Philadelphia: An Open Door No One Can Shut
watch this sermon https://youtu.be/b6EqN1OcVU8
Pastor Brad Reaves
Grace Community Church
June 14, 2020
This is a tough series of messages. Very tough. We are more drawn to the image of Jesus carrying a little lamb in his arms and children clinging to the hems of his robes as he walks through grassy meadows. The picture here of our Lord is our powerful judge. The coming King. He is firm, strong, calling out members of his bride for their unfaithfulness and compromise.
There are some who are uncomfortable with this rhetoric. We don’t like the idea of being held accountable or even repent. “I prayed my prayer and I’m in the club, right? I come to church and I even give to the offering.” It is churches that Jesus is writing to in these 7 letters. Churches like we find in the towns and cities in America. Living in a world that is generally hostile to the gospel. Christ is calling these churches to be separated from the world. Faithful to him. Of the 7 churches addressed by Jesus, 2 of them were commanded by Jesus without correction. The first was Smyrna. The second is Philadelphia, which we are covering today:
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. 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. 9 Behold, I will make those of the synagogue of Satan who says 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. 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, 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. 13 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’ (Rev 3:7-13)
Now, it is obvious there is no such thing as a perfect church, nor is there such a thing as a perfect Christian; and so church then is a collection of imperfect Christians. There is no such thing as a perfect pastor. It is possible to be a church that pleases the Lord. A church that is faithful and genuinely does its best with the resources and situation around it.
To the church in Ephesus, Jesus acknowledged that they were committed to the truth: they hated heresy, they hated evil. But they faced judgment because they had forsaken their first love. In, Pergamum, our Lord acknowledged that they were holding to the Lord in the face of persecution, but they too faced judgment because they were compromising with idolatry and immorality.
In Thyatira and we find them being commended for their love and faith and service. But this church had let the world in and sin was being accepted and advocated inside the church. Last week, we saw the letter to the church at Sardis. They were spiritually dead. There was a little bit of life there, and our Lord speaks into that hope.
There is a progression here. There is the loss of first love, and then comes compromise with the world, and the world comes in and sin is accepted, and then the church begins to die – that’s the progress. Ultimately, it ends up like Laodicea; it is a church the Lord will spew out of His mouth. But before we get there, we come to the church at Philadelphia, and there’s a break in this tragic progression.
The Church in Philadelphia
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.
I’m sharing all of this to the collective body of Grace Community Church as individuals to challenge you; to encourage you. Just because our culture and even other churches have sanitized something, doesn’t mean that it’s ok. We’re off the hook. Jesus makes it clear we are to stand firm in our faith and those who do find eternal reward. That is why the author of Hebrews reminds us:
Hebrews 12:1-2 Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.
It is this little church in Philadelphia that gained notoriety by Jesus. Not because of its size or programs, but because it was faithful to the word of God Despite the situations in Asia Minor. Despite that other churches were compromising in teaching and morality, little Philadelphia was steadfastly faithful to the Christ Jesus.
We don’t know anything about the church. It was one of those churches founded in Acts 19:10 because the gospel extended out of Ephesus into all of Asia Minor. We know that some of the believers from Philadelphia were martyred with Polycarp at Smyrna. That’s about all we know. The church lasted in Philadelphia for centuries, until the whole region was overrun by the Muslims in the fourteenth century.
We notice two distinct characteristics about the opening: 1.) The Messianic title of Jesus. He is the Holy One. It is distinctively Hebrew and it is a clear reference to his divine character.
“Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!” (Isaiah 6:3)
“Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, 69 and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.” (John 6:68-69)
Do you believe that?
Back in chapter 1, verse 18, He has the keys of death and the grave. He has the key to hell. He has the key to heaven. This is majesty at its highest possible point. He is the one who said, “I have come that you might have life.” He is the one who came to seek and to save that which was lost.
Jesus’ Commendation to the Church
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.
As in other letters, Jesus reminds the church that he knows their works. Jesus is watching the church’s works, and even with them in their works. In other letters, this was not entirely a positive mention. Some churches and some members of churches would become wide-eyed at this realization. For Philadelphia, its affirmation that their labors and works have not gone unnoticed by the One that matters the most.
So this is a church characterized by power, obedience, loyalty, and perseverance. “You have kept My command to endure patiently. You have kept My command to endure patiently.” (V8). There is a clear indication here that there was persecution, but there is power in this congregation because of their obedience.
The result of their patience, obedience, and perseverance is what Christ calls an ‘open door.’ What is this? The open door is likely a spiritual blessing, but even more some sort of evangelistic opportunity. The work they are doing and the results of their work will not be hindered by the work of Satan. Their eyes are in the right place and because they have their eyes on Christ, they are faithful to the Word, and they are persevering, God is opening doors for them.
This is a small church and a weak church. They have little resources and they have little influence. They are struggling and discouraged, but they remain faithful. Look at the features of Philadelphia:
They have evangelistic opportunity
They have a reliance on God (little strength)
The have faithfulness to Jesus)
In some ways, these features seem unspectacular. They should be common among churches. Yet Jesus was completely pleased with this church. He had nothing negative to say to the church at Philadelphia. Do we want us to be a church that Jesus is pleased with our work? Let these features be present in our church and our lives.
