Pure Faith

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Faithful among the faithless.

Revelation(49) (Part of the Jesus Unveiled(48) series)
by Stuart Johns(61) on March 25, 2018 (Sunday Morning(77))

Compromise(3), Faith(7), Faithfulness(5)

Jesus Unveiled

Pure Faith

(Revelation 2:12-17)

 

INTRODUCTION

“I grew up in a China that had been ravaged by two centuries of European and American adventuring, and then by World War II and a brutal civil war. We lived in Nanjing, which was then the nation's capital, but there were few good schools to go to, so at the age of five I found myself setting off by plane to a boarding school in Shanghai.

 

Obviously, the conditions behind the decision to send me out at that age were extreme, and I was not the only one launched on that path so young. But it was the first time in my life that I had been away from my parents and on my own. So, to give me a constant reminder of the North Star of the faith at the center of our family life, my father had searched for two small, smooth, flat stones and painted on them his life motto and that of my mother. For many years those two little stones were tangible memos in the pockets of my gray flannel shorts that were the uniform of most English schoolboys in those days. In my right-hand pocket was my father's motto, ‘Found Faithful,’ and in my left-hand pocket was my mother's, ‘Please Him.’

 

Many years have passed since then, and both of those little painted stones were lost in the chaos of escaping from China when Mao Zedong and the People's Army eventually overran Nanjing, returned the capital to Beijing and began their iron and bloody rule of the entire country. But I have never forgotten the lesson of the little stones. Followers of Jesus are called to be "found faithful" and to "please him," always, everywhere and in spite of everyone and everything.”

 

Os Guinness, Impossible People (InterVarsity Press, 2016)

 

http://www.preachingtoday.com/illustrations/2016/september/5092616.html.

 

BODY

  • ME

    • Compromising my speed

        • When we were living in Ohio and I was the local director of CEF, I would travel to various churches and worship with them as a way to develop relationships

        • One day, we were traveling to a church and I was following another vehicle

        • I wasn’t paying attention to the speedometer until a state trooper passed us going the other direction

        • It was then that I looked down at my speedometer and realized that I was going over the speed limit

        • I looked in my rearview mirror to see the state trooper turning around and turning on her lights

        • I immediately pulled over and waited for her (Yes, I got a ticket)

        • I was not consciously speeding, but I had compromised my speed by simply following the person in front of me

        • I suffered the consequences of compromising, by having to pay a speeding ticket

    • Least favorite saying

        • “It’s easier to ask forgiveness than it is to get permission.” ​​ (Rear Admiral Grace Murray Hopper)

        • While that saying may work in some situations, I feel like our culture has misused it in order to do whatever they want

        • The idea is that, “if I get caught doing something wrong, I will ask for forgiveness, but if I don’t get caught than it was alright for me to do.”

        • This is another way our culture compromises some moral and ethical principles

  • WE

    • Compromise can be good

        • I want us to think for a moment about a time when you compromised for a good reason

        • Perhaps it was so our children could enjoy their favorite food

        • Maybe it was so our spouses could watch their favorite kind of movie or TV show

        • We may compromise doing something for ourselves in order to help a classmate with homework

        • There are all kinds of ways that we compromise that are good

    • Compromise can be bad

        • When we compromise our covenant with our spouse in order to participate in an emotional or physical affair

        • As an addict (drugs, alcohol, food, sex, pornography, etc.), we may compromise just once, which leads to more than just once, and we’re addicted once again

        • We may even compromise the truths of God’s Word and justify it by saying, “Well, everyone else is doing it, even my Christian friends.” ​​ (living together before marriage, premarital sex, pornography, gossip, lying, cheating, hatred in our hearts, etc.)

 

Jesus wants us to understand from the letter to the believers at Pergamum that we need to remain . . .

 

BIG IDEA – Faithful among the faithless.

 

They were complimented for doing that in one scenario, but criticized for not doing it in another.

