Seven Churches - Part 6

Series: SEVEN

February 19, 2017
Brad Shockley

Most of the cities’ names in the seven churches of Revelation sound foreign and unfamiliar (as they should being from ancient times and culture): Ephesus, Thyatira, Pergamum, Sardis, Laodicea. But not the city we are visiting today. Philadelphia is well known to us as a place in Pennsylvania. it’s the home of the Liberty Bell. We most likely we even know what the name means: the city of brotherly love. Philadelphia the American city was named after Philadelphia the ancient Asia-Minor city, which was named after King Attalus II, whose loyalty and devotion to his brother Eumenes earned him the title Philadelphus (one who loves his brother). Philadelphia was situated in an area prone to earthquakes. In AD 17, a horrific earthquake nearly destroyed the city. So traumatized were the Philadelphians, many chose to live in the surrounding countryside, especially since the aftershocks continued to damage buildings for many days afterward. This disaster was known among the ancients as one of the worst in their history. In what we would know as disaster relief, the Roman emperor exempted them from paying tribute for five years so they could rebuild. Eventually, Philadelphia voluntarily took upon itself and embraced a new name, NeoCaesarea, to honor emperor Tiberius, who had especially helped them in time of distress. Some years after that, they were traumatized once again, but this time by Emperor Domitian (you may remember him from chapter one. John had been exiled to Patmos by him because of his faith in a wave of persecution against Christians). H ordered half of Philadelphia's vineyards destroyed to protect the interest of the vine growers in Italy. It caused great hardship since they were dependent on this trade. The city felt betrayed by him. This morning let’s listen to what Jesus had to say to the Christians at Philadelphia and see what we can learn and apply to ourselves… Revelation 3:7 (ESV) — 7 “And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write: ‘The words of the holy one, the true one, who has the key of David, who opens and no one will shut, who shuts and no one opens. As with every letter, Jesus introduced himself, giving his credentials in a sense. Almost always in these letters he drew from John’s vision of him in chapter one. But not here. Christ described Himself to the church at Philadelphia as… The holy one The idea of holiness is hard for us modern Westerners to comprehend. In the OT and NT holiness is associated with the otherworldliness of God who is so infinitely above and set apart from us morally and in every other way imaginable we can barely grasp it. Holiness literally means set apart or consecrated. We seek to be holy or set apart as Christians. The word saint, which is a synonym in the NT for Christian, means holy ones. But not in the sense that Jesus is holy. Jesus is THE holy one; he is the actual embodiment of holiness. He’s also… The true one John 14:6 (ESV) — 6 Jesus said … “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” We seek truth in logic, reason, philosophy, and religion, and we find it to some degree in them all. But Jesus is the source of all truth. Just as he is the embodiment of holiness, so is he of truth. Next he described himself in an unusual way, drawing from the OT… The One who has the key of David John Walvoord explains: “Here the allusion seems to be to Isaiah 22:22 where, speaking of Eliakim the son of Hilkiah, it is recorded that ‘the key of the house of David will I lay upon his shoulder; so he shall open and none shall shut; and he shall shut, and none shall open.’ Eliakim had the key to all the treasures of the king, and when he opened the door it was opened, and when he closed the door it was closed. Christ, the great antitype of Eliakim, has the key to truth and holiness as well as to opportunity, service, and testimony.” Jesus’ description of himself ties in very closely with his praise for the church at Philadelphia… Revelation 3:8 (ESV) — 8 “ ‘I know your works. Behold, I have set before you an open door, which no one is able to shut. I know that you have but little power, and yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name. The One who has the keys of David, the One who opens a door and none can shut and closes a door and none can open, says he has set before them an open door. What does this mean? Some Bible scholars think it has to do with entrance into God’s kingdom, so it’s about salvation. But others think it means something else. The idea of an “open door” is found three other places in Scripture, and they all have to do with kingdom opportunities. The first is an open door… To share the gospel successfully In the book of Acts Paul was traveling the Roman Empire spreading the Gospel. He and his party went to Antioch… Acts 14:27 (ESV) — 27 And when they arrived and gathered the church together, they declared all that God had done with them, and how he had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles. The second is an open door… To perform Kingdom work powerfully As Paul bought his letter to the Corinthians to a close, he informed them of his plans to remain for a time in Ephesus because… 1 Corinthians 16:9 (ESV) — 9 for a wide door for effective work has opened to me, and there are many adversaries. The word “effective” in this verse comes from the Greek word energes which means active, and we get our word “energy” from that! A door of powerful effectiveness had been made and Paul didn’t want to miss the opportunities that came with it. And the third is an open door… To preach the Word with clarity Paul gave the Colossian Christians a specific prayer request… Colossians 4:3–4 (ESV) — 3 At the same time, pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ, on account of which I am in prison— 4 that I may make it clear, which is how I ought to speak. I think when Jesus said he was opening a door for them it meant he was preparing Philadelphia for missionary opportunity. They were about to see all their hard work produce a harvest, as the word was going to be preached in truth and clarity. Why? Because, Jesus said… I know that you have but little power, and yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name. “…I know that you have but little power…” That sounds like a criticism or complaint. But actually it’s Jesus acknowledging their situation. Like Smyrna, the Christians at Philadelphia had suffered greatly for their faith, because, just like Smyrna, their city was big on Emperor worship - especially since the emperor had done so much to help them rebuild after the earthquake. Remember, they had even renamed themselves as the new city of the emperor. But veneration of the emperor involved a heavy emphasis on worshiping him by burning incense on his altar. Not to do so meant possible death. At Smyrna this led to death of their pastor. Because of this they were