Christ’s Letters to the Seven Churches

“The Postman of Patmos”

Revelation 2, 3

INTRODUCTION Christ’s Letters to the Seven Churches

Rev 1. This morning, we’re starting a series in Revelation on Jesus’ letters to the 7 churches.

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What if Christ wrote a letter to our church? Imagine the Son of Man in all His glory dictating a letter and you knew it was coming! What would Christ say to Bethany Baptist Church? Wouldn’t we want to know what He has to say? Would that affect what we do? Would we change things?

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Need: Our greatest need isn’t to be a success in the world’s eyes, but in the eyes of Christ. “Big” is a church standard. Big building, big crowds, big stage, big lights … No, we need to live as the Church of Jesus Christ! That’s our calling.

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Overview: What we’ll do today is examine the 7 letters helicopter style. At end of message, we’ll close with an illustration emphasizing the importance of these letters.

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ILL: So picture yourself in a helicopter over traffic. You can see so much with just a glance. Just like that, we are going to do a flyover of these 7 letters.

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And the big panorama view if you look at all the churches together … what we see is this… “Motivated by His warning and reward, give God glory by repenting of false teaching and sinful living.” That’s the point of the letters.

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TRANS: So as we fly in our biblical helicopter, we’ll see just a few things… first…

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Right below us in our laps!…is who wrote it…

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Author is John the Apostle

One of 12 disciples. John writing, on isle of Patmos. He’s being persecuted for following Jesus. And he’s been commissioned to write what Jesus says and deliver it to the churches.

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As one book title has it, John is the “Postman of Patmos.”

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TRANS: But of course the focus of these letters is the divine author: The majestic Lord, Jesus Christ.

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Focus is The Divine Author of These Letters

It is worth noting that John first recounts 1:9-20 and then gives us the seven letters. Imagine yourself as John when he receives this vision…

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Revelation 1:9–20 9 I John, who also am your brother, and companion in tribulation, and in the kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ, was in the isle that is called Patmos, for the word of God, and for the testimony of Jesus Christ. 10 I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and heard behind me a great voice, as of a trumpet, 11 Saying, I am Alpha and Omega, the first and the last: and, What thou seest, write in a book, and send it unto the seven churches which are in Asia; unto Ephesus, and unto Smyrna, and unto Pergamos, and unto Thyatira, and unto Sardis, and unto Philadelphia, and unto Laodicea. 12 And I turned to see the voice that spake with me. And being turned, I saw seven golden candlesticks; 13 And in the midst of the seven candlesticks one like unto the Son of man, clothed with a garment down to the foot, and girt about the paps with a golden girdle. 14 His head and his hairs were white like wool, as white as snow; and his eyes were as a flame of fire; 15 And his feet like unto fine brass, as if they burned in a furnace; and his voice as the sound of many waters. 16 And he had in his right hand seven stars: and out of his mouth went a sharp twoedged sword: and his countenance was as the sun shineth in his strength. 17 And when I saw him, I fell at his feet as dead. And he laid his right hand upon me, saying unto me, Fear not; I am the first and the last: 18 I am he that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen; and have the keys of hell and of death. 19 Write the things which thou hast seen, and the things which are, and the things which shall be hereafter; 20 The mystery of the seven stars which thou sawest in my right hand, and the seven golden candlesticks. The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches: and the seven candlesticks which thou sawest are the seven churches.

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It is this One who is writing these letters to the 7 churches.

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TRANS: Now, let’s get back in our helicopter and we’re looking out over the seven letters in chapter 2 and what do we see?

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Components of the Letters

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  • Addressed to the main messenger of the church.

We see that each of the letters is addressed to the “angel” of the letter. And the word “angel” is not only those heavenly beings, but it can also refer to a messenger, in this case a human messenger inside of a church. For us, it would be written to the pastor. Chapter 2 verse one… to the angel of the church at Ephesus. Or chapter 2 verse 8 … “to the angel of the church of Smyrna.” This is the main speaker, or pastor.

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Also …

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  • Glorious description of Christ

Each letter has a glorious description of Christ…e.g.,

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Revelation 2:12 12 And to the angel of the church in Pergamos write; These things saith he which hath the sharp sword with two edges;

…yikes…ok?

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Interestingly, each description of Christ will apply to that church’s situation.

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For example… the one with this 2 edged sword… calls on them to … Revelation 2:16 16 Repent; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth.

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That’s Jesus’ response to certain people who are leading others to sin in the church! Jesus’ description applies very well to the church.

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TRANS: But it’s not all negative, Jesus also submits praise…

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  • Praise

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Like to the church in Thyatira… Revelation 2:19 19 I know thy works, and charity, and service, and faith, and thy patience, and thy works; and the last to be more than the first.