 

Let’s pray

 

  • GOD (Revelation 2:12-17)

    • Pergamum

        • Pergamum was the capital city of the Roman province of Asia Minor

        • It was north of Smyrna and east of the Aegean Sea

        • It was built on cone-shaped hill a thousand feet high

        • Its name in Greek (Pergamon) means “citadel”

          • There was a citadel that sat on top of the hill and housed both royal and sacred buildings

          • The most breathtaking part of the citadel was the altar to Zeus that basically sprung from the top of the mountain

        • Pergamum had a library that included 200,000 volumes, which was second only to Alexandria, Egypt

        • Religion flourished in Pergamum

          • They were the center of worship for the four main pagan cults of the day (Zeus, Athene, Dionysos, and Asklepios)

          • Asklepios was the god of healing and this shrine attracted great attention from all over the world – people came there for medical treatment

          • The symbols used for Asklepios were a serpent and a staff (show picture of the Rod of Asklepios)

          • Most of us are familiar with the Staff of Hermes (show picture of the Staff of Hermes) as it pertains to medicine

          • I’m reminded of Moses and the bronze snake in Numbers 21:4-9 (the Israelites who were bitten by the poisonous snakes would survive is they looked at the bronze snake on a pole – this was God’s plan to save them)

        • We see that Christianity had many competitors in Pergamum and that had created some problems for them

    • Characteristic of the Sender (v. 12)

        • This letter is again written to the angel of the church

        • The characteristic of Jesus that is highlighted here is also found in Rev. 1:16b

        • The sharp double-edged sword

          • In the Roman empire, the type of sword being referred to would have been the Thracian broadsword (show picture of a Thracian broadsword)

          • This sword represented Roman justice and became a symbol of their might

          • They would use it to bring about justice within the empire

        • ATTRIBUTES – Jesus is sovereign and just

          • The fact that Jesus is characterized as having this sharp double-edged sword coming out of his mouth is important

          • “The sword is the Word of God. ​​ Because it is God’s Word, it is true and trustworthy, inerrant and infallible. ​​ And here it is coming from the mouth of Christ! ​​ His Word is authoritative and sure.” ​​ [Akin, Christ-Centered Exposition, Revelation, 57]

          • We see this in Isaiah’s prophecy . . . but with righteousness he will judge the needy, with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth. ​​ He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth; with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked. ​​ (Isaiah 11:4)

          • The writer of Hebrews also mentions the authoritative power of God’s Word

          • Hebrews 4:12, For the word of God is living and active. ​​ Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.

          • As we’ll see in verse 16, if the believers in Pergamum do not repent, Jesus will bring justice through the Word of God – He will speak truth

            • Jesus has the right to rule and rules rightly (sovereign)

            • He is also just, which means that He judges fairly, He always makes the right decision

        • Jesus has some good things to say about the church in Pergamum – they have remained faithful among the faithless

    • Compliment to the Recipients (v. 13)

        • Faithless

          • The Greek word for “live” suggests a permanent residence and not something temporary (these believers were committed to living in Pergamum regardless of the danger or the cost to them personally)

          • Jesus knew that the believers in Pergamum lived in a culture that was controlled by Satan

          • He recognized that Satan had his throne there

            • Satan was alive and well in Pergamum and he was using multiple avenues to control the people there

            • The four main pagan cults were represented there

            • But most scholars agree that the throne of Satan is represented by the fact that Pergamum was the official cult center of emperor worship in Asia

            • They had built a temple to Augustus in 29 B.C. and a second temple was built during the time of Trajan

            • They were fiercely loyal to Rome and to the worship of the Emperor

            • As the capital city of Rome in Asia Minor, Satan had established his presence there through the governing authorities

            • ‘The imperial cult [is] the major problem behind Revelation as a whole . . .” [Osborne, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, Revelation, 141]

          • Satan not only had his throne there, but also lived there

          • Under this incredible pressure from outside the church, the believers remained faithful

        • Faithful

          • The believers in Pergamum remained true to Jesus’ name

            • Multiple versions of the Bible translate “remained true” as “hold fast” (KJV, NKJV, ESV, NASB, RSV)

            • “The verb means to ‘grasp forcibly’ or, in this figurative use, to ‘remain firm.’” ​​ [Osborne, 141]

