Robert Jeffress - Postcards From Patmos
Hi, I'm Robert Jeffress, and welcome again to "Pathway to Victory". As much as we all love our individual churches, there's probably some things you'd like to change about your church. Maybe the way you do worship or the kind of programs your church offers the family. Well, while those things are certainly important, there are much bigger issues to consider when measuring the effectiveness of any church. And today we're going to discover what Jesus cares about most in the body of Christ. My message is titled, "Postcards from Patmos," on today's edition of "Pathway to Victory".
You may not be aware of this, but one thing we do as a church, our staff does, is we occasionally hire a secret shopper to come into our church. Now, this is somebody who comes unannounced. We don't know what day they're coming. When they're here, we don't even know they're here, but they are here to secretly inspect our church. And after they've done their research, then they call us and tell us, yes, they have come to our church and they have a report they're going to issue to us. They commend the good things, but then they talk about the things that need to change in order to be more user friendly.
You know, what I thought about that concept this week, as I was preparing the message on Revelation 2 and 3, the picture of Jesus walking among the lampstands among the churches is really a picture of Jesus inspecting the churches as a secret shopper. And each of these reports to the seven churches, you find some good things, well, in most of them you find some good things, but you also find some things that need to improve. But unlike our secret shopper, Jesus has made his report available to everyone to read. And that's what we're doing in this part of the Revelation. We're looking at not only what Jesus admirers and abhors in a church, but we also look at what he admires and abhors in our individual lives as well. After all, when it comes down to it, isn't that the only thing that matters? What does Jesus think about me? How does he evaluate my life? What things am I doing that please him? What things am I doing that displease him? We find the answers to those questions in the report to these seven churches.
So if you have your Bibles, I want you to turn to Revelation chapter two. As we look at some postcards from Patmos, short letters to the seven churches of Asia Minor. Now, just by way of background, remember that Revelation is divided into three sections. Chapter one verse 19 gives us the outline. Jesus told John, "Write therefore the things which you have seen," that's chapter one, what John saw in Patmos, the exalted Christ. Then he said, secondly, "Write down the things which are," that's the condition of the churches in chapters two and three. And then the third division, "The things which are yet to be". The future things, Revelation 4 through 22. And again, it's so easy to skip past these two chapters to get to what we feel like is the good stuff. The things that are going to happen that will result in the return of Jesus Christ. But it's important that our lives be right before Christ returns. And that's why we're gonna take not a long amount of time, but some time over the next three weeks to look at these seven reports so we can discover what Jesus wants in each of us.
Now, before we look at the first two letters, and that's what we're gonna do today, I wanna talk about four common characteristics of each of these letters. Write these down so you remember them. First of all, each of these letters is addressed to the pastor of each of the churches. Secondly, each contains a unique description of Christ from Revelation 1. You'll find that there's a description of Christ that is suitable for each one of these letters. Third, most contain a word of affirmation for the church except poor Laodicea. Jesus couldn't think of one good thing to say about that church. How would you like to be a member of a church like that? Jesus couldn't think of a single good thing to say about it. That was Laodicea. And then fourthly, with the exception of two, Smyrna and Philadelphia all contain a word of admonition. There were two churches that were so good Jesus couldn't find anything to say they needed to improve.
Now remember, all of these churches were really within 40 or 50 miles of each other. They were real churches that were close to one another, but they did represent different conditions of churches, even today. Now with that background, let's look at, first of all, Ephesus, what I call the cold church. Let me just say a brief word, because I'm running out of time, about the city of Ephesus. It was a major city of commerce. It would be like New York city in the United States. Pergamum was the capital of the Asia, but Ephesus was the commercial center. And it was known for a lot of things, including being the home to one of the seven wonders of the world, the temple Diana or Artemis. That was the city of Ephesus.
