Sunday, March 30, 2014


(Lessons from the Church of Ephesus)
                                                  Revelation 2:1-7, 03/30/2014
Do you remember the first time you thought you were properly in love?  Did you think about him/her constantly? Think of how many ways you have invented just to see her or to spend time with her alone? Nothing else really mattered, all you wanted was to be in the embrace of each other right? If you’re married, think about your wedding day. Were you excited, nervous, hopeful, happy, and full of anticipation?
The other day we had our couples date night. I asked a question; how did you both meet? Oh boy you should have been there to listen to the exciting, adventures and romantic stories each couple shared.  For some of us it was love at first sight; well that did not stop them there but carried them all the way to the wedding altar. What is even more interesting that these couples are still in in love with each other, for some after some three or four decades of marriage!  

As a pastor for me it was very satisfying to see how couples here are still committed to each other in spite of ups and downs in their marriage. But sadly, many couples separate just a few years after their heartfelt commitment? I wonder what has happened to them, have they lost their first love they had for each other? One marriage expert says, “No matter how sincere we are, staying in love is a choice! Love can grow and become more precious with each passing day; but for this to happen we must pursue the secret to staying in love.” Is it even possible to lose our first love? What happens in a marriage relationship could also happen in our relationship with God and with one another. In fact the Bible says in the last days due to the increase of wickedness most people’s love will grow cold. (Matt 24:12)

For the past few weeks we have been on an exciting journey of studying the book of Revelation. This book is all about the message of God to the world and His Church in particular about what would happen before the final return of Jesus, prior to establishing His eternally enduring Kingdom. We are exploring the seven letters to the seven Churches and how that message could impact us today. For the next few Sunday’s I would like to go through these seven letters. Today we look at a Church that once was on fire for the Lord yet ended up loosing it’s first love.  Revelation 2:1-7 A bit of background to help us understand Revelation. 

 Revelation is a symbolic book, but that does not mean the symbols do not depict literal events like the great tribulation, the white throne; the final judgment, the battle of Armageddon, the coming of the Antichrist, the thousand year rule of Christ; the rapture and the final destruction of Satan; the coming down of the heavenly city etc. Some of the events mentioned in the book may happen literally, and many will not. So while interpreting the symbols we need to realize we “see things imperfectly as in a poor mirror reflection.” ( I Cor 13:8 NLT). However we are to center on the purpose of the text, the message of the text and its application and leaving what, when and how things will actually happen with God.

It is traditionally believed that the apostle John was the author who wrote it at a time when the church was undergoing persecution and difficulty in the first century AD. It was written to encourage believers to look forward to a better social reality in the midst of oppression, a world where God is supreme.
However the real problem was not persecution but compromise. Too many Christians had gotten “cozy” with a pagan world, and so the book calls them to choose allegiance to Christ or to the emperor. So the real purpose of the book of revelation then and now is to encourage and warn Christians that they must stay strong under persecution and not to compromise with the pagan culture as their only allegiances are to Christ and Christ alone.

A bit of background information about the city of Ephesus. It is one of the four most powerful cities in the Roman Empire. In ancient times it was one of the Seven Wonders of the World. Religiously, Ephesus was best known for its temple to the fertility goddess Artemis (Roman Diana). The church was apparently established by Priscilla and Aquila, who had been left there by Paul in A.D 52 and they were aided by Apollos (Acts 18:18-25). Paul returned and spent two years and three months there (Acts 19), apparently using Ephesus as a center for evangelizing the whole region. Later the church struggled with false teachers (Eph 4:14)

Before we dwell into the letter let me explain a general pattern we find in all these seven letters. It contains a commendation (some words of affirmation and praise), a confrontation (a rebuke), a call to repent and a reward to those who repented or will hold firm until the end. With that in mind let’s look at the first letter to the Church in Ephesus. Like all letters it begins with a command, “To the angel of the Church in Ephesus write.” The word angel must not be confused with angels who are the spirit beings, whereas here it could be translated as messenger, elder, leader, bishop or pastor.

