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Meditations Contents
Series Theme:  Revelation 1 to 3 Meditations

PART TWO: Chapter 2

Meditation Title: Overview 

  

 

 

Part 1 : The Bringer of the Revelation

1

1:1

God of communication

2

1:1,2

The Witness

3

1:3

Be Blessed!

4

1:4

Our place in history

5

1:4

God's Grace

6

1:5

Jesus, witness, firstborn & ruler

7

1:5,6

The work of Jesus

8

1:7

The Coming One

9

1:8

God who is

10

1:9

Our place in history (2)

11

1:10

Revelation!

12

1:11

Directional prophecy

13

1:12,13

Lord of the Church

14

1:14

The All-Wise & All-Seeing One

15

1:15

The Tried & Tested One

16

1:16

Authority!

17

1:17

Effects of Divine Encounters

18

1:17,18

The Overcomer

19

1:19

The extent of revelation

20

1:20

Church Structure

 

 

Part 2 : The Words he brings (1)

 

 

2.1 Ephesus

21

2:1

Lord of the Church (2)

22

2:2,3

Struggles and Strains

23

2:4,5

Losing our first love

24

2:5

Accountability

25

2:6

Righteous Hatred

26

2:7

The Reward of Life

 

 

2.2 Smyrna

27

2:8

The Lord who is the Overcomer

28

2:9

Opposition

29

2;10

Suffering

30

2:10,11

The Reward of Eternal Life

31

2:12

The Speaker of the Word of God

32

2:13

The Faithful Ones

33

2:14,15

Beware the Heretics

34

2:16

Beware the Word of God

35

2:17

A Secret Reward

 

 

2.4 Thyatira

36

2:18

The Revealing One

37

2:19

The All-Rounders

38

2:20-22

Beware the false prophetess

39

2:23

Retribution

40

2:24,25

Hold on

41

2:26-28

Authority Imparted

 

 

Part 3 : The Words he brings (2)

 

 

2.5 Sardis

42

3:1

The One who Holds the Church

43

3:1-3

Wake up!

44

3:4

The Clean Ones

45

3:5,6

Acknowledged

 

 

2.6 Philadelphia

46

3:7

The Key Holder

47

3:8

Little Strength?

48

3:9

Deceived Opposition

49

3:10

The Second Trial

50

3:11-12

Pillars of the Church

51

3:12

Named

 

 

2.7 Laodicea

52

3:14

The Faithful Witness to the End

53

3:15-17

Lukewarm

54

3:18

The Remedy

55

3:19,20

The Guest

56

3:21,22

Ruling with Christ

57

….

Lord of the Church - Summary

58

…..

Areas of Vulnerability

59

…..

Our Inheritance

60

1:3

Doers of the Word

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Series Theme:  Revelation 1 to 3 Meditations

Meditation No. 21

Meditation Title: Lord of the Church (2)

     

Rev 2:1   "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 lamp stands:

 

Now in the thirteenth meditation we considered Jesus as the Lord of the Church when we first saw the description of him that is now repeated in this verse, so why consider this again? Well there we saw it as a general description but now it is a description of Jesus that is being used in respect of a particular church. What we will find as we look at each of these seven letters is that they are prefixed by a description of Jesus as the one who comes to speak to this specific church and he comes with a different description in each case. The particular description applies to the particular church because of what he has to say to that church. The words in each case are a wakeup call if you like to that church, almost as a warning of what is to come. So what we need to do in each case is do a quick overview of the letter to see why Jesus is being described as he is, and then afterwards we can go on and look at the individual things that come up in each letter.

 

We said that this first designation speaks of Jesus who is the Lord of the Church. He holds the leaders in his hand of authority and he walks among the churches. In other words the destiny of the leaders is in his hand and he sees all that is going on in each of the churches. It is particularly this latter point that stands out in each letter, for every letter starts with “I know”. In every single letter Jesus says, “I know.” His starting place with each church is that he knows all about them. The Lord of the church knows. When we consider Paul's descriptions of the church in his letters we see him describing Jesus as the head of the body which is his church. In order of books we first find Paul speaking in Corinthians about, the body of Christ?” with an early reference to Communion, adding, Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body.” (1 Cor 10:16 ,17). Thereafter in Corinthians he speaks a lot about us being the body of Christ, as he does in Ephesians where he says, Christ is the head of the church, his body (Eph 5:23). Similarly in Colossians he says, he is the head of the body, the church.” ( Col 1:18). Now he also speaks about the body being a spiritual body: we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body.” (1 Cor 12:13) so it is by the Spirit that Jesus communicates with the rest of the body. So, we have two pictures: first of Jesus walking among the churches that he sees, and second of Jesus being linked to these churches by the Holy Spirit who is in every believer, so of course he knows everything that is going on in every church, because he knows what is going on in each of us.

 

How does this information leave us feeling? If it is a fact that Jesus knows everything about me and everyone else in what I call ‘my church', how does this leave me feeling? If there are wrong feelings in the church between people, then we are in trouble! Jesus knows! If I hold wrong feelings about others, Jesus knows! So why do I say we are in trouble is there are such wrong feelings? I say this because in most of the letters we also find these disconcerting words: This I have against you.” Jesus doesn't just look on dispassionately. The Lord of the Church assesses what he sees. He knows what is good and he knows what is bad. But it gets worse. Where he sees wrong things his instructs them to put them right. In other words he holds us accountable for what he sees to be wrong. But it gets even worse. He doesn't merely stand there as a critical observer and tell us off for what is wrong; he tells us to put it right and if we won't, he will come and DO something about it. For this first church, the church at Ephesus , he warns them that unless they sort themselves out, he will come and remove them. Now that is pretty drastic. Suppose Jesus came to your church and said, unless you put right the things I see wrong, I'll shut you down! How would you feel about that? I have actually been part of a church in the distant past where that happened. The Lord spoke and pronounced the name Ichabod over the church, which means ‘the glory has departed' (1 Sam 4:21 ). Not even the building is there today. The good news is that the Lord took some of us from that church and started a new, vibrant local church which still flourishes today elsewhere. But the Lord of the church has this authority!

 

So when we hear of Paul referring to Jesus as the head of the church, understand that this is more than just a nice forensic description; this has practical outworkings. The Lord of the Church sees all things and knows all things. The Lord of the Church has standards and requires us to live to them, and if we don't he will speak and act. Jesus is a living Lord and it is his church and so he will chastise and correct it if he sees that is necessary. So, as you think about these things, does it say anything to you and your church situation? What does the Lord of the Church think about your local church? Is he saddened, angry or blessed? May it be the latter!

  

 

 

 

 

 

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Meditation No. 22

Meditation Title: Struggles & Strains

 

Rev 2:2,3 I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked men, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false. You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary.

 

The intriguing thing about this letter, the letter to Ephesus, is that historians tell us that John was the elder of the church at Ephesus before and after his time on Patmos , so this letter appears to be to his own home church. These opening verses would encourage him. We commented yesterday on how Jesus sees the churches and knows all about them. He starts out with a list of things that he knows about this church.

 

He starts out generally: I know your deeds.” i.e. I know all the things you have done. He then adds two qualifiers or descriptions of those deeds; I know your hard work, and I know your perseverance . This church has put in effort, and ongoing effort at that. There are times when life serving God is indeed hard work. It requires real effort. Sometimes there is a real battle going on and it is hard going. How many of us, I wonder, prefer an easy life? How many recoil from anything that constitutes hard work. How many church members, for that matter, don't serve at all, do nothing but merely turn up on a Sunday and receive? Hard work means giving up time and expending energy for God.

 

Paul speaking of the end of our lives wrote, If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man's work. If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward .” (1 Cor 3:12 -14). The implication is that he expects every person to have ‘worked' in the kingdom in some way or other, and the quality of what we have put in will be shown up at the end. At the end of that letter he declared, Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord.” (1 Cor 15:58). Giving a list of the marks of a servant of God, Paul wrote, as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: in great endurance; in troubles, hardships and distresses; in beatings, imprisonments and riots; in hard work, sleepless nights and hunger; in purity, understanding, patience and kindness; in the Holy Spirit and in sincere love; in truthful speech and in the power of God.” (2 Cor 6:4-7).

 

The nature of the battle that is so often ours is revealed in the second qualifier – perseverance. Perseverance is needed when it is difficult to continue. Perseverance is the pushing on despite the obstacles. Perseverance is refusing to give up. Marathon runners need this quality if they are to reach the end. The writer to the Hebrews recognized this when he wrote, You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised.” (Heb 10:36) To receive our inheritance, we need to persevere, for it doesn't come easily. Consider again Paul's list of things he had been through in the 2 Corinthians quote above. How many times must he have been tempted to give up? The enemy's constant activity is to try to make us give up. Our constant requirement is perseverance. Many Christians know little of this. An obstacle comes along and so they give up and sit on the side lines, ineffective and unfruitful. How sad, how unfulfilling!

 

Then Jesus says he knows how they have struggled against those who the enemy has sent to upset them: wicked men . But look at how he describes what has happened: I know that you cannot tolerate wicked men. The quality of the Ephesian church is revealed. They could not put up with evil men who came to them. We don't know what happened but the implication is that they dealt with these men. Whether they called them to repentance and put them out if they refused, we don't know, but however they dealt with them, they realized that there was no place for evil in any form in the church.

 

Whether what follows is a description of the evil men or is something different is not clear: that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false . Men had come to the church claiming to be apostles but the church looked at them, their ministries and their character and lack of apostolic gifting and declared them false. To the church at Thessalonica Paul said, Do not put out the Spirit's fire; do not treat prophecies with contempt. Test everything. Hold on to the good. Avoid every kind of evil.” (1 Thess 5:19-22) Everything there was about being discerning. We are called to do this and be alert. John also said, Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.” (1 Jn 4:1). We are to check things out in the kingdom.

 

In his final commendation Jesus said, You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary.He is adding to what he has said before, that he knows they have done it for his name. Is the name of Jesus our motivating force? Do we serve him ? The fact that they have not grown weary is an indication that they have received the grace of God to persevere and keep going. We can't keep on and on without God's grace. It is His strength, His power and His wisdom that will keep up going.

 

If Jesus came to us, would he be able to commend us in this way? Is he able to see that we are ‘workers' and not just workers but ‘hard workers'? Would he be able to commend us for persevering and not giving up when things got difficult? Would he be able to see that we reject evil and distinguish between good and evil and godly ministries and those which are pretense? Would he be able to see that we served for him , and that we were able to keep going because of his grace? May it be so?

