Jesus wrote a letter to His churches. The first letter went to the church of Ephesus. It was a love letter. He wanted to know why they no longer loved Him as they did at first. Isn’t that amazing? That the Lord Jesus would care whether we love Him or not? Don’t we all need to hear this today? You may be listening today and you feel lonely and unloved. You may wonder whether the Lord is even aware of your situation. Does He even care?
Hear this: Jesus loves you. And he wants to know whether you love Him back. In Revelation chapter 2, Jesus told John to write a letter to the church of Ephesus, calling them to always put their love for Him first. We can answer Christ’s call to put our love for Him first.
Below is an automated transcript of this message:Good morning; it is good to see all of you here in person and it is good to be speaking to those of you that are watching from online today. We welcome all of you here today. We’re continuing our series, “Letters from Jesus.” We’re going through the first 3 chapters of the book of Revelation. We began last week; this is part two. We will be picking up in Revelation, chapter two, in what we’re calling, “A Letter on First Love.” This is a love letter from Jesus; we will be discussing and talking about it today.
Now, speaking of love, we need to pray for love to reign in our city and in our country. There’s so much division and so much pain. We pray that the love of Christ and the peace of Christ would dwell here.
This past week, we had a terrible tragedy in our city. A five year old boy named Cannon was murdered while riding his bicycle in his front yard and in front of his two little sisters. It’s a tragic story. I was phoned by the pastor of a church that they had attended that Sunday morning. They attended church that Sunday morning, and then that afternoon, this little boy was murdered. The pastors of that church went to the emergency room and were there present after all this happened. One of our own members was an eyewitness to the tragedy. Maybe some of you are traumatized, as well, by this terrible act. It could cause us to be angry. It could cause us to want revenge. All of these emotions might be yours today. I want to pray for the Hinnant family. I want to pray for that church that’s ministering to them and those pastors who are traumatized in many ways. Can you pray with me ?
Lord, may Your love reign. May this church and other churches in this city who love Jesus be lamp stands that are the light of the love and peace of Christ to the city. May love reign here, we pray, for the Hinnant family. We pray for their church. We pray for their neighborhood and their neighbors. We pray, Lord, for all these and for ourselves even now, Lord, that we would respond as You would have us respond. Lord, we love You. We express it to You now, in Jesus’ name. Amen.
I felt we couldn’t begin without addressing this, because the word of God addresses where we are today; it always does. Today, we’re talking about this love letter. It’s the letter to the church. Its emphasis is a letter from Jesus about love.
Have you ever received a love letter? Maybe you’ve written one. I’ve written several. I remember one I wrote, I think, in the fifth grade to a pretty little girl named Ellen. I made one of my first mistakes; I’ve made many when it comes to love. Maybe you’ve made some too. One of my first mistakes was I gave her three choices on this little letter. I said, I like you. Do you like me? Please check one. I gave her three boxes: (1) Yes (2) No and (3) Maybe. have declared that you didn’t say “love” in the fifth grade. You said “like,” but you meant “love.” Which box do you think she checked? She checked (3) Maybe. I was right back to where I started. That letter was a waste of time. Never give them the “maybe” box; with “yes” or “no,” at least you know where you stand afterwards.
Jesus wrote a letter through his scribe, John. He said, John, write this letter for me, a love letter. Do you love me? Yes or no? Some people will check (3) Maybe. There’s very few people in the room this morning that would say “no.” You probably wouldn’t be here if you didn’t have some desire, some affection, some interest in the person of Jesus Christ. You wouldn’t be here. But, many are sitting here this morning and you’ve checked the (3) Maybe box.
Jesus didn’t give you that choice. He didn’t ask the “maybe;” He didn’t make that mistake. And he wants to know why you don’t love Him like you used to. Why don’t you love Him with priority? Why don’t you love Him first? Well, that’s what this letter is about. Don’t we all need to hear this today?
Some of you are here today and I want you to hear this. Jesus loves you just where you are without changing anything. I feel like singing an old Billy Joel song to you right now, Don’t go changin’ to try to please me, I love you just the way you are. Jesus loves you just the way you are. But when you love Him back, you’ll change. Billy Joel got that part wrong; He wants you to love Him back.
