Ruins of ancient Thyatira: http://padfield.com/turkey/sevenchurches/index.html
“Just Say No!”
February 5, 2017
Today we continue on with our journey among the 7 churches of Revelation. One thing is clear as we walk the streets of these ancient cities and meet the churches and Christians of yesteryear: one thing is clear—the Lord is vitally interested in what we are doing in our churches.
He isn’t just following the steps of your life individually. He certainly is doing that. The Lord plots every aspect of your sojourn on earth. He knows your every decision and thought. He counts the hairs on your head and takes careful notice of your aspirations in life, your hurts and disappointments, your sufferings and your accomplishments.
*My youngest son, Jon, who is 22 and lives just off the ODU campus, is in his final semester of engineering. He just got his first official job this week as an engineer with a firm in Greenbrier. He will work part time he while completes his degree. When he walks across the stage in a few months and gets his degree he will walk into a new world as an engineer. He is frantically out buying suits and shirts and ties—things college guys don’t usually worry about.
Surely God cares about the early days of our lives and the middle years and the senior years. But there is no question that God is highly aware and focused on what we do as a church. That much is certain as we watch from a great distance the Lord pinning badges on the heroes of the 7 churches and castigating others and warning and chiding and encouraging and rewarding the saints of these churches.
Bottom line—God is watching us here at Drummondtown too. He takes notes of our decisions, our foibles, our strengths, our hopes, and our plans for the future. Let’s learn all we can from how these 7 churches complied or failed to comply with God’s concerns.
As we stroll away from the city of Pergamum where we were last Sunday, the smoke of the boiling cauldron, shaped like a huge copper bull, haunts us. We heard the order to toss Antipas into the brazen bull for refusing to worship the Roman deities. We heard the pastor’s strained attempts to mouth a final hymn as he died a cruel death. We walk away toward Thyatira glancing over our shoulders every so often at the trailing smoke of the boiling bull with the somber realization that there is a price to pay sometimes for committing our lives to Christ.
Thyatira is 35 miles southeast from Pergamum. It lies 50 miles inland from the Mediterranean Sea. Only a few broken walls remain today of this blue collar working man’s town. Today if you visit the modern city of Akhisar in Turkey, you will see the ancient walls of Thyatira. The city has them enclosed behind a modest wrought iron fence in the center of the city. It almost looks like a park with benches just outside the fence. People takes their lunch breaks nestled up against the old walls of Thyatira.
If you step back in time with me and enter the bustling streets of the town you would immediately find your self swept up in the sounds and smells of a variety of trades and guilds all in full motion. Ancient inscriptions found at this site prove this town to have more trades than any other contemporary city in the Roman province of Asia. The inscriptions tells us there were wool-workers here, linen-workers, outer garment workers, leather-workers, potters, bakers, slave dealers, bronze-smiths, tent makers, and dyers to mention a few. So as we enter the main thoroughfare looking for our church we hear the pinging of hammers in the bronze shops, the shouts of the baker selling his bread, the screams of the linen merchant ordering us out of the road so his cart can pass.
Thyatira was famous for dye making. The water from the local rivers and wells had just the right texture and clarity for perfect dye making. The master dye makers made a gorgeous scarlet dye that was the envy of the ancient world. They made it from the roots of the madder plant that grow to a meter in length. Who can tell me the famous woman from Thyatira mentioned in the Bible? Let’s turn to Acts 16:14. And a certain woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple fabrics . . . was listening.
So we are in Lydia’s town. This is where she started her business. Somehow she just happened to be in Philippi on a morning when Paul was there and heard the gospel. She is the first convert in this area and came back and helped start this church.
Thyatira was a difficult place to be a Christian. Everybody belonged to one of the trade unions. And every trade guild had pagan rituals and festivals you had to attend.
Here is what William Barclay, the famous British Bible scholar says about these local guilds: These guilds met frequently, and they met for a common meal. Such a meal was, at least in part, a religious ceremony. It would probably meet in a heathen temple, and it would certainly begin with a libation to the gods, and the meal itself would largely consist of meat offered to idols. The official position of the church meant that a Christian could not attend such a meal.