 

 

 

 

 

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Meditation No. 23

Meditation Title: Losing our First Love

     

Rev 2:4    Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love. Remember the height from which you have fallen!

 

What terrible words, Yet I hold this against you . You stand before the Lord and he utters these words. All of the praise of the previous verses turns to ashes in your mouth. Jesus has a complaint against you; how terrible. But that raises a question: do you see it as terrible? Does the thought of upsetting Jesus upset you? Perhaps it isn't something we think about much. Paul actually wrote, “do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God.” (Eph 4:30). It is possible to upset the Lord. He is sensitive to us. He doesn't sit there reigning in heaven, impervious to us. He feels and when we do wrong he feels that and grieves. When there is sin in the early chapters of Genesis we find, The LORD was grieved that he had made man on the earth, and his heart was filled with pain.” (Gen 6:6). Just in case you weren't convinced about the meaning of ‘ grieved', we're told that it means his heart was filled with pain . When do we grieve him? Isaiah said, they rebelled and grieved his Holy Spirit”.( Isa 63:10). We cause him pain when we rebel against Him. We also find, God sent an angel to destroy Jerusalem . But as the angel was doing so, the LORD saw it and was grieved because of the calamity and said to the angel who was destroying the people, "Enough! Withdraw your hand.” (1 Chron 21:15) Even when judgment is deserved, when it involves His people, the Lord is grieved.

 

When the Lord has to say, Yet I hold this against you , it has to be with grief. We must be causing him pain. It must be especially so when he has to continue , “You have forsaken your first love.” The crucial question must then be, what is mean by first love? I believe it is likely to have two meanings. First of all, consider what happens when a person first becomes a Christian. Now I am aware that there are those who gradually appear to come into relationship with Jesus, but even for them there are key points of decision, but the truth is for them it is gradual and perhaps not so obvious – which is sad. However, I believe that for most Christians the Bible speaks about a specific time-and-place experience where there is a great surrender and a laying down our lives to God as we seek Him for forgiveness. For many of us at this moment of time, we don't know much about Jesus and even when we are told that he died for us, it is such a strange thing that mostly we are not thrilled by him. Now that may shock you but I believe it is the truth. Our love for him grows as we come to realize the wonder of who he is, so expressive love for Jesus comes later.

 

No, what happens at new birth, I believe, is that as we receive God's forgiveness and as He places His Holy Spirit within us, there is frequently a tremendous sense of wonder and joy over what has happened and is happening. For many new Christians these early days are days of great joy – and love! This ‘first love' is expressive and outward. Mind, body and emotions are all fully involved. There is a naivety of this first love. It is simple and straight forward. It is grateful and says thanks for the simplest of things. It is childlike and noisy. This first love will walk on water, tell anyone, and go anywhere. It is all for Jesus, and in that sense, although we cannot express it or understand it like that in those days, in fact Jesus is truly our first love. All we do is in fact because of him and because of the newness of his Holy Spirit in us. As the days go by the Holy Spirit will do just what Jesus said he will do: He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you.” (Jn 16:14), i.e. He glorifies Jesus, and the way He does that is to make you more and more aware of who Jesus is and what he has done for you. The more we become aware of his love, the more there is a growing expression of our love for Jesus. As John said, We love because he first loved us.” (1 Jn 4:19). Thus, I suggest, this ‘first love' is a combination of love to God for the shear wonder of what He has done and is doing in us, and love for Jesus as we realise more and more who he is and what he's done.

 

So how do we come to forsake that first love? Perhaps the clues were in the verses we looked at yesterday – hard work, perseverance, enduring hardships. All these things turn the Christian life into tough stuff if we are not careful, where the vibrant love we first knew gets squashed. I believe the Lord has said to my particular local church, “Lighten up!” It is so easy to get heavy and serious as ‘church' and we get burdened with things we shouldn't get burdened with, we worry about petty things, we struggle and we organise and we lose contact with our first love. The vibrant, full-of-life love becomes an effort, and that it tragic. If you belong to a church where people worry about the pews, the music, the length of the service, the quality of the coffee, or whatever, you've lost your first love! First love thrills with the presence of God, the wonder of Jesus, the freedom of the Spirit. First love is expressive, wonderfully, gloriously, messily, expressive! First love laughs at minor issues and sees them as that. I love it when unbelievers become believers and life pours forth. New Christians don't know the ‘right' things to say; they just say it. I remember one man, now in our congregation, quite a number of years ago who came to Jesus and said, “Why is everyone looking so unhappy?” He identified our loss of first love! I think things have changed!

 

What is the remedy? Remember the height from which you have fallen! Remember what it was like when you first knew Jesus. Remember those early days, perhaps, when your church was pioneering and everything was fresh and new. Realise that perhaps the years and ‘hard work' have dulled that love. We've got to get back there to those dizzy heights, not just for an emotional experience but to regain the life of God in our midst again. Yes?

        

 

 

 

 

 

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Meditation No. 24

Meditation Title: Accountability

  

Rev 2:5    Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lamp stand from its place.

 

If yesterday's thought was disconcerting, at first sight at least, today's is even more so. We live in a world that seeks to make us accountable. Speed cameras hold us accountable if we go over the speed limit. CCTV cameras hold us accountable in shops if we are observed shop lifting. Service providers such as the Electricity Board or Gas Board will chase us if we don't pay our bills. If we don't pay our telephone bills or Internet access account bills we will soon find we are being chased for the money we owe. In a whole range of ways we know about and expect accountability in modern life. Yet I suspect the truth is that most of us rarely think about being held accountable to God

 

Here in this letter we have a picture of Jesus, the Lord of the Church, coming to this local church at Ephesus and first of all encouraging them for the good things they have done but then challenging them over the loss of their ‘first love, that we considered yesterday. It's at this point we need to look inside our heads and see what most of us think. It's like we sit on a Sunday morning and hear the preacher say things which challenge our lives. We know these things apply to us – but it was only the preacher saying them, so I don't need to get too worked up about them! That attitude, (check it and see if in all honesty that is how you do respond!), is the attitude that actually says, “Well it may be true but no one will hold me accountable. I can carry on as I am.” What we don't realise when we deceive ourselves like this, was that the preacher was speaking God's word and it was the Holy Spirit applying it to you. So we sit there and think that nothing will change. Well that is not what the Bible teaches.

 

As I so often say, God loves us just as we are, but he also loves us so much that He won't leave us as we are, because He has got something better for us. So what does God do when He sees us settle into bad ways? First of all He warns us. When things happen it is never until He has spoken to us about our situation first. Now we may have hardly heard Him because our hearts are closed, or we may have rejected the still small voice because we didn't like it, but He spoke! When He sees us refusing Him, does He sit back and say, oh what a shame? No He does something about us because He loves us. How do I know this? Listen: My son, do not make light of the Lord's discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son.” (Heb 12:5,6). Do you see that? The Lord disciplines those he loves . But it gets worse, he punishes everyone he accepts as a son. He punishes us? I thought Jesus took all our punishment? Yes he does, but this is more of a chastising. The word punishment is used because punishment is painful. It is meant to deter the next time. Later on the writer to the Hebrews was to say, No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful.” (v.11) If ‘pain' is what it takes to bring us to our senses and break us free from our sin, then be under no illusions, God will bring pain into our lives! Don't get all upset about this; this is God's love saving you if you are being so foolish you want to hold onto your sin.

 

The Bible is quite clear: sin is out when you become a Christian. God's sanctifying process, which starts when you become a Christian, is to clear sin out of your life. John wrote, My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin.” (1 Jn 2:1) but recognizing that we are sometimes tripped up by the enemy, he added, But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense--Jesus Christ, the Righteous One.” If we have an ongoing sin issue which we are refusing to deal with, watch out, the discipline of God will arrive, upset will occur, and you'll end up coming to the Father in contrition seeking His help, and then He'll point out to you what is going on. This may be short-term or long-term, but He'll do it because He loves you.

 

So here is Jesus standing before this church. Can we perhaps put it in different words to catch it afresh? He stands there and essentially says to the leader (angel) of the church, “Hey, come on, I need a one hundred and eighty degree turn from you guys. You're going in the wrong direction and I need you to turn back and recover that first vibrant love that was so expressive that you used to have. And look, if you can't do that, there's really no point in going on. You're only a formal pretence of what you once were and without my vibrant life in your midst there's really no point in this carrying on, so I'll bring an end to this local expression of my church in Ephesus and scatter you elsewhere so that you can become parts of other churches elsewhere where they are getting it right.” That's essentially what he is saying here to this church. Put another way he's saying, I love my church so much that I won't let it carry on as a hard, formal, structure, I love it too much for that. No, I'm holding you accountable so if you won't come back to the place where I can release afresh that vibrant first love in you, I'll wind you up here. This is not about loss of salvation but it is about loss of testimony to the world, and loss of a living, vibrant experience of the Lord. How about us? Do these words apply to us? These aren't words of finality. Note the key word, ‘if'. Will we respond if the Spirit is challenging us over these things, or will the ‘if' apply to us?

  

 

 

 

 

 

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Meditation No. 25

Meditation Title: Righteous Hatred

     

Rev 2:6    But you have this in your favor: You hate the practices of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.

 

Heresy is not a word that is much used today but if we go back to study early Church history, we see that the first centuries of Christianity involved great battles against a variety of heresies. A heresy is simply a false or wrong teaching about God and about Jesus Christ and the Christian faith. It was battling against these early heresies that brought about the formation of the various early creeds which now lay down the fundamentals of the faith as formulated by the Early Church Fathers. Many of those early leaders wrote a great deal as a means of countering these heresies. One of these, Irenaeus, in AD 170 wrote the following in “Against Heresies”: The Nicolaitanes are the followers of that Nicolas who was one of the seven first ordained to the diaconate by the apostles. They lead lives of unrestrained indulgence. The character of these men is very plainly pointed out in the Apocalypse of John, [when they are represented] as teaching that it is a matter of indifference to practise adultery, and to eat things sacrificed to idol” William Barclay records that their teaching was an attempt to effect a reasonable compromise with the established usages of the Graeco-Roman society and to retain as many as possible of those usages in the Christian system i.e. merging world morality into Christianity.

 

Having just spoken some strong words against the church at Ephesus, Jesus now moderates his tone with But you have this in your favor , and he goes on to praise them for their revulsion of the practices of this heretical group who were casual about their morality. But it is, in fact, stronger than that, for he says, you hate… I also hate .” Hate is a strong word and one which is rarely used in the church today about feelings towards world morality. Hatred is a very strong dislike and Jesus said this is how he feels about this corrupt group's activities and he commends the church at Ephesus for feeling similarly.

