Scripture Reading: Revelation 2:1-7 Sermon Title: Return to Your First Love Sermon Text: Revelation 2:1-7 Memory Verse: Revelation 2:4 MAIN IDEA: Return to your first love by repenting and remembering the deeds you did at first. The Religion of Ephesus
The Repentance of Ephesus
The Reward of Ephesus
Application for our Church Today NOTE: “Scripture quotations are from the NASB." This manuscript is provided as a courtesy and is not intended for publication. The audio and video message differs from the manuscript. Thanks for understanding.
Introduction: Jesus Walks In Our Midst
The Apostle John’s vision is written in in 96ad. The letter begins by addressing seven established churches of which Ephesus is the first in the list. The letter is written 43 years after the Apostle Paul establishes the church. The focus of this message is not the revelation of John, but the message written to the Ephesians. It is a fitting conclusion to look at this passage as the last message God gives to the Ephesians.
The words are from The One who holds seven stars in His right hand and walks among the seven golden lampstands (Rev. 2:1). If we look at what John writes in the beginning of the letter, he reveals Who speaks. 9I, John, your brother and fellow partaker in the tribulation and kingdom and perseverance which are in Jesus, was on the island called Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. 10I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like the sound of a trumpet, 11saying, “Write in a book what you see, and send it to the seven churches: to Ephesus and to Smyrna and to Pergamum and to Thyatira and to Sardis and to Philadelphia and to Laodicea.” 12Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking with me. And having turned I saw seven golden lampstands; 13and in the middle of the lampstands I saw one like a son of man … (Rev. 1:9-13)
Let’s pause here for a moment. In the gospels, Jesus refers to Himself most frequently as the Son of Man. This is a reference to the Messiah in the Prophet Daniel (Daniel 7:13). The Son of Man is presented to the Ancient of Days and given dominion over all things with an everlasting Kingdom. The One who speaks to John, telling him to give a message to the churches is Jesus. Let’s continue: 13 … I saw one like a son of man clothed in a robe reaching to the feet, and girded across His chest with a golden sash. 14His head and His hair were white like white wool, like snow; and His eyes were like a flame of fire. 15His feet were like burnished bronze, when it has been made to glow in a furnace, and His voice was like the sound of many waters. 16In His right hand He held seven stars, and out of His mouth came a sharp two-edged sword; and His face was like the sun shining in its strength. 17When I saw Him, I fell at His feet like a dead man. And He placed His right hand on me, saying, “Do not be afraid; I am the first and the last, 18and the living One; and I was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of death and of Hades. 19“Therefore write the things which you have seen, and the things which are, and the things which will take place after these things. 20“As for the mystery of the seven stars which you saw in My right hand, and the seven golden lampstands: the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches. (Rev. 1:13-20)
Jesus says to John, write the things which are, and the things which will take place. Revelation 2:1-7 is speaking on the things which are, what Jesus sees presently in Ephesus as He walks among the church.
The first thing Jesus speaks about is the religion of Ephesus.
The Religion of Ephesus
The Ephesians are a people busy doing religion. Jesus knows their deeds, toil, and perseverance (Rev. 2:2). They are not idle. They work to accomplish ministry. We may not know the specifics of their deeds, but we know they are doing something. As they accomplish their deeds, they toil. They are working hard. And, they don’t quit, they persevere.
The message begins with what sounds like a compliment. They ought to be joyful in knowing Jesus sees them hard at work. He knows they are not giving up. It is always good to have someone notice our work.
Jesus says that He sees they cannot tolerate evil men (Rev. 2:2). Religious people ought not tolerate evil. We have no details about what kind of evil, but we don’t need any. Evil is easily identified. We know the city of Ephesus is filled with evil. There are false idols and corruption. The Roman civilization is known to be lovers of self, arrogant, unholy, without self-control, brutal, haters of good, and lovers of pleasure (2 Tim. 3:2-4). The church is resisting the pagan immorality and does not tolerate wickedness. They stand firm in their evil day.