Are you listening today? And you feel unloved and lonely? Jesus loves you. Are you distracted by other things and your affections are all over the place? Jesus loves you. Are you feeling dry today and you would admit you don’t burn with the passion you once did? I remember when I first came to Christ, I was on fire. You’re saying that the fire is kind of a little candlelight right now. This letter is to you. Jesus loves you and wants you to know He has this astounding question: Why in the world, would the God of the universe, Who has no needs and is all sufficient, care whether you love Him? But He does. He wants to know, Do you love Me?
What kind of God is this? This Jesus who says, I love you this much and He dies on a cross for you. He wants to know, Do you love Me? T what this letter is about. In this chapter, Jesus told John to write a letter to the church of Ephesus, calling them to always put their love for Him first.
I believe we can put our love for Jesus first. As we look at the Scripture today, I think we’ll see three ways to encourage us to put our love for Jesus first. Are you ready? Let’s read. It’s only seven verses today. Let’s dig in.
Revelation 2:1-7 (ESV) 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. 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. 3 I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name’s sake, and you have not grown weary. 4 But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. 5 Remember therefore from where you have fallen;repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent. 6 Yet this you have: you hate the works of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. 7 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.’ This is God’s Word. Amen.
This is the love letter that Jesus writes about first love, priority, love to the church and emphasis. I would have you take a look at verse five, because from verse five we will get the three encouraging ways that Jesus corrects and gives them a prescription for how to turn their church around.
In verse five, there are three Greek imperatives. In other words, there are command words. The first one is (1) Remember, the second one is (2) Repent and the third one is (3) Do Do you see them there? Remember, repent and do.
How to put our love for Christ first:
We’re going to cover “remember” first. That’s your first “fill in the blank.” Remember. You may wonder where I get my points. Well, this week it’s pretty easy. Do you see where I got them? Jesus said, “remember.” Remember what? Remember the height from which you’ve fallen. How you used to love Me, how you put Me first. Remember; you forgot Me.
The Greek word for remember is ( ). It’s where we get the word mnemonic. Some of you have never heard of that word before. I think the first time I heard it was from a music teacher who was trying to teach me the lines and spaces of the Treble Clef and she gave me a mnemonic for the lines. Every Good Boy Does Fine, which lets you know the notes. Then, I asked my music teacher, What about the spaces? And she gave me another mnemonic device. F A C E . That’s the spaces. There you go; I’ve given you Every Good Boy Does Fine and FACE. Now you are ready to play music; at least you know the names of the notes on the Treble Clef. That’s called a mnemonic device; our brains, the way they work when we want to remember something, we attach it to something we already know.
Remember back in the day when you knew people’s phone numbers? We used to be smarter than our telephones in those days. Now, telephones are smarter than us; that’s why we call them smartphones. I’m not sure if I know my wife’s phone number for her mobile. I think I know it, but I wouldn’t even try right now. What I would do is, I would pull out my smartphone and say, Here it is; I’ll send it to you. But back in the day, I memorized so many numbers. Strange as it may seem, I still remember my mother’s home telephone number back when they used to have this thing called landlines. The phone hung on the wall; it was black. If you were to hit somebody with the receiver, it would knock you out. It was a rotary dial; old people, are you here? Someone down front just said they saw one in a museum. You had to be a real man to ask a girl on a date in those days just waiting for the next number.
Let’s get back to the word, mnemonic. Jesus said to “remember.” To exercise your memory, to actively engage your memory. Remember to love Him, not just passively but actively, He says as He begins this letter.
