Sunday, September 21, 2014

Do not be afraid Little Flock

Revelation 3:7-13 (NKJV) ~ “And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write, ‘These things says He who is holy, He who is true, “He who has the key of David, He who opens and no one shuts, and shuts and no one opens”: “I know your works. See, I have set before you an open door, and no one can shut it; for you have a little strength, have kept My word, and have not denied My name. Indeed I will make those of the synagogue of Satan, who say they are Jews and are not, but lie—indeed I will make them come and worship before your feet, and to know that I have loved you. 10 Because you have kept My command to persevere, I also will keep you from the hour of trial which shall come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell on the earth. 11 Behold, I am coming quickly! Hold fast what you have, that no one may take your crown. 12 He who overcomes, I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God, and he shall go out no more. 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 out of heaven from My God. And I will write on him My new name. 13 “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”

The city of Philadelphia was located in the northern parts of Turkey, where you will find the contemporary city of Alashir. It is a mountainous region located with an exceptional climate which makes it very enjoyable to stay in and the ideal climate for growing grapes.

Philadelphia was a young city but the region was plagued by frequent earthquakes, therefore not many people settled there. It was also an exceptionally beautiful city with many marble buildings and therefore was nicknamed "Little Athens".

Not much information relative to the origin of the Philadelphian church are known but we do know that many of the members suffered a martyr's death. From Church history we know that long after this letter was written and despite the fact that the surrounding areas were ruled by Muslims, Philadelphia still existed as a Christian centre and indeed up to 1392 AD.

The fact is that Jesus Christ, singled out the church in Philadelphia by way of sending an important letter to them - a letter of praise, but also a letter with a very serious message.

This letter were not only for the believers in Philadelphia but also applicable to all the churches throughout the ages - even for our congregation today.

In stark contrast to the nearby church in Sardis, the church in Philadelphia was rather small and they seemingly had little power - and yet, the Lord Jesus found nothing in this church's actions that troubled Him and therefore He praised the church for three characteristics they possessed, namely:
·           That ... they were weak (yes, weak);
·           That ... they obeyed and thirdly,
·           That... they had never denied Him.

·           Although the congregation were weak, it was not a negative comment regarding their weakness - in fact, it was more a commendation of their power - the Philadelphian church was small in number and therefore they had seemingly little power available, but they had a powerful impact on the residents of the city and the area surrounding the city.

Many of the members were poor and therefore part of the so-called "lower social class", but despite the fact that they were small in numbers, the spiritual power oozed from this congregation. People were saved; lives were changed and the Gospel of Jesus Christ was proclaimed.

This fact should be encouraging to all small congregations - it recalls the words of Lk.12:32 ~
Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the Kingdom.
·           Secondly Christ praised this church in Philadelphia for their obedience, because of their obedience to the Word of God, they could echo what Job was saying, "I have not departed from the commandment of His lips; I have treasured the words of His mouth More than my necessary food" (Job 23:12).
·           Finally, Christ praised the congregation for the fact that they never denied Him, despite the persecution they experienced. In other words they remained faithful to Christ, regardless of the price they had to pay for it - they persisted on a path that yielded Godliness.

Because of their apparent weakness and their obedience and their faithfulness, the Lord Jesus promised that He would provide an open door – one that no one or anything could close or shut. Their salvation was thus assured - their access to Christ's future Messianic kingdom was assured - they would receive the blessing of salvation by grace.

We read in v.7 of an unlocked door. In John 10:9 we see that Jesus referred to Himself as the door or entrance leading His sheep to a "safe pen" - He said
~ I am the door.  If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture." So to be part of Christ's flock, means, you have to be saved. This open door refers to the free invitation to all who are chosen, to enter and be saved. Everyone who enters receives grace, forgiveness of sins and peace with God and therefore eternal life.

In this passage Jesus refers to people who are already saved. They were obedient to His Word and have not denied him. They were faithful followers of the Lord Jesus Christ. They were part of God's children.

What then is this “open door” that John refers to in v.7? Does this “open door” refer to salvation available to the readers as generally meant? The answer is “no”, because the recipients of the letter are saved – therefore from the context of the passage, this “open door” refers to opportunities of service and evangelization.

The Apostle Paul uses this image in Col.4:3 to the church in Colossae, and encourages them to pray for him so "... that God would open to us a door for the word, to speak the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains, that I may make it manifest, as I ought to speak." (See also: 1 Cor. 16: 9; 2 Cor. 2: 12).

