BY: Judy Moore
DATE: Sunday 4 June 2023
‘BIBLE PASSAGES: Read online
Revelation | Chapter 2 | Verses 1-7
In the UK, what is the church known for? In a recent survey (talkingjesus.org), the most common positive responses were: friendly, caring, hopeful and generous. And yet, at the same time, the church is also known for being hypocritical and narrow-minded. As John writes to Christians in the ancient city of Ephesus he is encouraged by some of what he sees – the good things they’re doing; their hard work; their perseverance; and their inability to tolerate evil. In a sense, they ‘hate’ the right things. And yet, at the same time there is one big thing they are missing – love. What would it be like to for the church to be known for both love and hating evil at the same time? Is it possible?
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Sorry, no resources this week.
BIBLE STUDY QUESTIONS
Each week there are TWO different sets of questions for you to use, whether you are exploring the Bible within your Life Group, in other group settings, or simply using them on your own.
A | DISCUSSION STARTERS
These are simple questions to provoke discussion together out of the talk (ideal if you are watching our Sunday Service online with others in your group):
1 | Was there anything that particularly helped you during the talk?
2 | Was there anything that you didn’t necessarily agree with, or found difficult to understand in the talk?
3 | As a result of the talk, what:
a. Changes do you want to see?
b. Truths do you need to remember?
c. Actions do you need to take?
B | QUESTIONS TO EXPLORE
These are questions that are based on the talk and the surrounding themes:
Read: Revelation, Chapter 2, verses 1-7
1 | What would you say a ‘loving’ community looks like?
2 | In Revelation 2:1-7, we catch a glimpse of a church community that does many good things, but doesn’t have love. What practical things can be done to maintain love for God and love for each other? (See also Matthew 22:37-39)
3 | What does Jesus commend the church in Ephesus for? What can we learn from their example in how to follow Jesus in our lives today?
4 | According to Revelation 2:4, the church in Ephesus had forsaken their first love. What might this mean in practice, and what practical steps can we take to guard against complacency and prioritise love?
5 | Jesus instructs the church in Ephesus to “do the works you did at first” (Revelation 2:5). Are there any specific ways to keep growing as a follower of Jesus, and keep the essential practices of following Jesus fresh and vibrant (see James 2:17)?
6 | In Revelation 2:6, Jesus commends the church for hating the practices of the Nicolaitans. Hate is a strong word! How can a church get the right balance of being a loving community and rejecting false teaching? (See eg. 2 Peter 2:1-3)
7 | The church in Ephesus is referred to as a ‘lampstand’. How might this hint at the purpose of the church? And what do you think it might mean that they might have their lamp stand removed (v5)? What significance does the lampstand hold, and what implications can we draw from this warning for contemporary churches that may be facing similar challenges? See also Matthew 5:13-16.
8 | Rick Warren once said, “Our culture has accepted two huge lies. The first is that if you disagree with someone’s life or beliefs, you must fear or hate them. The second is that to love someone means you agree with everything they believe or do. Both are nonsense…You don’t have to compromise convictions to be compassionate” How can we be a loving church, who loves Jesus more than anything and loves others as a result in a way that is compassionate without compromise?
9 | Take some time to pray. Ask God to help you catch a glimpse of his love for you, and then pray to rekindle your love for him and others.
As you work through these questions pray for one another to deepen and develop your relationship with Jesus.
BIBLE STUDY RESOURCES
BLOG LINKS | Meditations on Revelation 2-3’ by Sam Storms.
Revelation for the Rest of Us’ by Scot McKnight and Cody Matchett
‘Revelation’ (Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament; BECNT) by Grant Osborne
‘Revelation’ (New Cambridge Bible Commentary; NCBC) by Ben Witherington
DO WE HAVE A LOVE THAT SHINES BRIGHTLY?
As we look at Revelation, as Sarah gave us a great launch into Revelation last week, we’re looking at Revelation chapter two, those first few verses, in our series called ‘This Little Light of Mine’ looking at a love that shines. And, actually, these words from John where he’s talking about the words of the resurrected Jesus are talking challenging us about do we have a love in us that shines brightly in our world.
