We are so privileged to be able to open the word of God this morning and to hear the very voice of God. In this case the very voice of the Lord Jesus Christ speak to us. As I was thinking about what I might bring to you this morning, since I want to wait until after next Sunday to begin our series in 2 Corinthians and Romans chapter 8, I was thinking about how grateful I am for this church and how loyal and faithful and loving a church you are. And I wanted to find a passage that would bring a message of commendation to you. As I was considering that, I was drawn to the third chapter of Revelation. And I want you to open your Bible if you will to Revelation chapter 3, and I want to say to you this morning words that I trust will be greatly encouraging to you.
You are a faithful church. And as I was thinking about where in the New Testament do we see a picture of a faithful church, sort of an unobstructed picture of a faithful church, an unmitigated picture of a faithful church, a church addressed by the Lord without threats and without warnings and without condemnation, and basically, there are two that stand out. One is the church at Thessalonica, to which the apostle Paul wrote the Epistles, 1 and 2 Thessalonians. And in 1 Thessalonians, there is nothing but commendation of that church. The other passage that is remarkably interesting to me and parallel to our own church is a letter of commendation that the Lord Jesus Himself wrote to the church at Philadelphia in chapter 3 of Revelation verses 7 and following.
Just to give you a little bit of context, in the second and third chapters of the book of Revelation there are some profound insights into the church. They take the form of seven letters written to seven actual churches. At the time when John received the book of Revelation from the Holy Spirit, the church had been established in Asia Minor, which is modern Turkey. And in Asia Minor, there were seven sort of county seats that sort of represented the territories of Asia Minor. They were also known as postal districts. And in each of those postal districts, that county seat, that main city, had a church. Those are the seven churches indicated in Revelation 2 and 3. There was one at Ephesus. You know that from early in the chapter. And then there was one at Smyrna, and then there was one at Pergamum or Pergamus, then one at Thyatira and then Sardis, and then Philadelphia, and then Laodicea. These seven cities had seven churches that had basically been planted by the church at Ephesus. That was the strong church where Paul had such an effective ministry.
Now these seven churches received seven letters that are very personal. They are actual churches. These were letters written and handed to an actual messenger – translated angel – but a messenger from each of those churches was given the letter for his own church by the apostle John. So they were addressed to real people in real time about real matters.
But there’s more to them than that. They carry some of the sense of the apocalypse that is the book of Revelation, because they also look forward. And they really represent seven kinds of churches throughout church history. There are churches like the church at Ephesus. There are churches like the church at Pergamus, Thyatira, Smyrna, Sardis, Philadelphia, Laodicea. There are churches like these churches throughout all of the church era. And there are references made in each of the church letters that indicate the somewhat transcendent matters that are being discussed.
For example, the letter to the church of Philadelphia talks about a trial that’s going to come upon the whole world. That has to transcend anything that happened in Philadelphia. There are issues of judgment made against certain churches that, in their fullest sense, represent a judgment that is beyond that one local church. So there are many indications that these are representative churches that describe for us the kinds of churches that will exist throughout the church age.
Sad to say, there are only two out of the seven that are not condemned. There are only two of these churches that are addressed with only positive comments. One of them is a church that was under severe persecution, the church at Smyrna. It was being severely persecuted, and its persecution became its purification. The other one where there was no condemnation, no threat, no warning is to the church at Philadelphia. And it is to that letter in chapter 3 that I want to draw your attention. Smyrna was commended because of its faithfulness under severe persecution and death. Philadelphia was commended in a situation where there was not such severe persecution and death. Although there was some, it wasn’t to the degree of Smyrna. And though we have some persecution, we obviously are not as much like the church at Smyrna as others are even today in places where they’re being slaughtered for the gospel. But we are very much like the church at Philadelphia. And so Philadelphia becomes a good model church by which I can measure our church. And I really do believe that our church is much like the church at Philadelphia. I want to bring to you this morning some words of commendation.
