Sermon preached on November 11, 2011 by Laurence W. Veinott. © Copyright 2011. All rights reserved. Other sermons can be found at http://www.cantonnewlife.org/.
Unless otherwise noted, quotations are from The Holy Bible: New International Version (NIV). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House.
One of the most interesting books about human character I've ever read is Ernest Shackleton's South. Shackleton was a British explorer in the early part of the last century. He explored Antarctica on a number of occasions but was most famous for the 1914-1916 expedition in which his ship, the Endurance, got trapped in the ice in the Weddell Sea off Antarctica. They didn't have a radio to call for help. Eventually, the ice crushed the ship and it sank beneath the ice. Shackleton and his crew were in a dire situation when that happened. But Shackleton was a great leader and he salvaged provisions from the ship and three life boats, and over the next few weeks he led his men as they dragged their boats and supplies over the ice. When they got to open water, they got in their boats and with great difficulty he managed to get his men ashore on Elephant Island, an island just off the main coast of Antarctica. He knew that their only hope was to convert one of the small lifeboats and head for South Georgia, a journey of about 800 miles. So they converted the lifeboat by putting a covering on it. Shackleton then picked five men to accompany him. He left twenty-two of his men on Elephant Island under the care of a man named Frank Wild, and set sail for South Georgia, a small island in the South Atlantic. Experts say that it was one of the most remark feats of navigation ever. To do it in in turbulent Antarctic waters was an incredible feat. They had to be so precise to hit that island. But they did. After they got to South Georgia, Shackleton tried with all his energy to put together a rescue party to get his men on Elephant Island. He ran into lots of opposition but eventually he led a rescue party and rescued his men. The book is a great read.
What was particularly interesting was how Frank Wild controlled the men who were waiting rescue on Elephant Island. They were in a very difficult situation. If Shackleton missed South Georgia, they knew they'd perish because rescue would never come. Even if Shackleton made it, there was no guarantee that a rescue ship would be able to break through the ice and get to them in time. Their situation was very bleak. To keep the men in control in such a situation was quite a task. But Frank Wild was up to it. One of the ways that he instilled hope in his men was told by Shackleton in his book, (South, p. 262)
"From a fortnight after I had left, Wild would roll up his sleeping bag each day with the remark, 'Get your things ready, boys, the Boss may come today.'"
The Boss was Shackleton. Every day, Wild packed up his things so that when the Shackleton came with the rescue boat they would all be ready. They waited for four and a half months before finally being rescued on August 30, 1916. At that point they only had two days of food left. Wild was a great man and through his example and confidence, he kept the group together until Shackleton returned. He held on to hope.
We have something like that in our text. Jesus tells the faithful Christians at Thyatira to hold on to what they have until He comes. Frank Wild had great faith in Ernest Shackleton. But with Jesus are dealing with someone who is much more powerful and much more reliable.
The great truth we see here is that
you who are Christians should hold on to what you have and be beacons of hope and confidence while you wait for Jesus to come.
Jesus said to the Christians in Thyatira, (Revelation 2:25)
"Only hold on to what you have until I come."
What does that mean, what does that refer to? There are two main views.
The first view has it referring to what they were commended for at the beginning of their letter. In verse 19 Jesus said to them,
"I know your deeds, your love and faith,
your service and perseverance,
and that you are now doing
more than you did at first."
They were to hold on to those characteristics. They were to keep doing what they were doing—showing love, faith, performing good deeds.
The second way to understand holding on to what they have until Jesus comes views it as referring to the 'uncompromising stand' they took against evil and how they held on to the truth of the gospel and kept themselves pure. The faithful Christians in Thyatira had not given in to the false teaching of Jezebel and had resisted her evil. They avoided sexual immorality and idolatry. They kept their bodies pure and focused on worshipping and serving Jesus. They held on to the pure doctrine of the gospel.
Those are two of the ways that our text is understood. I don't think we need to choose between them as I think that they are both good interpretations. We can take them both together.
What does this mean for how we live?
First of all, it means that
you need to keep doing good until the Lord comes.
One of the things that Satan tries to do is to get Christians to stop doing the good things that they are doing.