There are seven letters; the letter to the church of Ephesus is the first one of all of them. They follow a certain letter template. There are six parts of the template. I have come up with six P words that I almost was prepared to preach to you today. Aren’t you glad that I went with three instead of six ? But this template follows all seven letters. Some of the churches don’t get all six; Person, Place, Praise, Problem, Prescription, and Promise. It starts off by saying it’s from this person to this person, to this messenger to a certain place. And then it gives some praise, a commendation; I know you do some good things, you do some good works. Then, it gives you a problem. You’ve got a problem. You’ve abandoned your first love. Then it gives you a prescription, which is what I’m preaching. I’m preaching the prescription; remember, repent and return, which will be your three points. Then, it closes with a promise. All seven letters contain this template, although a few of them don’t have all of them. Smyrna has no correction, no prescription, and Leodicia has no praise. But they all have at least some of these six attributes to the angel.
Who’s the angel? Well, Jesus did not reveal himself from heaven to John on the Isle of Patmos and then tell him to write a letter back to heaven. The word angel means messenger. Who’s the person who would be the messenger to the church of Ephesus? Well, who’s your messenger? Who’s the guy who, every Sunday, stands in front of you and gives you a message from God’s word? He’s the pastor; this is the pastor to the church of Ephesus. Jesus says to write this letter so he can read it and preach it to his church. That’s what’s going on here to the pastor of the church at Ephesus, to the messenger, to the angel. And then, instead of saying it’s from Jesus, he says, “ ‘The words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand, who walks among the seven golden lampstands.” What he’s done here is he’s picked up two attributes from Revelation, chapter one. If you were here last week, you heard these two character traits of Jesus when John saw him. John doesn’t give emphasis to all of them; he just says “ ‘The words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand, who walks among the seven golden lampstands.” That’s the part He wants him to reveal, because He has a different part of him that He wants to reveal to you and to us that’s appropriate to you on this day. More on that in a little bit.
And then, He digs in to the church of Ephesus. Why Ephesus? Why start there?
Well, let’s look at a map quickly. You know I love maps. Here’s the Isle of Patmos; this is where John is writing from. He’s exiled on the Isle of Patmos. He’s not that far, like 50 miles, but he will need a boat. Here’s Ephesus; it’s the greatest seaport in Asia Minor. It’s the third largest city in the Roman Empire, nested there between two mountain ranges, and it has a huge port. Right here, you can see the island of Samos in the distance. And so, over here is John. He’s writing to Ephesus; it’s the closest city to him. It’s also the most prominent city. You can see that he takes them in the order that Jesus takes them; in the order that they lay in a circular pattern, which means Jesus knows geography.
My granddaughter, who is sitting on the front row, knows that states along the eastern seaboard of the United States. You can ask her later as you’re leaving; she can name them for you. Her father’s been doing flash cards with her, so she’s learning geography. Jesus knows geography. He made the place. He made the world. He knows where Wilson is. He knows the cities. He had the letters written in the order that they would appropriately be written.
Why Ephesus? It’s because of its prominence; it’s the largest city, as I said. It was the fourth largest city in the Roman Empire, with 250,000 in population. It was called the “Supreme Metropolis of Asia” by the Romans. It was beautiful, and it had all of these ships coming ashore and bringing goods into the marketplace. It was a very wealthy city. I’ve been there at the ruins of Ephesus. It’s all ruins now because the river that was bringing all the silt down from the mountains finally moved the coast out so the harbor is no longer of any use. Eventually, over the centuries, the city became ruins. People moved to other places.
If you’ve ever read the book of Acts, here is the stadium where the apostle Paul had been preaching for three years in the city of Ephesus. He had planted a church there to the point where the people stopped buying the little idols of Artemus, the mythological goddess of fertility. The Romans also referred to her, or the Greeks rather, referred to her as Diana. The Romans called her Artemus and they would make these little silver idols of her and the sailors would come ashore and buy them. It was a huge way they made money. The Temple of Artemus was considered the seventh wonder of the world. One of the seven wonders of the world is amazing.
So, here’s the stadium. I’m standing right here taking this photograph. This is the place where the riots took place and they all flooded into the stadium because they were shouting, Great is Artemus of the Ephesians. All of the silversmiths started a riot. Have you ever heard of a riot happening anywhere in the nation? They started a riot; they wanted to kill the Christians because the Christians were ruining their business. Paul wanted to go in there and the disciples said, No. You’re not going in there. They’ll kill you. They kept him out.
