Love Letters

By Our Savior
On March 20, 2024

I need you to put on your thinking caps because we are going to delve deep. I’m going to challenge the way you think. We’re going to delve deep into the book of Revelation beginning in chapter one and chapter two. I’m kind of going through something right now, it’s kind of strange. I remember when my kids first went to college. For moms and dads, you remember that day, you were planning on having a party because you’re going to be empty nesters. You were so excited because your kids were finally leaving the household. And then the moment that they left the household, you like crashed in on yourself. You couldn’t believe it. You were all alone, your kids were gone? Well, I experienced that about four years ago, when both of my daughters left the same weekend. They both went away to college. And I mean, it hit both my wife and me hard. Then when they came back, it was just as traumatic. When they left it was just as traumatic as when they came back. And then they’ve been back for a while. And now over this last weekend, both of my daughters are gone again. And one is up in Charlotte, North Carolina. The other one is over in new Matilda right now. And I got to show it, it’s hard. It’s like when you put 25 years into your kids, right? You know, they’ve always there always been a part of your life. And all of a sudden, I mean, they’re part of your life, but all of a sudden, they’re gone. You know, they’re gone. It’s just kind of strange. But it kind of has me reminiscing about stuff. And I was reminiscing back to the days when my wife Suzanne and I were first dating, you know, some 30 years ago, we were dating. And back in that day, we would actually write letters to each other. You remember the snail mail, the love letters in the mail. Anybody out there? Remember love letters in the mail, right? I think if you’re 30 years of age and younger, you don’t know what that is. And you maybe send a text, maybe send an email, but to write a love letter and, and so Suzanne and I because I lived in California for several years, and my wife lived in St. Louis. We weren’t separated. Much of our dating life. We were separated. And I was in the military. So, I ended up in Hawaii, and my wife was still in St. Louis. And we would write letters to each other. And we still have those letters. We’ve got this wood box that we’ve compiled all of these letters in and every now and then we’ll pull them out. And we’ll reminisce and we’ll reminisce back to the days when we were dating before you know before there were children before there were careers before there was it was just like it seems so long ago, but it also seems like it was just yesterday. And because we always lived far apart from each other. We would fly obviously to see each other, and we would write barf bag letters.

Has anyone written a barf bag letter? There is such a thing. You would get on a plane, you’d be upset, you’d be crying, because you don’t know the next time you’ll see each other, and we profess our love on barf bags. We still have barf bag letters in that box that is stuck in storage someplace. Well, this morning, we’re going to talk about some letters that were written to seven different churches in Asia Minor. Now the seven churches, are historical places. These are real cities. These are real churches. They’re about a 50-mile circumference from each other. And the seven letters are found in the book of Revelation chapter two, and chapter three.

The very first letter written to a church was to the church of Ephesus. It is the book of Ephesians that was written to the church in Ephesus. Okay, to set the stage and I need you to kind of hang in there with me as we go through some of the historical and archaeological facts about Ephesus. Ephesus was a magnificent city. It was in Asia Minor, which is currently a turkey. It’s on the western coast of Turkey and the agency. Back in the first century, Ephesus was this extremely important economic and commercial center. It was one of the oldest cities and it was the foremost city of the whole region. It wasn’t the capital of Asia Minor, but it was the four most the most prominent city of Asia Minor. Today, if you were to look at the map of Turkey, there was a poor town called Kusadasi. When you look at the city of Ephesus, it’s actually some three miles in. I mean, some 2000 years ago, it was on the coast. And now the geography has changed so much that the city itself is three miles in from the coast. And it was because the Dneister River was a river that ran through the town. It had this silting problem that would bring in so much debris that the harbor would constantly silt up. Now, even today, if you were to go visit Ephesus, and I’d been there it’s an amazing place. I mean, the ruins of Ephesus are just remarkable. There is this old Roman highway that goes right to the middle of town. It was called the Arcadian way. It was paved, it has a gutter system, it was 70 feet wide, and it was lined with these very beautiful tall ornate columns. I mean, it was the marketplace center of the city. The city itself was very diverse people from all around the world. would end up right there in Ephesus. So, there were people of different cultures in different races. And they all lived right there in this, this major city. Ephesus was extremely wealthy. It was an export city, right. And so it was, it was a city that produced goods that were going out and coming in. So, the residents of FFC Ephesus were extremely wealthy. And it was a large city. Back in the first century, it was the fourth largest city of the entire area, behind Athens and behind, instead of Constantinople. There were about 250,000 people in Ephesus. Now we know from the scriptures that Paul was instrumental in planting the church in Ephesus, that he stayed there for about two and a half years preaching the gospel. We know that when Paul left, he left young Timothy, I mean, they had some really good preachers in Ephesus, and tradition has it. And we know that that John, with an Ephesus as well, the apostle John was an Ephesus, and that he most likely took Mary, the mother of Jesus with him. Now really quick, just some background, some three things to remember about the city of Ephesus, they stressed the importance of knowledge. This was an extremely sophisticated city. And that facade that you see right there, that is the library of Celsus, the library of Celsus, held about 12,000 different volumes. I mean, this is the first century Look how beautiful and how large that building is. multiple stories. I mean, it was absolutely gorgeous. And so, the people, they focused on knowledge, they focused on gaining wisdom. They actually even had a medical school in the city of Ephesus. Now they valued wisdom, right? They valued their theology, they valued knowledge, but over a short period of time, they so focused on knowledge, that they lost the joy of living love. They lost the joy of living for their savior, Jesus, they became so focused on knowledge and having wisdom, that they lost their first love.