Jesus testifies that the Ephesians put to the test those who call themselves apostles and find them to be false (Rev. 2:2). They show discernment in recognizing false apostles from true apostles. They identify false teachers by speaking truth to one another (Eph. 4:15) and by girding their loins with truth (Eph. 6:14).
The fourth characteristic Jesus sees about their religion is they persevere and endure for His name’s sake. They have not grown weary (Rev. 2:3). The Ephesians don’t walk away from their faith in Christ, they press on. Persection of Christians in the Roman empire is in full force when John is writing this letter. In 64ad, a great fire engulfs and destroys over 75% of the city of Rome. Tacitus, the historian of the time, tells us that Nero places the blame onto the Jews, then the Christians. Many Christians are seized, tortured, and killed. Hostility toward Christians spreads through the empire and is still present 32 years later when John is writing. Despite the persecution, the people of the church do not deny Christ and continue to identify as Christian.
The religion of the Ephesians is evident. There is no mistaking they are religious people. They work hard, they do not tolerate evil men, they test false teachers, and they endure for the sake of Jesus name without growing weary.
However, there is one glaring problem with the church in Ephesus. Jesus says this:
But I have this against you, that you have left your first love (Rev. 2:4)
Their first love is Jesus. He is no longer on their forefront of their mind. They are so busy doing church, they don’t even notice their heart is cold. They have lost their zeal and excitement. They are going through the motions with no passion.
Remember the last words in the letter to the Ephesians? It says this:
Grace be with all those who love our Lord Jesus Christ with incorruptible love. (Eph. 6:24)
Their love is not incorruptible, but corrupted. The source of the corruption is being religious. The put the cart before the horse. Their joy and effort is point out and denouncing evil. This is a priority and more important than loving Jesus. Pointing out false teachers is more important than loving Jesus. Their priorities are in the wrong things. Jesus is saying to them, “Christianity is not a religion, it is a relationship.”
They church of Ephesus is in a dangerous place and the Lord Jesus tells them to repent.
The Repentance of Ephesus
The first step of repentance is to remember from where they have fallen, (Rev. 2:5). Reflect on the days of first knowing salvation in Christ. Remember the joy. Remember how life became instantly exciting. Remember the joy of knowing Jesus loves you so much, He dies on the cross for your sins. Remember that He is all you talked about. Unlike today, Christianity in the first century is a stark variation from the culture. Christians are very different. There are many things to think about.
After thinking about where they have fallen, they are to repent. Repent is a change of mind; it is to think differently. Thinking differently involves changing. It does no good to think differently without acting differently. Jesus tells the church in Ephesus to repent and do the deeds they did at first (Rev. 2:5). Their change of mind is to be followed by a change of behavior.
The account in Acts about the church start in Ephesus describes a people who love Jesus. They repent of magic and burn their books on the occult. They repent of worshipping a false god and destroy their idols of Artemis. They do things proving they love Jesus. They repent and change.
They need to remember from whey they have fallen, repent, and do the deeds they did at first. They need to love Jesus with their heart, soul, mind, and strength.
Jesus adds an interesting anectdote of encouragement. He tells them, “Yet this you do have, that you hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate” (Rev. 2:6). Scholars say the Nicolaitans are a people who pervert grace by using it as liberty with license. In other words, forgiveness in Christ is a license to sin. They openly flaunt sin while claiming Christ still forgives them. Theologians refer to it as antinomianism. They ignore what the Bible says, “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase? May it never be!” (Rom. 6:1-2).
In desiring for the Ephesians to repent, Jesus does not want them to change everything. He still desires for them to hate the teaching of the Nicolaitans. They are to continue to love holiness. But, they are to love Jesus first and hate evil second, not the other way around.
Jesus gives a dire warning. He tells them repent or else I am coming to you and will remove your lampstand out of its place (Rev. 2:5). In other words, He will remove His presence from the church. They may have a building, but they will not have Jesus.
If they don’t listen and repent they will lose Jesus; they will lose everything. Jesus asks the church in Ephesus, are you listening? Do you have an ear to hear what the Spirit says to the churches?” (Rev. 2:7). However, if they do repent, Jesus says they gain a reward.