I’m so grateful to be a part of this church. I’m so grateful for what God has done in this church. This church is, in my life, a precious treasure for which not a day passes that I don’t thank God. Most men in ministry will never experience the joys that I experience because of this church. And when I say that, I don’t mean the buildings, and I don’t mean the staff and elders. I certainly don’t mean myself. I mean you, because you are the church. And I think you will see in the Lord’s commendation of the church at Philadelphia an appropriate commendation that I would like to bring to you on His behalf.
There are churches like the church at Ephesus that fight valiantly against error and heresy and hold to sound doctrine and hate evil but have grown cold, because they’ve left their first love. There are churches like the church at Thyatira which exhibit love only to be condemned for tolerance and wickedness and lack of sound doctrine. There are churches like the church at Pergamus who are all mixed up with iniquity and worldly compromise. There are churches like Smyrna, who are spiritually alive in every way, though they are being physically martyred. There are churches like the church at Sardis that are physically alive but are spiritually dead. There are churches like Laodicea that think they’re rich and have it all, and by God’s estimate they’re poor and have nothing, and they nauseate Him and He will vomit them out of His mouth.
But our church is like Philadelphia. Listen to what He says to them, starting in verse 7, “And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write: He who is holy, who is true, who has the key of David, who opens that no one will shut, and who shuts and no one opens, says this, ‘I know your deeds. Behold, I have put before you an open door which no one can shut, because you have a little power and have kept My word and have not denied My name. Behold, I will cause those of the synagogue of Satan who say that they are Jews and are not, but lie. Behold I will make them to come and bow down at your feet and to know that I have loved you. Because you have kept the word of My perseverance, I will also keep you from the hour of testing, that hour which is about to come upon the whole world to test those who dwell upon the earth. I am coming quickly. Hold fast what you have in order that no one takes your crown.’” And we’ll stop at that point.
Sadly, the church is a chaotic mixture, just as it is in Revelation 2 and 3. It didn’t take long for this to happen. John is writing at the end of the first century. The church is not yet 50 years old and already chaos has settled in. These churches are new and already they are troubled. And only two out of seven escapes some condemnation from the Lord Himself. One of those two is this church at Philadelphia. To begin with, I want you to look with me at verse 7, and look at the correspondent himself, the one who wrote the letter. Because this is what makes this commendation so remarkable.
If the church at Philadelphia, or any church, including our church, were to receive a letter of commendation from a man, why that would be notable. If they were to receive a commendation from a group, perhaps a group of ministers who appreciated their ministry, that would be notable. If they were to receive a letter of commendation from some theologians, some great warriors of the faith, some well-known spiritual champions, that would be perhaps more notable. If they were to receive commendation from denominational headquarters or from whatever association they belong to, certainly that is notable.
But the commendation that is given here is a far more notable source than any of those human sources, as well spoken as they might be. This correspondence, concerning the value of the Philadelphian church, comes from the Lord Himself. And if ever there is to be a notable commendation, it is that commendation which comes from the Lord of the church. Notice that He begins by saying, “To the angel” – or the messenger. That was the representative from the church who was on Patmus and going to take the letter from John back to his own local assembly. “To the messenger of the church from Philadelphia write:” and here is the introduction from the correspondent, the author. “He who is holy, who is true, who has the key of David, who opens and no one will shut, and who shuts and no one opens, says this, ‘I know your deeds.’” This is really remarkable.
If you’re like I am, and you look at your own Christian life, you find it very difficult to ever come to the point of commendation. Don’t you? When anybody speaks well of you or gives you some accolade or writes some tribute to you or gives you some honor for your spiritual life, you receive it almost reluctantly. Because down in your heart, you know your own weaknesses, and you know your own frailties, and you know the battle that you fight with your own fallenness and with sin and temptation, and you certainly are reluctant to take any commendation. You feel a little bit like saying, “Well, if you really knew the truth, you wouldn’t be so kind.”