He sometimes does that through persecution. In Acts the apostles were threatened to arrest and beatings if they didn't stop preaching the gospel. Satan wanted them to keep quiet. But the apostles replied, (Acts 5:29)
"We must obey God rather than men!"
Christian, would you stop doing good in face of a threat, in face of imprisonment, in face of death? Christian, you are to hold on what you have even in the face of opposition and persecution. Job held on to his faith in spite of the fact that it seemed like God's hand was against him.
Another way that Satan tries to get us to stop doing good is that
he sometimes makes it tiresome to do good.
The work that needs to be done seems overwhelming and the more good that you do that more needs that come up.
I know a pastor who lived in a small house with his wife and kids. An old lady moved to his city because of his ministry. I think she was British and she worked all her life as a nurse in Newfoundland. She used to hear his sermons on the radio so when she retired she packed everything up and moved to his city. When she came to his church and told him that he offered for her to stay with them while she looked for a place to live. So that's what she did. I think they gave her one of their boys rooms. The only thing is she never looked for another place to live. She was so content and happy staying with them that she just stayed there—year after year after year. It was really difficult for them but they were much too kind to ask her to move out.
Now, I don't know if a similar situation ever presented itself to him again—where someone told him that they were looking for a place to stay. How would you respond if that happened to you and the exact same situation came up again? Knowing my friend, it would not at all surprise me if he'd say to them,
"Why don't you stay with us until you find a place?"
That's just the way he is. His wife might kill him, but he might just do that. As we read in Galatians 6:9,
"Let us not become weary in doing good,
for at the proper time
we will reap a harvest
if we do not give up."
Hebrews 12 tells us to fix our eyes on Jesus and says, (verse 3)
"Consider him who endured
such opposition from sinful men,
so that you will not
grow weary and lose heart."
Don't become weary in doing good. You'll often get burned by doing something good. But don't let that stop you from doing what is right.
Another way Satan tries to get us to stop doing good is,
when you do something really good and the people you do it for are ungrateful.
That lady who stayed with my friend was extremely grateful. I think that that had a something to do with making it easier for my friend to endure.
But there are other times when you'll do something really good for someone, and you'll get bit. There's an old saying I like a lot. It's,
"Be sure no good deed will go unpunished."
That can be so true sometimes. One of Aesop's Fables is called the Farmer and the Snake. It tells how one winter a farmer found a snake frozen and numb with cold. The farmer had pity on the viper and picked it up and placed it near his body to warm it. As soon as the viper was revived by the warmth, it turned on its benefactor and inflicted a fatal bite on him. As the poor man laying dying, he said,
"I only got what I deserved for taking compassion on so villainous a creature."
The conclusion of that fable is wrong. But that's the way the world looks at it. It tells you that you should not do good to some people because they will be ungrateful. No. Jesus said, (Matthew 5:44)
"But I tell you:
Love your enemies and
pray for those who persecute you,
bless those who curse you,
do good to those who hate you…"
Some people think that the man that Jesus healed by the pool by the Sheep Gate was very ungrateful. You remember the story. He had beet an invalid for 38 years. Occasionally an angel would stir the pool and whoever got in first would be healed. The man often tried to get in but because he was an invalid, someone always got in ahead of him. Jesus told him to pick up his mat and walk. This happened on a Sabbath day and when they Jews saw him carrying his mat, they told him it was forbidden. The man replied that the man who healed him told him to pick it up. They asked him who healed him. The man didn't know it was Jesus. Later Jesus found him and told him to stop sinning or something worse would come upon him. In verse 15 we read,
"The man went away and told
the Jews that it was Jesus
who had made him well."
Some people think that that man was extremely ungrateful and betrayed Jesus to the authorities. That could be true, especially in light of the words that Jesus spoke to him. If it is true, one of the things we should note is that it did not stop Jesus from doing good. John's gospel shows us that after this Jesus kept doing miracles and teaching people to leave their lives of sin.
All of us are at different stages in our Christian walk. If you're at the point where you're thinking of pulling back from working hard for Jesus because you're tired of it, because people have imposed on you, because people have been ungrateful—don't do it. You're here to serve the Lord. Keep serving Him until He comes.
