Building A Healthy Church: Obedience – Trusting Our Foundation

Obedience: Trusting Our Foundation

Revelation 2:18-29


Show Video: Trusting Your Anchor.


The story is told that a national magazine assigned a photographer to take pictures of a forest fire. They told him a small plane would be waiting at the airport to fly him over the fire. The photographer arrived at the airstrip just an hour before sundown. Sure enough, a small Cessna airplane stood waiting. He jumped in with his equipment and shouted, “Let’s go!” The pilot, a tense-looking man, turned the plane into the wind, and soon they were in the air, though flying erratically.


“Fly over the north side of the fire,” said the photographer, “and make several low-level passes.”


“Why?” asked the nervous pilot.


“Because I’m going to take pictures!” yelled the photographer. “I’m a photographer, and photographers take pictures.”


The pilot replied, “You mean you’re not the flight instructor?”


Flying isn’t a natural act. Not for humans anyway. We don’t have wings. We have to climb into a hollow metal tube with wings on it and trust someone we’ve never met to take us thousands of feet into the sky and fly several hundred miles and hour and then land us safely. Lots of people are afraid to fly, and many more get nervous about flying but fly anyway. I’ve flown a lot and its always a little nerve wracking for me, but I’ve learned to find, in the cabin, the pilot catching a ride on the plane to his or her next flight. And I watch them. Because I figure, if they’re fine, I’m fine. If they get nervous, I should probably get nervous.


Imagine the difference between flying with a flight student and an experienced instructor. If the engine sputters and coughs, the student panics. The instructor calmly adjusts knobs and switches and continues piloting the plane to a safe landing.


Where do you place your trust? And is that thing worthy of your trust? When the stakes are high, when you’re hanging from a cliff, will it see you through, or will it fail you? When life gets confusing, or difficult, or scary, or just plain terrifying, will that thing you’re placing your trust in hold you? If the one you trust asks something difficult of you, will he or she see you through? What is your anchor? What is your foundation? And do you trust it?


In his letter to the church in Thyatira, recorded among the seven letters to seven churches that begin the book of Revelation, Christ asks his followers there to continue to obey him, to continue to follow him, to remain faithful, even though life is difficult. Why? Because he is trustworthy. Our ability to obey Christ grows from the level of our trust in Christ. Let’s look together at Revelation 2:18.


Revelation was written to encourage the early church. Christians were beginning to experience persecution. They were experiencing financial hardship because the regular meetings of the trade guilds tended to include a meal with some of the food having been sacrificed to the false idol that was the patron god of that guild. Those meetings also often included the use of temple prostitutes as well. And in ancient Rome no one would have thought another thing about it. Sexual relationships outside of the marriage were the norm. But Christians wouldn’t participate in these meetings because their view of marriage had changed, and because they wouldn’t eat meat that had been sacrificed to false idols. So they were losing their spots in their trade guilds and people wouldn’t do business with them because of that. They weren’t part of the union, so to speak. And they were being arrested and beaten and sometimes killed because of their faith in Christ, because they refused to worship Caesar.


So while Revelation can be a challenging, difficult read because of all of the imagery, and while Christians around the world might disagree about the specific details of interpretation of the book, the big picture theme is the same regardless: God is in charge OF human history, he is at work IN human history, and he is bringing the human journey through his created order to his intended conclusion. In the end, evil will be punished and destroyed, and those who remain faithful to him will receive everlasting life, real life and adventure in a real place with God. So the message is, “Hang in there. Stay faithful. No price is too high to pay. God is bringing things to his desired conclusion.”


And at the very beginning of the book, in Revelation 1, St. John, whose visions this book is, receives an incredible vision of the resurrected Christ, Christ in his glory. Flip back to Revelation 1:12-16. What a vision! And then in the seven letters to the seven churches in Asia Minor that make up Revelation 2 & 3, personal correspondence between Christ and his church, his people, recorded by John, a portion of that image is given to each church as a special revelation of Christ for them and the situation they are facing. And to the church at Thyatira, Christ three attributes of John’s vision of Christ are pertinent. First of all, he is the son of God. This is an absolute and definitive statement about the divinity of Christ. Caesar claimed to be a god and the son of a god. Temples were erected to him and to those who had gone before him. And Christians were being imprisoned, beaten, and killed because they refused to bow before him. Christ wants to make absolutely certain that his people understand that Caesar is just a man, he’s no god. And the patron gods of the trade guilds are just empty shells. There’s nothing there. Christ, and Christ alone, is the son of the living God.


