Wednesday after Oculi - Revelation 2:1-7 - March 2, 2016

Office of Matins - pg. 32
Hymn #387 Dear Christians, One and All, Rejoice St.1-5
Hymn #387 Dear Christians, One and All, Rejoice St.6-10
Hymn #296 Speak O Lord, Thy Servant Heareth
 
Readings
Revelation 2:1-7
John 8:42-51

Collect for Oculi, the Third Sunday in Lent
We beseech Thee, Almighty God, look upon the hearty desires of Thy humble servants and stretch forth the right hand of Thy majesty to be our defense against all our enemies; through Jesus Christ, Thy Son, our Lord, Who liveth and reigneth with Thee and the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen.
 
Sermon on the New Testament Lesson
 
Grace and peace be unto you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

1)         The glorified Lord Jesus has much praise for the church at Ephesus. He says, “I know your works, your labor, your patience, and that you cannot bear those who are evil. You have tested those who say they are apostles and are not, and have found them liars; and you have persevered and have patience, and have labored for my name’s sake and have not become weary.” This is quite a commendation in and of itself. It is even more so when we consider that it came from the mouth of the Lord Jesus, the one who knows the hearts of men and sees their thoughts and motivations. The church at Ephesus, in these things for which the Lord commends them, is a oilmodel for our own congregation. We can break down Jesus’ words into three chief works. First, the Ephesian church has worked and toiled for the sake of the Gospel. They had labored in the vineyard of the Church strenuously and vigorously. Christ calls their labor ko,pon, meaning ‘hard work.” Second, the church at Ephesus was filled with incredible patience in trials and crosses. This patience is was more than simple waiting on the Lord. Christ calls it u`pomonh,n, endurance under great weight and trial. Being church in a pagan culture, working for the spread of the Gospel in a hostile culture is not a cake-walk. Endurance is needed because the work of the vineyard is not easily accomplished. As you well know, often it takes years of cultivation to see growth in the souls of men. Yet the Ephesians endure patiently, trusting the Lord to work when and where it pleases Him, according to His good and gracious will. They endured all the scorn and shame heaped upon them by pagan society and did so without complaining and grumbling, waiting patiently for the Lord to end their tribulation. Third, the congregation strove earnestly for purity of doctrine. St. John received the revelation while exiled on the prison colony on the island of Patmos. Ephesus was his congregation. In his absence his congregation did not disappoint. For they “tested those who say that are apostle and are not, and found them liars.” In their shepherd’s absence many false shepherds, hirelings, and wolves in sheep’s clothing must have tried to enter the sheepfold to devour St. John’s flock. Yet they resisted, testing each one’s doctrine according to John’s apostolic doctrine which he received from Christ.

2)         In these three attributes the Ephesian church is one for us to emulate. We too labor in the vineyard of the Church. We too strive for the spread of the Gospel among our family and friends, not simply to make our congregation grow in number, but so that those in our lives might enjoy the joy of the forgiveness of sins through faith in Christ. And you know that this is work. It is often ko,pon, labor and hard work. Toiling in the vineyard of the church requires patience. It requires resilience in the face of rejection. It is hard work, even spreading the seed of the divine Word among our friends and family. In fact, it seems like it is the most difficult with friends and family. As the Ephesian church endured the scorn and shame of the world for their confession of the Gospel, so too our congregation must do the same in this age. It would be so much easier for us if we allowed anybody that wanted to kneel at our altar and enter into communion with us, even though their doctrine was different from the apostles’ and Christ’s doctrine. It would be so much easier if we catered to the felt needs of the masses and hid the Gospel and under a bushel basket. As the Ephesian church had to strive against false teachers and false gospels in their community, so do we. We fight against a culture which grows exceedingly more pagan with each passing day. We also fight against a church culture which tells people that all churches basically teach the same thing in order to reduce us all to the lowest common denominator. In doing so they cast aside precious treasures of Christ, especially the Sacraments. We live in a world of paganism, syncretism, and indifferentism and daily these isms try to worm their way into the church and into our own hearts to weaken the confession of the Gospel and our own faith in Christ. Yet Christ commends the Ephesian church for these three things. So we ought to strive to work and toil all the more in the vineyard. This commendation from the Lord Himself should strengthen our resolve to endure the contempt of the world. These approving words of should urge us on all the more boldly confess the pure doctrine of Christ inside these walls and in our lives, not fearing anything. For these three things Christ commends in them: their labors, their endurance, and their zeal for the apostolic doctrine, the clear and pure fountain of Israel.