 

Why should Jesus feel so strongly like this, and why should we? Well, Jesus came to bring life, God's life and that wasn't just the power of His own Holy Spirit, it was also a way of living that was holy – distinct, as from God – that brought us in line with God's design for us. Now the Lord had outlined that in the Old Testament and so, for instance, we find, You shall not commit adultery (Ex 20:14 ) in the Ten Commandments, just one of God's ‘design criteria' which this heretical group had disdained. This goes right back to part of the creation mandate, For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.” (Gen 2:24). God's basic design is that we work best when it is one man with one woman for life. Adultery is going outside that mandate and the prohibition against adultery is to protect that relationship and maintain a relationship that conforms to God's original design, which He will bless. So adultery, for example, was one of the things that this heretical group thought was all right – like so many in our society in the West today. Jesus hated it because it was a rejection of his Father's will, His design for us, and as such was a rejection of the One he loved more than any other. It was therefore a way of teaching whereby people turned their backs on God and proclaimed that they knew better than God. As such it revolted Jesus. How stupid can you be? How foolish to think you know better than your Creator – yet so many think that today!

 

This verse is an encouragement to the church at Ephesus , but it is also a challenge to us. Are we casual about sin? Do we see so much of it in the world about us that we have become blasé about it? Are our hearts not moved in the same way that Jesus' was at the sight of foolish people who think they know better than God? There has been a move in the Church in the past ten years or so to understand and bring in Jesus' love and acceptance of needy sinners, and it has been a good correction to the Church that stood at a distance and looked down on sinners, but we are in danger of tolerating sin as part of our loving sinners.

 

We need to understand that Jesus loved and accepted all those who came to him. Those who rejected and even derided him, he stood apart from and left them to his Father to deal with – though he did clearly warn them. Note here it is not hating the people, but the practices. Elsewhere I have written about the example of a son who goes away and falls into every form of sin and comes back to see his parents. His parents hate his life style. Everything about it revolts them. They are angry that it is destroying their son – but they still love their son and long for him to come back to them. They can distinguish between the lifestyle of sin being lived by their son, and their son. One they hate, and the other they still love. Can we see it like that with the people around us? Can we ensure we do not become tolerant of the sin, accepting of the sin? Yes, let's make sure we are open to all who turn to God, but let's ensure that we are so open to God that His Holy Spirit is able to create the same hatred of sin that He feels. May it be so!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Meditation No. 26

Meditation Title: The Reward of Life

     

Rev 2:7   He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.

 

The Bible has quite a lot to say about rewards. First of all there are negative rewards: A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction.” (Gal 6:7,8) That is quite clear. There are also positive rewards, for that quote continues, the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.” (v.8b). Rewards, if we can call them that, go right back to Israel's earliest days: If you fully obey the LORD your God and carefully follow all his commands I give you today, the LORD your God will set you high above all the nations on earth. All these blessings will come upon you and accompany you if you obey the LORD your God (Deut 28:1,2). There then follows a long list of blessings that God promises for His people being obedient. Prior to that has been a list of curses on wrong doing, and indeed curses also follow that list of blessings. It is very simple: if you follow God's way that will work out well but if you disobey and live contrary to God's design, it will all go wrong. Putting it even more simply, God has designed us to ‘work' in a particular way, and if we decide to live contrary to that we'll ‘break down'.

 

So, as we come to the end of the first of these seven letters to the churches of Asia Minor , we find a call that is repeated again and again: He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” In other words, if you have a heart inclined towards the Lord, an ear that is open to Him, then hear what the Holy Spirit is saying here. It may sound very obvious but we may not do it. We may not be listening to God and we may not take note of what He is saying. This is just a simple call to listen and take note and it comes at the end of each letter. If you are in that part of the Church where there is a freedom for prophetic words to come, I wonder, do you go away and seriously think about the words that come in a meeting, or do they let lost in the busyness of the activity of the service?

 

To every church there is the offer of some form of ‘reward' for ‘overcoming'. Again we may take this for granted but we need to note that an Overcomer is one who strives and works to over come some particular difficulty or failing. This comes back to what we said in an earlier meditation, that the Christian life does require hard work and effort. You hear of people who ‘overcome a disability'. Now that requires effort. You hear of people who ‘overcome a disappointment in life'. That requires effort. Jesus does not tolerate the excuse, “Oh well, it was difficult, so I gave up.” Tough! You won't be rewarded then! The reward is promised to the person who will throw off indifference or apathy and who will work or fight to overcome a situation or a personal failure. Again, there are people who are self-centred who feel all upset because they are told off by the Lord when a word comes to them, and so they sulk. Sulking is not a valid response! You are called to overcome. There are those who get angry and storm, “Don't you tell me what to do!” Self-centred anger is not an acceptable response. You are called to overcome your failings and shortcomings! This is a call for overcomers and we're all called to this.

 

Then comes the reward: I will give the right to eat from the tree of life. This takes us right back to the beginning, to the Garden of Eden described here as the paradise of God. The important thing about the tree of life was that it was in the garden and when they were excluded from the garden they were cut off from that tree. The call here was to come back to our first love, that vibrant love of God and Jesus. Come back into the garden to the relationship you first had, must be the meaning implied. There, back in that relationship, you will have access to life that is available for all those who dwell with God. But of course the literal Eden typifies the paradise today that is heaven. The offer thus becomes, if you overcome these things you will have a flow or source of life that comes from God today from heaven. God is the source of life. There is no magical tree that is separate or distinct from him. Even in Eden , eating of the designated tree was simply an outward expression of obedience to God and trust in Him, and the reward for that was life. While they ate of it, the life from God flowed in them. Similarly today, if we obey, if we overcome and deal with those failures that offend the Lord, then the reward will be a flow of life that flows from Him, that flows from being in His presence. ‘ Paradise ' is wherever He is, and wherever He is, His life flows out to those who are with Him. So here is the challenge: overcome! Here is the promise: life from God. Go for it!

       

 

 

 

 

 

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Meditation No. 27

Meditation Title: The Lord who has been there

     

Rev 2:8    To the angel of the church in Smyrna write: These are the words of him who is the First and the Last, who died and came to life again.

 

Each time we start one of these letters, we are going to have to say the same thing: we have looked at Jesus' description that we now find here, because it was a description that came out in chapter one but it is being applied now in a particular situation to a particular church. We need to take note of this; Jesus can be described in a variety of ways, because of who he is. If I described myself I might be able to say, I am a son, a husband, a father, a pastor, a teacher and so on. A variety of things describe who I am, and so it is with Jesus. In these first three chapters we find a variety of descriptions that apply to him, and they each say something slightly different about him, and they are all true, and because they all impact our salvation we need to take note of them.

 

But there is something more to be added to this thought. Each of these descriptions is applied to each church as they needed it. Each particular description of Jesus ‘fits' the church to who he was speaking. When Jesus came to the church at Ephesus he had to emphasise that he was the one who saw everything and knew everything, because there were things that he saw that needed correcting. When he comes to this present church, the church at Smyrna , he presented himself in a different way to match their particular need. There is a principle to be noted here. When Jesus comes to us, because he is the Son of God who died for us, he comes to us in whatever way fits our need. Jesus meets every need that we have. He alone is able to do that for us.

 

When we started looking at the first letter, we said then that what we need to do in each case is do a quick overview of the letter to see why Jesus is being described as he is. In this letter to Smyrna we find that they are a church right in the midst of spiritual conflict and it is so bad that the opposition they will receive will mean some of them are put in prison and will even face death. This particular letter is not a letter of chastening but of warning. Their lives are about to be under threat. Suddenly that makes sense of the description of Jesus, or gives meaning to why this particular description is given. We need to note that Jesus doesn't only see what we are now, as in the case of Ephesus , he also sees what we are about to go through. Thus he comes to them in a way that says, yes I understand what you are about to go through, for I went through it as well.

 

These are the words of him who is the First and the Last. In chapter one, we saw God describing Himself as the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end (1:8). We subsequently saw Jesus describing himself as the First and the Last ( 1:17 ). By doing that Jesus was identifying himself with his Father, claiming divinity, saying he was the One who had been there at the beginning of all things and will be there at the end of all things. He is the Son of God who stands in eternity with his Father. There is this timeless dimension about him because he is divinity, yet at the same time he identifies himself with humanity and time-space history – beginning and end. In saying this he emphasizes his difference from us and establishes a sense of permanence that cannot be moved by people or circumstances in history, but at the same time he is about to emphasise his unity with us by speaking about his death. Death is something that every human being has to experience. It is the great unknown, it is the thing we shy away from and try to avoid for as long as possible. When the enemy comes against us, he threatens us with it. This church at Smyrna is about to be threatened with death for some of its members at least. This speaks to all those around the world who live in countries where there is persecution and where Christians are being threatened with death – and there are many. Jesus comes as the Lord who identifies with us and says, I am the one who died and came to life again. In other words he says, I've been through death; you don't have to fear it.

 

The writer to the Hebrews wrote: Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death - that is, the devil - and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.” (Heb 2:14,15). He recognized that the fear of death imposes itself on humanity but Jesus, by coming and living as a human being, shared in our humanity by facing death, experiencing death, and by passing through it and by coming back with a resurrected body to show us that death is not the end. When we are persecuted, our gracious answer can be, the worst you can do to me is to kill me so For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” ( Phil 1:21) Death is not the end, Jesus proclaims in our verse today. You don't have to be afraid of it. It is merely the doorway to the next stage of your Father's plan for you. Be at peace.

        

 

 

 

 

 

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Meditation No. 28

Meditation Title: Opposition

     

Rev 2:9    I know your afflictions and your poverty--yet you are rich! I know the slander of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan.

 

How we see ourselves is very important. I know a Christian lady who sees herself as nothing, who despairs of her inadequacies and feels a failure, yet she has brought up a most lovely Christian family and her children are a delight. In an area where so many are failing today, she triumphs – and yet she doesn't see it. When we come to the ‘I know' section of this second letter we find a strange set of descriptions. The first bit is simple and straight forward. I know your afflictions. As we have commented many times before, life on this Fallen World is often difficult. James wrote his letter to the scattered church and started out talking about trials (Jas 1:2), because he recognized that living in the world meant that life wasn't always easy. If we (or our family) were the only ones living on this planet, life would be relatively easy. It is other people who make it difficult. We'll look more at the specific reasons for this given here as we go through the verse. For the moment, we'll simply observe that life isn't always easy, as it certainly wasn't for this church at Smyrna .

