The Little Church That Could
Sermon Text: Revelation 3:7-13
Sermon Theme: A little church can remain faithful to God’s Word and still endure.
The same Lord Jesus has the key of government and authority in and over the church. He opens a door of opportunity to his churches; he opens a door of utterance to his ministers; he opens a door of entrance, opens the heart. He shuts the door of heaven against the foolish, who sleep away their day of grace; and against the workers of iniquity, how vain and confident whatever they may be. The church in Philadelphia is commended; yet with a gentle reproof. Although Christ accepts a little strength, yet believers must not rest satisfied in a little, but strive to grow in grace, to be strong in faith, giving glory to God. Christ can discover this his favor to his people, so that their enemies shall be forced to acknowledge it. This, by the grace of Christ, will soften their enemies, and make them desire to be admitted into communion with his people. Christ promises preserving grace in the most trying times, as the reward of past faithfulness; To him that hath shall be given. Those who keep the gospel in a time of peace, shall be kept by Christ in an hour of temptation; and the same Divine grace that has made them fruitful in times of peace, will make them faithful in times of persecution. Christ promises a glorious reward to the victorious believer. He shall be a monumental pillar in the temple of God; a monument of the free and powerful grace of God; a monument that shall never be defaced or removed. On this pillar shall be written the new name of Christ; by this will appear, under whom the believer fought the good fight, and came off victorious.
(From Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary)
- Are you finding it hard to keep His word and glorify His name? What understanding do you have about Jesus’ character? Why is it important to have a specific understanding of Jesus’ character? He who is holy refers to God, who alone possesses absolute holiness. The Old Testament repeatedly describes God as the Holy One (2 Kings 19:22; Job 6:10; Psalm 71:22; Psalm 78:41; Isaiah 43:15; Isaiah 54:5; Habakkuk 3:3). Isaiah 6:3 declares, “Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord of hosts, the whole earth is full of His glory”. To say that God is holy is to say that He is utterly separate from sin; therefore, His character is absolutely unblemished and flawless. Jesus’ identification of Himself as He who is holy can be no less than a direct claim to deity. The Lord Jesus Christ possesses in undiminished, unaltered essence the holy and sinless nature of God. Because Christ is holy, His church must be as well. “Like the Holy One who called you,” wrote Peter, “be holy yourselves also in all your behavior” (1 Peter 1:15). Not only is Jesus Christ the Holy One; He also describes Himself as He who is true. Truth is used in combination with holiness to describe God (Revelation 6:10; Revelation 15:3; Revelation 16:7). Alēthinos (true) denotes that which is genuine, authentic, and real. In the midst of the falsehood, perversion, and error that fills the world, the Lord Jesus Christ is the truth (John 14:6). Jesus shows Himself to the Philadelphia church in the very same way that they worshipped Him. For Jesus tells us to “be Holy even as He is Holy” (Leviticus 11:44, 1 Peter 1:15) and He has shown Himself as “the Way, The Truth, and the Life” (John 14:6).
- Are some claiming admission into His kingdom based on ethnicity or tradition (cf. John 8:31–41)? Jesus is the one who has the authority that opens the door to heaven or hell for us. Jesus is the door to heaven (John 14:6). He is the only one who can shut or open either door. He took the keys of hell away from the devil when Jesus went there and preached. Jesus is the final Judge for everyone’s resting place. What He does cannot be overturned by anyone else. “I act and who can reverse it?” declared the Lord in Isaiah 43:13 (cf. Isaiah 46:9-11; Jeremiah 18:6; Daniel 4:35). No one can shut the doors to the kingdom or to blessing if He holds them open, and no one can force them open if He holds them shut. Jesus has the key. He is the decision maker. He is the authority. He is the king. He decides.
