Revelation 3: 7 - 13
What sort of church does Jesus prefer? Baptist? Methodist? Lutheran? Catholic? Presbyterian? Does he prefer . . . Rural churches? Megachurches? City churches? Independent churches? New churches? Old churches? Maybe Jesus prefers . . .
Large buildings or Cathedrals. Thankfully, we are not left to wonder about the answer.
Revelation 2-3 tells us what sort of church Jesus prefers. When we survey these 7 churches, we discover that none of the things I listed is mentioned. When Jesus looks at a church, he’s not studying outward things. He’s looking for the deeper signs of growing faith, fervent love and abiding hope. He wants his churches to be motivated by love, founded on the truth, strong under pressure and unashamed of his name.
Of the 7 churches, only Smyrna and Philadelphia received no words of condemnation. Both churches were facing strong opposition because of their bold witness. Hard times generally make for strong churches, especially when the hard times come because the church refuses to compromise the gospel.
(MAP) Philadelphia - city about 60kms southeast of Sardis. Because it was located near a fault line, earthquakes were a constant threat. (PICTURES) This city of “Brotherly Love” was intended to be a kind of “missionary city” to introduce Greek culture to the surrounding region. Built on a narrow pass between 2 mountain ranges, Philadelphia stood as a literal doorway to the rest of Asia Minor. The church in that city was the youngest and smallest of the 7 churches. Though small in size, our Lord had opened a huge door for this faithful congregation. Here is a church Christ heartily approves. Let’s think about our own church and consider how we measure up.
1. Consider Our Opportunity v. 7, 8
A. Christ himself opens the doors.
When God opens a door, no one can shut it. When God closes a door, no one can open it. People ask, “How can I know when God has opened a door?” The simplest answer - “You won’t know until you go through the door.” It’s been my experience that sometimes the door is obvious and we just walk right through. Sometimes we run. Sometimes we need a little shove.
It’s a good thing that we don’t know the future because we couldn’t handle it. The future with all its ups and downs, twists and turns, with all the unexpected things that we don’t see coming, it is all so overwhelming that if we knew what was coming, we would probably run the other way. Life is better lived one day at a time.
Open doors are like that. God rarely shows us the big picture in advance. The “open door” is usually a door pushed slightly open. We still have to summon up the courage to go through the door and see what’s on the other side.
Jesus himself, the one who is holy and true, the one who has all authority, opens doors for his people. It’s his job to open the doors. He’s very good at it, and he doesn’t need our help. Our job is to go through the doors he opens, one step at a time, one foot in front of the other, going wherever he may lead us. One door may open, and then it may close. That’s okay. Another door may open. That’s okay too. We may have to sit still for a while waiting for a door to open. That’s also okay. Jesus is sovereign over the doors of life. We can trust him. Sometimes doors close. So we bow before the Lord who opens and no man shuts, and who shuts and no man opens.
B. Christ honours faith, not strength v. 8
Little strength and great opportunity often go hand in hand. Sometimes small churches think there is little they can do for the Lord. It is all a matter of perspective. The church at Philadelphia had little strength. We can assume that they didn’t have much money or many influential people. But they had great faith.
Here is a lesson for all of us. I may not be as wise or as eloquent as someone else and I may not have the money or the influence of my neighbours. I may not be as educated or as well-connected. But I can trust the Lord just as well as anyone else.
What is it that God honours? Faith! What is he looking for? Faith! What does he reward? Faith! How much faith does he require? Not much. Faith like a mustard seed. Not the faith of many years and deep knowledge. He honours the faith of a child. Simple faith.
2 wonderful things Jesus says about this church: “You kept my word.” "You have not denied my name.” The first involves holding fast to the words of Jesus. The second means you aren’t embarrassed by the first. Some people feel slightly ashamed of their faith. They follow Jesus but keep it to themselves. Don’t rock the boat, don’t cause problems and don’t stir up trouble. How sad.
When Paul and Silas came to Thessalonica in Acts 17, their opponents tried to have them arrested. I love the charge their enemies made against them: “These who have turned the world upside down have come here too” (Acts 17: 6). How’s that for an insult? These men have “turned the world upside down.” Would anyone ever say that about us? They meant it as an accusation, but it is really a compliment. What a great thing to have said about you, that you managed to turn the world upside down. I can’t think of a greater compliment for a Christian.
2. Consider our Opposition
“The door of opportunity swings on the hinges of opposition.” Let a church decide they are going to stand for Jesus and tell the community the whole counsel of God. Let that church firmly but kindly declare the saving gospel of Jesus, and they will have enemies soon enough. Not all of them will be outside the church. Some of the fiercest critics will be found among those who listen every Sunday. We live in a day when people, even good church people, would prefer to trim their sails so as not to offend the community. They want to be known as good people, good neighbours, fine and friendly folks and a safe haven for the hurting. Who could object to that? Certainly not me. But there is a fine line between wanting to reach the community and not telling them the full truth of God. The gospel is good news, but before it is good news it is bad news, and unless we tell the bad news, the good news won’t seem very good.