I don’t know about you, but I’ve been watching the story of Phillip Schofield this week, as I think the majority of the nation has been, and seeing some of the vitriol and some of the scathing critique that has come, that has made him really not even want to live anymore, as he said in his interview. That a man who, two years ago, if we looked, might have thought had it all – won all the awards, was living the life – suddenly the rug is pulled from under him and tragically he said, “I can see no way back, I can see no hope.” And that very same day on this morning, Alison Hammond – our own Brummy, give it up for Alison – known to some of us here, lovely Alison Hammond – bravely, I felt – on This Morning spoke out and said, “I don’t know what to say.” And I think most of us would probably find ourselves in that position with this story. But she said, “One thing I do know is that my mum taught me when you don’t know what to do, there is a satnav that is the Bible. And I go to that Bible in this.” And she said, In the Bible we read let him who is without sin cast the first stone.” And so she said, “So that would be my mantra, that would be what I say.”
And I just thought, what if our media and what if our social media adopted that as a filter? We know all about filters, but what if that was the filter for every report that comes out? And what if it was our filter, that actually ‘let him who is without sin cast the first stone?’ I thought that was beautiful. And what it spoke of was light shining in the darkness. And I think we should pray for Philip Schofield. I was almost thinking about how to write to him because it was so sad when he looked into the camera and felt, ‘there is no way back for me’, a man who had it all and who thinks now that he has nothing.
WRITING TO EPHESUS AND WRITING TO US, TOO
And as we look at these words in Revelation 2, we have this same sort of warning, if you like, that Ephesus, who John is writing to on behalf of Jesus, had it all. It had it all going on. I don’t know how many of you ever been to Ephesus. Yeah, very much on the on the right hand side there. Well, I went to Ephesus once. It was a very very hot day. It’s a very splendid amphitheatre, it is huge in many ways. Sat on the coach with my friend Lizzie, we were on a trip to Turkey, and finally the tour guide stands up and he says, “I don’t know if any of you know what Ephesus is famous for. Does anyone know?” And I was thinking, was this the moment when I put my hand up and say, “Well, the Apostle Paul?” And he went, “I’ll tell you – Donna Summer played here live just two years ago.” And I did have a little chat with him afterwards and said that wasn’t the only reason that it was famous. But it’s a little bit of a meeting of cultures, isn’t it? And, actually, this letter to Ephesus, these words of Jesus, are both incredibly loving but also incredibly challenging.
And I thought we could actually take what the words of Jesus has said to Ephesus and say, “Lord, is this for us as Riverside today?” What would he say to Riverside as he says to Ephesus? And I’ve just picked out five things from the passage.
1. I’m holding you
2. I love your perseverance and resilience
3. Don’t forget “the why” or lose the love
4. Keep hating what I hate
5. One day, paradise will be restored so burn brightly
- I’M HOLDING YOU
These are the words of Him who holds the seven stars in His right hand and walks among the seven golden lampstands.
– Revelation 2:1
The first is ‘I’m holding you. I’m holding you and I’m walking amongst you.’ Jesus. these words of the resurrected Jesus, that John has in this vision are saying, “I’m holding on to you, Riverside. I’ve got you.” In a time of change that we’re in, in a time when we sense we’re on the edge of something new, that He’s holding us, that He loves our perseverance and resilience, that He delights in that, He delights in that in you today. That He’s reminding us not to forget the ‘why’, as Leon reminded us, and Sarah reminded us again last week. And I think we need to keep coming back to that, the ‘why’ of why we do what we do and not losing our love. And interestingly, something we talk less about that is in this passage – keep hating what Jesus hates. Do we really hate the evil that is in the world? And then finally one day, Riverside, paradise will be restored so burn brightly.
So these are the words of Jesus in this vision from John. And it says, “These are the words of him who holds the seven stars… and walks among the seven [lampstands]”, that Jesus holds the church. Romans 8:34 says that Jesus prays for the Church, that He prays for us. Therefore, He is able to save completely those who come to God through Him, because He lives to intercede for us. And as we invite you to come along tonight to our prayer and worship gathering, that’s not just because we want a good time, it’s because we believe that prayer works. And we believe that prayer isn’t just information. We’re not just informing Jesus what we’re doing, we’re inviting Him into all that we’re about here in Birmingham.
