Matthew 9:1-8 Follow Up June 19, 2018

This week, we saw Jesus prove his authority to forgive sins. Check out the story once more:

And getting into a boat he crossed over and came to his own city. And behold, some people brought to him a paralytic, lying on a bed. And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven.” And behold, some of the scribes said to themselves, “This man is blaspheming.” But Jesus, knowing their thoughts, said, “Why do you think evil in your hearts? For which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he then said to the paralytic—“Rise, pick up your bed and go home.” And he rose and went home. When the crowds saw it, they were afraid, and they glorified God, who had given such authority to men. (Matthew 9:1-8)

Certainly, the story primarily highlights the divine authority Jesus possesses to forgive sins. But together with the additional details shared in Mark 2:1-12 and Luke 5:17-26, we learned three additional truths from within the story:

1. Interruptions to us are not interruptions to Jesus:

Mark 2:4 and Luke 5:19 both tell us that the paralytic was lowered through the roof of the house Jesus was located in. But we also made note of what Jesus was doing as the paralytic was lowered through the roof: he was teaching (Mark 2:2; Luke 5:17). This would have been a major interruption to the preaching and teaching of Jesus at that moment, yet Jesus responded with compassion and grace. It helps us understand we, too, need to be okay with interruptions. More importantly, we also need to learn to use interruptions as opportunities to reflect and teach the gospel of Jesus Christ to whomever is interrupting us.

2. Genuine faith persists toward Jesus:

In all three accounts, Jesus notices the faith of the men who interrupt his teaching (Matthew 9:2; Mark 2:5; Luke 5:20). In our time together on Sunday, we also noticed how their faith persisted to Jesus, despite the crowd blocking access to him. So persistent was their faith, that they climbed the house’s exterior stairwell in order to create an opening through the roof and lower the paralyzed friend to Jesus. And we learned: we, too, must persist over our own obstacles to Jesus—we must continue looking to him, setting aside the sin and weighty obstacles that keep us from him.

3. A godly community carries the mats of others:

One of the most beautiful aspects of the story is the glimpse we get into the love displayed by four friends: the carrying of a fifth powerless friend all the way to the all-powerful one (Matthew 9:2; Mark 2:3; Luke 5:18). It’s a glimpse that encourages us to ask the question, “Whose mat are we carrying?” Inevitably, someone in our lives is paralyzed in their own sin and needs more than anything else the forgiving power of Christ. So, whose mat are you carrying? Think of the neighbors, friends, coworkers, and family members who need Christ and ask yourself, “How can I help carry this person to Jesus?”

The “Stage 3” scream everyone wants to know about:

During the sermon, I mentioned the three stages of a child’s screams. Stage 1: When a child’s toy is taken away by a sibling. Stage 2: When a child is pushed, shoved, or hit by its sibling. Stage 3: When a child gets hurt really, really bad. Parents know that “Stage 3” cry all too well. It usually involves some sort of accident. Take, for instance, a time in my own life while I was playing with childhood friends in my neighborhood. My parents had purchased a new construction home in the early phases of the community being built. This meant a lot of homes were still being constructed after we had moved in. For us as elementary-aged children, this also meant we were able to grab unused brick roof tiles from the ground to see which one of us could throw them the furthest down a canyon. Right in the middle of our contest, one of those roof tiles hit me right on the top of my head, causing a very bloody head wound. Enter “Stage 3” cry!

Thankfully, my young friends were wise enough to help me back to my mom. They understood I couldn’t fix my bloody head on my own. They also understood they couldn’t fix the gash in my skull either! So they took me to the person who was able to help me at that moment: my mom.

It helps us understand something the four friends from our story understood: their friend needed help outside of themselves. And they knew exactly who to take their friend to. My dear church: as we go about our day-to-day lives this week, let’s remember we’re powerless to stand on our own. We all need Jesus. In our need for Jesus, therefore, let’s remember to be okay with interruptions in life, to persist over our own obstacles to him, and to help carry others to him. You can review the sermon and download the sermon note sheet here (includes follow up discussion questions for your small group).

