The Lamps - Trimmed and Maintained
The Letter to the
Church at Ephesus
Exodus 25:31-40, Revelation 2:1-7
In our study of the tabernacle this year, we have journeyed into the courtyard, we have come to the place of relational justice where a guiltless victim was slain on our behalf, we have come past the wash basin where we were washed by water and the word, we have entered in through the first veil and some time ago, we ate of the bread of the presence - “qal peni,” the bread that is before God’s face. The whole purpose of the tabernacle/temple was that we could live coram deo, before God’s face. Now we turn around to see behind us the Golden lamp stand. We read of that in Exodus 25
31 “Make a lampstand of pure gold and hammer it out, base and shaft; its flower-like cups, buds and blossoms shall be of one piece with it. 32 Six branches are to extend from the sides of the lampstand—three on one side and three on the other. 33 Three cups shaped like almond flowers with buds and blossoms are to be on one branch, three on the next branch, and the same for all six branches extending from the lampstand. 34 And on the lampstand there are to be four cups shaped like almond flowers with buds and blossoms. 35 One bud shall be under the first pair of branches extending from the lampstand, a second bud under the second pair, and a third bud under the third pair—six branches in all. 36 The buds and branches shall all be of one piece with the lampstand, hammered out of pure gold.
37 “Then make its seven lamps and set them up on it so that they light the space in front of it. 38 Its wick trimmers and trays are to be of pure gold. 39 A talent of pure gold is to be used for the lampstand and all these accessories. 40 See that you make them according to the pattern shown you on the mountain.
The priests that served in the tabernacle had the responsibility to tenderly maintain the wicks of the lampstand constantly, because Jesus, who is the light of the world shines constantly. Their routine became maintaining these lights every evening. The priest would take the wick, examine its flame, if the flame was poor, he would remove the wick from its holder, clean the wick, trim it, once again soak it in oil and relight it. The imagery of the priest at work was part of what it meant to be Israel, priests constantly tending her flame in this world. In that sense, as the nation who maintained the flame, Israel was the light of the world. And so when John on the island of Patmos saw a revelation of things to come, part of his vision was that of a High Priest, the great High Priest, Jesus Christ, tending to the lamps in the heavenly temple, and those lamps are 7 representative churches. As Jesus evaluates the churches, he examines them, notices their good qualities but also notices where the lamps are failing. It is fitting that we look over the next number of weeks at these evaluations of the church, and so evaluate ourselves, one of these lamps standing in the temple here in Langley. We are called to hear this evaluation of ourselves “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the church.”
2 “To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: (Ephesus - one of the first churches and probably the mother church to the rest of the churches listed in chapters 2,3 of Revelation, in the middle of a hub of commerce, in a city where many religions were honored especially the religion that worshipped Artemis or Dianna. Her temple extended longer than two football fields, its ruins exist today. The church in Ephesus grew as a light in the shadow of other religions, philosophies and worldviews.)
These are the words of him (Christ, the great High Priest) who holds the seven stars in his right hand and walks among the seven golden lampstands: 2 I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. (Christ does not withhold compliments. He honors the work that we do in his name, he honors our best efforts, he honors that we stand in our faith, even though at times it is tough. And it is an appropriate question to ask ourselves as individuals and as a church, does he honor us for these good qualities? Am I a person who does things for the Lord or am I just along for the ride? Can I name one thing in this last week that I did for the Lord, and I did it only for the Lord? Would the Lord say of me that I work hard for him or does my faith not show up in the work I do? Will the Lord say to me that I am a perseverer, or will he find me a person who disappears when the going gets tough? Some it seems flee from Christ, from his church, from Christian community, their candle goes out when life gets difficult, when relationships get strained, when injustice happens, when persecution for having the name Christian comes. As a pastor, I have seen that happen, I have grieved over it, may it by the grace of God never be us, you or me. But Christ is not only dealing with individuals who read these words, he is also especially dealing with us as a church. Can we say that what we do as a church is so that the world may see our faith by our works? John now gets very practical. He writes...)
I know that you cannot tolerate wicked men, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false. (It is clear that John is addressing a whole church. You see, the way churches as institutions lack perseverance is when the surrounding cultures suggest that their beliefs are antiquated, not true to reality, their teachings no longer relevant after all, who cares about sin anymore. Churches that lack perseverance in the truth start accepting teaching that is pleasing to the contemporary cultural pallet serving the selfish trinity, me myself and I. Speakers are no longer tested for what they say as long as they are pleasing to listen to. Doctrines are neglected. Truth is abandoned. Just believe. Just have faith. The details don’t matter. With popular books like “The Shack,” I wonder what we are starting to tolerate. Jesus here honors a firm “holding on to” and testing what we read and hear that it adheres to the truth that was handed down to us. And then Jesus continues his compliments along the same line.)
3 You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary. (Truly this church had a lot going for it. There was a reason that it was the mother church of Asia. But then Christ, the High Priest examining the wicks stops...)