- I LOVE YOUR PERSEVERANCE AND RESILIENCE
I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance.
– Revelation 2:2
You have persevered and have endured hardships for my sake and have not grown weary.
– Revelation 2:3
And Jesus says He’s holding us, but also He is delighted with us. So this is a good moment, so hold on for this because it gets a bit more challenging in a minute. He actually loves Riverside. He loves our activity. He loves what Joyce has shared today about the food pantry. There is so much that he loves about our activity and our doing. He’s delighted with our resilience and our perseverance. And I felt that perhaps sometimes we don’t always hear this. And I just wanted you to really soak in how proud Jesus is of all you’re doing, in leading your community group, in serving on refreshments, in showing up, in hanging on the fact that some of you are here today or joining us online in times of incredible trial. And Jesus says, “Well done, you’re still here.” You might feel today that you’re hanging on by a thread, but Jesus just says, “Well done for showing up. Well done for keeping going, because there will be a day when every tear will be wiped from our eyes.”
- DON’T FORGET “THE WHY”
Yet I hold this against you. You have forsaken the love you had at first. Consider how far you have fallen. Repent and do the things you did at first.
– Revelation 2:4-5
And then thirdly, do not forget “the why” – or in fact, dare we say it, do not forget “the who”. Because really, it’s who are we doing all this for? ‘Yet this I hold against you…” Jesus says. ‘You have forsaken the love that you had at first. Consider how far you have fallen.’ Ephesus, Riverside, ‘Repent and do the things you did at first.’
Now, I’ve mulled on this a lot this week because I’ve been in many talks where people say, “Repent, you’ve lost your first love.” And I’m always the sort of person that thinks, “Oh, that’s me, that’s me, that’s me.” And I think there are many of us that can feel bullied by this verse and think, “Oh, yes, I don’t quite love you quite the way that I once did.” And of course, that is true. But actually, this is said with love. This is Jesus saying, “I miss you.” It’s not a telling off. It’s not Jesus whacking his finger at us and saying, “Riverside, have you lost your first love?” It’s him saying, “I miss you. I want to be “the why” with everything that you do. I want you to draw close to me again” – that prophecy that we had last week from Lindra about Jesus being the lens, the glasses, through which everything that we see and do,
After Leon spoke at the weekend, I went away and I listed all my regular activities. Sounds a bit nerdy. I’m not often nerdy, but I was nerdy that week and I listed all the things that I’m involved with regularly and I put “the why” by each one so that I knew “the why”. What was it that I was doing for Jesus? And interestingly, what that did when I put book club (and then I put “the why” was getting my friends to know Jesus and sharing my love for Jesus with them) suddenly when I walked to my book club on Tuesday night this week, I knew exactly why I was going. Yes, it was about the book, but it was about Jesus. And actually on that day, we went for a curry and we sat there and they said, “Oh, Judy, you’re a pastor. This lady’s getting married for the second time. And she just said, “I want to know what’s the most important bit of the ceremony? I want to talk to you about what it is that we’re doing spiritually.” And this happens time and time again in my book club. And it’s something that I chose to join because I wanted to make friends with people who didn’t yet know Jesus and to share my faith.
And I wonder, for us, as Riverside, whatever it is you’re involved with, maybe even this week, to prayerfully say, “What is the why? How does this show the love of Jesus? How does this shine, the love of Jesus in our city in a bright and beautiful way?” For He says, ‘You have forsaken the love that you had at first’.
POINTING PEOPLE TOWARDS JESUS
I love Tim Keller, as I know many of us do. I know he isn’t Jesus – apparently, people said sometimes Riverside almost quote Tim Keller more than Jesus. But I do think that he was an amazing guy. And there was a quote from Bishop Ruth this week on Twitter that said this: ‘The most impressive thing about [Tim Keller]’, who died two weeks ago, ‘was that you never came away from [his presence] exclaiming, “Isn’t Tim Keller amazing!” but [you came away saying] “Isn’t Jesus amazing! Isn’t he wonderful! Isn’t he beautiful! Isn’t he, captivating!’ And she’s written, ‘There is no greater legacy.’ What if people went away from our presence this week not thinking, “Isn’t Mark wonderful?” or “Isn’t Anne wonderful?” (of course, that’s true) but thinking, “Look at Jesus! Look at what and who He is!” What a legacy that might be.