Or, maybe you're at a stage in your life where you pulled back months or years ago. You got burned in serving Jesus. So you stopped doing a lot of things for Him. You don't let yourself be vulnerable anymore. You don't let other people take advantage of you anymore. If that's the case, you need to shake off your disobedience and throw yourself into serving Jesus again. Getting burned is no excuse for stopping serving Jesus. You are to serve Him until He comes.
The second thing our text means is that
you need to reject any theology that tells you you don't have to be holy.
There could be a contrast here with the 'deep secrets of Satan'. Jezebel and her followers didn't call them that. That was how Jesus characterized them. Jezebel and her followers probably called the them the 'deep secrets of God'. Robert H. Mounce writes, (The Book of Revelation, NICNT, p. 89)
"knowing Satan's 'deep secrets' is a reference to the view that in order to appreciate fully the grace of God one must first plumb the depths of evil. Later Gnosticism boasted that it was precisely by entering into the stronghold of Satan that believers could learn the limits of his power and emerge victorious. On the basis that a believer's spirituality is unaffected by what is done with the body, Jezebel could argue that the Thyatiran Christians ought to take part in the pagan guild-feasts (even if they were connected with the deep secrets of Satan) and thus prove how powerless is evil to alter the nature of grace."
The faithful ones in Thyatira had not learned Satan's deep secrets. They kept themselves pure. They kept their bodies pure. They held on to the gospel teaching that they needed to be holy.
Jesus said that he would impose no other burden on them than to hold on to what they already have. They had kept themselves from sexual sin and idolatry.
Christians, you need to be holy. You need to live in obedience to God's commandments. We don't earn or merit our salvation by our being holy—we are saved by Jesus and His work. That comes to us through faith. Yet Jesus saved us to be holy. As we read in Ephesians 1:4,
"For he chose us in him
before the creation of the world
to be holy and blameless in his sight."
We always need to keep in mind Hebrews 12:14 where God tells us,
"Make every effort… to be holy;
without holiness no one will see the Lord.
There are many churches today who will tell you that you don't have to be holy. They affirm that what the Bible calls sexual immorality is not sin. Others preach a prosperity gospel—where it's like money has become an idol.
Christians, don't be lead astray. As the apostle John wrote in 1 John 3:7–10,
"Dear children, do not let anyone
lead you astray.
He who does what is right is righteous,
just as he is righteous.
He who does what is sinful
is of the devil,
because the devil has been sinning
from the beginning.
The reason the Son of God appeared
was to destroy the devil's work.
No one who is born of God
will continue to sin,
because God's seed remains in him;
he cannot go on sinning,
because he has been born of God.
This is how we know
who the children of God are
and who the children of the devil are:
Anyone who does not do what is right
is not a child of God; nor is anyone
who does not love his brother."
Christians, be very skeptical about anyone who claims to have secrets from God. The Christian life is essentially not about knowing secrets, but about trusting God, being holy, and doing acts of love.
Beware of new theology. Is it biblical? Does it glorify Jesus? Does it lead to holiness? In Matthew 13:52 Jesus said,
"Therefore every teacher of the law
who has been instructed about
the kingdom of heaven is like
the owner of a house who brings out
of his storeroom new treasures
as well as old."
New treasures—what are they? They are not totally new teachings. No. William Cunningham writes, (The Reformers and the Theology of the Reformation, page 296)
"In theology there is, of course, no room for originality properly so-called, for its whole materials are contained in the actual statements of God's word; and he is the greatest and best theologian, who has most accurately apprehended the meaning of the statements of Scripture,—who, by comparing and combining them, has most fully and correctly brought out the whole mind of God on all the topics on which the Scriptures give us information."
Christians. Jesus died for you. He died and rose again to give you new life. He died and rose again to make you holy.
Lastly, if you're not a Christian this shows you that you need to let go of what you've been holding on to.
Jesus is not your Lord—something else is. What is it? Your pride? Or perhaps money? Or pleasure. Or perhaps you've made an idol out of the opposite sex. Do you know where that something else is leading you? It's leading you to hell. It's not your friend. It doesn't have your best interests at heart. It's deceiving you.
You only have one hope—that's to turn to Jesus. Go to Him today.