9th Sunday after Pentecost Sermon Series: “What a Revelation!”
August 7, 2022 Part 5, Rev. 2:12-17
Dear brothers & sisters in Christ,
So, we are in the middle of our sermon series from the first 3 chpts of the book of Revelation. Jesus appears to the Apostle John, and tells him to write seven letters to the seven NT churches of Asia Minor, and tells him exactly what to write. These were actual Christian churches in the first century AD, planted by Paul in his missionary journeys. But, these letters are also God’s instruction for ALL of God’s churches, of any time or place, facing the same issues. Jesus’ words also speak to us individually, as He chastises us, corrects & guides us in His authority & love. He promises to bless us as we hear & obey His words.
So far we’ve been to Ephesus, as Jesus commends the church for standing firm against wickedness, but scolds them for losing their ‘first love’, which is showing mercy to those caught in sin. Then last week we heard about Smyrna. The Christians there faced suffering because they refused to compromise their faith, & go along with the Roman culture of calling Caesar a ‘god’. Their pastor -Polycarp- was burned alive rather than deny that there is just one God & one Lord. Jesus encouraged them with a familiar Bible verse, Rev.2:10: “Be faithful unto death and I will give you the crown of life.”
Today we hear the letter to the church in Pergamum. Pergamum, for a time, was the capital of the Roman province of Asia. It was impressive city, built on a high plateau. It had the second-most famous library in the ancient world, with about 200,000 papyrus books & scrolls. Of course, the biggest library was in Alexandria, Egypt with over ½ million scrolls. Pergamum was well-known as a religious center, with 5 major temples: for Greek gods & the Roman Emperors.
The most famous temple & altar there was built for Zeus, the king of the Greek gods.
It was set 800 feet above the city, jutting out from the hillside. It housed the largest Greek altar, over 100 feet square & 20 feet high; carved in its marble is the ‘battle of the giants’, which is part of Greek mythology. It’s an awesome piece of art. In the early 1900s, a German archeologist excavated this altar, & moved it -piece-by-piece- to East Berlin, & it’s displayed in the Pergamum museum. In John’s day, the fireplace on that altar was burning all day with countless sacrifices to Zeus. It was an imposing display of political & religious power …>
that could be seen from the whole city below it.
Besides the temple of Zeus, Pergamum was known for its health spa = like a medical center. The valley below the city was the health center of the heathen world, with clinics, schools, & medical treatments using mineral waters, medicines & mud baths. This is where smart people could go to study & be trained, & to discuss current medical problems & cures.
From all over the world those with illness came to be healed by ‘Asclepius’= the Greek god of healing; whose symbol is a staff & snake. As noted on your bulletin insert, it’s interesting that our common medical symbol is not what some think = it is not Moses’ bronze snake on a staff from Numbers 21. It is a rod with 2 snakes and wings; reflecting the Greek gods of healing; and all false gods are accomplices of Satan. To the Christian, the serpent is the emblem of Satan himself from Genesis 3.
Early historians write about those who came to be healed; they had to spend the night in the darkness in the lower level of the temple, which was filled with snakes. If they were touched by a snake it was considered to be the touch of Asclepius himself, which meant they would be healed. As patients would leave, they were to go past a special wall below the temple; it was called the ‘wall of the gods’. They were to put their ear to it, and listen to the voice of the gods, and then do what they were told. In truth, archaeologists have found caves down there with pipes leading to the wall; people would talk into those pipes to those patients. So, this was 1st century quackery. Did you know that Aug. 4 is ‘nat’l psychic day’? The wickedness of people deceiving others has not changed.
The Christians in Pergamum were ridiculed for not joining in the pagan medical or worship activities; but sometimes it was worse. The amphitheater there could hold about 45,000 people, built on the hillside looking down. The crowd could watch a mock battle staged by soldiers for their afternoon’s entertainment, like we might watch a football game. But on ‘special’ occasions, the authorities would capture a Christian, and put them in the arena to be torn apart by a wild animal. If there was even a chance of that nowadays, would you & I still be part of the Christian church?
