November 22, 2011

Wednesday through Friday, Sunday next before Advent

Wednesday after the Sunday next before Advent


Morning - Ps. 136, Joel 2:12-19, 2 Pet. 2:1-10

Evening - Ps. 139, Rev. 2:1-11

Revelation 2:1-11

Tonight's reading brings us to paragraphs addressed specifically to the churches of Ephesus and Smyrna. Ephesus was the major city in the area, and it was the Apostle John's home base from which he made episcopal tours to the surrounding cities. It was known for its large number of Christians, for its love of the Apostle Paul, and for the ministry of Timothy. Due to the large number of Christians and churches in this area of Asia, it was natural for John to move into it after Paul went west to take the Gospel into new territory. As archbishop of the area, Timothy had served well under Paul, and now serves equally well under the Apostolic oversight of John.

How blessed the church in Ephesus is to have been under the teaching of Paul, John, and Timothy. And it seems to be thriving, even in this time of persecution, for even our Lord says it has rejected false apostles, and has not fainted in the face of persecution (2:2 and 3). Yet, our Lord says to them, "I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love" (2:4).

This may seem trivial to our self-centered generation, yet our Lord speaks of it as though it means the Ephesians have almost left the faith entirely, and will be completely cast away if they do not repent (2:5). Note again that this church has had the greatest of human ministers, is fiercely orthodox, and has endured persecution for their faith in Christ, yet are in danger of falling away from Christ entirely. There is a terrifying warning to all churches in all ages in the failure at Ephesus.

What is the failure at Ephesus? It is something very similar to what the Old Testament Church experienced at various times, a faith reduced to doctrines and stubborn tenacity, but with very little concern for God or His people. It was a faith that went through the motions of orthodox faith and worship, without engaging the heart or mind of the people. Consequently, they were indifferent towards Christ and one another. The sense of oneness in Christ was gone. The sense of identity as one body was gone. They no longer thought of themselves as walking together in the way of truth together, holding "the faith in unity of spirit, in the bond of peace." Rather than being characterised by that active sense of identity and belonging, each one went his own way, wrapped up in his own thoughts and activities, and this attitude continued even when they came together in worship. They had lost the sense of worshiping God as one, and had become simply individuals worshiping God individually. Their worship was private worship performed in public, and this extended to their entire life of faith, including their attitude toward unbelievers. Yet the promise of grace remains, "to him that overcometh will I give to eat of the tree of life which is in the midst of the paradise of God."

To the angel, and thus to the Church, of Smyrna, our Lord has no words of reproach. He commends it for its faithfulness (2:9) and perseverance in the face of persecution. Yet He wants the people to know the worst is ahead of them (2:10), and they are to be prepared to suffer and die for Christ. In our time Christ is often presented as a way to self-fulfillment and happiness, and even to health and prosperity. Many have become Christians in the hope that they will be "raptured" out of the world so they won't have to face old age, illness, death, or the "tribulation." But in John's day, joining the Church marked a person for persecution and death. It is highly doubtful that many of the people thronging to church today would have even considered becoming a Christian if they had lived in John's time. Yet the Church grew by leaps and bounds during this time.

The real promises of Christ are not that His Church will escape tribulation, but that those who overcome the world by remaining faithful unto death will not be hurt by the second death, the fires of hell. Instead, they will receive the crown of life (2:10).

Thursday after the Sunday next before Advent


Morning - Ps. 137, 138, Joel 2:21, 2 Pet. 2:10
Evening - Ps. 140, 141, Revelation 2:12-17

Revelation 2:12-29

Pergamos, often referred to by its Latin name, Pergamum, is praised by the Lord for holding fast to faith in Christ, even though some, like Antipas, have been executed for their Christian faith (2:13). But, where persecution and death could not shake their faith, a compromising spirit had. They are accused of holding the doctrine of Balaam. Often remembered for refusing to curse Israel (Num. 24:12-13), Balaam also taught the Hebrews to compromise with the faith and sins of the Moabites (Num.31:16). Like him, there are some in the church of Pergamos who advocate compromise with the pagan religions. These people are willing to adopt pagan practices and beliefs, and to incorporate them into Christianity. Such people cast stumbling blocks in the path of Christians, causing them to depart from the faith. This is especially enticing to those who want to save their lives in the face of persecution. By joining with the pagans in their feasts and orgies, they may hope to escape suffering. But Christ destroys their hope. If they do not repent He will fight against them (2:16). He will be unto them not a Saviour and refuge, but an enemy, for they have become His enemy. His weapon will be the sword of His mouth (2:16, see also 1:16, 19:15, and Heb. 4:12) which is the word of God, or, the Scriptures. By the Scriptures their sins will be shown and their condemnation pronounced. But, to those who repent He will give hidden manna. Instead of the feasts of idolatry that lead to eternal condemnation, He will give them the true Manna from Heaven, which leads to eternal life. A white stone and a new name signify adoption into the family of God.

Thyatira is a church that is growing in holiness, for their last works are greater than their first (2:19). They also have a problem; a woman, claiming to be a prophet from God, is teaching them to compromise the faith. She is called, "Jezebel" because, like the famous wife of Ahab (1 Kings 16:31), she is not of the people of God, and introduces idolatry and sin into the fellowship of Christ (Rev. 2:20). God has given her time to repent of her fornication (idolatry), but she has not. She and her followers will be cast into great tribulation and death (2:21-23). In other words, they will die in their sins and suffer the eternal tribulation of hell, the second death unless they repent.

To those who have remained faithful to Christ, no burden is placed upon them but to "hold fast till I come" (2:25). They are to continue in the faith, growing in holiness, even in the face of persecution and death until the Lord returns (the end of the world). And they shall judge the nations.

Friday after the Sunday next before Advent


Morning - Ps. 142, 143, Joel 3:1-8, 2 Pet. 3:1-10
Evening - Ps. 144, Rev. 3:1-6

Revelation 3:1-6

Sardis is the next church addressed, and the message to it is terrifying. This church has the reputation of being a vital and healthy church. It probably has a large congregation, the respect of the people in the city, and people probably "enjoy" its services and activities. Yet, in reality, it is dead. The people are just going through the motions of church, while their hearts are for the world and its acclaim. This church has been tamed by the world. It has become a pet. Our Lord counsels it to strengthen what little is left of the true faith. Otherwise He will come to it unexpectedly, like a thief in the night, and the people will die in their sins. They need to repent (3:3). Those who do will receive white raiment, symbol of the purity of those whose sins have been forgiven, and their names will not be removed from the book of life (3:5). To have Christ confess them before the Father and His angels is to be claimed as one belonging to Christ by faith, and to be admitted into the Kingdom of Heaven.