It seems that a door of opportunity for the small congregation in Philadelphia opened and the Lord Jesus said to them. Go! You can do it. Enter through the door. The Lord encouraged them as a father would his children by saying, it is not as difficult as it seems. I opened the door up for you.

So there was an opportunity for service that had exposed and opened for the church in Philadelphia. But for some reason they did not seize this opportunity. This is why the Lord Jesus sent this letter to them, in order to encourage them.

What makes them hesitant to seize this opportunity? Why did they hold back? We can identify three reasons in verses 8-10 to discern what led to this reluctance. These three reasons are obstacles that many small congregations (and large ones) allow to hold them back.
·           Firstly, it was their conviction that they seemed weak - they doubted their own abilities.
·           Secondly, because they were despised by society and…
·           Their fears were the last obstacle.

·           Let's look at their weakness. Verse 8 says ~ ...I know that you have little strength. They were a small congregation. They questioned themselves whether they were truly equipped and whether they indeed had the necessary resources to Evangelize? Probably they also questioned whether they really cared enough about the people in their area?

We should ask the same of ourselves. What can we do regarding the church situation in South Africa - Three Rivers, Meyerton – here in Vereeniging or wherever you live? What can we do to address this issue? Are we ready and equipped to take this opportunity - to use this door?

The church members of the Philadelphia church were few in number and struggled financially. It may also be true of us, but Jesus still encouraged the church in Philadelphia to make use of every opportunity - through the open door.

Christ reminded them that He and He alone had ALL the power. He encouraged them - He insisted, that they take the opportunity and He assured them that He would provide what was lacking. What's more - it is very often a small congregation that is in a better position to attribute all the honour due to God, especially when He opens the flood gates of heaven!

It only took two men, Jonathan and his armour-bearer, to climb steep cliffs and put twenty men of the enemy to death and created a panic among the Philistines
(1Sam.14:1-15) - to such an extent that the entire Philistine army fled. The result was that everyone knew it was the Lord God of Israel that saved them from defeat (1Sam.14:23). And can you recall what Jonathan told his young armour-bearer on that day? ...It may be that The Lord will work for us. For nothing restrains the Lord from saving by many or by few (1Sam.14:6). What's more, God often prefers to use small groups, thus encouraging the church in Philadelphia with these words: Dare, because I have all power in heaven and on earth - I am with you.

The main issue was that the church was faithful to Christ and His Gospel
(v.8). In turn He will now be loyal to them. Therefore they must dare to reach out, even though they are weak.

·           Secondly, it would appear that this group were despised in their environment - this is particularly clear in v.9. They were particularly despised by those who were ...members of the synagogue of Satan - this (Synagogue of Satan) could have represented any religious group, however it most probably came from Jews in Philadelphia, especially if we consider Rev.2:9 ~ I know your tribulation and your poverty, and yet you are rich. I also know of the troublemaking of people who claim they are Jews, and are not, but are a Synagogue of Satan.

It seems that this persecution and contempt was accompanied by all sorts of insinuations - insinuations such as: Surely God does not love you. See how small and weak you are! You do not know what the Lord's blessing entail. When such things are said of people, it is inevitable that it will undermine their confidence.

This small congregation probably thought there was something wrong with them - they are good for nothing! There was probably even a dark cloud of gloom descending on them. How many small congregations do not suffer the same reputation and only because they are small in numbers?

It was the fact that it was said of them that God did not love them that Christ told this church ~
Behold, I have that of the members of the synagogue of Satan, those who claim to be Jews, and it is not, but lie - behold, I will make them come and bow before you, and know that I love you (v.9).

No, says the Lord Jesus - do not succumb to Satan's lies and his offensive remarks. Do you desire to sincerely love and obey me? If this is the case – know that I
(Jesus) love you. Do not doubt it. He (Jesus) is not like the world just interested in "mega-churches" and "mega money" and glamour and abundance. He is the Saviour that noticed the widow's two small coins, and rejoiced in it (Luke 21. 1-4).

·           Thirdly we notice that this town was wracked or almost destroyed by fear. Throughout the book of Revelation, we see “thunderclouds – storm clouds" of opposition building against this little Church. We read in Revelation of "The Beast" that represented persecution. We cross paths with the "False Prophet" that withstood the Gospel of Jesus Christ with a false religion and ideologies that distorted Scripture and cast suspicion. We also read of the "Great Harlot of Babylon" that will entice the church and usher in worldly behaviour and actions and thereby destroy the church.