The Reward of Ephesus
The church needs to overcome. They need to recognize their love for Jesus is cold. They need to be on their knees and overcome their hard-heart and change so they are different. Jesus promises them that, if they overcome, He will grant for them to eat of the tree of life which is in the Paradise of God. (Rev. 2:7).
The Tree of Life is the tree in the Garden of Eden that is next to the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. We lost access to the tree because of sin. The Tree of Life brings ability to maintain life without dying. By His grace, God blocked access to the Tree of Life so we would not have to suffer in agony eternally with cancer and other painful illnesses brought on by sin. The Tree of Life is not a blessing to those who live in corrupt flesh.
If the Ephesians overcome, they may eat freely of the Tree of Life in the Paradise of God. The tree is located on the banks of the river of the water of life, which flows from the throne of God, clear as crystal. The tree of life bears twelve kinds of fruit, a fruit for every month. The leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. They will eat life-giving fruit and live in Paradise.
Paradise in the Bible is Heaven. They are the same place. The prophets give descriptions of heaven. They say things like, the wolf will dwell with the lamb. The lion, cow, and bear graze together in the fields. Children will put their hands in a cobra’s nest without harm. Swords are turned into plowshares. Nothing is hurt or destroyed. Paradise has no need of the sun or the moon because the glory of God is its light, and its lamp is the Lamb. There is no sin or corruption. Eating of the Tree of Life in Paradise in the presence of God is everything the Ephesians may ever hope or imagine.
What does this message to the church in Ephesus have to do with us today?
Application for our Church
Just as Jesus walks among the churches in the first century, Jesus walks among our church today. He sees our deeds, our heart, and our faith. Our church is comparable to what Jesus sees in Ephesus. There are many similarities.
I pray that we have an ear to hear what the Spirit says.
Jesus knows the deeds, toil, and perseverance of our church. He sees people minister in countless ways. There is great dedication to the ministry of the Word and in accomplishing the work of the ministry. Our church toils. He knows that only a few are idle and a great many toil. We are a church who may be identified as toiling and persevering.
Jesus also sees that we cannot tolerate evil men. Our day is comparable to the evil of Rome. People strive to avoid immorality. We identify abortion is evil. We stay away from those who are corrupt in business and we do not associate with their evil-doing. The Christians of our church filter their intake of worldly entertainment and do not promote the immorality of our culture. We see the immorality of the lust of the flesh and we avert ourselves to avoid contamination. Jesus sees that we are a church which does not tolerate evil men.
Jesus sees how we strive to stay true to the Word of God. People research authors and speakers to see if they are true to the gospel. There is a growing level of discernment that identifies wrong doctrine. We have a high-view of Scripture as the inerrant Word of God and a strong distaste for those who pollute and corrupt the Scriptures. We are a church who tests the teachers of our day and identify them as wolves in sheep’s clothing, and we find them to be false.
Our people understand the need to stand firm in the faith. We are unwilling to back down and deny Christ if the going gets tough. Our culture does not look fondly on Christ as the only way to be saved. But, no matter, we still proclaim Him as the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and that no one may go to the Father except by Christ (John 14:6). Many people in our church face pressure in the workplace, or in their family. But, they are unwilling to deny their faith in Christ. We are a church which has perseverance and endures for His name’s sake.
But, in our practice and deeds as a church, have we left our first love? Do we have the same freshness, excitement, and joy, of when we first started as a church? Do we get excited on Sunday to see God’s people, sing praises in His name, and hear His word preached? Most importantly, is the salvation of souls our main priority?
People naturally gravitate towards things they love the most. If we are a people who focus on not tolerating evil, we will attract people who cannot tolerate evil. If we are a people who focus on good teaching and pointing out false teachers, we will attract people who always want to point out false teachers. We need to be a people who love Jesus so we attract people who love Jesus.
The gospel is the primary ministry of the church. If the gospel is first, Jesus is first. Sometimes, we give the impression that the ministry of the gospel is a ball and chain which we carry about as a burden.
