This is the second week of our series called Revelation. We’re spending five weeks exploring the last book in the New Testament. The book of Revelation is mysterious. It is cryptic. And if we don’t understand it, it can be really scary.
But if we can grasp the message of the book, we find that we have nothing to fear. Yes, there is some crazy imagery in this book. There are scenes that seem like they belong in some psycho Hollywood thriller instead of the Bible. But when we understand the message of the book, fear gives way to hope.
Like we said last week, this book is all about Jesus. It’s about how Jesus is coming back. And when He returns, He will set everything right again. Evil will not have the last word. Jesus will have the last word.
Now, that’s not to say that there aren’t parts of this book that aren’t disturbing, because there are. Some of the stuff we talked about last week flat messed me up. And if you were here last week and you didn’t shed a tear…if something inside you didn’t get turned inside out…you need to check your pulse.
Last week, we discovered that we are indeed living in the end times. And Jesus told us what the end times will be like. It is disturbing. It is heartbreaking. But our hope is in Jesus. Our hope is in His return, where He will make everything new.
But until then, we have a job to do. We have a vision and a mission to accomplish, because we are the church. The church is the new kingdom that Jesus came to establish. And the church is who He is coming back for. But until then, the church has a job to do. That’s what we’re going to see today as we get into week #2 of Revelation.
A couple of years ago, Nicki was cleaning out our closet. And she pulled out this certain box and opened it up. A few minutes later, she started smiling. And then she started laughing.
I asked what she had found, and she told me that she found some old love letters that I wrote to her when we were in high school. She had saved them all these years. And I thought, “Dang right, you saved them. I was so smooth back then. These letters were how I unlocked the key to your heart.”
That’s what I was thinking, until she started reading one of them to me. There was a reason she had been laughing…because I sounded like a complete moron! I couldn’t believe I wrote this stuff. These letters didn’t make me sound smooth. They didn’t make me sound suave. They made me sound stupid!
But the reason that she has kept these letters isn’t because of how beautifully written they are. It’s because…even though they are awkward and sappy and just plain goofy…they still represent the beginning of the love that we share. And that’s awesome, as long as she never, EVER reads them to me again.
Love letters have always been a rite of passage between guys and girls. I’m not sure how that works now in the age of texting and Facebook. Do kids still pass each other notes in school? Probably not, but they still write to each other, even if it’s now in digital form. There is just something in us that wants to write to the one that we love.
And it might be something that is hardwired into us by the God who made us, because God has always written to those that He loves. That’s why we have the Bible itself. It is God’s love letter to His people.
And as we open up the Bible today, we’re going to see some specific letters that Jesus sent to His church. And those ancient letters are still as relevant to the church today as they were in the first century. The church really hasn’t changed that much in the last 2,000 years. Sounds crazy, but it’s true.
Jesus sent specific messages to the churches in seven different cities throughout Asia: Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea. We’re not going to have time to work through all seven of these letters, but we are going to pull some stuff out of these letters that is awesome.
And through these letters, we see that Jesus always has a specific, personal message for His people. That’s true for you today. Jesus has a Word for you today. Jesus has something very personal and very specific that He wants to say to you.
And the reason His message is so personal to us is because He is present with us. That’s the very first thing we see in the first letter.
In the beginning of Revelation 2, here’s what Jesus said. “To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: These are the words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand and walks among the seven golden lampstands.” (Revelation 2:1, NIV)
Now, we talked last week about how a lot of the book of Revelation is hard to interpret. We said that there is room for different interpretations because some of the imagery and symbolism is just not clear.
But this is different. It’s different because Jesus interprets it for us. Whenever Jesus says, “This is what this means,” you don’t have to worry about misinterpreting it. All you’ve got to do is listen to Jesus.
What are the seven lampstands and the seven stars? Listen to what Jesus said to John in Revelation 1:20. “The mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand and of the seven golden lampstands is this: The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.” (Revelation 1:20, NIV)
Jesus held the seven stars in his hand. And He was standing among the seven lampstands. And He told us it’s all about the seven churches.
Here’s what Jesus was saying to them. It’s the exact same thing He wants to tell us today. Jesus holds the church in His hand. He is present in the church.
