4th Sunday of Easter (C)
May 12, 2019
Grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
The text that I have chosen for this morning’s sermon is the Epistle, which was read a few minutes ago.
Christians have faced many dangers down through history. They’ve been crucified and fed to the lions. They’ve been arrested and tortured. They’ve been gunned down and blown up. Ever since Saint Stephen was stoned in 35 AD, death has been a very real threat to Christians. Muslims are the threat to African Christians and the government is the threat against Chinese Christians. But what do you think is the greatest threat to American Christians? We could say the secular attacks on our Christian rights is a threat, and we may face arrest and death one day, until then, I’d say that the number one threat to American Christians is spiritual adultery and idolatry. What I mean is that there is a very great temptation for Christians to try to have it both ways. They want God’s gifts through Christ and yet they also want to change the Bible to fit what they want to do with their lives.
Changing the Bible through false teachings or manipulation doesn’t threaten the physical lives of Christians, they do far worse. Twisting God’s Word attacks the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and as a result, threatens the very foundation of your relationship with Him. Jesus says, “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.” Those who twist God’s Word may sound innocent, they may even sound reasonable, their intentions may be good, but all they really do is destroy your faith and your relationship with Christ. They never, ever, will be what’s best for you. And that’s why this letter the church at Thyatira was one of such a harsh warning. The Christians of Thyatira were actually tolerating lies and a false teacher in their congregation.
To start this letter Jesus identifies Himself as “the Son of God, who has eyes like a flame of fire and whose feet are like burnished bronze.” This is the only place in Revelation where the title “Son of God” is used and it immediately tells the Christians who is talking to them and why He’s upset. He’s the one whose blazing eyes burn into the inner being. He’s the one who knows all our secrets. And He’s the one who will judge all those who corrupt His Word.
Just like in the first letter to the congregation at Ephesus, Jesus praises the Thyatiran Christians, “I know your works, your love and faith and service and patient endurance, and that your latter works exceed the first.” Jesus was praising them for growing in their faith and for loving and serving others even more than when they were first believers. As we read Jesus’ letter to the Thyatirans we can see that this is what Jesus wants. He wants you to serve Him, which so many of you do. He wants you to love others like He loves you, and again, so many of you do this. Jesus calls on us to put our relationship with Him on display – let others see Christ at work in us, and maybe our faithful love and service will lead them to believe in Christ as well.
The Thyatiran Christians, though faithful in service, had a serious problem. Jesus says, “I have this against you that you tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess and is teaching and seducing My servants to practice sexual immorality and to eat food sacrificed to idols.” They were in a perilous situation because they were tolerating the presence of an individual or group which was actively teaching and promoting a spiritually destructive philosophy. And the fact that Jesus said that she called herself a prophetess suggests that whoever it was had even assumed a position of some prominence in the congregation.
Jesus called this person or these people “Jezebel” and while that probably wasn’t their real name, it fit what they were doing. Back in Old Testament history, Jezebel was the pagan princess who became King Ahab’s queen. As queen, she brought her worship of Baal to Israel and influenced her husband and the people to practice the sexual immoralities that passed for worship of the fertility gods. Her influence was deadly and we hear that “King Ahab did more to provoke the LORD, the God of Israel, to anger than all the kings of Israel who were before him.”
The “Jezebel” in Thyatira evidently was actively promoting a perversion of the Gospel that combined it with the prevailing Greek thought. The Greeks generally held to a philosophy called dualism. This said the spirit, or the spiritual, is real and lasting and good, while the physical is temporary and unimportant. This view promoted an attitude toward life that said that as long as your spirit is right, it doesn’t matter what you do with your body. Apply it to the Christian faith and it suggests that as long as you know Jesus is your Savior, it doesn’t really matter if you indulge your sinful nature and its passions. While promoting false teaching, Jezebel actually claimed to be leading people into deeper understanding of the freedom the Gospel. You’re forgiven so it’s okay to live whatever way you want. You can do whatever you want (within reason) because Jesus died for you.
Later in His letter Jesus called these views what they really were “the deep things of Satan.” Jesus warned against their destructive results. He says, “I will throw [Jezebel] onto a sickbed and those who commit adultery with her I will throw into great tribulation, unless they repent of her works, and I will strike her children dead.” Do you get what Jesus is saying here? This perverse teaching is so deadly is because it touches our Christian faith and life that it can kill the spiritual life of the children and grandchildren that follow us.
As we’ve seen, these letters are not just about ancient times. Today’s letter speaks to every person and every society of every time a clear warning about a permissive attitude toward immorality. In the life of the church this “Jezebel” attitude leads people to think that because they’re saved by what Christ has done for them, the “laws” of the Bible have no particular claim on the way they live.
Now it’s true that the Old Testament ceremonial laws regarding sacrifices and dietary restrictions no longer apply. Their purpose was to point God’s people ahead to Christ. Since Jesus Christ has come, fulfilling their purpose, they have nothing to offer us. Paul says in his Letter to the Colossians that we Christians are not to be held to such laws and practices.
But God’s moral laws, summarized in the Ten Commandments, are another story. They call on us to love God and love our neighbor—to live lives of honesty and purity and helpfulness. The Commandments hold before us God’s clear intentions for us. They will never bring us to salvation because they continually reveal our sins in thought and word and deed. But as we respond to God’s forgiving love and live in faith in Christ, they teach us the way we’re to live day by day. We’re not excused from obeying God’s Law, instead, we’re motivated to put it into practice. We must take care that we’re not picking and choosing what parts of God’s Word we like or don’t like.
It’s weird that when it comes to God’s Law, we respect a lot of it. We would never say that as long as someone loves Jesus it’s okay if he murders his neighbor. And yet we see this in life issues – abortion, infanticide, and euthanasia. The argument in these cases is that it’s better for us or the other person if we take their life. We would never say that as long as someone attends church and loves God that it’s okay if they cheat on their spouse. And yet, we smile or celebrate when a same-sex couple gets married because we think that God is love and even though this marriage is completely contrary to God’s Word it’s okay. We hardly raise an eyebrow when two people live together before they’re married. These are just as much a violation of God’s Law as other sins and they too can lead to spiritual death. The truth is that what we do with our bodies can and does affect our spiritual health. God gives us His Law for a reason; it’s for our good and the good of society, and we ignore His Law to our detriment.
In every day and age it’s a struggle to accept all of what God’s Word says. We may disagree with some of it, we may not like some of it. Some of it may confuse us and some of it bother us. But Jesus clearly says, “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” His Word is unchanging, and while it may seem out of touch to our modern ears, it’s ignored at our peril. However, it’s also wonderful news that His Word is unchanging because His Word contains not just the Law but the promise that your sins are forgiven. Turn to Him, repent of your sins, and you’re forgiven, simple as that. Well, not simple because this forgiveness cost Christ His life, but He freely and willingly paid it that you would be His people and that through His death and resurrection, you can hold fast until He returns.
Jesus’ letter is to you and He says “The one who conquers and who keeps My works until the end, to him I will give authority over the nations… And I will give him the morning star.” Later in the book of Revelation Jesus calls Himself “the bright Morning Star”, so what He’s saying to you is that He will give you Himself. He is the source of your forgiveness and willingness to hold fast to His Word regardless of what the Jezebels of this world are telling you. Hold fast and Jesus promises that you will be part of His kingdom and live and rule with Him forever.
Now the peace which surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen