Friday, March 20, 2009
Sermon - Midweek Lent 4 - Revelation 2:18-29
“Jesus' Letter to Thyatira”
Someone asked me this week what our sermon series on the letters to the 7 churches had to do with Lent. I think they meant, how was it connected to the Passion – the arrest and trial, the suffering and death of Christ. In truth, it's not directly connected to all that.
But it is a very timely series for the season of Lent. Throughout these letters, Jesus calls the churches to repent. Repentance is a major theme of this season. Lent is the most penitential time of the church year. It is a time for all of us to reflect on our own sins, and listen to God's word which calls us to turn away from sin, and turn to him in faith.
When God calls, and when Jesus calls sinners to repent, he is very serious. And you'd certainly know that if you lived in Thyatira. There, they had a false prophetess among them who was sinning gravely, and also leading others into sin.
Jesus words are harsh here, jarring, even. He calls her “Jezebel”, which even today is a name synonymous with wickedness. Jezebel was the enemy of God's people in the Old Testament, an evil queen who promoted pagan worship. She sought to have Elijah killed after he defeated the prophets of Baal on Mt. Carmel.
Here in his letter, Jesus compares the false prophetess with that Old Testament icon of evil. And his words get even more harsh. He has given her time to repent, but she refuses, and so he will punish her with suffering, and those who follow her as well. He even threatens her children.
So often we think of sin as no big deal. Little white lies. Peccadillos. Foibles. Almost lovable, laughable character flaws. But Jesus does not. He takes sin very seriously and wants us to as well. He does not turn a blind eye to sin, and to unrepentance. Some of the harshest words of fire and brimstone in Scripture, and most of what we know of Hell, comes from the lips of Jesus Christ himself. He is very serious about sin.
And it's not just our own sins, but the sins of others he wants us to be concerned with. He accuses the Christians at Thyatira of tolerating this great sinner. Tolerance! A watchword of our age. Tolerance has become a sort of god itself, an ultimate value. I saw a bumper sticker the other day that said, “I tolerate everything, except certainty”. Tolerance for sin is not Christian or Christ-like. He takes sin seriously, and so should we. Ours, and our neighbor's.
Then what of Jesus' teachings like, “let he who is without sin cast the first stone?” or, “take the log out of your own eye before you bother with the speck in your brother's”. Doesn't Jesus want us to leave other people alone, and let God be the judge? Yes, and no.
Jesus said to his disciples in John 20, “If you forgive the sins of any they are forgiven. If you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” What? There are times when we are to forgive, and times when we are to NOT forgive?
Ultimately, God is the judge of all. No one can see the faith of the heart. But God does call his church and her pastors to deal with sin and sinners. Not in haste or without care. Not with the goal of bringing down God's wrath, but instead with the goal of repentance.... and forgiveness. Just as God wants all to be saved, so do we. Just as God wants all to be forgiven, so do we. Just as Jesus died for the sins of the world, so do we want the world to believe and live.
If we are quick to pick up stones and pick out specks, we are not giving the time to repent that God would give. If we judge according to man-made standards, we fall under judgment ourselves. But if we carefully apply the word of God to sinners, and to ourselves, we will see the need for repentance. And we will see that all sin is not the same. Some is repentant. Some is not.
Some sins are those we lay at the foot of the cross, and beating our chests, beg for God to forgive us. And he does! This is the very point of our faith. That Jesus takes our sins away – and gives us his own righteousness. So seriously does he take sin, that he dies for us, to take it away. Sin is a big deal. But Jesus dying for our sins is a bigger deal.
But not all will receive it. Not all will repent. Like the prophetess of Thyatira, some sinners harden their hearts, dig in their heels, and hold on to their sins. Jesus doesn't tolerate this, nor does his faithful church. To the extent that we tolerate such sin, we too must repent, turn around, and ask his forgiveness.
The beauty and the blessing of our faith, is that God is slow to anger, but quick to forgive. And so should we be. Jesus truly wants to forgive us, and truly wants to forgive even the most wicked and unrepentant sinner. He is patient with sin, but not forever. He gives time to repent, but not without limit. He calls us to turn away from sin and turn to him and believe and live. And we do, by his grace, and in the power of His Spirit. Thanks be to God for such a gift.
And so does he charge his church, and her pastors, to deal with sinners. Patiently calling to repentance, applying law and Gospel faithfully. Always with the goal of forgiveness. Could Jesus, would Jesus have even forgiven that wicked Jezebel? Yes. Of course. After all, he forgives us.
So once again, repent. Turn in faith to Christ, and be forgiven, and live. And pray that all would do the same, and share in the victory that is ours in Christ. Amen.