- What is the basis for so many people believing in a type of universalism? They think that as long as you are sincere in your belief and a relatively good person, in the end you will make it. The idea is that all roads lead to heaven. Jesus emphatically rejects that idea. He holds the key. Buddha doesn’t have one. Muhammad doesn’t have one. That truth is both a comfort and a warning. It comforts true believers because it reminds us that when Jesus welcomes you in and opens the door to you, no one can close it. For the saints living in the end times this is especially encouraging. Even if the world government persecutes and kills you, they can’t take away your salvation. Jesus does not give them the key (the authority) to do so. If they are faithful, Jesus will hold the door open for them. By His grace, they will be welcomed into His kingdom. At the same time, it is a warning. You cannot open this door by yourself. Your own merits cannot save you. The authority is in Jesus’ hands. If He decides against you, there is no appeal. Once shut on you (when all of your chances run out), it will not be opened again. Take the offer while you can. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). Once you have passed from death into life through accepting Jesus as your Lord and Savior, you are sealed by Jesus Himself. You belong to Him. No one can snatch you back away from Him. Jesus has the keys. Look to Him and no other. He is salvation.
- Are we sometimes trying to establish the places and seasons that the door is open for the gospel rather then allowing the sovereign will of God to occur? There are certain places and seasons in which the way is open for the spread of gospel truth, and others in which it is closed, the history of the church and daily observation and experience abundantly prove. Nor is it less evident that this depends not upon any peculiarity of circumstances in relation either to the church or to the world, but to causes uncontrollable by human agency and design. Generally where means are most used and the prayers of the churches are most directed, the door is eventually thrown open; but occasionally all such efforts become ineffectual, and a door unexpectedly and unsolicited is opened in another direction. Sometimes a wide door is suddenly closed, and at other times a narrow door is opened wide. The prosperity which attends the preaching of the word in some places, and the discouragement in others, are not to be attributed to the different gifts and graces of men, so much as to the sovereign pleasure of Him who has the key of David, who opens and no man closes, and closes and no man opens. Usefulness often depends upon a wise and prayerful observation of times and seasons, as much as upon actual labor. Many have succeeded by a readiness to discern and avail themselves of an opened door; and many, with greater energy and zeal, have failed, from striving to keep open a door which He has closed.
- What is holding you back from fulfilling God’s call for your life? Fear? Your finances? Your health? Your relationships with others? In these times, God is opening many tremendous doors of opportunity and there is always an inherent danger of failing to advance at Christ’s command. You may feel you have only a little strength, but God can make you a strong and mighty pillar in His Kingdom, a spiritual warrior who is able to walk through every door He opens. Even though the Philadelphia church had a little power, that was not a negative comment on their feebleness, but a commendation of their strength. The Philadelphia church may have been small in numbers with most of its members being poor, but it had a powerful impact on its city. With Paul they could say: “I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:10). Despite its small size, spiritual power flowed in the Philadelphia church. People were being redeemed, lives were being transformed, and the gospel of Jesus Christ was being proclaimed. Remember that no man is strong—every person is weak of themselves. So, let us take Paul’s counsel in 2 Corinthians 12:9 when he says: “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” God intentionally uses normal people as vessels to spread the gospel to show that it is His power which saves (Romans 1:16) and not ours. He does not want boasters in heaven bragging about their spiritual prowess (Ephesians 2:8-9).
- What is helping you to endure and hold fast to your beliefs? The deliberately formed conviction that the Word of God is the standard of our faith, and the unwavering habit of referring everything to it, may not deliver us from every error, but it will save us from that which is the nurse of every error — that is, the habit of trusting to our own understanding, or relying upon the understandings of our fellow man. We should value more a solid confidence in the Word of God than even the knowledge that comes out of it; for that faith is a saving habit, a sanctifying habit, in every way a strengthening and confirming and preserving habit. For we are to live for the long term. Have an eternal perspective. It may appear that the enemies of God are victorious or prosperous in the short term. But in the end, He will set everything right (Psalm 73 :17). They will receive what they deserve. So, live for God and be faithful to Him without compromise. For every believer has great value in His sight. And every believer has an important function. We serve a role now in the church and we still will in the eternal kingdom.