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope. (Rom. 15:13)

Grace and peace in Christ,

Pastor Marttell Sanchez

1 Samuel 17 Follow Up December 27, 2017

In 1 Samuel 17, we find the well-known narrative of David and Goliath. And although the main human characters in the narrative are David and Goliath themselves, the story is ultimately about a faithful God who prevails on behalf of those who belong to him. God—who is sovereign over all creation—uses the newly anointed shepherd-boy, David, to save and deliver his people from the oppression of the Philistines. In doing so, we learned three things about God’s deliverance and salvation of his people:

1. God’s people cannot save themselves

Verse 24 describes the army of Israel as “much afraid” of Goliath. Earlier in verse 11, even King Saul is described as “dismayed and greatly afraid.” From the Hebrew words used in both instances, we can understood that this “fear” carries the idea of standing in awe. It helps us understand why the Israelite army stood back: The men were so dismayed and so afraid, that they stood in fearful awe, helplessly frozen in terror. Israel had no comparable champion; Israel was paralyzed in fear; Israel could not save itself.

The same remains true of us today. However, in our case, sin is what paralyzes us; not with fear, but with death itself. Ephesians 2:1 describes us as “dead in trespasses and sins,” and this because the byproduct of sin is death, as revealed to us in Romans 6:23. Since dead people cannot resuscitate themselves, they need someone else to give them life; they need someone else to save them. This point is coming up next. For now, it is important to remember: We cannot save ourselves, not when our great enemies—sin and death—have us strangled in their Goliath-like grips.

Therefore, since we cannot save ourselves, what we must do instead is rest in God’s work of deliverance on our behalf. It is a rest that begins with trust in him as our object of faith. As Augustine has said, “You have made us for yourself, and the heart of man is restless until it finds its rest in thee.”

2. God provides a deliverer for his people

Verse 33 records Saul’s words to young David: “You are not able to go against this Philistine to fight with him, for you are but a youth.” By all external appearances, David was not supposed to win his battle with Goliath. He was but a young lad and he had no experience as a soldier, how could he possibly confront Goliath?

Yet—for his own honor and glory—this young boy was exactly who God chose to shockingly prevail against Goliath. So we realize: God often provides the unlikeliest of heroes to be his people’s deliverer. As we gaze at the beauty of God’s wisdom—as we see him elect David as his people’s unlikely deliverer—we are at the same time pointed forward to the ultimate Shepherd-King, Jesus Christ, who “lays down his life for [his] sheep” (John 10:11). We simply cannot read the narrative of David and Goliath without considering the unlikely Savior God has provided to us!

In an unthinkable act of compassion, God looked upon our broken, sin-struck, rebellious world, and he himself took on human flesh in order to one day die on a cross for us, eternally paying the wages of our own sin, that we—the guilty ones—might be declared forever innocent and just, and that we might enjoy him eternally as our friend.

When he took on flesh, however, he did not descend to a kingly palace. Instead, he was born in a barn in Bethlehem. He was placed not on a throne, but on a feeding trough reserved for livestock. And so the sovereign Lord over all creation humbled himself and came as a helpless infant among animals, crying in the arms of the human mother who delivered him in his incarnation. He was, at that very moment in human history, the epitome of an unlikely hero.

Nevertheless, this helpless, newborn infant was our Savior, and the angels rejoiced and sang at his arrival. So we’re encouraged—as people who can never rescue themselves—to rejoice in the unlikely Savior God has provided to us. Later in the story of David’s defeat of Goliath, when the men returned home from war, 1 Samuel 18:6-7 shows us the women of Israel dancing and singing “with songs of joy” over the news of God’s deliverance through David. We do the same today over the good news of our deliverance from sin and death through Christ. So as we rest in God’s work of deliverance on our behalf, we also rejoice in God’s provision of a delivering Savior, and we join the angels who joyfully sang at Christ’s birth.

