Free Reformed Church of Kelmscott
"IN THE NAME CHRIST MENTIONS, HE REMINDS THYATIRA THAT THE WORLD IS HOSTILE TO THE LORD GOD."
Singing: (Psalms and Hymns are from the "Book of Praise"
Anglo Genevan Psalter)
Beloved Congregation of our Lord Jesus Christ!
Over the centuries, the people of God have been frequently tempted to minimise the difference between themselves and the world in which they live. After all, nobody wants to feel out of place, and nobody enjoys being the focus of derisive talk. These are sentiments with which we for our part today can quite sympathise; we too donít like to feel out of place in Australian society, donít like being the talk of our work-mates.
In Thyatira of long ago, a sister of the congregation suggested a solution to the problem. The congregation heard her answer, some agreed and translated her answer into practice, others disagreed but tolerated her.
Jesus Christ, however, had shed His precious blood also for the church of Thyatira. So He wasnít about to let the deceptive teaching of this sister in the congregation determine the way His covenant people in Thyatira viewed the world. Hence His letter to Thyatira. And hence too that the letter to Thyatira comes to Christís church in Kelmscott.
I summarise the sermon with this theme:
IN THE NAME CHRIST MENTIONS, HE REMINDS THYATIRA THAT THE WORLD IS HOSTILE TO THE LORD GOD.
1 "These things says the Son of God, who has eyes like a flame of fire, and His feet like fine brass." This isnít the sort of name people commonly give themselves. Why, then, brothers and sisters, does Jesus give Himself this name? To find the answer, weíll first have to understand the nameís meaning. And thatís something we can learn by looking into Godís Old Testament revelation. Once we have understood its meaning, we can consider why it was that Christ introduced His letter to Thyatira with this name.
In actual fact, the name Christ mentions in His letter to Thyatira is made up of two parts. There is first the phrase "Son of God". In the second place there are the words "who has eyes like a flame of fire, and His feet like fine brass."
a. The reference to "the Son of God" comes from Ps 2. In that psalm, the Lord has issued a decree to the effect that the King whom God had set on His holy hill of Zion is Ėvs 7- "My Son", Son of God. The context in that psalm refers to a situation in which the kings and rulers of the earth plot "against the Lord and against His anointed" (vs 2). What these kings want is to be free of Godís dominion; they want to be able to do their own thing. In a word: here is Satanic rebellion against Godís sovereignty, is the effort of the devil to turn all the earth, the authorities included, against the Lord. Godís response, though, is one of derision; vs 4: "He who sits in the heavens shall laugh." How God will make a mockery of this effort of the kings of earth to break free of His rule? God would distress the rebels of earth by anointing a King of His choice in Zion, more, by making that King His Son. As Son of God this new King in Zion would be granted privileges beyond compare; to Him is said:
The kings that be Ėdriven as they are by hell- may conspire together against the Lord in an effort to topple His authority on earth, but Godís response is to set up as King in Zion one authorised by God Himself to rule over the nations, authorised even to break the kings of earth with a rod of iron, to dash them in pieces like pottery. Given that God would sovereignly ordain such a King on earth, it followed that the rulers and authorities would do well to draw in their heads, cease their rebellions, and "kiss the Son", lest they perish in His anger (vs 10ff). Thatís Psalm 2.
What comes out in this psalm, then, beloved, is that the kings of earth have no appreciation for the Lord God. As far as the rulers are concerned Ėand itís true of the hell behind the rulers too- there is a radical antithesis between themselves and God; they hate God, want to be free of God. But God will not let the nations have their way; in the face of their hatred against Him, He sets up His Son as King, as Sovereign.
When the people of Thyatira, then, heard the name "Son of God", itís of all this that they were reminded. According to Ps 2, God had sovereignly given authority to His Son, given Him authority over a world that hates Him. And the people of Thyatira knew from the preaching they had earlier heard that when Christ triumphed on Calvary, when He ascended into heaven, Jesus did receive from God a throne in heaven, that is, to Christ was given all authority in heaven and on earth (Mt 28:18), was given all authority over a hostile world. In the name "Son of God", then, the people of Thyatira were reminded that their Saviour was Master of a hostile universe.
b. This same message is echoed also in the other description which Christ gives of Himself in our text. Christ informs Thyatira that His eyes are "like a flame of fire and His feet like fine brass." This imagery comes from a vision which Daniel saw. We read it: Daniel saw a man whose eyes were like "torches of fire" and "his arms and feet [were] like burnished bronze in colour" (Dan 10:6). This particular man told Daniel what was going to happen in the days and years to come. What it was? The vision related by this man who had eyes like torches of fire, and arms and feet like burnished bronze, told of king and nations who would terrorise and persecute the people of God. Chaps 11 & 12 tell us about the kingdoms of Greece, of the Ptolemys of Egypt, of the Seleucids of Syria, they prophesy of the persecution of the Jews by Antiochus Epiphanes, of the tribulations that would follow. In a word: this man tells Daniel of the hatred which the world harbours against the people of God. Yet itís not just people who harbour such hatred against God; behind these kings and nations are the hosts of hell. But Daniel was not to be dismayed; the kings of the earth would not triumph over the people of God Ėwhy not?- because there was in heaven one stronger than the kings of the earth, stronger than the hosts of hell.