            • The believers were not about to let go of their faith in Jesus

          • They did not renounce their faith in Jesus

            • There was pressure from their neighbors, I’m sure, to show their loyalty to the Roman state

            • They were probably being pressured to burn incense to the emperor and declare that “Caesar is Lord,” or that Caesar was Savior

            • I’m sure they felt even more pressure when Antipas was martyred

              • This is the only place in the New Testament where Antipas is mentioned, so we don’t know much about him

              • What we do know is from Jesus and His description of him – he was a faithful witness

              • He had remained true to the Gospel even to the point of death

              • What Jesus was encouraging the believers in Smyrna to endure, Antipas had already endured – death

            • Perhaps Christians in other parts of the Roman world had folded under that kind of pressure, but Jesus commends the believers in Pergamum for remaining strong through it all

        • PRINCIPLE – God gives His people the power to remain faithful in a faithless society.

          • “In The Global War on Christians, respected author and journalist John Allen notes that ‘80% of all acts of religious discrimination in the world today are directed against Christians’ (Allen Global War, 33). ​​ When it comes to deaths, ‘90% of all people killed on the basis of religious beliefs in the world today are Christians.’” ​​ [Akin, 59]

          • While we certainly haven’t dealt with martyrdom in our community, there are other ways in which we are persecuted and have to remain faithful

            • Societal, Institutional, Employment, and Legal discrimination

              • God’s Not Dead movies highlight institutional discrimination

              • Children and teens being told they cannot pray for their meal at school or read their Bible during study hall

            • Violence against individual Christians

            • Suppression of Christian missions, conversion to Christianity, and corporate worship (pastors in Houston, TX being subpoenaed to turn over their sermons to the mayor)

            • Forced conversion from Christianity

            • Community oppression

          • More of this is on the way for Christians in the United States

          • The great thing is that God gives us His power to hold fast to His name and to not renounce our faith even when persecution comes

          • We can remain faithful among the faithless.

        • While the believers in Pergamum remained faithful during external attacks, some of them did not remain faithful during internal attacks

        • Satan was unable to defeat the believers with a frontal attack, so he used a more devious tactic and that was what Jesus had against them

    • Criticism of the Recipients (vv. 14-15)

        • The believers in Pergamum did the opposite of the believers in Ephesus – they accepted these false teachers instead of testing them and rejecting them [Easley, Holman New Testament Commentary, Revelation, 38]

        • Those in the church, who held to the teachings of the Nicolaitans, were doing the same thing that Balaam did with Balak and the Moabites and Midianites

          • Most scholars believe that the teachings of the Nicolaitans were the same as that of Balaam from the Old Testament – idolatry and sexual immorality

          • The story of Balaam and Balak is found in Numbers 22-24

          • Balak, king of Moab, sent for Balaam, a Gentile prophet

          • After consulting with the Lord, Balaam refused to go with them

          • Balak sends for Balaam a second time and God tells him he can go, but he can only do and say what God tells him

          • Balak asks Balaam three times to curse the Israelites, but Balaam is unable to do that because the Israelites are blessed by God

          • Satan’s frontal attack through Balak did not work, so he used more deceptive ways to bring down the Israelites

          • Numbers 25:1-3, While Israel was staying in Shittim, the men began to indulge in sexual immorality with Moabite women, who invited them to the sacrifices to their gods. ​​ The people ate and bowed down before these gods. ​​ So Israel joined in worshiping the Baal of Peor. ​​ And the Lord’s anger burned against them.

          • So what was Balaam’s part in teaching the Moabites and Midianites?

            • We see in Numbers 31 the Lord’s vengeance on the Midianites

            • It’s here that we find out Balaam’s part in tempting the Israelites to compromise

            • Numbers 31:15-16, “Have you allowed all the women to live?” ​​ he asked them. ​​ “They were the ones who followed Balaam’s advice and were the means of turning the Israelites away from the Lord in what happened at Peor, so that a plague struck the Lord’s people.”

