February 28, 2010
Are you sold out or have you sold out?
I. Sold out for Jesus (Revelation 2:18-19)
II. Sold out to the culture (Revelation 2:20-21)
III. Judged by Jesus (Revelation 2:22-23)
IV. Holding on to Jesus (Revelation 2:24-29)
For three weeks we’ve studied letters Jesus sent to churches in Asia, recorded in Revelation 2. We’ve also profiled an individual who epitomized the key idea of each letter: Matthew West counseling us against going through the motions, Polycarp calling us to sacrifice ourselves, Keith Green challenging us to live with no compromise. This week we’ll profile another musician, but this one is a fictional character in a novel called The Wind in the Wheat.
The book is by Reed Arvin, a successful Nashville producer and composer. But the story is about seduction, not sexual seduction but the seduction of power, of ambition, of success; the seduction of the main character, Andrew Miracle. Andrew grew up on a farm in Kansas, working hard every day. But Andrew had a gift, the gift of music. And Andrew had a love, a love for God. The two led to marvelous ministry at his church, at the nursing home, at local churches. Andrew sang and played people were drawn into God’s presence.
Arvin describes it: “To Andrew, his music was the place where every secret could be revealed. In this way, it was like a prayer. It was the prayer one never had the courage to speak but always longed to, and Andrew prayed it for all of them, and in the end, both he and his listeners were swept away, pushed over the dam of pride and fear in the current of his playing. Like men in combat emboldened by the courage of a comrade, the worshipers felt that something real with God was closer and more possible while the music played.”
Then something happened: Andrew was discovered by a friend of his pastor, a slick Nashville producer. Arvin writes “The first sin Andrew learned from John van Grimes was the sin of envy.” Van Grimes sees all kinds of potential in Andrew, and presses him to come to Nashville where God ‘can use him in a greater way.’ He cultivates Andrew’s natural, godly desire to reach more people with his gift of music and his message.
The seduction begins with a promise that the next step won’t lead to compromise or self-interest, but to greater ministry. And I suspect much of the sin in our lives and our churches comes similarly clothed. Self-interest dresses up as something admirable, a compromise that’s worth it or a pleasure that’s justified, and we find ourselves denying in practice the holiness we claim.
The fourth church Jesus addresses in Revelation has been seduced this way, literally and figuratively, and Jesus warns them of the consequences of their sin, calls them to repent and return to the purity of their ministry.
His scrutiny of the church at Thyatira forces us to ask the question: Are you sold out or have you sold out? Let’s read this text, Revelation 2:18-29: "To the angel of the church in Thyatira write: These are the words of the Son of God, whose eyes are like blazing fire and whose feet are like burnished bronze.19I know your deeds, your love and faith, your service and perseverance, and that you are now doing more than you did at first.
20Nevertheless, I have this against you: You tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess. By her teaching she misleads my servants into sexual immorality and the eating of food sacrificed to idols. 21I have given her time to repent of her immorality, but she is unwilling. 22So I will cast her on a bed of suffering, and I will make those who commit adultery with her suffer intensely, unless they repent of her ways. 23I will strike her children dead. Then all the churches will know that I am he who searches hearts and minds, and I will repay each of you according to your deeds.
24Now I say to the rest of you in Thyatira, to you who do not hold to her teaching and have not learned Satan's so-called deep secrets (I will not impose any other burden on you): 25Only hold on to what you have until I come. 26To him who overcomes and does my will to the end, I will give authority over the nations-- 27'He will rule them with an iron scepter; he will dash them to pieces like pottery'-- just as I have received authority from my Father. 28I will also give him the morning star. 29He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.
I. Sold out for Jesus (Revelation 2:18-19)
Thyatira was an inland city in a broad valley about forty miles from Pergamum. It had been created by the Greeks as a military outpost, but in 190 BC it fell to the Romans and became part of the province of Asia. The only Biblical reference to Thyatira is in Acts l6:l4. Paul is in Phillipi, and he meets “a woman named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth from the city of Thyatira.” Under Roman rule, had Thyatira blossomed into a center of manufacturing, with many trade guilds, unions. Inscriptions found there mention “woolworkers, linen-workers, dyers, leather-workers, tanners, potters, bakers,” and more. Since the trade guilds worshiped patron gods, it would be hard for a Christian to participate in the economic foundation of this city.
