This sermon by Peter Mohr is based on Revelation 2, the letter to Ephesus.
Sermon on Revelation 2, 1–7 (for So., 10.05.20 as video stream for the churches
Topic: Burning for Jesus Hanover-Johneskirche and Wunstorf Gemeinde Mittendrin
(1) To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: These things saith he that holdeth the seven stars in his right hand, who walketh in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks: (2) I know your works and your toil and your patience, and that you cannot bear evil; and you have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and have found them to be liars; (3) and you have patience and have borne (many things) for my name’s sake and have not grown weary. (4) But I have against thee that thou hast left thy first love. (5) Remember now from what you have fallen away, and repent and do the first works. But if not, I will come to you and push your lampstand away from its place unless you repent. (6) But this you have for yourself, that you hate the works of the Nicolaitans, whom I also hate. (7) He who has ears, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches! To him who overcomes, I will give food from the tree of life, which is in God’s paradise.
Introduction: The church in Ephesus between 60 and 95 A.D.
Last year, during a series of Bible studies in our church, when Revelation was being worked on in the middle of a Bible study series, it struck me that the first church mentioned there by Jesus or John in Revelation 2:1–7 was the same church to which Paul had written his letter about 30–35 years earlier. Since churches – just like people – »age«, I find it interesting to see how a church is judged by Jesus after about 30–35 years. For us – as a church d [sentence incomplete]
Main part: Ephesians 95 and us
- Ephesians circ 95 A.D.: A great church?
First of all, I would like to briefly discuss the individual characteristics that Jesus noted for the church in Ephesus around the year 95.
1.1 Jesus knows the works Right here at the beginning we realize that we have to take the works of the church in Ephesus …of course. But we can think of our »works«, for example our church services. Every Sunday so many of us are involved in them that one can already call them a »work« of our respective church. I am sure that Jesus knows and sees these »works«! Between Sundays, the congregation in the Johanneskirche organizes a huge program, while the offerings in the Wunstorf church are much simpler. Jesus has seen the works of the church in Ephesus, and he also sees these works we do and everything else we do as churches.
1.2 Jesus knows the troubles of the church in Ephesus 95:
As in Ephesus, not everything we do is always easy and smooth. So we can be sure that Jesus also knows the troubles we experience when we create such church programs. We invest a lot of time, a lot of thoughts and nerves, a lot of work and also a lot of money in our churches, and, in my opinion, the fruit we receive from all this toil is only a »modest echo«.
1.3 Jesus knows about the patience there. (mentioned in v. 2 and v. 3)
Jesus mentions patience twice for Ephesus, so it must be an outstanding characteristic of the church there. – What about us? Could Jesus also describe us in a special way as a patient church? Patient when we welcome someone very warmly and he or she once more stays away? Patient when we invest a lot of time in conversations and personal support and he or she goes his or her own way? Patience, when we are looking for employees and in the end don’t find them? —- Is patience a special characteristic of our community?
1.4 Evil was not tolerated. 1.5 False apostles were exposed as liars. 1.6 The church hated the works of the Nicolaitans. (v.6.)
Let me briefly summarize the idea that the church in Ephesus around the year 95 AD did not tolerate »evil men« and »false apostles« and the »Nicolaitans« (probably people who combined faith in Jesus Christ with idolatry and immorality): the text mentions they unmasked or even hated them. – I cannot at all imagine what turbulence, what pastoral conversations, what heated debates in church meetings, what evidence was necessary to exclude such people in »clean« proceedings. But it was part of Ephesus 95 that the church succeeded in this at that time and is positively emphasized by Jesus.
1.7 For Christ’s sake, the church has borne burdens. 1.8 The church did not become weary.
Two other characteristics are mentioned in Ephesus 95: The church “For Christ’s sake”, had »bore burdens«, and had not »grown weary« with all its efforts. – If we now want to summarize and look at the overall state of the church in Ephesus around the year 95, we would probably say: »That was a great church!”
But Jesus sees it differently. He states:
(( The criticism of Jesus )): Ephesians 95 has left their first love. Despite our positive impression of the church in Ephesus, Jesus had something very important to leave out there: He missed the first love. It had been lost over the years.
Now we are increasingly turning our attention to our own churches: What is our situation with »first love«? First we ask: How can first love be lost?
- 2.1 How can first love be lost?