            • So, Balaam told the Midianites how to entice the Israelites to sin against the Lord and bring about God’s punishment on them

        • There were believers in the church at Pergamum who were holding to the teachings of the Nicolaitans

          • They were misleading the church into thinking that worshiping the emperor, participating in guild banquets, and practicing sexual immorality were alright

          • It was a subtle distortion, that the violation of conscience was fine [Easley, 39]

          • What identified this subtle distortion was compromise and accommodation

            • This was a difficult city to live in and remain spiritually pure

              • They were constantly being bombarded with festivals and feasts to the various gods

              • There was a three-day festival in the spring to Dionysus [Osborne, 144]

              • There was a procession to Dionysia in March [Osborne, 144]

              • The month of May brought the feast to Aphrodite (the goddess of love, beauty, pleasure, and procreation), which included, as you can imagine, sexual immorality [Osborne, 144]

            • “On the theological level, compromise with the imperial cult to save one’s life and compromise with the pagan activities of trade guilds to save one’s livelihood are all of one piece (cr. 13:17); they represent accommodation to the world at the expense of one’s total devotion to God’s standards.” ​​ [Keener, The NIV Application Commentary, Revelation, 125]

            • What was happening is that the believers in Pergamum were trying to serve God, but they allowed, what the culture said was alright, to determine how they lived their lives

            • They were neglecting the truth of God’s Word as presented by the Apostle Paul, Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. ​​ Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will. ​​ (Romans 12:2)

            • They had also forgotten the warning from James, You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? ​​ Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. ​​ (James 4:4)

            • What the believers in Pergamum were struggling with was spiritual adultery

              • They wanted to be in a relationship with Jesus Christ, but they also wanted to enjoy the benefits of the imperial cult and the trade guilds

              • They were struggling with syncretism – trying to merge differing religious beliefs into one (perhaps taking the best of every religion and adding it to their belief system)

              • Theirs was not a pure faith

        • Application

          • We struggle with the same desires as the believers in Pergamum

          • Some of us may bend to the wishes of the federal, state, and local governments in order to avoid persecution

          • Others of us may compromise God’s standards in order to satisfy our own desires and to be accepted by those in our family, school, work, or neighborhood

            • We justify living together before marriage, because it will help us out financially

            • We give in to the temptation to have sex before marriage, because all of our friends are doing it and we are going to get married anyhow, so what will it hurt

            • Paul makes it clear in 1 Corinthians 5-7 that for Christians, sexual relationships are only to be enjoyed within the bonds of marriage

            • We justify looking at pornography, because of a false belief that it isn’t hurting anyone, yet Jesus sets the standard higher for adultery when He says, But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. ​​ (Matt. 5:28)

            • Jesus also raise the bar when it comes to murder, “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ ​​ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. (Matt. 5:21-22a)

          • We may even compromise our standards in order to save our job or livelihood

            • Tax season is in full swing and we may sometimes do certain things in order to avoid paying taxes

            • Jesus told the Pharisees to give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s (Mark 12:17)

          • Our culture wants us to believe that certain lifestyles are acceptable and natural or that human life begins at birth instead of conception

          • In the past there was the belief that certain skin colors were somehow inferior to others

          • The gossip trail can be long, because we enjoy juicy details and have our own opinions that we have to share

          • Our culture, without God, will always try to push the envelope of what is acceptable

          • “Compromise is one of Satan’s favorite and most effective weapons. ​​ This is so for at least four reasons:” ​​ [Akin, 61]

            • It never occurs quickly, so you hardly notice the change

            • It always lowers the original standards you once held important

            • It is seldom offensive because it is perceived as loving

            • It eventually leads you to accept what you once rejected and even thought repulsive. ​​ It has been well said that what one generation tolerates, the next generation will accept; what that generation accepts, the next generation will celebrate.

        • Jesus commands the believers in Pergamum to push back against the culture – to remain faithful among the faithless

    • Command to the Recipients (v. 16)

        • Repent

          • To repent means to “change” our previous ways, both spiritually and ethically – it is a 180 degree turn from our sin to following Jesus Christ and God’s standards

          • How about you?

