I AM the Good Shepherd

  I.      Introduction

Sheep aren’t the smartest animals.  Have you ever seen a sheep act at a circus?

Now, they aren’t completely dumb.  I read about one study that shows they can recognize faces and voices.  They have excellent hearing but very poor eyesight, so they tend to mindlessly follow wherever the sheep in front of them goes.

Sometimes they’re stubborn and won’t budge.  Usually they’re peaceful, but sometimes they try to bump into you with their head when they’re mad.  But usually they’re afraid and timid, so they prefer groups of sheep for protection. 

They’re defenseless.  They can’t outrun predators.  They have no fangs or claws, so they’re only defense is their pitiful head-ramming. 

And they get lost if not penned, they can’t find they’re way home.  While they’re lost, they tend to fall into rivers and bogs.  Even when rescued, they might fall back into the same river.

And God says we are like His sheep.  That’s not exactly a compliment.  Sometimes we’re stubborn, won’t budge, bump into each other when we get road rage.  We don’t have any teeth or claws to defend ourselves, so we usually have to resort to name-calling.  And even when the Lord rescues us from our stupidity, sometimes we fall right back into the same stupidity.

I know you can relate.  I certainly can.

II.      Ezekiel

We’ve been going through the 7 “I am” discourses of Jesus.

  1. I AM the Bread of Life
  2. I AM the Light of the World
  3. I AM the Door
  4. I AM the Good Shepherd
  5. I AM the Resurrection and the Life
  6. I AM the Way and the Truth and the Life
  7. I AM the True Vine

Each discourse from Jesus is meant to bring us a deeper understanding, both of Jesus’ relationship with the Father and our relationship with Jesus, and each statement echoes the “I AM WHO I AM” statement God said to Moses.  This week, we’re going to examine Jesus’ statement from John 10:11a that begins with His statement, “I AM the good shepherd.”

The imagery of sheep goes back a long, long way.  Probably the most famous of those is Psalm 23, and I’m going to read the whole psalm because it’s so amazingly applicable to our study today in John 10 –

The Lord is my shepherd,
I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside quiet waters.
He restores my soul;
He guides me in the paths of righteousness
For His name’s sake.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I fear no evil, for You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You have anointed my head with oil;
My cup overflows.

Surely goodness and lovingkindness will follow me all the days of my life,
And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

We may be sheep, but we have a shepherd that loves us, protects us, comforts us, gives us joy and eternal life.  Our cup should overflow every day because of this amazing promise.  We’ll come back to Psalm 23, but first, let’s back up to the beginning of John 10, when Jesus begins,

“Very truly I tell you Pharisees, anyone who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber.”

To appreciate the message of Jesus, it’s important to understand who Jesus is speaking to.  He’s not talking to Israelites or His followers.  He’s speaking to the Pharisees, the religious leaders of the people.

And I know already this is going to be a stern message.  Jesus is full of lovingkindness and mercy, but He often had a stern word for the Pharisees.  The Pharisees enriched themselves at the expense of the people.  The Pharisees imposed rules on others that they themselves did not follow.  And the Pharisees misrepresented God to the children of God.  I don’t recall ever where Jesus rebuked Jews, His followers, or even the gentiles.  But He had hard words against the religious leaders.

God’s words against bad religious leaders goes back a long, long way.  Here’s Ezekiel 34:1-4 –

The word of the LORD came to me: Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel; prophesy and say to them: ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: Woe to the shepherds of Israel who only take care of themselves! Should not shepherds take care of the flock?  You eat the curds, clothe yourselves with the wool and slaughter the choice animals, but you do not take care of the flock.  You have not strengthened the weak or healed the sick or bound up the injured. You have not brought back the strays or searched for the lost. You have ruled them harshly and brutally.

What happened in the days of Ezekiel continued through the days of Jesus, and indeed, still happens today.  God’s people can be led astray by false shepherds who are not about preaching the justice and mercy of God, of preaching the gospel, of preaching the only way to salvation.  These false shepherds enrich themselves.  They only care to the extent that they’re able to take more.  And 2 Peter 2:1-3 puts in this way –

But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them—bringing swift destruction on themselves.  Many will follow their depraved conduct and will bring the way of truth into disrepute.  In their greed these teachers will exploit you with fabricated stories. Their condemnation has long been hanging over them, and their destruction has not been sleeping.

Jesus says these aren’t even pastors, they’re just hired hands.  And God promises in the same book of Ezekiel that He would send a solution, v 11-16 –

“‘For this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I myself will search for my sheep and look after them.  As a shepherd looks after his scattered flock when he is with them, so will I look after my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places where they were scattered on a day of clouds and darkness.  I will bring them out from the nations and gather them from the countries, and I will bring them into their own land. I will pasture them on the mountains of Israel, in the ravines and in all the settlements in the land.  I will tend them in a good pasture, and the mountain heights of Israel will be their grazing land. There they will lie down in good grazing land, and there they will feed in a rich pasture on the mountains of Israel.  I myself will tend my sheep and have them lie down, declares the Sovereign Lord.  I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak, but the sleek and the strong I will destroy. I will shepherd the flock with justice.”

One of the many ways you can identify a false pastor is listen to how many times he says “me me me me” or even “you you you you.”  In this verse from Ezekiel, God says it’s not you, it’s me.  God says I will look after, I will tend, I will rescue, I will gather, I will search and I will bind and I will shepherd.  If the pastor’s message doesn’t continually point back to the saving gospel of Jesus Christ, he’s not a pastor.  He’s not a shepherd.  He may be a wolf.

Then God says in Ezekiel that He will send and place one Shepherd over all, verses 23-24,

I will place over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he will tend them; he will tend them and be their shepherd.  I the Lord will be their God, and my servant David will be prince among them. I the Lord have spoken.

In contrast to the many false shepherds, this will be the one true good shepherd.  In Israel’s history, David was a good shepherd, a man after God’s own heart.  But David lived around 1000BC, and Ezekiel writes this nearly 400 years later around 590BC.  So Ezekiel is not speaking of David himself, but the root and offspring of David.  This is the coming messiah that the Jews were expecting.

III.      John

Ok, I know what you’re thinking.  We’re supposed to be studying the book of John.  So let’s get back to John 10:11a,

I am the good shepherd.

This is the English, but it wasn’t really written this way in the Greek.  A more literal translation would be “I am THE shepherd, the good one.”  Jesus is saying, “I am THE Shepherd you have been waiting for.”