The second thing that we learned about the city of Ephesus, it was the prevalence of idolatry in the city, it was a pagan city. It was a Roman city, they had multiple gods and in fact, in the city of Ephesus was the Temple of Artemis. Artemis was a Greek and the Roman god was the goddess of fertility of hunting, and of childbirth.

The ruins of the temple of Ephesus are not there anymore. They were kind of repurposed to build a church over in Istanbul, Constantinople. In the first century, it was a magnificent temple, it was a tourist attraction. They wouldn’t just build a church; they wouldn’t just build a temple. But they would build such a magnificent structure that people from all around the world all around the region would want to come and behold, they would want to see it. And then they would think, wow, this God must be so great that they built this temple. And then they would honor the God or the goddess of that temple. The Temple of Artemis and Ephesus was declared one of the seven Ancient Wonders of the World. It was four times the size of the Parthenon in Athens, four times the size of the Greek Parthenon. See if you lived in Ephesus back in the first century, if you did not worship Artemis, it was offensively counter-cultural.

The expectation was that you would honor and pay homage and worship this goddess of fertility, this goddess of childbirth, and of hunting. Paul came into the city and he’s boldly proclaiming the Word of God. God is working in and through Paul in some powerful ways, and he’s performing these miracles, and people are being healed. They’re seeing the signs, and he wonders if they’re hearing the gospel, the message, and more and more people are coming to faith in Jesus. And as more and more people are coming to faith in Jesus, fewer and fewer people are worshipping Artemis, to the point where the local silversmith union rose up in led by a man named Demetrius, they raised a protest against Paul. They would make these trinkets that they would sell to all the tourists, they would sell to the people coming to worship Artemis. And because fewer and fewer people were believing in Artemis, they were selling fewer and fewer trinkets. Paul was cutting into their pipeline of money. They rose up in protest against Paul and Demetrius and his fellow silversmith, they got all the people so riled up, and they ended up in this theater. This theater still stands, seats 25,000 people. It says all the people were riled up. They ended up in protest, chanting artists, Artemis is name great is our God Artemis in protest against Paul. So, paganism ran rampant throughout the entire city.

The third thing I want you to remember about Ephesus is the local trash heap. Now, this is kind of an unpleasant subject. It’s sad. But it was an openly accepted practice in the first century, that if you had a child that you did not want, maybe you wanted a boy and you had a girl, or maybe there was some deformity, or maybe there was some issue, that if you had a child you did not want, you could simply take the child to the trash heap, and let it be exposed until it died. It was a common practice; it was accepted among the people. But then all of a sudden, the Christians, had this extravagant, sacrificial kind of love, that what they would do is they would rescue those children, and they would raise those children and take care of those children. And people from all the rounds would recognize how these Christians were living differently from everyone else in the city. They practice this extravagant kind of love, but over time, their love grew cold. Over time, the love of the church grew cold, and the practice winged in ultimately stopped. And what happened to the people of the church in Ephesus is they substituted faith and love, for wisdom, and knowledge. The church became inward-focused, it was no longer about serving, it was no longer about love, but it was about what was in it for me. Now, I don’t know about you. But oftentimes, I see myself in that.