“The One who holds the seven stars in His right hand, the One who walks among the seven golden lampstands says this: John begins each letter by describing one of the aspects of the glorified vision of Jesus in order to show the sovereignty of Christ. Here he refers to Him as the One who holds the seven stars (the leaders, elders of the seven churches) and walks among the seven golden lampstands (seven churches).
That shows that Jesus was in absolute command not only over the seven pastors/leaders of the Churches but the churches themselves why won’t He? After all it is His Church and He is the Chief shepherd over all the under shepherds; I am one of them just like any other pastor, elder or Bishop of any Church or organization. John makes an interesting observation here saying that, “walks among the seven golden lampstands (seven Churches) what does that mean?

Osborn notes, “The imagery of “walking” combines ideas of concern for and authority over the Church. Christ is among his people and is both watching over them and watching them.”[1] Jesus not only walked among the seven Churches in Asia Minor but he also walks among the Churches today. My pastor in India used to say, “Every time we come to worship in the Church; Christ walks among the pews wanting to touch all those whose hearts are open towards Him” Therefore it is so important to attend Church regularly; even more so when you are down, discouraged or struggling with sin and sickness, you never know in which one of the services the Lord might reach out and touch you to heal and make you whole.

Vs 2 “I know your deeds” Let’s look at this for a moment. The words “I know” are mentioned in all seven letters. Ch 2:2, “I know your deeds, 2:9, “I know your tribulation” 2:13, I know where you dwell 2:19, I know your deeds; 3: 1, I Know your deeds; 3:18 I know your deeds; 3:15, “I know your deeds.” What does this tell us? It tells us about one of the natural attributes of God, that is his Omniscience. Our God is All Knowing. He knows exactly who you are, where you live, what you do, what difficulties, challenges and victories you are going through, and whether you are living for him or selfishly living for yourself. In other words he knows everything of you.

This revelation of God knowing everything about us must give us confidence knowing that God knows and understands our situation as well as give us a healthy fear of God. Just to know that God is watching; there’s nothing I can hide from him, he sees what I am doing in secret. We had an interesting discussion on this matter in our Thursday Bible Study. I encourage you to attend the Bible Study group where we study the book of Revelation much more thoroughly.

What did Christ know about the lives of the believers in the Church of Ephesus? That brings us to the Commendation part of the letter. The believers in Ephesus had persevered, tested the spirits (I John 4:1) exposed the false apostles, (2 Cor 11:13), endured for the sake of God’s name, they had not grown weary and hated the deeds of Nicolaitans and they were commended for it.

Who are the Nicolaitans? Nothing is mentioned of them anywhere else in the Bible except in the Book of Revelation. So in order to know who the Nicolaitans, were and what their teachings were like, and why God hated their works we must look at Church History and some extra biblical material. Here is what other theologians say about the Nicolaitans: “Irenaeus says that they owed their origin to Nicolas, who was one of the seven deacons (Acts 6:5). Victorinus of Pettau, the first commentator on Revelation, refers to them as ‘false and troublesome men, who, as ministers under the name of Nicolaus. They had made a heresy, to the effect that what had been offered to idols might be exorcised and eaten, and that whoever should have committed fornication might receive peace on the eighth day.”[2]

Barton, in his commentary notes, “They appear to have taught a loose compromise with the social ethics of that day which included idolatry and immorality. They did not separate from the church but seemed to suggest that Christians could embrace the teachings of Jesus as well as attend functions at the various temples and partake of immoral activity that was perhaps associated with the worship of idols.”[3] What do we call this type of ideology? Syncretism! The Church in Ephesus was commended by Christ for their hatred towards such syncretistic teachings and practices that were rampant at that time. Are we today any different from them? Do we find the teachings of Nicolaitns today in the Church worldwide?

We better believe it! The scriptures warn us in the last days, “many false prophets will arise, and will mislead many.” Those who fall for these false teachings believe that all roads lead to God, so it really doesn’t matter which religion you follow as long as you are sincere about your commitment; you serve people and do good to the environment; fight for social justice; human rights etc. They compromise the Truth, where by denying the sovereignty of Christ and the Orthodoxy of His teachings in order to please man and accommodate their philosophies.