Jesus describes himself to this church as “the Son of God.” Only here in the book of Revelation is this title found, although it is often implied. Since Psalm 2:9 is quoted later in the letter it may be that the allusion here is to Psalm 2:7: “I will proclaim the decree of the LORD: He said to me, "You are my Son; today I have become your Father.” By using this title Jesus asserts his own innate authority over that of any pagan deity, no matter how influential.
He’s described as having blazing eyes and glowing feet. Both descriptions are taken from the initial vision of chapter 1, and may stem from Daniel’s great vision of the last days in which he sees someone who has “eyes like flaming torches” and “legs like the gleam of burnished bronze” The blazing eyes suggest the penetrating power of Christ’s ability to see through deceptions. His feet of burnish bronze convey the idea of strength and splendor.
Yet the Son of God commends much he sees in the Thyatiran churh: love, faith, service, perseverance. Great list! Don’t miss it when God throws in such a practical list. We talked about love when we looked at the Ephesian church: it’s love for God, love for others, love for one another that imitates the love of Jesus. It’s sacrificing ourselves to help those who are hurting. It’s being willing to be interrupted by the opportunity to show love in a practical way.
Faith: In one sense this is the foundation of everything else, for it is by grace we are saved through faith, and the faith itself a gift from God. He gives me the opportunity to see the sacrifice of Jesus and believe that on that cross he paid the price of my sins, so I don’t have to face God’s wrath, but instead, by throwing myself into his arms, that is by faith, I am rescued.
That faith is then the foundation of the ability to be faithful, which is the other way this same word is used. We are faithful when we remain true to him and continue to give Him first place despite temptation, trial or suffering. In other words, we are sold out for him: we have held nothing back from our trust, but have given him everything, all that we are, for his service.
That’s the third quality mentioned: those who give him every part of themselves in trust, and who are filled with his love by the Holy Spirit must serve him. - serve him by loving one another, in daily duties serve him by sharing his love with those who are unconsciously desperate for good news, serve him by compassion on the needy: emotionally, spiritually, physically, socially.
Finally, perseverance. We’ve heard this word recently as the inevitable outcome of suffering, but really it’s inevitable when we exercise of any aspect of our faith, whether remaining faithful in suffering, or in loving, or in serving. These exercises develop spiritual muscles that enable us to go on further and longer, so that like the Thyatirans we can do more than we did at first.
II. Sold out to the culture (Revelation 2:20-21)
These are the qualities we’ll have if we’re sold out to Jesus, rather than to the siren song of the world’s temptations. But sadly, many in Thyatira had sold out. Verse 20: “Nevertheless, I have this against you: You tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess. By her teaching she misleads my servants into sexual immorality and the eating of food sacrificed to idols.”
There probably wasn’t anyone named Jezebel in Thyatira, but there was a woman who had the same kind of impact the historical Jezebel had on the kingdom of Israel. 1st Kings 16 tells us that “Ahab, son of Omri, did more evil in the eyes of the Lord than any of those before him. 31He not only considered it trivial to commit the sins of Jeroboam, but he also married Jezebel daughter of Ethbaal king of the Sidonians, and began to serve Baal and worship him.”
During the famine in the time of Elijah, Jezebel was actively killing off the Lord’s prophets. When she learns of Elijah’s victory over the prophets of Baal on Mt. Carmel she sends a messenger to say “May the gods deal with me, be it ever so severely, if by this time tomorrow I do not make your life like that of one of them." She was murderous, idolatrous, promiscuous and petty. In 1 Kings 21, when Ahab wanted a neighbor’s field for a vegetable garden, she arranged to have the innocent neighbor, Naboth, killed. She was so bad God ultimately judged her by having dogs consume her body in the street.
So calling someone Jezebel is no compliment. But how did this Jezebel-like woman seduce the Thyatirans? It was probably through compromise on the trade guilds. To join the union you had to participate in the pagan offering meals, and possibly in ritual prostitution, or face social and economic hardship. But this Jezebel-imitator may have suggested that since Paul said “an idol is nothing at all,” believers need not undergo the hardship of non-conformity. They can participate without jeopardizing their faith.