 

But Jesus also says I know ……your poverty . They are obviously a people who are not well off. It would suggest that this church comes from the lower end of the social spectrum, from those who consider they have little. As is so often found at this end, they also feel they are unworthy, hence the lady I referred to above. Now I make this suggestion partly because it seems it is like this so often at that end of the materialistic social spectrum (which is not surprising, because if you have to battle with poverty it is difficult to believe you are spiritually worthy), but more so because of what follows in the verse which we'll look at in detail in a moment. When people say things against you, it is very difficult to stop the mud sticking! If others demean you, it takes a real effort, and a strong sense of God's love for you to counter what they have said. How many of us have a low self esteem because someone, when we were younger, demeaned us? For these reasons I would suggest that this ‘poverty' refers to more than financial poverty, but also to what they feel about themselves.

 

But is that the truth? According to Jesus, it isn't! He says, yet you are rich! That is his assessment. They have little materially and feel they are unworthy, and he comes and says you are rich! Jesus doesn't tell lies. Jesus doesn't just pat people on the back to encourage them with false words. If he says they are rich, they are rich! The apostle Paul said, my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.” (Phil 4:19). These are spiritual riches. Else where he spoke of the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.” (Eph 2:7) James said, Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith.” (Jas 2:5). These are riches in the knowledge and experience of the Lord. This church knows the Lord in this way, and Jesus commends them for this. This is a church to be praised for the reality of their faith.

 

But then comes the fuller expression of their woes: I know the slander of those who say they are Jews.” The ‘Jews' had been a thorn in Jesus' side and in the side of the apostles as the church spread. Wherever Paul went he found opposition from the ‘Jews'. Now we need to realize that this doesn't apply to every Jewish person but to those especially ‘religious' Jews who were unable to see that God had called them as a nation to be a light to the world, and when they failed, He sent His Son and established the church (first from Jews) to be a wider light worldwide. Those who were more concerned with the religious rituals rather than what God felt, opposed Jesus, had him crucified, and then opposed the church (their own people). A Jew was originally someone descended from the Hebrew people, the nation of Israel, but ‘Jew' came to take on cultural and religious tones. Jew originally was a title of honour, for a person of the chosen people, someone who belonged to that people who had a special relationship with God. That was why Paul (a good Jew – Phil 3:4-6) says, A man is not a Jew if he is only one outwardly….No, a man is a Jew if he is one inwardly (Rom 2:28 ,29). It wasn't, he said, a matter of ritual but of heart towards God, which is why Jesus says here, those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. These people who oppose and persecute you and say things against you, say they are part of my people, but they are not; they are led by Satan! That is strong stuff but this is the Son of God saying it.

 

This letter reminds us a) that persecution has always been a common experience of the church of God and b) that persecution so often comes from those who would claim to be the most religious. Our call is to see the truth as Jesus sees it, to assess things on a spiritual basis rather than a material, affluence basis. Our call is also to receive the grace of God through Jesus to cope with opposition when it comes, and to rejoice in who we are. May it be so!

     

 

 

 

 

 

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Meditation No. 29

Meditation Title: Suffering

     

Rev 2:10 Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you , and you will suffer persecution for ten days.

 

There is a way of thinking in some Christian circles that verges on heresy and is known in some forms as prosperity teaching. It says that if you obey God you will always prosper and become rich and that all the negatives of life on this world will not be yours. It flourishes in parts of the world that are affluent already and in places where persecution has not yet come. It sounds very good and is built on a half truth – that God does promise prosperity or success but He doesn't say what sort or how or when.

 

For instance Joseph in the Old Testament is a classic illustration of this. Joseph has been sold into slavery. He is a slave! Yet we read, The LORD was with Joseph and he prospered , and he lived in the house of his Egyptian master. When his master saw that the LORD was with him and that the LORD gave him success in everything he did, Joseph found favor in his eyes and became his attendant.” (Gen 39:2-4). Yes, Joseph prospered, yes he had success, but he was still a slave! What became worse was that he was unjustly thrown into prison where he stayed for about fourteen years! Yet we still read, the LORD was with him; he showed him kindness and granted him favor in the eyes of the prison warden. So the warden put Joseph in charge of all those held in the prison, and he was made responsible for all that was done there. The warden paid no attention to anything under Joseph's care, because the LORD was with Joseph and gave him success in whatever he did.” (Gen 39:21-23). So here again Joseph has success but he's in prison!

 

The warning near the end of this letter is that this church is about to suffer! Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. Hullo? That is a problem to the prosperity movement! I don't think I've ever heard a message on “You are about to suffer!” It would not be a popular message, but it is what Jesus brings to this church.

 

The first thing that this says to us is that Christians are NOT beyond suffering for their faith. In fact any study of the early church will show the incredible persecutions the early church went through in the first three to four hundred years of its life. Further, examine church history and you will see that large numbers of Christians have ended up in prison and have even been martyred. Read stories of Christians of the past century and you will come across many such stories of imprisonment.

 

The second thing that this says is that the Lord knows about these things before they happen (e.g. Acts 21:11) and frequently He does not stop them. Now if we use Scripture as our guide, we will see that there is no fixed way of things happening. These seem to be the various possibilities. Scenario one: the believer is saved from going to prison by God's intervention. Scenario two: the believer is saved from going to prison by fleeing. Scenario three: the believer is imprisoned but released by the authorities (see early Acts). Scenario four: the believer is imprisoned but released by God (see Acts 12). Scenario five: the believer is imprisoned and then put to death (see John the Baptist). Scenario six: the believer is not imprisoned but killed (see Acts 7:57-59, 12:2).

 

The apostle Paul was imprisoned at least three times, possibly more. If we say, “Why doesn't God stop His people being imprisoned?” we are asking Him to overrule the free will of mankind to stop unbelievers acting out their will against believers. Yes, the Lord does intervene on occasion and we will have to trust His divine wisdom to rest in the knowledge that He knows what is best. This side of heaven we cannot see why people should be imprisoned or killed, except that it is the outworking of sin. Yet we are given a clue here: I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you. Note first that the work of ungodly men imprisoning the people of God is work inspired by Satan. He is behind all of this as he foolishly seeks to oppose the Lord. Yet now see that the Lord who in all things …works for the good of those who love him,” (Rom 8:28 ) uses this imprisonment as a means of testing the faith and quality of spiritual life of His people. Tests (see Jas 1:2-4) work to build perseverance in us and when we overcome and come out the other side of the test, we realize the Lord was there with us and that His grace brought us through, and we praise and worship. Living out the Christian life in the face of the sin and hostility of the world is the ultimate ongoing test. We are constantly tried and tested and strengthened by it, and all the time as we overcome, God is glorified. Sometimes those tests are harder and so we go through suffering.

 

Note one more thing here: for ten days. Whatever happens, happens with the express permission of the Lord and He decrees the extent of the test. In the story of Job, Satan was restricted in the extent that he was allowed to come against Job, which must be summed up as, “thus far and no further!” It is not Satan who decrees what he will do, but God. Although these are words about harsh dealings, they are also to be words of encouragement. Yes, we live in a difficult world and the enemy will rise against us and people will come against us, but the Lord will be there, he will decree just how far they can go and His grace will always be there for us in it. It is time to be mature in our thinking. Understand these things and be strengthened.

      

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Meditation No. 30

Meditation Title: Fear Not

     

Rev 2:10 ,11    Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. He who overcomes will not be hurt at all by the second death.

 

There are times when Scripture is fearful and encouraging all at the same time. This is one of them. As we saw yesterday Jesus comes to this church and warns them that tough times are ahead, times when some of them will be thrown in prison and some will even face death. Now note that it doesn't actually say they will die but the call to them is to be faithful, even to the point of death; in other words remain faithful and be prepared to die if you have to.

 

Christians often seem double-minded about death. We speak about heaven and yet do everything we can to not leave this world. Perhaps that is natural for all of us, because death is still the great unknown, moving from a known world into something that is only spoken about very hazily in Scripture. Yet the truth is that death is merely a doorway into the next world, a world for those of us who are Christians that is so much more wonderful. Thus Jesus tells us to be prepared to relinquish this life if need be. Many Christians down through Church History had given their lives for their faith, and many others have stood back or fled. Let's not condemn them until we've been there. Yet the call is to remain faithful even in the face of death and the truth seems to be that when we are, God's grace will be there to see us through whatever ordeal comes.

 

For those who will face death like this, the Lord promises the crown of life. Now note that it is not a crown, but the crown. Now crowns were given in those days to those who were royalty or those who were victors at the Games. A crown was a sign of position or achievement. To the one who is willing to forfeit their life Jesus promises life, for the crown of life must be a symbol of reigning over life or of triumphing over life. The one who disdains life and trusts in his or her Lord will find they are given life. Now this may be extended life here on the earth, or it may be extended life in eternity.

 

Again there is a call to hear in the Spirit what comes from the Spirit of God: He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. We will not be able to take these things in with our minds alone. We need the Holy Spirit to bring life to the words we hear or read. We need to be spiritual beings to understand spiritual realities, and that is what Jesus is speaking about here.

 

But he says more than this: He who overcomes will not be hurt at all by the second death. As with each of these letters there is this call to overcome, to rise up in faith and triumph over the people or circumstances that are being faced. In this present letter the call is to face the coming persecution with the grace of God and not let fear dominate and steer you. No, instead they were to face the future in the sure knowledge that their Lord was in charge, that his grace was available for them, and that he had the future mapped out for them. When they could do that, there was one specific aspect of the future that they could be at peace about.

 

Normally when we speak about life after death, we simply say people go to either heaven or hell, but in fact the Scriptures indicate that it is not just an automatic going to one or other destinations, there is a facing the Lord so that we and all of creation will know the rightness of where we go. Later in the Revelation John was to write, And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books.” ( Rev 20:12). Now because this is happening outside of time we don't have to try to think of it as at some point of time. It may be, but in the light of the rest of Scripture, it would seem that it is an ongoing process in eternity whereby a record is kept of everyone and a record is kept of those who appear in the book of life or, as it is sometimes called, the Lamb's book of life'. (Rev 21:27).

Hence the reference to the books. This is no casual determining of eternity, but a careful assessment on the basis of what has happened here on earth. Those in the book of life are the Overcomers, those who have turned to God and been faithful to Him in their lives. Later John was to write, He who overcomes will inherit all this, and I will be his God and he will be my son. But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars--their place will be in the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death.” (Rev 21:7,8) We pass from this earth into eternity. That is the first death. In eternity we are assessed or judged on the basis of how we responded to the good news of Jesus the Saviour of the world. If we received his salvation we have a wonderful eternal future with God. If we refused him we find this awful option presented to us – death (the second death) in a lake of fire. Whatever else we might speculate the picture given to us is one to be avoided at all cost, and that of course is the truth – we don't have to go into the second death, we can be saved through the blood of the Lamb that is Jesus.

