Easter 4 – April 22, 2018

“Good News, Bad News” – Revelation 2 and 3

Easter 4 – April 22, 2018

Introduction: Pastor’s Good News & Bad News jokes
Good News: You baptized seven people today in the river.
Bad News: You lost two of them in the swift current.
Good News: The Women’s Guild voted to send you a get-well card.
Bad News: The vote passed by 31-30.
Good News: The Elder Board accepted your job description just the way you wrote it.
Bad News: They were so inspired by it, they also formed a search committee to find somebody
capable of filling the position.
Good News: Your women’s softball team finally won a game.
Bad News: They beat your men’s softball team.
Good News: Church attendance rose dramatically the last three weeks.
Bad News: You were on vacation.
1. Revelation 2 & 3 – The Seven Churches
Good News and Bad News is kind of the theme of Revelation 2 & 3. Last week we were
introduced to the seven churches in Asia Minor that were represented by the seven stars that the
majestic Jesus held in his right hand in St. John’s vision. Today, in those two chapters, we hear
about the letters that Jesus instructed John to write to those seven churches. Each one of them
includes some bad news about how the people have been living out their Christian faith and
some good news, too. Only two churches – the ones at Smyrna and Philadelphia – were not
confronted by Jesus about any deficiency in their faith life. I’m not going to unpack each letter
individually. Rather I will group the content of the letters into categories that were addressed to
all seven of the church groups.

2. Bad News
a. Challenges faced by those churches…
Last week, I talked about the difficult context of being a Christian in the 1 st century Roman
Empire with secret meetings and threats and persecution and even death as the norm in that
blatantly anti-Christian society. In the letters to those churches, John was to acknowledge the
challenges faced by the Christians in each of those communities. Those challenges included:
enduring hardships, tolerating wickedness, testing false apostles, experiencing afflictions and
poverty, suffering the slander of others, living where Satan has his throne, standing up to
uninhibited sexual immorality, discerning false teaching, maintaining spiritual alertness and
awareness, maintaining strength and stamina to complete the spiritual good deeds they started,
resisting liars, maintaining their spiritual fervor.

If you didn’t know any different, you would say that Jesus’ letters to the churches are intended
for the 21 st century rather than the 1 st century. We face many of the same challenges in our day,
in our society, among our colleagues. In many ways, it’s bad news to be a Christian these days.
In many ways, it’s hard to be a Christian these days. We definitely need spiritual fortitude, the
armour of God, and that good old KJV word – longsuffering – if we are going to make it through
this world.

b. Confrontations…
Jesus also confronted those 1 st century churches about the impact those challenges were having
on them. The people weren’t all saints. They weren’t all holy heroes. Their lives weren’t all
pictures of perfection. They failed, and faltered, and fell. So, the Lord needed to point out what
He found wrong in each church and the aspects of their faith walk that needed growth and
The first and the last letters have perhaps the most stinging confrontations. In the first letter,
Jesus pointed out that the church in Ephesus had lost its first love. John’s gospel and his three
letters all point clearly to God’s love in Christ to the world and the corresponding love of God’s
people for one another. Jesus had said, and John had recorded, that “greater love has no one than
this that a man lay down his life for his friends.” Jesus subsequently went out and proved His
own great love for us by giving His life for the whole world. This is the first love, the original
love – God’s love for us in Christ. That love is the genesis of all other loves and of all deeds of
love. The Ephesian church had somehow forsaken its love for, its passion for, its focus on the
love of God that had redeemed and saved them. They had become dispassionate about Jesus.
The last letter, the letter to the church in Laodicea, indicated a similar failure, but pointed it out
with a different image. Jesus says that the deeds of the people there are neither hot nor cold. Cold
water tastes good on a warm day. Hot tea or coffee tastes good on a cold day. But lukewarm
water, well, it doesn’t taste good on ANY day! Jesus says to the Laodiceans “because you are
lukewarm – neither hot nor cold – I am about to spit you out of my mouth.” Their sin is apathy.
The church was living primarily for earthly wealth and selfish desires. Faith and love toward
God were of secondary importance. Like the Ephesians, they had lost their first love.
The other churches were confronted about evils that were being tolerated and false teachings that
were being endorsed and a spirituality that was dead. But these were an outgrowth of the same
thing – a diminishing love for the Lord.

c. Negative outcomes warned…
That waning love was going to be met with some negative outcomes. Those consequences
include things like a congregation dissolving and being removed from God’s presence, another
congregation experiencing a temporary time of greater persecution and even prison time, a third
congregation having God fight against those within them who followed false teaching, a fourth
congregation undergoing intense suffering and even death for those who align themselves with
the evils of society, and a fifth congregation being surprised by God’s appearance like a sleeping
householder surprised by a thief in the night.

The challenges, the confrontations, the negative outcomes – those things all fall into the category
of bad news.

