A Church for Y2K: Welcome to St. Jezebel’s

Fourth in a series on What Christ Thinks of the Church,
Delivered May 17, 1998 by Dr. Ronald W. Scates

Sermon Text:
Revelation 2:18-29
18 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.
19 I know your deeds, your love and faith, your service and perseverance, and that you
are now doing more than you did at first.
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.
21 I have given her time to repent of her immorality, but she is unwilling.
22 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.
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.
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):
25 Only hold on to what you have until I come.
26 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’ [1]–
just as I have received authority from my Father.
28 I will also give him the morning star.
29 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.

Over the past few weeks we’ve been thinking about what kind of church Central ought to be in Y2K, the year 2000. We could take a survey — say in a three-mile radius of Central — and get a pretty good idea from folks about what kind of church they think we ought to be. And you and I, we pretty much know what kind of church we want. And yet, the key point I’m trying to make in this sermon series on Revelation 2 and 3, is that’s not the way to go. The temptation is to go in either one of those directions, or maybe get a hybrid of the two of them, and perhaps mold Central into a church that is both appealing to the world around us, while being comfortable for us. That is not the way go folks. The most important, really the only important opinion, in terms of what kind of Church Central needs to be in Y2K, is Christ’s opinion. What does Christ think of this Church? What kind of Church does Jesus want Central to be as we go into a new millennium? Over the past three weeks we’ve seen: 1. That Christ wants His Church to be a Church that has not lost its first love. 2. We have seen that Christ wants the Church to be made up of believers who are willing to suffer and even die for Christ if necessary. 3. We have seen that the Church that Christ wants is a Church that will not tolerate false teaching in its midst.

This morning you and I are going encounter the longest of these seven letters of Jesus to the churches in seven different cities in Asia Minor. It is the longest letter, but it goes to the city that many believe was the least impressive of all of those cities: the city of Thyatira. And yet in this letter this morning, from where I sit, if you want to know what is wrong with the mainline church in America today, it is spelled out for us in this text. Turn with me and keep your Bibles open during this sermon, to the second chapter of the book of Revelation, as this morning we look together at verses 18-29. 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 in 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 of the 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.

Join me as we pray: And now Father as my words are true to your Word may they be taken to heart. But as my words should stray from your Word, may they be quickly forgotten. Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Let’s talk first about what we learn about Christ from this text before us. Verse eighteen contributes three more pieces to the mosaic portrait of Christ that we get in the book of Revelation. And the first things we discover is that Christ is referred to here as the Son of God, and this is the only place in Revelation that He is called that. That is a pretty familiar and obvious term to all of us. But I have got to stop right here and just say, “Is that what you and I really think about Jesus? That He is the Son of God?” For you see, in Scripture, that is an unequivocal title of deity and I’ll tell you this, there are a whole lot of folks within the mainline Church that want to fudge on that statement, as to whether or not Jesus is really God.

Back in December, I was invited to be a part of a small group of Presbyterian pastors from around the country who were divided over the now recently defeated amendment A to our Book of Church Order which had to do with sexual standards for ordination. And at that meeting I was asked by one pastor, if I believed that Jesus was God. And I said, “Yes.” And then that pastor from New Mexico looked at me and asked me, “Do you mean that you believe in two Gods?” I was flabbergasted, I asked her if she had ever heard of the Trinity. There are a whole lot of people within the mainline denominations for whom Jesus is not deity. Ipso facto, we’ve got a lot of Unitarians masquerading as Presbyterians. That is why our Session, which is going through a self study, on a retreat last week said the core value, the primary core value of this congregation, is a personal relationship with Jesus as Lord. That was our original thought, and then we said, no we’ve got to put “and God” on there. Because there are a whole lot of people running around saying, ‘Well, I follow Jesus, I worship Jesus, but He is not God.’

The deity of Christ. The Church Christ wants for Y2K is a Church that will un-flinchingly affirm His deity as His Church has from the first century on down to today. In verse eighteen, the second thing we learn about Christ is we get a little bit of a hint of His omniscience. We are told that He has eyes like blazing fire. Kind of spiritual x-ray vision that can see into our very souls. He knows you and me inside out. He knows His Church. Nothing escapes His vision.