If Jesus were to evaluate our Church what would he commend us for? Would he find us like the believers in Ephesus who had persevered, tested the spirits, exposed the false apostles, endured for the sake of God’s name, had not grown weary and hated the deeds of Nicolaitans? I would hope so. We will close on this positive note today and next time we will study what Jesus was upset about with the Church in Ephesus. For a more detailed study on the Church of Ephesus please check out my sermon blog on our Church website. Invite your friends or family members for a Sunday service as we go through this series on the book of Revelation. Amen

[1] Grant R. Osborne, Revelation,P112
[2] Leon Morris, Revelation,(W.B Eerdmans Publishing Company: G.R. Michigan, 2002), 61.
[3] Douglas B. Barton, “ A Glimpse at the Back of the Book” page 27

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Defining Neighbor: Luke 10:32-37

Luke 10: 30-37

Just a few years ago, an astonishing thing happened in New York City. A construction worker named Wesley Autrey was standing on a subway platform with his two young daughters waiting on a train. Suddenly another man on the platform, apparently suffering from a seizure, stumbled and fell off the platform down onto the subway tracks. Just at that moment the headlights of a rapidly approaching train appeared in the subway tunnel.

Acting quickly, and with no thought for himself, Wesley Autrey jumped down onto the tracks to rescue the stricken man by dragging him out of the way of the train. But he immediately realized that the train was coming too fast and there wasn’t time to pull the man off the tracks. So Wesley pressed the man into the hollowed-out space between the rails and spread his own body over him to protect him as the train passed over the two of them. The train cleared Wesley by mere inches, coming close enough to leave grease marks on his knit cap. When the train came to a halt, Wesley called up to the frightened onlookers on the platform. "There are two little girls up there. Let them know their Daddy is OK."

What Wesley had done was a remarkable deed of concern for another person. He had no obvious reason to help this stranger. He didn’t know the man. He had his young daughters to think about. What he did was at severe risk to his own life. But a human being was in desperate need, and Wesley saw it and, moved with compassion, did what he could to save him. "The Subway Superman"--that’s what the press called him, the "Harlem Hero." But the headline in one newspaper described Wesley Autrey in biblical terms. It read, "Good Samaritan Saves Man on Subway Tracks.

Whenever there is someone who acts selflessly and courageously and rescues someone who is in danger we call them “a Good Samaritan” The media applauds them and they become instant celebrities. But people like Wesley Autrey remain humble and say that, “they just did the right thing.” There are even “Good Samaritan Laws” to give legal protection to people who give reasonable assistance to those who are injured, ill, or in danger. Where did we get this Good Samaritan concept? Let’s look at where this story is found in the Bible. Luke 10:30-37
Background: During a debriefing time with his seventy disciples who had returned from an exciting ministry of signs and wonders a certain lawyer in the crowed wanted to test Jesus and probably show off his knowledge of the Law so he asked, “Teacher what shall I do to inherit eternal life? This was a good question. Jesus answered him with a question; what is written in the law and how do you read it? Just like any ardent student of the law he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind, and you your neighbor as yourself.”

Jesus complemented him for his knowledge and said, “you have answered correctly do this and you will live.” That is to emphasize the fact that merely the knowledge of the law does not save anyone but believing it and even more so obeying it can save people. The theme of loving God’s people runs deep in the pages of the Bible. One of the ways we can express our love for God is by loving our neighbors. Isn’t that what the essence of the Gospel all about? Our entire Christian faith hinges on only two pillars and they are loving God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength and loving our neighbor as ourselves. In other words we put ourselves in the shoes of those who are in need and try to identify with their suffering and doing any and everything possible to help alleviate their pain and discomfort.

The lawyer thought he could outsmart Jesus so he asked, who is my neighbor? He secretly may have hoped that Jesus would show one of his kind as his neighbor. For the Jews loving their neighbors could only go as far as their own nation and religion. They never considered Gentiles as their neighbors. If they saw a gentile in danger of death, they thought themselves under no obligation to help to save his life. Jesus wanted to correct this wrong notion so he told a parable.