That’s what makes this commendation so remarkable. Because the man who gave this commendation is the God-Man, the Lord Jesus Christ, who knows their deeds and still gives a commendation. It is not that this church was sinless. It wasn’t. No church is. No believer is. If we say we have no sin, we’d make God a liar. It is not that this church was in every sense exactly what the Lord would want it to be, because no church can be what the Lord wants it to be and ultimately will make it in glory to come. And that’s why the commendation is so notable. Because we all know that none of us can be what we ought to be. None of us can fully fulfill the purposes and will of God and bring in the glory that He is due. And yet, here is the Lord of the church commending a church with full knowledge of their failures and their frailties. “I know your deeds.”
You say, well who is this one? Let’s find out. Back in verse 7, “He who is holy.” He who is holy. This commendation is notable, because it comes from the One who has a perfect standard. Do you understand that? He who is holy basically could refer to no other than God, who is called holy, holy, holy. Even called that in Revelation chapter 4 verse 8 by the four living creatures who say, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God the Almighty.” We’re talking about God, but particularly here we’re talking about God, the second member of the Trinity, God the Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of the church. He who is holy is certainly a reference to God. Isaiah 6, Isaiah 40, Isaiah 43, Psalms 16, and repeatedly in the Old Testament God is designated as holy.
But the holy one is also a messianic title. It is the title for the Messiah. It is a title for the Lord Jesus Christ Himself, who is the holy One; who is, according to Matthew 1:23, “God with us.” Listen to Mark 1:24. Here in the mouth of the demon, the demon says to Jesus, “What have we to do with You, Jesus of Nazareth, the holy One of God?” Whether in the mouth of a demon or, as in the case of Luke’s gospel chapter 1 verse 35, in the mouth of an angel. “The angel said to Mary, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you, and for that reason, the holy offspring shall be called the Son of God.’” In either case, in the mouth of a demon or the mouth of an angel, Jesus is designated as the holy One.
In the Gospel of John, that sixth chapter and verse 69, we read this, the words of Peter, “We have believed and come to know that You are the holy One of God.” Angels said it, demons said it, and men have said it; and indeed, it is true. Into the book of Acts and it is repeated again that Messiah is the holy one. “He who is holy.” The holy, pure, sinless Lord of the church. The one who is God, a very God. The one who is a member of the triune God, who is holy, holy, holy. He has set, by the way, a holy standard for his church. 1 Peter 1:15 says, “But the holy One who has called you is holy, and you be holy yourselves.” Because He is holy, He can’t tolerate sin. Because He is holy, He cannot look upon in equity. Yet He gives no rebuke, no threat, no warning, no judgment, and pledges no chastisement. That is remarkable. That is remarkable. And it speaks of His being pleased with this church. It isn’t that some sin escaped Him. When that person comes to commend you, you might say, well if you knew the truth, you wouldn’t say that, but you can’t say that to the Lord, because He knows the truth. And still only commends the church.
Secondly, He is identified as not only the one who is holy but the one who is true. Somebody might say, well maybe just there are some things that have escaped Him.” No. He is true. What does that mean? That simply means He and truth are synonymous. There isn’t anything He doesn’t know. He has the highest standard of holiness and has complete information about everything. He is absolute holiness, and He is absolute truth. There is in Him no sin, and there is nothing that exists that He doesn’t know about. In fact, Jesus said that He is the way, the truth, and the life. He is the holy God who cannot look upon iniquity. He is the truth in that He makes an absolutely accurate assessment, and still He commends the church. That is greatly encouraging. What an encouragement.
And somebody might say, well maybe there’s a – hard to think about – but maybe there’s a higher standard. Maybe there’s a higher authority that would make such a commendation. Back to verse 7, “Who is holy, who is true” – and here it comes – “who has the key of David. Who opens and no one will shut, and who shuts and no one opens.” What does that mean? Sovereign authority – sovereign authority. He is the symbol of divine authority. If you have the key, that means you can open up and you can close. That’s the point. Kings were given keys as symbols of sovereign authority. They would open the kingdom to whomever they wished and shut it to whomever they wished. This is a direct reference, by the way, to Isaiah 22:22, where speaking of Eliakim, the son of Hilkiah, it refers to him as the one who had the key to all the treasures of the king. He was the one who could open up the door and let people into the treasure. He had authority over the royal treasury. He could open it up and let its riches out, and he could lock it up and keep them in.
