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Monday, May 17, 2010

"I know your works"

My goal for the next several months is to illustrate in this column the gospel found in Revelation. Revelation is inspired writing, possibly the most direct dictation of any book in the Bible. Paul was inspired when he wrote his letters as were the evangelists when they wrote the Gospels. But each wrote with their own style and with specific purposes, and not always the same purposes. Revelation is different. In Revelation, the resurrected Jesus appears to John while John was in exile. John became a secretary, writing exactly what Jesus told him to write.

Bible readers and theologians, historians and New Testament scholars trip over themselves trying to unlock the intricacies of the symbolism in Revelation. In places though, the message is obvious. “I know your works” the Lord says to the Christians of the Ephesian church (2:2). Craig Keener points out that Emperor Domitian had named Ephesus “guardian” of the imperial cult less than 10 years before Revelation was likely written. At that time, he was honored at the Olympic Games held there. Furthermore, the cult of Artemis was prominent in the city, as was the practice of magic. There was also a strong Jewish presence. All these competing faith claims would put a great strain on the small Christian church there (Keener, NIV Application Commentary, p.106).

In the face of such a diverse religious landscape that was potentially hostile to the Gospel, Jesus commends the believers for their patient endurance (Revelation 2:3). “I know your works” – Jesus knew that their faithful worship was carried out in difficult circumstances and he wanted them to hear that this commendation.

“I know your works” – it was also a harsh critique from the Lord. “You have abandoned the love you had at first.” The way it is written, Jesus could have meant their love for God was diminished or they were failing in love for one another. They worshipped faithfully. Their commitment to truth was admirable. But, their practice of Christianity lacked love, and Jesus finds this unacceptable. He did not say that the greatest commandment was to preach true doctrine. That is important, but the greatest commandment, said Jesus, is to love the Lord our God with all the heart, all the soul, all the spirit, and all the mind. The second command is to love our neighbor as ourselves, and on these two hang the law and the prophets (Matthew 22:37-40; Luke 10:27). It’s all about the love, said Jesus, and in Ephesus the love was lacking.

So did Jesus then tell them to start loving again? No! The love comes from God. The Ephesians needed to “repent” (v.5); turn back to Jesus, and the love would follow because He is the source of true Godly love.

In his comments on this passage, the great revival preacher John Wesley said, “with regard to us, to every one of us also he saith, ‘I know thy works’” (quoted from E-Sword). What’s true for Ephesus is true for HillSong Church. What was true for John is true for you and for me. Jesus knows our works, and that’s great when our works bring him glory and serve God’s kingdom. And when our works, our very lives, show us to be self-serving, then we too are called to repentance. Selfishness is sinful and is the opposite of the love Jesus modeled and expects of his disciples. If we are to be true Jesus followers, we have to love one another with mercy and grace.

“I know your works” – it is a summons to us to align our lives with Jesus’ gospel. And we don’t this is a call to repentance so that we may receive forgiveness and also receive the grace Jesus gives. In this way, by opening ourselves to Jesus, we too receive permission to eat from the tree of life that is in the paradise of God (Revelation 2:7).

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