In her book, The Gospel Comes with a House Key, Rosaria Butterfield tells a story of two church members who had been caught in sexual sin. She also talks about how the church handled it and how the two men responded.
The first man, “Ben Little, a church elder, was caught in adultery.” Ben insisted that he had done nothing wrong, as a matter of fact he went about “…defending [himself], excusing [his actions], and pointing fingers at everyone else. Ben was immediately removed as an elder in the church [and he] continued the spiral-downward fall. He divorced his infirm and faithful wife. He blame shifted. He continued living in sin. After years of counseling and pleading and praying, Ben was excommunicated. He left [the] church, and [was never heard from again].”
The second guy, Rex Miller, was also caught in sexual sin. He was the “subject of a very public scandal and arrest for child pornography. While in jail, [Rex] pleaded guilty and agreed to a plea bargain. Rex repented of his sin and took the full measure of the punishment, never defending himself and never asking for a lesser punishment.” Before going to prison for his crimes, “…[Rex] received counseling from the pastor and the elders…” It was determined that Rex should not be allowed to receive the Lord’s Supper “as part of his church discipline”. This was restored later.
Both men, Ben and Rex, were guilty of sexual sin. Rex owned up to his sin and humbly took his punishment (civil and spiritual). Ben refused, continued in his sin and was put out of the church fellowship.
We might listen to both of these stories and feel like the church was mean to treat those men that way, I mean, we’ve all sinned. Should any of us not be allowed to eat from the Lord’s table? Should we be kicked out of this fellowship until we repent?
What I think is even worse than denying a brother or sister to eat from the Lord’s table or fellowship with us in worship because of their sin, (which the Bible instructs us to do at times) is to knowingly allow them to stay in the church doing things that are destructive, committing their sin until it spreads to others without dealing with the matter.
This is what we find going on in Thyatira.
2 Peter 2:1–3 (NKJV)
1 But there were also false prophets among the people, even as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Lord who bought them, and bring on themselves swift destruction. 2 And many will follow their destructive ways, because of whom the way of truth will be blasphemed. 3 By covetousness they will exploit you with deceptive words; for a long time their judgment has not been idle, and their destruction does not slumber.
Our sermon for today is titled, Don’t Be a Jezebel and it comes from Revelation 2:18-29.
This letter to the church at Thyatira is the largest of the seven letters written and yet it is sent to the smallest of the seven cities. Our earliest introduction to Thyatira comes from Acts 16:14.
14 Now a certain woman named Lydia heard us. She was a seller of purple from the city of Thyatira, who worshiped God. The Lord opened her heart to heed the things spoken by Paul.
According to Daniel Akin,
“Thyatira was an expendable military outpost 40 miles southeast of Pergamos. It was only important through its commerce in wood, linen, leather work, bronze work, and especially purple dye.”
Thyatira was “…originally founded as a shrine to the sun god Tyrimnus….” In this city, there seems to have been a large number of trade guilds. These guilds, or unions, were incredibly significant and powerful having a major impact on a person’s ability to provide for self or family. Listen to this from the Apostles.org webpage on Thyatira,
“Membership in these guilds may have been the essence of the problem of the Church in Thyatira. To refuse to join one of these guilds would be much the same as to refuse to join a trade union today. It would mean to give up all prospects of commercial existence.”
To be a member of one of the trade guilds also came with a massive religious obligation.
The webpage goes on to say,
“They held common meals. These would very often be held in a temple and even if not, they would begin and end with a formal sacrifice to the gods, and the meat eaten would be meat that had already been offered to idols. Further, it often happened that these communal meals were occasions of drunken revelry and slack morality.”
Craig Keener confirms this by writing,
“Although Thyatira had a Jewish community, it does not appear to have been influential; Christians who refused to participate in the life of the guilds might thus find themselves isolated socially and economically.”
So basically, Christians were between a rock and a hard spot. Join the guild/union and risk your spiritual life or refuse to join and risk your physical life. It’s your choice.