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TRANS: Praise…But also we can also look out and see much criticism…

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  • Criticism

For example, Chapter 3, at the end of verse 1…

Revelation 3:1 1 … I know thy works, that thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead. …Revelation 3:2b 2 … for I have not found thy works perfect before God.

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“I know”

So clearly … “Jesus knows.” “I know thy works….”

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He says to Ephesus…

Revelation 2:2 2 I know thy works, and thy labour, and thy patience, and how thou canst not bear them which are evil: and …the rest..

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To Smyrna…

Revelation 2:9 9 I know thy works, and tribulation, and poverty, (but thou art rich) …

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To Pergamom…

Revelation 2:13 13 I know thy works, and where thou dwellest, even where Satan’s seat is: and thou holdest fast my name, and hast not denied my faith, ….

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To Thyatira…

Revelation 2:19 19 I know thy works, and charity, and service, and faith, and thy patience, and thy works; and the last to be more than the first.

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To Sardis…

Revelation 3:1 1 …middle of the verse… I know thy works, …

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Next one, Philadelphia…

Revelation 3:8 8 I know thy works: behold, I have set before thee an open door, and no man can shut it: for thou hast a little strength, and hast kept my word, and hast not denied my name.

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And Loadicea…

Revelation 3:15 15 I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot.

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Jesus knows the works of the churches … and he knows the works of our church also! He knows the condition of our church. He knows if we’re tolerating immorality or not like those in Thyatira and Pergamum. He knows our works, whether they truly testify that we are an alive church or a dead church. He knows if we’re persevering or if we’re giving up…and He knows if we’ve lost our first love and are lukewarm or if we have love, faith, service… or if we also tolerate sin and immorality… He knows.

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He knows if we care more about our history and preserving the past or whether we’re more concerned about pressing forward into the future, if we care more about reputation than about getting our hearts right before God.

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He knows … and so he has to warn the churches…

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  • Warning or exhortation

Like to the Laodicean church…

Revelation 3:16 16 So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth.

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…Notice how most letters have praise and warning.

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Look at Rev. 2:2 we have praise

Revelation 2:2 2 I know thy works, and thy labour, and thy patience, and how thou canst not bear them which are evil: and thou hast tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars:

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But….it’s not all good…criticism…

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Revelation 2:4 4 Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love.

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But praise…

Revelation 2:6 6 But this thou hast, that thou hatest the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.

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That’s good, sandwich technique. That’s good advice when having to confront someone … praise, criticism, praise. A criticism sandwich, but at least the bun is sweet.

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  • He who has an ear

Then there is an expectation to listen to what is being said … “he who has an ear let him hear what the spirit says to the churches.” And if you are a part of my family somebody would say, “what if somebody doesn’t have an actual ear do they have to listen to Jesus?” “Yes, of course you do. It is simply a way of saying that everyone is supposed to be listening, not just those particular churches. “Let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches plural!” That’s everyone.

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ILL: So my family and I did this hearing test online.[1] It was a test to see how old your ears are. The older your ears, the less likely it is you can hear high pitched sounds, sounds with high frequencies. So, the family stood around my computer speakers and we played these sounds one by one…and they were to keep their hands up until they couldn’t hear the sound anymore.

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And guess who did the worst? Me! I couldn’t hear past like 12,000 hz or something. Ruth and the kids could all hear that frequency and some others also. I guess I have old ears!

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“He who has an ear let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”

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I wonder if we were to take a spiritual hearing test, would we be hearing every frequency of Jesus’ words? Or do we just block out certain of his statements? Would our lives show that we’re listening to Jesus… that we hear and obey?

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  • Promise to overcomer

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Finally, each letter has a promise for the one who overcomes.

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Revelation 2:7 7 He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God.

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An overcomer we’ll see is a Christian; he is victorious…

We’ll examine each of them as we go along.

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ILL: Now that we’ve looked at some of the cars and trees in our helicopter, let’s take a wide panaroma view again…

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…“Motivated by His warning and reward, give God glory by repenting of false teaching and sinful living.”

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If you are living in sin or adhering to false teaching… you could very well destroy this church!

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Applicability of the Letters

Now, we might be thinking … how could something written 2000 years ago be applicable to us today? Let’s discuss that … these letters are greatly applicable.

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  • Every church for all of time is to listen to these letters.

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“He who has an ear”…that’s everyone. We’re not just studying what those churches were like.

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Revelation 2:7 7 He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches;…

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If you have an ear, hear what the Holy Spirit says to every one of those churches…

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So these letters are applicable because we have ears.

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TRANS: Every letter is applicable because…

  • Very few churches are actually healthy

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Only 2 of 7 of these churches in Rev 2,3 are not rebuked or called to repentance. That’s true of the first century church! How much more likely is it that churches today need this!

