Unity and Diversity

Rev. 1:11; Rev. 2:1-3:22

We take lots of encouragement from Jesus’ bold declaration about his church – you know, one he made to his disciples:

“Who does everybody say I am? Who do you say I am? You are the Christ, the Son of the living God. Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.” Matt. 16:13-18

Oh boy, we’re part of Christ’s church, nothing can overcome that, even worst enemy imaginable! We’re good to go!! Somehow doesn’t register that our worst enemy is actually going to try to overthrow, destroy Christ’s church. Jesus wasn’t just talking big, was talking seriously and identifying real danger to his church. Letters to the churches give insight into how Satan has been able to score gains against people of God.

Beginning with chapter 2 John recorded what he saw, describing the church… warts and all. Then graphic presentation of enemies of church and assaults on her. Makes plain over and over – Christ’s church will survive, will overcome, not by own strength and genius. Church’s survival, even victory assured because of her King, the Lord Jesus. Looking around cultural / religious landscape today, hard to see that Christ has one church. Example:

email discussion list, member of list posted information about, of all things, The Confessional Presbyterian journal.

response by another member of list: “Why is this an item that we of Reformed Baptist Fellowship would be interested in?”

Even for apparent absence of unity and polarizing diversity, we are the body of Christ and in His eyes one with brothers and sisters the world over. Are indeed one church holding up light of Christ in many circumstances. We have one enemy using many strategies to achieve our destruction. On our side, the One we are following – the One Victor who has unlimited resources at his disposal. Lord of the Church has given this one letter to his church with many promised blessings.

A. one church, many circumstances

geographical

covered area about 1/2 size of Cumberland County; 300 mile circuit, 8-9 hour drive today, starting with Ephesus closest to Patmos, basically an upside-down U

all strategically located on the main road, well-traveled Roman roads like our interstate highway system designed for efficient military operation

Ephesus along with Smyrna and Pergamum close to coast and shipping; Thyatira and the rest – inland cities; frequently used as garrison cities for Roman soldiers

fertile land, seismically active, many natural resources contributing to trade – materials to support potters, tanners, weavers, robe and carpet makers, dyers, silversmiths

cultural

Ephesus the banking and political center of area; major art gallery; coastal resort city – Vanity Fair of Asia

Smyrna the commercial center of Asia, Pergamum the religious center; library with 200,000+ volumes

Thyatira manufacturing center with numerous commercial guilds, equivalent of modern labor unions

Sardis the home of Croesus, oldest city in Asia, coins first minted there, location of wealthy carpet industry

Philadelphia totally destroyed by earthquake in AD 17, then rebuilt – a “little Athens”; beautiful city in beautiful valley surrounded by great vineyards, Bacchus on coins

Laodicea perhaps most cosmopolitan city, on highway from Oriental East – known for its trade, religion and learning

spiritual

each city had its own collection of places for worship of pagan idols: Greek gods and goddesses, Roman gods and goddesses, pagan idolatry and worship practices

remember apostle Paul’s experience in Athens: Act. 17:16Now while Paul was waiting for them at Athens, his spirit was provoked within him as he saw that the city was full of idols.

this not primitive man making god to worship because he didn’t know any better – was acting out natural impulses of sin-corrupted heart

full range of spiritual health in churches: one in danger of losing identity as true church, those with mix of tares and wheat, two faithful whom Christ did not criticize

B. one enemy, many strategies

Satan – dangerous but defeated

kinda like some political figures ;-) defeated but refusing to concede – Satan in denial about his ultimate destiny

figures so long as he has freedom to operate, still a chance he can prevail – committed to fighting to death, confident can win

has great power, but not unlimited – are strict boundaries beyond which he cannot go; is bound by power of Gospel truth, to his dismay and great frustration

sources of attack

internal and external – Satan uses any opportunity available to cause damage: he has no friends, no sympathy, plays for keeps

will use insiders if possible: those already trusted by ones he seeks to overthrow – or agents close to trusted influencers

someone near a trusted spiritual leader, whose credibility is enhanced because of proximity – this guy’s a friend of so-and-so, so-and-so is ok, this guy must be ok

evidenced by tolerance of error within the church, permitting and endorsing false teachers

will encourage outsiders who are prejudiced against the church – evil people in powerful places who “love darkness rather than light because their deeds are evil” (John 3:19)

will use any form of communication available and accessible – written word, spoken word, images and sounds that can persuade

strategies for attack

Lies and deceptions about the true content of the Gospel – #1 attack of choice

if Satan can get people to believe a false Gospel and stay committed to it, has won a victory; if leaders, his job is done

don’t have to think too long / hard to come up with disturbing number of places that once stood firm on Gospel, now never heard within their walls

Lies and slander about the character of God’s people

has direct impact on how attractive church is to genuine seekers; also impacts amount of influence God’s people have outside the church – character doesn’t matter in White House, matters big time when you’re witnessing

Lies and deception about the true nature of godly living

this one will steal your joy, guaranteed; pursuit of anything but God’s best in God’s way recipe for frustration, discontent… individually and corporately

Lies and deception about the content and meaning of God’s truth

if truth is relative, anything goes; if biblical declarations can be contextualized and redefined and interpreted, same thing – individual or church that will stand for anything ends up standing for nothing

Lies about the true spiritual condition of individuals: two dangers here – depression and dilution

child of God who listens to lies about spiritual condition: guilt, not feeling / receiving forgiveness, paralyzed by depression

unregenerate person who listens to lies: false sense of security, dilutes purity of family of God, hinders effectiveness of local church

Lies about the abilities and usefulness of individuals

when listened to, can cripple effectiveness within church family, can effectively silence Gospel witness in the world

Lies about the source of a right standard, authority – probably #2 choice

questioning validity / authority of God’s word the beginning of the end – self becomes the authority, leads to destruction

C. one victor, many resources

Christ – the Victorious All-Sufficient One

Lord of the Church – Holds the seven stars in His right hand and walks among the seven golden lampstands –> so long as He stands, so will his church

Glorious Living God-Man – The First and the Last, who died and came to life again –> even death is no enemy for believer

Eternal Word – Has the sharp, two-edged sword –> truth and true God will prevail… eternally

Omniscient Holy One – The Son of God, whose eyes are like blazing fire and whose feet are like fine brass –> our source of strength and help regardless of our circumstances, he knows our need

Giver of Life – Has the seven spirits of God and the seven stars –> need not fear for our lives or life of his church

Rightful Sovereign – Holy and true, holds the key of David. Opens and no man shuts, shuts and no man opens.

First and Last Word – The Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of God’s creation –> God’s plan A will be fulfilled

Encouragement: Persevere in doing right – those things which Christ commends – each letter includes promise “to him who overcomes”, even Laodicea who can barely be considered a church

Promise: Christ’s present help and future approval – what more does child of God need? in itself, enough to guarantee will overcome

D. one letter, many blessings

Revelation as a whole – repeatedly promises / describes blessings for one who remains faithful (not successful) to the end

7 sub-letters

individual instruction – Christ deals with individual churches just like individual believers: tailors instruction/provision to specific need

group application – directed in its entirety to church as a whole: wherever you find yourself today, give heed to what Spirit says

preparation for what follows – church will need every corrective, every provision so as to stay true and effective through persecution

Our task – must not give up, no matter how things look. Must fight good fight against sin and Satan… not in own strength… in strength Jesus supplies. He is Lord of his church, the Alpha and Omega, who died and is now alive. He will not change, he will be our all in all when we trust him.

 

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