So, what would King Jesus have to say to the church in Pergamum? Let me read it: [read]
12 “To the angel of the church in Pergamum write:
These are the words of him who has the sharp, double-edged sword. 13 I know where you live —where Satan has his throne. Yet you remain true to my name. You did not renounce your faith in me, not even in the days of Antipas, my faithful witness, who was put to death in your city —where Satan lives.
14 Nevertheless, I have a few things against you: There are some among you who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to entice the Israelites to sin so that they ate food sacrificed to idols and committed sexual immorality. 15 Likewise, you also have those who hold to the teaching of the Nicolaitans. 16 Repent therefore! Otherwise, I will soon come to you and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth.
17 Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who is victorious, I will give some of the hidden manna. I will also give that person a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to the one who receives it.
In John 12:48, Jesus says, “There is a judge for the one who rejects Me and does not accept My words; that very word which I spoke will condemn him at the last day.” So, Jesus identifies himself as the One with the sharp, double-edged sword, which is also called the ‘sword of the Spirit’ in Eph.6. That sword is the written Word of God. In Hebrews 4, it says: “For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword,… it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.”
God’s Word saves; it converts, it raises up the dead soul to live again with God. But God’s Word also condemns those who reject it, because it reveals to us who God is – as Creator & Redeemer; the Word is also Christ himself, & is filled with the HSp. To reject the Scripture is to reject God.
Pergamum was a spiritually dangerous place; a particular stronghold of Satan’s ways. The devil knew people would ignore their souls to get physical health & pleasure == people still do! So, Jesus commends the church for remaining true to Him in a risky place.
He mentions a man named Antipas. Some early historians tell us that while the believers were worshiping in a cave, the authorities came & called them out to burn incense & call Caesar ‘lord.’ Antipas came out. And when he refused, he was put into a metal bull that was heated underneath by fire until dead. He is named here as a faithful witness to the true Lordship of Jesus, the Son of God.
Jesus also gives them a warning. He says that they were in danger of being corrupted as they lacked discipline in keeping God’s teaching pure. They allowed false teachers to stay among them & did not get rid of them, like they should. As Jesus has taught us, a little yeast leavens the whole lump. So, they were tolerating the teaching of Balaam(numbers) which is the sin of compromise; mixing truth with error, involving the idol feasts and sexual immorality.
Even WE know how this goes. Clever people convince others to tolerate sin & set aside God’s high standards to make this Christian religion more palatable by being ‘less strict’. Those teachers will claim that it will increase membership, & make the church be more loving & less judgmental, it will increase offerings, with a better public image in the community. But Scripture says that God’s anger burned against Balaam, & he died a violent death, because he was corrupting God’s people by tolerating error.
Jesus says: “Repent therefore! Otherwise, I will soon come to you and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth.” During His earthly ministry, Jesus’ greatest anger was against those who were supposed to teach God’s truth but were mixing in false doctrine. Jesus never confronted a pagan Roman emperor, and He never went into a Greek temple to preach against those false gods. But He did confront the Pharisees & teachers of the Law, & openly condemned them for teaching falsely to God’s people. And even tho Jesus felt sorry for the crowds because they were like sheep without a shepherd; yet, ignorance was no excuse.
If they did not know & believe the truth of God’s Word, they would die in their sin & error.
Likewise, OUR ignorance of God & His ways is no excuse for us. Especially for us,
in these last days, with the promised Holy Spirit poured out for us = giving us the complete written record of God’s Holy Word for us to know & to obey. It’s by that Word we will be judged on the last day. If we foolishly let ourselves be led astray by smooth talking teachers, we -ourselves- will suffer the consequences. God has always expected his people to test their teachers against the standard of His Word.