The call of this passage – and if we remember nothing else from this – is to excel in love. That we would be a church that excel in love for Christ first, and then out of that, for His people. Because this challenge to Ephesus is not just about love for Jesus. He’s saying, “You stop loving the people in the way that I want you to. That, actually, in all your doings, which are great, in all your enduring and you’re persevering, you’ve stopped loving the people with the love that I have.”
- KEEP HATING WHAT I HATE
But you have this in your favour. You hate the practices of Nicolaitans which I also hate.
– Revelation 2:6
And then fourthly, keep hating what Jesus hates. He says, ‘But this you have in your favour.’ So this is another good thing. He says, “‘You hate the practises of the Nicolaitans which I also hate.’ You hate false teaching, you hate corruption and you hate the distortion of truth.” And here at Riverside, you’ll know over the years that we’ve always tried to stay faithful to the truth of the Gospel, that this is our satnav, that it is our compass for everything, for our teaching and for our nurture. Have we stopped hating injustice?
I wonder just now, as Riverside Church, if we could just do something. I want you to just call out, don’t be shy. Just call out something that you hate. We’ve heard about poverty today and it might be, that we’ve heard about food, hunger. But just call out, across this body, what is it you hate? I don’t want sprouts or greens or anything like that. We’ll take that as a given. But what about what you hate in the world that makes you mad? Because there is something called divine dissatisfaction that the Holy Spirit puts in us – not just to make us angry, but to make us do something, to make us shine more brightly with a love.
So let’s just call them out. Let’s just see from different people:
[Things that were called out]
- Child neglect
- False information
Lord, we’ve named some of the things that we hate. Help us hate what is evil and cling to what is good. There will be a fire in all of our hearts against injustice. Would you burn brightly in us this week? Would you burn with love that replaces that hatred? Help us to love even those who are involved in instigating some of these injustices and help us bring about what is good. Amen.
We’re going to hear as part of this talk from Ado, Head of Operations. I love Ado’s story. We couldn’t show the whole story, but it’s been brilliantly edited by our team. So this is Ado’s story about how this love of Jesus, this saving love of Jesus, found him:
My name is Ado from Zimbabwe and I used to have this recurring dream. I would go into this… I literally had a desire to go into this dark curve, and at other times it would be like a camp, like we’re at a campsite or something and I’d feel very uncomfortable. It was very tangible, it wasn’t comfortable, it wasn’t great. I could sense that it was dark and this man would come, literally grab my hands and take me out to a campsite that was light and full of light. And this dream has happened quite a few times. It’s been recurring and it’s been the same. And even when he takes me out, I find myself going back there and he would again come and take me out. I didn’t know why. I did not ask him to take me out, but I just remember him taking me out. And those days, I didn’t even know what it meant or who it was. But just as they’re finishing off, those dreams, later in my teenage years, is when I realised about this man called Jesus, I literally said, “Jesus, I don’t want to go back to the dark places, I want to stay in the light.”
And that was when those dreams kind of came to an end. I grew up in a Christian home. My dad has been a pastor for a long time and served in the local church. And I remember that growing up in these poor townships, my dad worked really hard, so it was always, like, anytime that we could advance to a greener pasture per se, we would always do that. So I moved a lot. And just to give you an idea of how a lot we moved, by the time I was in year seven, I had attended eight schools and they did not stop there. But that’s just a glimpse of how often we moved. And this moving to greener pastures per se led us to a community in South Africa where my dad did an opportunity – it was a Christian community and seemed like my dad had the opportunity, as someone who was a pastor who loved serving God, had an opportunity to do that, even on a bigger level.