Jesus’ Promise to Opponents of the Church
9 Behold, I will make those of the synagogue of Satan who says 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. 10
It seems that persecution came at the hands of Jewish people who hate the gospel. So, the Lord makes an amazing promise: “I will make them come and bow down at your feet, and make them know that I have loved you.” Jewish people from a synagogue bowing down to Gentiles and learning that it is the Gentiles that the Lord God loves. I think it means salvation came to Jews in Philadelphia. I think the door was open to the kingdom there, which means they were preaching the gospel, and Christ, the way into the kingdom; and God saved the very Jews that persecuted them. What a promise. Can you imagine an opportunity to come to us from a group of people who are militant to the Gospel and Jesus would use us to soften the hearts of those people so they turn and receive the gospel? That’s what happened here in Philadelphia.
Jesus’ Promise to the Church of Philadelphia
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.
If you’re a true Christian, a true believer, and you have maintained obedience to the Word of God, the evidence of new life, Jesus said he will keep you from the hour of testing. What could this be? Well we know it is something in the future: “I will keep.” It also some kind of event: “An hour of testing.” It is also something that inclusive to “The whole world.” Something that is coming on non-Christians: “To test those who dwell on the earth.”
This is likely the time of the great tribulation spoken of by Daniel, Ezekiel, Zachariah, Revelation. And here Jesus is saying then to the church, “I will keep you from the hour of testing. This is a strong argument for the pretribulation rapture. Jesus is going to remove the church before God’s outpouring of wrath upon the earth.
1 Thess 1:9-10 For they themselves report concerning us the kind of reception we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, 10 and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.
I don’t that Jesus would say this and then also say, “Because you have obeyed and persevered and endured, as a reward, I will throw you into the tribulation, I will make you go through the tribulation.” That doesn’t seem to be a blessing. They’re promised exemption. Unfaithful churches will experience judgment here and now, temporal judgment. We see this with some of the other churches like Ephesus where Jesus says, “I’m coming, but I’m coming to remove your lampstand out of its place unless you repent. I’m coming to shut down the church.”
He said in chapter 2, verse 16, to the church at Pergamum: “I’m coming, and I’m coming to make war with the sword of My mouth.” And to the church at Sardis in chapter 3, verse 3, He said, “I will come like a thief, and you’ll not know at what hour I will come to you.” In the case of those churches, He said, “I’m coming to judge you.” But here He says, “You’re not going through that final time of testing.
You can’t lose your salvation, but you can lose your reward. Yes, you can forfeit your heavenly reward. You can accumulate heavenly reward as a faithful believer. You can be obedient to the Lord and be literally laying up treasure in heaven, placing, as it were, gold, silver, precious stones there. Second John 8 says, “Watch yourselves that you do not lose what we have accomplished, but that you may receive a full reward.”
Jesus’ Command to the Church
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, 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
I love this. First Jesus tells the church, “I am coming soon.” You are not alone, nor will be alone. I am coming and I am here. Why is this important, because Jesus wants the church to hold fast. Keep it steady. Don’t let go of the wheel. Stand firm. The expression of “coming soon” should be interpreted as something which is sudden and unexpected rather than timeline. Hold fast, my coming is coming unexpectedly. I think that the church needs to be reminded of that today more than ever. We’re slumbering. We’ve forgotten the imminence of Christ’s return.
Secondly, Jesus reminds us that there is a reward for those who continue in their perseverance. So that no one can take your crown. For the true believer, your salvation cannot be stolen or taken from you. This was a crown of victory. Jesus encouraged His saints to finish their course with victory, to “play the second half” just as strongly as they “played the first half.”
You can’t lose your salvation, but you can lose your reward. Yes, you can forfeit your heavenly reward. You can accumulate heavenly reward as a faithful believer. You can be obedient to the Lord and be literally laying up treasure in heaven, placing, as it were, gold, silver, precious stones there.
Watch yourselves, so that you may not lose what we have worked for, but may win a full reward. 2 Jn 8.
Then he tells them he will make them a Pillar in Heaven’s Temple. Pillars in great temples were dedicated to people. The pillar would have the name of a well—known or famous or honored person carved on the temple pillar. Our names will be carved, as it were, into the temple of heaven. It’s equivalent to possession, ownership. We will have a pillar with our name on it that we are a permanent citizen of heaven. God will put His name on us.
13 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’
Jesus concludes the message to Philadelphia the same way he concludes all the messages. This is more than a message for 1 church. This is a message for all the churches. Listen to Him! Woe all like to hear encouraging words. We all like to hear something that builds us up and praises us for what we’re doing.
In the popular movie Rocky. The journeyman boxer Rocky Balboa was given a chance to fight the undefeated champion, Apollo Creed. People told Rocky that he could never win, but he went on training for the fight. The day of the fight came, and Rocky confided to his girlfriend, “There’s no way I can beat Apollo Creed.” Christians will feel this way in our witness to a hostile and rebellious world. Rocky didn’t plan to win, but said, “I just want to go the distance.” To everyone’s astonishment, that is what Rocky did. He was not knocked out but went the full fifteen rounds in the ring against the terrifying foe.
This is what we are called to do, holding fast to the Bible, honoring Christ’s name, and bearing testimony to his gospel. Jesus declares, “I am coming soon” (Rev. 3:11). We say in answer, “Jesus, with your strength, I will go the distance.” As we trust in him, no one will seize our crown of eternal life, but instead, as Paul said, “there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing” (2 Tim. 4:8).
You may be here today and feel like things are hopeless. You’re not strong enough for what is ahead of you. It’s painful and burdensome. You wonder why you keep trying to do the right thing and only find more trouble while those who are dishonest keep getting ahead.
Hold fast. Where you are weak, He is strong. Stand firm in his word. If you are compromising. If you are living for the world. If you are rebelling against God. If you are in a place where you are not right with God. Now is the time to repent and be all in with Jesus. He’s coming again soon and suddenly. Be ready for him.
Take it to the Cross