The church is exposed to all of these things at one point or another in order to discourage us, and our faith and trust in Christ is undermined. Ultimately, our response to this - especially when we feel weak – will be that we tend to withdraw and say to ourselves - it is best to keep quiet - it is best not to attract attention to ourselves. If a church already has such negative feelings about her own situation, she becomes the laughing stock of the community and even receives threats and persecution and experience actions of fanatical groups – they reach a point where evangelism does not even feature.

Christ however, encouraged the congregation in Philadelphia and tells them that such counsel and such assessments should be rejected - He said unto them, that they should continue and He gives them a promise in verse 10 ~
Because you have kept My command to persevere, I also will keep you from the hour of trial which shall come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell on the earth.

Today it's probably not for fear of persecution afflicting small congregations, but rather a fear of failure - failure in e.g. service, or a fear that projects may fail, or a fear of being socially isolated in their community.

However, we learn from Scripture that when we do something in the name of the Lord it is better to try and possibly fail, rather than not to try. In such a case we need to bring to mind the parable of the talents
(Matthew 25: 24-26). The master that gave the gold coins to his slaves was displeased with one slave. He was entrusted with only one gold coin but buried it. In contrast, Christ says in verse 10 - Because you have kept My command to persevere, I also will keep you from the hour of trial which shall come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell on the earth. Christ promised that He will allow a period of trial encompassing the whole world, but if we remain faithful to our calling, He will sustain us.

After Christ focused the congregation in Philadelphia's eyes on Him, and provided them with an open door - a door of opportunity, He encourages them to get out of their comfort zone to act and reach out to the outside world.

Now that Christ has challenged the Philadelphian church, He continues in vv.11-12 explaining to them that there is a reward and four promises of blessings awaiting them if they obey and open the door. Vv.11-12 ~ Behold, I am coming quickly! Hold fast what you have, that no one take away your crown. He who overcomes, I will make him a pillar in the temple of my God, and he will forever remain. I will write upon him the name of my God, and he shall go out no more. 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 out of heaven from My God. And I will write on him My new name.

The promise of Christ to them, and therefore also to each one of us who are faithful to the end, is that no one can take away our crown. This is in line with James 1:12 ~
Blessed is the man who endures temptation; for when he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love him. Rev.2:10c tells us that this is the Crown of Life.

Together with the fact that they will receive the Crown of Life as a reward, Christ gives a further four promises of blessings for those who persevere to the end:
·           Verse 12a ~ Whoever overcomes I will make a pillar in the temple of my God - This image of a pillar refers to stability; permanence and immovability - this promise refers back to permanent residence in the presence of God, to all saints.
·           We find the second promise of blessing in verse 12b ~ ...I will write upon him the name of My God.... This promise is therefore indicative of the fact that all true believers belong to God.
·           Thirdly - Verse 12c ~ I will write on him ... the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which comes down out of heaven from My God – This means that believers have an eternal citizenship in heaven, the New Jerusalem in heaven will be the capital – a promise of security and permanence.
·           And finally - Verse 12d ~ And I will write on him My new name. Christ promised that all believers will carry/wear the new name of Christ. Christ's name represents the fullness of His person. According to 1Joh.3:2 believers will see Christ as He is. His new name will be the full revelation of His glory reflected.

This wonderful promises ought to encourage and inspire us, because not one of us and neither any congregation is too small to be in service for Christ. Jesus says at the beginning of this letter - I know your works... (v.8a). Nothing goes unnoticed by Christ, because He is sovereign and omniscient – because He is God. The King of the universe looks full of love and compassion at all of His children, and He says, go out; reach out; go make a difference in the world.

Christ directs this letter not only to the leader, or the elders of the congregation, but to the whole church – in fact, He writes this letter to every church throughout the centuries and therefore to us as well and with a responsibility to heed Christ's challenge and encouragement to go out and make a difference, to go into our towns - our environment, where the need for Christ and the great spiritual need, is increasing daily. We cannot and we dare not close our eyes to the needs around us – the need of salvation.

We have open doors, just as the church in Philadelphia had and so we should venture out into the outside world - the question is whether we are faithful and whether we will be faithful to Christ's call to all of us, in e.g. Matthew 28:19-20 ~
Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded; and lo I am with you always, even to the end of the world.

Message by Kobus van der Walt (Vaal Triangle Reformed Baptist Church, Three Rivers –  Sunday21 September 2014)