And thirdly, we get a taste of His omnipotence in verse eighteen, as we are told that He has feet like burnished bronze. Thyatira was a city that was a center of bronze production. Those folks knew the strength and durability of burnished bronze. Tell me about any great human figure from the annals of history. And I’ll tell you what they all share in common. If you examine them below the ankles, they all have feet of clay. Given the right circumstance, the right temptations, the right pressures, (and I guarantee you everyone has got their price) eventually, they will cave in. They will crumble with those feet of clay. Except one, who has feet like burnished bronze. Feet that provide a foundation upon which you and I can sink our lives and our eternal lives. Feet that will never give up, give way, or give out. When the last war has been fought, when the last political or economic upheaval has spent its energy, when the last galaxy has been swallowed by a black hole, Jesus will be left standing. And if you and I are in Christ, we will be standing too.

Let’s look at this church in this city of Thyatira. The town was not very impressive according to archeologists, but, boy, the church there is! Take a look at this church in verse nineteen. They are a church that has not lost their first love, like the church at Ephesus had. They are a church filled with believers who have a death defying faith like the church at Smyrna. They are a service-oriented church. They are involved in all kinds of stuff, and you know what? When the novelty wears off they don’t just give up. They are perseverant. They keep on. It’s a going place. It’s a great church. When is their next new member class? I want to join. Except Christ says, ‘I have something against them.’ He says something is terribly, even deadly wrong with this church at Thyatira. He says it is the same two things that threatened the life of the church at Ephesus and the church at Pergamum. With those churches He referred to it as the teaching of Balaam, or the teaching of the Nicolaitans. Here He says it’s the same stuff, repackaged, and promulgated by a woman, a self-styled prophetess, that Christ refers to as Jezebel.

If you know your Bibles, you know that Jezebel is a symbolic name for what is evil. And if you know your Old Testament, or if you listen to what Chris just read from 1 Kings, you know that Jezebel was the wife of king Ahab of Israel, and he had married her to cement a political alliance. And Jezebel, being a pagan, had convinced and persuaded King Ahab to allow and accommodate and assimilate pagan idolatry into the life of Israel, along with a lot of sexual immorality. And so what Christ had condemned as the teaching of the Nicolaitans, and the teaching of Balaam, (the idea that the faith can be meshed with others faith systems, that sexual immorality really isn’t that important, you can indulge in that and still be a good God-fearing person) – He condemned at Ephesus. He condemned it at Pergamum, and now He is condemning it here.

If you follow the sermon series of last three weeks, you might be thinking, “Golly, you know Christ seems to be kind of hung up on spiritual and sexual purity.” You better believe it. But because He is God; because He has designed you and me; and because He has at His heart of hearts your best interests and mine, these are not hang-ups. This is Christ’s unerring, merciful, loving, gracious will for your life and mine: that we do not mess with either idolatry in any form or sexual immorality. And so to hold to the exclusivity of Jesus Christ as the only way to eternal salvation is not being bigoted, narrow-minded, intolerant, triumphalistic, proud and unreasonable. It is simply agreeing with God and being Christian.

To confine sexual intercourse to the covenant of marriage between one man and one woman is not being prudish, puritanical, repressed, Victorian, or frigid. It is simply agreeing with God and being Christian.

But there are a whole heck of a lot of people, especially in the mainline Church today, who don’t want to buy that . No, they want to change the name of Thyatira and Central and the larger Church to Saint Jezebel’s. They like the doctrine down at old Saint Jezie’s, where you can believe anything you want. They like the lifestyle affirmation down at Saint Jezebel’s where you can do anything you want.