When Christ, now, in His letter to His Church at Thyatira claims for Himself some of the characteristics of the man of Dan 10, claims also that He is the "Son of God" of Ps 2, then He reminds His church in Thyatira of the message which He (true God that He was) had given to His Old Testament people so long ago in Ps 2 and in Dan 10, reminds His people that the kings and peoples of the earth were most hostile to God and therefore hostile to Godís church also. But, Christ further reminded His people in Thyatira, this hostility did not mean the end of Christís church, for God had made Christ sovereign even over the hostile rulers of the world.
2 That brings us to our second point: why might it be that Jesus Christ uses this name for Himself in His letter to Thyatira? What circumstances prevailed in this church to prompt the use of this name?
Weíre to note that the Lordís first word in His evaluation of this congregation is most encouraging. Says Jesus to His church in Thyatira: "I know your works". And Jesus describes what He sees in Thyatira: there is in the congregation a genuine love for the Lord, a well-founded faith in their new found Saviour. This love and this faith is not a matter of words only; Christ can point to specific proof. For there is in Thyatira a serving of each other, a mutual caring for one another in the circumstances that be. More: there is patient endurance in the trials God sends. In a word: this young congregation is vibrant, is healthy; in Thyatira there is love for the Lord that displays itself in works of faith and self-denial. In our words: here was an active communion of saints.
From our position in Australia so many centuries later, this compliment to the church of Thyatira sounds fine. I would like, though, to put more colour onto this compliment by drawing for you a picture of the actual circumstances facing the congregation of Thyatira.
Itís an established fact that Thyatira was a town of industry, of manufacturing and marketing. Think only of the lady Lydia mentioned in Acts 16; Scripture describes her as "a seller of purple from the city of Thyatira" (vs 14). As things were, the various trades-people of town formed guilds for their various trades in order to protect their industries. Weíre not to compare these guilds, though, with the labour unions of today or with the marketing boards our society knows. Our society pretends to separate religion from daily work. The society of old was more honest. These guilds were inseparably intertwined with religion. In fact, all tradesman of a particular trade, whether employer or employee, were members of the guild associated with that trade, and together in their guild these tradesman offered sacrifices to the patron god of that particular industry in order to move that god to bless their labours. We understand: here was idolatry directly tied into your daily life.
When the gospel came to Thyatira, and some of the towns-folk came to faith, they of necessity had to break with the idols of their trade. For faith in God meant that not the idols made a business prosper; it was rather the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ who gave daily bread. Yet to break with these guilds was no easy thing; to break meant you were isolated from your fellow tradesmen, were on your own. Particularly when sales were not good, the pressure was on - for did poor sales not mean that the patron god was not pleased to bless, and might the reason for his displeasure not be that you had ceased to sacrifice to him in favour of another God?? So it turned out: the people of town, your fellow tradesmen, considered you the traitor, the spoil-sport, the blame for a bad run in business. We can understand, then, beloved, some of the pressures under which the congregation of Thyatira lived.
In such circumstances came Jesusí words of encouragement: "I know your works, love, service, faith, and your patience." Despite being ostracised by the people of town, despite being blamed for the general troubles in your particular industries, you continue to love Me, yes, you stand beside each other in your needs, you serve your neighbour, you continue in your faith and so endure patiently the trials you encounter. Indeed, "as for your works, the last are more than the first." Keep it up.
These saints of Thyatira, then, are an example to us in Australia today; under the social and economic pressures that came with being a Christian, these believers banded together, helped each other. With gratitude we may note that this support for one another may also be present in our midst today. It is Godís doing that "love, service, faith and patience" may be exhibited amongst us in the face of the difficulties that our Christian identity gives us in todayís labour market.
But Jesus has more to say to His church in Thyatira, and hence to His church in Kelmscott too. The Lord would not have His church in Thyatira think that one compliment meant that everything was okay. For in the next breath this church visitor says this: "Nevertheless I have a few things against you." What the Head of the church had against His church in Thyatira? This: "you allow that woman Jezebel...to teach and seduce My servants...."
Jezebel. Itís not that there specifically was a woman in the congregation who answered to the name of Jezebel. Rather, there was a sister in the congregation who in actual fact was a Jezebel.