The stadium is still there, built on the side of a mountain. What you’re missing now is the temple of Artemus that used to sit right there at the top of the hill that you could see as you pulled in the port from the ocean. It’s gone; an earthquake destroyed it. Here’s a picture of Robin and I visiting Ephesus. I just want to prove I was really there.
Go to the next slide; this is The Library of Celsus., which was the third largest library in the Roman world. It was destroyed by the Goths. The Goths burned it to the ground and we lost all of the ancient history that was there.
Go to the next slide; this is amazing to me. They even had public restrooms with plumbing, with running water underneath them. I don’t know what that ditch was for right there. But anyway, you can’t use them anymore.
Ephesus is the most prominent city in all of Asia Minor, which is in modern day Turkey today. Jesus decides the part He wants to reveal to them is the part they need to hear the most. By the way, they got to be the biggest church because they’re in the biggest city. They got to be the most prominent church. This church is probably about fifty years old; because Paul probably planted the church.
Jesus says, I need to remind you of something. I hold your pastor in my right hand and I walk among your church, and whether it continues to exist or not is not up to you. I’m the pastor of your church. I’m over your pastor. That church is mine. You can’t just keep running on what you know, on your doctrine, on your duty, on what you hate. I can see your heart. And you might think you’re prominent and you’ll never die. You may think that you’ve got it together and those other little churches are just barely getting started but I’m the One who holds you in my hand here. I think, perhaps, this is me just kind of trying to unpack this; I wanted you to get how prominent, how powerful, that church was and how together they were. As Jesus says, 2 ‘“I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance, and how you cannot bear with those who are evil…” But He wants them to remember this; this is the part of the Revelation He wants them to get.
The reason I would spend that much time talking to you about the church of Ephesus is because these letters are written to a real church in a real city. Awareness of the geography and the place is in Foxe’s Book of Martyrs. Extra-biblical sources inform that the apostle John returned to Ephesus after his exile, where he ministered until his death. He was buried there and later a church was built over his tomb, called The Church of St. John. They always built churches in those days, on top of such things, a church used to stand there and you can see the inscription there. He was able to return to the city of Ephesus after having been in exile. This is a real place. Jesus knew it well . John was very well aware of it, too. He probably was considered the Bishop of Asia Minor. He would have been the last living disciple, the last of the 12, at the most prominent church. When he got back from breaking those rocks on the Isle of Patmos and brought those letters, I guarantee you they got a sermon from old John.
Jesus, in verses two and three, says He knows something about the people of Ephesus. Verse two starts off with, “I know.” Verse three starts off with, “I know.” He knows the church of Ephesus. He knows what they do. He knows the church at Wilson. He knows the church of Eastern North Carolina. He knows you.
You might think you have some secrets, and you probably do, from your spouse, from your neighbors, from your co-workers and people you go to school with. You’ve got some secrets from the people sitting around you at church. But there’s one who walks among the golden lamp stands, and He knows.
He knows when you do the right thing; He commends you. Remember, I told you how these letters work? This is the part where He gives praise; He gives commendation. He lists seven commendations, seven words of praise; “Works” (2), “Toil” (2), “Patient endurance” (2), “Cannot bear with evil” (2), “Enduring patiently”(3), “Bearing up for my name’s sake” (3), “Not grown weary” (3). Seven words of praise; I know these things about you. I know you’ve got good doctrine and good works. You got great programs. You’ve got it together. You do everything with excellence, but there’s something else and I have this against you. A strong word; “I have this against you.” I know something about you that no one else knows. And maybe you haven’t looked in the mirror in a while. And you don’t notice it either.
