July 15, 2018
Norwalk First United Methodist Church
8th Sunday after Pentecost
Good News, Bad News
We have all heard them, haven’t we? The bad news, good news jokes. I find them pretty funny.
Wife: I have some good news and some bad news.
Husband: What’s the good news?
Wife: The good news is I found a picture that’s worth
Husband: Wow! That’s wonderful! What’s the bad news?
Wife: The bad news is that the picture is of you and your
Now that’s a sharp wife! Here’s another one:
Lawyer: I have some good news and some bad news.
Client: Well, give me the bad news first.
Lawyer: The bad news is that the DNA tests showed that it was
your blood they found all over the crime scene.
Client: Oh, no! I’m ruined! What’s the good news?
Lawyer: The good news is your cholesterol is down to 130!
The good news and the bad news, that is really what Chapters 2 and 3 are all about in the book of Revelation. Some churches received good news. Some churches received bad news. All thought they were healthy and doing well for the cause of Christ. But Jesus’ definition of success is often quite different from ours. Jesus’ message to the churches can seem harsh, but then, no church can ever completely measure up to what Jesus wants.
Today we read that the Apostle John is to write a letter dictated by Christ and to send it around to the seven churches in Asia Minor. I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like the sound of a trumpet, saying, “Write in a book what you see, and send it to the seven churches: to Ephesus and to Smyrna and to Pergamum and to Thyatira and to Sardis and to Philadelphia and to Laodicea.”
Once again, the number seven in Revelation represents completeness, wholeness, the “all” of something. There were far more than seven Christian churches in Asia Minor and so this letter is a letter to all churches, not just the seven mentioned. Every church today has something to learn from this letter John wrote. The good news is that Jesus cares about his churches. The bad news is that Jesus knows what is going on in his churches and must at times discipline them. Would you pray with me?
John paints us a magnificent picture of Jesus standing among his churches as our scripture opens. Parts of this description of Christ can be found near the opening lines of each letter to the seven churches in chapters 2 and 3. Listen again to John’s description of Jesus that he saw in his vision: I saw one like a son of man, clothed in a robe reaching to the feet, and girded across His chest with a golden sash. [This is Jesus as prophet, priest, and king. It continues.] His head and His hair were white like white wool, like snow; and His eyes were like a flame of fire. His feet were like burnished bronze, when it has been made to glow in a furnace, and His voice was like the sound of many waters. John is giving us a picture of the Ancient of Days right out of the Book of Daniel.
Listen to Daniel 7:9-10: I kept looking until thrones were set up, and the Ancient of Days took His seat; His vesture was like white snow and the hair of His head like pure wool. His throne was ablaze with flames, its wheels were a burning fire. A river of fire was flowing and coming out from before Him; thousands upon thousands were attending Him, and myriads upon myriads were standing before Him; The court sat, and the books were opened. Jesus is at the throne of God and ready to make judgment upon the churches in Asia Minor. He is the Ancient of Days who knows everything. The words that will come out of Jesus’ mouth are a two-edged sword, capable of praising and lifting up and capable of disciplining and destroying.
As a church, we must remember that Jesus is the one to whom this church or any church belongs. Jesus is the head of the church. As the head of the body, the church, it is Jesus to whom we owe our faith, our praise, and our service and to no one else. It is Jesus who stands tall among the churches and to whom all the church ministries should point and adore.
Each church that is mentioned in chapters two and three of Revelation is represented in chapter one by a golden lampstand. Chapter 1, verses 12 and 20: Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking with me. And having turned I saw seven golden lampstands…and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.
The church as the body of Christ is a brilliant light in a sinful and darkened world. The lampstand is a fitting representation of the church as it draws people to its healing light and to its warm comfort. But isn’t that what a church should be? Jesus, as he stood among the lampstands, his churches, knew that some churches were doing their righteous work while others were not. Some of the churches were faithful in their teaching and in their practices. Others were not. And so, Jesus begins to run down the list of good news and bad news to the churches of Asia Minor, a list we may even be able to recognize in some of our churches today.
In your bulletin is a chart outlining the seven churches mentioned in Revelation 2 and 3. Use it this week as you read through the chapters. Jesus gives each church a progress report listing their accolades, their needs for correction, a solution or prescription for that correction, and a special reward if they follow Jesus’ advice. Sixty years after his death and resurrection, Jesus was giving the churches a progress report.
As a church, we need to discern what God and Jesus Christ are telling us about our church and our progress. What are we doing well? What do we need to correct? What and who will help us with those corrections?
In the meantime, we can learn a lot from the seven churches in Revelation. By the way, these seven churches, in the order in which they are mentioned, were the main stopping points on the Roman mail route around Asia Minor. The mail came into the water port in Ephesus and continued on the roads to each of these cities until it reached Laodicea.
Now there were only two churches who received nothing but praise from Jesus, the churches of Smyrna and Philadelphia. Both churches were somewhat poor and weak and yet they were great in Jesus’ eyes. Smyrna meant “myrrh,” a healing oil and Philadelphia meant “city of brotherly love.” It’s a known fact throughout the Bible that God used the weak and the poor because they were much more willing to depend on God for their power. The Christians of Smyrna and Philadelphia persevered in their faith despite their poverty, their persecution, and their suffering.