Now, the description of Christ is one that you find in verse one, "To the angel of the church in Ephesus, the one who holds the seven stars in his right hand," that not only refers to God holding the pastors in his hands, but the pastors being in God's hand, the church belongs to Jesus Christ. Not to any pastor, not to any lay leader. And then "The one who walks among the seven golden lampstands..". The picture is Jesus was walking among the members of the church at Ephesus. He's walking among the churches. You know, it never leaves me, the reality that whenever we meet here as a church, Jesus is walking among us. Jesus is constantly taking his white glove and inspecting what he sees here. We should never meet here without the realization that Jesus is among us.
Notice the affirmation to the church at Ephesus. He says, in verse two, "I know your deeds and your toil and perseverance, that you cannot tolerate evil man, and that you put to the test those who call themselves apostles, and they are not, and you found them to be false". Notice three things, that he affirms the Ephesians for. First of all, their hard work, not just their deeds, but their toil. That word is kopos in Greek. It literally means to labor to the point of exhaustion. William Barclay says, "The Christian way is not for those who are afraid to break sweat".
Some people don't get that. They think if it requires effort, it must not be of God. No, the church is to work, and to work hard. That was the Ephesian church. They were hard, not doing busy work, they were working for the Lord. He commenced them from their perseverance, hupomeno, it means endure under extreme hardship. It wasn't easy ministering at Ephesus. It was a secular city, a pagan city, and they were swimming upstream when they were trying to minister in a godly culture, but they didn't give up. And thirdly, he commended them for their orthodoxy. He said, in verse two, "You can't tolerate evil men, and you put to the test those who call themselves apostles". They didn't listen to anything without carefully evaluating its biblical accuracy.
You can understand why the church was so orthodox. It was founded by the apostle Paul in 52 ad. Later, Timothy, his protege, pastored it. And now the apostle John was the pastor there as well. I mean, talk about a rich heritage. This was a church that was truly built on the Bible, and they couldn't tolerate false teaching. They recognized error when they heard it. That was something to be commended by Jesus. And yet, Jesus said all is not well in Ephesus. Notice this admonition beginning in verses four and five. "Nevertheless, I have this against you, that you have left your first love". Some people say, what does that mean, they have left their first love? Some people think Jesus is talking about their love for Jesus, that they had become rote in their worship, and in their work.
This was a second generation group of Christians, and they had lost the fire of their love for Jesus. Other people say, no, they had lost their heart for evangelism. They had stopped being outwardly focused and had become inwardly focused. They were resting on their reputation. If people wanna come, let 'em come. Instead of being fervent in their witness for the Lord. By the way, that particular view is supported by verse five, when he gives us the remedy. Jesus said, "Remember, therefore from where you have fallen, and repent and do the deeds you did at first". You need to start doing, not start feeling, but start doing what you did at first.
Some people say it's referring to evangelism. Which is it that they left, their love for Christ, or their love for winning people to Christ? I think it's both. I don't think you can separate one from another. Yes, Jesus wants us to love him with all of our heart, but what's the measure of loving Jesus? Jesus said, "If you love me, you will do," what? "You will keep my commandments". Doesn't matter if you get little goosebumps, you know, when you come to church, that's not what it's about. It's about, are you keeping my commandments? And what's the last commandment Jesus left us before he ascended back into heaven? "Go into all the world and make disciples".
There's only one reason Jesus left us here on earth instead of taking us to be with him. Not to build a great business, not to accumulate a lot of money, not even to have a happy family life. He left us here to be a witness for him. And if we love him, that's what we're doing. That's why this church exists. And remember what he says what's gonna happen if we don't do that, he says, "Remember the deeds you did at first, or else I am coming to you and we'll remove your lampstand out of its place, unless you repent". The church is a light to the world, but he said, just like you discard a burnt-out light bulb, you throw it away and pick up another light bulb to use.
If any church, including this church, forgets its reason for existing, he's gonna discard us, not use us any longer. Find somebody else to use in our place. Warren Wiersbe was right when he wrote, "The church that loses its love will soon lose its light, no matter how doctrinally sound, it may be". Return to your first love, to Jesus Christ, and the one thing he has left you here to do. Jesus gave this promise, by the way, to Ephesus, "He who has an ear, let him hear what the spirit says. To him who overcomes I will grant the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God". Who are the overcomers? It's not some special group of Christians. It's those who persevere in spite of difficulty.