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Churches today are in a sad state just like they were during the 1st century! In the first century, they were receiving ministry from the apostles themselves …. and to me, that’s encouraging! We struggle with the very same sins and problems that the 1st century church did. [2]

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TRANS: Every letter is applicable also because…

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  • Each Letter deals with our witness in the pagan culture.

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Each one of these letters in the end concerns our witness to a pagan culture. Each one of the churches are encouraged to either repent or strengthen their witness in various ways.[3]

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Now, let’s get real. We don’t live in a Christian culture! As much as we would like to think, America is not a Christian nation.

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Surveys are discovering that less than half of Americans identify with any sort of Christian denomination. Plus, like in the Revelation letters in the first century, churches can be dead and filled with lost people!

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But we don’t have to despair and become depressed over the state of the churches today. And that’s because Jesus expressed his love for these churches so much so that he chose to rebuke them!

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If he can rebuke and reprove even dead churches, he can come alongside us as well and help us serve him as we should. So we do not have to be discouraged. Jesus will build his church! And as Bethany Baptist Church, we need to be asking the Lord to reprove us, each one of us. We need to be asking God to give us ears to hear and hearts that obey what he says. [4]

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TRANS: Every letter is applicable because…

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  • In them we have a strong call to repentance.

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The book of Revelation has the highest concentration of the word “repent” out of all the books in the New Testament. Further, chapter 2 of Revelation has the highest concentration of the word “repent” than any other chapter in the New Testament.

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“Repent” means to change your mind … particularly about your relationship to the One who has the sharp two edged sword! Repentance is very applicable.

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So there is a strong call to repentance in these letters.

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Rev. 2:5 Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent.

Rev. 2:16 Repent; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth.

Rev. 2:21 And I gave her space to repent of her fornication; and she repented not. […next verse…]

Rev. 2:22 Behold, I will cast her into a bed, and them that commit adultery with her into great tribulation, except they repent of their deeds.

Rev. 3:3 Remember therefore how thou hast received and heard, and hold fast, and repent. If therefore thou shalt not watch, I will come on thee as a thief, and thou shalt not know what hour I will come upon thee.

Rev. 3:19 As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent.

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I think we need to assume that we at Bethany Baptist have things that need to change. It could be individually… it could be in us as a whole church, but we’re going to pray that the Lord teach us and lead us to repentance!

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Note this … you never sin in a vacuum. Your sin affects each of us, even if no one else knows about it.

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And so it would be very kind of Him to lead us to repentance…

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Romans 2:4 4 Or despisest thou the riches of his goodness and forbearance and longsuffering; not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance?

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The goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance…

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CONCLUSION Christ’s Letters to the Seven Churches

Dr. AJ Gordon was pastor of the Clarendon Street Baptist Church in Boston from 1869 until his death in 1895. That church, which is no longer in operation, was affluent and quite fashionable for its day. When he arrived to pastor the church, there were five areas that he sought to address. Keep in mind, this is 1869. He sought to address…

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  1. dead ritualism
  2. unspiritual music (they hired unsaved opera singers to sing in the choir)
  3. questionable amusement
  4. worldly financing
  5. poor administration

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It was not a liberal church and it was not aligned with other churches of liberal teachings or doctrines. But it took 15 years to see his goals come to fruition. He was a close friend of AT Pierson. AT Pierson said of AJ Gordon that his life and ministry was one characterized by loyalty to his Savior and the imminent personal return of Christ. Pierson said that Gordon magnified the high calling of the preacher and gave supreme authority to the infallible Bible. He also demanded, Pierson says… And I like this one… The total conformity of the church to a biblical pattern. And Pierson said that Gordon always operated with the understanding of the invisible presence and power of the Holy Spirit.

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Dr. Gordon took a self-righteous, ritualistic and worldly church and made it [quote] “one of the most spiritual and aggressive in America.” Why, what happened? Something happened in Gordon’s ministry similar to these letters …

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In his book entitled How Christ Came to the Church, AJ Gordon recounts a dream that he had. He writes in his book…

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“It was Saturday night, when wearied from the work of preparing Sunday’s sermon, that I fell asleep and the dream came. [In his dream, he says,…]I was in the pulpit before a full congregation, just ready to begin my sermon, when a stranger entered and passed slowly up the left aisle of the church looking first to the one side and then the other as though silently asking with his eyes that someone would give him a seat. He had proceeded nearly half-way up the aisle when a gentleman stepped out and offered him a place in his pew, which was quietly accepted. …Everything in the scene [I] distinctly [remember]—the number of the pew […see, they rented out pews…he remembers ], the Christian man who offered its hospitality, the exact seat which was occupied. Only the countenance of the visitor could never be recalled.

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That his face wore a peculiarly serious look, as one who had known some great sorrow, is clearly impressed on my mind. His bearing too was exceeding humble, his dress poor and plain, and from the beginning to the end of the service he gave the most respectful attention to the preacher. Immediately as I began my sermon my attention became riveted on this hearer. If I would avert my eyes from him for a moment they would instinctively return to him, so that he held my attention rather than I held his till the discourse was ended. To myself I said constantly, “Who can that stranger be?” and then I mentally resolved to find out by going to him and making his acquaintance as soon as the service should be over.