Jezebel. We know the name from the Old Testament. Sheís that Moabite princess whom Ahab king of Israel married. She was that strong-willed lover of the idol Baal who exercised such influence over her husband that Ahab permitted Baal worship to be popularised in Israel (cf I K 21:25). She was the political manipulator who used her influence to lead astray Israelís king, yes, to lead astray the people of Israel themselves. I suspect that the name Jezebel conjures up in most of our minds images of a highly seductive woman using her flair to entice men to her bed. But the Old Testament Scriptures do not portray Jezebel as seductive; the Scriptures rather condemn her for her role in upsetting Israelís service of the Lord.
Now there is in the congregation of Thyatira a sister who, like Jezebel of old, also would lead the congregation astray. No, not that she says that she does so. She rather considered herself "a prophetess." She claimed, then, to have received a word from God Himself to promote her view on things.
What view it was that she promoted? Says Jesus: she teaches and seduces My servants "to commit sexual immorality and to eat things sacrificed to idols." First is a reference to sexual immorality. The term makes us think of the very physical sin of adultery. Yet in the Bible immorality means much more than illicit sex. At bottom, the term denotes unfaithfulness to oneís rightful husband. Think of what Hosea writes:
"Do not rejoice, O Israel...,
For you have played the harlot against your God" (9:1).
Thatís immorality; immorality is breaking the covenant with God, and striking up a relation with another god. And that, says Jesus, is ultimately what this sister of the congregation of Thyatira is guilty of. Itís not that she opens her bedroom to whomever wills; rather, this sister is not faithful to her oath of allegiance to the Lord God. She professed her faith in the Lord God, serves Him, but does not serve the Lord alone. Besides Him, she has other gods in which to put her trust.
This becomes the more apparent when we consider what Jesus meant with the phrase: "eat things sacrificed to idols" (vs 20). Here weíre to recall the circumstances as they were in Thyatira. I mentioned that all tradesman of each trade were joined in guilds, and the purpose of the guilds was to keep the patron god of their particular trade happy. So there was need for sacrifices. But at these sacrifices, the offering wasnít simply burned on the alter; it was rather eaten by the guild members. By eating what was sacrificed to the god of the guild, the tradesmen expressed their oneness with that god, their dependence on that god.
In the congregation, now, was a sister who claimed to have authority from God Himself Ėshe called herself a prophetess- to tell the congregation members that it was OK to eat this food sacrificed to these idols. What she was saying was this: itís OK ĖGod has told me- itís OK to go to the sacrifices of the guild and eat from the offerings. Sheís saying: Ďin time past, when we were heathens, we used to belong to these guilds and joined in on the feasts, but when we became Christians we broke our ties with those guilds because we thought that being a member of the guilds and so asking the patron god of our trade to bless us was incompatible with trusting in God. But, dear brothers and sisters, God has told me that we shouldnít be so narrow minded about it all. We shouldnít isolate ourselves from the other tradesmen of town. We can serve the Lord our God, and at the same time spare ourselves the ridicule and the anguish that comes with stepping out of our guilds; we can serve the Lord and also join in the sacrifices of our guilds, eat the food sacrificed to the idols.í
We could, brothers and sisters, begin to speculate as to what kind of arguments this sister of the congregation put forward to defend her thinking and so her practice. Perchance she argued that since the idols donít exist anyway, it can do no harm to join in the sacrifices and the ensuing meal; itís all a matter of how you look at it. Or perchance she told the congregation members that in their minds they should know that the Higher Power to whom the sacrifice was offered was not a heathen god, but rather the Lord, so that in effect the Christians at the guild sacrifices were actually directing their offering to the Lord God, asking for His blessing. But, congregation, it doesnít matter how this sister in the congregation explained away her theology; the fact remains that Christ considered it adultery, immorality. Attendance at these sacrificial feasts gives a message to other guild members, and the message is this: ĎIím not really different from you. You worship a higher power; I worship a higher power. You feel you have to do certain things to get your god to bless you; I have to do certain things too to get my God to bless me. The only difference is: your god and my God have different names.í
But you know, brothers and sisters, that the Lord God is not in any way comparable to a god of heathen imagination, neither of long ago nor of today. For a child of God to participate in any way while others in the group call upon another god is Ėsays Jesus- sexual immorality, is playing harlotry with the God who made His covenant with us.