And not even the word “good” here is a thorough translation of the Greek.  The word in Greek is “kalos” and it means beautiful, excellent, surpassing, precious, magnificent, praiseworthy, noble, preeminent, morally good and honorable.  I’m guessing that putting all of that in front of the word “shepherd” doesn’t roll off the tongue nearly as well as “the good shepherd.”

So John 10:11a, Jesus says “I am the good shepherd,” but the Pharisees heard, “I am THE shepherd, the coming Messiah, the preeminent beautiful magnificent and honorable shepherd that has come to rescue His flock… from the likes of you.”

And that is why, later in this passage in John 10:20, the Pharisees responded,

Many of them said, “He is demon-possessed and raving mad. Why listen to him?”

Jesus continues by telling the Pharisees how the Messiah differs from all those who came before Him and how He differs from the Pharisees, John 10:11-13,

“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.  The hired hand is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it.  The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.”

The religious leaders that misled the people are like hired hands.  They’re paid by the hour.  When times get tough, they abandon the sheep.  It’s because they do not own the sheep, the sheep do not belong to them.

Jesus is different.  He has purchased the sheep.  He owns the sheep.  He has invested in the care and well-being of the sheep.  If one sheep is lost, Jesus will leave the 99 to seek the one that is lost.  He is the good shepherd, the preeminent beautiful magnificent and honorable shepherd that has come to rescue His flock.

IV.      Not Just Israel, But Gentiles

When we looked at Ezekiel, the prophecy of the coming messiah was for Israel.  The same prophecy, by the way, is in Jeremiah 23:1-3,5,

“Woe to the shepherds who are destroying and scattering the sheep of my pasture!” declares the Lord.  Therefore this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says to the shepherds who tend my people: “Because you have scattered my flock and driven them away and have not bestowed care on them, I will bestow punishment on you for the evil you have done,” declares the Lord.  “I myself will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the countries where I have driven them and will bring them back to their pasture, where they will be fruitful and increase in number… The days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, a King who will reign wisely and do what is just and right in the land.”

This promise is for Israel, God’s chosen people.  But many Old Testament prophecies, such as Isaiah 6, foresaw that Israel would reject the coming Messiah due to spiritual blindness.  For thousands of years, Israel had been the one nation that looked to God while the Gentile nations generally rejected the light and chose to live in spiritual darkness.  Israel and the inspired prophets revealed the one true God who was personally interested in mankind’s destiny of heaven or hell, the path to salvation, the written Word with the Ten Commandments.  Yet Israel would reject the prophesied Messiah, and the promises of the kingdom of heaven were postponed.  Paul tells us in great detail from Romans 9 through 11 about this hardening on the part of Israel led to the blessing of the Gentiles who would believe in Jesus and accept Him as Lord and Savior.

Jesus makes one of the first references in His ministry that this is occurring, that the promised Messiah would not be limited to Israel in John 10:14-16,

“I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me— just as the Father knows me and I know the Father — and I lay down my life for the sheep.  I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd.”

We are those sheep that are not of this sheep pen.  We are the gentiles that are not part of the nation of Israel.  And the preeminent beautiful magnificent and honorable shepherd laid down His life to rescue us.  He rescued us while we were but sinners.

The Pharisees responded by saying Jesus was demon possessed.

Some time passes; Jesus has been speaking during the time of the Feast of Tabernacles, and John 10:22 says now is the time of the Feast of Dedication, or Hanukkah, so about 2 months have passed.  These Pharisees and other Jews have probably had time to ponder the words of Jesus that He is THE shepherd, the good shepherd, and now they ask in verse 24,

The Jews who were there gathered around him, saying, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.”

Jesus responded in v 25-26,

Jesus answered, “I did tell you, but you do not believe. The works I do in my Father’s name testify about me, but you do not believe because you are not my sheep.”

Amazing.  Jesus has been doing miracle after miracle, healing the lame and the sick and bringing the dead back to life, all the while saying, “believe in the miracles that you may know that I am in the Father and the Father is in me,” quoting the Old Testament prophecies and demonstrating the fulfillment of those prophecies, and then saying directly to their faces, “I am THE shepherd, the preeminent beautiful magnificent and honorable shepherd that has come to rescue His flock,” and the Pharisees response is…

Um… what are you trying to say?  I don’t get it.

It reminds me a few years ago when I was teaching apologetics, and it seems to me that untruths spread rapidly and non-Christians believe the lies, and the truth spreads far more slowly.  One year it’s “there is no such thing as truth.”  Of course, the proper response to that is, “is *that* true?” 

Another year, the untruth spreading was “Well, Jesus never said He was God.”  I’ve heard this repeated by non-Christians, that Jesus never made that claim.  It’s baloney.  Jesus made it perfectly clear that He and the Father were one, that he was the only begotten son of God, and that He is God.  Jesus said, “I did tell you, but you do not believe because you are not my sheep.”

If you seek Him, you will find Him.  Is it any wonder that if you don’t seek Him, you won’t find Him?

  V.      The Sheep

Jesus continues with His response in verses 27-30,

“My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.  I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand.  My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand.  I and the Father are one.”

One thing I’m really starting to appreciate after these bible studies over the years is the shear amount of information that Jesus can impart in just a few words.  Let’s start with this first statement –

My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.

Who is a Christian?  Here’s a complete theological explanation.  Christians listen to Jesus.  Jesus knows a Christian intimately.  Christians follow the instructions of Jesus.

There are many people today that claim to be Christian but are not.  I would also hazard to guess that many of them don’t even know they aren’t Christian. 

So who is a Christian?  Do they follow Jesus?  Do they know what Jesus says?  Do they read the bible?  I don’t know any other way to hear the voice of Jesus.  Do they have a personal relationship with Jesus so that Jesus knows them intimately?  Do they follow Christian, biblical principles?

Now, I don’t want to swerve into a political swamp, but often I read a news article about Christianity that I know is false.  These people will paraphrase one word Jesus said out of context and use it to leverage an entire heathen livestyle.  True Christianity follows Christ, we’re good citizens until the state infringes on the church, we love our neighbors in service and words but not to the point were we’re enabling them to jump off a cliff of non-believers.  Far left is definitely not Christianity.

But neither is far right, judgmental Christians, setting rules and laws for other people.  We may know the law and we may know what Jesus says, but instead of telling people who Jesus is, we tell them what to do.  We become judgmental hypocrites because we are all sinners, too.  We become the Pharisees.  We become just like the hired hand who cares nothing for the sheep, and we only care about the pen they’re kept in.

No, a Christian listens to the voice of his savior and develops a relationship with Jesus, and does their best to live a way pleasing to God but not man.  That’s what I believe this verse means.