What else do we have to learn that is pleasing to Jesus? The Church of Ephesus did great deeds. It toiled and persevered rooting out evil men and identifying false prophets. The Church of Pergamum remained strong and did not deny the name of Jesus Christ despite all the people who were being martyred there. And the Church of Thyatira was known throughout the region for its works of love, faith, and service.
These things are important to Jesus: doing good deeds for others, working hard in bringing people to Christ, persevering despite setbacks and hard times, praising Jesus name when it might not be the most popular thing to do, showing love to the least, the lost, and the lonely, observing the Word of God as the final authority in our lives, keeping the faith and not denying Jesus name among the faithless in a faithless world, and not tolerating evil among us. You see, that’s the good news. That’s the good news of Jesus Christ that is good news for all of our churches today. To Jesus, churches are alive and healthy when they practice these things. But we are also to beware and learn from the bad news.
Laodicea was the only church for which Jesus had no praise. Jesus said it was a lukewarm church. Chapter 3, verses 15-16: I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot; I wish that you were cold or hot. So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth.
Laodicea was an interesting city. It was a center of trade and communication. In addition, its wealth came from the production of a fine quality of famous glossy black wool. The city’s banking assets were noteworthy. Laodicea also had a school of medicine, especially noted for its eye and ear ointments. If fact the city was so wealthy that when a devastating earthquake rocked the city in 17 A.D., the people refused imperial help in rebuilding the city, choosing rather to do it entirely by themselves.
The city of Hierapolis was seven miles north of Laodicea and was noted for its hotsprings. The hot springs ran downhill toward Laodicea and by the time the water arrived, it was lukewarm and full of minerals. Less than ten miles to the south was the city of Colosse with a cool artesian water supply that was carried via aqueducts to the city of Laodicea. By the time the water arrived, it was barely cold. Despite all of its wealth, Laodicea had such a poor water supply that it caused many people to vomit when the water was ingested.
The lesson was this. There were really no notable achievements or excesses to distinguish Laodicea from the other cities. It was a city with a people who had learned to compromise and accommodate themselves to the needs and wishes of other people. In fact, Laodicea means “people rule.” They did not zealously stand for anything. Christ detested Laodicea for taking an attitude of apathy and compromise. They sought easy accommodation and peace at any cost. To be a Christian means to be useful to Christ and this city was anything but. It was lukewarm. Jesus wanted the city to repent.
The bad news is that Christ has no use for churches that have no use for him, that do not follow his Great Commission of making disciples, teaching, and baptizing in his name. You see, the church in Ephesus had forgotten to love Christ first. The church in Pergamum was following the teachings of the Nicolaitans, something like us following the Jehovah’s Witnesses or the Mormons, instead of the teachings of Christ. The church in Thyatira was letting a woman named Jezebel lead them into all kinds of acts of immorality and eating things sacrificed to idols, while the church in Sardis was just plain dead.
Unfortunately, you and I know there are a few churches out there which could easily fall into anyone of the bad news categories I listed above. They are churches which no longer have Christ as their focus and the Word of God as their rule of measure. They have forgotten they are the body of Christ and are to be in service to its head, Jesus himself. They have allowed the secular world to form, govern, and compromise their once sacred faith. That is the bad news. In fact, it is the terrible news. It can happen to any church very quickly and we here at Norwalk must always be on guard against apathy, against self-centeredness and self-caring, and against self-righteousness. We should be reaching out to others.
Art Gallery Owner: I have some good news and some bad news.
Artist: What’s the good news?
Gallery Owner: The good news is that a man came in here today
asking if the price of your paintings would go up after you
die. When I told him they would, he bought every one of your paintings.
Artist: That’s great! What’s the bad news?
Gallery Owner: The bad news is that man was your doctor!
Jesus stands among our churches. He is the doctor of the faith. He knows our healthiness and our sickness. He will praise us and bless us when we are focused on him and doing the work he has commanded us to do. But you better believe he will correct us and admonish us when we are not. His prescription for the churches that were sick was to repent and do the good deeds they were doing when they came to Christ. Jesus’ prescription was for the churches to remain faithful. His prescription was to strengthen the things they were doing well and to keep their focus on Him.
You see, if we stay faithful to Christ and obey his commands our rewards will be great. We will get to eat of the tree of life in the Paradise of God. We will get the crown of life and the hidden manna, the Word that will feed us. We will get protection when the hour of testing will come upon the whole world. If we stay faithful to Christ, we will be granted the honor of sitting with Christ on his throne.
The churches of the world need to hear the good news and the bad news that is in the book of Revelation. Our church needs to hear the rewards of the good news and the punishments of the bad. This is what keeps us faithful in Christ. This is what keeps us reaching out to this community and to this world. This is what keeps us loving God and loving our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ.
He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. Amen.