 

Thus, as Jesus stands before this church, he encourages them and basically says, “Guys, don't worry about facing this earthly death which may or may not come now, but be at peace that being God's faithful children your eternal destiny is secure and for you there is no fear of that second death. Yours is an eternity with Him.” As the writer to the Hebrews wrote, Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Heb 12:2) In other words, Jesus looked past the present death to see what lay beyond to encourage himself now. Let us do the same.

    

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Meditation No. 31

Meditation Title: The Speaker of the Word of God

     

Rev 2:12    "To the angel of the church in Pergamum write: These are the words of him who has the sharp, double-edged sword.

 

Remember the process at the beginning of each of these letters. Check the description back in chapter 1 and then see how it fits this church? As he stood there in the midst of the seven churches there was revealed coming out of his mouth this sharp double-edged sword: out of his mouth came a sharp double-edged sword.” (1:16). He was clearly the Lord of the Church who had the word of God for the Church. So why is that description given here? When we look at the letter we will see that one of the major issues with this church is the issue of truth and the teaching that has been accepted. In deed later in the letter Jesus warns , “Repent therefore! Otherwise, I will soon come to you and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth.” (v.16) so we not only have the description of the sword but also the threat to use it.

 

We need to remind ourselves what this sword is, so that we are completely clear about it. In chapter 1 we saw that it came out of his mouth. Now what comes out of a persons mouth but words. Immediately we say that we remember, For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” (Heb 4:12), so what we have is a clear reference to the word of God that is being spoken by Jesus. That description in Hebrew fits well here in Revelation. God's word doesn't just come to the outer man but it penetrates to the innermost depths. It sees all the thoughts and attitudes a person has and it weighs them up and judges them. When Jesus spoke about the Holy Spirit convicting people (Jn 16), He does it using God's word.

 

A sword is for fighting. God's word fights against untruth. A sword is for killing. God's word kills off self and sin. It comes with devastating power and kills off all arguments and pretensions We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God.” (2 Cor 10:5). When the word of God comes, it has that effect. The fact is that when God speaks, no one argues! Yes, there are times when He speaks gently through a preacher and we go away wondering, but when God speaks with authority you do not argue! When God speaks His words are perfect; they create and they destroy.

 

We are what we are because God spoke: He chose to give us birth through the word of truth (Jas 1:18). His word came (even though at the time we did not realize that that was what it was) and convicted us. We were pinned in a corner by the truth. There was no getting away. The truth about Jesus was explained to us and suddenly it made some sense and we responded to it and were born again. It was a cleansing action: as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, having cleansed her by the washing with water through the word.” (Eph 5:25,26). An example of that was on the day of Pentecost when Peter preached the word, which brought great response and they were all then baptized as an outward sign of their inward washing.

Whether we are aware of it or not, God's word that comes from Him, always has effect: so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.” (Isa 55:11) This ‘sword' is only ‘unsheathed' to have effect. It is said that the Gurkha knife, the "Kukri", is never to be unsheathed without drawing blood. It is described as sharp as a needle for piercing the enemy's body. In that sense it is just like the word of God that He sends for a purpose and when He sends it, it has effect! When the psalmist describes God melting the snow and hail he said, He sends his word and melts them; he stirs up his breezes, and the waters flow.” (Psa 147:18).

Yes, this is a simple way of saying God speaks and he melts the snow, but in that it is also a good description of what God does by His Spirit and His word – He speaks and melts the hard heart. This word that that cuts to the core can also melt the hard heart that nothing else can move. So when you find someone with a hard heart, don't give up; they are not beyond God's word which can cut right through, past the defence mechanisms that we so often put up, cut right through to the innermost being where it then melts the hardest of hearts. Amazing! Again, when the psalmist was writing about those who were suffering from their folly, he writes, Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble, and he saved them from their distress. He sent forth his word and healed them.” (Psa 107:19,20). The word comes and convicts and we cry out and His word comes again and we are healed up on the inside. The word went deep where the deepest wounds are, and we are healed. This is what God's word can do if we open ourselves to Him, and Jesus is the bringer of that word in the midst of his Church.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Meditation No. 32

Meditation Title: The Faithful Ones

     

Rev 2:13  I know where you live--where Satan has his throne. Yet you remain true to my name. You did not renounce your faith in me, even in the days of Antipas, my faithful witness, who was put to death in your city--where Satan lives.

 

Pergamum was a major city, the capital of the area that at that time was called ‘ Asia ' (look at a Bible map of Paul's journeys to see it) and was full of pagan temples, e.g. of Zeus, Athene and Apollo. One scholar has suggested that the reference to ‘Satan's throne' refers to the massive altar to Zeus, that had a base a hundred foot square and was high above the plain so that it could be seen from far around. Also one of the temples was dedicated to the god of medicine who was often referred to as ‘Saviour' and ‘Preserver' and was depicted by a serpent (possibly originating from the serpent lifted up in the wilderness by Moses – Num 21:8) and of course Satan, from the beginning, was represented by a serpent (Gen 3:1). When Moses was given a miraculous sign to perform it was his staff being turned into a serpent and then him taking hold of it and it being turned back into his staff. Was this a figurative picture of him overcoming Satan in the form of Pharaoh? So the serpent was worshipped, but so also was this city the centre of emperor worship, which was a constant thorn in the side of the early Christians. Again and again they were required to worship the emperor who was considered a god, and when they refused they were called atheists!

 

Jesus opens the ‘I know' section of this letter with, I know where you live.” He is saying to them very directly, I know what sort of city it is where you live. Two men in our church were once meditating on this verse and it struck them that this phrase was almost like the thing a western hero might say to the ‘bad guys' meaning, “and I'm coming to get you.” The awareness that Jesus knew where they lived, meant they were accountable to him. They saw this accountability in this clear way for the first time, and it rather shook them. How do you feel about the Lord saying to you, I know where you live ”? He knows all about your home, he knows about your home town and, of course, he holds us responsible – responsible for how we live there.

 

As we have commented already he describes Pergamum as the place where Satan's throne is. A throne is a place where a ruler sits to express his rule. Whatever else it might say it says that Satan had been given power and authority by the pagans of this city. As they worshipped all their gods, they worshipped Satan. This was a place where evil reigned, and this is clear by the reference to the first Christian martyr in the area of Asia, called Antipas who, it is believed, was put to death in the time of emperor Domitian, probably somewhere between AD81 and 86, by being sealed up in a metal bull and heated until it was red hot. So, for these Christians, it wasn't only a case of living in a town full of pagan worshippers, but persecution had come against them and at least one of their number had been put to death in a most horrible way to satisfy the pagan gods. Such is clearly the inspired work of Satan. Now, as we commented with the previous church, the Christians had not been spared this suffering. The Lord knew about it and had allowed it, as part of His permitting free will, even when it means the apparently premature arrival in heaven of His children.

 

The key question in all these things, is how will we handle the situation? Do you remember Jesus' question? when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?” (Lk 18:8), or to put it another way, when Jesus comes back, will he find you and me remaining faithful? That is easy when life is easy, but when everyone around us is giving allegiance to Satan, and when he is stirring people up against us, will we remain faithful then? This church receives a major commendation from the Lord of the church: you remain true to my name. You did not renounce your faith in me.” Will we receive the Lord's grace to be able to do the same? Twice in this verse Jesus refers to Satan's presence in this city. There are towns and places in Britain where Satan's reign is obvious.

There are towns where, even in the high street, the signs are there of occult allegiances, where New Age prevails, the enemy is worshipped. Third World nations are now sending missionaries to Britain because of the state of the land. The question for the church is will we remain true in the face of the paganism that fills the land, will we shine as lights in the darkness, despite whatever the enemy may seek to bring against us. Remember, the Lord of the Church is in our midst, and he is also the one who sits at his Father's right hand, ruling in the midst of his enemies (Psa 110:1,2). He is the Lord of the land, not the enemy. Remember, the enemy seeks to deceive and one of the things he wants us to believe is that he is the one who is reigning, he is the one who has a throne in the midst of our land, and he has the power to destroy the church. Our God reigns, and the enemy can only go as far as our Lord says, as far as it fits His purposes. Rest in that, receive His grace and don't blanch in the face of the enemy's antics. Jesus is Lord!

       

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Meditation No. 33

Meditation Title: Beware the Heretics

Rev 2:14,15   Nevertheless, I have a few things against you: You have people there who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to entice the Israelites to sin by eating food sacrificed to idols and by committing sexual immorality. Likewise you also have those who hold to the teaching of the Nicolaitans.

 

There may be a temptation to think that these problems of the early church sometimes really have little to do with the modern church, but as we look into them we will see that they are very pertinent today, just as they were then. The church as a whole in Pergamum has just been praised by Jesus for holding to the faith in the face of persecution but now he points out that some of their people have been going astray. Now here is a significant point to be observed. You can have a church where most people are orthodox, but if you have some who have fallen off the rails, the church still has an issue with Jesus. Another aspect of this is that you can have a church which is apparently very strong in terms of holding to doctrine, but it can be weak in terms of personal ethics or personal morality. It should not be like that, but it can be. Now the same can be true of the individual (for a church is made up of individuals). An individual can apparently be very spiritual or very orthodox; they know their Bible, they turn up regularly on Sundays and at midweek prayer meetings, but somewhere in their life they have a moral weakness which they indulge. It should not be so, but it sometimes is, and that person has an issue with Jesus, and he will hold them accountable for it.

 

If Jesus said to us I have a few things against you I think we would gulp. Again this is the Lord of the Church holding us accountable. He is pointing out that he sees things in this church that do not please him. In fact they seriously displease him! So let's find out what these things were. There is a twofold thrust in this complaint. The first part is a complaint that there are some people who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who we find in Num 24 & 25, and if we aren't clear what Jesus is referring to, he spells it out: who taught Balak to entice the Israelites to sin by eating food sacrificed to idols and by committing sexual immorality. In Num 25:1,2 and 31:16 we find reference to the Israelite men being led astray by the Moabite women. Balak had wanted Balaam to curse Israel but the seer refused. However the enticement of money meant he counselled Balak that if he wanted to bring down Israel , the way to do it was to undermine them morally, which is what happened. The sin of Balaam is therefore to minimize, permit and maybe even introduce immorality into the church.

