Summary: The sixth in a series of seven. This is an expository, alliterated sermon with practical application based on the letter to Philadelphia in Revelation. PowerPoint is avialable if you e-mail me.
YOU’VE GOT MAIL: PHILADELPHIA
Scott Bayles, preacher
First Christian Church, Rosiclare, IL
About twenty-five miles southeast of Sardis on a high plateau, some 800 feet above the surrounding countryside sat a small but important city known as Philadelphia. Philadelphia was the youngest of the seven cities to which Jesus sent letters—only about two hundred years old at the time. Located at the intersection of several trade routes as well as the Imperial Post Road, Philadelphia quickly became known as “the gateway to the East.” It was originally built as a missionary outpost intended to spread Hellenistic culture to the regions of Lydia and Phrygia. They did such a good job that by A.D. 19 the Lydian language was totally usurped by Greek.
Although the city benefited greatly from its prime location, it also sat right onto of a geological fault, suffering frequent earthquakes and aftershocks. The tremors were so devastating that folks often had to abandon their homes and businesses to live in tents on the plains outside the city. Despite the constant dread of yet another underground eruption, Philadelphia was a bustling little town, full of life and energy. When a letter carrier following the Imperial Post Road arrived in town, there were probably plenty of friendly folks willing to point him toward the small group of Christ-follower that gathered together every Sunday morning. This band of believers was small but exceptionally significant. Let’s see what Jesus had to say to them:
“Write this letter to the angel of the church in Philadelphia. This is the message from the one who is holy and true, the one who has the key of David. What he opens, no one can close; and what he closes, no one can open.
“I know all the things you do, and I have opened a door for you that no one can close. You have little strength, yet you obeyed my word and did not deny me. Look, I will force those who belong to Satan’s synagogue—those liars who say they are Jews but are not—to come and bow down at your feet. They will acknowledge that you are the ones I love.
“Because you have obeyed my command to persevere, I will protect you from the great time of testing that will come upon the whole world to test those who belong to this world. I am coming soon. Hold on to what you have, so that no one will take away your crown. All who are victorious will become pillars in the Temple of my God, and they will never have to leave it. And I will write on them the name of my God, and they will be citizens in the city of my God—the new Jerusalem that comes down from heaven from my God. And I will also write on them my new name.
“Anyone with ears to hear must listen to the Spirit and understand what he is saying to the churches. (Revelation 3:7-13 NLT)
As you may have already noticed, Jesus has nothing negative to say to the church in Philadelphia; rather his letter is flowing with positivity and praise. Before complimenting the church, however, Jesus begins, as always, with his own credentials.
Jesus identifies himself with three key terms in this letter. First, Jesus identifies himself as “the one who is holy” (vs. 7 NLT).The Old Testament is replete with references to the holiness of God. In fact, Isaiah 6:3 declares: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory” (NIV). This very verse is repeated over and over in heaven by the four living being in Revelation. Jesus identifying himself as “the one who is holy” is a clear and direct claim to deity. Peter affirmed, “We believe, and we know you are the Holy One of God” (John 6:69 NLT). To be holy means to be completely flawless and faultless. To say that Jesus is holy is to say that he is utterly sinless; his character is absolutely untarnished, unblemished and free from any moral defects. Jesus is the essence of purity.
What a joy to know that our God isn’t like us. We are a fallen people—full of flaws, faults and failings. We’re selfish, conceited, lustful, gluttonous, careless, and cruel. But not God. Not Jesus. We have a Holy God. Jonathan Edwards, famous for his sermons on hell, once said, “A true love of God must begin with a delight in his holiness, and not with a delight in any other attribute; for no other attribute is truly lovely without this.”
The fact that such a holy being would have nothing critical to say about the church in Philadelphia speaks volumes about this humble congregation.
Secondly, Jesus describes himself as “the one who is… true” (vs. 7). The word true means “the original as opposed to a copy” and “the authentic as opposed to an imitation.” (Wiersbe, 531). Jesus is the true light, and true Bread, and true Vine, and Truth itself. He is the original; everything else is a copy. He is authentic; everything else is only an imitation. There are plenty of cheap imitations out there—lesser gods that promise pleasure, prosperity, or position—but these are just dime store knock-offs of the real thing. The Bible says, “We know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding so that we know the real God. We are in the one who is real, his Son Jesus Christ. This Jesus Christ is the real God and eternal life” (1 John 5:20 GWT). Jesus was assuring the believers in Philadelphia, and us by extension, that he is the real deal.