There are a lot of strange writings in the Bible but the Book of Revelation is up there with the best of them. Admittedly, there were many similar works but they didn’t get to stay in the final list of scripture approved by the early church. Yet, it has to be said that even among other apocryphal books, Revelation has a unique sense of divine inspiration.
But just as we should read the highway code as a set of laws and not a detective story, we must study this book knowing its way of expression. Above all, we must always remember that its language is highly symbolic. And, as a result, it is not a horoscope but a commentary of its times. Therefore, when we read various novels taking Revelation as fact, we should have a good giggle and find the wastepaper basket.
So, let us read Revelations pages this morning then not as Old Moore’s Almanac but as the voice of the living God. For Christ does wish to speak to us in our mixed-up 21st Century Britain and in these turbulent times globally.
Now as for the city of Ephesus, you may remember we looked at that city when we studied Paul’s Missionary Journeys some months back. Set-in modern-day Turkey, it was one of the Saint’s early successes on behalf of the new-fangled Christianity. The outcome was a strong and faithful church community.
As a result, the angel’s message to Ephesus is the more startling. Its format is the same as that used in his warnings to the other 7 churches of Asia Minor. Since each commences with commendation then a complaint and completed with correction. The commendation to the Ephesians is clear. They are congratulated for their persistence, their hard work and their good sense in finding God’s truth by referring to accepted doctrine and dependable advice. In simpler terms, they took nothing at face value but studied, prayed and discussed each challenge to find the will of the living Christ. This then was what the Book of Revelation, referred to as their first love.
However, somehow, they fell away from this true and tested route. Exactly how is not clear. We know from history that the first true persecution of the church by the Roman Empire had just ended. Possibly this was during the reign of Vespasian. If this is so, there would have been huge pressure to conform to emperor worship. This was not just a theological concern for the authorities but the considering of Caesar as semi-divine gave the establishment vast powers and cohesion. You did not worship Emperor at your peril.
On the other hand, some other external pressure or attraction may have been adversely influencing the cities faithful. But whatever the malevolent fancy was, it seems that the Ephesians were casting aside the task of carefully following God’s voice. In the starkest of terms, they were compromising and had been compromised.
The Angel, therefore, gave his warning in equally stark terms. He stated he will remove God’s lampstand at once. Put directly, Christ was about to walk away at least for a while. Better they find their way back to his company and possibly askew the favour of others’. Better they recover their holy otherness. Better they rediscover their first love for the gospel truth.
Just a few weeks ago someone asked me the question – how do we get young people back to the church? And because of my lack of wisdom, I had to no answer. But in the ensuing days, I considered this question by the Ephesian way of study, prayer and discussion. This resulted in a ghost of an answer.
For first, we do need to consider what we mean by the church and why it should be important to young and old alike. For if we are talking of Victorian buildings sparsely filled every Sunday at 11, then we may be holding onto a symbol of the church rather than its essence. But if we primarily consider church as a verb – seeking the presence and guidance of Christ in a worshipful activity – we may be on a more fruitful tack. If we see ourselves as set apart from a shallow, ephemeral even amoral population then we head in a new direction. If we hear God’s call to be different in an age where often the end justifies the means, we are getting back on track. We may communicate again Christ’s idealism, vision and aspirations so attractive to youth. We could even give his comfort to those growing old in a hostile, hopeless and lonely materialism.
Sounds good you say, but how do we make it happen?
By heeding, the angel’s warning.
By returning to our first love.
What was that? I don’t know–you tell me! Since we each should think back to our youthful thirst to follow Christ. We each also felt a call to do this task or that in his name and to do it to the best of our ability. Moreover, we each hungered for community with fellow believers as we sought to bring God’s good news into a broken world. Precisely what these urgings were, they will be different for everyone here yet they were roots and harvest of our first love. And so, they could also be the first loves of a new generation ready to hear honesty, hope and inspiration in humanity’s currently very cold climate.
In the week ahead then and in preparation to hearing more of the angel’s warnings, let us go back in time. Let us luxuriate in our first steps with Jesus and ask in prayer how to tell their wonder to others. Better still, may we promise to go into a changing future with new enquirers no matter their doubts, beliefs and outlooks. Since then we guide their way to the tree of life and ours to the paradise beyond.