You’ve been saying, I feel alittle dry. I just don’t know; this Covid thing has gotten me out of the habit of attending church. I’m having a hard time watching it online. The whole world seems to be flying apart. You’ve got your eye on a thousand things right now and you don’t know which one to look at. You are kind of numb. Jesus says, Look, do you love me? Have you forsaken your first love? I know everything about you. And one thing I know is you are doing some good things but you’re not doing them with the right motives. Motives matter. They matter to Jesus. He says you’ve abandoned your first love. I know some things about you and a lot of good, but the most important thing of all you’ve abandoned, you’ve forsaken, you’ve left behind your first love. You don’t love me. You don’t love me like I love you. Why does He care about this? He does , though he does cares that you love Him, church. The love you had at first, some translations say you’ve left your first love. The Greek word is protos love, sacrificial love. God’s kind of love. Love above all others kind of love. You don’t love me first, with priority, like you used to or maybe some of you never have.
In John, Chapter 21, Peter denied Jesus three times, on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. Jesus has prepared breakfast for them after they had fished all night and caught nothing. Jesus yells to them, telling them to throw their nets on the other side, which is a familiar thing. He’d done that at the beginning of his ministry and they caught this great catch of fish. Peter jumps overboard because he’s Peter. He swims ashore, comes ashore dripping wet, like an old golden retriever who was retrieving something . Jesus told him he can bring some of his fish in. So then, Peter has to run back to the boat and bring the fish to Jesus, who is cooking breakfast on the beach. They gather around there, eating breakfast together with Jesus.
This is the risen Lord Jesus. He’s already been crucified, He has been in the tomb for three days, and He’s alive forevermore. But Peter has gone fishing; he’s returned to his nets. He’s going back to his old life as if Jesus had never come and interrupted his life. He denied Him three times, and he doesn’t think he can be passionate like he once was. He’s blown it. Peter hears this voice from Jesus.
When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon, “Peter Simon, son of John, Do you love me more than these?” Many pastors have preached many sermons trying to identify “these;” some try to visualize Jesus taking His hand and pointing to the fish, saying, you’ve gone back to your fishing, to the fish. Do you love me more than these fish or these nets, your former occupation or your former life, when you put me ahead of your old life? Maybe that’s what Jesus meant. Or, maybe, He was referring to the other disciples who are all seated around. Do you love me more than you love them? Do you love me more than they love me? The truth is, we don’t know what He meant here. I think the Bible left it open so you could fill in the blank. Do you love more than whatever it is that you love more than Jesus?
Holy spirit, right now, speak. Speak to every person in this room. There’s an idol in your life. There is a place that has a strong hold in your heart. The reason you’re dry, the reason that you’re not aflame for Christ is that as you love something or someone more and with more priority then Jesus. “Do you love me more than these?” Wow! Jesus cares about that.
What’s the first of “God’s top 10?” What’s the first commandment of the Ten Commandments? Exodus 20:3, “You shall have no other gods before me.” God says I want you to love Me with all your heart, all your soul , all your mind and all your strength. Love your neighbor as yourself. But I want you to love Me first.
When my daughter, Erin, was a little girl, we played the “who loves more” game. Have you ever played the “who loves more” game? It happened at bedtime; we developed it over the years. We taught all of our kids; you must tell us that you love us. You have to teach kids to say “I love you;” it doesn’t come natural. Jesus has to teach us how to love Him, doesn’t He? He has to teach us . He’s teaching Peter how to love Him right here. So, we teach your kids and they learn it really well. And then, they become teenagers; we have to start all over again. Little Erin, at bedtime, had been taught to say, I love you, Daddy. I love you, Mommy. She couldn’t just go to bed; she had to say this before going to bed. In fact, we still have these rules. All of the family members can’t leave the house without a hug and an “I love you.” Before you go to work, anytime you’re apart from one another, you need to say, “I love you.” Husbands and wives, please learn this lesson. If you don’t know it, hear it now. You don’t know if you’ll see them again. You never know what today holds. So, Erin would say, “I love you, Daddy,” and she would head towards the stairs. I would say, “I love you more,” as she was taking the first steps up the stairs to her bedroom. She would say, “I love you,more” picking up the pace, as she was trying to get the last word in. And I would say, “the mostest,” and she’d say “the mostest, mostest.” I would say, “infinity;” her door would slam and then the door would open again. She would shout out, “times a million, million,” and quickly shut her door. This could go on, depending on how quickly she got in the bedroom. That’s the “who loves more” game.