3. God saves his people according to his promises

A question arises: “Why does God save, at all?” We might begin to find the answer to this question in one particular and glorious aspect of the character and nature of God: His faithfulness to his Word.

Many Old Testament passages promise and foretell of a future Messiah who would rescue God’s people:

  • Isaiah 9:2: “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light…”
  • Isaiah 40:5: “The glory of the Lord shall be revealed.”
  • Micah 5:2: “But you, O Bethlehem… from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler…”

They all point to one grand promise of a Messiah who would be born in Bethlehem to be the light of men. It’s the grand story-line of Scripture:

  • God created everything very good.
  • Our sin brought a curse to a good creation.
  • As a result, we live separated from a holy God in the darkness and brokenness of our own sin nature.
  • But God promised to rescue people who could not rescue themselves by taking on human flesh.

It’s a promise that goes right back to the garden of Eden, where we find humanity shamefully hidden from God in their own rebellious sin. In the midst of all that heartache, an incredibly beautiful promise is shared by God: A future son of the woman, Eve, will deliver a mortal wound to Satan’s head (Genesis 3:15). It’s a promise that looks ahead to the unlikely David delivering a mortal wound to Goliath’s head. But David is but a shadow of Christ, foreshadowing the true, eternal deliverance we receive in Christ crushing Satan’s head at the cross and the empty grave.

Jesus is the fulfillment of the promise. He is that heavenly Son born to an earthly woman; born to save us from sin, death, and Satan himself; born to be our Savior.

Indeed, God saves his people precisely because he has promised to save his people. He is faithful to his Word. We respond to such beautiful faithfulness with praise, and as we do, we join David himself in adoration of our faithful God: “I love you, O Lord, my strength. The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. I call upon the Lord, who is worthy to be praised” (Psalm 18:1-3).

A lifelong response to a faithfully saving God

May we always remember:

  1. We cannot save themselves.
  2. God has provided an unlikely hero to save us.
  3. God has faithfully done so according to his promises.

And as we remember these truths:

  1. We rest in God’s work of deliverance on our behalf.
  2. We rejoice in God’s provision.
  3. We praise God for his faithfulness to his Word.

My dear Lake Murray Community Church: Rest, rejoice, and praise the one who has promised and faithfully given us a Savior. It’s our lifelong response to a faithful God who saves.

With joy in Christ,

Pastor Marttell

Matthew 28:19-20 Follow Up November 6, 2017

This Sunday, we finished our miniseries on love and unity in the local church.

If you’ve been with us these past few weeks, you might recall we began our miniseries by looking at the commandments Jesus quoted in Mark 12:28-31; namely, to love God with all of our being—as Deuteronomy 6:5 indicates—and to love our neighbors as ourselves—as Leviticus 19:18 states. The rest of the Lord’s commandments rest on these two. But as we noticed the order of things, we noticed that loving others necessitates loving God, first. So we learned: The foundation to love and unity within the church is loving the Lord above all things.

Last week, we saw Christ deepen the commandment to love our neighbors as ourselves by looking at his new commandment to love fellow Christians sacrificially, just as the Lord has loved us (John 13:34). We further noticed that as the church expresses Christlike, sacrificial love to one another, it sets the church apart from the rest of the world in such a way that the world notices we belong to Jesus.

In all this, we’ve seen both our call to love God supremely—our foundation to love and unity in the local church—and our call to love one another sacrificially—our distinctive as the local church. The progression from loving God to loving each other now continues to loving the very work the Lord left for us: The Great Commission. We find it delivered by Christ in Matthew 28:19-20:

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.

In textual context, Jesus had just been betrayed, arrested, tried, and crucified. He had just died for the forgiveness of our sins (it was his mission). He had just been buried, his tomb being sealed with a massive rock and guarded by Roman soldiers. But with a great earthquake, an angel from heaven rolled back the stone to show its empty state. Jesus had been raised from the dead and was no longer there!