Now, every week, a ton of us walk into this place and we are completely unaware of the presence of Jesus. And I’m not saying “you” do that. I’m saying “we” do that, because I can be just as guilty of this as anybody else. So many times we walk into this place, and we are completely unaware of the presence of Jesus.
I know Sundays can be crazy. If your kid is going to have a meltdown, it’s going to happen on Sunday morning. If you and your spouse are going to get into an argument, it’s going to happen on Sunday morning. If someone is going to cut you off in traffic, it’s going to happen on a Sunday morning. It happens, doesn’t it? And all of it can distract us from the presence of Jesus.
And sometimes those distractions can go even deeper. Some of us walked in here today distracted by the death of a loved one. Some of us are distracted by the uncertainty at work. We’re wondering how much longer we’ll have a job. Some of us are distracted by a marriage that feels like it’s falling apart. Some of us are distracted by a physical or medical condition that scares us.
We can be distracted by all kinds of things, big and small. And these distractions cause us to walk into this place, completely unaware of the presence of Jesus. But Jesus is the one who holds the seven stars in His hand, meaning that He holds His church in His hand. He is the one who walks among the seven lampstands, meaning that He is always present in His church.
That means that He is present in this place today. He is moving around the room. He’s walking the aisles. He’s moving through every row.
One of the greatest comforts that we can have as believers is knowing that, when the church gathers to worship Jesus, to remember His sacrifice through communion, to listen to His Word being preached…Jesus Himself is present. He is present right here, right now. He is here. And not only is He here, but He has a Word for you today. Jesus Christ has something that He personally wants to say to you today.
And that Word that He has for you today comes with a ton of power attached to it. Look at what Jesus said to another church. Revelation 2:12: “To the angel of the church in Pergamum write: These are the words of him who has the sharp, double-edged sword.” (Revelation 2:12, NIV)
Now, earlier in Revelation 1, John said that He saw Jesus with a sharp, double-edged sword coming out of his mouth. What’s up with that? A sword in his mouth? That’s pretty bizarre.
Jesus had a double-edged sword coming out of His mouth. The sword is coming out of his mouth because it represents the Word of God.
When God speaks to us, we had better listen. This is the Word of the eternal, all-powerful God. And this Word is a double-edged sword, meaning it can cut one of two ways.
One of the core values of our church is, “Listen to God and do what He says.”
If we obey the Word, it cuts the hold that sin and death have on us. It gives us life. It sets us free.
But it we disobey the Word, it brings wrath and destruction on us.
It truly is a double-edged sword. But it’s up to us which way the sword cuts.
We have to remember that as we listen to some of the things that Jesus said to these churches in Revelation. And what we’re going to see is He’s still saying the same things to His church today.
Here’s what Jesus said to the church in the city of Ephesus. “You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary.
Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken the love you had at first. Consider how far you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place.” (Revelation 2:3-5, NIV)
Jesus told His church to repent and return to what they did at first. And it’s because they had lost their love for Him and for others. And Jesus attached a warning to this command. “If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place.”
In other words, if a church is without love, Jesus doesn’t even recognize it as a church anymore. It can become a social club. It can become a political action committee. It can become all kinds of things, but it STOPS being a church.
John R. W. Stott wrote, “Many churches all over the world today have ceased to truly exist. Their buildings remain intact, their ministers minister, their congregations congregate, but their lampstand has been removed.
The church is plunged in darkness. No glimmer of light radiates from it. It has no light, because it has no love.”
A church without love ceases to be a church. I don’t know what it becomes, but I do know that it’s no longer a church.
During His earthly life, somebody came to Jesus and asked Him, “What is the greatest command in the whole Bible?”
Here’s what He said. “The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.
Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:29-31, NIV)
The greatest commandment is love. Love God and love others. And it’s crazy how often the church forgets this. We seem to major in the minors and minor in the majors. So many Christians would rather get into a theological debate that descends into an argument rather than loving God and loving others. They would rather focus on taking up political positions and social stances instead of making sure that they are loving well.