18 “And to the angel of the church in Thyatira write,
‘These things says the Son of God, who has eyes like a flame of fire, and His feet like fine brass:
As with all of the seven letters, it begins with an introduction. To this church alone, the author introduces Himself as the Son of God. Several commentators make the argument that this title is used in defiance of Apollo, the son of Zeus, who was often referred to as the sun god. In Matthew’s Gospel, after Jesus is baptized by John and the Holy Spirit descends upon Him, immediately a voice from heaven says, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Matt. 3:17). In Luke’s gospel, on the mount of transfiguration, as Jesus is standing with His disciples Peter, James, and John, they are enshrouded by a cloud “And a voice came out of the cloud, saying, “This is My beloved Son. Hear Him!”” ( Luke 9:35 ). In John’s first letter he tells us that “Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God” (1 John 4:15). He continues later by saying, “He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life” (1 John 5:12). This designation to Jesus as the Son of God is hugely significant.
Not only is Jesus the Son of God, but His eyes are like flames of fire. These flames highlight His righteous indignation as He looks upon the scene in Thyatira. The writer of Hebrews tells us that “…there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account” (Heb. 4:13). His feet are like fine brass or burnished bronze. Thyatira was well known for its bronze work, but this description of the Son of God speaks to His strength and stability.
Commended (Revelation 2:19)
19 “I know your works, love, service, faith, and your patience; and as for your works, the last are more than the first.
Just like with the other churches before them, Jesus commends the Christians in Thyatira for their works. When it comes to our Christian faith, we often speak of works with a negative tone and yet, the Bible reminds us that without works our faith is dead! J Vernon McGee calls works “the credentials of real Believers.”
Jesus says, I know your works and you finished better than they began! I’m sure that we all desire to have this said about us. This makes me think about many of the kids I’ve had the privilege of working with in Study Buddies over the years. Many of the kids come in performing at a very low level, struggling to read, can’t figure out their math problems, and having a tough time finding purpose in their daily lives. What I’ve noticed is that the ones who put in the work week after week, you start to see some progress and they end up finishing better than they began. They come in performing at a C or D level and they end up graduating from high school at a A or B level. Starting well is very important, but finishing well is what really matters.
Jesus knows their LOVE.
He knows our love as well. We are encouraged in Romans 13:8 to “8 Owe no one anything except to love one another, for he who loves another has fulfilled the law.” And 1 Peter 4:8 tells us that “‘love will cover a multitude of sins.’” Unlike the Ephesian church, the faithful Thyatrian Believers had not forsaken their Love.
Jesus also knows their SERVICE.
Service is actually our Core Value for this month at BCC. It is extremely important that each of us are using our gifts to be a blessing for the Name of the Lord in this congregation and community. Our mission as a church is to be a lighthouse of hope wherever the Lord would send us. And when we are living in obedience to that call to serve, God remembers us. Listen to Hebrews 6:10 “10 For God is not unjust to forget your work and labor of love which you have shown toward His name, in that you have ministered to the saints, and do minister.”
Next, Jesus knows their FAITH.
John tells us, in the first chapter of his gospel record, that “But as many as received [Jesus], to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name:” ( John 1:12). As you read the pages of the gospel you will notice that almost every time that Jesus is stunned or marvels it is when someone displays faith or lacks faith. It was the faith of the paralytics friends that led Jesus to declare his sins forgiven (Mark 2:5). When the woman who had the issue of blood for 12 years touched the hem of Jesus’ garment, He announced that her faith made her well (Matt. 9:22). Jesus heals through faith. He restores through faith. He saves us from the punishment of sin through faith. “But without faith it is impossible to please God…” (Heb. 11:6).
Finally, Jesus knows their PATIENCE.
The Apostle James tells us to let patience do its thang! Listen to James 1:4 “4 But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.”
After commending them for making progress, Jesus calls them out on a major failure.
Called Out (Revelation 2:20-23)
20 Nevertheless I have a few things against you, because you allow that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, to teach and seduce My servants to commit sexual immorality and eat things sacrificed to idols.
Jezebel was the wife of Ahab king of Israel. 1 Kings 16:33 records that “Ahab did more to provoke the Lord God of Israel to anger than all the kings of Israel who were before him.” One of the things that he did to provoke the Lord was marry that treacherous woman Jezebel. You can read her story in 1 Kings 16-21.