The key of David is the key over royal riches. The key of David is the key over the divine treasury, over the kingdom of God, the kingdom of salvation. Jesus has the key to all the divine treasure. That is to say, He is in ultimate authority. He decides who gets in and who is shut out, who is blessed and who is cursed. He opens and closes its riches to everybody. So there is no higher authority. He has all holiness, all truth, and all authority. There’s no one else to appeal to.
You cannot say, well I know You like that church, but I have a few things, and I’m going to take this to an appellate court higher than You. There is no such thing. So here is One perfectly holy, perfectly true, perfectly sovereign, who has nothing negative to say about this church. That is so encouraging. The highest standard, the fullest amount of information, and the greatest authority, and all He can do is bless this congregation. That’s a tremendous statement. He had, you remember, the keys of death and Hades in chapter 1 verse 18. He’s the One who locks and unlocks the grave and death, and He has the keys here to open the treasures of God to whomever He will, and the kingdom of salvation to whomever He will. Nobody else can do anything about it.
So now you understand who the correspondent is. You understand that it’s the living Lord of the church. What a tremendous commendation. And He has nothing to rebuke them for, nothing to correct them about, nothing to condemn them for, nothing to chasten them about or warn them about. He writes this commending letter to them. And I pass it on to you, because I believe in my heart that this is a Philadelphia-type church. I’m not saying we’re perfect. I’m not saying that we’re sinless. I’m not saying we’re everything a church could possibly be. But I do believe with all my heart that we are a church that pleases God. And it’s because of you. The Lord looked at the church at Philadelphia, and they weren’t wanting. They weren’t wanting in the crucial areas.
Philadelphia was an interesting city, about 30 miles southeast of Sardis. It was the hub of Greece in many ways. It was sort of the hub of the Greco-Asiatic civilization, sort of the Eastern hub, pushing Greek culture to the Orient. It spread the Greek language east. It eventually took over from the native Lydian language by about 19 A.D. It pushed Greek culture to the Orient. It was on the trade route east. It was an imperial post road stop, which the Romans used. It was the single greatest trade route going east through Asia Minor. In A.D. 17, a powerful earthquake destroyed it. Along with Philadelphia, Sardis was the destroyed and so were 10 other cities by this massive earthquake. People lived in fear of earthquakes. By A.D. 60, Laodicea was destroyed by an earthquake. Emperor Tiberius help to rebuild Philadelphia, and they erected a monument to him in the city. You might say the place shook, but the church didn’t. It stayed firm.
We don’t know anything about the church at all other than what’s in this letter. This is all that is said. There is no condemnation, just a commendation, and it is to that that I want to draw your attention this morning. Let’s look at it. Verse 8, “I know your deeds.” Omniscient. The holy, true, sovereign, powerful, omniscient Lord of the church gives a penetrating look and says, “I know all about you, and this is what I know about you.” This is what characterized them. Number one, power. He says, “I’ve put before you an open door which no one can shut. Because you have a little power.” You say, well is this a mild rebuke? No. He’s not saying, you’re feeble. He’s not saying, well you sure have a little power. He’s saying, you have power. You’re just small. You’re small, and your power is limited by your size, but you have power. That’s the intent. It’s not a sin issue. They had spiritual power. It was just that they were small. This is one little assembly of believers. We don’t know how many they were, but one little, small assembly of believers in a great city, a city of, I don’t know, maybe up to 100,000 people. Not like cities today that we’re used to. They had a little power. They had influence in that place. There was power coming through that church.
Certainly we would assume that most of the believers were slaves, servants. They were few, they were poor, they were low class, they were undistinguished. They were like those of whom Jesus spoke in Luke 12:32 when He called them His little flock. But they had power. They had influence. Second Corinthians 12:9 says, “His power is perfected in our weakness.” They were like a little grain of mustard seed that was moving a few mountains. Spiritual power was flowing through that church, transforming lives.