Verse 28,

I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand.

Eternal life is a gift.  Every religion in the world is the story of man trying to earn his way to God.  But Christianity is God working His way to man.  No one is worthy of God, no one can earn his place in heaven.  We have all sinned, each and every one of us, and fallen short of God’s glory.

This rescue is freely available, but we have to admit we need it.  I was thinking this week it was like walking down to Galveston Beach and saying, “You know, I think I’ll swim to Australia.”  And then I walk into the waves and start swimming, having no idea how far away it is.  The Coast Guard will send a boat to rescue me, but I just keep swimming.  I keep telling myself, I can do this, I don’t need any help.  I’m only rescued if I recognize I can’t make it on my own and then get in the boat.

And then I imagined the Coast Guard asking me, “Where were you going?” And I answer, “Swimming to God.”  And they say, why are you swimming to Australia?  You should swim toward the sun.

Jesus says if you’re seeking the Son, you will find the Son, and He will give you eternal life and you will never perish.  And your eternity is secure, never to be lost.  No one will be able to snatch you out of the hand of Jesus.  Not the devil, not the riots, not road rage, not even yourself.  We can’t be partially saved.  Either we get in the boat, or we drown.  And once we’re rescued, we are rescued forever.

Does that mean there won’t be challenges?  Of course not.  Even Psalm 23, which we read earlier, recognizes we walk through a valley of death and we are surrounded by evil and enemies.  But our eternal salvation is the one thing we don’t have to earn, we receive it as a gift, and we never have to fear losing.

Verse 29,

My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand.

Jesus has been given all authority, and He has always had all authority.  In the beginning was the Word, the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  And our eternal security in Jesus is secure in the Father as well.  There is no higher power, no higher authority.  God is the Alpha and the Omega, and He holds our eternal life in His hands securely.  If God is for us, who can be against us?

And verse 30,

I and the Father are one.

If someone ever tries to claim that Jesus never said they were God, then then haven’t studied the words of Jesus.  The Pharisees say, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.”

A Christian who listens to the voice of Jesus and has an intimate relation with Jesus and follow Jesus, knows that He is the great I AM.  He is the Bread of Life, the Light of the World, the Door, the Good Shepherd, the Resurrection and the Life, the Way and the Truth and the Life, the True Vine.  He is THE shepherd, the coming Messiah, the preeminent beautiful magnificent and honorable shepherd that has come to rescue His flock.

VI.      Conclusion

Psalm 95:6-7a –

Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the Lord our Maker; for he is our God and we are the people of his pasture, the flock under his care.

To God be the glory.

I AM the Bread of Life

Introduction

Who does Jesus say He is?

The book of John describes Jesus beautifully, beginning with in verse 1 “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”  But I want to skip to verses 9-13 because it gives a nice introduction to our lesson today.

The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world.  He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him.  He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.  Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God – children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.

Jesus gave us the right to become His children, and all we have to do is believe.

We’re beginning a 7 week series on the “I AM” statements of Jesus.  Seven times Jesus said “I AM”, which in Hebrew times “seven” meant “complete”.  In Judaism, when Jesus said, “I AM,” it was no mystery to the people that Jesus was declaring His divinity.  In Exodus 3:14, when Moses asked God who told Moses to lead His people, God replied, “I AM WHO I AM.”  I imagine thundering rolling from the clouds as God made this pronouncement.

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The seven “I AM” statements from Jesus explain His ministry to us and His relationship to the Father.  These statements are –

      1. I AM the Bread of Life
      2. I AM the Light of the World
      3. I AM the Door
      4. I AM the Good Shepherd
      5. I AM the Resurrection and the Life
      6. I AM the Way and the Truth and the Life
      7. I AM the True Vine

We’ve probably all heard the phrase Jesus said, “I AM the Bread of Life,” but today we’re going to dig into it and understand what Jesus was saying.  Jesus was able to take a complex theological ecclesiology and make it easy to remember, “I AM the bread of life.”  But the meaning behind it eluded the people following Jesus, and it still eludes people today, despite its simplicity.

In John 6, which is all about food, it begins with crowds following Jesus.  Once Jesus had begun in ministry of miracles and healing the sick, people began to seek Jesus.  But the people are misunderstanding *why* Jesus is performing miracles.  The people just want Jesus to do more.  Jesus takes his disciples across the Sea of Galilea, which isn’t a huge distance, about 4 miles across.

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The crowd followed him to the other side and while the sea isn’t that large, it’s a long way from any restaurant.  There were 5000 men, and maybe an equal amount of women and children, and I imagine Jesus is grinning inside when He asks Philip in John 6:5,

When Jesus looked up and saw a great crowd coming toward him, he said to Philip, “Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?”

You’ve heard the rest of this story.  A small boy has what might be his lunch, five small barley loaves and two small fish.  Jesus gives thanks, and then proceeds to feed the 5000.  Afterwards, in verse 12-13,

When they had all had enough to eat, he said to his disciples, “Gather the pieces that are left over. Let nothing be wasted.”  So they gathered them and filled twelve baskets with the pieces of the five barley loaves left over by those who had eaten.

I believe Jesus intentionally uses bread here for His miracle, as well as having an abundance of bread after everyone was filled to illustrate his “I AM the bread of Life”  statement He will be making soon.  But how did the people respond?  Verse 14-15 –

After the people saw the sign Jesus performed, they began to say, “Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world.”  Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself.

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That evening, the disciples got in boat to go to Capernaum.  Jesus is still on the mountain.  It got dark and windy, the disciples became afraid, and then Jesus walked on water toward them, a miracle just for the disciples.

The next day, the crowd is wondering where Jesus is.  They know He didn’t get into the boat with the disciples.  When Jesus doesn’t return, they go looking for Him in Capernaum.  And when they get to Capernaum, there’s Jesus.  And they’re puzzled.  They say in verse 25,

When they found him on the other side of the lake, they asked him, “Rabbi, when did you get here?”

And Jesus begins to teach, completely ignoring their question.  I can appreciate the deliberate ministry of Jesus.  The question of how he arrived in Capernaum is irrelevant.  Instead, Jesus immediately begins to teach.

Now, Jesus is not speaking to believers.  He is speaking to people seeking Jesus.  Remember, in verse 15, just after feeding the 5000, these people tried to make Him king.  These people were looking for a messiah to overthrow Rome, and they thought Jesus was that guy.  Jesus will save us from Rome, we’ll make Him king.  And remember, Jesus was disappointed and went up on the mountain by Himself after that.