Last week I had lunch with a mainline church leader here in Baltimore who expressed their perplexity at how rigid I was about the exclusivity of Jesus Christ for salvation, and my fixation on sex because I constantly spoke on the floor of Baltimore Presbytery against the ordination of practicing homosexuals. And I said to her, “Well first of all, these are not battlefields I have ever chosen. You forced them on me.” Secondly I said, “I am not opposed to the ordination of any Christ-centered repentant non-practicing homosexual, I’ll be first in line to support that person in ministry. What I am opposed to is placing people in positions of church leadership whose sexuality is not confined to the covenant of marriage between one man and one woman. Not because of personal peccadilloes of my own, but because God’s Word clearly teaches that.” And I’m not into the exclusivity of Jesus Christ because that makes me feel good, or makes me feel above other people, but because Jesus says, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life.’ And because if you examine the whole of Scripture you see that God says that all other faith systems are not of Him and therefore are by their very nature idolatrous. She looked at me, and she said “I still think you’re so narrow to focus in on those two things.” So I pointed her to Acts 15, verses 28 and 29 as I point you to that right now if you’ve got your Bibles, turn to Acts 15, look at verses 28 and 29, this a part of a letter that the apostles sent to the early Church. There was debate within the early Church about what grace was all about, what freedom in Christ really meant over and against legalism and pharisee-ism. And what the early church in the first apostolic council had come to a consensus on was that you and I are free in Christ. Except there are restrictions in two areas and they make the point in these two areas alone. “We impose only this burden on you: that you refrain from idolatry and sexual immorality.”

If you go through Scripture you encounter the pattern over and over, over and over again. That the thing that you and I are to refrain from is having anything to do with idolatry and sexual immorality. Only those two things are placed upon us.

Ahh, but Jezebel comes along humming her siren song and she says “Oh come on, there are other pathways to God than just Jesus. You can blend other good things from other faith systems with your Christianity. Why you can even be a Zen Presbyterian.”

There’s a paper, a study paper, coming before our General Assembly next month in Charlotte, entitled “Building Community Among the Strangers”, which says that you and I are in for a big, big surprise when we sit down at the final supper of the Lamb and the food is blessed “not only in the name of Jesus Christ the Son of God, but also in the name of Allah, the Lord Krishna, Sophia, and the goddess Diana.” Before you panic, most people think that paper’s going to be shot down and not go anywhere. I cite it just to give a little bit of evidence that Jezebel is in the camp. And Jezebel comes along singing the siren song of “hey, don’t be repressed with your sexuality, you’ve got to be open, God wants you sexually satiated.” The only problem is, Christ doesn’t. That’s not what it really means to be human. Listen to these words from Harvard psychologist Armand Nikolai. He writes “The first aspect of a healthy mind comprises a sound consistent conscious with well-defined moral precepts.” And to the idea that the Christian faith is repressive of sexuality, Nikolai responds, “Christian sexual morality is clear cut. It is marriage with complete fidelity or abstinence. Absolutely no evidence exists that conscious control of sexual impulses is psychologically harmful. If anything, conscious control or suppression of impulses is indicative of and fosters ego strength.

But many in the mainline church have taken Jezebel’s bait. And where has it taken us over the past 30 years? In verses 22 and 23, if you look, Christ makes clear that if you joyride with Jezebel, there are consequences. But before we look at those consequences, look at verse 21. You need to hear this first. Look at what a gracious God this Jesus is. He says He will always give Jezebel – and anyone else — all the time they need to turn around, repent, head in His direction, the direction which He has provided as the most healthy, beneficial, up building lifestyle for you and me. He’s a gracious, gracious God.

But He says Jezebel has been unwilling and many along with her have been unwilling. Where has it gotten us? Christ says, “I will throw her upon a bed of sickness and suffering.” And our denomination has suffered the loss of one third of its members over the last 30 years. We’ve suffered the loss of respect by the very culture that many of these people have tried to emulate and are trying attract. We’ve suffered monetary crisis after monetary crisis after monetary crisis. Jesus says “I will strike her children dead.” Two-thirds of the youth my age, when we were youth, left the PCUSA. We don’t have much progeny. The average age now in the Presbyterian Church USA is 63.

But we have a gracious God. We have a gracious God. Some people ask me why in the world do I stay? Why does Central stay in this denomination? We stay because of verses 24 through 28. Where Jesus says. “But those of you who have not been snookered by the deep secrets of Satan, you’re to stand fast and hold fast to what you have until I come again.” We’re to hold fast to the biblical, apostolic faith, especially in those two areas of idolatry and sexual morality.