I think the believers at Philadelphia would appreciate that approach. They cared enough about the truth that they had made some powerful enemies in the community. That was a mark of their faithfulness to Christ.
A. We will be vindicated v. 9
The “synagogue of Satan” refers to those Jews in Philadelphia who persecuted the early believers. Seeing Jesus as a threat to their way of life, they hated him and those who followed him. But, Jesus says, they are liars. The day will come when these hostile enemies will bow down and confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.
We must not be intimidated by those who today have no use for Christianity. Not only are they wrong in their current estimation of Jesus, but that will not be their final answer. Philippians 2 pictures a day when every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. Some do it willingly today. In the Judgment Day those who have no use for Christ or for Christians will see how wrong they were.
Coaches tell their players, “Play as hard as you can, and when the game is over, look up at the scoreboard and see who’s ahead.” John is saying that to these Christians. Only he adds one key point, “Play hard even when you think you’re behind because when the game is over, you’re going to be on the winning team.”
B. We will be protected v. 10
Sometimes the best you can do is just to “endure patiently.” Spiritual warfare isn’t all roses and rainbows. Sometimes it means not giving up when you feel like throwing in the towel. Our Lord makes a precious promise to these suffering saints. He looks ahead to the “time of trial” that will engulf the whole world before Christ comes to establish his kingdom on the earth. In the Last Days things will be difficult indeed. Scripture often speaks of the time of trouble that will shake the earth and prepare the world for the coming of the Lord. Because they have been faithful, Jesus will keep his people from that time of trial.
3. Consider Our Obligation v. 11
You can’t read this passage without getting a sense that the early believers expected Christ to come at any moment. He even said, “I am coming soon.” I wonder how many of us believe that? This text calls us to do 2 things while we look for the coming of Christ.
A. To wait for his return.
We are to live as if Jesus may come at any moment and work as though our time is short.
B. To overcome by faith v, 12, 13
The challenge to overcome is one we face every single day. “I will get out of bed today.” “I will go to work even though I hate my job.” “I will be kind instead of rude today.” “I will forgive when it would be easier to get even.” “I will not lose my temper with my children or my wife today.” This is where overcomers are made. It’s easy to imagine the “overcomers” as some special breed of Super Christians who live on a plane far above the rest of us mere mortals. But it is not so. We are all called to be “overcomers” every single day because we all have a lot to overcome: Temptations galore. Frustrations on every hand. Disagreeable people. Difficult situations. Unexpected setbacks. Angry critics. Internal discouragement. Chronic pain. Friends who aren’t very friendly. Personal failures known only to us.
There are always reasons to give up, always reasons to quit, always plenty of excuses if we want them. But to those who persevere, who will not give up even when they feel like it and when everything in them says, “Walk away from this mess,” to those brave souls who keep on keeping on, Christ makes 2 incredible promises -
1. We will be Safe and Secure.
Jesus promises his people that they will be pillars in God’s temple, and they will never leave God’s presence. These words meant a great deal because Philadelphia had been destroyed by a terrible earthquake and the citizens were used to evacuating the city. But those who trust in Jesus will be safe and secure forever.
It’s a great thing to have a place you can call home. It ought to be the one place where we are known and loved and always welcomed. Jesus is saying, “They may not like you so much in Philadelphia, but you’ve got a home with me in heaven. I’ll make you a pillar in my temple so that you will be close to me forever.”
2. We will be Named and Claimed.
The power to name is the power of ownership. Those whom God has redeemed will be named and claimed by him. All the old names won’t matter anymore: Doctor. Lawyer. Professor. Politician. Coach. Banker. Teacher. Famous athlete. Richest man. Most influential woman. But there are other names that won’t matter either: Criminal. Failure. Hated. Abandoned. Humiliated. Unappreciated. Liar. Adulterer.
In that great day, the blood of Jesus will wash away all the “tags” by which we know each other. Our “good” names won’t matter, and our “bad” names won’t be remembered. We will all stand on the same ground, saved, redeemed, renewed and renamed by our Lord. We will be given the name of the New Jerusalem because that’s where we will spend eternity.
Our passports tell where we come from and our visas tell where we can go. All believers in Jesus have a passport stamped “Citizen of heaven” and a visa guaranteeing them permanent entrance. No one can stop us, no one can hinder us, no one can say, “You have no right to be here.” We enter by the blood of Jesus, and in his name we find our place in the heavenly city.
Now this ought to encourage all of us. The world often takes Christians for granted and sees no value in us, but God honours his faithful servants. We may have no security down here. We lock our doors because thieves may enter and we know that the stock market may collapse today or tomorrow.
If you want eternal security, you can find it only in Jesus Christ. One day we will have a new name, and we will live in a city that cannot be shaken. God help us to be faithful to him who has done so much for us. Amen.