Sometimes we’re so inward-focused on self, and my own wants and my own desires, that, that you know, what we don’t necessarily live love. We’re so inward-focused, that, that we don’t live that extravagant kind of love, where we use the gifts and the talents and the abilities that God has blessed us with to make a difference. And so, this morning, I want to talk about Ephesus, the forgetful church, okay, and we’re going to look at the book of Revelation. Now the book of Revelation was written by John. Okay, the apostle John was one of the pastors he was the Bishop of Ephesus. And John was boldly proclaiming the gospel in the city of Ephesus. And the Romans didn’t like it. And so, they arrested him. I mean, he was arrested for preaching for sharing his faith. He was arrested for preaching the gospel. They arrested him, and they exiled him to the city of Patmos. And they’re on the island of Patmos. He wrote the book of revelations and the seven letters to the churches. In Revelation chapter one began, verse nine put your thinking caps on here. He says, I, John, your brother and partner in the tribulation and the kingdom and the patient endurance that are in Jesus was on the island called Patmos on account of the Word of God and the testimony of Jesus. So, John tells us how he arrived at Patmos. He was proclaiming the gospel, the Romans didn’t like it, and so they exiled him. Now this little island of Patmos, it’s about 40 miles off the coast. It’s only four miles by eight miles wide long. It was a volcanic island. So, it was extremely rocky, there were very few trees, very few bushes. It was a Roman penal colony. If the Romans didn’t like you, they would just drop you off on the island, and you had to fend for yourself. And we know that John was exiled there. John goes on to say, I was in the spirit on the Lord’s Day. And I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet saying, write what you see in a book, 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. Okay, so it was it. So, John says he was in the spirit on the Lord’s Day, Sunday. I mean, even back in the first century, followers of Jesus Christians, always worship on Sunday, why? It was the day that Jesus rose from the dead. It was the Lord’s Day, the victory had been one our sin had been paid for, because Jesus lives, we know all that he promises will come true, and that we also will live. It’s interesting. On the island of Patmos, I’ve been there, it’s really kind of interesting. There’s this monastery that sits upon a hill. And it’s the holy cave where it’s believed tradition has it that John lived, and where John wrote the book of Revelation. In Revelation chapter two, let’s take a look at this letter that he wrote to the church in Ephesus. He said to the angel of the church in Ephesus, right? These are the words of Him who holds the seven stars in this right hand and walks among the seven golden lampstands. So here in the very first verse, Jesus is identifying himself. Okay, this is Jesus talking to John saying, this is what I want you to write. These are the words of Him who holds the seven stars in his right hand and walks among the lampstands. So, which when you look at the seven stars in the lampstands, already, you’re thinking yourself, what entire nation is he talking about? I mean, you can tell already that we’re in the book of Revelation, can’t you? Okay, but it’s interesting because John explains it to us. Once again in Revelation chapter one, verse 20. John writes this, the mystery of the seven stars that you saw on my right hand and of the seven golden lampstands is this, the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches and the seven lampstands or the seven churches. Okay, so God, the God defines what the seven lampstands and the seven stars are. The Seven Stars are the angels, the Greek word is Anglos, the word Anglos simply means messenger. It can be a heavenly body or heavenly person, or it could be a pastor, or it could be one of us, we are messengers of God. Okay, and so in this particular case, he’s writing to the pastors of these seven different churches in modern-day Turkey. And so, the seven stars are the angels, the messengers, and the seven lampstands. As members of the church, we’re called to be the light of the world, aren’t we? You and I, we are the church, the seven lampstands are the church, the seven churches. And at number seven, all throughout Scripture, that number seven has special meaning special significance. It’s a number of completeness, a number of wholeness. So what Jesus is saying is that he holds all things in his hands, all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to him. He’s the boss, he’s the one who’s got all things in his hands. And this is what I want you to write. He says, I know in verse two, I mean, those are powerful words. Jesus writing to the church in Ephesus, writing to us!