Now when they see Jesus, they’re no longer calling Him “messiah” or “king”.  Now they call Him “rabbi” or “teacher.”  Ok, so you’re not the mighty warrior, you’re just a teacher.  A teacher that somehow magically appeared in Capernaum, but still just a teacher.

I think we can find many people like that in churches today.  People who claim they are following Jesus, who attach themselves to Jesus because they believe Jesus will give them stuff and solve their problems and heal their sickness, but have not understood what their relationship with Jesus is.  Jesus can do all things, but He does them for His purpose.  I think many people only call themselves Christian because of material things, which Jesus is about to explain misunderstands His purpose among us.  In verse 26, Jesus knows their confusion.

Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw the signs I performed but because you ate the loaves and had your fill.

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Jesus says the only reason the people are following him is because they want stuff.  They want to eat, to feed their stomachs for a day. That is what the fall of man has produced, a broken connection with our Creator.  And man cares about the natural, not the spiritual.  It cares about the temporal, not the eternal.  It cares about a full belly, not a clean heart. Jesus knows this – He knows what is in the heart of man because He created us.  We want our food, our entertainment, our bread and circuses.  Anything else?  Nope, we’re good, thanks.

Jesus wants us to recognize that our sin nature separates us from God.  People say, Jesus, fix my health.  Jesus, fix my business.  Jesus, fix my children.  Jesus, fix my marriage.  And Jesus says, “Hold on.  I came to fix you.”  Of course, Jesus cares for our physical circumstances, but that’s not why He came.  Jesus offers so much more.  Jesus wants to change us on the inside.

So Jesus tells the seekers in verse 27 –

Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For on him God the Father has placed his seal of approval.

Jesus offers the bread of life.  Jesus offers manna from heaven.  There are two Greek words used for our English word “life;” “Bios” refers to physical existence.  “Zoe”, used here, refers to quality of life both essential and ethical, not just merely living, but living for a purpose, living life to the fullest.  It answers the question, “why do we live?”

Jesus has the answer.  He has the authority and dominion.  He calls Himself here “Son of Man,” a title from this verse about end times prophecy from Daniel 7:13-14 –

“In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven.  He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence.  He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all nations and peoples of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.

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Jesus is claiming to be the son of man, claiming His deity, claiming to be God, and the people believed this to be blasphemy.  Jesus can give zoe, the answer to life.  Instead, the people just wanted their physical bread.  Instead of eternal life, they wanted a sandwich.

So how do you get eternal life?  Verse 27 tells us,

Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For on him God the Father has placed his seal of approval.

Jesus gives it to us.  It’s a gift.  We don’t earn it, we don’t purchase it.  We are saved completely, 100%, by the grace of God, not by works.

Did the crowd understand that it was a gift?  Do we understand it’s a gift?  Verse 28,

Then they asked him, “What must we do to do the works God requires?”

The crowd is clueless.  Still.  Jesus says, “eternal life is a gift I give to you” and the crowd responds, “well, how do we earn it?”

The human condition is fallen, but we all believe we have to do something to merit God’s favor.  Christianity is so unlike every other religion.  In every other religion, man is working his way to God.  In Christianity, God works His way to man.  It’s a relationship.

Fallen man wants to earn salvation.  Like the crowd responded, “What must we do?”  Works, works, works.  What do I have to do to please god?  Immediately after the fall of man, we started trying earn our way back.  In Genesis 3:6-7,

When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it.  She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it.  Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.

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They were naked, so they made loincloths.  The fall has happened and we have to do something to fix it.  This was the beginning of religion when we used to have a relationship.

Paul, writing to the Philippians, understood how fruitless his work were.  Paul had every reason to boast:  he was the perfect Jew.  Philippians 3:4b-6 –

If someone else thinks they have reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless.

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If anybody could fulfill the law, Paul did.  He lays out all the reason Paul should be saved, as though God owed Paul something for living a perfect life.

Does God owe us something?  So many people are mad because God doesn’t provide what they want.  Why does god owe you?  If you die tonight, people believe they should have eternal life because I go to church.  Because I’m a good person.  Because I give to the poor, I I I I me me me me I try hard I go to bible study I have the 10 commandments memorized…  but our relationship with God is not based on I I I I me me me me, it’s not based on what we do, but trusting in what He did for us.  The crowd asks, “what shall we do?”

Jesus corrects them in verse 29 –

Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.”

Jesus says, you wanna work?  Then believe.  Why do we want to work for our salvation?  I think it’s because we can boast when we walk into heaven.  Look at what I did!  But God doesn’t want our works if it’s taking credit for what He did.  He hates boasting.  Isaiah 64:6 says,

All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags.

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Sing in the choir?  Filthy rag.  Tithing 15% instead of 10%?  Filthy rag.  Perfect Sunday school attendance?  Filthy rag.  Being a Sunday school teacher?  Filthy rag.  We have all become unclean, we all wear filthy rags.

So how do we fix it?  We can’t.  How can *He* fix it?  He already did.  All we have to do is believe.  Romans 4:4-5 says,

Now to the one who works, wages are not credited as a gift but as an obligation.  However, to the one who does not work but trusts God who justifies the ungodly, their faith is credited as righteousness.

 

Slide20.JPGIt is our faith in the works of Jesus that saves.  When Jesus said this to the crowd of seekers who wanted a sandwich instead of manna from heaven, it drove them away.  The good news, the gospel, is a stumbling block.  It is offensive to fallen man because it takes away my ability to boast about myself.  We are all trying to earn something from God so that we can have bragging rights.  Man hates that message that salvation is paid for by somebody else.  We want to work for it so we can work harder than somebody else so that we can say, well, at least I’m better than that person.

That’s not the gospel.  John 14:6,

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

Slide21

Acts 4:12,

Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.

God fixed our problem, and there’s no other way, no way to fix it ourselves.  Remember immediately after the fall when Adam and Eve clothed themselves with a fig leaf?  Did that cover their nakedness, restore their relationship with God?  God provided a foreshadowing of the sacrifice of Jesus in Genesis 3:21,

The Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them.

God fixed the problem.  God fixed their nakedness by clothing them with the skin of a sacrificial animal.  God will clothe us.  We can trust that God will provide our sin sacrifice.  The gospel is that He did the work, not us, and we just believe in Him.  Remember Paul a little while ago, before he knew Christ, he considered himself the perfect Jew and earning his way to heaven?  But then Paul became a Christian, and how does he feel about his perfect works?  It’s the very next verse, Philippians 3:7-9 –

But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ.  What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things.  I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith.

Our righteousness is found in Him, no where else.  I have no righteousness of my own, only thru faith.  My works are garbage, filthy rags, compared to the glory of Christ.

