Without question, the Book of the Revelation is one of my favourite books of scripture. It is not only full of some of the most amazingly beautiful and evocative symbolism and imagery within the Bible, which itself is full of amazingly beautiful and evocative symbolism and imagery, but it rings aloud with such power and vibrancy the incredible hope and confidence that is ours because of Christ. When folk express confusion about the book of the Revelation, I often reply that I can explain the whole of the book in either a two word or six word summary. The two word summation: “God wins!” The six word variation: “God wins, thus we do too!”
Yet while it is a book of hope and promise, Revelation is also unflinching in its stark assessment of the tragic, muddled and confused state of sin of our world and the reality of the suffering God’s people face by a world which is lost in the darkness of sin and absolutely resistant and hostile to the light of the gospel. Equally, the book is unflinching in its declaration of our failings to shine forth with the light of Christ, and our terrible tendency to forget and let go of the glory and grace that is ours in Christ Jesus.
It is in the seven letters to the seven churches where we find some of the most challenging judgments upon our lapses and slackness of discipleship as Christians, and perhaps the first of those letters, written to the Christian church in Ephesus, remains the most poignant and relevant to us today. Regardless of the praiseworthiness of their “deeds, hard work and perseverance,” their testing and rejection of false prophets, their having endured hardships and persevered for the sake of Jesus’ name and their having not grown weary, the risen Lord declared that this he had against them: that they “have forsaken your first love.”
That is, they had allowed that burning passion of love for Jesus and one another slowly to cool down and die off. Instead of that deep sense of gratitude, awe and joy for all that Christ had done for them, and instead of that intense longing just to praise him and declare their love for him, their passion had gradually simmered down to the embers of routine worship and distracted discipleship. Where at one time, they could simply never get over the wonder that Christ had suffered, sacrificed himself and gone to death on the cross, all for love’s sake, for them, now there was a degree of taking the gospel and grace for granted.
In the same way, that boundless mutuality of tenderness, compassion, long-suffering, forgiveness and graciousness to one another had, over time, given way to something less. In the early days of the church, pagans would regard Christ’s followers with amazement, notably for the depth of care and sacrifice given to one another. “See these Christians, how they love one another” was the astonished response of the watching world. But over time, the loving kindness had given way to more base human responses of mutual annoyance, impatience and unforgiveness, such that the observation might have been made: “See these Christians, how they barely tolerate one another.”
“You have forsaken your first love,” was the Lord’s judgment – a judgment offered not in anger but in sorrow. “Remember the height from which you have fallen,” Jesus lamented, which suggests how powerful the Lord’s grief is, and how tragic our fall is, when we let love’s flame get smothered by a spirit of indifference to his grace or by a lack of a spirit of humility towards all others for whom he also died.
Remember the height from which you have fallen. Note that the Lord’s sadness is not simply because of the withdrawal or re-direction of love that should rightly belong to him and which is, for his glory’s sake, rightly owed to our sisters and brothers in the faith. Rather, that holy divine sadness is also because of “how far we have fallen.” That is, how much have we lost of the grace, joy, peace, and glory that is meant for Christ’s people to have and dwell within. How much of the excited, childlike wonder of knowing Christ and how much of the powerful capacity to do mighty things in his Name have we forfeited because we allowed our love for him and love for one another to grow cold. How much have we let the noisy demands of the world drown out the Lord’s voice, and our preoccupation with the things we believe are so important to blind us to his presence? How much have we settled for the tawdry entertainments of the world rather than strive after the lovely treasures of his truth, mercy and Spirit? How much have we chosen to lick the dust of our guilt and shame instead of feast and drink on the grace and forgiveness of the One who died for us? How much have we chosen to be satisfied with “doing church” instead of being brought to abundant life in relationship with him who is Way, Truth, Resurrection and Life? It’s been said that we have too easily been duped into eating out of the dumpster at the back of the restaurant when all the time Jesus wants us to be his honoured guests at the banquet of his love. How far have we fallen?
But here is the good news. There is no steep, impossible mountain to climb in our weakness and helplessness. The heights of God’s love in Jesus Christ are ours to regain simply through repentance and throwing ourselves back into the arms of him who raised us to such heights of joy and wonder in the first place. It is simply in letting his redeeming and restorative love have its way in us once again. Then shall he once again be our first love, and through that love then shall we once again love one another with a holiness that will leave the watching world astounded.