And his eyes are like a flame of fire. His burning eyes and piercing gaze can see through the lies, the falsehood, and the danger facing the church. He sees them. He sees through the masks and religious costumes of those who sought to find a way to protect their businesses and their lives from the coming onslaught of persecution by compromising with the culture around them, by worshipping Caesar and attending the trade guild meetings. In Psalm 139, David cries out “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!” He knew that while he could fool people, he couldn’t fool God. God sees through the masks, through the costumes, through the façade. God, through the prophet Jeremiah says “I the Lord search the heart and test the mind, to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his deeds” (17:10). We can fool one another, at least most of the time. But we cannot fool God. He sees not just our actions but the mix of motivations behind them. He knows our thoughts. He sees our hearts, our innermost, deepest, truest selves.


And his feet are “like burnished bronze.” Physically speaking, the feet are the foundation of the person. A strong base means a strong body. Hard to move. Steady and sure. Caesar cannot save you. Your trade guild gods cannot provide for you. So often the things we turn to in this world for strength and support – our jobs and financial security, our families, our governments, can protect us only physically and then only so far, only for so long. They are fallible, insecure and unsteady. They fail us. Christ, and Christ alone, is the only sure and stable foundation, a foundation for us in this life, and in the eternal one to come. We sing the words, “On Christ, the solid rock, I stand. ALL other ground … ALL of it … is sinking sand. ALL other ground is sinking sand.” Where do you REALLY place your trust?


So why are these characteristics of Christ so important to the church at Thyatira? It was a small town, the smallest and least significant of the seven, but trade flourished there and she was an important military outpost protecting Pergamum, the regional capital. Small town. Small church. And the longest of the seven letters is sent to her. Don’t ever think that small means insignificant in the Kingdom of God. But truth be told, things were for the most part going well in Thyatira. Look at V. 19. Overall, faith in Christ and love for one another were strong in Thyatira. They hadn’t lost their ability to love one another as the church in Ephesus had. And their love and faith were leading them to faithful service to one another and in their community, and they were hanging in there, persevering in the face of very real challenge and difficulty. And their “latter works exceed the first.” They were GROWING in their love, in their faith, in their service, and in their perseverance. They were the opposite of Ephesus, whose love was declining. Their was growing. Their faith was growing. They were growing in service. They were growing in perseverance. They were really pouring themselves into their lives in Christ, and it was showing! They were going to great lengths to be and stay faithful to Christ.


Sometimes actors and actresses go to great lengths to prepare for a role they are playing in a movie. For her role in Black Swan, Natalie Portman trained with New York City Ballet dancer Mary Helen Bowers for eight hours a day, six days a week for the 12 months before the film started shooting.


For his role in My Left Foot, Daniel Day-Lewis interacted with disabled patients at the Sanymount School Clinic in Dublin, Ireland. Between takes during filming, he remained in his wheelchair and was spoon-fed and carried around by the crew.


For his role in The Revenant, Leonardo DiCaprio plunged in and out of icy rivers, ate raw buffalo meat, and slept in a simulated horse carcass.


For his role in the film Fury, Shia LeBeouf trained with the U.S. National Guard and was a chaplain’s assistant in the 41st Infantry. During the filming, he didn’t bathe for 4 months.


To better imitate Ray Charles, Jamie Foxx wore prosthetic eyelids, leaving him blind for most of each day. Occasionally, he was inadvertently left alone on a set, the crew forgetting he was blind. He also learned all the piano parts and lost 30 pounds in one week for the role.


For her role as Fantine in Les Misérables, Anne Hathaway shaved her head, lost 25 pounds and subsisted on a daily diet of two thin squares of dried oatmeal paste.


To play a drug addict in Jungle Fever, Halle Berry visited a real crack den and got to know the addicts. During filming, she abstained from bathing for ten days.


In his role for The Pianist, Adrien Brody familiarized himself with despair and hunger. He moved to Europe, bringing only two suitcases of personal belongings and living a meager lifestyle. He lost 30 pounds and took piano and dialect lessons. Brody said: “There is an emptiness that comes with really starving that I hadn’t experienced. I couldn’t have acted that without knowing it. I’ve experienced loss, I’ve experienced sadness in my life, but I didn’t know the desperation that comes with hunger.”[i]


To what lengths are we going to grow in our ability to love one another, to trust Christ and his leading, to serve one another and our community, and to hang in there when the going gets tough? In many ways, the smaller church in Thyatira was a model church.