So when Jesus told the crowd that all they have to do is believe in Him, did they understand?  Verses 30-31 –

So they asked him, “What sign then will you give that we may see it and believe you? What will you do?  Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written: ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’”

The crowd is still confused, but if Jesus will just give them a sign.  We need a sign first.  This is what, like the 4th or 5th sign in the last 24 hours.  They are literally asking for a sign for more bread the day after Jesus gave bread to 5000.  But like many seekers, like many following prosperity gospels, the crowd wants Jesus to perform according to their schedule.

And we still do the same today.  Ok, so you’re Jesus, what have you done for me today?  Show me a sign if you’re God.  Like balance gravity and centripetal force so that I can stand on the surface of earth, neither being crushed by gravity nor being flung into space.  Like balancing the atmosphere with just the right balance of oxygen so I can breathe.  Like making the sun rise so I can work and the sun set so I can sleep.  Like giving me a soul that knows there’s more to life than just bread and circuses, that there must be a purpose.  Seriously, Jesus, what have you done for me lately?

The crowd tells Jesus, your signs aren’t enough like Moses.  What was manna the people wanted?  The Hebrew word “manna” literally means “what is it?”  The Israelites fleeing Egypt had no idea what it really was.  They had to gather it daily, depend on the Lord daily.  The people were still asking for a miracle that they wanted, they still wanted Jesus to rescue them from Rome like Moses did with Pharaoh.  And Christ corrects them yet again in verses 32-33 –

Jesus said to them, “Very truly I tell you, it is not Moses who has given you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven.  For the bread of God is the bread that comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”

 

Slide26.JPGChrist tells them that their thinking is stuck in the past.  The people want a rescue from Rome, but Jesus is saying them that’s like getting physical bread for one day.  Instead, focus on spiritual bread that feeds for eternity.  Focus on true bread that comes from heaven.

Notice Jesus says this with the words “very truly” or maybe your version says “truly truly.”  Or maybe you’re using King James, “verily verily” which for some reason wants me to add “life is but a dream.”  Literally, the Greek repeats the word twice, “Amen, amen.”  In the Greek, this means it’s absolute dogmatic 100% certain fact.  It means no doubt, no question, with certainty, completely true.  And Jesus repeats again that this is a gift, “it is my Father who give you the true bread.”  This gift is not obtained by any sort of human effort.

And the crowd still doesn’t get it.  Many Christians today don’t get it, either.   In verse 34,

“Sir,” they said, “always give us this bread.”

First they wanted to make Him king.  Then they downgraded Him to rabbi or teacher.  Now it’s just “sir.”  Their question is confused, give it to us, where is it, how do we find it?  And then Jesus begins the first of the “I am” discourses, His teaching to us about His character, what He does for us, how to have a relationship with Him.  If you want to understand how to be close to Jesus, get to know Him, and verses 35-40 provides so much information –

Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.  But as I told you, you have seen me and still you do not believe.  All those the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away.  For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me.  And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all those he has given me, but raise them up at the last day.  For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.”

Jesus is the bread of eternal life.  He uses the same phrase for “I am”, in the Greek it’s “ego eimi.”  This phrase only belongs to God, but Jesus goes beyond that, “ego eimi” about himself.  I AM the bread of life.  “He who believes in Him” is the only condition.  if you receive it, there is no more spiritual hunger or thirst, original sin no longer alienates you from your creator, it is fixed once and for all.

Jesus says in John 4:13,

Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again,  but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

This was Jesus’ purpose.  It’s why he was born, lives, and died for us.  Everyone that accepts that has eternal life, saved eternally from damnation.  And He will wipe every tear from our eyes, saving us from death and sorrow and pain, for the former things have passed away.  He did not come to make us a sandwich, and yet people still demand things they think they are owed.  I I I I me me me me.  Jesus wants us to accept what he gives freely and abundantly.  Eternal life.

And yet after all the teachings and miracles, people still won’t believe.  Verse 36 Jesus says the people have seen Him and still do not believe.  It’s because they’re focused on physical, not spiritual.  They’re focused on Moses, not Jesus.  They’re focused on temporal, not eternal.  They’re focused on I instead of being focused on “I AM.”

Conclusion

Jesus is the bread of life, life abundant, life eternal.  He says in John 6:51,

I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.”

Slide30

Jesus foreshadows His sacrificial death for all of us, giving up His life so that we may live.  It’s no coincidence that Jesus gave us his “I AM the Bread of Life” discourse during Passover week.  The Jews would be remembering that God provided manna during the Exodus, bread which symbolized God’s presence, sustenance, and provision.  Jesus is now saying, “I AM this bread.”

This salvation is open to everyone who accepts this sacrifice.  Not because of I I I I me me me me look at me.  We cannot boast about our salvation, but let the one who boasts boast in the work that Jesus did.

Jesus is the only true bread of eternal life.

To God be the glory.

The Seven Churches of Revelation

  I.      Introduction

Slide1

In the last days of the Apostle John’s life, his faith in Jesus Christ led to his persecution.  John had been living in Ephesus, but Rome exiled John to a small Greek island in the Aegean Sea called Patmos.  I suppose the Romans thought to take a spiritual leader and move him out of the way so he wouldn’t spread any more dangerous ideas about this new disruptive Christianity, but exiling John to Patmos didn’t have the intended effect.  John spent his time in worship and prayer, and it was here on Patmos that John was given a powerful revelation from Jesus about the spiritual health of the churches and a vision of the end-times to come.

The seven churches are

  • Ephesus (Revelation 2:1-7) – the church that had forsaken its first love.
  • Smyrna (Revelation 2:8-11) – the church that would suffer persecution.
  • Pergamum (Revelation 2:12-17) – the church that needed to repent.
  • Thyatira (Revelation 2:18-29) – the church with a false prophetess.
  • Sardis (Revelation 3:1-6) – the church that had fallen asleep.
  • Philadelphia (Revelation 3:7-13) – the church that had endured patiently.
  • Laodicea (Revelation 3:14-22) – the church with the lukewarm faith.

Slide2

All seven churches are located a Roman mail route in Asia Minor; the remains of each of these churches still exist today in what is now modern-day Turkey.

The seven churches described in Revelation 2-3 are seven churches that existed during the time John the apostle was writing Revelation. Though they were literal churches in that time, there is also spiritual significance for churches and believers today.  So while the letters themselves are written to the churches, we can use the message to gain understanding of how both the churches and we as individuals relate to Jesus.