 

We need to be very clear about this. There were, in fact, two aspects to this particular part of the complaint. The first part was about eating food sacrificed to idols. Why is this significant we may ask today? Well yesterday we noted that this was a city full of pagan temples and in the market most of the meat had been separated off for pagan worship. Some of it had been used for that purpose and then the rest returned and sold. Thus it meant that in the eyes of many this meat belonged to pagan deities and anyone who ate it participated in the life of those pagan deities. You either ate this meat or probably went without meat. Thus many Christians ate it and felt bad about it. (Paul spoke about this in 1 Cor 10:25). What it did was weaken their consciences and made them feel separated off from their Lord. In that state, it was a simple thing to be led into going a step further into the second aspect of this first complaint, into immorality. Now the immorality was encouraged because so many of the pagan temples were served by pagan priestesses who offered themselves to the worshipper as part of the pagan worship. With so much of this happening generally in the city, it was so common that sexual immorality was almost part of the general lifestyle of anyone whose conscience was already weakened.

 

Do you see what part of the argument was likely to have been? Well, everyone else does it and it seems all right for them, so why not for me? We live in an age, in the West at least, where marriage has broken down and is often being replaced by cohabitation, which is mostly not long lasting, and so it is a very small leap to sexual experiences with whoever you feel like having sex with. The media at least would like us to believe that that is how it is. It may not be as extensive as they suggest, but it is very common. For the Christian (young person?), with a not very strong faith, the temptation is easily there to give way to the same lifestyle as their friends seem to be living and submit to sexual promiscuity. This, at least, is what many surveys suggest, and it should not be. It is something that the Lord of the Church speaks against.

 

The second complaint that he has, is that there are some who hold to the teaching of the Nicolaitans. Now we considered them in Meditation 25 when we looked at the church at Ephesus. They were commended for hating their practices, but this church has some who have taken them on board. This is probably the same thing as the first complaint, giving way to sexual immorality, because that's what that group of heretics did. Ah, note the word we have just used. Heretics are any people who distort or twist the truth and substitute a lie. That is what these people in this church have done. They have taken on board the lie from Eden that Satan said to Eve: it will be all right. It won't be, it is wrong and it offends the Lord of the Church and it is as big a problem in the West today as it was in the church in Pergamum . We dare not treat these complaints lightly. The Lord of the Church said strong things about them then, and he will do today.

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Meditation No. 34

Meditation Title: Beware the Word of God

     

Rev 2:16 Repent therefore! Otherwise, I will soon come to you and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth.

 

In these letters, wherever there is a failing or shortcoming, there is always a call to do something about it. Many of us think that God is quite happy to sit back and let us carry on with our failings or shortcomings, but if these letters to the seven churches teach us anything, they teach us that God isn't! He requires us to do something about it, to change. Again and again the word ‘repent' is used. It simply means to make a one hundred and eighty degree turn and turn right round from doing what is wrong in God's sight to doing what is right. So here Jesus has been picking this church up on the fact that some of the people that constituted that local church had started living in the same way that some of the heretical sects were living – immorally.

 

This is the third letter. The second letter, to Smyrna had simply been a letter of warning but the first letter to Ephesus had included a rebuke for losing their first love. The call to repentance to them had been followed by a warning that if they did not, then the Lord of the Church would remove their Lampstand. The warning in this present letter is very different. There isn't the threat of removing them; there is instead the threat that he will come and deal with the miscreants with his word. Now, at first sight, that sounds rather low key, so we had better consider it in more detail.

 

If Jesus said, “I will come and talk to them,” that would have been low key, and those who were indulging in immoral sexual relationships would have smiled and said, “And?” They would not be bothered but the language of this verse should make them feel uneasy. He starts out by saying, I will soon come to you. The Lord is not going to leave this situation for much longer. The fact is that he stands in their midst and they seem to be able to cope with that, but he indicates that he will soon come . ‘Come' seems to indicate a closer encounter that they have at the moment. This is going to get ‘up front and personal'! Jesus is going to come to those offenders and confront them directly. That doesn't sound so comfortable.

 

So what more does he say: and will fight against them. Fight? God fighting against us? That doesn't sound good news! That sounds like tough, unpleasant activity. More than that he says he's coming with the sword of my mouth. Now we've noted before that this sword is double edged and is able to pierce run into the inner person. It can cut through all pretensions, all defensive barriers, and all hardness of heart. This God's word, and it is dangerous, it will have dynamic effect. You won't stand against it. When it comes it will slash through all the defensive waffle that we use, the “well everyone else does it” types of excuse, and will reveal them for what they are, godless, unrighteous, waffly excuses for being rebellious and disobedient. It will come with total, devastating, convicting power. These people will be brought to their knees. There will be tears and there will be repentance!

 

Now we so often talk about the Lord giving us free will and that is indeed so, but there are times in history that God seems to come with the Sword of the Spirit, the word of God (Eph 6:17), this two edged sword that had such powerful effect, that none can stand before it. If you believe you can stand before God and defend your unrighteousness, you've never yet had a major convicting experience and you obviously need to start reading about revivals in the church. The many accounts of revivals in church history tell us that sometimes God turns up with deadly power that lays bear all our sins that are revealed in horrible clarity. When that happens men fall prostrate before Him in abject submission and anguish. When God's word comes in power, it has a devastating effect.

 

The reality is that mostly the Lord is gentle with us, giving us time to repent on our own. Elsewhere on this site I have commented how many years ago, as a small church, we heard that our leaders had invited a prophet to come and speak, a man who had a reputation for revealing lives in just this way. In the week before he came, a lot of people did a lot of cleaning up in their lives. This verse isn't about Jesus coming to kill you – at least not physically – it's about him coming to devastate you with the truth. Do we have to wait for one of these unusual seasons of God coming, to clean up our lives? Far better to come to the Lord of the Church and confess one-to-one your failings and shortcomings, and change now, rather than wait for a time when he comes and exposes you to public gaze and absolutely wrecks your composure! You really don't want that option. If you're harbouring sin, know that he will come and he will deal with it. Much better that you deal with it now.

    

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Meditation No. 35

Meditation Title: A Secret Reward

     

Rev 2:17    He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, I will give some of the hidden manna. I will also give him a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to him who receives it.

 

The rebuke for this church had been against some who ate food offered to idols and who also lapsed morally like those of the cults of the day, of the heretics who purported to have a religious faith, but were flexible when it came to ethics. The call had been to turn away from these wrong practices and wrong ways of thinking. Now, as in all of the letters, there was the promise to the ‘Overcomer', the person who responded and triumphed over the shortcomings or trials that had been spoken about.

 

The rewards offered in the case of this church are two gifts – I will give. The first of these gifts is described as some of the hidden manna. Now manna had been the heavenly food that God had provided for Israel in the forty years of wilderness wanderings. Note the characteristics there described. First it was heavenly supernatural food, God's provision for them, His gift. Second it was an ongoing provision that came six days a week and, third, it was for them while they were in difficult or trying circumstances. (see Ex 16). Now the Lord told the Israelites to put a small amount in a jar which would be kept in the innermost place of the Tabernacle as a reminder to the priesthood and then to the people of the way that the Lord had provided. This jar of manna would thus act as a testimony, but it was hidden away, out of general sight. Now Jesus later described himself as, the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” (Jn 6:33) and in case we missed it, he reiterates it, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world” (Jn 6:51). Thus now the Lord of the Church says to these believers, do what I say and I will give you the food of heaven that sustains life. Don't eat the meat of idols, but eat of me that you might live and be sustained. Receive the provision of heaven.

 

But there was also a second gift promised: I will also give him a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to him who receives it.” Now small white stones were given in those days for a variety of reasons: white stones were given a) to mark days of festivity or days of celebration [celebrate triumphing over your sins!], b) in court to signify acquittal [rejoice over Christ forgiving you!], c) to victors in the Games [receive the acclaim of being a victor], d) by close friends as a sign of welcome to the home [be welcomed into heaven, into the family of God, by Jesus] and e) to the participants in the pagan temples allowing them entrance to the pagan temple by the god [be welcomed into the true temple, heaven, by God Almighty]. Now certainly in some of those instances the name of the victor or the guest were written on the stone given, but here this stone which signifies all of these things, has a name that is not known to anyone other than the giver and the receiver. The giver is Jesus and you are the receiver. What this signifies is an intimacy; Jesus calls you by an intimate name that no one else knows about. Husbands and wives sometimes have ‘pet names' for each other, terms of intimacy and endearment, that know one else knows about. That is what is being suggested here.

 

The person who triumphs over the wrong thinking of the world and the enemy and who remains true to the truth, the person who refuses to follow the immoral paths of the world but who remains pure and faithful, this person will receive all of the Lord's provision and a level of intimacy with him, unknown to many. Do you have that knowledge of being on the receiving end of heavenly provision? Do you know the strength that comes from the life of the Son of God, the true Bread of Life? Do you know the intimacy that he bestows on those who remain faithful to him in belief and in deed? There is a sense whereby every believer is to be an Overcomer of all these things noted in these letters to the seven churches and therefore receives all of the things promised to Overcomers. This is our calling as we live in the midst of a world that worships anything but God, a world that is godless and unrighteous. It is a call to remain faithful to Him and to receive from Him. May it be so.

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Meditation No. 36

Meditation Title: The Revealing One

     

Rev 2:18    To the angel of the church in Thyatira write: These are the words of the Son of God, whose eyes are like blazing fire and whose feet are like burnished bronze.

 

Back in the chapter one description of the Lord of the Church standing in the midst of the seven churches we saw the description: his eyes were like blazing fire. His feet were like bronze.” (Rev 1:14,15) and thus we find him using this description as he comes to speak to the church at Thyatira. Thyatira was said to be a poor city, a military city whose god was Tyrimnas, the sun god, depicted as a warrior riding forth to battle. As will be seen when we get into the letter the church there was struggling against false teaching and immorality (which seemed to often go together). So what were the particular descriptions of the Lord of the Church and why were they being used here?

 

This is the only church where Jesus uses the designation, “the Son of God.” There may be a sun-deity in this place, but there is a Son-Deity who pales the sun into insignificance. What was the revelation that the church generally had had of Jesus? They had experienced him on the earth, ministering wonderfully for three years, transforming the lives of thousands and thousands of people. They had witnessed him giving his life for the world, and then rising from the dead. They had witnessed his ability to conquer death. They had seen him ascend to the Father and they knew him as the glorified Son of God who was now seated at his Father's right hand in heaven, reigning! (see Mk 16:9, Acts 2:33, 1 Pet 3:22, Acts 7:55, Rom 8:34, Eph 1:20, Phil 2:9) Oh yes, the teaching had been quite clear. The Son of God was the One who now reigned with his Father. As the Son of God, reigning from heaven, he comes to challenge any pretenders, whether they be sun gods or false prophetesses.

