By Anthony Casperson
We’ve taken the four weeks previous to Christmas to look at how Jesus relates to us in the darkness that accompanies many during this season. We’ve seen that Jesus intentionally came to this world as a nobody, able to relate to everyday people. He always takes the time that we need to help us in our life problems. And we learned that he is sorrow-known, one who is acquainted with pain and suffering in a personal way.
Today, I want to look at an image of Jesus that reminds us how he is always the exact thing that we need. He is the perfect present. And this is true for all of us.
Often, in a one-size-fits-all world, those of us who stand outside of the “norm” are left alone and forgotten. We’re called abnormal with all of the disdain that can accompany such a word. Misfits, irregulars, castaways, and outcasts, we believe that nothing will ever perfectly fit us and our individualities.
But one of the interesting things about Jesus is that he’s able to comfort us and guide us all while being truthful to who he is. He’s so vast that there’s nothing outside of his comfort, but so personal that no one gets lost in the shuffle.
The passage I want us to look at today is from a book that often is thought of as only about the future: Revelation. But, the first three chapters were written to followers of Jesus from seven different cities about their present life in the “now, but not yet” of the Kingdom of God.
Each of the cities held its own issues, struggles, problems, yet the same Jesus could speak truth and life into the people all the while being never changing who he is. Each of the cities is given words of comfort, words for growth, and a promise for the future all connected to image the Apostle John receives of Jesus in Rev 1. A frighteningly stunning figure standing among seven golden lamp stands, representing the seven churches to whom John was to write.
Chapters 2-3 detail Jesus’ words to his followers of the cities, and this image from chapter 1 seeps into the encouragement given to each church. Even though they all had different strengths and areas for growth, even though they dealt with various problems, this singular image of Jesus presented itself perfectly for each individual situation. And it called them to encouragement and growth in this life.
Jesus emphasized himself as the one who stood in the midst of his people to his followers from Ephesus. They had worked hard and long to keep the truth of Jesus pure among them. Toiling to uproot falsehood, they lost sight of why it was important. They forgot about their first love: Jesus. But as the one near and amidst his people (represented by the lamp stands), Jesus was never far from them, ready to remind them of his love. And he promised those who stand victorious to see the fruit of their labor, to eat of the fruit of the tree that grants eternal life.
The people of Smyrna had been dealing with persecution from those who hated Jesus. And their suffering was about to get worse. But Jesus reminded them that he was one who had suffered, who had died, but had returned to life. Trials might increase, but Jesus brings life. And he promised those who stand victorious to not suffer at the hand of the second death. An eternal life of peace and security, free from the trials that plague this life.
In Pergamum, many stood as witnesses, as martyrs, of the truth of Jesus. They fought the battle by staying true to his name, and paid with their lives. But they had added some false doctrine to the truth, represented by food sacrificed to idols and sexual immorality. In Jesus’ self-projected image to these people, he showed himself as one with a double-edged sword coming from his mouth. He fights by their side wielding a weapon to protect. Yet the sharp instrument is also able to cut their ties to the falsehood they’d come to add to the truth. And to those who stand victorious, who hold fast to his name, Jesus promises food from heaven (rather than the food of false gods) and a stone that holds a new name known only to them and him. A new identity in Jesus.
The city of Thyatira was well known to contain a major worship center to the god Apollos, the false god of the sun in Greco-Roman culture. So, when Jesus describes himself as the Son of God with eyes of flame like fire and feet like burnished bronze (brazen, like the sun), he’s purposefully confronting the cult of the city. Even going so far as to call out those who meld the truth of the gospel with the religion of the culture. He’s the one who knows those that hold to the truth and he calls them to hold fast to it. Though right now the culture oppresses the followers of Jesus in Thyatira, he promises to those who stand victorious that they will have authority over the nations. They will even have authority over the morning star (Venus), which heralds the coming of the sun.
Jesus describes himself to his followers in Sardis as the one who holds the seven spirits of God and the seven stars. Spirit means breath/life in Greek. He gently holds their lives in his hand. The people of the city have a reputation of being alive in him, but many are dead. The city itself had a reputation of being impenetrable, but twice in its history it was taken. Both times it was because the guards slept while death descended upon the city. He calls the people to wake up, to come to life. And to those who stand victorious, he promises pure white clothes (allowing them access to his temple) and their names forever in the book of life, the ledger of the Kingdom of God. They belong to his city.
Many of those followers of Jesus in Philadelphia had been of Jewish descent. But their allegiance to Jesus caused their fellow Jews to kick them out of the synagogue, the Jewish cultural center. A door shut and locked behind them. So, when Jesus reveals himself as the one who has the key of David and who opens doors that none can shut, he’s enveloping them in true community. The church is the proper people of God because they have accepted his Messiah. His love of them will be revealed. And to those who stand victorious, he promises that they will not only remain forever in the place of the worship of God, but they will be pillars within. Eternally etched with the proof of God’s name upon them.
Finally, we come to the followers of Jesus in Laodicea. The least favorable community of these seven. They had believed in their own ingenuity and wealth, thinking that they could solve any problem by themselves. But Jesus comes to lay some truth upon them as the faithful and true witness. Just as their ingenuity to bring cold water from nearby mountains and hot water from springs 6 miles away failed to bring anything but lukewarm water to the city, the followers of Jesus here failed in their self-sufficiency. The city was known for its great wealth and banking center, its high production of fabrics, and its incredible medical facilities. The latter of which claimed to have a salve that could cure even blindness. But Jesus, as the true witness, tells those of the city that they are poor, naked, and blind. That which they have relied upon is nothing in comparison to him. Though they need not fear, because his discipline comes from love. And to those who stand victorious, he promises a seat beside him on his kingly throne. True wealth and power comes from him.
In one single vision of Jesus, each of these communities of the followers of Jesus find encouragement, growth, and a promise of the future. Jesus is exactly what they need, without lessening his relationship with another.
As we come to a time of the year when we think a lot about presents. Let’s look to Jesus, the perfect present who can comfort, grow, and help us in whatever situation we find ourselves. In this case, one Jesus does fit all.