Jesus is not playing a game. He says, “I love you this much.” Romans 5:8 (NIV) 8 “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” I love you this much. I proved My love; would you love Me back?
Remember. Are you here, seeking Jesus today? You’re seeking something. He loves you so much that He died to rescue you. He is asking you to love Him back. Believer, are you here today, in your sin? I have lost the passion; I have lost the fire. “Fan it into flame,” he says. Remember now, the words, actively work on it in your memory. Say, I need to get back on track with Jesus. I need to do the first things again. Will you do it?
How to put our love for Christ first:
Here’s the second word, repent. I could preach the first word all day, so I need to move on. Remember, in verse 5, he says, “Remember, therefore, from where you have fallen and repent.” He says the word, repent, twice. “Repent and do the work.” If not, He will come to you and move your lampstand from its place. Repent is the second command word He gives in His prescription to the church at Ephesus. The word means, literally, “to change one’s mind, have a change of mind or a change of heart.” In the New Living Translation, it is helpful in that it translates the first use of the word, repent. “Look how far you’ve fallen. Turn back to me and do the work.” Turn back.
Think of it like this: you’re going the wrong way and then, you remember, like the prodigal son in Luke15, who’s down in the pigpen. He has spent his father’s inheritance. He’s rejected his father and he’s gone the wrong way. He’s had a big party and he’s lost everything. Here is this Jewish boy feeding the pigs, and he’s so hungry that he starts looking at the pig food and thinks it looks good to eat. It is at this point that he remembers. He remembers his father; how much his father loves him. He says to himself, my father’s servants eat better than this. He repents in his heart; he begins to plan how he’s going to turn back to his father and repent.
It begins with remembering. The Father loves me. He sent His son, Jesus, to die for me. Why am I on this road? I’m on the wrong road. It’s not enough just to remember, you must turn back.
If you were in the military, you probably heard your sergeant say, About face. It meant to turn 180 degrees and march the opposite direction from where you were marching before. Repent means to turn around and go the right way. It means something of the attitude of your heart, that there’s contrition, that you’re sorry for where you are and you don’t want to be there anymore. You want to be on fire and you want to love Jesus with priority in your life. You want every mark in your life to radiate out of the reality that you love Him with all you heart, your soul, your mind and your strength.
Do you love Jesus first? Will you repent, if you are in the situation where you are still going through the motions, but you are pretty dry. Don’t just confess it. Repent. Change your mind. Change your heart. Turn around and run back to the Father. He’s waiting with open arms.
How to put our love for Christ first:
Here’s the third way we can follow this prescription to put Jesus first in our life; it’s to return. We’ve said, remember and repent; now, in verse five it says to do the works you did at first. In other words, return to your first works, to your priority works. He uses the word “first” twice. He talks about first love. Then he talks about first works. Why are these connected? Because God cares about the motives of what you do. “Go back to doing the works motivated by love.” Do these kinds of first works, these kinds of things; when you couldn’t wait to read His Word because every word meant something to you. You couldn’t wait to be with his people because you loved being with them. Back when you loved Him ahead of everything else. Get back to that. Return to the Father. Go back to the Father’s house, go back to His heart. Turn your heart back; return. Get back to your first works, your first love.
And then, He’s got that warning in the prescription. He says, if you don’t return, if you don’t repent and return, I will remove your lampstand. What does the lampstand do? It provides light; it’s a symbol. Also, the function of the lampstand provides insight.
The seven lamp stands, as we learned in chapter one, represent the seven churches to which He’s writing these letters. He says to the church of Ephesus that they are represented by a lampstand. If they don’t remember, repent and return, He is going to remove their lampstand from its place. He didn’t say He is going to remove the lamp stand because He will have a light in this world, calling people to himself, and he’ll call some other church. But he might remove it from Ephesus; from their place. What is he removing from the people? They’re not losing their salvation. That doesn’t seem to be what’s in view. It’s not about salvation. What does the lamp do? It sheds light. Light allows you to see, it allows you to know what’s around you. It projects influence, and so Ephesus is there to shine a light on Jesus.