 

But he also comes as the one with “ eyes like blazing fire.” Note, not just like fire, but like blazing fire! Fire would have been bad enough because fire suggests strong emotion, the ability to burn through and see through anything, but blazing fire seems to suggest a terrible strength that cannot be withheld. See a forest fire and nothing stands before it. See the fire of a flame thrower and nothing can stand before it. See the fire of explosions of action films, and everything is consumed before it. The apostle Paul spoke about the work of God on the last day, If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man's work. If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames.” (1 Cor 3:12 -15). There the fire of God will burn up and destroy all that can be burned, but that which is of God will stand. Thus the Lord of the Church comes to this church where false teaching and immorality abound and reveals himself as the one whose eyes see everything and burn up all that is unrighteous. In sci-fi films there are sometimes beings who can look and destroy by the fire from their eyes. That is what we see here, and it is an awesome picture.

 

We have often noted before, the terrible ability of God and His Son to be able to see everything. In Ezekiel, he had a vision: Then he brought me to the entrance to the court. I looked, and I saw a hole in the wall. He said to me, "Son of man, now dig into the wall." So I dug into the wall and saw a doorway there. And he said to me, "Go in and see.” (Ezek 8:7-9) That vision was a classic illustration of God revealing that He knew everything – even all that was being done in secret. We sometimes think we can get away with things because we do them behind closed doors where we think no one can see – but God does. The Lord of the Church comes with the message – I see everything, nothing is hidden from my eyes! Later in the letter he was to say, all the churches will know that I am he who searches hearts and minds.” (2:23)

 

But there is a further description: whose feet are like burnished bronze.” We commented in chapter one that this speaks of strength that has come through trial and testing. Jesus can come to this church and challenge all that is going on because he has been through the ultimate trial. There is a sense that where he treads with these feet that have walked through death, he reveals reality. He who has been tested now tests all things. Wherever he walks, his feet reveal the truth of what is there. If he enters the church of Thyatira , they need to realize that he will reveal everything that is there, by his blazing eyes, but his feet will reveal the nature of what he finds there. That which is unrighteous and ungodly, these strong feet will trample upon and destroy. Burnished suggests feet that have been tried by fire. Imagine they are still hot. The eyes burn through and the feet burn up all that is unrighteous and ungodly. If he comes like that, we dare not let any such thing remain in us or in our churches. Dare we face this Son of God?

      

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Meditation No. 37

Meditation Title: The All-Rounders

     

Rev 2:19    I know your deeds, your love and faith, your service and perseverance, and that you are now doing more than you did at first.

 

Perhaps the awareness that with most of these churches the commendation is followed by a correction, somewhat blunts the wonder of the commendation, but we should see this praise for what it is – an acknowledgement by the Lord of the Church that this church has mostly got it right. This is an all-round church that has been doing well in so many ways.

 

Notice how Jesus starts off this commendation: I know your deeds. We are sometimes so anxious in evangelical circles to focus on doctrine and belief that we forget that there is to be a practical working out of the Christian faith. James understood this when he wrote, What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds?” (Jas 2:14) and then added, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.” ( 2:17 ). A church that has no tangible or practical expression of its faith is only a false imitation of what the church should be. The apostle Paul was the one who worked out the doctrine that the church is Christ's body, for example: Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.” (1 Cor 12:27) and “ the church, which is his body (Eph 1:22,23). The point about Christ's body is that it does God's will: when Christ came into the world, he said: …. a body you prepared for me; I have come to do your will(Heb 10:5,7) which means serving God. But there is another aspect of church which again Paul expounded upon: In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord.” (Eph 2:21). The emphasis on the church being the temple of the Holy Spirit is that the temple was both a place to reveal God and a place to meet with God. Thus the church is supposed to reveal God and also be a place where people can meet with God. We see both these aspects – body and temple expressed in what follows in our verse, although in reverse order to that which we have just covered.

 

Jesus first commends them for their love and faith. This is all about their heart attitude and expression and what they are. This is what they convey as they reveal the Lord (being the temple). Love is our starting point. We love because he first loved us .” (1 Jn 4:19). The heart of the church must first be love towards God for who He is and what He has done. This church had that love. Does ours? Does ours express this love clearly and obviously towards the Lord? But of course one of the primary ways the church expresses love towards God is by expressing faith, a response to what it hears from the Lord. We express faith when we read the Bible, when we pray, when we worship and when we witness. In all these ways we are responding to the Holy Spirit's leading, and that is faith. That is the first area of commendation for this church. Can Jesus commend our church similarly? Are we those who express faith in all these ways?

 

But there is a second part of the commendation: your service and perseverance. This is their faith focused by the Holy Spirit to be those who bring the blessing of God to others, and that is to be in two ways as well. First it is to be to the church itself: From him (Christ) the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.” (Eph 4:16). In respect of spiritual gifts Paul taught,Since you are eager to have spiritual gifts, try to excel in gifts that build up the church.” (1 Cor 14:12 ). Our first expression of service is to build and bless the church itself, because unless that happens it will not be strong to reach out to the world, which is to be its second area of service. Many centuries ago Jeremiah prophesied, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile.” (Jer 29:7). Jesus taught, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” (Mt 5:16). Paul went on to teach, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.” (Eph 6:10). The teaching is clearly, bless God's world and they will see from where your service comes from and realize God loves them and will turn and be saved and He will be glorified. Is our church conveying the love of God to the world around us like this? Are we using more than words? Are we conveying practical blessing to people? Are their hearts being softened by these acts of service?

 

There is yet a final bit to this commendation: you are now doing more than you did at first. Growth is expected by the Lord: grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” (2 Pet 3:18). Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation.” (1 Pet 2:2). And the strongest call of all: make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But if anyone does not have them, he is nearsighted and blind, and has forgotten that he has been cleansed from his past sins.” (2 Pet 1:5-9) Are we doing this? May it be so!

     

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Meditation No. 38

Meditation Title: Beware the false prophetess

     

Rev 2:20-22    Nevertheless, I have this against you: You tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess. By her teaching she misleads my servants into sexual immorality and the eating of food sacrificed to idols. I have given her time to repent of her immorality, but she is unwilling. So I will cast her on a bed of suffering, and I will make those who commit adultery with her suffer intensely, unless they repent of her ways.

 

The problem with the Church is that it is made up of people and people get funny ideas and do strange things – and lead others to do the same. Put like that it sounds simple and almost harmless but it isn't; it means that those who start as Christians can have their understanding of the truth distorted and twisted until their beliefs and their lives are very far from God's design of His church, a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God.” (1 Pet 2:9).

 

Now when we come to today's verses we find commentators branching off into speculations about what the spirit of Jezebel was and how it applies in history, but our role, as always, is simply to take what is there in Scripture before us and try and avoid speculation as much as possible and simply see what the word says. So, yes there was an ungodly queen by the name of Jezebel (1 Kings 16:31) who worshipped Baal and who encouraged false prophets and witchcraft (2 Kings 9:22) and there are similarities with the present Jezebel, but let's just look at what it says here.

 

The criticism of the church here is that they tolerate or put up with this woman. In our desiring to be a loving, accepting and caring people, we can tolerate that which the Lord does not tolerate. This woman calls herself a prophetess. There is no reason to believe that this refers to anything other than a literal woman who held herself out to be a voice for God. She wouldn't hold herself out to be a voice for ‘gods' because that would be too obvious. When Satan comes as an angel of light (2 Cor 11:14) he comes deceiving through someone who apparently looks godly. She obviously made prophetic pronouncements and appeared very spiritual and in this way made others think she was all right. In some circles in Christianity we unwisely reject spiritual gifts; in other circles we receive them uncritically. The apostle Paul taught that we should, not put out the Spirit's fire; do not treat prophecies with contempt. Test everything.” (1 Thess 5:19 ,20) and “Two or three prophets should speak, and the others should weigh carefully what is said.” (1 Cor 14:29 ). The apostle John taught, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.” (1 Jn 4:1). In other words both of them knew that ‘everything that glitters is not gold'!

 

But notice what she was doing: By her teaching she misleads my servants. She wasn't merely prophesying, she was also teaching and her teaching was wrong and she was leading others in the church into wrong beliefs. This church had not heeded the apostle Paul's practice when he said, I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man.” (1 Tim 2:12). Paul based this on the creation order of authority, but did he also discern something that the modern church has not understood about the differences between men and women? A powerful and dominating charismatic woman can be a powerful force for the enemy as seen here. How do we know she was wrong? By what she was leading people into! We have already seen in previous letters the wrongness of sexual immorality and the eating of food sacrificed to idols and how one often led on from the others. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus had taught, Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.” (Mt 15-20). In that extensive passage he warned against the likes of Jezebel and said they come looking harmless (‘sheep's clothing') but inwardly they are destructive (‘ferocious wolves'). Yet the way to discern what they are really like is to look at the fruit of their lives. If they are doing things forbidden by Scripture and leading others to do it, they are wrong!

 

Now the Lord tells them that he has warned her but she has not heeded the warning: I have given her time to repent of her immorality, but she is unwilling. Well, having given her time, he is now going to deal with her: So I will cast her on a bed of suffering . We aren't told quite what but the implication is that she will go down with an illness or disease. Perhaps it was something associated with sexual immorality. But not only is she going to go down with it, so she will contaminate those who commit adultery with her. This may be physical and/or spiritual. The objective? To bring them to repentance! Jesus wants these people back. He doesn't want to destroy them; he doesn't want to lose them; he wants them back where they should be, in a right place in the church. Browse back over these things. Take in the warnings that are here and note that we are called to be a holy, discerning people. May we be that!

      

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Meditation No. 39

Meditation Title: Judgment & Discipline

     

Rev 2:22 ,23    So I will cast her on a bed of suffering, and I will make those who commit adultery with her suffer intensely, unless they repent of her ways. I will strike her children dead. Then all the churches will know that I am he who searches hearts and minds, and I will repay each of you according to your deeds.

 

Because we live in a day where the church is made up of all levels of belief, we often encounter levels of unbelief that are far from the teaching of the Bible. Within churches on a Sunday morning you will find a variety of people. There will be those seeking – great! There will be those who believe they are Christians but they don't believe that God speaks or acts today; they believe church just goes on without divine interference. There are those who have a nice warm, fuzzy-feeling picture of Jesus as the bringer of everything that will make them feel good and establish them in their self-centred lives. However, this is far from the truth as revealed in Scripture. These letters to the early Church, and to the Church throughout history, reveal Jesus as the Lord of the Church who holds individuals and churches accountable to him, and that accountability includes discipline or judgement where appropriate.