I can see what’s going on in my church with my own eyes. I know what you’re going through, I know what’s taking place. I know how you’re feeling and how you’re hurting. I know and I understand. I mean, these are powerful words of love and of concern and compassion. Have you ever watched the show Undercover Boss? Where the CEO of some company leaves the ivory towers and they take off their suit, they put on the clothes of the regular working person? They go down into the trenches with all the employees. After spending about a week there, they finally reveal who they are. And they say, I know what you’re going through, I know what the difficulties are, I know, and I can do something about it. Jesus is saying to the church to us, he says, I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked people and have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not and found them false. You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name and have not grown weary. I mean, so far, so good. Jesus is writing to the church. He says I know what you’re enduring. I know what you’ve gone through. I know that you don’t tolerate false teachers and because of your wisdom, and because of your theology, in your knowledge, you call them out for being false. I know that you persevered, even when you were being persecuted for my namesake. You’ve stood strong, you’re hard-working, you’re indomitable. You’ve got this great discernment. And they’ve got this knowledge in this theology, which is one of their greatest gifts. I know. Jesus says, it’s almost like he’s setting them up to knock them down, isn’t it? I mean, things are going great. I know. But have you ever noticed oftentimes; our greatest strength is also our greatest weakness? Have you I noticed this about myself years and years ago, that my greatest strength is often my greatest weakness, like when it comes to counseling somebody, okay, I know where they’re at. I know where they want to get to. Okay, but I am so focused on the future, I’m so focused on getting to where they want to be that I don’t necessarily pay a lot of attention to the past. And some people just need to talk about the past. And I do that a lot with my own life. I know where I’m at. I know I want to be with the church. I know where we got to go. And so, I want to get there. And so often, I’m so focused on the future, that you know what I miss living in the present, always looking to what’s coming next. And so, Jesus, he identifies their strengths, right? I know what you’ve been toward. I know how you’ve stood firm. yet. He says, I hold this against you. You have forsaken the love you had at first. John, the disciple known as the loving apostle, right? Remember, Jesus was on the cross. And from the cross, Jesus looked down, he saw his mother and disciple whom he loved John standing there will maybe hold your son, son, Behold, your mother. And John took care of Mary for the rest of her life. It was John who recorded the commandment of Jesus in John chapter 13. A new commandment I give you to love one another. As I have loved you, Jesus said, so you must love one another. It was John who recorded in John chapter 15. Jesus’ words Greater love has no one than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. And again, John chapter three, verse 16, For God so loved the world that he gave his only big Adam Son that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life. God so loved all of his creation; God so loved you that he gave his only son for you. See, that’s the first love, the original love, the love of God in and through Jesus Christ. And yet, John is warning the church. Jesus is warning to church through John that they forgot what was most valuable. They forgot their first love. And it was a warning. See, they love the knowledge more than they love their Savior. My friends, I mean, it’s a warning to us as well. Okay, warning, will rot will Robinson warning? Because, you know, I maintain that’s us. I mean, I see it all the time I live it. We crave knowledge, don’t we? We want to hear something new is like when we hear the gospel stories like yeah, I know that. I know that story. I’ve heard it a 1000s. I’ve heard it since I was a kid. We see a baptism. It’s like, yeah, it’s nice. But you know, we lose it. We say, please just tell me something new, reveal some new nugget, some new truth, and the truth is this; we’re always looking for something new. But we’re not living out what we already know.

We always want to be plugged in, we always want to be fed something new, which is great, don’t get me wrong. But we’re also not living out what we already know God calls us to do to maintain oftentimes, as we walk with Jesus, we can become Comfortably Numb, we should write a song, we should become comfortable enough. You know, our heart stroke hold. And what happens is oftentimes when it comes to the Christian faith, it’s just checking off a bunch of boxes. x Oprah, Oprah was a Latin term, by the work of doing something, we want to get the benefit just by the act of doing it. I’ve been to church, I gave money, I gave to pack a sack. We go to the action and yet our hurts have gone cold. I maintain it doesn’t mean we don’t do it. I think we do it consciously. We have all of these responsibilities in life, where we have work, and we have our kids and we have school and social functions, and everything else going on in life, that we just lose sight of.

Hey, if you ever had the privilege of going to Cuba, you go to Havana, okay, and they got this beautiful architecture with the old tires and everything else. I mean, it’s really pretty. Okay. And oftentimes when you look at you look at the facade of the buildings, you know, it’s this beautiful architecture, you walk up to it, no kidding me, you walk up to and you look in, and there’s nothing behind it. I say nothing. I mean, nothing. It’s a pile of rubble. It’s just the facade.

