REVELATION 2:1-5 ESV
1 “To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: ‘The words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand, who walks among the seven golden lampstands.
2 “‘I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance, and how you cannot bear with those who are evil, but have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and found them to be false.
3 I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name’s sake, and you have not grown weary.
4 But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first.
5 Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent.
Pastor Derek and I have been excited to see so many take an interest in the church wide series. Many small groups and Sunday classes are reading “Revival!” by Adam Hamilton, and some are attending the Wednesday evening class and the Sunday afternoon class. The book is about what cultivated revival in both England and in the individual heart and life of John Wesley. The big takeaway is that the personal revival of Wesley led to the corporate revival of England and beyond.
Remember, that John Wesley is the founder of the Methodist movement—a group of faithful Anglican believers, from all classes, who banded together to spread scriptural holiness throughout the world. The few turned into the many, and today, Methodism exists in several different denominations and has a global impact. Our greatest emphasis is on holiness of heart and life. What set Wesley and his Methodists apart from other Christians was that they believed that the perfect love of God was meant to manifest itself fully within believers through the power of the Holy Spirit, enabling Christians to live extraordinary lives of grace. Methodists are responsible for creating small groups and Sunday school, camp meetings and revivals, and we have always had an extremely strong emphasis on education.
All of this, and so much more, stemmed from the life of one man who had been a Christian all his life, but had yet to experience grace in its fullest definition. It wasn’t until Wesley was in his 30’s—after having been raised in the church, trained by his extremely disciplined mother, been to seminary, and then ordained—that he experienced grace in a transformative way.
After a few years of failed ministry in the US, Wesley wandered into a Bible study back in England, where someone was reading the preface to Martin Luther’s commentary on the book of Romans. Luther, the one responsible for the great reformation of the Church in the 16th century, says in that write-up that God’s grace is something that God brings about in our lives, rather than something we achieve. Grace is given, rather than earned or taken.
Wesley had spent his entire life ‘working’ for the Lord, striving to achieve the things the Scriptures taught and revealed. But when Wesley began to trust in God’s work alone, rather than his own efforts, his heart was stricken with a warmth that brought him the freedom to believe, to truly trust in God’s grace rather than manufacture it through a try-hard-life.
Wesley learned of the liberating presence of God in that moment. The conditions of his life are what led to such an understanding and acceptance. No longer did he need to earn the Lord’s favor in order to feel forgiven. Now, he was free to work for the Lord out of the joy he had in knowing that God had forgiven him and loved him. God’s forgiveness of Wesley’s sins was now a fact, a fact that he could stake his life and soul on.
All the while, England was burdened—weighed down by many societal cares and moral failures. Wesley’s culture needed the same liberation that he had experienced in his own heart. The conditions were perfect for revival, for renewal, because there was a withering that had taken place, and Wesley was fired up and ready to water the entire country with the grace of God.
Some great questions to consider at this point are: what are the conditions of my life? Do I need a redefining of grace in my life? Have I spent my entire life believing in God but not trusting God? Am I burdened by all I think I am supposed to be doing for God, but getting very little out of all my trying?
This is where our Scripture for this morning is so important. It speaks directly to the try-hard-life. Jesus speaks to the church in Ephesus, telling them that they have tried very hard and lived very well. Their theology is right. They have followed all the rules and regulations to the ‘T’. But something is missing. They are missing the reason behind it all, the cause of having their faith-house in order. They have forgotten their first love, the thing that all their ‘trying’ is built upon. Love; love for the people that Jesus gave His life for.
Like Wesley, the Ephesian church was doing all the right things but they were forgetting that everything they were to do was based in what God had done. He gave Himself for others. God was graceful, offering His life to save souls and offering His power to transform them into holy people.
Wesley was frustrated. Ephesus was frustrated. Many of us are sitting in here today, and deep down we’re frustrated. Maybe we don’t really believe the things that come from this pulpit or from the Scriptures. Maybe we believe in the truth of the Gospel but we don’t yet fully trust it completely.
If this is the case, then we want to call on you to rest in the fact, in the reality that Jesus has died for you, and for me, and for them; and that fact, that reality seeks to liberate you from trying and trying and trying and coming up short. Jesus wants to take away your frustration; your doubt; your fear; even your efforts.
Hear Jesus in Matthew’s gospel, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (11:28-30 ESV).
John Wesley had to unlearn what he had learned. John had to trust in God’s wisdom, in God’s efforts on John’s behalf. The Ephesian Church had to unlearn what they had learned. They had to stop judging people without caring for them. Both John Wesley and the Ephesians needed grace, for their own hearts and for the people they were to serve.
Do you need grace today? I hope it has been redefined for you, that you see and know that God has worked and is still working on your behalf. Do you believe in God’s grace but are failing to trust it? I hope that you will rest in grace today, letting Jesus’ work on the cross effect your soul, rather than you trying to manufacture your faith. Let God work in you. Let God do the work, and when He does, you will work for joy, knowing that He has empowered you with a holy and perfect love. Amen.