But we know how it goes. We know people who just go with majority crowd, or blindly trust their pastor & leaders. They say, ‘pastor says its okay, so it must be’, he (or ‘she’) knows the bible better than I do’. That sounds nice & humble, but that’s how people get led astray to believe falsely, and then to accept or to practice sinful ways.
How else does it happen that, people we know, will join a group that says that /God created, but not like Gen. says, in 6 days; bec.science says billions of years. OR /‘water baptism’ doesn’t really do anything, so children don’t need it; OR /the Lord’s Supper with some bread & grape juice doesn’t forgive sins, OR /we can change the def.of marriage bec its ‘love’ that matters; /change the def.of man or woman bec God’s okay with many diff.lifestyles. These are false teachings. (see Mat.18:5,6)
The One who has the double-edged sword holds each soul responsible to believe & obey His Word of Life. So, those in the church at Pergamum still confessed Jesus as God & Lord, but were putting themselves in peril by tolerating those who were ignoring God’s Word in favor of being more accepted in the world. That would make life easier. Yet, How does one claim that ‘Jesus is Lord’ but then does not obey His teaching? The Lord says, ‘turn now, before it’s too late.’
So, on that bulletin insert I included a few thoughts about ‘how to test’ what is taught about the faith. First, we do need to be willing to ask where that teaching comes from, & what is the bible verse, or bible example of that teaching. It helps if the bible you use is one with some cross references, so that other verses will help explain a teaching.
I have also found three statements that are often used in Christian circles, which may be ‘red flags’ for Balaam’s error. #1: Beware when a person says, ‘that’s what the bible says, but that’s not what it means.’ Sometimes that’s true; mostly it’s not. But other parts of the bible will make it clear. #2: (they say) ‘that teaching was for back then, but it doesn’t apply to us today.’ Sometimes that’s true; often it’s not true. But other parts of the bible will make it clear. #3: (they say) ‘this is what modern bible scholars say.’ That one may be the biggest red flag, as anyone can claim to be a scholar or expert when they are not.
In the end, there’s only one way to make sure that God’s truth & right practice remains pure among us, and to keep our ideas from polluting it. The principle is this: Scripture interprets itself. We confess that the Bible is God’s own Word & without error; He has given it to us so we would know Him, and have His truths for this life. Even when we don’t fully understand something He has written for us, we trust Him to know better than us.
Because IF God was not powerful enough to preserve His word for us, THEN maybe He’s not powerful enough to save us, or fulfill all His promises to us. If one part of the Bible isn’t true, how can we know the other parts are true? And if the Bible IS God’s Word, then -to be His people- we must understand it, and obey all of it. Evidently, the church at Pergamum did not stop compromising because there is no Christian church there today.
As Jesus brings us face to face with His high & holy expectations for us and for us as His church we are then able to identify what is false so that we can repent of it, turn away from what is wrong, and to receive His promise of heavenly manna to nourish our faith.
This heavenly food is spiritual truth, courage, hope & peace = things the world cannot see or appreciate. This ‘hidden manna’ also refers to the feast-to-come in the kingdom of heaven;
we see it with the eyes of faith. For now, Jesus himself & all His doctrine is the Bread of Heaven for us; it’s the food-of-life for us because He gave himself up for us thru crucifixion to forgive us of our debts & our doubts. And now because He lives, His Holy Spirit moves us to hear & obey Him = above all else.
Those who have the ear of faith -thru Baptism’s grace & Spirit- will hear the Master-Teacher, and will test the teaching and reject false teachers. To those He will give ‘a white stone’; a symbol of being chosen & acquitted/innocent, with the right to be called by a ‘new name’: called a child of God. His teaching makes us new people with a real future.
Scripture says, in James 1:22, “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive
yourselves. Do what it says.” In Colossians 3:16 it says, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom.” And to pastor Timothy, Paul writes: “Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both your self and your hearers.”
And The One with the double-edged sword says in Luke 6 & 11: “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord’, but do not do what I say? Blessed are those who hear the word of God and obey it.”