I look at this church, and somebody might say, well this is a large church. Well compared to the size of the city we’re in, it’s not. I suppose Los Angeles and environs are in excess of 10 million people. We’re very small, but we have a little power. I was reminded of that some months ago when I stood before the city council of Los Angeles and the mayor came and all the people in the city council, and they came to do a tribute and commend Grace Community Church for its tremendous contribution to the city of Los Angeles. Now, I don’t want to say, we have great influence in Los Angeles, lest someone think Los Angeles is the way it is because of us.
The truth of the matter is, we have a little power. Isn’t it? We have made a mark, and the mark we make is because of transformed lives touching other lives in this city. And you’ve done that through the years. They know we’re here. The city knows we’re here. The leadership of the city knows we’re here. They know we have an influence on this society, on this community, on young people, on children, on families, on marriages. They know we minister to people in jails and hospitals. They know we make a difference in schools. They know our commitment to education, to the care of those in need. They understand that. I praise God that we have a little power in this massive metropolis.
Secondly, He commends the church at Philadelphia. He says not only because you have a little power but because, “You have kept My Word.” You have kept My Word. Second, obedience. Why did He commend this church? First of all, power. Spiritual power was flowing through them. Their lives were being transformed, and they were the source by which lives were being touched to be transformed by God again, and that process was being repeated. Secondly, they were obedient. They heard the Word and obeyed it. That’s what kept means. They were bound to the Scripture, and they didn’t deviate from a pattern of obedience to it.
I know there are many men who have a terrible cross to bear, because they have to preach to a congregation that is indifferent to Scripture. That was the case with Jonathan Edwards. I’ll never forget reading the biography of Jonathan Edwards and being stunned to find out that perhaps the greatest preacher America ever knew – Jonathan Edwards, the preacher who reached the great awakening – preached in the same church for 22 years in Northampton, Massachusetts. Preached with such power and conviction and with such Biblical erudition that he has no equal. At the end of 22 years, his congregation voted him out of the church, and they ruined his reputation so no one else would hire him as a pastor. The only place he could go was to minister to a handful of Indians until his death. They did everything to destroy him. And the reason they said they wanted to get rid of him was he insisted that people make a public profession of faith in Jesus Christ before they take the Lord’s Table and be admitted to the church. There was a people who heard the greatest preaching anyone could have ever heard for 22 years and didn’t get it and didn’t respond and didn’t obey. Much lesser men than that man have had the privilege of having obedient and submissive congregations. I suppose it would be good for one’s character to have a congregation like that, but if it’s okay with the Lord, I’ll stay right where I am.
I tell you, for one who preaches the Word of God, nothing is more wonderful than to have people who hear it and obey it. That’s the great joy of ministry. I’ll never forget years ago when all that happened to focused on our view of the woman’s role. I was preaching through Ephesians years ago and came to – we were just in this auditorium not long, and I started into this series on Ephesians, and I preached on the submission of women. Wives submit yourselves to your husbands. And it stirred no small controversy, because as it is now, the women’s movement was really capturing everything then. And somebody in our church called the Los Angeles Times, and said, “There’s a male chauvinist pastor. He’s preaching submission of women, and he’s fired all the women in his church in any employment position. He’s fired all the women, and he’s a chauvinist,” and all of that. Of course, that was on the front page of the Times.
I remember I was at my sister’s house and was looking at the paper, and it said, “Male Chauvinist Fires All Women.” I thought, “Who’s that?” It was me. And of course, it wasn’t true, but attendance went up the next Sunday 1500. That’s right. They just came pouring into the place to hear this kind of quirky person who would say such things publicly. The National Organization for Women had some signs out there. The interesting part was, we had so many people, we had to put them in the choir loft. And of course, it’s always the people who come last who go in the choir loft, and that would be the people who came to protest. They don’t know we have a crowd, and you’ve got to park far away. All those people wound up behind me. I just decided if this could get a crowd, I’d keep preaching this as long as I can, and so for several weeks we had that.
But the interesting thing about it, and what was really wonderful about it was that ABC, CBS, and NBC came. And they brought their network and their camera crews and they were all over the place. Some of you remember. And they started interviewing the women in the church. And they had everybody on camera, and they were collecting all these interviews. And then they interviewed me. And their comment was, “All these women seem to agree. We’re talking to these women, and they all agree. We don’t quite understand this.”
