What Christ Says to MDPC: Don’t Give Out, Give In, Or Give Up
I’m going to read for you these verses from the 2nd chapter of the Book of Revelation. This is the Word of God:
“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. I know your deeds, your love and faith, your service and perseverance, and that you are now doing more than you did at first. 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. I have given her time to repent of her immorality but she is unwilling. So 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. 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. 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, only hold on to what you have until I come. To him who overcomes and does My will to the end, I will give authority over the nations. 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, I will also give him the morning star. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’ Amen.”
Pray with me please.
Give me Jesus, Lord. Give me Jesus. You can have all the rest. Just give me Jesus. Amen.
The Book of Revelation contains seven different letters written by Jesus Christ to seven different churches in seven different cities in Asia Minor or what we know as Turkey. Today, we come to number four. This fourth letter, interestingly enough, is the longest of all the letters and it is addressed to the church in the smallest of the seven cities. It was the city of Thyatira. Understand please that Thyatira did not possess the commercial importance of Ephesus or the wealthy prominence of Smyrna or the strategic location of Pergamum. Thyatira was not a place of great influence in the ancient world. It was actually just an ordinary little place. However, there was a uniqueness about the city and the church there which makes this letter worth a closer look.
Thyatira was what we would call today a textile town. That is to say the whole town basically was involved in the wool and cloth dyeing industry. At that particular point in time, purple dye had become a great demand all over the ancient world, and as a result, it had become enormously expensive. Purple dye was made from the root of a plant which grew in plentiful quantities around the city of Thyatira.
Interesting sideline, please. Do you remember the name Lydia from the New Testament? The Bible describes Lydia as a seller of purple, and she was Paul’s first convert in Europe. But Lydia was from Thyatira. She was a traveling salesperson, and as a result, she amassed considerable wealth because she was dealing in such a costly commodity. It was on one of her sales trips to Greece where she encountered the apostle Paul and the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and she was converted. It is reasonable to assume, I think, that when she returned to Thyatira, it was Lydia who founded the Church there, the Church to which this fourth letter is addressed.
Ah, but back to Thyatira and the Church. Thyatira as the center of a burgeoning textile industry was a place which actually was dominated by trade guilds or unions. And those trade guilds were closely aligned with the worship of pagan gods. Well, you can relatively easily see the bind in which the Christians in Thyatira found themselves. If they were engaged in the wool and cloth dyeing industry, and most of Thyatira was, it was required that you be a part of the trade guilds. If you were going to have any financial success at all, that was the requirement. However, if you, as a Christian, refused then to engage in the pagan worship practices which were required by the trade guilds, well, that would lead to commercial disaster, financial bankruptcy. And so it doesn’t take much effort at all to see how the Christians at Thyatira were caught in this very dicey dilemma.
And that was the problem in the Church at Thyatira. The problem was that there were leaders in the Church, one of whom in particular was a woman, but there were leaders in the Church who were encouraging the Christians there to achieve success by acknowledging their faith in Christ on Sunday but then ignoring that faith all the other days of the week. That was the problem in the Church at Thyatira. Come to think of it, that can be a problem for Christians today. Amen?
I mean, think about it. Let me ask you point blank, how does your faith express itself, not just here on Sunday but in the regular flow of your activities during the rest of the week? For example, if you are dealing in real estate matters where big, fast dollars are made, can the spirit of Jesus Christ be seen in you as you make those deals? He could, if you let Him. Those of you who are physicians, do your patients sense something of the great physician in you as you deliver medical care? If they don’t sense that in you, where else might they find it? Those of you who are bankers, do your customers understand the inspiration that Christ has brought to your life, or do they simply hear about interest rate tables and payment schedules? If Christ is not sensed in you, why not? You who are teachers shaping young lives. Are those young lives being shaped in such a way that later on, they might become fertile ground for the seeds of the faith to grow into full bloom? If your students cannot sense something of the spirit of Christ in you, then where else might they ever find it? Do you get the point? Among the multiple thousands of people who are a part of this great Church, the people of MDPC are found through the week, in banks, in offices, business enterprises and establishments, homes and schools all over this city. And if Christianity is going to have an impact here, then it’s not just a matter of worshipping Him to the fullest on Sunday. It’s also a matter of allowing that faith to carry with you where you do your work and where you spend your time through the week.
I believe that that is the reason that Christ said to the Christians in Thyatira and why I believe Christ is saying to the Christians at MDPC, “Hold on to what you have until I come.”
Oh, what a great line that is. Hold on to what you have until I come. Play out that theme with me. I believe that Christ is calling us at MDPC to hold on to our enthusiasm. In other words, don’t give out. You know, it seems to me that there are way too many Christians these days who have forgotten how to celebrate the sheer joy which is ours in Jesus Christ. Sad to say, that seems to be a factor for many of us who call ourselves Presbyterians.
Sinclair Lewis began one of his bestselling novels with this stinging little line, “It was 12 noon by the clock on the courthouse tower and the Presbyterian church on the corner began to give up its dead.” Ouch. There are many people who say only half-jokingly that Presbyterians are God’s frozen chosen. Let me quickly say while that may be a problem for some Presbyterians, it’s also a problem for all Christians today. We see it all too often. Christians approach worship like an accident waiting for a place to happen. They come dragging and slouching in, no energy, no eagerness, no enthusiasm, fuel tank on empty, engine hitting on only one or two cylinders, spiritual zest just about to give out. Friedrich Nietzsche, the atheist, may have had a point when he said, “I would believe in the Christian salvation if they looked a little more like people who’ve been saved.” Yes. Oh, dear friends, if we’re saved and we know it, shouldn’t we show it?