Each letter from Jesus to the churches follows a pattern.  First, Jesus describes Himself, His Authority and His Power.  Then He offers encouragement to the church, and a warning about their practices or their behavior.  And to those who are victorious in Christ, a command and a promise.

  • Jesus is…
  • Praise
  • Fault
  • Warning / Promise

Let’s turn to Revelation 2 and begin.

            II.      To the Church in Ephesus, Revelation 2:1-7

To the angel of the church in Ephesus write:

This is Jesus speaking to John, telling John to write down precisely the words of Jesus.  Like much of what we’re going to study, there are several possible meanings in each verse.  The Greek word is “angelos,” and usually means “spiritual messenger.”  The “angel” of the church could refer to a guardian angel of each church, but some might wonder why Jesus would have John write a letter to an angel.  A more earthly view is that the “angelos” was a human messenger that visited John, an elder or a pastor entrusted with the letter to share with the church.  I think the rest of verse 2 clarifies it somewhat.  Jesus describes himself as –

These are the words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand and walks among the seven golden lampstands.

This is why Revelation seems so difficult to me.  I like my scripture to be more literal.  When Jesus says, “forgive one another” or “love one another,” I get that. And it’s easy teach, too.  “Forgive one another, love one another, walk among the lampstands.”

Sometimes the symbolism in Revelation is hard, but for today’s symbolism, I found a simple trick to understanding it.  At the end of the previous chapter, Revelation 1… can somebody read out loud the very last verse of Revelation 1?

The mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand and of the seven golden lampstands is this: The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.

Ah, that makes it easy to understand.  So this means Jesus walks among the churches and He holds the pastors of the churches in his hand.  Got it.

Now Jesus tells the Church of Ephesus what He likes and what He doesn’t like –

I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked people, 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.

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. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place.  But you have this in your favor: You hate the practices of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.

Ephesus was a large seaport for its day, one of the largest cities with 400,000 people.  In John’s day, Jesus is pleased with what He sees.  The Ephesians work hard, they discern false teachers and wicked people, they are persecuted yet remain faithful.  All very good things for the church and for you and me.

But there is a balance between truth and love, and both must be present in the will of the Lord.  Ephesus triumphs in truth, but has forgotten that the purpose of the gospel, the good news, is love.  Jesus is love, a sacrifice for we who do not deserve God’s gift of salvation but were given it anyway.  If our Christian faith is marked by legalist, condemnation, accusations, then we are no better than Pharisees.

And this love is something we do, it’s not an emotional, “I love you, now go on about your business.”  Love is hospitality, love is helping those who need it, particularly the widows and orphans, the poor, sick, and needy.  Jesus’ love was to do for us what we could not do for ourselves: die for our sins and be saved.  This was a mark of the early Christian churches; pagan and secular cultures did not care for the poor.  When the Christians showed love, they were advertising the love of God in them.

But the Ephesians had forgotten their first love, and Jesus says that if they do not repent of their unloving nature, then He will remove their lampstand.  I heard a term recently called “The Ephesus Syndrome” where Christians and churches become totally preoccupied with fine points of doctrinal theology, pre-trib vs mid-trib, and find they have drifted away from makes surrounding to Christ all the worthwhile – a fervent love for the God who created us, and a love for one another.

About 4 years ago I was blessed to take a trip to Israel and some of the destinations on Paul’s journey.  The city is amazing; the amphitheater where Paul taught could hold 25,000 people.  The city library was enormous.  But there is no active Christian church there today, no weekly congregation, no worship services on the Sabbath.  Their lampstand has been removed.

For those who remember that our number one commandment is love God with all our heart, our soul, our mind, our strength, and also to love our neighbors as we love ourselves, Jesus gives this promise –

Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. 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.

The tree of life was there in the Garden of Eden, and will be planted again many times over in the New Jerusalem of Revelation 22.   Jesus was victorious over death, and those who love the Lord share in that victory and live forever.

III.      To the Church in Smyrna, Revelation 2:8-11

I think we have to move along more quickly.  There are seven churches, and if I spent only 4 minutes a church, we’ll use up our half hour.  So our second church is Smyrna, and following our pattern, Jesus tells us who he is,

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.

Jesus is the Beginning and the End, the Alpha and Omega, the First and the Last.  The entire purpose of the Old Testament is to give us insight into who God is and point to a Messiah.  The New Testament give us the Good News that we are saved from the death of our sins, and Revelation will tell us our future, our lives forever with the One who loves us so much he was crucified for us, who died and now lives.

The praise to Smyrna:

I know your afflictions and your poverty—yet you are rich!  I know about the slander of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan.  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.  Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you life as your victor’s crown.

The people of Smyrna lived in a culture of Jews, non-Jews, pagans, and the early church.  The word “Satan” literally means “the accuser,” so the synagogue of Satan was full of Jews accusing the early Christians of all kinds of wickedness.  As a result, they were persecuted and imprisoned, suffering as Jesus did to demonstrate His love for us.

And the fault Jesus finds?  None.  Only in the churches of Smyrna and Philadelphia does Jesus find nothing to condemn.  For those that hold to the end, willing to demonstrate the love of Jesus even under persecution, imprisonment, and death, Jesus praises them as victors.

IV.      To the Church in Pergamum, Revelation 2:12-17

Church number three, the Church in Pergamum.  Jesus announced himself as –

To the angel of the church in Pergamum write:

These are the words of him who has the sharp, double-edged sword.

This echoes the words in Hebrews 4:12,

For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.

And the beginning of the book of John 1:1,

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

Jesus is the Word, and if you let the Word into your heart, read the scripture and pray for wisdom, the Word will show you what is unworthy and must be surgically removed, cut out of your life.  Jesus calls us to repentance from our sins.  We will always struggle without our own sins, but I discovered it is impossible to sin while calling on the name of Jesus.  Can’t do them both at the same time.  If I’m am doing or saying something I ought not to be doing or saying, I am also trying hard not to think of Jesus.  And if I am thinking of Jesus, I find it impossible to willfully sin.

And the more we imbue ourselves with the Word, the more righteously we wish to live, and the more shortcomings we find in ourselves, and the more we give thanks that we don’t have to fail in our sins.  Jesus has already saved us, and we start that process by reading His Word, the two-edged sword the shows us what is truly in our hearts.

Now the praise for Pergamum –

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, not even in the days of Antipas, my faithful witness, who was put to death in your city—where Satan lives.

Pergamum was the seat of Roman power in the region.  Paganism was the culture, temples built to worship prostitution, idolatry of self.  The very seat of evil.  Yet the little church in Pergamum was faithful, despite being surrounded by wickedness.