As indicated by Matthew, the angel goes on to tell the women who were present to go and tell the rest of the disciples the good news, and to meet Jesus in Galilee. As they ran to tell the disciples of the resurrection, Jesus also appeared to the women, and he gave them the same instructions: “Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me” (Matthew 28:10).

Matthew 28 closes with Jesus appearing to his disciples on a mountain in Galilee, where he commissions them with the very words mentioned above (verses 19-20). With those words, he showed them (and us) a command to follow—together—in light of Jesus’s recent death, burial, and resurrection (the gospel).

This leads us to the main point we saw on Sunday: Our loving, missional Savior calls his followers to join him in loving mission, together.

Notice his words again at the beginning of verse 19: “Go therefore and make disciples.” The imperative verb is “make disciples.” This is the central focus of the Great Commission. We are to make disciples of Jesus Christ. So, at the heart of all that we do as a church is a desire to fulfill this command. Yes, our purpose is to glorify God (Ephesians 1:6), but our work is focused on making disciples, a manner in which we glorify God.

Additionally, notice the pronoun in verse 18. It indicates to whom Jesus addresses the Great Commission: “And Jesus came and said to them” (emphasis mine). We often think of the Great Commission in an individual sense, but Jesus gave the Great Commission to them—to his disciples—and by extension, to us, today—to all who have been united in Christ as one body, the church.

So, while it’s true we’re each individually called to obey this Great Commission, the third-person, plural pronoun “them” serves to emphasize the togetherness of our Great Commission. We’re meant to make disciples of of one another, together, as a united body of Christ that loves one another. As we love God supremely as our foundation to Christian love and unity, and as we distinctively love one another sacrificially, we naturally make disciples of one another, together, in fulfillment of the very mission Jesus welcomes us into.

It is important to mention: As we jointly labor in our mission, we must remember to labor not just out of obedience, although obedience is involved, but—more importantly—out of love.

Paul highlights this for us so emphatically in his first letter to the church in Corinth. By the time we reach the 13th chapter, Paul addresses (1) divisions that were evident when the church gathered together and participated in communion together (1 Corinthians 11:17-34), and (2) the use of spiritual gifts within the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:1-31), which are meant for the common good and edification of the church (Romans 12:3-8; 1 Corinthians 12:7; 14:26; Ephesians 4:11-12). In light of this, Paul then mentions that all we do with our spiritual gifts is to be done in love (1 Corinthians 13:1-13), with love itself being “a still more excellent way” of doing ministry (1 Corinthians 12:31). Love, therefore, is the superb motive.

Lake Murray Community Church: Our loving, missional Savior has invited us to join him in loving mission, together.

So as we help one another continue committing to Jesus as Master and Lord, and as we encourage one another toward God-glorifying holiness, and as we teach one another all that the Lord has taught, and as we counsel one another with the gospel, and as we equip one another and build each other up toward Christlikeness—all in accordance with the gifts God has given us—we are to do it all in unifying love.

Why must we do it in love? Because Christ lovingly died for us. He came on mission for us, to serve us and to give his life as a ransom for us (Mark 10:45), to make us new creations in himself—holy and acceptable before the Father—that we might walk in the good work he prepared for us (Ephesians 2:10).

A follow-up question must be asked: How do we do this work of love-motivated disciple-making?

I believe we find a three-fold answer in the final sentence of Matthew 28: “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” With these words, we’re first reminded that the Spirit of Christ is with us as we labor in our mission to make disciples of one another. This encourages us to rely on his spiritual equipping and strengthening, for our work can become difficult, wearisome, and even painful at times. Paul himself seems to have experienced the pain of being deserted by people he invested in (2 Timothy 1:15). So we must remind ourselves to rely on Christ’s spiritual presence within us and among us, that we might keep laboring in lovingly making disciples of one another.

Second, his promise of his spiritual presence also reminds us to rest in him. There will always be work for the church to do, but we must guard ourselves and each other from burning out; we need to rest in his spiritual presence.