            • Perhaps you’ve compromised in some way with the culture of our day

            • You’ve allowed the beliefs of our culture to change your thinking and lifestyle to something that’s less than God’s standard

            • It’s not too late to repent

            • 1 John 1:9, If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness

            • As a follower of Jesus Christ this promise is for you

            • He will give you the power to be faithful among the faithless

            • My Next Step Today Is To: ​​ Claim God’s promise that He will forgive me when I repent and confess my sins to Him.

              • Once you have done that, I encourage you to return to God’s standard as outlined in His Word

              • Find someone that can hold you accountable to your commitment

          • As the body of Christ

            • Jesus was not only asking individuals in the church to repent, He was asking the entire church to repent

            • They had to change their minds about allowing the teaching of the Nicolaitans to continue within the church

            • They had not done what the church in Ephesus had done

            • The believers in Ephesus hated the teachings of the Nicolaitans and didn’t allow it to spread within the church

            • Corporate repentance is important as well

            • God promise to forgive is available for the body of Christ also

            • 2 Chronicles 7:14, if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.

          • We have a free will and can decide whether or not to heed God’s warning

          • Jesus understood that about the church in Pergamum, but He also explained the consequences of refusing to repent

        • Refusal to repent

          • The believers repentance meant they needed to deal with the heretical teachers and their followers

            • It wasn’t just saying they were sorry that they allowed this false teaching to infiltrate the church, but it was taking action to eliminate from the body

            • “The church cannot tolerate evil in any form. ​​ To the boastful Corinthians, proudly tolerating a man guilty of incest, Paul wrote, ‘Your boasting is not good. ​​ Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough? ​​ Clean out the old leaven so that you may be a new lump, just as you are in fact unleavened’ (1 Cor. 5:6-7). ​​ Sinning believers should be made to feel miserable in the fellowship and worship of the church by being confronted powerfully with the Word of God. ​​ Neither is the goal of the church to provide an environment where unbelievers feel comfortable; it is to be a place where they can hear the truth and be convicted of their sins so as to be saved (Rom. 10:13-17). ​​ Gently (cf. 2 Tim. 2:24-26), lovingly, graciously, yet firmly, unbelievers need to be confronted with the reality of their sin and God’s gracious provision through the sacrificial death of the Lord Jesus Christ. ​​ Error will never be suppressed by compromising with it. ​​ Today’s nonconfrontive church is largely repeating the error of the Pergamum church on a grand scale, and faces the judgment of the Lord of the church. ​​ (Revelation 1-11, 90) ​​ [John MacArthur cited by Akin, 62-63]

            • My Next Step Today Is To: ​​ Gently, lovingly, graciously, and firmly confront those in the church who are sinning, whether they are believers or unbelievers.

          • Jesus would come to the church and fight against those who were holding to the teachings of the Nicolaitans

            • Jesus switches from the second-person pronoun, “to you,” to the third-person pronoun, “to them”

            • What this communicates is that Jesus will be coming to the whole church – “to you” ​​ [Osborne, 146]

            • It also communicates that His wrath will be especially directed to the heretical teachers and their followers – “to them” ​​ [Osborne, 146]

          • He would come with the sword of His mouth

            • He would come to judge

            • He would use the truths of God’s Word to accomplish that judgment

        • Jesus realized that some within the church would heed His command to repent, so He explains His commitment to those who overcome/conquer

    • Commitment to all who Overcome (v. 17)

        • Jesus promises two things to those who conquer the desire to compromise – to those who remain faithful among the faithless

        • Both of these symbols represent eternal life – one is Jewish in nature (hidden manna), the other is Gentile (white stone)

        • Two items

          • Hidden manna

            • God sustained the Israelites in the desert with manna from heaven

            • He will sustain His faithful followers through suffering when they refuse to compromise

          • White stone with a new name written on it

            • A white stone was used in the ancient pagan world as an entrance token to public assemblies and festivals

            • This would have spoken volumes to anyone living in Pergamum, because of the numerous pagan feasts and festivals

            • The white stone that Jesus is giving to those who overcome would have been symbolic of the messianic banquet celebration that is still to come in the eschaton (Rev. 19:9)

  • YOU

    • We have to repent of our sins, both individually and corporately

  • WE

    • We have to lovingly and graciously confront those who are sinning within the church and leading others to do the same

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