Today is Valentine’s Day and I thought it would be appropriate for us to talk about love. We are going to take a look at the Book of Revelation in just a moment, but first, for informational sake, St Valentine was a real person.
Who was St Valentine?
He was a Roman priest during the time of the emperor Claudius. This emperor had issued an edict that young people not be married. Due to his desire to have the strongest military, he felt it was important that ALL of his young soldiers be unmarried.
He reasoned that those who were married would be less likely to die for the Roman cause, since they would be worried about their families.
St Valentine would secretly marry these young couples. Eventually he was caught and was put to death for his actions.
“One of the men who was to judge him in line with the Roman law at the time was a man called Asterius, whose daughter was blind. Valentine was supposed to have prayed with and healed the young girl with such astonishing effect that Asterius himself became Christian as a result.”
In the year 269 AD, Valentine was sentenced to death; the story goes that the last words he wrote were in a note to Asterius’ daughter. He inspired today’s romantic missives by signing it, “from your Valentine.”
Today however, we are going to move past St Valentine to Another in Whom our love and affection needs to remain constant. To do this, we will take a look into the Book of Revelation.
Have you lost your first love?
In chapter 2, the risen Christ begins addressing the seven churches; the first of which is the church of Ephesus, and this will be our focus today.
“To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: These are the words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand and walks among the seven golden lampstands: 2 I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked men, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false. 3 You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary.
4 Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love. 5 Remember the height from which you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place. 6 But you have this in your favor: You hate the practices of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.
7 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.
The letter to the church of Ephesus begins with several affirmations; and they are:
- deeds done
- hard work
- intolerant of wicked men
After these 4 affirmations, the Lord now shares something that He is holding against them.
If you were the church in Ephesus, and just received this letter from a messenger sent from God, and heard those words; “Yet I hold this against you” you would get that nagging pit in your stomach, and the words following would cut to the heart; let’s look at what Christ had to say in greater detail.
Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love. Remember the height from which you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place.
The word that is translated “forsaken” comes from the Greek word:
aphiēmi af-ee’-ay-mee forsake, lay aside, leave, let alone
It means to lay aside, or let alone.
The second word in this phrase is this:
prōtos pro’-tos foremost, best
The last word in the phrase is the word used for love:
agapē ag-ah’-pay love, that is, affection or benevolence
When we put these altogether, we begin to get an idea of what Christ was saying. A paraphrase of this verse might read;
“You have set aside your best and foremost, affectionate love.”
You might ask the question; how does a person get to this place of laying aside their foremost and first love? Does it happen overnight? What is the driving factor?
How does one go about losing their first love?
To begin, what was it like when you first fell in love with Jesus? For most there was:
- Hunger for His word
- Joy unspeakable
- Relentless pursuit
Then, slowly, over time, the pressures of this world encroach. People change, Christians turn on each other, the ugliness begins to press hard and you become disillusioned.
You cry out to God for relief, yet sometimes He seems distant. The passion you once had begins to cool and you struggle.
Matthew 24 contains a clue to the mystery . . .
The disciples had asked Jesus what things would be like prior to His coming again.
“Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me. 10 At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, 11 and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. 12 Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, 13 but he who stands firm to the end will be saved. 14 And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.
One of the things we need to be on the alert to, is the increase of wickedness that is taking place today. This increase of wickedness has a numbing effect on our senses. It is a gradual thing, a gentle slide, if you will.
We live in a wicked world; evil is rampant!
In our society, wickedness is quite rampant, and because of the increase of technologies, we are able to see it in a moments notice. We hear of atrocities happening all around the world. Even today’s popular TV shows and movies invoke great evil.
We become desensitized to the wickedness around us, the faces of the people involved begin to blur, we lose compassion for the lost, we slowly enter into tunnel vision, and we tune out the reality of living in a lost, broken, evil world.
This coupled with painful experiences; some of which may have taken place in the context of “church-ianity”, can lead to the chilling affect that Jesus spoke of!
Those closest to Jesus, experienced this phenomenon too; do you recall James and John, nicknamed “sons of commotion” or “sons of thunder.” I do not suspect that you will get this kind of reputation by being gentle and easy going, but by being boisterous, loud, and perhaps even confrontational. In the Gospel of Luke we get an insiders look, let’s take a peek!
As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem. 52 And he sent messengers on ahead, who went into a Samaritan village to get things ready for him; 53 but the people there did not welcome him, because he was heading for Jerusalem. 54 When the disciples James and John saw this, they asked, “Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?” 55 But Jesus turned and rebuked them, 56 and they went to another village.
By the way, John who mentioned here is the same one who wrote the Book of Revelation!