So how do we live when we are surrounded by wickedness?  When living in a culture that celebrates sin?  A culture that celebrates homosexuality, that celebrates selfishness and pride?  There were two stories in the news this week that revolted me.  One was an app called Ashley something, I didn’t bother to go look it up again.  It’s an app for adulterers.  Married men who want to have sex with married women other than their own.  The app promised confidentiality so you could have your affair without all that bother of your spouse finding out.  I was appalled there was an app for that.  But some hacker broke into their database and copied all the names off the credit cards used.  The users might be confidential, but they still had to use a credit card with their name on it.  Busted.

The other story was the Planned Parenthood selling baby parts for profit, and discussing how to preserve the parts in a “less crunchy” way so they could make more money.  Again, I was appalled.  They also claim that abortions aren’t killing babies, they’re just a clump of cells to which I ask, then where did these little hearts and brains and arms and legs come from?  In the Old Testament, the evil Ammonites worshipped Molech, a protecting father figure.  To bring about Molech’s protection, a statue of Molech was made of bronze and their outstretched arms were heated red-hot.  Living children were then placed in Molech’s arms and died there.  The way some in our culture worship Planned Parenthood, Molech is alive and well in our country.

Like Pergamum, we are surrounded by evil, but we are called to be in this world, but not of this world.  Jesus praised Pergamum for remaining faithful.

But Jesus had something against Pergamum –

Nevertheless, I have a few things against you: There are some among you who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to entice the Israelites to sin so that they ate food sacrificed to idols and committed sexual immorality.  Likewise, you also have those who hold to the teaching of the Nicolaitans.  Repent therefore! Otherwise, I will soon come to you and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth.

Some in Pergamum tried to remain faithful *and* blend into the culture.  They welcomed teachings of Balaam alongside teachings of Jesus.  The Nicolaitans were also mentioned in the Church of Ephesus earlier, but we don’t know much about them except Jesus hated their teachings.  They enticed the Israelites into sexual immorality, and I cannot help but see the parallels with those liberal churches in our country performing same-sex marriages.  Jesus is not pleased and fights against this evil with the sword of truth, the word of life, the Holy Scripture.

And the promise,

Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who is victorious, I will give some of the hidden manna. I will also give that person a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to the one who receives it.

The “secret manna” is God’s truth, hidden in scripture.  For those who believe, it’s spiritual nourishment, and for those who don’t, it’s nonsense.  And the white stone is a ticket of admission to God’s Kingdome, personally engraved, and represents a new, intimate relationship.  Jesus has a special name for you and me if we are victorious, a nickname that Jesus gives us known only by us.

  V.      To the Church in Thyatira, Revelation 2:18-26

Church number 4, the Church in Thyatira.  Who does Jesus say that He is?

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.

Jesus sees all and nothing is hidden from His sight, a blazing fire that compels us to repent of our hidden things.  The burnished bronze feet may be a reference to the city of Thyatira which was known for its trade guilds, particularly trade in smelting copper and bronze.  The coins minted at the time showed the local Roman ruler, Apollo Tyrimnaeus, the patron deity of the bronze trade, and on the other side, the Roman Emperor who was also known at the time as the ‘son of god.’  The imagery here shows that whatever our boasts of our own importance, Jesus stands on and above everything.

Jesus’s praise for Thyatira,

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

Jesus recognized them for their love and faith and service and perseverance, all good things.  But His complaints are more focused –

Nevertheless, I have this against you: You tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophet. 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.  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.

Like Pergamum allowing the teachings of Balaam, Thyatira is faulted for allowing “Jezebel” to live among them, a reference to 1st and 2nd Kings and the story of Ahab and Jezebel.  Jezebel introduced the worship of Baal into Israel.  Immoral sex was a temptation into a pagan worship that corrupted the pure faith of the Israelites. Allowing a freedom of sexual immorality into the church teachings corrupts the purity of the faith, and Jesus is not pleased.  The church has no business condoning any sort of pagan practice or sexual immorality.

For those that remain faithful,

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, except to hold on to what you have until I come.’

To the one who is victorious and does my will to the end, I will give authority over the nations – that one ‘will rule them with an iron scepter and will dash them to pieces like pottery’ – just as I have received authority from my Father.  I will also give that one the morning star.  Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.

One day, every knee will bow to the authority of Jesus, and those who place their faith and trust in the Lord will share in that day, and Jesus will give the morning star to them.  Jesus is the morning star, showing how loving and how intimate our relationship with Jesus will be as He gives Himself to us in love.

VI.      To the Church in Sardis, Revelation 3:1-6

Jesus says this about Himself –

To the angel of the church in Sardis write:

These are the words of him who holds the seven spirits of God and the seven stars.

The seven stars we already mentioned, these are the leaders and pastors of the seven churches.  The seven spirits are mentioned four times in the book of Revelation, and refer back to Isaiah 11:1-3 where each of the spirits are named in a prophecy about the ancestry of Jesus,

A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse;

    from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.

The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him—

    the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding,

    the Spirit of counsel and of might,

    the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the Lord—

and he will delight in the fear of the Lord.

Jesus has praise for the church of Sardis, but their lack of enthusiasm shows.  The church will die without a love for the will of Jesus –

I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead.  Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have found your deeds unfinished in the sight of my God.  Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; hold it fast, and repent. But if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what time I will come to you.

To the church of Sardis, this was a powerful message.  Six hundred years before Jesus, Sardis was considered unconquerable.  It sat on a high hill and was impenetrable.  And the people became lazy about their security.

Slide22

But King Cyrus of the Persians did it.  Cyrus sent an advance scout at night who climbed the high walls and opened the gate.  By the morning, the Persians had conquered the city.

The same thing can happen to us if we let our enthusiasm wane.  The seven spirits keep the church alive – the Spirit of the Lord, wisdom, understanding, counsel, might, knowledge and fear.  We must be ever vigilant that we continually focused on the will of God so that we do not become complacent and lazy.  If we become lazy about our faith, sin will find a way in.  We must be ever vigilant against the evil one, and keep our eyes focused on Jesus.

The promise from Jesus is that all is not lost

Yet you have a few people in Sardis who have not soiled their clothes. They will walk with me, dressed in white, for they are worthy.  The one who is victorious will, like them, be dressed in white. I will never blot out the name of that person from the book of life, but will acknowledge that name before my Father and his angels.  Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.