And when you and I do that, there are rewards, Christ says. First of all, notice Christ doesn’t say to those who are being faithful in Thyatira., get out, leave the church. Back in the Reformation, when John Calvin, our forefather in the faith, began to wonder, “Should I leave the Roman church or try to stay within and reform it?” And by the way, he decided to stay, he was thrown out. He cited the early church father Ciprian, as his reason why he should stay. “Even though there seemed to be tares or unclean vessels in the Church, there is no reason why we ourselves should withdraw from the Church. Rather we must toil to become wheat. We must strive as much as we can to be vessels of gold and silver.”

That’s our calling as Central Church as we head to Y2K. We’re to be wheat. We’re to be vessels of gold and silver. We’re to model lifestyles of authenticity and integrity based on the gospel. The freeing, gracious, loving gospel of Jesus Christ. The rewards are great. It says in verses 26 and 27, when all the dust settles, those who have not tolerated Jezebel, who stand fast will reign with Christ over the nations. Then in verse 28 He says those who stand fast will be given the greatest reward of all, the morning star. What’s that? If you look at Revelation 22, verse 16, you see that’s Jesus’ description of Himself. Christ is our greatest reward.

The Church that Christ wants Central to be in Y2K is a Church that will not tolerate the teachings of Jezebel. Will not tolerate what Christ considers intolerable. Therefore this congregation will continue unashamedly to affirm the exclusivity of Jesus Christ as the only way to salvation and eternal life. At the same time this congregation will be a group of people who respects other faiths. If you’re really committed to Jesus Christ then it’s mandated that you and I not only respect but we love all other people regardless of what they believe. And a part of that love means we pray for them, we witness to them, we encourage them to come to Christ. We’re just beggars telling other beggars where we’ve happened to find bread.

And Central Church in Y2K will be a Church that continues to hold forth a Biblical lifestyle in term of sexuality morality. I promise you, as long as I’m the pastor of this church, we will never hold out to you – whether you’re a youth, or a single, or a widowed adult or a married person — we will never hold out to you anything other than God’s best for your life. Which is His beautiful, gracious, sacred gift of sex within the confines of marriage.

Where are you today with all of this? Where are you with Jezebel? Do you believe Jesus is God and they only way? The truth, the life? You might say, “I’m a Christian, I follow Christ, but I don’t believe He’s God, I don’t believe He’s the only way.” Then folks, you’re following a different Jesus than the Jesus that’s revealed in Scripture, and that’s idolatry. But God is gracious. He comes to you and says, here is who I really am. Follow me.

Are you practicing biblical safe sex? Within the confines of marriage? Or are you involved in an affair? Premarital sex? Pornography on the Internet or otherwise? God is gracious. He’s giving you all the time you need to turn around and come to Him. When my oldest daughter was 11 or 12, she and I did this thing called the Covenant of the Ring. I gave her a ring. And we talked about that this would stand for her commitment to Jesus Christ above everything in her life. And also her pledge to Christ that she would remain faithful sexually, that she would refrain from sex until marriage. She made that commitment.

I thought the way to end this sermon, maybe, is to say to you -to encourage you to that with your daughters and your sons – but what about you? You might want to do that for yourself. Go buy a ring and say Lord, I’m going to wear this ring as my commitment to you as Lord of Lords, King of Kings. I’m going to wear this ring as a sign, a reminder to me that I am committed to sexual purity until I’m married. But then I’m still committed to sexual purity, because sex is pure in marriage.

Where are you? God is gracious. He’s calling you and me right now to stand fast in those two areas. Will you join me in doing that? We stumble. We fall. God’s gracious and He always welcomes us back. If you’re with me, join me in prayer:

Lord God, we’ve all blown it at various parts in our lives. In idolatry, in going over the line sexually. Thank God you are so gracious. Thanks for receiving us back. Thanks for always providing a way out and a way up. Lord, speak to our heart now, bring us back home. Bring us to that steadfast foundation anchored on your burnished bronze feet that can enable us to

© 1998, Dr. Ronald W. Scates
Central Presbyterian Church, Baltimore, MD 21204 410/823-6145
www.centralpc.org