And that, beloved, gives us of Kelmscott something to think about. That a child of God joins in a group that calls upon a higher power: it happens amongst us. Consider: has it ever happened to you that you were in a meeting in which the leader asked you to focus on a Higher Power, or to ask that Higher Power to help you? There you sat, focusing on the Lord God, asking Him for strength. Beside you sat another, focusing on Bhudda, imploring Bhudda for a blessing. On the other side one concentrated on Allah, or on the Woggle, or on some undefined spirit of the air.... Says this sister of the congregation in Thyatira: Ďthatís all OK. To consider yourself part of the group, to approach your God the way an unbeliever approaches his god, to join in the wine and cheese afterward like one happy family: at bottom itís all OK. For otherwise you would need to go out of this world....í
3 But Godís response, congregation, is not quite so agreeable as this sister would like, nor as the congregation of Thyatira might desire. In the name Jesus had disclosed to the congregation, He had reminded His people in Thyatira of the hatred which the rulers of the world harbours against the Lord God. Those rulers, those kings, realise that there is an absolute antithesis between themselves and God. Hence their efforts to break free of God, to persecute the children of God too. And would the congregation of Thyatira now "allow" this sister, allow her to teach and beguile Godís people to befriend the world? Would the congregation permit a teaching that would see Godís people befriend Godís sworn enemies?? Christ wonít have it. Says He: I shall not put up with this kind of immorality, this breaking of My covenant. Says Jesus: already I have given this sister time to repent, but she would not. So: I am going to throw her into bed, and all those in the congregation who accept her teaching, "those who commit adultery with her" I will throw into "great tribulation".
Christ would throw this sister into bed. Here weíre to recall what the Lord promised His people Israel centuries earlier when He made His covenant with them. If they would break Godís covenant, would not obey His commands (said God in Lev 26),
"I will even appoint terror over you, wasting disease and fever which shall consume the eyes and cause sorrow of heart..." (Lev 26:16; cf Dt 28:22).
Thatís what this sister of the congregation would experience on account of her sin; she would taste Godís covenant wrath. And the rest of the congregation, because they permitted this sisterís teaching, and even followed her in her practices, would receive "great tribulation". What weíre to think of with this "great tribulation"? Read through the rest of Danielís vision, and the horrors with which the kings of the earth were going to afflict the people of Israel. And believe me: that "great tribulation" would make most clear to Godís church in Thyatira just how much the world actually hates God and His people!
And what of those who repent not, the die-hards who persist in this sin of covenant immorality, who are comfortable with the teaching of this sister despite what Jesus says about the hatred of the world for the church, the hatred of hell for God? Says Jesus: these I will kill with death. The point is: these Christ will exclude from the kingdom of heaven and cast into hell. Why? Because the world and its rulers hate God, and if you have time for the world, you also show where your heart really is. Then: to hell with you.
God is God, beloved, His Word not to be trifled with, His Person not to be put on a level with another god, the antithesis not to be under-estimated, the hatred of hell for God not to be down-played, and this is something Godís people of all times and places may not forget. As God, He searches the minds and hearts, He knows what makes a covenant child tick, and so gives covenant punishments where such punishments are needed in order to prompt proper respect for God as God.
Meanwhile, Jesus continues, those in Thyatira who have not embraced this covenant immorality as taught by that wayward sister, shall experience no covenant curse; on them the Lord casts no "other burden" except to hang on to what they have received, hang on to the gospel of Christís triumph over sin and Satan and hell and the princes of the world, hang on to the revelation of God that the world hates the church, hang on to the resulting instruction that there to be no room for the redeemed of God to participate at all with the idols and their worshipers.
Then itís true: the faithful of Thyatira may feel so threatened in their hostile society. But Jesus Christ, my beloved, would encourage His people even now. Yes, the world is full of hatred, and all the forces of the world are threatening to undo Godís people. But Christ has a promise for His faithful ones, for the child of His who overcomes, who keeps His Word. Says the Son of God, quoting words from Ps 2:
We understand: Christ, the King of kings and Lord of lords, makes His people to be kings and lords with Him! Godís own may feel so threatened in this world of hatred, but Jesus says: ĎNO, donít feel threatened. I have made you kings with Me already. The world may consider you to be spoil-sports when it comes to their feasts and games, and hence ostracise you, even blame you for the troubles that be. But know this: I have given to you a position of authority in this world, I let you rule with a rod of iron today.í How, you ask, we in Kelmscott today rule in Australia? By being faithful in Godís service, we bring upon ourselves and on those around us the blessing of the Lord God. More, Christ has given us the weapon of prayer, that most powerful of tools by which we can move mountains.
Shall we down-play the hatred with which Ėsays God- the world hates the church? Shall we belittle the antithesis which the devil and his hosts know is so real? Itís tempting, so very tempting, to make our place more acceptable, more comfortable, in this world; we donít really want to be different. But, beloved, by the strength of Godís Holy Spirit we shall resist all such temptations. In this world that tolerates everyone except the genuine Christian, we shall believe that the "Son of God", in infinite kindness, has made us kings with Him over all creatures. Today our kingship under Christ is seen only with the eye of faith; tomorrow, when the King comes back, Christ shall give us thrones "to rule eternally with Him over all creatures" Amen.(LD 12)