Third, because Christ promises to be with us spiritually until the end of this age, it reminds us to also point one another—with great anticipation—to his return. In 1 Corinthians 15:58, as Christians in Corinth are assured of their own future resurrection at Christ’s second coming, Paul charges: “Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” May we do similarly. May we be steadfast in our mission by reassuring one another of our blessed hope, the future appearing of our Savior Jesus Christ (Titus 2:13).

So let’s join our missional Savior in his mission for us. Let’s do it together, in unity. Let’s do it lovingly, in response to his love for us. Let’s do it by trusting in and relying on Christ’s spiritual, ever-present help. Let’s do it “to the end of the age,” reassuringly anticipating his return for us. In all that we do, let’s go and make disciples!

In your small groups this week, take a moment to discuss these questions together: Mathew 28.19-20 Notes. May “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all” (2 Corinthians 13:14).

With love for the Lord and for you,

Pastor Marttell

John 13:34-35 Follow Up October 30, 2017

 

This Sunday, we continued in our miniseries on love and unity within the church by looking at Jesus’s new commandment in John 13:34-35:

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.

These words were spoken by Jesus on the night of his betrayal—before being arrested and crucified—during his farewell discourse to his disciples. In fact, before saying these words, he had just washed his disciples’ feet.

Now, when you consider that washing people’s feet was a task reserved for non-Jewish slaves in that culture, it makes Jesus’s act all the more remarkable. It was a culture where people walked long distances on dusty roads in sandals, so it was customary for hosts to arrange for water to be available for the washing of feet, again by also providing servants to work in this capacity. But if a servant was not present, the host would certainly not take up the chore himself, as Jesus does.

What enabled Jesus to do this when no one would have done this? John 13:1 tells us: Jesus had “loved his own who were in the world,” and he “loved them to the end” with perfect, humble, selfless, sacrificial, service-centered, saving love. Certainly, by humbly serving his disciples in this way, he foreshadowed his ultimate selfless service that would come on the cross. At the same time, he modeled for his disciples what Christlike, Christian love for one another would look like, and he then spoke the words mentioned above in verses 34-35.

As he does, he shows us both a command to follow and a love to imitate. Which leads us to the main point we looked at on Sunday: Our selfless, loving Savior calls his followers to distinctively love one another, as he loved us.

Notice his words again at the beginning of verse 34: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another.” It’s interesting that Jesus would call the command to love one another a new command. For faithful Jews, there was nothing new about loving one’s neighbors. They would have known the command in Leviticus 19:18: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

The reality is God’s people are commanded to love all people:

  • The marginalized and the accepted.
  • The poor and the great.
  • The foreigner and the fellow countryman.

But here in John chapter 13, Jesus gives a new command. He takes his point of departure from Leviticus 19:18 and he deepens and transforms the command to love one’s neighbors. How does he deepen the command? The end of verse 34 tells us: “Just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.”

So, the command to love one’s neighbor is not new, but the newness is found in loving fellow followers of Christ just as he had loved his disciples. In light of Jesus’s imminent, upcoming death in the gospel of John, it would seem that loving each other just as Christ implies even a willingness to lay down one’s life for each other. John 15:12-13 reiterates this to us: “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” So, again, our selfless loving Savior calls his followers to distinctively love one another, just as he loved us. This is where the newness lies.

God’s people continue to love their neighbors as themselves, but that love is now deepened, that we might love one another just as Jesus loved us. And as we love one another in that way, something amazing happens…

Notice what Jesus continues to say in verse 35: “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” When the world sees the church—Jesus’s followers—loving one another with Christlike love, the world sees something distinct. In effect, when the church loves one another with Christlike love, it reflects the love of Christ for his own for the entire world to witness. And that distinguishes us!

So we remind ourselves: Our selfless, loving Savior calls his followers to distinctively love one another, just as he loved us.

But what does that love look like? It’s the natural question that arises, isn’t it? As we aim to grow in unity with our Lord, what does Christlike love for one another in the church look like?

For most of us, we can probably admit that one of the more obvious answers is serving one another’s needs. Acts 2:44-45 gives us a picture of the early church doing just that: “And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need.”