We much rather gather for fellowship than gather to win souls. For example, how do we look at the calendar of church events? Is the fish-fry an opportunity for a meal or an opportunity to invite someone to talk about the gospel? Is VBS free babysitting or an opportunity to invite neighborhood children to know Jesus? If we see the upcoming This Hope concert as an opportunity to hear gifted singers, and not as an opportunity to bring our friends to hear music filled with praise of Jesus our Savior, then we have lost our first love. Every event taking place in this building is an opportunity to bring someone to hear about our love for Jesus.
As a church, do we love sharing the gospel? How is it that gospel tracts which proclaim the unfathomable riches of Christ, sit for years on end never being used? They are becoming old and dusty sitting idle. Most of the tracts have been there over five years. The Fishermen’s Club resource display is becoming an eyesore in the corner of the room. When is the last time one of us thought, I’d like to pick up some tracks to hand out this week? Maybe I may leave a tract at the doctor’s office or hand one to the cashier at a store. The only people taking those tracks are toddlers who see the colorful paper and want to play with them.
The primary mission of the church, without question, is evangelism. The church exists to make known the salvation and Lordship of Jesus Christ. Jesus says, “All authority is given to Me, go therefore and evangelize and make disciples.” The Great Commission is not for the first century, but for every century until Jesus returns. Jesus says, if you love Me you will obey My commands. When we love Jesus, we obey the commandment to “go therefore” and evangelize the lost. Evangelism is to be a priority, not an option.
The Apostle Paul says he counts all things as rubbish compared to the excellency of knowing Christ. Knowing Christ is the love of Paul’s life. Everything else is rubbish. Paul loves knowing Christ with an incorruptible love. In the same way that Paul expresses his love for knowing Christ, he expresses his love for proclaiming the gospel. He says, “But I do not consider my life of any account as dear to myself, so that I may finish my course and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify solemnly of the gospel of the grace of God.” (Acts 20:24)
As the Psalmist says, “Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you.” (Ps. 63:5)
He looks at his life and considers everything as not being dear, except for the ministry of the gospel. Everything takes a backseat. Paul loves knowing Christ and everything else is rubbish. Paul finds nothing in his life as being dear except for sharing the gospel.
What do we hold most dear in our life? Is it sharing the gospel? May we say we love Christ with an incorruptible love if the gospel takes a backseat to all the other activities in our church?
We need to repent. (I need to repent.) We need to take the warning seriously. We need to remember from where we have fallen, and repent and do the deeds we did at first; or else Jesus will remove our lampstand out of its place. We may have a building, but we will not have Jesus.
We need to do the things we did at first. Remember when the church first started? There were many efforts taken to reach the lost. There was a cookie exchange with people in the community. Invitations to VBS were handed out in neighborhoods. A coffee house took place on Friday evenings so that friends could be invited to church and people of the community could hear Christian music. The church did a float in the Plainfield 4th of July parade and handed out tracts. Remember the Fireside Chats which were meant to attract people to hear what the Bible says on current events. People visited neighborhoods and knocked on doors to give out invitations to church. Remember the deeds we did at first? We need to do them again.
Please, don’t be a person who gives excuses as to why we don’t need to evangelize. We need people who are willing to be part of the solution and not part of the problem. I am asking that each one of us, especially those of us in leadership, to find ways we may increase our evangelism.
We are not being zealots by suggesting that we need to invite people to church. We ought not feel as though we are stepping on toes in saying we need to make use of the gospel tracts. It is legitimate to expect us as elders to lead the church with intentional sharing of the gospel. It is not enough for us to point fingers at false teachers and at the evil in society. We need to point to Jesus as the answer. None of us should feel good about putting our head on the pillow at night after going a month, six months, or a year without sharing the gospel.
Take Jesus’ warning seriously. Have an ear to hear what the Spirit says. We need to repent and remember the deeds we did at first and return to our first love.
Let’s be among those who overcome and eat of the Tree of Life in the Paradise of God.