12/10/2020 3:00:09 PM
Seven Letters to the Seven Churches: Thyatira
Pastor Eric Schroeder - Midweek Advent 2 - Wednesday, December 9, 2020
Today’s sermon marks the midpoint of our Advent series. The fourth letter of the seven is addressed to the church in the city of Thyatira. We don’t know a whole lot about this city or its inhabitants, but it may sound familiar to a few of us. For bible readers who have traveled with St. Paul on his missionary journeys in the book of Acts, you may remember that when Paul arrived at the Macedonian city of Philippi, he met a woman named Lydia; she was the dealer of purple cloth who happened to be from the city of Thyatira. Other than that, as I said, we don’t hear about this city again until St. John writes to them in Revelation.
Let’s hear the opening again. “To the angel [again, a reference to the pastor] of the church in Thyatira write: These are the words of the Son of God, whose eyes are like blazing fire and whose feet are like burnished bronze. 19 I know your deeds, your love and faith, your service and perseverance, and that you are now doing more than you did at first. John reminds us that this isn’t just his own personal advice to the church. This is Jesus providing the evaluation. And so far, so good! The church at Thyatira wasn’t just talking the talk; they were walking the walk of faith that was showing itself in their actions. Even though they were saved through faith in Jesus Christ alone, they didn’t stop at believing. Instead, they put their faith to work with deeds of service. Not only that, but they were maturing, doing more than they did at first. It’s the kind of commendation from our Lord that we should all strive for, the reassurance that we are using our time wisely to serve our Advent King and one another in the church.
Let’s pause to realize that this kind of growth that can only happen when Christians live in God’s Word, letting the Spirit fill us to the brim with God’s love so that it might overflow into our lives. We love because he first loved us. We serve because God humbled himself to serve and save us. We persevere because Jesus endured our sin, our guilt, and our shame, so that all of our suffering would be temporary instead of eternal, as we deserve. We cannot thank him enough for his selfless sacrifice on our behalf, and our grateful hearts are constantly on the lookout for more ways to respond to his grace.
As much as we’d love it if the letter ended there…it doesn’t. As we’ve seen in prior letters, their commendation comes with a warning of what threatens the church. Thyatira is no different.
20 Nevertheless, I have this against you: You tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess. By her teaching she misleads my servants into sexual immorality and the eating of food sacrificed to idols. If we break down the correction here, it sounds an awful lot like we heard in the letter to Pergamum this past weekend. It makes sense that these two churches that were within 20 miles of each other would have similar obstacles and challenges. Like those at Pergamum, the Christians at Thyatira needed to watch out for idolatry and sexual immorality in society and in the church. Like the letter to Pergamum, an Old Testament reference is employed. There it was Balaam (you might remember); here it is Jezebel. That’s a name you don’t hear often, and for good reason…You may or may not that recall Queen Jezebel was the wife of wicked King named Ahab. She was instrumental in leading the king and the nation of Israel astray by bringing in Baal worship with all of its ungodly practices.
Now, it’s possible that in Thyatira there was a woman named Jezebel, but it’s far more likely that there was a woman who was making every effort to entrap Christians there with her seductive teaching, following in the footsteps of that wicked queen in Israel’s past. One might say that this kind of threat is far worse than persecution because there is always an appeal to the pleasures and promises of rebellious behavior. Rather than struggle against their sinful nature, this Jezebel was inviting them to indulge every bodily appetite. If it feels good, do it. If it tastes good, eat, and drink it. If you’re curious, it’s worth a try…you might like it. Sound familiar? Doesn’t Jezebel sound like temptation in the flesh? And what is horrifying is that it worked! She was leading servants of Jesus away from him.
So, what were the Christians in Thyatira supposed to do? What are we supposed to do about other people’s sins? Isn’t that something we all have struggled with? It’s hard enough to manage our own sinful weaknesses without having to worry about everyone else’s. But as we mature, perhaps we’ve had the chance to look outward. And then it’s easy to feel stuck. On the one hand, we don’t want to come across with a holier-than-thou attitude and be judgmental and scold people all day, because when would it end? On the other hand, of course we don’t want to encourage people to continue in their sinful ways. Neither of those would be good. But the reminder here is the danger of doing nothing. Souls are at risk. Time is of the essence. 21 I have given her time to repent of her immorality, but she is unwilling. 22 So I will cast her on a bed of suffering, and I will make those who commit adultery with her suffer intensely, unless they repent of her ways. 23 I will strike her children dead. Then all the churches will know that I am he who searches hearts and minds, and I will repay each of you according to your deeds. 24 Now I say to the rest of you in Thyatira, to you who do not hold to her teaching and have not learned Satan’s so-called deep secrets (I will not impose any other burden on you): 25 Only hold on to what you have until I come.
Strong words of judgment, both for those who persist in sin and those who give the impression of approval or indifference through their silence. The words of Jesus here force us to examine our own lives, to see if there are areas where we have been giving in to our own sinful appetites far too easily. These words encourage us to see if there is someone close to us who may have a spiritual blind spot, who would benefit from a loving reminder of God’s will. These words plead for us to watch out for the weak and immature, who turn out to be easy prey for Satan and all who serve his evil and destructive purposes. These words call us all to repentance, for our sin, for our silence, and for our selfish tunnel vision that takes away from our ministry to brothers and sisters in the church.
The beautiful thing is that our Savior’s response to our repentance is exactly what fuels our concern. The joy of forgiveness paid for with Jesus’ blood freely poured out to cover our sins is something we can offer freely to all who repent. The healing of our souls empowers us to care for the hurting hearts around us. And the promise of eternal life leaves us wanting for nothing that this world can offer; instead, we look for ways to spend our time searching for the lost, so that they might join us in the victory and glory Jesus has stored up for us. More on that coming up.
26 To him who overcomes and does my will to the end, I will give authority over the nations— 27‘He will rule them with an iron scepter; he will dash them to pieces like pottery’— just as I have received authority from my Father. 28 I will also give him the morning star. 29 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. Remember who is speaking here. At the beginning he was identified as the Son of God, whose eyes are like blazing fire and whose feet are like burnished bronze. His glory is unmatched, and his victory is already secured. He sees all, he knows all, and he tramples all of his enemies in judgment. But by God’s grace alone, we are not his enemies. For now, we are his instruments, his voice in the world. We don’t have to be timid because he gives us authority to speak. We don’t have to wonder what kinds of things to say, because we have access to his Word whenever we open a Bible. We don’t have to worry about the future, because he will give us the morning star, that sign that a new and eternal day is on the horizon. We await his return, when he ushers in the full and final victory that he has won for us. Let this hope be the focus of our Advent preparation, now and in days ahead. In Jesus’ name. Amen.