If you could go to the ancient temple and if you could see the lampstands standing in the Holy Place, there were three pieces of furniture in there. There was the lampstand that was to be kept. Those seven lamps were continuously lit. Over here was a table called the Table of the Showbread, which had twelve loaves of bread, representing the twelve tribes. And then, there was an altar of incense. That was the three pieces of furniture in the Holy Place. Beyond the curtain of the Holy of Holies was the Ark of the Covenant, but within this was three pieces of furniture in the Holy Place. The lamp lit this area and it shined it’s .light on the bread . Jesus says, “I am the bread of life.”
In Zechariah, chapter four, it says the lampstand represented the Holy Spirit. Also, today it represents the church, because we’re the ones indwelt with the Holy Spirit. Listen, church, we must shine our light on Jesus. If we get on social media orI get up here and preach and I preach politics or I preach my opinion about whatever is going on in the world, then I’m not using my light, my influence to promote my love of Jesus. When you shine your light for Jesus, you’re the church. We be the church. That’s not good grammar, but it’s so. We are the church, and when you’re on the internet or social media, you’re wasting your influence, you are wasting your light, you are wasting it on how you feel bad about something or your opinion. . Come on, shine your light on Jesus. That’s the purpose of the church. That’s why we’re here; to love Jesus, and to share our light to the world because we live in a dark world. The purpose of the church is to be a light on a hill. Jesus is going to remove your lampstand if you don’t get back on track and loving me with priority.
And then, He throws in an extra commendation, which kind of messes up my template that I had shared with you. I don’t think He does this in the other churches, but here, to the church at Ephesus, He was talking about love. He thought of something that was along with love. It’s extreme hate; the church of Ephesus was not very good at love, but they were really good at hate. This could easily be the American church now. This church was really good at going and telling other people what they hated. He commends them for it. He tells them they are good at hate; “you may not love Me as you should, but at least you hate the “works of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.”
God hates sin , and we’re good at telling people about that. He’s not saying we shouldn’t be. He’s just saying it’s out of balance. He doesn’t say, you hate the Nicolaitans. He says, you hate their works. You hate the works of the Nicolaitans. He didn’t say hate the sinner; he said to hate the sin. He loves the sinner. He died for the sinner.
Could we be the church at Ephesus? We are really good at doctrine, really excellent at ministry, really good at letting the world know what we’re against and what we hate. We are not very good at being motivated by the love of Jesus and sharing the love of Jesus with other people.
Who in the world were the Nicolaitans? Apparently, the people in Pergamum were having trouble with them. No one knows for sure. Every commentary you read gives a different opinion. Here’s what Dr. Warren Wiersbe says about it, “The name “Nicolaus” means “conquer the people” and suggests a separation of clergy and laity in the churches. This sin began as “works” in Ephesus but became a doctrine in Pergamum.” I think it has some merit. He says it means overcomes, prevails, gains victory. “Nike” name origin. How does “one” conquer? (Note “overcomes” and “victory,” they are Greek nikaō. nickel late in Nikko comes from the Greek word Nick Ao, which means overcome or conqueror Victor. Some of you are wearing tennis shoes with a Greek word on it; it says Nike on the side. It means victory, overcomer. The NIcolaitans were conquerors of the people, and so, maybe Weirsbe says it was when the separation between clergy and laity started happening.
We don’t want to do church that way. I’m one of you and I’m not your minister. I’m a minister of Chris and so are you. We are all ministers. I’m your pastor. I’m the messenger but I’m not your minister. I am a minister under Jesus. You all are ministers. We don’t want separation like that. We want all of us to be active in ministry.
But it began to happen. There is something with what the Nicolaitans were doing. They were interested in conquering the people.
He says in verse seven, “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.” Apparently in the first century, a lot of people were missing ears? Jesus used that a lot in the Gospels; in Matthew 11:15, we see it quoted, “he who has ears to hear. Let him hear.” Jesus was always doing that. John had to be writing this down, sort of smiling to himself. Jesus, I forgot how you used to say that all of the time back there. That’s the same Jesus. I don’t think people were missing. ears; Jesus is talking about spiritual ears.