BUT. Look at Vv. 20-25. So who is this “Jezebel?” In the Old Testament, Jezebel was the wife of Ahab, king of Israel. Along with her husband, she instituted the worship of Baal and Asherah on a national scale and purged the temple in Jerusalem of the faithful prophets of God. Her husband was a wicked man himself, but all of this was done at her urging. And this person in the church at Thyatira was a type of Jezebel. There wasn’t literally a woman there named Jezebel. In fact, although there were many women teachers in the early church, this one might not have even been a woman. The emphasis isn’t on gender. It’s on a person who has penetrated the church and was leading some of the people astray, away from God, be encouraging them to compromise a little with their culture. And UNLIKE the church at Ephesus, which had run someone like this out, they were allowing the teaching. This person was encouraging them to go ahead and practice sexual immorality and eat food sacrificed to idols. What does that sound like? Like the trade guild meetings and celebrations, right? And these were things no one else anywhere saw as wrong. “If you don’t do these things, it’s going to cost you. You’re going to lose your business, or at least a lot of it. You’re going to become poor, a burden on the rest of us. Don’t pay that price. Just go with the flow. The temptation of economics. What will I do, when faithfulness to Christ, far from adding to my bank account, actually costs me something? What if faithfulness to Christ means my reputation takes a hit? Or my ego takes a hit? Or my finances take a hit? Or I lose a relationship? Will I remain faithful, when that faithfulness costs me something in this life?


Now, some cultural things really AREN’T worth fighting about. The farther away from the core of our faith, our sinfulness and  the life, death, and resurrection of Christ and the divinity of Christ, the less important matters become. Some Christians drink alcohol and others don’t. I don’t know of any who promote addiction. Some think its ok to have tattoos and earrings. Others don’t. Those might be fun conversations to have, but they aren’t faith delineators. We don’t draw the line there. So where DO we draw the line? On matters of spiritual life and death. The line is drawn at the identity and work of Christ, and no where else. That’s why we call this church “Christ Church.” HE defines us, and nothing else.


You see, there was something more going on here too. And it’s something we’re really familiar with today. Sure, Christ is A way. But is he the ONLY way? Remember, Christ had revealed himself to them as “the Son of God.” Christ, not Caesar, or the guardian diety of Thyatira, or the patron gods of the trade guilds, was divine, the Son of God, and THE way into God’s presence. You see, Rome, for the most part, allowed all religions. They didn’t want to waste their time calming religions wars so they tended to let the people whose lands they enveloped into the empire to worship whatever gods they had always worshipped. With one major exception. You couldn’t claim that your god was the ONLY god. There were to be no absolute claims on truth. You were welcome to worship your own god if you were willing to worship Caesar and let others worship their gods too. Worship Caesar, and then live and let live. You see, universal claims threatened loyalty to the state, to the empire. If you saw your citizenship as lying in the kingdom of a God who claimed that the only way to be forgiven and have everlasting live as a citizen of his kingdom was through faith in the life, death, and resurrection of his son, who is the Savior of ALL, then your loyalty to Rome might at some point come into question. As long as you bowed to Caesar, you could do what you wanted. But if you didn’t …  If you refused … you would at a minimum be avoided, and if your influence was great enough, you would be dealt with more severely. You would be eliminated.


There are two things that are universally true of false teaching. The first is that it has penetrated the church from the very beginning, and every generation in the two millenia since has had to deal with it in some way. False teaching is a given. The second is that false teaching never seems false. There isn’t a sign over the person’s head saying “False Teacher” with arrows and blinking lights. It’s actually often quite practical. The false teacher says, “It’s an expensive game to avoid the trade guild meetings. You’ll lose everything. And if you refuse to worship Caesar, that expensive game could become dangerous. So just don’t. They’re all false gods anyway, so don’t worry to much about it. Just go with the flow.” Christ says, “No, the dangerous game, the costly game, is to refuse to trust, and thus to obey me.”


Where do you place your trust? How far does your trust of Christ go? How far will your obedience to Christ go? Because if you don’t trust him, you won’t obey him. Not when it costs you something.


“He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”


[i] Emily Zemler, “15 Actors Who Went to Seriously Extreme Measures for a Role,” February 5, 2016;