What was going on here? James and John were beginning to go into what I might call an intolerant protective mode. By that, I mean they were getting the first hand view of how the increase of wickedness was affecting the world around them.
When Jesus was insulted, they took it personally; even having a desire to destroy those who would come against Jesus!
Peter really highlighted this! You will recall Peter, was the first of the disciples to “get it.” Recall the Scriptures . . .
When Jesus came into the region of Caesarea Philippi, He asked His disciples, saying, “Who do men say that I, the Son of Man, am?” 14 So they said, “Some say John the Baptist, some Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” 15 He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” 16 Simon Peter answered and said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” 17 Jesus answered and said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven.
Peter knew who Jesus was; truth revealed to Him by God Himself. As Peter began to get an understanding of this reality, he became overly protective of Jesus. Recall Peter was the only disciple who had the nerve to rebuke Jesus.
From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must
go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life. 22 Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!” 23 Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.”
The fact Jesus mentioned that evil men would do bodily harm to Him, repulsed Peter; he (Peter) would never stand for it! Peter got angry at the mob came to arrest Jesus . . .
Then Simon Peter, who had a sword, drew it and struck the high priest’s servant, cutting off his right ear. (The servant’s name was Malchus.) 11 Jesus commanded Peter, “Put your sword away! Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?”
What was happening to Peter, to James and John? The increase of wickedness was “on.” They saw the hatred in the eyes of those coming against them; but more specifically, against Jesus, the only begotten Son of God!
These men began to lose their first love. Perhaps they had forgotten the joy of “agape love” when they provided thousands of men, women and children, a meal of fish and bread; looking into those eyes, hungering for sustenance that day.
Maybe they forgot the wonder of “agape love” as commanded by Jesus, to go out into the villages and towns, healing the sick, casting out demons; doing the work of a “sent one.”
Now, as the reality of living in an evil world begins to press in, they felt the need to protect God, as if God needs protecting! The love they once had for fallen humankind was waning, and they started to become part of the problem, instead of the cure.
Now we begin to get an idea of why Jesus places this rebuke right after He affirmed the church in Ephesus concerning their testing of false apostles.
They would have certainly put the false apostles out of the church, but perhaps they did so with a sense of pride. Maybe they began to take on the old attitudes that James, John, and Peter had.
Perhaps they forgot that behind the false prophet was man, a sinner in need of redemption. Maybe the fact that another human being could be eternally lost no longer broke their heart.
They had indeed lost their first love. The flame was dangerously low, if lit at all, and Jesus tells them; “Remember the height from which you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place.”
What a rebuke! A powerful warning to everyone who have ears to hear!
Love being restored
We will conclude our talk today by looking at an encounter that Peter had with Jesus after the resurrection. Remember, Jesus rebuked Peter; after trying to kill one of the crowd who came to arrest Jesus, and he had denied Jesus three times; in Peter’s estimation, quite a failure.
Let’s pull up a seat by the fireside chat, and listen in. . . .
Afterward Jesus appeared again to his disciples, by the Sea of Tiberias. It happened this way: Simon Peter, Thomas (called Didymus), Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two other disciples were together. “I’m going out to fish,” Simon Peter told them, and they said, “We’ll go with you.” So they went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing. Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus. He called out to them, “Friends, haven’t you any fish?” “No,” they answered.
He said, “Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.” When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish. Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” As soon as Simon Peter heard him say, “It is the Lord,” he wrapped his outer garment around him (for he had taken it off) and jumped into the water. The other disciples followed in the boat, towing the net full of fish, for they were not far from shore, about a hundred yards. When they landed, they saw a fire of burning coals there with fish on it, and some bread.
Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish you have just caught.” Simon Peter climbed aboard and dragged the net ashore. It was full of large fish, 153, but even with so many the net was not torn. Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” None of the disciples dared ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord. Jesus came, took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. This was now the third time Jesus appeared to his disciples after he was raised from the dead.
When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you truly love me more than these?” “Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.”
Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you truly love me?” He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.” The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my sheep. I tell you the truth, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, “Follow me!”
In this remarkable story, Jesus reaffirmed His love for Peter by His actions. He could have criticized Peter, ridiculed him, and said; “I told you so!”
Sitting by that fire, Peter experienced what I would call blazing, majestic, overwhelming love, coming from the Risen Christ! It must have been overwhelming!
The issue that Jesus was trying to bring to Peter’s attention was not that He (Jesus) loved Peter; that was now very evident. The question was; Peter, do you love Me?
Jesus simply asks you; “Do you love Me?”
Jesus calls us to repent, and do the things we did at first. I encourage you today, to renew your commitment, not only to Jesus, but also to the lost, wicked world around us. Recall the greatest commandment:
‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.