She and her converts were selling out to culture in the areas of idol worship and sexuality. Last week we identified similar sell-outs in our culture: making individual freedom Lord, or media Lord, or sexuality Lord or materialistic consumerism Lord. The sexual sell-outs of the church have lead to acceptance of sexual activity before marriage and divorce-for-any-reason, which leads to current battles over homosexual behavior and pornography.
Reed Arvin’s book creates a masterful example of the slippery slope that leads to selling out. We start with great motives; for example, the admirable desire to reach people for Jesus. But we’re soon told we can best do that by being acceptable to the culture. So Andrew Miracle reaches Nashville, checks in to a fancy hotel, and is taken to meet with expensively dressed music industry executives. They want him to sign a contract, but Andrew is concerned with what his ministry will look like. He’s told “We see your ministry potential and our business potential as coming together perfectly. Dove Records has the power to present your music and message to far more people than you could on your own.” Bells and sirens should be going off, but Andrew signs.
He makes an album in a studio that imposes perfection on his raw talent, submits to a photo shoot that changes him so much he doesn’t even recognize himself. And the album’s a success. His title song gets a ton of play on Christian stations. Then comes the real crunch. Dove records has a deal with Atlantic records, to take promising artists mainstream. But van Grimes and the others controlling Andrew explain that to do that his song “Lost Without You, Jesus” needs to just say, “Lost Without You.” They persuade Andrew he’ll actually have more ministry opportunity if he leaves Jesus out.
And it’s all downhill from there. One low point is the music video, in which Andrew has to sing not to Jesus but to the sweet sexy young woman they’ve cast next to him. The other low point is the tour, where Andrew is made into a pop idol for thousands of screaming girls. But such things do have their appeal and by about two thirds of the way through the story Andrew is pretty much the same egotistic self-centered abrasive rock star as everyone else. In other words, he sold out Jesus and bought in to the world’s temptations.
Churches sell out, leaving Jesus out, sin out, watering down the message to make it inoffensive, providing entertainment in the place of Scripture. But you and I can sell out the same way, maybe by giving in to the political correctness that says never mention the following words: Jesus; sin; hell; or ‘the only way to be saved.’ We can also sell out to pride or to anger or to fear. We can sell out because the pleasures of sin for a time are very great. And sin makes us stupid, so that the consequences of sin for a time can appear very small.
III. Judged by Jesus (Revelation 2:22-23)
Jesus warns of the consequences. Verse 21: “I have given her time to repent of her immorality, but she is unwilling. 22So I will cast her on a bed of suffering, and I will make those who commit adultery with her suffer intensely, unless they repent of her ways.” Jezebel had already been given time to repent, but refused. Therefore severe punishment is coming: she is to be cast onto a bed, probably a bed of sickness and pain, maybe death. God does deal with sin this way. Paul wrote that unworthy participation in the Lord’s Supper was the reason many of the Corinthians were weak and ill and some had died.
Jezebel’s chance to repent may be over, but those who have sold out to her still have a chance to repent, or they will suffer intensely. Verse 23: “I will strike her children dead. Then all the churches will know that I am he who searches hearts and minds, and I will repay each of you according to your deeds.” Jesus does not judge on the basis of external appearance, but on the basis of intimate knowledge of hearts and minds, the underlying truths about us that lead to our deeds. In other words, he knows if we are sold out or not.
Through the prophet Jeremiah, God already expressed this principle: “I the Lord search the heart and examine the mind, to reward a man according to his conduct, according to what his deeds deserve” It is restated by Jesus, “the Son of Man . . . will reward each person according to what he has done,” and by Paul “God will give to each person according to what he has done.”
Though we’re saved by grace, we’re judged on what we do, even for the thoughts and attitudes of our hearts. God usually expresses this judgment through the discipline of consequences. The person who is sold out for Jesus reaps the reward of fellowship and service, comfort and strength of the Holy Spirit. The person who has sold out to the world reaps the consequences: broken relationships, addictions, sexual diseases, financial disasters and more. If we are not sold out for Jesus he won’t let us find satisfaction in our substitutes.