But I do think we sometimes overlook other (more challenging) ways of expressing love to one another:

  • Ephesians 4:11-12 implies that our spiritual gifts and abilities are for the building up of the church, that we would equip each other and build each other up unto the likeness of Christ. This also implies being willing to submit ourselves to others and allow others to invest in our lives.
  • Ephesians 6:18 and James 5:16 tell us to pray for one another. This also implies a willingness to be transparent with our struggles and circumstances, that others might pray for us and even be able to offer counsel and help.
  • Colossians 3:13 indicates that we love one another by also forgiving one another. This in itself can be challenging, but something even more challenging is also implied: A willingness to ask others for forgiveness.
  • One of the hardest expressions of love within the church is found in Galatians 6:1: “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness.” Counseling one another back to the Lord when a fellow brother has drifted away or fallen in sin can be incredibly challenging, but avoiding it would actually be an unloving thing to do.

So yes, we serve each other’s needs out of Love for the Lord and a deepened, selfless love for one another, but we also equip and disciple each other as we lovingly serve one another, and we pray for each other, and we forgive each other, and we help each other turn back to the Lord when we see brothers and sisters drifting or falling away. And we do all this because Christ has loved us first, and he’s modeled selfless love to us. We see it in the washing of his disciples’ feet. But we see it ultimately in the selfless giving of himself on the cross, that through his selfless sacrifice our sins would be forgiven through faith and trust in him.

My dear church, let’s love each other selflessly, as well. Let’s allow the Spirit of Christ to give us not only a passionate love for the Lord, but also a passionate love for each other, that we might distinctively love one another, just as our Lord has loved us. 

In your small groups this week, take a moment to discuss these questions together: John 13.34-35 Notes. May “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all” (2 Corinthians 13:14).

With love for the Lord and for you,

Pastor Marttell

 

Mark 12:28-31 Follow Up October 23, 2017

This Sunday, we began our mini-series on love and unity in the church by looking at Jesus’s response to a question posed by a scribe. We find the interaction in Mark 12:28-31:

And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, asked him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”

In context, the religious leaders of Jesus’s day were attempting to trap Jesus with difficult questions (Mark 12:13). Their underlying intention? To arrest Jesus (Mark 12:12). So, beginning in Mark 12:14, they first ask Jesus if it is lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, the oppressive Roman emperor. Then, another group of religious leaders comes in and, starting in Mark 12:19, asks him a very complicated hypothetical question.

It’s in the midst of all this questioning that a seemingly teachable scribe comes up to Jesus and asks him a third question: “Which commandment is the most important of all?” (Mark 12:28). Jesus answers with the two-fold answer already quoted above:

  • He first quotes Deuteronomy 6:5—a text that was repeated twice daily by faithful Jews—to teach we are to love God, first and foremost, with total devotion by our entire being.
  • He then quotes Leviticus 19:18 to teach we are also to love everyone around us.

As he does, he gives us both a command to follow and a love to reciprocate. Which leads us to the main point we looked at this Sunday: Our loving, covenant-keeping God calls his people—who are the objects of his love—to love him and to love others, as well.

When applied to the local church, which is our focus these next few weeks, we could say it this way: Our loving, faithful God calls his church—the object of his love—to love him and to love one another, as well. It’s a two-fold idea that encapsulates the whole of God’s Law. How do we relate to the covenant-keeping God as part of the covenant community? By loving God and loving one another!

But notice the order with me: First, we are to love the Lord; then, we are to love each other.

The reality is, if we are going to genuinely obey God at all, it starts with loving him first. As Christ said to his followers in John 14:15, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” Therefore, genuine obedience to the rest of our Lord’s commands—including the command to love one another—depends on this: Loving him supremely with all our heart, with all our soul, with all our mind, with all our strength. In other words: Loving him with the totality of our being. This is the foundation of Christian love and unity.