Let me quickly say right up front: Sinclair Lewis and Friedrich Nietzsche never set foot in MDPC. And they are much the poorer for it. For you see, in this Church, there is an unbridled joy in Jesus Christ. I don’t think I could point to another Church which has that same buoyant spirit. There is a burning passion at MDPC for the work of Christ in the world. And therefore, it is my contention that when you step on to this campus, you quite literally begin to feel the spiritual energy and power of this place. I tell you there’s such infectious joy and spirit here, days I can hardly wait to get up and get here and get with it. And that spirit of joy must be continued here.
I want us to rejoice always in what God has done through the stirring history of this great Church. I want us to rejoice in what God is doing here and now in the life of this great congregation. I want us to look forward with a song on our lips to all that God is yet going to do in and through the work of this magnificent Church. Dear friends, if we are saved and we know it, then for heaven’s sakes, let’s show it. That’s why Christ is saying to us, “Don’t give out. Hold on to your energy and enthusiasm for the work to which I have called you. Hold on to what you have until I come.”
And then I believe that Christ is calling us at MDPC to hold on to our courage.
In other words, don’t give in. Those faithful Christians at Thyatira were caught in a miserable situation, and what they really needed more than anything else was a great jolt of courage. Ah, but then I would suggest that courage is an essential element for Christian witness in any time and in any place. And that kind of courage is the kind of courage we need to have here. Understand me, please. I am not in any way saying that courageous people have no fear. No. Rather, they are people who understand that if anything in life is worth attaining, it can be achieved regardless of the risks and dangers as long as you are truly committed to it. Courageous people have fear. Oh, yes. It’s just that they refuse to be mastered by that fear. Look at Jesus Himself. He didn’t relish the prospect of pain and suffering that He knew waited for Him on the cross. And so He prayed to God, “Lord, let this cup pass from Me.” But you see, He was so committed to fulfilling God’s purpose for His life on this earth that He went on to pray courageously nevertheless. Not, “My will but thine be done.” Or look at Martin Luther. He did everything he possibly could to avoid a confrontation with the religious establishment of his day. But when it could no longer be avoided and when the threat to his life was real, his courage prevailed and so he cried, “Here I stand. I can do no other. So help me God.”
What I believe Christ is saying to us at MDPC is simply this: We are called by Christ to have the courage no matter what is happening around us. And we are living in a great city but all around us are dreams that are turning to nightmares and ambitions and aspirations that are becoming agonies. That’s the reality of the world that is around us. And here, we are called to have the courage to make choices and decisions and commitments which will contribute to the protection of human life, to the alleviation of human need, to the transformation of human beings, and to the redemption of human souls. And that kind of courage, we must not flag in those convictions of ours. And we must have the courage to continue them no matter the cost. Because you see, it is that measure of steadfastness which very often proves to be the margin of victory.
When the Duke of Wellington was asked about his victory over the French at Waterloo, he said, “It wasn’t that the English soldiers were braver than the French soldiers. It was that they were brave for five minutes longer.” I think that’s what Jesus is saying to us. Don’t give in. Hold on to your courage. Hold on to what you have until I come.
And then I believe that Jesus is calling us to hold on to our hope.
In other words, don’t give up. “I’m stuck like a dope with a thing called hope.” So sang Mary Martin in the play South Pacific. Let me tell you, you’re not a dope if you’re filled with hope. The reality is that no individual, no civilization for that matter, can long endure without hope. Martin Luther believed that everything in life worth achieving comes through hope. John Calvin, our great Presbyterian ancestor, put it this way, “What would become of us if we do not take our stand upon hope, if we do not move through this world and its darkness on the pathway which is illumined by the Word and the Spirit of almighty God.” Calvin was reminding us that our hope is in Jesus Christ, and our ultimate hope is in Christ’s promise of eternal life.
Oh, I know. There are all kinds of skeptics and cynics out there who charge that we, as Christians, because of our faith in Christ and our anticipation of what is to come, all we’re doing is just avoiding the problems and the difficulties of life in this world. They even go so far as to say, those Christians, they are so heavenly minded—they are just no earthly good. Rubbish. Exactly the opposite is true. It is precisely because of our hope in the life that is to come that we are determined to be and to do our best in the life that is here and now. C.S. Lewis said it perfectly. He said, “It is just since some Christians became so immune to thinking about the other world that they have become so ineffective in their witness in this world. Aim at heaven, you get earth thrown in. Aim at earth, you get neither.” How true. I believe that that is precisely the reason that Jesus is calling us, saying to MDPC, “Don’t give up. Hold to your hope. Hold on. Hold on to what you have until I come.”
I have been helped in my own walk with the Lord by remembering a man who lost his wife to death, leaving to him the care and responsibility for their small son. Back from the cemetery after burying wife and mother, two of them, father and son, stretched out on the bed together determined just to try to go to sleep because they couldn’t bear to do anything else. This father, there in the gathering darkness, heartbroken and grief-stricken, suddenly was jolted by a question from the little boy stretched out beside him. “Daddy,” the little boy said. “When is mommy coming back?” The father tried to answer out of his own agony. The little boy still seemed so disturbed. After a few moments, the little boy said, “Daddy, if you would just turn your face toward me, I think I might be able to go to sleep.” So this father turned his face toward his son, and in a few minutes, the little boy dropped off to sleep. And then this father, there in the darkness, lifted his own needy heart up to his Father in heaven, and he prayed, “Oh, God. The way is so dark. I confess that I cannot see my way through, but if you would just turn your face toward me, then I think I could make it.”
That’s it. That’s it. No matter what may happen and what’s ahead in this world, don’t give out. Don’t give in. Don’t give up. For the great good news of our faith is that God, our God, has His face turned toward us. Our God is with us. In Jesus Christ, you and I. In Jesus Christ, we cannot lose.
Soli Deo Gloria.
To God alone be the glory.
Amen and Amen.