We come to the sixth of the seven letters of Jesus to the churches in Asia. Remember that Revelation is an apocalypse through which Jesus reveals something to us that we need to know. It is prophecy through with Jesus calls his people to return to faithfulness and overcome.
There are those who try to read it like a crystal ball and they try to match the events of the day to the symbols in Revelation. But to do that misses the point of Jesus’ words. Through Revelation, Jesus speaks to us in the here and now and tells us how to be faithful in times of hardship and persecution. There is more here than meets the eye.
Today, the postman travels from Sardis to the city of Philadelphia. This city is the stepping stone to the East. It is from Philadelphia that Greek culture and language spread into Asia. By any measure it is a missionary city and the mission of the church in Philadelphia is to transform it into a mission hub for Jesus.
We will also discover that the church in this city is the most faithful Christian congregation in Asia. There is not a negative word anywhere to be read in this letter. It provides nothing but praise and encouragement. Let’s listen to what Jesus wrote to this most faithful church.
JESUS HOLDS THE KEY
To the angel in 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. (verse 7)
Again, Jesus begins by saying something about himself. In verse 7, Jesus makes three vital claims about himself. First, he declares himself to be holy. This is an interesting term because “The Holy One” is a title that is used for God in the Old Testament, in Isaiah 40:25). What Jesus is saying very clearly was that he is divine, he is God. He is not merely a man who taught good things, was crucified and rose again. He is God incarnate, Emmanuel, God with us.
The second thing that he said was that he is true. He hates error and evil. There is nothing false about him. In a world which constantly looks for truth, he is the place to turn for he himself is truth.
The final thing that he says about himself is that he holds the key of David. That is very important because a key in prophecy is a symbol of authority. Jesus has the key. Since he holds the key, he is the one who has the authority to lock and unlock the most important doors. What he opens no one can shut and what he shuts no one can open. But what doors is Jesus talking about?
There are two possible doors and we can look at each of them. The first door is the door of salvation. Jesus talks about the door of salvation in Matthew 7:13-14 where we read these word:
Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow is the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.
That goes against the grain of what we are told in our relativistic world that says that there are all kinds of roads that lead to life. It doesn’t matter what religion you are or if you have no religion at all. They all lead to the same place. Pick whichever one you want. One is as good as the next.
I’ve often heard those thoughts express by very well-intentioned people. What Jesus says, however, is that well-meaning people are sometimes dead wrong. There is only one door to God and it is narrow. There is only one key to the door of salvation and Jesus holds it. Remember what he said in John 14:6: “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Apparently, he meant it because he reminds us of it in his letter to the Philadelphians.
Jesus holds the key to the door of salvation. He also holds the key to the door of opportunity. The opportunity that he is talking about is the opportunity to share the Good News and witness to others about the amazing love of God and the salvation that is available through faith in Jesus Christ. Paul used the same imagery in Colossians 4:3:
And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ…
Last week we were challenge to remember the last time that we had shared our faith in Christ with someone else. Some of us had to go way back in our memories. Once again, we are faced with the same challenge. God provides all of us with opportunities to witness to other people. But how many opportunities have we missed because we were afraid that we might offend someone. Maybe we were afraid of appearing too religious. I know how hard it is to share something as personal as faith. There are all sorts of reasons why we don’t always take advantage of those opportunities but the uncomfortable reality is that we often don’t.
We need to change that pattern. We need to learn how to take advantage of the opportunities that are placed before us. It’s easier to do that when we realize that we are not doing it alone. We are part of a team called the Church. Some of us plant seeds. That’s what you’re doing when you share your story with someone else. You may not think that is a very big deal but it is because, after you plant, someone else can then step in and water the plants and remove the weeds so that the fruit of faith will grow. And it all starts because someone found the courage to share that first seed of faith when the opportunity arose. Jesus holds the key to the door of opportunity.
The purpose of the Church is to equip Christians to share the Good News of Jesus Christ with those who need to hear. When they go out into the world, they should seek opportunities to share the message that has changed their lives. Perhaps the challenge for us is to do a better job of teaching one another how to share that Good News and how to disciple others to do it too.
Always keep in mind that while there are things that we need to do, it is Jesus who holds the keys. He holds the keys to the doors of both salvation and opportunity. Things are not as they seem. There is more here than meets the eye.