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But after the benediction had been given the departing congregation filed into the aisles and before I could reach him the visitor had left…. The gentleman with whom he had sat remained behind however; and approaching him with great eagerness I asked: “Can you tell me who that stranger was who sat in your pew this morning?” In the most matter-of-course way he replied: “Why, do you not know that man? It was Jesus of Nazareth.”

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With a sense of the keenest disappointment I said: “My dear sir, why did you let him go without introducing me to him? I was so desirous to speak with him.” And with the same nonchalant air the gentleman replied: “Oh, do not be troubled. He has been here today, and no doubt he will come again.” And now came an indescribable rush of emotion. … so the intense curiosity which had been going out toward the mysterious hearer now returned upon the preacher: … the Lord himself “whose I am and whom I serve” had been listening to me today. What was I saying?

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Was I preaching on some popular theme in order to catch the ear of the public? Well, thank God it was of himself I was speaking. However imperfectly done, it was Christ and him crucified whom I was holding up this morning. But in what spirit did I preach? Was it “Christ crucified preached in a crucified style?” or did the preacher magnify himself while exalting Christ? So anxious and painful did these questionings become that I was about to ask the brother with whom he had sat if the Lord had said anything to him concerning the sermon, but [I refrained]. Then immediately other questions began with equal vehemence to crowd into the mind.

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“What did he think of our sanctuary, its gothic arches, its stained windows, its costly and powerful organ? How was he impressed with the music and the order of the worship?” It did not seem at that moment as though I could ever again care or have the smallest curiosity as to what men might say of preaching, worship, or church, if I could only know that he had not been displeased, that he would not withhold his feet from coming again because he had been grieved at what he might have seen or heard.” …..

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You know, we speak of a “momentous occasion.” This, even though he was asleep, was recognized as such by this dreamer—a lifetime, yea an eternity of interest crowded into a single moment. [and it changed his ministry focus and revolutionized his church.]

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“He has been here today, and no doubt he will come again”… “I awoke,” writes Gordon, “and it was a dream.” Yes, but more than a dream, a vision testifying that we are most awake toward God when we are most asleep toward the world. “A vision testifying that we are most awake toward God when we are most asleep toward the world.”[5]

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As a church, do we care about what Jesus is saying to the churches? Is He here this morning? He walks among the candlesticks and holds the stars in his hand…do we not fear? Have we lost our sense of the fear of God? Do we care more about our own reputation as a church more than His reputation in the community? Do we long for our kingdom to continue in this world or do we long to see His kingdom advanced, whether He keeps our candlestick burning or not?

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“Motivated by His warning and reward, give God glory by repenting of false teaching and sinful living.”

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One author on church revitalization said this …

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Your situation may be very different from [the letters in Revelation]. But when a church is in need of revitalization, there are usually past sins that must be dealt with.[6]

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Personally….Have you left your first love? are you lukewarm? Or maybe you’re like those in Smyrna and you’re ready to be faithful unto death. Or perhaps like those in Philadelphia, you are holding fast and not denying the name of Jesus. But maybe Pergamum and Thyatira is more like you and you are in the midst of idolatry and immorality. Or maybe you could care less and so you’re a part of the dead church. Which letter best describes you?[7]

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But we’d better fear the Christ who writes these letters and respond and repent.

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Revelation 2:23 23 And I will kill her children with death; and all the churches shall know that I am he which searcheth the reins and hearts: and I will give unto every one of you according to your works.

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Jesus will make His desires known; His call known, He will lead us.

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And He is merciful and will bind up our wounds but we must repent as He touches our hearts or He has every right to come and to remove our candlestick.

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Go to BibleTrove.com Home Page

Go to New Testament Books Page

Go to Revelation Main Page

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  1. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VxcbppCX6Rk

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  2. Hamilton Jr., James M.. Revelation: The Spirit Speaks to the Churches. Crossway. Kindle Edition.

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  3. G. K. Beale, The Book of Revelation: A Commentary on the Greek Text, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI; Carlisle, Cumbria: W.B. Eerdmans; Paternoster Press, 1999), 227.

  4. Hamilton Jr., James M.. Revelation: The Spirit Speaks to the Churches . Crossway. Kindle Edition.

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  5. How Christ Came to the Church: The Pastor’s Dream. A.J. Gordon.

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  6. Reeder, Harry L.; Swavely, David. From Embers to a Flame: How God Can Revitalize Your Church . P&R Publishing. Kindle Edition.

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  7. Hamilton Jr., James M.. Revelation: The Spirit Speaks to the Churches . Crossway. Kindle Edition.

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