I will never forget one time many years ago when I ran into this. I happened to mention in a particular message that I like Starbucks. I didn’t think that was exactly headline news, but one lady definitely thought it was. She caught me after church and absolutely raked me for supporting such an “ungodly corporation.”
And then a few weeks later, I read a quote from a certain pastor that she apparently had a HUGE problem with. She caught me after church again, and raked me again.
In both instances, there was no love. There was only attacks and condemnation and judgment. But the second time was one too many. I told her that I was done talking to her about this stuff. She said, “But I like these kinds of debates.”
And I simply responded, “Well, I don’t.”
She mumbled something very nasty under her breath and walked away. And I never saw her again, which proves that God DOES answer prayer!
If you’ve ever had an interaction with a Christian like this, you know what I’m talking about. There is no love to be found anywhere. And it’s tragic that this has become the hallmark of many Christians and many churches.
Here at Connect, we are absolutely committed to hanging onto our lampstand. Jesus is not going to take it away from us because we are NEVER going to lose our love.
The very first core value of our church is it’s all about Jesus and it’s not about us. Our first love is for Jesus. And our second love is not for ourselves, but for others.
In John 13, Jesus said, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34-35, NIV)
Love is THE defining characteristic of a disciple. Love is THE defining characteristic of a church. And we take that incredibly seriously here at Connect.
If you are a believer, you are called to love the other believers in our church. That’s not me saying it. That is Jesus saying it. If you’ve got a problem with another believer in our church, you need to go to that person today. As soon as church is over. Don’t head for your car. You need to head straight to that person and say, “Can we talk? I know there’s an issue that has come between us, but I’d love to talk about pray about it so we can resolve it.”
Our church has no time…absolutely no time…for division. Division in the church is a death sentence, because division is the opposite of love. And without love, we lose our lampstand. Jesus removes our place as a church. It all rises and falls on our love.
So I’m saying this as your pastor, and I’ve got the full authority and power of God’s Word behind me on this…if you have an issue with someone in our church, go to them TODAY. Begin working through the problem TODAY. Pray for a resolution TODAY. Forgive them TODAY. And if you have wronged them, ask for forgiveness TODAY.
Our church is a family. And just like any family, stuff happens. Feelings get hurt. People make mistakes. We’re not perfect. If you expect us to be perfect, you’re in for a big letdown. And if you’re just hanging around until you uncover our imperfections, it won’t take you long. I am messy and imperfect. Our leadership team is messy and imperfect. The people of our church are messy and imperfect.
But in spite of the mess…in spite of the imperfections…we are absolutely committed to becoming a community of love. We are committed to loving God. We’re committed to loving each other. And we’re committed to loving those who are far from God. And that’s a job that will not remain unfinished here at Connect, because we have heard what Jesus said to another church.
Look at what He said to the church in Sardis. “To the angel of the church in Sardis write:
These are the words of him who holds the seven spirits of God and the seven stars. [Again, Jesus uses this symbolism to remind us that He is present in His church.]
I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead. Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have found your deeds unfinished in the sight of my God.” (Revelation 3:1-2, NIV)
Dang. Jesus told this church, “You have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead.” That’s hard core! Jesus isn’t messing around here. This is pretty much the Jesus version of the ground and pound.
He told this church, “You have this reputation of being alive. You look good on the outside. You’re doing some good things. People think well of you. But I know you from the inside out. And even though you have the reputation of being alive, the reality is that you’re dead.”
And then He tells them, “Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have found your deeds unfinished in the sight of my God.”
This is a wake up call for the church of Sardis, and it needs to be a wake up call for the church today. We need to wake up, because we have a job to finish. Jesus is not pleased when our deeds are unfinished. He’s not pleased when His church isn’t carrying out the vision and mission that He gave them.
And our mission is not only to love God and love each other. It’s also to love people who are far from God. That’s our mission, and it’s a mission that we are going to finish.
Another core value of our church is “focus on the outsider, not the insider.” We know that our mission is to reach lost people for Jesus. To love people who are far from God and do whatever it takes to connect them to Christ. That’s why the name of our church is Connect Christian Church.
We don’t want to just have a reputation of being alive. We want to actually be alive. We have a mission and a vision that is alive. That means that we will do whatever it takes to connect lost people to Jesus. And that also means that every single person at Connect has to do their part.