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. (verse 8)
As always, Jesus sees what the Christians in Philadelphia are doing. He sees their deeds and their action and, quite frankly, he is pleased. They are a church that has seen Jesus open doors for them and every time he has opened a door they have walked right through. This is in stark contrast to what Jesus said to the other churches. Clearly, these brothers and sisters have it all figured out.
Here’s something else to consider. Jesus is not about to allow the doors be shut on the Christians in Philadelphia. As long as they are doing what they are called to do, the doors of opportunity will remain wide open. This reminds me of the parable of the talents in Matthew 25:14-30. In that story, before the Master went away he left some of his servants with money to use. Some of the servants used it wisely and some did not. The lesson here is that to those who are faithful in using what God has given, even more will be given to them. But those who are not faithful will lose even what they have. In our context, as long as we are faithful in using the opportunities that Jesus gives to us, he will continue providing more and more opportunities. As we are faithful, so is God faithful.
It’s interesting, however, to read what Jesus says next. He says that although they were of little strength, they have kept his word and not denied his name. What this implies is that faithfulness comes with a price. How true that can be. We have to be willing to pay price and not count the cost if we want to follow Jesus.
I will make those who are of the synagogue of Satan, who claim to be Jews through they are not, but are liars – I will make them come and fall down at your feet and acknowledge that I have loved you. Since you have kept my command to endure patiently, I will also keep you from the hour of trial that is going to come upon the whole world to test those who live on the earth. (verse 9-10)
In these two verses, Jesus gets specific about the kind of opposition that the Christians in Philadelphia face. One type of opposition is from those who should be supporting them. Many of the Christians in Philadelphia are converts from Judaism. Most of them, in fact, consider themselves to be Jewish. The Jewish leaders, however, are not pleased to have them in their midst. This is who Jesus calls the synagogue of Satan.
Jesus holds the keys to the doors of opportunity but how many times have forces within the Church prevented faithful Christians from stepping out in faith? We’ve all heard the excuses. Someone comes up with a new idea and they get stared down for not supporting the status quo. Someone else wants to change something and they get, “But we’ve always done it this way. Why change it?” Someone else has an idea for new outreach ministry that will require some start-up money and they get, “That’s not in the budget and, besides, the church needs a new roof.”
All this serves to weaken the determination of people whose only desire is to be faithful to God’s calling. It discourages those who want to walk through the doors that Jesus opens for them. The Church should not be in the business of setting up obstacles for people. It should be encouraging them to do their very best and trusting God to provide what is needed to fulfill his purpose.
Jesus says that we need to expect opposition to ministry. And here’s something interesting to consider; the more faithful we are, the more opposition we can expect. Remember that Satan does not want us to succeed. That’s why he concentrates so much on those congregations that are walking through the open doors. That’s why they are the ones that often feel as if they are under attack. Satan couldn’t care less about a dying church. They aren’t the slightest threat to his evil schemes. It’s the faithful ones that are the target of all of his efforts. Never forget that. Is everything just peachy in your church? Is no one upset? Are there discussions about the direction the congregation is taking? If none of these apply, chances are that the church isn’t doing much of anything important. Faithful churches can expect opposition.
I am coming soon. Hold on to what you have, so that no one will take your crown. 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 write on him my new name. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. (verse 11-13)
In these final verses, Jesus encourages the people to hold fast in the face of opposition. If they do, he promises to give a triple honour to those who overcome. First, he promises to make them into a pillar in the temple of God. The temple that Jesus is talking about is the eternal life that is ours through him. And what about the pillar. A pillar is a sign of stability and strength. It is something that endures though the ages. Think about the ancient Greek and Roman architecture that is still standing today. Do we see roofs? Do we see doors and windows? Do we see walls? No. What strikes us as we look at the architecture of the ancient world is the pillars that are still standing. They are stable. They are secure. Jesus promises stability and strength.
The second thing that Jesus promises to those who overcome is that he will write on them the name of God. In the days when this letter was written to have a person’s name place on you was a sign that you belonged with them. It was like in days gone by when cattle were branded. If a cow ever got lost from the herd and a farmers found it wandering around, all he had to do was look for its brand and he’d know to whom it belonged. Those who have God’s name on them know to whom they belong.