So the common position in the church was that you couldn’t be a member of a union or a trade group and be a good Christian. It caused the very problems mentioned in our text today. We’ll talk more about this in a moment. But first a basic question:How is the church here doing? What kind of report card does this church get from the Lord?
*I passed out report cards Friday at school. There is nothing more compelling to an 8th grader than his or her report card. Report cards take precedent over any current romantic issues, over any facebook squabbles, over any pending date or weekend dance. So when I’m holding the report cards the kids swarm me like a flock of chickens at feeding time. I can play a few games here. This is my moment. I’m in charge here. So a slight frown at a certain report card can send terror through the flock.
So what’s the report card for Thyatira? Well it’s remarkable. In this pagan working man’s town where the unions rule everything the Lord smiles and hands out A – cards. Let’s paraphrase verse 19. Here the lord hands out the cards and says “Well everyone, you’ve been working hard. I am impressed. You get high marks for love and faith and service and perseverance..”
Now let’s pause here for a second. I want each of you reach out and take your report card from the Lord right now. Go ahead. Just take it. You’ve got one you know. Now look inside. What does it say? Does it say well done? Does it say A for love—A for faith—A for service—A for perseverance? How many absences are on your card? How many incompletes? How many “needs improvements” are there? Compare your card with the ones handed out here to these saints living in tough Thyatira. Can you do better? Can we do better as a church? That should be our goal always. To get the highest marks on our cards. We want to please the Lord.
But wait. There is a most remarkable comment at the bottom of these report cards handed out to the Thyatiran saints. Do you see the comment written in bold ink strokes at the bottom of the report card? It says: “Your deeds of late are greater than at first.”
Let’s put that in context. Compare what the comment was on the bottom of Ephesian report card. What did the Lord say there? Your early work was great but you’ve slipped recently. You’ve lost your first love. But just the opposite is said here. You were a little slow to start but I’ve been watching and you’re getting better. “Your deeds of late are greater than at first.”
* I remember when I first played cornet. I was in the sixth grade and I lived way out in the country in Jacksonville Arkansas. Across the dirt road in front of my house there was a huge pasture with long horned steer and a big pond. I had a few neighbors along the road but not many. Mostly just steers. And I would sit on my front porch after school, take out my shiny new cornet and play church hymns. At first I could only make a few loud honks, nothing that sounded like a hymn. And the steers didn’t approve. They would bellow back and move away toward the lake. That was discouraging. I figured if the cows didn’t like me I must be pretty bad. But I kept honking and blowing every night.
And then one night after all the neighbors had once again slammed their doors in disgust and the steers were walking away gossiping and rolling their eyes—I blew a clear string of notes. It was amazing. A few consecutive clear notes of Amazing Grace. And the steers turned around and stared at me. And I knew then that I was getting better.
And here as the Lord hands out the cards to the saints at Thyatira he tells them—You started slow but you’re doing much better. And that’s what we want to hear at our church. You’ve done well over the past 50 years but you’re getting better. Your ministry is growing stronger. You’re on the right track.
But there was one criticism to a tiny portion of the church. There was a group in the church that just couldn’t say no. The Jezebel faction was pushing for compromise with the unions. This Jezebel was some kind of prophetess or influential woman in the congregation who was urging everyone to join the unions, go to the temple parties, sacrifice to the union idols, and just get along and go along with the world around them.
But the Lord demanded that they stay pure, stay on task, keep the priorities of the ministry first. Just say no to Jezebel, just say no to compromise. But they couldn’t seem to do it.
However, once the Lord addressed the Jezebel faction he turned back to the rest of the congregation and said—but to all of you who aren’t in that group, I place no other burden on you.
Perhaps we can all learn from this criticism. There are times we should stop and say no in our pilgrimage of faith. There are times when we should turn away, when we should run from evil influences, when we should take a bold stand against the forces of evil that would tear us down and harm our witness.
Well as we leave Thyatira, the church in the union town, let’s glance once more time at their A- report card and vow that we too will stay true to the Lord where we live and work.
Report card image: http://www.bisd303.org/Domain/765