Another core value of our church is “saved people serve people.” If you are part of our family here at Connect, we assume you’re going to serve with us to help us push the mission forward. A church that is alive has servants that are alive. Servants who focus on the outsider, not the insider. In other words, servants who understand this truth: it’s not about me.
Think about it this way. How do most people measure success at their church on any given Sunday? They ask the question, “What did I get out of that?”
You want to know what is a much better question? Instead of “What did I get out of that?” we ought to be asking ourselves, “What did I put into that?”
Which question will you be asking when you get in your car today? Which question will you be talking about when you go out to eat after church today?
Did you give God your best worship today, or did you just mouth along with the words…unless you didn’t like the song, then you didn’t even try to do that?
Did you give your best when you sought out a guest to make them feel welcome, or were you just annoyed because they took your seat?
Did you look for ways to be a servant today, or just sit back and say, “Okay band…okay pastor…wow me.”
I couldn’t care less about “wowing” you. I’m here to serve you, but I’m also here to tell you that you’re here to serve others. Saved people serve people.
When a church is filled with people who ask, “What did I get out of that?” here’s what happens. Instead of servants, that church is filled with consumers. And instead of being on a mission of reaching the lost, that church is busy babysitting the saved. And that church may have a reputation of being alive, but the reality is that they’re dead.
It comes down to entitlement vs. gratitude. Entitlement looks for ways to be served. Gratitude looks for ways to serve.
Entitlement says, “I like this” or “I don’t like that.” Gratitude says, “This is reaching people, and that makes it awesome.”
Entitlement says, “I’m not getting fed.” Gratitude says, “I’m all about making sure people outside of Christ are being reached.”
Entitlement is dead. Gratitude is alive.
When a church is filled with people who stop asking, “What did I get out of that?” and start asking, “What did I put into that?” here’s what happens. Instead of consumers, that church is filled with givers. That church is on mission. That church is focused on the outsider instead of the insider, because all of the insiders already know that it’s not about me. That church doesn’t just have the reputation of being alive. That church actually is alive.
And that’s why we make no apologies for calling the people of our church to serve. We have a ton of different volunteer teams that serve our church each week. There is a place for you on those teams. And if you’re part of our church family, you need to be serving on one of those teams.
And I’m pumped that we are in the process of developing a brand new volunteer team. We’re in the process of building a new Care Team. This team’s sole purpose is to love and serve and minister and pray for people. I can’t wait to tell you more about it in the coming weeks, but it’s going to be awesome.
We’re also gearing up for volunteer sign-ups for Sports Camp. Sports Camp is far and away our biggest outreach event of the entire year, and we make no apologies for saying that we need all hands on deck. It is a huge undertaking, and we need absolutely everyone at Connect to jump in. There is a place for you to serve at Sports Camp. Guaranteed. Through Sports Camp, we get to interact with hundreds of kids and families in our community, many of whom have no connection to the church at all. We’ve literally had kids at Sports Camp who have never even heard of Jesus. And we get to spend a week loving them and playing sports with them and singing and dancing with them and teaching them and praying with them. How can you not get excited about that?
It all comes back to these two core values of our church. Focus on the outsider, not the insider. And saved people serve people. It’s not about me. It’s about connecting more people to Jesus.
If you’re looking for a church where you can just sit on your blessed assurance, keep on looking. But if you’re looking for a church that is alive, that takes the mission seriously, then welcome home.
And here’s what happens if we sell out to the vision and the mission that Jesus gives us. When we sell out to Jesus’ mission, we receive Jesus’ power.
Check out what Jesus said to the church in Philadelphia. [And by the way, I know this is the same name, but we’re not talking about Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. We’re still in Asia right now, okay? Just making sure we all understand that. We’re not talking about Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Jesus is not a Phillies fan. He’s a Reds fan.]
“To the angel of the church in Philadelphia write:
These are the words of him who is holy and true, who holds the key of David.