Jesus also says that he would write on them the name of the city of God, the new Jerusalem that will come down out of heaven. This New Jerusalem is the Kingdom of God in which peace and justice will be established forever. This is the fulfillment of the prophecies that say that the wolf will live with the lamb, and the leopard will live with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together, and a little child shall lead them. Not only will the faithful know to whom they belong – to God – they will also know where they belong – in God’s holy kingdom.
The question remains. When we stand before God and the book of life is opened will he call us faithful? Will God’s name be written on us? Will we be marked with the name of the New Jerusalem? If so, we will be welcomed into our heavenly home. We will stand with those who overcome like pillars that bear the name of our God and of his Holy City. The choice really is ours. Jesus holds the keys. The door of salvation is wide open. It is up to us whether or not we walk through it. Make sure that you choose well for the door will not remain open forever. There really is more here than meets the eye. Whoever has ears let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.
PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE
Holy God, the earth rumbles and shakes. The winds bluster over the raging waves of the sea. The might of your creation surrounds us and reminds us of your incredible power and might. And then we experience the delicacy of a butterfly as it flits in the breeze, the scent of a flower garden in the summer air, the grace of a loon as it swims across the glassy surface of the water. Your creation, O God, is a superb mixture of strength and serenity, power and compassion, victory and love. We, your children, are in awe of you.
We offer our thanks for the opportunities that you present to us for ministry. You place people along our way who need our help and our support. Keep our eyes open to these possibilities that we not pass them by. You also bring others to us in our times of need. Give us the courage to accept the healing gifts that they bring to our lives. My our pride not hinder your mission and purpose.
We also give thanks for our nation Canada as we celebrate 150 years of confederation this week. We are so blessed in so many ways. Give us the wisdom to appreciate all that we have and the generosity to share it with others.
There are still many who are sick in mind, body, spirit and relationships, remembering especially Richard, Neil and Gary. Send your Healing and Holy Spirit upon us that we may all find the wholeness that you desire and make available to those who turn to you.
We remember that we live in a great country where we are blessed beyond measure. We have so much that we often just take it for granted. Bless first responders and front line health care workers as they work daily to keep us safe.
Heavenly Father, hear our prayers and the prayers of all who call upon the name of Jesus your son. Feed our faith and renew us by and fresh outpouring your Spirit on this church and on the community. We look forward to receiving the missions that you would have us do for the good or your Kingdom and all humanity.
We lift to you our prayers in Jesus’ name.
WORSHIP RESOURCE PAGE
June 28, 2020 / Pentecost 4
Genesis 22:1-14; Psalm 13; Matthew 10: 40-42; Romans 6:1-23
CALL TO WORSHIP
ONE: We come to God in worship;
ALL: God hears our songs and prayers.
ONE: We trust in God’s great mercy;
ALL: and rejoice in God’s faithfulness.
ONE: Blessed be the One who gives us life;
ALL: May God’s name be praised forever.
PRAYER OF APPROACH
In awe and wonder, we meet you, O God. You are with us in the lonely places. You are with us on the crowded ways of life. We have cried out to you and you have shown us your constant love. Come to us in our worship. Come to us in our need. Come to us as we sing and praise your name, drawing together as one in the body of Christ.
PRAYER OF CONFESSION
God of the prophets, hear our cries. Listen to the pleas of our hearts. We know what we should do but we often fail to follow your calling. We say that we want to avoid division and violence. We want to live in peace with all people and with Creation. We want to be faithful in all that we do. Despite our good intentions, we are a long way from realizing the fullness of life that you intend for us. Forgive us and enable us to walk in your way.
ASSURANCE OF PARDON
God’s forgiveness is as constant and dependable as God’s love. There is no sin so big, no error so great, no hurt so harmful that God cannot bring healing and wholeness. In Jesus Christ, our sins are forgiven. Thanks be to God.
DEDICATION OF OFFERING
You have given us, O God, all that we have. You have entrusted it into our care. Give us the courage and the vision to use our many resources for your kingdom and glory. We thank you for your many blessings, the ones of which we are always aware and even the ones that we sometimes forget. All is yours and all is from you, O Great God of Creation.
Into God’s keeping we commit one another as we leave this place. We journey through a world which needs the love, the peace and the challenge of God. Let us carry that hope Gospel wherever we go.