Ears to Hear
Ears to Hear
When I was growing up, Revelation was intimidating, confusing, a little terrifying. It seems like there are plenty of people offering to help unlock the “secrets of Revelation.” Usually there are charts, timelines, and ever-changing theories of the Antichrist and the mark of the beast.
The driving questions feels like “When?” When will the world end? When is the tribulation? When will Jesus return? But Revelation wasn’t written to focus on when.
Revelation is more about a “Who” and a “How,” then it is about a “What” and “When.” In Revelation, God is asking: Who are you as a church? Who am I calling you to be? Who holds all things together, even when it feels like they’re falling about? How will we choose to live when the pressure is on and the stakes are high?
Maybe the reason we want Revelation to be a book of mysterious predictions is that: It’s easier to speculate than surrender. But that’s how the book begins: With an invitation to trust Christ when the pressure is on.
(Read Rev. 1:1-20)
Overview of the Letters to the Churches
Every letter follows a template:
- An Address
- A Characteristic of Jesus
- An Observation of the church
- A Corrective for the church
- A Promise of Reward
To the angel of the church in … Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, Laodicea
These are the words of the one who …
- Holds seven stars
- Is the First and the Last
- Has a double-edged sword
- Has eyes like blazing fire
- Holds the seven spirits and the seven stars
- Holds the key of David
- Is the Amen, the faithful and true witness
I know your …
- Hard work & perseverance
- Afflictions & poverty
- Address & tenacity
- Love, Faith, service, perseverance
- Fatigue and faithfulness
- You have forsaken your first love
- Some hold to false teaching
- Pursue sexual immorality
- You have unfinished business to do
- You are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind
If you remain steadfast, you’ll …
- Inherit the paradise of God
- Be spared the second death
- Receive a new name
- Receive the morning star
- Be dressed in white and be written in the Book of Life
- Be a pillar in the temple
- Reign with Me.
John starts with a picture of Jesus and Jesus wants every church to thrive under pressure. That’s why he calls every church in Revelation to receive a gift. Revelation 1:5b-6 says, “To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father—to him be glory and power for ever and ever!”
He loves us. He freed us. He made us to be a kingdom. He created us to be priests to serve God. What an incredible story!
The gift God wants to give the seven church, and ours, is a reminder of who he says we are. You are cherished, valued, honored, and loved. Every good parent steps into every challenging season with love. I see a good thing in you and I’m proud of you. That’s true then and true now.
When God looks at you, your family, this church, what does he celebrate? When was the last time you asked Jesus to affirm or identify what he’s excited about in you? At Josiah’s 12th birthday we went around the table and came up with 12 characteristics we love. A few were: Compassion for people on margins, commitment to being a student & school, honor for the legacy generation, and so on.
For years many churches led with guilt and shame. Many never heard or understood that God loves me. God is for me. I’m #blessed. I’m fearfully and wonderfully made. Period. Full stop. End of story.
But that’s not whole story. We’re complex people with fault and flaws. A feel-good faith diminishes God’s holiness, cheapens God’s love, and narrows God’s mission. The day the church stops repenting, is the day she starts dying. Which is why Jesus is so clear in his invitation to the seven churches (and ours) to:
Repent of Wrong
There’s been a recent rash of scandals in American evangelicalism. Sadly, we’ve stopped being surprised when we here of another fallen hero. Some of us are stunned, this person was used by God, how could they be living a secret life?
Revelation 2-3 reminds us two statements can be true at the same time. She’s a great athlete and an unreliable friend. He’s a savvy businessman and an abusive leader. He’s a gifted preacher and an unfaithful husband. She’s an inspiring leader and manipulative parent.
Rev. 2:5 says, “Consider how far you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first.” Revevlation 3:2 goes on to say, “Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die.” And Revelation 2:20 says, “Nevertheless … you tolerate sexual immorality and the food sacrificed to idols.”
We aren’t just what we do, we are what we tolerate. Proverbs 5:21 reminds us, “For your ways are in full view of the Lord, and he examines all your paths.”