I think so often, that’s what happens to many believers in Christ. We look good on the outside. But when it comes to living out our faith, we’re not doing it. We’re just checking off the box. You see the church in Ephesus, that first century church, the church grew so rapidly, it became so popular, because they lived love radically. They were completely totally different than the rest of the culture. They lived in love the sacrificially, and people would see it, and they would say, wow, if this is that the message of Jesus, if this is what Jesus is, like, if this is what Jesus teaches, then I want that I want to be part of that. And the church grew in the church was strong, and then all of a sudden, they replaced love for knowledge. It was a big swing and a big Miss. I mean, even Paul talks about this in first Corinthians, doesn’t he? Know that great love chapter. If I speak in the tongues of men or angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding Gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I’m nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to the hardships that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. It’s love. As Jesus loved us, we’re called to love one another. So, Jesus says to John, consider how far you fallen. Remember how far you’ve come? How far you fall in from your first love. Once again, it’s an ominous warning not only to them, but to us as well. And I think it’s got some very personal meaning to the church in Ephesus. See that case the river that was talking about it was a constant filtering problem, right? I mean, they had the dredging and actually in the first century, they had a dredging system. They could actually clean out the harbor to make sure the ships could come back and forth. But over time, they kind of threw their hands up. They stopped doing it in the harbor silted up and Ephesus is in ruins. It’s gone. I think what Jesus is telling us is we need to clean our heart. It’s almost like we got to dredge our heart, we’ve lost our first love. And once again, I think oftentimes, maybe you’re just overwhelmed with business of life. You’ve got so much going on, you got to be in so many different places, so many different responsibilities. Maybe you’re intimidated to share your faith. Maybe you’re just overwhelmed with anxiety and worry, you’re watching the news in the morning, you’re worried about illness, you’re worried about finances, there’s all of these pressures of life that are going on or, or maybe you know, what you’re just so excited about your hobbies, or about the athletic teams or about sports are about school, or maybe it’s a brand spanking new relationship you’re in. Maybe you’re just doing great, and life is going well. And you’re getting caught up in all of your success in overtime. We just kind of drift away. We just kind of drift away. And we find ourselves asking God, where are you? Which guy would respond? I never left. I’m right here with you. Had there’s a story about a refrigerator was used to be my refrigerator over and Wagner Hall. I’ll tell you the story later on. But you know what happens when you unplug a fridge? It will stay cold for a while, right? It stays cold for a while. But ultimately over time, it’ll begin to warm up and then everything inside of it spoils and rots. When we unplug ourselves from God when we unplug ourselves from his power, from God’s word from the means of grace, when we plug ourselves from the fellowship of believers, and not being in a small group Bible study, ultimately what happens, we lose the power. Over time we begin to silt up our heart becomes hard, we begin to grow warm, and actually everything rots. But Jesus says, when we say God, where are you?

He says, I’ve always been with you. I’m with you always to the very end of the world. So, here’s my challenge to do. I want you to just consider, I want you to think back in your life. just pause to slow down for a few moments to just pause and reflect. Maybe like King David in Psalm 139, we can boldly proclaim, search me, O God and know my heart. test me and know my anxious thoughts. Consider how far you fallen. And then repent is what Jesus says. To repent is a change of mind. Right? If you’re going down one path, you’re going to stop you’re going to go down a different path to repent, meet. If you’re going this way, you’re going to stop, you’re going to turn and go back to Jesus, repent, and do the things that you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from you it’s instant judgment. Jesus tells us to repent Remember to return to our first love. And in verse six, he’s got this little he says, but you have this in your favor. You hate the practices of the Nicola Logan’s Nickelodeon’s and had a television station. negotiations, right? Nickelodeon’s It’s okay, but the negotiations not so good. Okay. And which I also hate. The negotiations were this heretical sect that that kind of merged Christianity and paganism together. Alright, and so deep that says, she says, no, I hate them as well. And then looked at how he closes out. The chapter is not closed out his letter, whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. That’s all of us, right? This is Jesus talking. This is God talking to his churches. He’s talking to us. It’s the inspired, inerrant Word of God, to the one who is victorious. To the one who overcomes I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is the paradise of God knows how the last letter in the book of the Bible goes all the way back to the first to the Garden of Eden, the tree of life. To those who are victorious, you get the tree of life and why are we victorious? How are we victorious? How do we overcome the world because of what Christ has given in done for us? See, it all goes back to grace. It’s God’s grace, God’s love for each and every one of us that we have the forgiveness of sins, that we have everlasting life that we have the power, to repent, to turn away from that sin to turn away from that thing that pulls us that allows us to drift away from our first love to turn away from it. And go back to the one who says I love you with the never-ending love.

Pastor Paul Burtzlaff

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