4 Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love. (This flame that had burned faithfully for a long time had lost its original brilliance, its first love. It still burned, but there was not much of a flame left. The church at Ephesus, for all their strengths, their hard work, their commitment to the truths handed down, their perseverance, had left its first love.
How about us? How about you? How about me?
Over the Christmas break, my adult children and I would walk over to the Blair pool for a swim, and while they were putting on their laps, I did the “dad thing” - I relaxed in the hot tub, after all, I had gotten my exercise shoveling snow. In that tub, people talk. I by nature am quiet but a man started a conversation with me. He started talking about his work, his home life, his successes. I am good at listening. But through the conversation, what struck me was that he was in love with his beer. Almost every sentence or thought ended with a return to his favorite chair and another beer. As I listened I felt that I was listening to a man who was worshiping a bottle. His love for beer was conspicuous. As I left our conversation, there was no doubt in my mind what he loved. But as I look back, it dawned on me, he had not heard anything about the one who I profess to love. Where is my flame? Was the Spirit of God showing me 4 Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love.
How is your love life? For Jesus?
How is our love life for Jesus?
Jesus, like a wounded lover comes to us. There is a problem. What has happened to that passionate love with which we started our relationship with him? Our cold hearts are found out. His confrontation shocks us back to the very core of what we are about as individuals and as a community. You have forsaken your first love.
For all the things that we might do, for all the work that we accomplish, for all the truths that we might faithfully hold to in this world, thinking that we a light to our neighbors and salt to our culture, is it worth anything if people can’t see that we are in love with Jesus?
Is it worth anything if people can’t see that we are in love with Jesus? We who are called to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength - the first commandment of all of God’s will for lives, how can it be so dull, so hidden, so encapsulated in my personal life, in the church. I wonder if our expression of the Christian faith has become a light hidden under a bushel, the bushel being a personalized faith and a church life where we feel comfortable letting our light shine, but it stays here?
I ask these questions of myself, of you, and of us as a community. Can they tell that we love Jesus? Can Jesus tell by our actions in community that we love him deeply?
You see at the heart of this confrontation to the church at Ephesus is that all of these other things lose their meaning, their core reason for being if our love for Jesus has gone out. For all of our actions, the true light is no longer shining. For all of our work, the reason is not apparent. For all of our doctrinal correctness, the correctness is pointless. And when our love for Jesus disappears, it will not be long before all our works disappear also.
So Jesus comes to us and asks us - where is your love for me? How is your love life, Emmanuel CRC? There is a way back, we read it in the next verse.
5 Remember the height from which you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place.
Remember - remember when you first came to know the Lord, when you first experienced forgiveness for your sin, when you first with unbridled passion fell in love with Jesus. Do your remember the love the Spirit of Jesus overwhelmed you with? Remember how back then, it was not a problem to spend the day talking to God in prayer. Remember back then how you were hungry for his word and reading one verse a day was not enough, you gobbled it up, you studied it, you drank it in. Remember those times of worship where you cared little of what others thought of your raised hands, you were there giving your all to Christ? Remember those times that it was hard for others not to hear of your love for Christ?
William Cowpers song comes to mind....
O for a closer walk with God,
A calm and heavenly frame,
A light to shine upon the road
That leads me to the Lamb!
Where is the blessedness I knew,
When first I saw the Lord?
Where is the soul refreshing view
Of Jesus and His Word?
What peaceful hours I once enjoyed!
How sweet their memory still!
But they have left an aching void
The world can never fill.
Return, O holy Dove, return,
Sweet messenger of rest!
I hate the sins that made Thee mourn
And drove Thee from my breast.
The dearest idol I have known,
Whate’er that idol be
Help me to tear it from Thy throne,
And worship only Thee.
So shall my walk be close with God,
Calm and serene my frame;
So purer light shall mark the road
That leads me to the Lamb.
Remember, Repent and Do the things you did at first. Emotions and expressions of love follow actions and behaviors. Do those things which you did at the height of your love for Jesus. Love for Jesus will follow.
Jesus lovingly as a church gives us a warning. You see the church at Ephesus lost its impact on society. It disappeared. Churches do die, their lampstand removed. If we neglect our love for Jesus we will be removed.
6 But you have this in your favor: You hate the practices of the Nicolaitans (We will look at them in the future), which I also hate.
7 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.
This morning we come to the Lord’s supper together. In it, we eat Jesus, his flesh and blood symbolized by bread and juice. He is the tree of life. He gives us himself so that we may have strength to overcome, overcome our weakness, overcome our laziness, overcome our lack of love and return to what we did at first. And so this morning, if it is your desire to rekindle your love for Jesus, then come to the table and feast from the tree of life.
You the great high priest come to us, and Isaiah comes with the words of comfort - “A bruised reed you will not break and a smoldering wick you will not snuff out.”
(NIV) Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION. Copyright (C) 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.