As we begin a new series in the letter to the Galatians that will take us through most of the rest of this year, we read in Galatians 1:1-10 Paul’s opening salvo against those who were trying to distort the gospel. Beginning with his opening greeting, Paul emphasized what the gospel is and that there is only one true gospel.
Pastor Al Barth preached from John 4:1-30 about Jesus’ encounter one hot day with a foreign woman who had a checkered past. As it turns out, we have much in common with that woman and the same need for what Jesus had to offer her.
Before preaching on John 4:1-30, Pastor Al Barth gave an encouraging review of the history and work of City to City in helping to start new churches around the world.
The vision that John saw in Revelation 4-5 concludes the opening section and prepares for the rest of the book. After reading about the difficulties in the seven churches, we get a glimpse of the heavenly control room and witness a two-part worship service focused on a central throne. This second vision reminds us of what is really happening in the universe and helps us to keep going amidst the difficulties of our world and our lives. We must worship God, because he is worthy, and also so that we can persevere to the end.
In the final of the seven letters in Revelation 3:14-22, Jesus addressed the church in Laodicea, which had no redeeming qualities. He described the church as lukewarm. It is remarkable that Jesus explicitly expressed his love, humbled himself to show his love, and promised the most exalted privileges to this, the worst of the seven churches. In other words, this letter shines with God’s grace and love toward sinners.
In the letter to the church in Philadelphia in Revelation 3:7-13, we read the second of two letters that contains only praise and encouragement from Jesus for the church. Although the church in Philadelphia looked weak, it was actually strong, because it had done the one simple thing that all churches and all Christians must do: keep Christ’s word. Jesus’ instruction to them (and to us) was correspondingly simple: hold on to what you have.
In the letter to the church in Sardis in Revelation 3:1-6, Jesus had a surprise announcement for the church and promised a surprise visit if things did not change for the better. The announcement was that, in spite of appearances of vitality, the church was really quite dead, which would have fallen as a huge surprise to the church itself and to everyone who knew the church’s great reputation. Jesus had called the church in Ephesus to remember its earlier works, but Jesus called the church in Sardis to remember something even more foundational: how they received and heard the gospel. His call to them forces us to ask ourselves how we are hearing it today.
In Revelation 2:18-29, Jesus sent the longest letter to the church in the least important city, Thyatira, perhaps because its situation was complicated. In general, it was a great church, growing in faith and love. However, they tolerated false teaching that led to bad living. Jesus himself would deal with the false teacher and her followers, and he called the rest simply to hold on and keep going until the end. This letter summarizes the message of the whole book of Revelation: Jesus has conquered and will conquer, so we need to keep living in faith and love in order to conquer and reign with him.
In Revelation 2:12-17, we meet the Church in Pergamum, a group of Christians that one has to admire for holding fast to the name of Jesus in a city that Jesus called “Satan’s throne,” and even after one of their number had been killed for his faith. Although they were steadfast in resisting outside attacks, they were less vigilant about the beliefs and practices of their own members, so Jesus urged them to repent by practicing church discipline, or else he would have to come and practice it himself. As with all the churches, he promised rich blessings for those who would hear his words and conquer by their faith.
Although the church in Smyrna may not have looked like much on the surface, Jesus’ evaluation of it was wholly positive. He did not tone down his description of what the believers were about to suffer, but he pointed to the way to face all the challenges of life and death without fear and full of faith. Although we may never have to face what those early Christians faced, we all have to live, and we all have to die, so Jesus’ words to the church in Smyrna in Revelation 2:8-11 are words for us today as well.