How can it happen that first love is lost? In any case, this is not a sudden event in our faith, but probably a creeping process. It is about routine, to which our contact to Jesus can freeze: For example getting up at 6am, reading the Bible and praying at 6.15am, 6.30am breakfast, getting ready to leave at 6.45am. Every day, year after year… the faith can become frozen in routine. – It is about forgetfulness or simply taking for granted all the good things we have experienced and done in discipleship, without thinking about the one from whom we have »all good gifts«. – There can also be something new and interesting coming into our lives, e.g. a person or a group of people or an ideology, whereby faith is rekindled. etc. etc.
2.2 I have recognized my lovelessness. A few days ago I experienced with myself that I had no real love in me. I received a message from the congregation, took note of it and then went on with my work. The next day a person from our community asked how we could do something good for the people affected. In doing so, I realized that I was not involved and had not thought at all. Then I changed that. But the experience showed me that the loss of first love starts with myself.
Now of course the question arises: Can something be done? And if so, what can you do?
- How can the first love be renewed?
After Jesus‹ call in verse 5, there is indeed something that can be done to stop or even reverse this process.
3.1 Jesus asked the church to remember. (»Remember what you have fallen away from.«). About 70 years ago (1952) the building of the Johanneskirche was built in Hannover. Since there were hardly any cars in the congregation, the women transported lunch in large buckets and pots for the volunteers by tram. Can we imagine the love that went into such an operation? Let us remember…! For our church I also remember the many evangelistic campaigns, in the church, as a tent mission on the Klagesmarkt, at Steintor with the EmK mobile…And this work was not in vain. – For the Wunstorf congregation, I think of all the good God has done for us from Küsters Hof from 2005 on, through the church shop from 2010 on, to the pavilion in Wilhelm-Busch-Straße from 2015 on! In 2014/15, for example, we were faced with the situation of how we could find more space for ourselves for less rent. Then we discovered – as a divine gift – the pavilion! – Let us remember what we experienced with God and his help!!
3.2 Further Jesus asks us to repent!
From my own church teaching I remember that repentance is the God-wrought change of heart, in which we recognize and confess our sins and repent heartily, hate them and let them go, make amends for the wrong we have done as far as possible and turn to God in faith. We must therefore want to »repent« ourselves, but it is also a change that is brought about in us by God and His Spirit. Then the first love also increases in us again.
3.3. Jesus wants us to do the first works again.
Jesus explains in his eschatological speech in Matthew 25:34 ff what is important to him. These are, so to speak, the foundations for a life in first love (= Agape): feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, taking in strangers, dressing the naked, visiting the sick and prisoners. Here I ask myself and ourselves: Are we on the right path with these basics of first love? Are hungry, thirsty, strangers, naked, sick and prisoners our business? Do we think about how we can help them?
Summary: If we practice »first love« in these different areas, we will always seek and find ways to reach out to unbelievers, to go after desperate people, to make people happy for the sake of Jesus and to invite them to a life with Jesus. — An old pastor once put it this way: Jesus should be of unrivalled importance to us. In other words: The church should (again) »burn for Jesus« in its thoughts, words and deeds! Or even more dramatically: It is about a burning white-hot church! For us this could mean: Do we want to be (again) white-hot, burning churches for Jesus?
[Translator’s Note: John Wesley was once asked why so many people came to watch him speak when he ministered to the poor. He was reported as saying, “The Lord hath set me alight, and they have come to watch me burn.”]
- Conclusion: The future of a church
In his letter to the church in Ephesus Jesus does not leave it at an acknowledgement of the works and a necessary criticism. He sees one step ahead and also informs them about what the future will look like.
For the future of the church in Ephesus there were and are two possibilities for every church:
4.1. The church will disappear, dissolve. (»…its lampstand will be moved away from its place«; V.5)
This was true for the church in Ephesus, and so it will be for every church which ‑without compromise- offers a »great« church program, but where the first love is missing. Since every congregation is made up of individuals, this final assessment is therefore also about every single person in the congregation: Does he or she have first love? Are they burning for Jesus Christ? Do they infect the other members and friends of the church with their »ardent zeal«? — If this is not the case, then the church will fall apart, then »at some point the lights will go out« and nothing will remain.
4.2. The second possibility: If a church remains in first love or returns to it, if it »burns« again or the first time for Jesus, if it is or becomes a »white-hot« church for its Lord Jesus Christ, then everyone who works for and works in it in this way receives eternal life (reference to the tree of life) in God’s new world ( in his Paradise). Jesus Christ affirms it this way: »He who has ears, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches! To him who overcomes, I will give food from the tree of life which is in God’s paradise«.
May God help us that we have ears to hear and strength to overcome, so that we may be with him for eternity!