Those who walk with Jesus are considered worthy before the Lord and will walk with Jesus.  Our names will not be blotted out of the book of life.  After Moses came down from the mountain with the Ten Commandments, and found out that while he was gone, Aaron had made a golden calf for the people to worship, God says in Exodus 32:32-33 that those that sinned will be blotted out of the Lord’s book of life.  And in these days when John was writing Revelation, it was common for Greek cities to maintain a list of all the citizens.  But when a citizen was condemned to death, cities didn’t want their reputation to be tarnished.  Cities never executed their own citizens.  First, the city would blot the name of the offender from the list of citizens, *then* they would execute him.

Sin separates us from God.  Jesus saves us from eternal separation and makes sure our names remain in the book of life, never to be blotted out.  And Jesus will acknowledge us – personally, by name, in front of God the Father.

VII.      To the Church in Philadelphia, Revelation 3:7-11

Church number six is Philadephia.  About Himself, Jesus says,

To the angel of the church in Philadelphia write:

These are the words of him who is holy and true, who holds the key of David. What he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open.

The imagery of the key of David comes from Isaiah 22:22.  All authority has been given to Jesus, and his royal key can open any heart, a message for us when we spread the good news that it is not us, never has been us, that brings salvation to another.  Jesus alone holds that key.  It is our responsibility to share what Jesus has done for us, and Jesus will unlock the hearts of those who hear Him knock.

I know your deeds. See, I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut. I know that you have little strength, yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name.  I will make those who are of the synagogue of Satan, who claim to be Jews though they are not, but are liars—I will make them come and fall down at your feet and acknowledge that I have loved you.  Since you have kept my command to endure patiently, I will also keep you from the hour of trial that is going to come on the whole world to test the inhabitants of the earth.

I am coming soon. Hold on to what you have, so that no one will take your crown.  The one who is victorious I will make a pillar in the temple of my God. Never again will they leave it. I will write on them the name of my God and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which is coming down out of heaven from my God; and I will also write on them my new name.  Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.

Jesus has only praise for the Church of Philadelphia.  They teach truth, they practice love, they endure patiently.  The synagogue of Satan isn’t intended to be anti-Jewish; this message is written to the Jews that have accepted Christ as their long awaited messiah.  Those that accuse will one day realize that the very messiah they have been waiting for has come and loved those who place their faith in Him.

Those that are victorious in Jesus will wear a crown of victory and become a pillar in the temple of God.  Not of stone and marble, but of Jesus and His faithful followers.  Today, we have the Holy Spirit living inside, and our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, but eventually we will be pillars of the temple of God.  And His promise of intimacy with Jesus is given again to us, that he will write His name upon us, signifying that we belong to Him forever.

VIII.      To the Church in Laodicea, Revelation 3:14-22

Last church, church number 7.  I wasn’t sure we’d get through all seven churches today.  Two or three churches would have been plenty for us, would it not?  But there’s actually a purpose to going through all seven – the number seven is God’s perfect number – seven stars, seven lampstands, seven spirits, seven churches.  I didn’t want to stop at half-perfect.

About Himself, Jesus says –

These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation.

Jesus is faithful, completely trustworthy, reliable, dependable.  He sees all and rules all, and we can trust His promises.  It’s not that Jesus is the best, but that Jesus is the only.  There is no other place to put our trust other than in the Son of God.  He will never leave us, abandon us, mislead us.  He is the Amen, the faithful and true witness.

I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other!  So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth.  You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.  I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see.

Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent.  Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.

While Jesus had only praise for two of the churches, for Laodicea He has nothing good to say about them.  There is no redeeming feature.  This is a worldly church.  The people dressed fine, every family was perfect with 2.3 children, and all of the people were above average.  They believed they were rich and had everything they needed.

While the city of Laodicea was rich, one thing they were missing was a good supply of water.  They were located on a Roman aqueduct system near the river Lycus which is not a big river. Sometimes it dries up completely in the summer.  But to the southeast of Laodicea is the town of Colosse with a excellent supply of water.  Ice-cold, flowing down from Mount Cadmus, it was fast-flowing and plentiful, excellent to drink.  But by the time it flowed to Laodicea 6 miles away, it had warmed by the sun and lost it’s refreshing taste.

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To the north of Laodicea was the town of Hieropolis.  It has hot springs that are still operational today.  The water comes out of the ground, hot and bubbling, full of minerals.  That water today is channeled into hotel bathing pools.  Aqueducts brought this water to Laodicea, but it had cooled, no longer suitable for bathing.  Worse, the concentration of minerals and chemicals made it unsafe to drink.

The word ‘lukewarm’ is translated from the Greek ‘chliaros’ and means “tepid, nauseating, unusable or barren.”

There’s a saying that if Satan isn’t bothering you, then maybe he’s happy with the way you live.  Jesus is telling the church that He wants them to be on fire for Him, or get out of the way.  Instead, the church is full of smug, self-righteous apathetic lukewarm people.

The single greatest cause of Atheism today is Christians who acknowledge Jesus with their lips and deny Him by their lifestyle.

This is utterly disgusting to our Lord. He’d rather one be an atheist than a so-called Christian who doesn’t care.  Such people the Lord will vomit out of His mouth.

The rich clothes the Laodiceans wore?  Filthy rags.  The money they had?  Worthless.  They strutted around in their fine clothes and said to the world, “look how fabulous we are.”  And Jesus tells them that their worldly wealth was worthless, and instead of being dressed like royalty, they were really wretched, pitiful, poor, blind, and naked.  The only thing we can wear that has eternal value is Jesus.

Jesus longs for us to want him, to persevere on His behalf, to be His hands and feet, delivering the love that He first gave to us.  He will fellowship with us and be our friend if we just open the door to His love.

To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I was victorious and sat down with my Father on his throne.  Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.

To those who are faithful to our Lord, He offers more than we can imagine.  C.S. Lewis opened a sermon once with these words,

If we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.

The Lord desires our love in action.  In return, he invites us not just to a place somewhere in heaven, but right next to Him on His throne.  Such glory I cannot fathom, to see all of creation sitting next to Jesus on the throne.

IX.      Conclusion

The messages to the seven churches of Revelation 2-3 show us that the Church was destined to face trials throughout the centuries before Jesus Christ would return. Yet God promised to reward His Church and individual members if they would remain faithful to Him.

These rewards include eating from the tree of life (Revelation 2:7), being given the crown of life (verse 10), being given a new name (verse 17), being given power over the nations (verse 26), having one’s name written in the Book of Life (Revelation 3:5), becoming a pillar in God’s temple (verse 12) and sitting with Christ on His throne (verse 21). This encouragement from God reminds us that serving Him is well worth the effort.  And Jesus alone has the authority and the power to give us new life.

Let’s not settle for anything less.

To God be the glory.