So this seemed like green pastures, except it wasn’t. Yeah, it was a very dark place, again. It was a place of hurt, a place that had me questioning, actually, about this Jesus. Like, actually, who is this Jesus? Why do we even follow him? It was a place that separated children from parents. And just to briefly give you a glimpse of something that happened, for example, I did not finish high school because this place advised or told me that a servant of God did not need to go to school, did not need to finish school, because God has called us to be servants of Him and do great work for God. For lack of better words. I think in fact, this place turned out to be a cult.
And so again, it was almost like this continual place of always be finding ourselves in a dark place. And again, like always, God did come and rescue me. I ended up at a different community, still in South Africa. Very, very different, breath of fresh air and with people who also still served Jesus. But we’re so different from this place I was. So my walk with Jesus, or my understanding of Jesus, for me, it was church [which]was an ancient activity that somehow people did, and Christianity was something that sometimes people used to control people. That was my experience and what I knew.
And then when I had moved to this new place, honestly, these people just loved me. And I think I was around 19 when I started realising that this Jesus, there was an actual man who came as God to save the world and that’s why we are Christians. I grew up in church but didn’t know about this. And one of the things that this place did to me was they made me feel like I was unique and special. And I cannot tell you what that did to my life. Growing up, again in Zim, I never knew that someone like me could have dreams, could have passions, could achieve anything. In fact, I was told by two leaders that I actually looked up to, that my life would never amount to anything. I was told that and I believed it then.
So I grew up poor, I grew up thinking I could never achieve anything, I got caught up in this dark place and God rescued me. And all this led me to being here right now. And that journey from that point onwards to here has been absolutely amazing. But then we serve a God who is not limited by circumstance, we serve a God who is not limited by where we come from, the things that surround us, the limitations that we have.
And I cannot boast absolutely in anything else. I have seen His faithfulness. I have seen His goodness. And like I said in the very, very beginning, I’ve seen how He has come into my darkness where I’d actually never searched for Him, I’ve actually never asked Him to. And He came into my darkness and He rescued me. And that’s my testimony. God rescued me from darkness. I shouldn’t be here, but I have nothing to boast but Jesus Christ.
- PARADISE WILL BE RESTORED SO BURN BRIGHTLY
To the one who is victorious I will give the right to eat from the tree of life which is in the paradise of God.
– Revelation 2:7
“It’s not about where we have come from as much as where we are going. It’s almost like the New Testament writers are leaning forwards with a pneumatic hope, stretching their neck out to see what’s just over the horizon.”
– John Mark Comer
Amazing. Ado, we love you and you are an example to us as your life has amounted to so much. Let’s give Ado a huge round of applause for sharing that. It’s beautiful. And I’ve been affected since I heard Ado share that story with me while ago about the figure that kept coming into the cave and bringing him out into the light. And that when Ado encountered Jesus, he realised that’s who it was, that His light was always seeking him out, bringing him out of the cave, bringing us out of the grave, if you like as well. And also, I loved what Ado said, that what was spoken over him has proved false. And I just felt as we look at the active work of the Holy Spirit, if there is stuff that has been spoken over you, that you’re still hanging on to, that still limits you, that still is a word in your head that says you’ll never be any good, you’ll never be as good as your brother, your sister, all of those things – Ado’s testimony is an example that actually, never limit what God is able to do, never limit the transforming power of Jesus.
And finally, at the end of this passage, in these seven verses, we see paradise restored. We see as Jesus paints this vision, we see a new tree, a new kingdom built and restored. And I think it’s interesting when Jesus says that we will eat again from the tree, he says, ‘To the one who is victorious I will give the ability to eat from the tree of life…’ And if you think of what goes wrong in Genesis 1, where it all goes wrong and sin comes into the world and the paradise garden is ruined, you could say the Bible is a book that is bookended between two gardens – the garden where sin comes in, and the final, victorious garden where sin is no more. Where all the injustices that we have shouted out about and the ones that burn in our heart are eradicated.
