Tuesday, July 16, 2013

P2 Jesus wants a loving church - getting back your first love

Revelation 2:4-5 But I have this against you, that you have left your first love. Therefore remember from where you have fallen, and repent and do the deeds you did at first; or else I am coming to you and will remove your lampstand out of its place—unless you repent. 

Yesterday we began looking at the church of Ephesus in Revelation 2:1-7, noting that Jesus' address to it was rebuking it for losing its "first love" and to communicate His desire for a loving church.  We witnessed how Ephesus had a long history through the New Testament of exceptional Bible teachers, preachers and apostles and that she had endured conflict with heresy.  Despite her many strengths, Ephesus had grown cold in the one area that is of chief importance: her first love for the Lord Jesus Christ.  

Think of "first love" as a fist against apathy and unbelief
As we noted yesterday, the idea of "first love" is in reference to the "foremost" love that the believer ought to have for God. (Matthew 22:37-38)  Like an opposable thumb, love for God enables the Christian to grab hold of the other types of things that the Bible commands us to love: love for neighbor (Matthew 22:39); love for the scriptures (John 14:21); loving to pray (1 Timothy 2:1-3) and loving Christ's second coming (2 Timothy 4:8).  Now when you take all five of those and ball them up into the fist of faith - you will deal a knockout punch to apathy and unbelief every time.  However, take away the opposable thumb of "loving God" and what do you got? No way to grip.  Ephesus had over the decades defended the faith, defeated heresy and demonstrated commitment, however she was going through the motions.  Ephesus was showing the wear of battle, and her worship services bore the heavy atmosphere of suffocating routine.  It was the "love for Jesus" that she needed to get back if she was ever to continue as an effective church for Jesus' sake.  

What Jesus told Ephesus to do in regaining her "first love"
We read these words in Revelation 2:5 "Therefore remember from where you have fallen, and repent and do the deeds you did at first; or else I am coming to you and will remove your lampstand out of its place—unless you repent."  Jesus tells her to "remember" and "repent". Why do this? Robert M. Mounce in his commentary notes: "The church is called upon to remember the earlier days in which love abounded in the congregation. Memory can be a powerful force in effecting a return to a more satisfying relationship."1  Repentance comes from a Greek word meaning: to change one's mind or heart about one's sin. 

Therefore in order to begin the road back to recovery, the church will have to go back to the place where it last remembers having its first love.  What Jesus then does is mention a group of false teachers called "the Nicolatians". Who were they? According to Jesus' third letter to the church of Pergamum in Revelation 2:12-17, the Nicolatians held to the same doctrine and practices like Balaam did back in Numbers 22-25.  Balaam had been a Pagan prophet who attempted to curse Israel but instead blessed the nation.  To attain payment from the Moabite King Balak, Balaam ended up sending forth Moabite women to seduce the Israelite men and lead Israel into gross immorality and idolatry.  The Nicolatians may very well had combined some form of Judaism with pagan rituals and immorality.2  

Whenever you consider what the Ephesian church was up against, she was fighting for her life.  She won the battle but almost ended up losing the war.  Now why does Jesus refer to her rejection of the Nicolatians in Revelation 2:6 when he had just rebuked her for forsaking her first love in Revelation 2:4?  Whenever you consider her not "enduring evil men" in Revelation 2:2 to what we see of her hatred of the Nicolatians in 2:6, it appears Jesus is giving her a clear way to turn around her condition.

Getting back your first love - warnings and prescriptions
Whatever had taken place in her battling of the Nicolatian sect, it had weakened her to the point of losing her first love.  Has that ever happened to you? Perhaps in your "fight of faith" or experiences of intense disappointment, you have closed off the portion of your heart that you swore to yourself "never again."  Churches are full of Christians who are committed, hard working people, and yet there is a corner in their heart that got hurt, and they decided to never make themselves vulnerable.  
Jesus knows what is best for his people.  Often we may to go back to the proverbial scene of the crime - whether it be literal or mental.  Repentance in this case has to do with telling God that you regret closing your heart off to His love the day you got hurt.  The moment you talk to the Lord and ask Him to forgive you for resisting His repeated attempts to heal your pain, He will. (Ephesians 4:25-32, 1 John 1:9) 

Jesus warns of the increased danger we face as a church and Christians in these last days in Matthew 24:11-12  "Many false prophets will arise and will mislead many. 12 Because lawlessness is increased, most people’s love will grow cold."  May you and I be not among that number.  

What is the solution to gaining back your first love? How can we be more loving Christians?
As we already mentioned, Jesus lays out the prescription as the Great Physician.  First, remember back from whence you last recall having a passionate love for God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  Secondly, repent for letting go of that first love.  A third prescription Jesus gives is what we could term: "receive the word from the Spirit."  Revelation 2:7 states: "He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, I will grant to eat of the tree of life which is in the Paradise of God."  In all seven letters in Revelation 2-3, Jesus urges the membership to heed the Spirit's voice speaking forth from His words - the words of scripture.  Whenever we begin to exercise the love we had let go of, love for other things will automatically return as well: love for people, the scriptures, prayer and Christ's return.  Jesus wants a loving church.  May we endeavor to be a people of God who love Him, people, His word, prayer and His soon return.  May we love Him first and foremost!

