13th Sunday after Pentecost Sermon Series: “What a Revelation!”
September 4, 2022 Part 8, Rev. 3:7-13
Dear brothers & sisters in Christ,
We are nearing the end of our sermon series, hearing the seven letters to the seven churches of Asia Minor, from Revelation chapters 1-3. Today, church number 6 is located in the city of Philadelphia. Two of the 7 churches were not told to repent of some sin. The Lord Jesus had nothing against the church in Smyrna; He acknowledged their severe trials, and encouraged them to just ‘hang on’ to the faith. He said: “Do not be afraid, …be faithful unto death and I will give you the crown of life.” Likewise, today’s letter is only encouraging.
In the other letters, when The Lord says, ‘I have this against you’, it forces US to examine ourselves to see if there is anything about us that is offensive to Him. This is for our good, so that our sin is identified before it cuts us off from Him forever. He calls us to repentance so that we would turn, be forgiven, and know how to live in right & holy ways. Sometimes we can wonder if it’s even possible for us to reach His holy expectations.
Today, with His church in Philadelphia, He shows us that it IS possible to please God.
Philadelphia was an important city because it was on one of the greatest east-west highways of the world; it had been called the ‘doorway’ because it helped connect the holy land with the Europe. However, it never became a truly great city because of its constant tremors and some terrible earthquakes. In the year 17 AD, the whole city was destroyed by an earthquake, & much of the population moved out. But because the rich volcanic soil was excellent for growing grapes, people moved back. At the time of this letter, 95AD, Philadelphia was known world-wide for its wines.
Now, as in the other letters, the language Jesus uses fits with their setting. When King Attalus Philadelphus ran the city, he intended it to be an ‘outpost’; his goal was to spread the Greek culture & language to ‘civilize’ all the ‘uncultured’ world. But what he didn’t realize was that the Almighty God was using his pagan & worldly goal to pave the way for the spread of God’s holy kingdom & the saving gospel for all people’s salvation. Philadelphia was a missionary-outpost for Christ Jesus. That commercial highway led to areas yet untouched by the gospel. Which is why Jesus says to this church: “See, I have placed before you an open door.”
Life in Philadelphia was unsettled because of the tremors & earthquakes; people were always coming & going. So with part of His promise to the faithful, Jesus says, ‘never again will you leave.’ That’s similar to His promise to us to give us the bread that ends our hunger, or living water that ends our thirst. So, here He promises a safe place better than anything on earth. WE are also standing secure in that promise. By His death & resurrection, He has promised to keep us safe = no matter what comes! His kingdom cannot be shaken.
With some other picture language, Jesus promises that the faithful will ‘be made a pillar in the temple of God.’ Philadelphia had many temples & was the center for worshiping the ‘god of the grape’ named Dionysius. The Greek culture is famous for using pillars in nearly every construction. One reward to honor a person who served the community well was to have his/her name inscribed on a temple pillar so that they would be forever remembered. It’s like Hollywood’s ‘Walk of Fame’ with all those stars in the sidewalk. Of course, now all those famous people of Philadelphia are forgotten, and the majority of the old city & buildings are in ruins because of repeated earthquakes. What the Greeks failed to do, the Eternal God can most certainly do: God promises permanence in His enduring temple; which is not a temple of this earth, & not made by human hands. His pillar is permanent, & He never forgets His own.
Now, let’s hear this letter. Revelation 3:7-13 NIV
7 “To the angel of the church in Philadelphia write:
These are the words of him who is holy and true, who holds the key of David. What he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open. 8 I know your deeds. See, I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut. I know that you have little strength, yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name. 9 I will make those who are of the synagogue of Satan, who claim to be Jews though they are not, but are liars —I will make them come and fall down at your feet and acknowledge that I have loved you.
10 Since you have kept my command to endure patiently, I will also keep you from the hour of trial that is going to come on the whole world to test those who live on the earth.
11 I am coming soon. Hold on to what you have, so that no one will take your crown.
12 Him who overcomes I will make a pillar in the temple of my God. Never again will he leave it. I will write on him the name of my God and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which is coming down out of heaven from my God; and I will also write on him my new name. 13 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.
As we can hear, it IS possible for God’s church, His people, to keep & obey His Word, and to be His faithful witnesses to those who still need to hear His good news.