3)         But all is not well in Ephesus. Jesus then says, “Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love.” They have continued in labor, endurance, and zeal for doctrine while slowly losing their ardent love for Christ. While it doesn’t seem possible that the Ephesians can continue in these things while simultaneously letting their love for God grow cold shouldn’t surprise us. The temptation is an ever present reality to get so wrapped up in the things of the church while at the same time forgetting the Gospel of the forgiveness of sins. How easily love for the Triune God slips from our hearts because of our labors, our endurance, and even our zeal for the truth. The Ephesian church had not kept the main thing the main thing. All of their work for which the Lord commended them should have flowed out of their love for God. Instead it flowed from other places. We see this often among pastors who strive with great labors for the sake of the kingdom, yet are extinguish their own faith in the process by losing sight of their own faith toward God, by losing sight of their own forgiveness. What Christ calls the Ephesian church to is repentance. “Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works.” Before all else, confess your sins daily, contemplate the precious gift of the forgiveness of sins. Do the first works of tending to your own faith by reading and contemplating the Word, praying for your own needs and the needs of others, and praising the Lord for all His benefits which are new every morning. The Lord’s admonition is for the church to not get so wrapped up in her work, her endurance, and her doctrine that she loses her fervent love for Christ.

4)         I have in my possession a sermon preached on this text by a Lutheran pastor from 1931. I perused it while preparing for my sermon. At one point the preacher wrote: “How seasonable, then, the appeal that comes just on this Sunday introductory to Lent! Has any one in this assembly to-night  been neglecting  his prayer, his Bible, the services of the Sanctuary, the Sacraments, or any of the known duties of a child of God? Has anyone been living in unbelief, worshiping at the shrine of Mammon and vanity; living in malice, envy, hatred profanity, or any crooked ways contrary to his conscience, the laws of God, and better knowledge? Has any one taken the vows of discipleship, but as yet has attended more to the things of this earth that to those pertaining to God, his soul’s welfare, and eternity? Has he felt more at home in the society of those who do not confess Christ in their gatherings than in the fellowship of believers? This sort of thing must be remedied, or safety is out of the question, and the Lord will ‘remove your candlestick out of this place,’ and darkness shall come upon your soul.” So far the Lutheran preacher from 1931. I couldn’t have written it better myself. All of these things, all of these sins that burden our hearts, their goal is dampen the flame of love for God in our heart. All the sins which entangle the conscience, their goal is to cool the warmth of our love for God by taking our eyes off His gracious gifts in Christ and placing our gaze onto things of this earth so that we love them more than Christ. If we allow this to run its course, it will be as Christ told the Ephesian church, “I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand form its place – unless your repent.”

5)         But Christ ends this letter to the Ephesians with wonderful gospel, for it is not His desire to cast our and damn. He desires our repentance so that He can offer to us a great treasure. He says, “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the seven churches. To him who overcomes I will give to eat from the Tree of Life, which is in the midst of the Paradise of God.” Again the Lord Jesus shows His great love for us. He does not want to leave us with the message of repentance so that we despair our salvation. It is His alien, His foreign work to condemn sinners. But He must do it so that He can do His proper work. He condemns so that He may forgive. He wounds so that He can heal. He kills so that He can make alive. So He calls the Ephesian church, and the church gathered around the Word today, to hear this word so that it profits them. Do not hear it in vain but overcome. How does one overcome? Not by rooting out all sin. Not by living a completely transformed life. But by faith. St. John writes in 1 John 5:4, “For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith.” Repentance and faith in the promise of the Gospel is how we conquer sin in this life. Then we strive against the sin that burdens our hearts and entangles our consciences. We strive against sin by faith in Christ and trust in His Word that those sins are forgiven and as His baptized we ought to flee them and fight them with the aid of the Holy Ghost. To all who repent and believe the promise of the Gospel Christ offers to eat of the Tree of Life, paradise restored. To all who possess Christ’s righteousness by faith alone, Christ promises everlasting life beyond the reach of sin, death, and the devil’s powerful temptations and accusations. Christ desires that we repent because He desires to give us the fruit of that tree, eternal life for all who overcome in victory and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith. Amen.

May the peace of God which passes all human understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

 

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