1. Robert M. Mounce.  The New International Commentary on the New Testament. Eerdmans. 1977. Page 88

2.  Interestingly enough, the name "Balaam" in the Hebrew and "Nicolatian" in the Greek translate nearly in the same way: "Balaam" means "mastery over the people" and "Nicolatian" refers to "victory or conqueror over the people." 

Peter - The miraculous nature of Grace

Acts 3:11-12 "While he was clinging to Peter and John, all the people ran together to them at the so-called portico of Solomon, full of amazement. 12 But when Peter saw this, he replied to the people, “Men of Israel, why are you amazed at this, or why do you gaze at us, as if by our own power or piety we had made him walk?"

Yesterday we looked at Peter's first sermon in Acts 2, noting the essential elements of a Biblical sermon.  Peter was the leader of the twelve who preached the first three of roughly twenty sermons in the Book of Acts.  

In today's post we want to explore his second sermon found in Acts 3:11-26 to discover the four-fold grace that made Peter's ministry a ministry of grace.

Understanding what grace is by way of the healing of a lame man
The context leading up to Peter's second sermon is set in the outer courts of the massive temple complex in Jerusalem.  According to Alfred Edersheim, the temple area had 9 gates that took the worship from the outer court of the Gentiles into the formal temple grounds composed of ascending worship areas called respectively the courts of the Women, Israel and Priests.1  Eight of those gates were side gates, with the ninth and most important one called "the Beautiful Gate.  It was at the Beautiful Gate that we see the miracle of the lame man healed by the power of God working through Peter and John.  Edersheim describes this gate: "The gate itself was made of dazzling Corinthians brass, most richly ornamented; and so massive were its double doors that it needed the united strength of twenty men to open and close them. This was the "Beautiful Gate"; and on its steps had they been wont these many years to lay the lame man..." 2

Now what does this miracle have to do with grace? The man in question had been lame, lying feet away from a religious system that claimed to give worshippers access to God.  He could not help himself, nor could the power of any man.  Grace is God doing for us what we could never do for ourselves. (Ephesians 2:8-9)  Further the man was a beggar, incapable of taking care of himself without the help of others.  When God's grace is extended to a person, the riches of God's love and mercy are extended, meaning that in grace, God gives to us what we do not deserve. (Ephesians 2:4) The outward beauty of the brass and marble of that temple could never compare to the beauty of God's grace, for no unconverted mind has ever conceived of all that God has prepared for those who love Him. (1 Corinthians 2:9) With this miracle and its setting, Peter launches into his second sermon to deliver the ministry of grace that would result in 5,000 conversions! (Acts 4:4)

In understanding what the miraculous nature of grace is, we can now briefly by outline form consider what made Peter's ministry a ministry of grace.  Note the following four-fold grace that marked his ministry:

1. The Grace of the Savior - Jesus Christ. Acts 3:11-18,20-21
As one writer has noted, Jesus Christ did not come merely to bring grace, He is grace.  Grace is not a power, but the Person of Christ.  Titus 2:11 unfolds the idea of the grace of God "appearing".  Jesus Himself is described in John 1:14 as being full of "grace and truth."  Throughout Peter's sermon we see constant reference to Jesus Christ - the Personification of grace.

2. The Grace of the Scriptures. Acts 3:18, 21-26
Grace again is God doing for us what we could never do for ourselves.  Revealed scripture is God unfolding his mind to man.  Apart from the Bible, no one could know Jesus Christ, who in turn reveals God the Father.  The unrevealed things belong to God, and the revealed things belong to us and our children. (compare Deuteronomy 29:29) The scripture is the only instrument by which God effects salvation in the heart for saving faith (Psalm 19:7; Romans 10:17) and ongoing growth in sanctification. (John 17:17) Peter notes that Christ's crucifixion was announced beforehand by the prophets. (Acts 3:18) In the Old Testament the New is concealed, and in the New Testament the Old is revealed.

3. The Grace of the Holy Spirit. Acts 3:19
It is often common in the New Testament to see a ministry of the Holy Spirit without direct reference to Him.  When we compare Acts 3:19 to Acts 2:38, there is only One Agent of grace that could convict, call and draw sinners to repentance and faith - the Holy Spirit. Peter relied ever constantly on the Holy Spirit for the power to preach and relied upon the Spirit for the results of his preaching.  Grace means I am dependant upon God for everything.  Peter's appeal for his listeners to repent and return in Acts 3:19 is among the clearest expressions of the Gospel found anywhere in the Bible.  Only the Spirit can stir the heart to repentance, so that simultaneously the person can repent, believe and be saved. (2 Timothy 2:25; Acts 2:38)

4. The Grace of salvation. Acts 3:19
We have seen the grace of the Savior, Scripture and the Spirit.  What is the fruit of grace? Salvation.  Acts 3:26 concludes the sermon, however Acts 4:4 reports the results: "But many of those who had heard the message believed; and the number of the men came to be about five thousand." Praise be to God for the miraculous ministry of grace!  

1. Alfred Edersheim. The Temple - its Ministry and Services. Hendrickson Publishers. 1994. Page 25 

2. Alfred Edersheim. The Temple - its Ministry and Services. Hendrickson Publishers. 1994. Page 24