What he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open. I know your deeds. See, I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut. I know that you have little strength, yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name.” (Revelation 3:7-8, NIV)
When a church is alive and on mission, that church doesn’t run on its own strength. Jesus told the church in Philadelphia, “I know that you have little strength.” But He also said, “But that’s not a problem, because I’m giving you my power. I have placed an open door before you that no one can shut.”
Translation: a church that is on-mission cannot be stopped! A church that is desperate for Jesus, that understands the mission, that has no time for entitled consumers but instead is filled with grateful servants…that church cannot be stopped. And that’s the kind of church we are hungry to be here at Connect.
And the reason we are so passionate about our mission is because we believe what Jesus said later to the church at Philadelphia.
He told them, “I am coming soon.” (Revelation 3:11a, NIV)
Last week we talked about how we will never know the exact day or time of Jesus’ second coming, but we know He is coming again. And we know He is coming again soon, because He said so Himself.
And that means that our church is going pedal to the metal. Here’s what you need to know about our church: Jesus said He is coming soon, and we actually believe Him. And because we believe Him, we’re not playing games. We’re not wasting time on things that don’t move the mission forward. We know what Jesus has done in our lives, and we desperately want to see Him do the same thing in the lives of as many other people as possible.
There is a reason that the church is referred to as lampstands in the book of Revelation. Because lampstands are made to give light.
It’s a cold, dark world. We talked about that last week. And as much as preaching that stuff last week broke my heart, I’ll tell you what else it did. It strengthened my resolve 100 times. It gave me a spine of steel. It made me recommit to the fact that our church is never going to back down. We have a ton of challenges facing us, but we will never back down. We will never give up. We will love more extravagantly. We will pray more fervently. We will give more generously. We will serve more radically. This is a dark world, but our lampstand is going to shine brighter than it ever has before.
We are the church of Jesus. We are saved by Jesus. We are empowered by Jesus. We are loved by Jesus. And we’re not going to stop until we see the return of Jesus!
And if you don’t know Jesus yet, He has something He wants to say to you today. It’s the same thing He said to the church at Pergamum. Check this out. This is so cool.
Jesus said, “Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. [In other words, Jesus is saying, “Listen up, because I have something to tell you.] To the one who is victorious [which means the one who has surrendered to Jesus as their Savior and Lord], I will give some of the hidden manna. I will also give that person a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to the one who receives it.” (Revelation 2:17, NIV)
I know that imagery sounds kind of strange to us, but let me unpack it for you. What’s the deal with the hidden manna, the white stone and all that stuff?
The hidden manna represents the banquet that God has prepared for His people in eternity.
And then there’s this white stone. I love this. During this time period, white and black stones were used in courtrooms to render verdicts. To acquit the defendant, jurors would toss a white stone into a basket. To condemn the accused, they used a black stone.
We all deserve the black stone. We have all sinned. All of us. We are broken. We are messed up. We are sinful. We all deserve the black stone.
But Jesus changes everything. Jesus died on a cross, and His death is the full and complete payment for our sin. And then He rose from the grave. His resurrection to life gives us a brand new life. It also promises us life for all eternity.
Jesus takes the black stone. And if we surrender to Him, He tosses a white stone in the basket on our behalf. And His vote is the only one that counts.
That’s what our church is all about. And if you don’t know Christ yet, that’s what we want to share with you. We want to introduce you to the one who took the punishment for all your sin. And I mean all of it. Nothing held back. He took it all on Himself. He took your black stone. And in return, you get His white stone and He declares you, “Not guilty.”
It’s called grace. It’s scandalous. It makes religious people uncomfortable because it seems too soft, too simple, too easy. But I love it. And our church loves it. And we want you to come face to face with that grace today.
Every week here at Connect, we give you a chance to respond to Jesus. Some of our leaders are going to be in the back, and they’re ready to talk with you and pray with you. They want to serve you anyway they can. We invite you to come to the back during this last song.
We’re going to close by blowing the roof off this place in worship. We’re going to worship Jesus, who is present with us. Who loves us. Who died for us. And Who is coming back for us.
And until He comes, we’re not going to quit. We’re never going to back down. We’ve got a clear vision and mission as a church, and we’re never going to back down from it. Not until the whole world comes to know the Jesus that we know.
So let’s stand and let’s give Him all we’ve got in worship!