The reason the church at Philadelphia was able to remain true & be commended is because Jesus Himself was with them by His Holy Word and Living Spirit. In the Greek, it says here that Jesus is the ‘true’ or ‘genuine’ one; the One having the key of David that opens or shuts at His will. Standing on Him & His Word, they were ‘more than conquerors’ in this life = as Paul wrote to another church in Romans 8. His promise of love, safety & permanence is also for you & me. Even when the world tries to shake our faith, we look to the cross =because Jesus is the Forgiving One; and we look into the empty tomb =because Jesus is the Living One.
In many ways, the church in Philadelphia was just an ordinary church, like Immanuel Lutheran in Walker. They were not fancy, & not particularly wealthy; they were small compared to all the Greek temple-goers, and they would’ve endured ridicule for refusing to go along with the mainstream of the culture. Despite those things, they were simply being faithful & fruitful; because that’s what Jesus’ Word & Spirit empowered them to be.
What Jesus said in John 15 applies to ALL of us: “You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last. This is to My Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be My disciples.”
In sincerity and truth, the church there clearly held on to Jesus as the Holy One, the Genuine One, the One holding the eternal key of David. They had His gospel, which declares Him alone as the Gracious One with forgiveness, with the teachings that will make us walk thru this life, & then thru His open door. His death & resurrection keeps that door open for you; for all who believe, & who are baptized in His name. That is pure, unconditional grace.
When those in Philadelphia heard that message, their lives became very simple: they turned away from this world to Christ, & away from sinful ways, and they obeyed their Lord in what they said & did. And then they realized: that IF God has been so merciful toward them as poor, miserable sinners, THEN He would also be merciful toward all those around them; to all who called on His name. This is what it means to be ‘reborn’ as a child of God; it is the Holy Spirit using water & the Word to give a real ‘new birth’ so as to live a new life right now.
So, the Lord Jesus gave the church in Philadelphia high praise for not making this faith too complicated. They were humbled by God’s graciousness; so with thankful hearts & lives, they carried out His mission purpose. They were simply being what Jesus called them to be.
The believers in Ephesus, & Pergamum, Thyatira & Sardis were living with a divided heart & life. They were giving-in to the temptations of the culture & their unfaithful friends; they were trying to have both earthly and heavenly things; they were sin-tolerant, progressive, lazy, or fearful. But Jesus warned them that they must not play games with Him, or with His Word for faith & life. Otherwise, the door would be shut to them. While the other letters had quite stern warnings to the churches, this one has an encouraging purpose: Undeserved grace, overflowing thankfulness, and humble obedience.
So to His faithful, He says: I know your power is small, but don’t worry, Mine is omnipotent. The kingdom is yours, but I’m not quite ready to return, so hold on to your crown. Continue to be faithful with My Word & purpose. Look, I’ve opened the door for others like you to come, to hear & believe. I will even change the hearts of the stubborn Jews because of My love for you. I’m reserving you a place in My temple.
This letter is from 95 AD. In 98 AD, an ‘hour of trial’ came when the emperor Trajan unleashed horrific torture of the Christian Church, because it refused to go along with the culture & values of the Roman Empire; it was labeled as a threat. That’s happening today to Biblical churches; they’re called a ‘threat to democracy’, or a danger to the rights of women’s health, or a threat to the freedom of ‘doing whatever you want.’
Even for all of its power, the Roman Empire only lasted a few hundred years after this letter; and the Christian Church in Philadelphia is still there = still proclaiming the open door to the kingdom of God; that ‘door’ is that Jesus is Savior, God & Lord. Likewise, even though The United State may not last, we know for certain that The Church of Christ will endure until He returns.
So, Jesus uses that faithful church to encourage His churches now: keep the message straight, and get the message out. The grace He has shown to US is also meant for ALL nations, peoples, tribes & languages. The world around us does make this faith a real challenge to live by; but the faith itself is rather simple: Grace, obedience, & sharing Him with all.
On the back of the bulletin insert, there are 3 scripture passages that reflect this faith that has been given to us. As we close, let me read the one from Romans 10:
11 As Scripture says, “Anyone who believes in him will never be put to shame.” 12 For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile —the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, 13 for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
14 How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? 15 And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”
16 But not all the Israelites accepted the good news. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed our message?” 17 Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ.
Hold on to what you have been given and baptized into; let no one and let nothing take your crown; and share His good news with others. Jesus is on His way, and He is bringing with Him His unshakable kingdom.