What we have going on in this church is a major spiritual compromise and the toleration of wickedness. It is no different from what is happening in many of our churches today.
Now, just for comparison, when we look at what was happening in Pergamos, the issue almost seems congregational, it appears that, as Jude 4 states,
Jude 4 (NKJV)
4 For certain men have crept in unnoticed, who long ago were marked out for this condemnation, ungodly men, who turn the grace of our God into lewdness and deny the only Lord God and our Lord Jesus Christ.
But these folks may not have been leaders.
The Ephesians had lost their first love, but not even they behaved like the church in Thyatira. Jesus said that the Ephesians could not put up with those who are evil (Rev. 2:2).
But in Thyatira, these ungodly folks may have been invited in! Space had been made for them to teach their deceiving doctrines. In Thyatira, we have a leadership problem. Jesus says, “…you ALLOW Jezebel to teach and seduce My servants to commit sexual immorality and eat things sacrificed to idols.” They were unequally yoked together with the unbelievers among them (2 Cor. 6.14). They called “…evil good, and good evil; [they] put darkness for light, and light for darkness; [they] put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter” (Isa. 5:20)!
Will Jesus say this about us when He returns?
As more and more churches become open and affirming. Ordaining gay, lesbian, non-binary folks to the ministry. Turning a blind eye to the sexual and physical abuse increasing in the Lord’s house. As we mesh together our spiritual views with our political and economic convictions. Will Jesus accuse us of creating space for the doctrine of Satan? Will He hold it against us that we have knowingly allowed many of our brothers and sisters in the church to be led astray by self-professed prophets and the slick talk of gifted speakers? Or pulled under by the current of culture?
Daniel Akin rightly states that
“Sexual immorality and acts of idolatry, in any culture, are a big deal to God. God calls us to holiness, not harlotry. He calls us to purity, no prostitution. God calls us to spiritual fidelity, not spiritual adultery. God calls us to follow Him, not follow the world.”
?1 John 2:15–17, NKJV
15 Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16 For all that is in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not of the Father but is of the world. 17 And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever.
Listen to the grace of our Lord. As frustrated as He is, there is still room to show mercy.
Revelation 2:21–22 (NKJV)
21 And I gave her time to repent of her sexual immorality, and she did not repent. 22 Indeed I will cast her into a sickbed, and those who commit adultery with her into great tribulation, unless they repent of their deeds.
Austin Farrer writes that, “‘The punishment fits the crime—she who profaned the bed of love is pinned to the bed of sickness.’”
Are you here this morning and you have been living your life in opposition to God? Have you given in to the seducing spirits of the world which are leading you astray? Turn back to the Jesus!
Ezekiel 18:27 (NKJV)
27 Again, when a wicked man turns away from the wickedness which he committed, and does what is lawful and right, he preserves himself alive.
Ezekiel 33:19 (NKJV)
19 But when the wicked turns from his wickedness and does what is lawful and right, he shall live because of it.
2 Peter 3:9 (NKJV)
9 The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.
Rosaria Butterfield says that, “the Bible teaches that what separates a believer from an unbeliever is repentance.” And repentance, she says, “…is not an end point; it is a launching pad to holiness.”
He gave Jezebel time to repent, but she refused. He is giving us time to repent of our own wickedness right now. He finds no pleasure in our death because of our sin, that’s why He sent Jesus into our world. What did please God was this;
Isaiah 53:10ff (NKJV)
10 Yet it pleased the Lord to bruise Him;
He has put Him to grief.
When You make His soul an offering for sin,
He shall see His seed, He shall prolong His days,
And the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in His hand.
11 He shall see the labor of His soul, and be satisfied.
By His knowledge My righteous Servant shall justify many,
For He shall bear their iniquities.
12 Therefore I will divide Him a portion with the great,
And He shall divide the spoil with the strong,
Because He poured out His soul unto death,
And He was numbered with the transgressors,
And He bore the sin of many,
And made intercession for the transgressors.
He did this so that we, through Jesus, might have life and have it abundantly (John 10:10). He showed us how much He loves us when Jesus went to our cross and suffered our punishment, dying our death, triumphing over the grave, sitting at the Father’s right hand and interceding for us. But if we will take His grace for grant then we will most certainly suffer His wrath.