 

Now yesterday we considered briefly the first of today's two verses and noted that Jesus' intention is to bring about repentance. We need to be quite clear that that is always God's intention. As He said through Ezekiel, I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign LORD. Repent and live!” (Ezek 18:32). We see the same sense in the New Testament: He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” (2 Pet 3:9).

 

At the same time we must be quite clear that, The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness.” (Rom 1:18). The anger of God comes against willful rebellion, when His goodness is clearly displayed in the world but sinful men and women disregard it and ignore or turn away from Him. Now in that Romans 1 passage we see how God goes about bringing disciplinary judgment with the aim of turning people back to Himself. Note what He does: Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts (Rom 1:24). He steps back and lifts off His hand of restraint and lets people freely do the things their sinful hearts want to do and, as modern life shows, that brings pain, anguish, stress, upset, illness and so on – but it is slow and gradual, and it is slow and gradual because it is meant to bring people to their senses, to bring them to repentance.

 

The ‘catastrophic judgment' of God, we believe, is rare. The illustration of God's dealings with mankind was typified in His dealings with Israel prior to the Exile (see 2 Chronicles and Jeremiah). Again and again He warned them of the suicidal path they were taking and called them to turn back, again and again. It was only when He deemed there was no point in speaking any longer that He destroyed Jerusalem and sent the people into exile – but even then there was a future for them.

 

For many of us in the unenlightened twenty first century, the thought of God bringing death seems unreasonable, yet it is the outcome of every single one of us anyway (Heb 9:27). It is premature, sudden death that shakes us. In Acts 5 we find Ananias and his wife Sapphira being prematurely taken to heaven as a salutary warning to the church. Paul warned the Corinthian church that some of them were dying prematurely because they were being casual about Communion (1 Cor 11:30), and he saw it clearly as judgment: “But if we judged ourselves, we would not come under judgment. When we are judged by the Lord, we are being disciplined so that we will not be condemned with the world.” (v.31,32). In other words this ‘judgment' was in fact ‘discipline' on the church but it was not like the judgment of the unbelieving world that brings God's eternal condemnation and destruction.

 

Thus we find in our verses today the things we have just covered. First God's desire for repentance in those who had gone astray in the church, but then a clear warning that if they refused to heed His warning, then judgment would come and it would involve their deaths and removal from the church, to heaven (these were believers he was warning, even if they had gone astray!).

 

So, let us not see these words as harsh. They are in fact words of grace and mercy that spell out the escape route from sin. Failure to heed them means they become an escape route to heaven. This is what God does! Be clear about it. He does not tolerate ongoing sin in His church. He will deal with it, but sometimes it appears very slow because He wants us to come to repentance, to remain on this earth as lights to the world. If we are foolish enough to disregard the warning our departure will be premature. Let's try and make sure that doesn't happen! There is a better way!

        

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Meditation No. 40

Meditation Title:  Hold On

     

Rev 2:25   Now I say to the rest of you in Thyatira, to you who do not hold to her teaching and have not learned Satan's so-called deep secrets (I will not impose any other burden on you): Only hold on to what you have until I come.

 

We have come through some rather challenging verses, but something that becomes even more obvious now, is that they applied only to a part of the church at Thyatira, for Jesus now goes on to speak to the part of the church that has remained faithful and has not entered into the things the others had. It is amazing to think that a church can be made up of two different factions, one faithful, one in folly, but it does happen and it simply shows that Satan is constantly trying to undermine the local church and we therefore need to be constantly alert.

 

The faithful ones in this church had not taken on board the wrong teaching of this woman Jezebel, nor had they entered into the practical expressions of her beliefs. Gnosticism, which was growing stronger in those days, first of all demeaned the physical world and said only spirit counted or was good, but then went on in a queer twist of logic to say that because the material world was evil and didn't count in salvation, you could do what you like in it and hence immorality and licentiousness were acceptable! Moreover they said that to understand and defeat Satan you had to enter into his things – the deep secrets of Satan, the mystical special knowledge of Gnosticism. So wrong teaching and wrong actions that flowed from that teaching were the things that part of this church had become involved in, but part of it had resisted.

 

These were the ones who were commended for their love and faith…. service and perseverance . (v.19). So what are they now told to do? Hold on to what you have until I come. This was a similar call to what Paul taught about spiritual warfare in Ephesians 6 when he taught, put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then.” (Eph 6:13,14). His call to stand was to hold on to the ground that God has given us in Christ. Satan tries to get us off that ‘land', out of the experience of the kingdom, where all of God's blessings are available. He does it mostly by deception, trying to make us have wrong beliefs. Frequently he tries to make us focus on our guilt so that we are constantly anxious, but ‘the land' we are to hold involves forgiveness, freedom from guilt and condemnation, and peace with God. Some he attacks by making them believe they have to do things to achieve their salvation, whereas the land we are to hold onto, the place where we are to stand, is a place where everything has been done to achieve our salvation and we can't add to that. All we can do is enjoy it, and part of the enjoyment is living out a life of faith which involves doing the things the Spirit leads us into, but that isn't to achieve our salvation but to joyfully express it.

 

So when Jesus now says Hold on , he means hold on to two things. The first is a right set of beliefs as we've just been indicating, and the second is a right lifestyle that is free from immorality and licentiousness. Those were the things that were specifically being used by the enemy at that time but, in fact, anything that leads us to have a divided heart and a divided lifestyle is wrong. The man who goes to church on Sunday and appears holy, but who exercises dubious business practices on Monday is deceived. The woman who is a pillar of the church on Sunday but a harsh tyrant of a supervisor or manager on Monday is deceived. The young person who is a lively and vocal part of the church youth group on Sunday but who is copying a fellow pupil's coursework or cheating in exams, is deceived. The leader who appears a wonderful example on a Sunday but who is having an illicit relationship with a woman in the congregation is deceived. All these things do happen and they all simply show us the wiles of the enemy and the deceptiveness of Sin. All of these things we used as illustrations, lead to destruction in some form or other. They are all wrong and although we believe no one sees, the Lord of the Church, who has eyes like blazing fire , does see and holds us to account. We may think we are getting away with it, but the Lord is just giving you time to repent. If you don't, beware the destruction that will come.

 

A similar call comes a number of times in the New Testament: Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess .” (Heb 10:23). Let us hold firmly to the faith we profess.” (Heb 4:14). We have come to share in Christ if we hold firmly till the end the confidence we had at first.” (Heb 3:14). An overseer must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it.” (Titus 1:9) Deacons must keep hold of the deep truths of the faith with a clear conscience.” (1 Tim 3:9). So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the teachings we passed on to you .” (2 Thess 2:15). By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.” (1 Cor 15:2). All those warnings tell us there is something to be resisted – the wiles of the enemy. Make sure you do it!

     

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Meditation No. 41

    

Meditation Title: Authority Imparted

           

Rev 2:26 -28      To him who overcomes and does my will to the end, I will give authority over the nations-- `He will rule them with an iron sceptre; he will dash them to pieces like pottery' - just as I have received authority from my Father. I will also give him the morning star. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.

 

Some times in Scripture you look at what is being promised and your initial reaction is, “Surely not!” It looks too big and you are left wondering. At other times in Scripture you are not given an interpretation of what is being said, and so you are left wondering. Both those two conditions apply to these verses today. But let's take it slowly and see what each bit of these verses says.

 

First of all, To him who overcomes and does my will to the end.” In the case of this church the activity of the Overcomer is spelt out. They are the person who remains faithful to Jesus and continues to do his will right up to the end of their life. Good starters but poor finishers don't qualify. Now because these are meditations we have some leeway to ponder on this. Although this is a call to the whole of the church, it must surely apply especially to those of us with advanced years. The person who has been an active Christian all of their younger life, faithfully and energetically serving the Lord throughout that period, may have the temptation to say, “Well, I'm older now, I've earned a right to sit back and let others do it, yet the testimony of Scripture indicates that there is a better possibility: The righteous will flourish like a palm tree, they will grow like a cedar of Lebanon; planted in the house of the LORD, they will flourish in the courts of our God. They will still bear fruit in old age, they will stay fresh and green, proclaiming, "The LORD is upright; he is my Rock, and there is no wickedness in him.” (Psa 92:12-15). This is an amazing promise that says His resources are there to enable us, at the very least, to maintain a good testimony right through to the time of departure. May it be so!

 

But then we come to the promises to the Overcomer that seems amazing and almost beyond belief : “I will give authority over the nations-- `He will rule them with an iron sceptre; he will dash them to pieces like pottery. As we wonder about this we also note that the Lord of the Church continues, just as I have received authority from my Father.So, the authority that is spoken of here is the same authority that Jesus exercises as from his Father. So how is it described here? It is the rule of an iron sceptre . The sceptre was the royal ‘instrument' that the king held out when he declared his will over a subject. The fact that it is iron speaks of strength and heaviness. In other words this is a rule over which there is no doubt. It is certain and sure.

 

But then he continues, he will dash them to pieces like pottery. Certainly in the bringing of salvation we see this. Paul used very warlike language to describe this: The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God.” (2 Cor 10:4,5). When he brought the Gospel he saw the work of the Spirit taking and applying the word of God and utterly destroying all a person's self-assurance, their self-strength, their arguments against God and all their pretence of pride. All of these things, when the Spirit brings conviction, are totally shattered. It is like the beautiful pot, which is what they pretend their lives are like, is completely shattered by the truth. This is the work of God that the Overcomer will be able to fully enter into. This Overcomer, in the case of this particular church, is one who has held to the truth and rejected a licentious lifestyle. This person has shown that truth and purity, as expressions of their faithfulness to Jesus, are all-important. This person has earned the right to express the authority of God as they bring the word to bear in the world and bring havoc to the pride of man. It is important to always remember that this is authority to act as the Spirit leads, not as we think will be a good idea, for only then will we see the Spirit and word together having such effect.

 

But there is yet a further promise: I will also give him the morning star.” Now this is the bit that commentators down through the centuries have speculated about, because we are not told what this means. However, often as dawn breaks there is still one bright star in the sky that is still visible as the darkness starts to give way. The stars were used by travellers in the past for navigation. As the traveller awoke, ready to move on, he would look to the sky and see that last morning star and that would affirm direction. When Jesus promises this star it is like he says, I will always be there to lead you and guide you and confirm your way. If you are the Overcomer, the one who holds fast to your faith, this promise is always yours. He will be there to lead and guide you on through good times and bad and confirm you are on the right course. You will know this reassurance. May it be so.