Are you able to hear spiritually? Are you open to hearing the word of God so that it comes inside you and resides in you. The church’s emphasis was in view and prominent, but it was always meant for all of us, all of us that are part of the church. It’s to us, to the one who conquers to the one who overcomes.
What does that mean? John gives us the key. 1 John 5:4-5 (ESV) 4 “For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. 5 Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?” Overcomes; there’s that word, nikaō; conquers the world. This is the victory.
How do you overcome so that you receive the tree of life, which is eternal life, by faith in the one who is victorious over sin, death and the grave? His name is Jesus. That’s how you overcome. It’s not about trying to overcome with power and prominence and pressing other people down. No, it’s by believing and loving Jesus. That’s how you overcome and receive the Tree of life, which is a symbol of eternal life.
Here’s the last book of the bible referring to the first book of the bible. Jesus reminds John that when he first created man in the Garden of Eden there was a tree of life. He said to the man and woman that there’s one tree you can’t eat. It’s the tree of the knowledge of good and evil; I don’t want you to sin and introduce sin into my good world. They were allowed, apparently, to continually eat of the tree of life because they had eternal life. But he said after they sinned and ate of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, He said to Himself, we need to remove them from paradise and the garden so that they can’t eat of the tree of life because then sin would continue without end.
Well, here’s the last book of the bible pointing back to the first book of the bible like two bookends. He says, “You want paradise. Remember what I told the criminal on the cross when he asked Me to remember him when I came into My kingdom? I turned to him and said, “I tell you the truth. This very day you’ll be with me in paradise.” Since this is Genesis language, well, we’re on the other end of the Bible now, and he’s saying there’s something even better than the Garden of Eden coming your way. If you believe in Jesus, you’ll have eternal life in a place especially prepared for you, where there are no tears and there’s no pain and there’s no suffering and no sin. He’s pointing to that. I think it would have been something; this tree of life.
Why’d he pick that promise of all things? I think the people in Ephesus would have recognized the symbol. Remember they were worshipers of Artemus and had her temple at the top of the hill. An archaeologist tells us that there was a garden there at the temple of Artemus and within it was that which they claimed to be a tree of life which supposedly had healing powers. Ephesus was so prominent; it had a central bank where they minted their own coinage. And we have discovered those coins. They look like this on one side; it has the honey bee symbol. You can see the honeybee, the tree of life. It’s like a palm tree with the stag. All of these were symbols of Artemus, the goddess of fertility. And so they would have been very familiar with this language. It was just like Jesus to speak in the language they could understand.
Do you want to respond to this today, Christian? Would you let your work be motivated by love? 2 Corinthians 5:14-15 (NKJV) 14 “For the love of Christ compels us, because we judge thus: that if One died for all, then all died; 15 and He died for all, that those who live should live no longer for themselves, but for Him who died for them and rose again.” Will you return and allow your life to be compelled, motivated by your love of Jesus so that you live for Him wholeheartedly?
Let’s pray. Lord. I pray, first of all, for the person that’s here today that has never declared their faith in you. Is that you, my friend? You’re here today and you hear what Christ has done for you and how He loves you and how He wants you to love Him back. Would you declare your love for Him right now? You can pray with me, Dear Lord Jesus, I’m a sinner. I’ve been living on my own. But, today, I recognize that You died on the cross for my sins and that You were raised from the grave and that You live today. I believe that Lord and I want You to come into my life. I’m asking you; please come into my life and become my Savior. Lord, forgive me of my sins. Make me what you want me to be. I want to be a child of God as I declare my love for you. As you’re praying right now, the Lord Jesus is walking among the lampstands. He always knows what’s going on with you and He hears your heart. And if you’re praying, in faith believing, He will save you and make you His own. He loves you. Others are here today, and you are a follower of Jesus, but your heart has gone cold. You’ve gone dry. Would you repent? Would you return and say, Lord, forgive me. I want to put you first. Please forgive me, Lord, You are always faithful. Will You help me to always be faithful in my priority to love You. In Jesus name, Amen.