- Are our hands getting a little slack in holding fast to what our Lord has given us? “Hold fast what you have, so that no one may take your crown.” And what is it which you hold fast? Clearly one’s genuine love for the Lord, in which, should one contend unto the end, he will obtain the crown of life —the victors’ prizes go only to those who remain to the end. For the slack hand will very soon be an empty hand. Anybody walking through the midst of a crowd of thieves with a bag of gold in charge would not hold it dangling from a finger-tip, but he would put all five round it, and wrap the strings about his wrist. The first shape which we may give to this exhortation is — hold fast by what God has given in His gospel; hold fast His Son, His truth, His grace. Use honestly and diligently your intellect to fathom and to keep firm hold of the great truths and principles of the gospel. Use your best efforts to keep your wandering hearts and mobile wills fixed and true to the revealed love of the great Lover of souls, which has been given to you in Christ, and to obey Him. But there is another aspect of the same commandment which applies to our own degree of progress in the appropriation of Christ and in likeness to Him. See to it that your present attainment in the Christian life, though it may be but rudimentary, is at least kept. Cast not away your confidence, hold fast the beginning of your confidence firm with a tightened hand unto the end. For if we keep what we have, it will grow.
Philadelphia Historical Background
Philadelphia (modern Alashehir) lies at the eastern end of a broad valley that, passing through Sardis (some thirty miles west-northwest), leads down to the Aegean Sea near Smyrna. Its location commanded high ground on the south side of the river Cogamis, a tributary of the Hermus. This strategic location at the juncture of trade routes leading to Mysia, Lydia, and Phrygia (the imperial post route from Rome via Troas passed through Philadelphia and continued eastward to the high central plateau) had helped it earn the title “gateway to the East” and made it a city of commercial importance. The great volcanic plain to the north (katakekaumenē, the burnt land) was fertile and well suited to growing grapes. With an economy based on agriculture and industry, Philadelphia enjoyed considerable prosperity. Its one major drawback was that it was subject to earthquakes. The devastating earthquake of A.D. 17 that leveled twelve cities of Asia overnight had been particularly severe on Philadelphia, perhaps because it was nearer the fault line and also suffered a long series of tremors that followed. With the defeat of Antiochus IV at Magnesia in 190 B.C. Lydia passed to Pergamene control. Although Philadelphia is the most recently established of the seven cities of the Apocalypse, there is some confusion as to whether Eumenes II, king of Pergamum, or his younger brother Attalus II Philadelphus, who reigned from 159 to 138 B.C., founded the city. What is certain is that its name commemorates the loyalty and devotion of Attalus II to his brother (this is what earned him the epithet Philadelphus, “lover of his brother”). Hemer calls attention to two incidents of special note: (1) a false rumor of Eumenes’s assassination led Attalus to accept the crown, which he then relinquished when his brother returned from Greece, and (2) Attalus’s resistance to Roman encouragement to overthrow his brother and become king. The city was probably founded between 189 B.C. when the region came under the control of Eumenes and 138 B.C. when Attalus died, although without doubt it was built on the site of some earlier settlement. In its development under Pergamene rule Philadelphia was intended to serve as a “missionary city” to bring Greek culture to the recently annexed area of Lydia and Phrygia. Ramsay indicates the success achieved by noting that before A.D. 19 the Lydian tongue had been replaced by Greek as the only language of the country.
Following the great earthquake of A.D. 17 it took the name of Neocaesarea for a time in appreciation for the imperial help received for rebuilding. At a later date, under Vespasian (A.D. 69–79), the name Flavia began to appear on coins. Philadelphia was remarkable for its many temples and religious festivals. For this reason, in the fifth century A.D. it was called “little Athens.” Because it was located in a vine-growing district, the worship of Dionysus was its chief pagan cult. After Tiberius’s help, it founded a cult of Germanicus, the adopted son and heir of the emperor. Between A.D. 211 and 217 a provincial temple to the imperial cult was built, and Philadelphia was honored with the title Neocoros, warden of the temple.
(From New International Commentary – NT)
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