Cheered Up (Revelation 2:24-29)
Jesus ends this letter with some good news. He tries to cheer up these Believers and encourages them to press on toward the mark of the high calling in Christ Jesus with these words.
Revelation 2:24–29 (NKJV)
24 “Now to you I say, and to the rest in Thyatira, as many as do not have this doctrine, who have not known the depths of Satan, as they say, I will put on you no other burden. 25 But hold fast what you have till I come. 26 And he who overcomes, and keeps My works until the end, to him I will give power over the nations—
27 ‘He shall rule them with a rod of iron;
They shall be dashed to pieces like the potter’s vessels’—
as I also have received from My Father; 28 and I will give him the morning star.
29 “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” ’
Not everyone had given in to Jezebel. Not everyone had succumbed to the immorality of their day. There were some who had held fast to the name of Jesus.
Let me say this as a side note, because as you read these letters something that is missing in all of them is a call to leave and find another church or start their own church. Have you noticed that?
Church hopping is very common in our day. Folks leave one church for another for any number of reasons. “I just wasn’t being fed at that church.” “I don’t like the music at that church.” “Their kids ministry is lacking.” “They’re too big.” They’re too small.” Sometimes you need to stay planted right where you are. Sometimes the success that you are looking for is found in suffering. It’s found in the struggle. Even with all of that they were experiencing in Thyatira, Jesus never tells them to leave. However, He does tell them to repent. He does tell them to be faithful even until death. He does tell them hold fast to His Name. He does say that they should keep on doing what He had called them to do. 2 Tim. 2:12 “If we endure, We shall also reign with Him. If we deny Him, He also will deny us.”
This letter ends with a promise of power for those who hold fast what they have been given. Power to rule over the nations.
Listen to what the Apostle Paul states in his first letter to the church in Corinth
1 Corinthians 6:2–3 (NKJV)
2 Do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world will be judged by you, are you unworthy to judge the smallest matters? 3 Do you not know that we shall judge angels? How much more, things that pertain to this life?
In Rev. 20:4-6 John says,
4 And I saw thrones, and they sat on them, and judgment was committed to them. Then I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for their witness to Jesus and for the word of God, who had not worshiped the beast or his image, and had not received his mark on their foreheads or on their hands. And they lived and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. 5 But the rest of the dead did not live again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection. 6 Blessed and holy is he who has part in the first resurrection. Over such the second death has no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with Him a thousand years.
Finally, the overcomer is given the morning star. In Num.24:17 it states that “…A Star shall come out of Jacob…” According to Rev. 22:14-16 we understand this Morning Star to be our victorious Lord and Master – Jesus!
Revelation 22:14–16 (NKJV)
14 Blessed are those who do His commandments, that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter through the gates into the city. 15 But outside are dogs and sorcerers and sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters, and whoever loves and practices a lie.
16 “I, Jesus, have sent My angel to testify to you these things in the churches. I am the Root and the Offspring of David, the Bright and Morning Star.”
“He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life” (1 John 5:12).
Call to Respond
So what now? What is the Lord calling you to do with this message? What is He calling our church to do?
A few things come to mind for me.
We should be growing in our works for Jesus. Matthew 5:16 “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.” We should be growing in love, faith, service, and patient endurance. Gal. 6:9 reminds us to “…not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart.”
We must rebel against the culture and refuse to allow the sinful and dying world to infiltrate the church. We cannot afford to give Satan one inch of ground.
Repent. Again, the prophet Ezekiel tells us that when we repent, when we turn back to God, our lives are preserved. Isa. 30:15 “For thus says the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel: “In returning and rest you shall be saved…”
Finally, hold fast to Jesus and keep doing what He has called you to do.
This morning I want to invite you to come and to give your life to Jesus. My friends, God loves you, we love you and there is no shame in surrendering. If you have never asked Jesus to be your Lord and Savior do it now. Today is the day of salvation.
Maybe you need prayer. Maybe you sense the Lord is calling you to repent this morning. Would you obey God in that and let us pray with you?
Finally, if you are looking for a church home, we’d love to have you.