probably small in number since Philadelphia wasn’t that big of a city anyway. They were also probably poor as a result as well. And maybe, just maybe, they didn’t have much in the way of kingdom talent. No great preachers. No great teachers. C.H. Spurgeon said that perhaps… They were not like that famous church at Corinth, where everybody could teach everybody… They had but small ability to speak with tongues, or work miracles, or teach the word… In all probability they were, like most of the churches of that day, possessed of very little [monetary] strength. They could do but little where money would be required. They were a company of poor people with no man of means among them… How can this be a good thing? What does this have to do with God opening up a door? A “little” power was all they needed to take advantage of the future opportunities because we are talking about Jesus here! He took a little bread and fed thousands; He took a man’s little faith and performed a mighty miracle (”Help thou my unbelief!” Mark 9:24). Christ said if we have the faith of a little mustard seed, it was enough to move mountains. In fact, he prefers to take the seemingly insignificant and powerless and use it to do great things! 1 Corinthians 1:26–31 (ESV) — 26 For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; 28 God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, 29 so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. 30 And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, 31 so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” Isn’t this exactly what God did with Jesus? Born a helpless baby in a manger to poor parents who had little power or influence. Jesus also opened the door because they… “have kept My Word have not denied My name” They had been faithful to the gospel even under intense difficulty. There are two situations in which the church is tempted to fall short of keeping Jesus’ word: in times of great prosperity (as we’ll see next time) and times of great suffering. But they did not compromise. They did not bow down to Caesar. They didn’t fall into error. What was this open door going to look like? Revelation 3:9 (ESV) — 9 Behold, I will make those of the synagogue of Satan who say that they are Jews and are not, but lie—behold, I will make them come and bow down before your feet, and they will learn that I have loved you. Just like Smyrna, the Jews at Philadelphia were a source of persecution and suffering for the Christians. They were exempt from having to burn incense at the emperor’s altar, but they turned in Christians who didn’t. Jesus promised that these very ones would come and “worship” at their feet. The very ones who had caused their distress would be worshiping alongside them one day! It makes me think of a documentary I watched this weekend called Accidental Courtesy. It’s about a black man named Early Davis who befriends KKK members and wins them over. In his garage are 3 dozen or so hoods ands robes, from grand dragons to imperial wizards. We’ve got to wrap this up. Revelation 3:10-13 (ESV) — 10 Because you have kept my word about patient endurance, I will keep you from the hour of trial that is coming on the whole world, to try those who dwell on the earth. 11 I am coming soon. Hold fast what you have, so that no one may seize your crown. 12 The one who conquers, I will make him a pillar in the temple of my God. Never shall he go out of it, Think about how this sounds to someone who was so frightened by an earthquake they had to move out the city in fear the pillars would fall on them. How they would have to go in and out of the city to do business. and I will write on him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which comes down from my God out of heaven, and my own new name. Think about his this sounds to someone who had been betrayed by their emperor, even after naming their city Neocaesarea (neo meaning new), after him. Conclusion: What does this mean to us? Remember, we are trying to answer that question as a church and as individual believers. We don’t want to be a church or Christian who has lost their first love like Ephesus. We don’t want to be a church or Christian that’s compromised or tolerated sin and false teachings like Pergamum and Thyatira. We certainly don’t want to be a church or Christian like Sardis: dead and without the spirit. Of all the seven churches we want to be like Smyrna and Philadelphia. The only two which received no criticism from Jesus. But there’s a catch. They both suffered. I love what Tim Keller says about this… Do you see what it says? It says, “I’ll bring you to the time, I’ll bring things to the situation where they will come and fall down and acknowledge that I have loved you.” What is Jesus saying? He’s saying, “You’re puny. There are very few of you. You’re not very talented, but people you never thought in a million years would listen to you will listen to you. You will win over people who you never thought you’d win over. People who you thought were absolutely hostile to you will be softened and melted into your friends.” How’s that going to happen? He says, “The reason I’m going to open that door is because you patiently endure.” This is the irony. Jesus says the way you handle closed doors will open others. He says, “The reason I’m going to open that door, the reason people are going to see a greatness about you, the reason you’re going to overcome, the reason you’re going to be able to win people over is because of the way in which you handled the closed doors of your life.”… … Do you know what suffering is? It’s closed doors. You expected to be this far by this time in your career. You expected to be making more money. You expected to have more friends. You expected to be this. You expected to be married. Closed doors are the things that make you suffer, that hurt you. Jesus says, “Because you have been so patient in handling your closed doors, I will open other ones.” That’s a remarkable statement. He is saying, “Suffering is never for nothing. If you handle suffering properly, it will turn you into great people who can open other doors. If you handle closed doors right, I will use those closed doors in your life to enable you to open other ones.” Do you follow that? The failure in front of you, if you handle it properly, will turn you into somebody who will succeed in some other way. Without that failure, you never could succeed. “The way you handle the closed doors will turn you into the kind of people I can use in other ways.” Greatness comes from handling suffering. Are you here today and the phrase “you have but little power” describes you? You don’t have much to offer: education or money or power or influence. Hang in there. be faithful. And Jesus will take that little and make it more than enough to be somebody in his kingdom. 13 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’

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