And it’s interesting that in the great temple in Ephesus, there’s great local knowledge that Jesus’s words speak here. The great temple of Artemis had a garden that had a wonderful big tree in it. So when he’s writing to Ephesus, there was this tree that they all knew – it was on their local coins. There was a tree that they all knew. And they also would have known that if you got within a certain distance of this tree and you were a criminal, you were released, you were set free. And Jesus’s words here are deliberately saying, “Come to the tree of life and you’ll be set free.” That we are all criminals, actually, we are all sinners, desperate for this saving love, repenting again and again out of love, coming close to this paradise garden, holding on to it. “To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to eat from this tree.” Once again, there is total redemption and restoration.
REVELATION 21 FOR BIRMINGHAM
And just before we come to a close, when I first joined Riverside, I think it was in Bradford, but I may be wrong – some of you might know where it came from. Somebody had a prophecy and a vision, much like this one that John has, of Revelation 21 and what their city would look like when the Kingdom restoration starts to break out. And we here at Riverside, it must have been about 14 or 15 years ago, wrote our own one about Birmingham, Revelation 21. I won’t read the whole thing, but I can give it to you if you want. But one of the things that we looked at was this:
I looked across community of South Birmingham and I saw a community of hope. I saw a community ruled by grace, I saw a community of love. And in the cleanness of the morning, I looked out and there was no more asthma, there was no more unwanted children, no more debt, no more violence, no more overcrowding. And nobody was too busy. The canals flowed with crystal clear water. There were no needles or condoms in the park. There were no more stories of sorrow or family breakdown. No more poverty, no more unemployment, no mind-numbing jobs, no hopelessness. No more sadness, no more tears. Only joy and laughter. The dividing walls were gone. Families and neighbours were restored. There were no racial tensions – just one beautiful, harmonious mix in technicolour.
And we went on and on and I’ve got the full version, but it was just a picture of what this Kingdom renewal can look like here in our city. And we’re going to respond in a moment. Thinking of this letter to Riverside, we know it was written for Ephesus and we know it’s fairly short. Steve Botham said earlier on it’s more of a WhatsApp message, isn’t it, than a letter to the Ephesian Church? But this is for us as Riverside, going back to those things that we said at the beginning.
He holds us, He’s walking amongst Riverside, He’s walking among the chairs, even here, by His spirit. He’s proud of us. He’s proud of all our resilience, going through a pandemic, hanging on, hanging on when we don’t quite know what’s going to look like. Holding on, saying, “We look to you!” He loves that. But He also says, “Riverside Church, you individually, have you lost your first love?” Have I lost it? Have you lost it? Put our name in there, not in a condemnatory way, but in a ‘I miss you.’ Draw closer, come closer. Remember “the why” of why we’re here. Remember who it is that we’re serving, who it is that we love and the city that He’s called us to love. And actually hate what he hates. Keep hating. I think sometimes there’s an anaesthetic that happens when we stop being shocked by evil. And actually the Lord would say to us, “Don’t let evil become commonplace in your life. Keep the offence of the Holy Spirit.” And finally, hold on, because paradise is ahead. But it is available to us now in the revelation of what Jesus wants to do in our city through us, in that picture of what Birmingham could look like if we keep on burning brightly.
REMEMBERING TO BURN BRIGHTLY
I’m a big Coldplay fan. I know some of you have just been to Coldplay and Crocker, maybe others, Chris Crocker, maybe others. But I went years ago and we were given those armbands that you hold up and burns brightly. Only I went with Rachel Puddephatt and ours didn’t burn at all. We were about the only people in the stadium whose didn’t light up and we were very worried and then halfway through, they did. But we’ve got some torches here for you to take away and they’re little torches and I’ve tested every single one. So I really hope and pray no one gets a dud. And these are to put on your keys. They’re a key ring.
And for us to say as Riverside, we want to burn brightly in our city out of love for Jesus first and foremost. That whenever perhaps we’re getting home late and we put that light on to help us put the key in the lock or whatever it is that we remember our first love that is Jesus. That He is the reason why we exist. He’s the reason why we do all of the things that we do at Riverside and all of the things that we do as individuals as I process with him this week and that challenges to burn brighter because of his love for us, because he drew us, like Ado, out of that cave of our own sin, out of that cave of despair, into that place of love. Ado spoke about the love he found the corruption of the cult and then the love, the truth, that set him free.