A certain man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho. The road from Jerusalem to Jericho has changed little since the first century. Accessible by foot or horseback, it is approximately eighteen to twenty miles distance. It is a rocky and rugged route and one can expect to make about three miles an hour. The decent is very rapid, nearly four thousand feet from the Mount of Olives to the Jordan valley below. There are many ascents as well along the way increasing the sharpness of the slope and additional hazards to the journey down the mountain.

About halfway there is a huge boulder affording a very convenient place for robbers to lie in wait. There are also many other places to hide along this lonely road earning its reputation as the "Way of Blood." Jesus knew this and somewhere on this narrow trail we are given the setting for the story of the Good Samaritan.
The scripture tell us “A certain Man” we do not know his ethnicity, and family background. All we know is that he was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho. He must have been a Jewish man. Somewhere along the path, thieves waited in hiding. He had little to offer for all they took was his clothing. Two religious people a Priest and a Levite happened to pass by them. Extending no compassion toward the agony and the destitute condition of their fellowman, each crossed to the other side and continued on their way.

Why did the Priest and the Levite not stop to help the man? We could list several reasons why, Martin Luther King in one of his speeches gives a more plausible explanation in regards to why they did not stop to help the poor wounded man. “It’s possible that the priest and the Levite looked over that man on the ground and wondered if the robbers were still around. Or it’s possible that they felt that the man on the ground was merely faking, and he was acting like he had been robbed and hurt in order to seize them over there, lure them there for quick and easy seizure.
And so the first question that the Priest and the Levite asked was, ‘If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?’ “But then the Good Samaritan came by, and he reversed the question: ‘If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?”[1]

We all can be guilty of asking the first question out of fear for our own lives when it comes to helping someone in danger. I am for one missed a few such opportunities, thinking that I was married and have three children and what would happen to me and to them if I would stop to help someone who was in danger?
In our story the Samaritan seemed to have none of those concerns or fears. All he saw was a near to death Jewish man, and moved with compassion did what the Priest and the Levite had failed to do. For the lack of a better word he gave “First Aid” He bandaged the wounds with his own linen. He poured on oil and wine; wine to wash the wound and oil to sooth it and close it up. He put the man on his own donkey and brought him to the inn. He put his personal business away for a while and took care of that man that night as if he was one of his very own.

The next day he left some money with the landlord and undertook to repay what was spent beyond those two silver coins which shows that he was genuinely concerned over his full recovery and total well being. All this kindness and generosity one could have expected from a friend or a brother; and yet here it is done by a total stranger, that too a Samaritan. After listening to this story the so called expert in the law had nothing else to say or ask Jesus. So Jesus asked him this time another question, “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers? The expert replied; “the one who had mercy on him.”  Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.” Interestingly Jesus emphasized “doing” two times to show where God lies his emphasis more. The Priest, and the Levite seemed to have religious appearance and have known the law in and out but whereas the Samaritan man put into action whatever little he has known which is to help those who are in need

What is the practical application of this story? Let’s consider we that we all in our un-regenerated life were like the man who fell in the hands of the robbers. Our sin infested lifestyle has robbed us of our joy, relationships, health, and our very life itself. We were struck by the devil and left half dead. But thankfully on that road walked Jesus the Good Samaritan; He saw our pitiful condition, came near to us; picked us up, washed our wounds, and healed our sin and left us in the care of the steward (the Holy Spirit) so that we will be fully healed and recovered.

Jesus is asking us today since you have received mercy now do likewise and give mercy to the undeserving. How do we do it? By reaching out in practical ways to our neighbors; (anyone who is in need of help), by being there for people when they need us. By being tender to those who are hurting. By being patient with those who are struggling. I pray that God will give us grace so that we will exemplify the attitude of the Good Samaritan toward those in need without respect for gender, race, ethnicity, wealth or standing in the community. Amen