walks among the seven golden lampstands.’  ‘I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance, and how you cannot bear with those who are evil, but have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and found them to be false.  I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for My name’s sake, and you have not grown weary.’”

Let’s step back for a moment to see what’s going on.

In these seven letters, Jesus pays a pastoral visit, if you will, to seven different first-century churches.  And in each letter, He writes a message meant for that particular congregation in that particular place and time.  And while some of the churches were faithful, like the ones in Smyrna and Philadelphia, others struggled with persecution or with moral and spiritual compromise.

And though these letters were written to a different people in a different place and time, they most certainly speak to us today.

And the very first letter was written to the church in Ephesus.

Now if we had lived in that place and time, this would have been no surprise.  After all, out of these seven cities in Asia Minor, Ephesus was the most important one of all.  It was the chief city, the main city, what one author called, “the light of Asia in the ancient world.”  Strabo, a first century geographer, called it “the marketplace of Asia.”  Bible commentator William Barkley said that Ephesus was Asia.  And historians add that whenever a Roman governor was appointed and came to the region, even though Pergamum was his actual capital, he came to Ephesus first.

It was a bustling commercial center, a city of nearly 200,000.  The main street was lined with marble pillars, some of which still stand today.  There were public baths, a library, a theater that could hold more than 24,000 people, and many temples to the many Greek gods.

But the most important one of all was the one to Artemis--400 feet long, 240 feet wide, and 200 feet tall, supported by a 117 columns.  It was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world!

Even more, you’ve heard the phrase, “All roads lead to Rome”?  Actually, all roads led to Ephesus--the one from Colossae, Laodicea, Sardis, and the Cayster Valley.  

And since Ephesus was such a large and powerful city, Rome even allowed it to be a “free” city.  It had its own magistrates (strategoi), its own democratically-elected governing body (boule), and an assembly of all of its citizens (ekklesia).

It was a religious, commercial, and political empire.

And in the middle of that great and magnificent city was a church, a small, struggling, gathering of Christians, people very much like you and me.  They were hard-working, Bible-believing, courage-filled folks who could take the heat and never give up.

And why not?  Their very first pastor was none other than the apostle Paul.  He served them for three years, longer than he served any other church!  And as time passed, they were taught by other men like Apollos, Timothy, and even the apostle John.

And it was a good church.  Look again at verse 2:  “I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance, and how you cannot bear with those who are evil, but have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and found them to be false.  I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for My name’s sake, and you have not grown weary.”

In other words, they were a good, hard-working, service-oriented congregation.  They didn’t just sit around and pat each other on the back.  They eagerly served the Lord.  Their church calendar was filled to overflowing with events, programs, meetings, and a whole variety of outreaches to their community.

Even more, they refused to tolerate false teachers.  When “false apostles,” came to preach, they threw them out of the church!

But there was one problem, really the saddest problem of all.

Look at verse 4:  “But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first.”

Or as another translation reads:  “You have lost your first love.”

What’s a first love?  Imagine what it’s like when a young man and woman meet for the very first time and fall in love and plan to marry.  He can’t think of anyone but her, and she can’t think of anyone but him.  He calls or texts several times a day, just to whisper sweet nothings in her ear.  He buys her gifts he really can’t afford.  And he’s excited by just the sound of her voice and the touch of her hand.

But after they’ve been married for a while, something begins to happen.  He doesn’t seem to have as much time to call or text anymore.  Instead of longing for the touch of her hand, he longs for the feel of a golf club or a fishing rod.  And instead of gazing into her eyes for hours, he would rather watch a football game.

And, more often than we care to admit, the very same thing can happen in our Christian lives.  We begin to forget what it was like when we first came to know Jesus, the feeling of having a burden of guilt and shame removed from our shoulders, when we learned He has forgiven all of our sins.  Bibles start gathering dust.  Prayers become less and less frequent.  And while you may still go to church, you don’t go as eagerly or as often as you did before.

What causes a Christian to lose his first love?  Maybe you have to travel some distance to get to church, and Satan uses that as a wedge to keep you from coming.  Maybe your job keeps you from hearing the Word every Sunday.  Maybe you stay out late on Saturday and can’t quite make it in on Sunday.  Others feel that they’ve been hurt, or wronged, or overlooked by the pastor or other members, and before long, they lose interest and their love for Christ grows cold.

What does a “first love” look like?  Think of Christ.  He came to earth as a Man.  He sought out the sick, the weak, and those on the fringe of society.  He prayed.  He read the Scriptures.  And best of all, He went to the cross, in spite of its horror and shame.

If you have lost your love for Christ or feel as if it’s slipping way, Jesus has something very important to say to you.

Look at verse 5:  “Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first.”

To put it another way, remember the promises God once made at your baptism, the vow of faithfulness you once spoke at your confirmation, and realize what you will lose eternally if you ever lose Christ.

Then repent.  Return to God’s Word, retrace your steps to His altar, and revive your love for Him.

And what promise does He give to those who repent and return to Him?  Verse 7:  “To the one who conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.”

Early in the morning in September of 1983, 44-year-old lieutenant colonel Stanislav Petrov was just a few hours into his shift as a duty officer at a secret command center just outside of Moscow.  It’s where the Soviet military monitored its early-warning satellites over the United States.

Just three weeks before, the Soviets had shot down a Korean airliner after it crossed into Soviet airspace, killing all 269 on board.  President Reagan rejected any calls for freezing the arms race, and called it an “evil empire.”  And the Soviet leader, Yuri Andropov, was obsessed with fears of an American attack.

That’s when, on the morning of September 26, 1983, alarms suddenly went off, and computers warned that five Minuteman intercontinental ballistic missiles had been launched from an American base.

“For fifteen seconds,” Petrov later said, “we were in a state of shock.  We needed to understand, ‘What’s next?’”

After five nerve-racking minutes, with electronic maps and screens flashing, a phone in one hand and an intercom in another, trying to absorb streams of information, he decided that the launch reports were probably a false alarm.  Good thing.

So he became the man who saved the world by doing nothing.

Our God saved the world by doing something.  He was born in Bethlehem, raised in Nazareth, lived in Capernaum, and crucified in Jerusalem.  And on the third day, He rose again.

No one could love us more than that.

 

We thank You, dear Jesus, for the gift of Your Word that encourages, nourishes, and builds us up.  By Your grace, strengthen our love for You.  This we ask in Your name.  Amen

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