IV. Holding on to Jesus (Revelation 2:24-29)
But Jesus also speaks to encourage those who remain faithful. Verse 24: “Now I say to the rest of you in Thyatira, to you who do not hold to her teaching and have not learned Satan's so-called deep secrets (I will not impose any other burden on you): 25Only hold on to what you have until I come.” The deep Satanic secret they shunned may have whispered that in order to appreciate fully the grace of God one must first plumb the depths of evil. Later heresies boasted that by entering the stronghold of Satan believers could learn the limits of his power and emerge victorious. The pagan guild-feasts and immoralities would prove that evil is powerless to alter the nature of grace.
Paul had, of course, long since responded to this: “shall we go on sinning that grace may abound more and more? May it never be!” But even in our day you still see people behaving this way, giving in to the pleasures of sin and, without verbalizing it as doctrine, presuming God’s grace and forgiveness.
Finally, this letter also ends with promises to those who overcome, verses 26 -28: “To him who overcomes and does my will to the end, I will give authority over the nations-- 27'He will rule them with an iron scepter; he will dash them to pieces like pottery'-- just as I have received authority from my Father. 28I will also give him the morning star.”
The promise that we will reign with Jesus or share authority with him is common in Scripture. Jesus says to the disciples that they will sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. Paul says that if we endure with him we will reign with him. Jesus even tells the church at Laodicea that the one who overcomes will sit with him on his throne. Revelation 5:10 teaches that the redeemed from every tribe and language and people and nation will be “a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth.”
But the things promised are characteristics first of Jesus that we share by being in him and with him for eternity. The quote from Psalm 2 is preeminently true of Jesus. Revelation 19 says “Out of his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations. "He will rule them with an iron scepter." He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty.” The description of shattering the potter’s vessel pictures this absolute power of the victorious Christ over the rebellious nations. Christ shares this authority with the overcomers because he receives it from his Father.
In addition to authority over the nations the overcomer is promised the morning star. Though there has been much speculation about the meaning of this phrase, the only obvious Scripture referents are in Number 24:17, where the messiah is described as a star coming out of Jacob, and Revelation 22:16 where Jesus describes himself as the morning star. So when Jesus gives us the morning star, he’s giving us himself.
In verse 29 the exhortation to hear what the Spirit says to the churches is repeated – and remember that the word ‘hear’ always implies obedience. This is the essence of being sold out as opposed to having sold out. Are we willing to turn from the seductions of this world, the seductions that try to disarm our faith and justify compromise? Are we willing to pursue love, faith, service and perseverance, as the overcomers in Thyatira had done?
Andrew Miracle came to this point of decision. At some level he knew he’d sold out, that all this glitz and glamour was fake: in fact he distinguished between his real self and what he called the ‘poster-Andrew.’ But he struggled with guilt and shame. It came to a head on his concert tour. Arvin writes: “In many ways it was a night like any other night. But inside, Andrew was going through a thousand questions in his mind, retracing his steps through a hundred tiny decisions that had seemed logical, even inevitable, at the time. Those decisions had brought him here, to the brink of losing himself.”
Even so, he carried on through most of the concert. “It was easier that way, just going through the motions and letting the poster-Andrew win.” But at the end, when he was supposed to introduce “Lost Without You,” Andrew lost it. He confessed to the stunned audience that he didn’t know anymore what it was to be real, honest, all the things he’d been hypocritically preaching. Yet back in his hotel room he had second thoughts, wondering if he could back off and just live as the poster-Andrew. In fact, he was deathly afraid of what he had started. Powerful men were counting on him and they would not be pleased. The weight of expectation was still very heavy, and playing mind games with himself didn’t make it less.”
Turning back after you have sold out to the world is hard. Without giving away too much of the ending – read the book – I wonder if you and I are today in that place of choosing between being sold out for Jesus or to something else, some other pleasure or expectation, something that wants to run our lives and control our words. It might be political correctness, it might be sexual sin, it might be pride and anger and relational walls we have built up, it might be the security of possessions, but like Jezebel, it has sold us the world’s goods and like Andrew Miracle, part of us can’t stand it anymore.
So will you turn from that and sell out to Jesus: to love, to faithfulness, to service, to perseverance in a sweet relationship with the only one whose expectations are for your good and his glory? Will you be sold out or have you already sold your soul and received nothing in return?