1 John 5:5, and "Who is the one who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God"? Now the second church is the church at Smyrna. This is a unique church because it's one of the two that Jesus didn't condemn. Smyrna was about 55 miles north of Ephesus. The word, Smyrna, comes from the word that we get myrrh, that fragrant incense. The wise men brought myrrh to the Lord. Myrrh was used as, not an embalming, but a substance to preserve corpses. It had a sweet fragrance, but that fragrance was released only when myrrh was under pressure, when it had been pounded. And that's exactly what was happening to the Christians at Smyrna. They were under persecution. And that's why this description of Christ is especially applicable. "I am the first and the last, who was dead, and has come to life". The city of Smyrna had died several times through invasions and come back to life, but this was talking about the Christians. Jesus is saying, no matter how beaten down you feel, remember I was crucified, but I came back to life again, and so will you.
Notice the affirmation for the church of Smyrna in verse nine? "I know your tribulation and your poverty, but you are rich, and the blasphemy by those who say they are Jews, but are the synagogue of Satan". He said, I'm aware of your persecution or tribulation. That word tribulation, thlipsis, means to be under pressure. And by the way, he said, "I know of the blasphemy by those who say they are Jews, but are not". The Jewish are the Christians that Smyrna would need in the Jewish synagogue for a while, but finally the Jews, some of them dispelled them and worked with the Roman government to imprison them. And they made these six charges against the Christians in Smyrna. They accused them, first of all, of being cannibals.
Can you imagine? Cannibals because they ate of the body and blood of Christ. They accused them of immorality because they participated in the love feast, which was nothing more than the communal meal the church would have every Sunday night closing with the Lord's supper. They called them destroyers of families because families were ostracized because of their commitment to Christ. Called them atheists because they refused to bow down to the emperor, the pagan deities. They were called treasonous, and this got the Romans riled up, because their first allegiance was not to Caesar, but Jesus Christ. And they actually called them anarchists because they taught that the world would be burned up one day. This was the charge against the Christians at Smyrna. But notice the promise?
Now, if I were Jesus, wouldn't that be a scary thought to you? And I wanted to comfort the Christians that Smyrna, I would say, just hold on for a little bit longer, because I promise things are gonna get better. If you were a Christian at Smyrna and you were suffering all of these attacks, wouldn't that be the message you'd want to hear? Hang on, things are going to get better. There is no promise that things are gonna get better in the short term for any of us. In fact, just the opposite. Look at verse 10. Here's what Jesus said. "Do not fear what you are about to suffer". You're suffering now, it's gonna get worse. "Behold, the devil is about the cast some of you into prison so that you will be tested, and you will have tribulation for 10 days".
The Romans imprisoned people, not as punishment, but as a tool for coercion, to force them to acknowledge that Caesar was Lord. And he said, this is gonna happen to you for a period of 10 days, you're going to be cast into prison. You say, well, where's the good news for that? Verse 10, "Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life. He who has an ear, let him hear what the spirit says to the churches. He who overcomes will not be hurt by the second death". What is he talking about? We all experience the first death, unless we're raptured. The first death is the separation of our spirit from our body. To be absent from the body is to be at home with the Lord. Nothing to fear about the first death, if you're a Christian. But the second death is eternal death. The separation of our spirit from God himself. And that's the fate that awaits everybody who doesn't know Christ as Savior. The first death stings for just a second. The second death is torment forever and ever and ever.
The Bible, "Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life". What kind of commitment does Jesus require from you and me? That kind of commitment, a commitment to make our priority in life the salvation of souls. To make our first thought in the morning and our last thought at night, who can I reach with the Gospel of Jesus Christ? That's the kind of commitment he talked to the church at Ephesus about, returning to their first love. But he also requires from each one of us courage. The courage to endure whatever hostility that comes at us and our obedience to the command of God. Are you willing to be obedient to the point of death? Remember, "He is faithful unto death, I will give the crown of life".