Jesus calls out our wrong beliefs and wrong behavior. He sees what we watch. He knows what we post. He understands what we think. He cares about what we do.
The good news: the call to repent is born out of deep love and the desire to see us flourish. Repentance is a response to conviction that results in transformation, not shame that leads to disconnection. Romans 2:4 says, “Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance?”
So where is it that Jesus is calling us to repent? As individuals? As families? As Central in Holland? As the church in America?
Where have we fallen? Where are we sleeping? What are we tolerating, not in other lives, but in our own? This is question that we must start asking today and wrestle with in the weeks to come.
Is there anything in my life that I’m keeping in the shadows? Is there anything I worship that isn’t Jesus? Don Finto is quoted as saying, “Your God is Whatever you can’t get enough of.”
Diane Langberg goes even deeper, in her book Redeeming Power: Understanding Abuse and Authority in the Church, says,
I have learned during my decades as a psychologist that you can tell what is most important to someone by what they protect most vociferously.
A person using drugs will protect access to the substance on which their dependent. If caught, they may cry and apologize and promise to stop, but internally they are already searching for ways to pursue what they want more than anything else.
Looking at Christendom today, I frequently see that when the church is threatened, its energy goes into protecting the system. We love and worship the system or our church more than we love and worship Jesus Christ. That is why we engage in complicity, in cover-ups, and silencing, in name calling, and in threats. If those don't work, then bit by bit we offer up some half-truths, testing to see what is acceptable and what will stop the exposure. The goal is to protect the institution, not to stand in the light.
Respond in Faith
Revelation 1:3b says, “… blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it, because the time is near.” It’s not enough to hear the message, we need take it to heart and act on it. Jesus’ ministry was marked with these words: “The kingdom is hear. Repent and believe.” Repent looks back and looks in.
Believe looks in and looks forward. We see this even in the 10 steps to recovery. Specifically, if you look at Steps 4 and 10. Step 4 says, “Make a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.” Step 10 says, “Continue to take personal inventory, and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.”
What needs correcting? And what are the next steps is Jesus asking us to take? In Discovering How to Pray, Hope MacDonald says, “If you’re going to ask God for his will, commit to doing his will when it’s made clear to you.”
Remember the Stakes
Revelation. 1:9 says, “I, John, your brother and companion in the suffering and kingdom and patient endurance that are ours in Jesus.” Revelation 2:26 goes on to say, “To the one who is victorious and does my will to the end, I will give authority over the nations.”
Victorious over what? Over doubt, over fear, over self, over temptation. Jesus is speaking to spiritual victory, not military or political conquest. In the face of persecution, Jesus never asks the church to protest, petition, or power-up on Rome. He asks them to remain steadfast in hope and love, even as Rome threatens them at every turn.
I’ve am perplexed when I hear people say, “The church in America is being persecuted.” I don’t believe this is correct. Especially if you compare America to the rest of the world. We are doing just fine. And … wasn’t persecution always going to be part of the deal? Isn’t persecution a hallmark of obedience?
Throughout history, God uses persecution to move individuals into new geographic spaces (scatter)—drives people to new places. Persecution is also used to refine communities (strengthen)—pushes people to acknowledge their allegiance. If God choose to use persecution to mobilize and purify his church for his glory, so be it.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote these lines from a Nazi prison, “May God in his mercy lead us through these times; but above all, may he lead us to himself.” When God leads us to himself, he often reveals the greatest battles aren’t “out there” but in us.
We need to always keep in the mind the promises that bookend the Book of Revelation.
At the beginning of the Book of Revelation we read, “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.”
Then at the end of the Book of Revelation we read, “I, Jesus, have sent my angel to give you this testimony for the churches. I am the Root and the Offspring of David, and the bright Morning Star.” (Rev. 22:16). “I am coming soon” (Rev. 22:20).
Steve Norman is a preacher and writer residing in western Michigan. Over 25 years of ministry, he's served as a church planter, teaching pastor, and lead pastor within local churches in the Detroit and Grand Rapids areas..