3. Good News
Now let’s turn our attention to the Good News found in these letters to the seven churches.
Although the Good News could be separated into topics like directives, affirmations,
encouragements and promises, we’ll deal with them all at once.
The most common directive was a call to repent, but other advice was to wake up, to not be
afraid and to return to that first love. The encouragements were to hear and listen, to be aware
that God knows of their situation, and that He would give them authority over the nations.
But the promises gave the most valuable jewels of good news for those suffering and persecuted
1 st century Christians. Listen to these promises with the ears and the heart of an ancient believer:
I will give you the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God. (The tree of
life was that special tree in the Garden of Eden – also mentioned in Revelation 22, in heaven.)
Be faithful to the point of death and I will give you the crown of life. (symbol of victory, like
those given to victorious athletes)
You will not be hurt at all by the second death. (First death is physical death, second is spiritual.)
I will give you the hidden manna. (heavenly food that sustains just as the manna in the
wilderness sustained the Israelites)
I will give you a white stone. (a symbol from ancient Greek law courts, representing a verdict of
“not guilty”)
I will give you a new name. (the saving name of Jesus)
I will give you the morning star. (later in Revelation 22, we find Jesus to be the “bright morning
You will walk with me. You will be dressed in white. Your name will never be blotted from the
book of life. (white as symbol of purity and holiness; book of life = divine ledger, Revelation 21
says that only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life will enter heaven)
I will keep you from the world’s time of trial. I am coming soon. God’s name will be written on
you. (refers to woes that Jesus predicted would happen before the end; God’s name to identify
them as being His)
You will sit with me on my throne. (believers will reign with Christ)
In spite of the challenges, confrontations and negative outcomes written about in the letters to the
churches, in spite of the perceived horrible events described in the rest of Revelation, every
church had some Good News from God to hang on to, to reflect on, and to live by as they
endured their difficult times. The jokes I told were Good News, then Bad News. The letters to
the churches were Bad News first, then ending with Good News, the grace of God for them.

4. Relevant observations for our churches today…
So, what’s left? Maybe just some relevant observations for our churches today.
Or maybe we could craft it this way: If I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day, and majestic Jesus
asked me to write a letter to Hope Lutheran, what would be in that letter?

Let’s start with the Bad News, just like the Revelation letters did. Corporately, Jesus might
mention that we have had some divisions in our church – divisions concerning church and
school, divisions concerning traditional and contemporary worship, differences between
individuals, differences about expenditures, long ago differences about women’s suffrage.
Jesus might point to the unjust criticisms that some of you have leveled against church leaders.
He might show how your intolerant and judgmental attitudes of others in society have actually
made you look unchristian to those very same people.
On a personal level, Jesus may remind you of your own messy spirituality. That is the title of a
book that some of the small groups are currently studying. The title is a recognition that none of
us has everything together with respect to our relationship with God, or with others. We have all
messed things up. Whether it’s messy language, a messed up past, a messy midlife crisis, messy
addictions, or messy priorities, we all have areas of life that need growth and stability in order to
love God with our whole being and to love our neighbour as ourselves.
Like the church at Ephesus, it’s easy to leave or to lose the love and the passion we had for Jesus
when we first became Christians. Our love can easily become stagnant, lukewarm, putrid.
But God’s love for us does not stagnate!! And that’s where the Good News originates. God is for
you! Always has been, always will be!
I was at an Operation Christmas Child brunch this week, and I picked up a brochure from the
table. It pictures a young boy – a Christmas Child – with a soccer ball and a shoebox. The caption
is: Good News. Great Joy! “Good News. Great Joy!” Those were the words of the angel to the
Bethlehem shepherds announcing that Jesus, the first, the original Christmas child was born to be
your Saviour! That’s always good news for you – You have a Saviour!! Jesus… who was born
for you, who died for you, who rose again from the dead for you, for your benefit, for your
eternal benefit.
Another piece of Good News that would be included in that letter from Jesus would be: Despite
your messy spirituality – remember I died to forgive all that, ALL that – despite your messy
spirituality, you are deeply spiritual, your love for me is evident in your deeds, your worship of
me is heart-felt. You are truly my children, and my witnesses, and my lights in your dark world!
A final message of Good News would be that the promises made to the Revelation churches are
yours, too! They are promises of a gracious God for His people all through the ages. So, take
these things to heart:
God’s invitation to you to eat from the tree of life… God’s promise of the crown of life and that
you will not be hurt by the second death… God’s promise that you will be dressed in white, in
the purity of Jesus, and that your name IS WRITTEN in the Lamb’s book of life… God’s
assurance that you have a new name, God’s name written all over you, all over your life.
May that Good News fill you with Great Joy as you live out an on-going and passionate love for
your Saviour in a darkening world. Amen.

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