But, there could be a problem with obeying out of mere obedience. Revelation 2:1-7 allows us to peek into a letter that Jesus wrote to the church in Ephesus after his ascension back to heaven. It’s interesting how he commends the church for doing great things out of obedience to him:

  • Their labor within the church.
  • Their faithful endurance even in persecution.
  • Their righteousness.
  • Their intolerance of evil and false teachers.

But then Jesus says this to them in Revelation 2:4: “But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first.”

The church was doing great things! They were obeying the Lord and doing the work of the Lord, and in doing so they were edifying one another. Seemingly, there was no lack of devotion to the Lord and the church; they were united! Yet, even in all the wonderful things they were doing, Jesus had this against them: They lost their first love for him. Somewhere along the line, church life became but a habit. They lost sight of their passion for Christ. They lost sight of what motivated them in the first place, which would have been the good news of God’s love for them in Christ Jesus. So, they labored for Jesus and for one another, even faithfully, but with the wrong motive.

As such, Jesus called this church in Ephesus to remember, to repent, and to do the works they did at first (Revelation 2:5):

  • Remember how you served when you first believed the gospel, the good news of God’s love for you in Christ.
  • Repent of doing even good things with the wrong motivation.
  • Then, continue in your good works—just as you did at first—but with the right motivation: A passionate, wholehearted love for the same Lord who lovingly gave his life for you because of his desire for you to be joyfully united to him, forever.

Jesus’s “Parable of the Lost Son” illustrates this so well for us. In Luke 15:11-32, Jesus tells the story of a wealthy father who had two sons:

  • The younger one asks for his share of the inheritance while his father was still alive, in effect wishing his father dead.
  • He goes off and squanders his inheritance in reckless living.
  • After he spent everything, in his lowest of lows, the son repents and returns to his father’s home, hoping his father would welcome him even as a slave.
  • But the father does something amazing: In a display of great love, he runs to his son when he sees him from a distance, he embraces him and kisses him, and he welcomes his son back home, throwing a feast for him so the entire town could rejoice with him.

Yet, in the midst of a display of such great love and grace, the older son—who had remained faithful and united to his father the entire time—became angered and refused to join in the celebration of his brother’s return. His revealing words are recorded for us in Luke 15:29-30: “Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!”

We’re reminded: We can do all the right things—we can serve each other and love each other in unity—but have the wrong motive. As a church, we could lose sight of our first love, and we could become just as that older son. So, as Jesus tells the church in Ephesus, he says to us, as well: “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches” (Revelation 2:7).

Have you lost sight of your first love?

Perhaps you could identify with the older son in the parable. Have you remained faithful, but lost the passion you had for the Lord at first? Or perhaps you could identify with the younger son. Have you left the church for a while, but you feel the Lord drawing you back to a love for him and his church?

He who has an ear let him hear: Come back to your first love of Jesus Christ. Come back to a love of the Lord that is all-encompassing. Come back to a love of the Lord that truly fills your life, including your church life. Then, allow that wholehearted love for the Lord to pour over into your love for others in the church, that we would all be genuinely united in loving service to each other.

When we do, our labor in children’s ministry, music ministry, youth ministry, men’s ministry, women’s ministry, senior citizen ministry, small group ministry, outreach—everything that we do as a church—will be motivated by a genuine love for the one who loved us first.

As a theologian once wrote: “When our love for Jesus is wrong, nothing is right. But when our love for Jesus is right, He makes everything else right.”

My dear church, let’s return to our first love. It’s the foundation for everything else that we do, including our steadfastness in loving unity to one another. And let’s return to a love for the Lord by pointing each other to the gospel and reminding each other of the great love God has for us in Christ Jesus. He spared not his Son, that we might be graciously united back to him as one united body that loves one another. And as we point each other to the gospel, let’s allow our hearts to be humble enough to allow the Spirit of God to speak to us, to change us, and to lead us in repentance back to our first love.

In your small groups this week, take a moment to discuss these questions together: Mark 12.28-31 Notes. May “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all” (2 Corinthians 13:14).

With love for the Lord and for you,

Pastor Marttell