Revelations 1:17-18
“Do not be afraid. I am the first and the last, the one who lives. Once I was dead, but now I am alive forever and ever. I hold the keys to death and the netherworld.”
(Wuh) That’s a very strong statement Jesus starts off with in the Book of Revelation. This year we go through parts of the Book of Revelation during the Easter season. The Book of Revelation has been made scary by people who don’t really understand it. It is not scary. That is why I am starting this series with the quote I made just above. Jesus is telling John – and us – not to be afraid. This is a lesson we all need to learn.
And here, in this first part of the Book of Revelation, John is relaying what Jesus said to the seven churches. Now, because of the way the church lays out our Sunday readings, we are not going to hear those specific comments read. But I think they need to be gone through. What church, or city, each of the comments are applied to is not as important as what is said about them. And what is said about them can just as easily be said about the modern Church. So, without mentioning the cities, I want to address some of the points that Jesus made. I will not mention all of them, because it would get too long.
Jesus said to the first city: “I know your works, your labor, and your endurance, and that you cannot tolerate the wicked; you have tested those who call themselves apostles but are not, and discovered that they are impostors. Moreover, you have endurance and have suffered for my name, and you have not grown weary. Yet I hold this against you: you have lost the love you had at first. Realize how far you have fallen. Repent, and do the works you did at first.”
This is the typical pattern: Jesus applauds them, and then has a criticism, and then calls them to a further holiness. It seems that in Jesus’ eyes, if we are not doing the works for the kingdom – in our own lives – we are giving evidence that we have lost the fervor of love that Jesus wants us to have – for him.
To another city, Jesus says: “I know your tribulation and poverty, but you are rich. I know the slander of those who claim to be Jews and are not, but rather are members of the assembly of Satan. Do not be afraid of anything that you are going to suffer. Indeed, the devil will throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and you will face an ordeal for ten days. Remain faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.”
Here, Jesus is warning that there will be persecutions, even the possibility of death. Remember what happened on Easter Sunday in Sri Lanka. But the promise of Jesus is that if we are faithful, there is a crown that awaits us.
To another city, Jesus says: “I know your works, your love, faith, service, and endurance, and that your last works are greater than the first. Yet I hold this against you, that you tolerate the woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, who teaches and misleads my servants to play the harlot and to eat food sacrificed to idols. I have given her time to repent, but she refuses to repent of her harlotry. So I will cast her on a sickbed and plunge those who commit adultery with her into intense suffering unless they repent of her works. I will also put her children to death. Thus shall all the churches come to know that I am the searcher of hearts and minds and that I will give each of you what your works deserve. But I say to the rest of you who do not uphold this teaching and know nothing of the so-called deep secrets of Satan: on you I will place no further burden, except that you must hold fast to what you have until I come.”
This is a longer quote, but it is similar to a city I skipped. The difference in focus is that some people appear to be trying to pass off satanic teachings as Christian teachings. And this is taking many forms: from people trying to dismiss the miracles of Jesus, to those ignoring or trying to rewrite morality, especially sexual morality. We cannot tolerate that. I think Jesus is saying to this city, and to us, if we do not put those who are not following the true teachings of the church out of the church, or at least out of a position of teaching in the church, then Jesus is going to come and deal with them directly. Personally, I hope he does. There are a lot of people who are not teaching and holding to the Catholic faith as they should.
To another city, Jesus says: “I know your works; I know that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either cold or hot. So, because you are lukewarm, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. For you say, ‘I am rich and affluent and have no need of anything,’ and yet do not realize that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. I advise you to buy from me gold refined by fire so that you may be rich, and white garments to put on so that your shameful nakedness may not be exposed, and buy ointment to smear on your eyes so that you may see. Those whom I love, I reprove and chastise. Be earnest, therefore, and repent.”
This is the most often quoted of the cities that Jesus is speaking to. There are couple of points that bear mentioning in this particular statement of Jesus. The most important is that being lukewarm makes Jesus sick to his stomach. If you are not committed to him, or are actively against him, he cannot do much with you. This seems to me to be a common problem in our world today. People don’t take Jesus, or their faith, seriously. I have been reading studies that point out how far faith has fallen in importance. It is alarming.
After each one of the statements that Jesus makes to the cities, he has a further encouragement. The most well-known of these encouragements is the one that follows this last city: “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, [then] I will enter his house and dine with him, and he with me.”
He then repeats the one line that is after every statement to the cities: “Whoever has ears ought to hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”
So this entire first section of the Book of Revelation is about encouraging people to straighten out their lives because the culture around them is poisoning who they are as Christians. Jesus obviously does not want that to happen. So he gives these instructions, through John, as a way to draw people back to living in the love that Christianity calls us to.
While I am sure we can see the mistakes of our modern society in each of the cities that Jesus speaks to, we have to go past those mistakes and pursue again the fervor of faith that will awaken the faith in others. Here on this Divine Mercy Sunday, we are called by Jesus to remake our society into a holy place here on earth. We will have those who do not want that, others who have never heard that, and others who will embrace it willingly.
The mercy of God is made new each day. Our prayer needs to be for the holiness that God wants in our lives, and in the lives of all human beings.
Lord Jesus, do not let us remain lukewarm. But fill us with the fire of your Spirit. Help us to live your call to holiness in such a way that others will be attracted to you because of us. Help our society to regain its trust in you, and turn their attention from the things that are so seductive of this world to the things you have promised, that are ever more beautiful, to those who follow you. Amen.