Then I went on the news with Jess Marlow, who’s a local anchor and was on NBC at the time, and he was trying to figure me out. And of course, they want to make you look like you’re some kind of raving maniac. And he asked me all kinds of silly, crazy questions like, “What you think of the Rams cheerleaders’ outfits?” and things like that. You know, just to make you say anything foolish or silly or narrow-minded or whatever. And all kinds of other questions. And finally, he got down to it – and this was live on the nightly news thing. And finally he said to me, and I’ll never forget this, because I heard it later on the tape, he said, “We interviewed the women at your church, and they all agree with what you said, and they seem like intelligent women. How do you explain that?”
And I had the privilege of saying, “Well, it’s very simple. They believe the Bible is the Word of God. They willingly and joyfully submit to the Word of God, and when God speaks, they’re happy to comply with God’s Word.” Well that just doesn’t compute, basically with those people. But you know, you all gained their respect, and that respect has remained to this day. And you need to know that very frequently when the news media people want somebody to interpret something religiously, they’ll call me and ask me for my opinion, because they have respect for this church. And they know we’re serious about what we believe. I’m thankful for that. You have demonstrated through the years a willingness to hear the Word of God and to obey it. And that was like the church at Philadelphia.
Thirdly, He commended the church at Philadelphia at the end of verse 8. He says, “And you have not denied My name.” You have not denied My name. Is there a word sweeter to hear than the word loyalty? I love that word. I love loyalty. I don’t know where it came from, but loyalty has always been very, very important to me – a longtime important to me. Friends, family, people who minister together with me. Loyalty means a tremendous amount to me. Maybe that was why when I went to seminary and I had a thousand options to write my dissertation, I chose to write it on Judas Iscariot. Not because I was curious about the details about Old Testament prophecy and statements in the New Testament, but because I wanted to get to the bottom of how a man could be so disloyal to Jesus Christ.
Lots of churches are disloyal. I mean, look at our country, all those Ivy League institutions like Harvard and Yale and Princeton and the rest of them founded to train pastors, and now they lambaste the faith that they were once built on. Denominations like the Episcopalians and the Presbyterians and the Methodists and the Baptists and other denominations that once were founded for the proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ now mock that gospel. And some of them fill their pulpits with Christ-denying, God-denying, Scripture-denying homosexuals. Terrible disloyalty in the church, deviating from the faith, wandering from the truth, compromising here, compromising there. This church, He says, “You have not denied My name.” He didn’t say, you haven’t denied my theology. He didn’t say, you haven’t denied my organization. My name. My name is synonymous with who I am. And what he’s saying is, you haven’t denied Me. You’ve been true to Me.
I know there are some challenges with being an independent church like ours is. We don’t have some great heritage. We didn’t come into existence out of some great ethnic background of people who were traversing the Atlantic Ocean to come here from Europe after they had fought for their faith in the midst of the Reformation. We don’t have that kind of background. We don’t have some great denominational background and roots and foundation where the Christian faith was articulated in the crucible of testing and trying in great church councils, and the truth was established, and we are the carriers of that truth from generation to generation. We don’t have those denominational roots. We don’t have those ethnic roots. We don’t have a great patriarchal council somewhere in the past that formulated everything to which we are to be true. We’re an independent church and the Person we need to be true to, and the only Person that we need to be true to, is the Lord Jesus Christ. There’s something good about that.
It’s pretty clear to us. We’re not trying to maintain the party line, the denominational line, fight the historic battle, make sure it gets preserved into the present. We just want to be loyal to Jesus Christ, and that’s the way the church at Philadelphia was. They were loyal to His name. Many denominations would deny the deity of Jesus Christ today. Many of the institutions they founded for the training of ministers, in fact most all of them, deny the deity of Jesus Christ, who He is, and they’re not true to His name. This church, in 40 years of its history, has never deviated from its devotion to Jesus Christ. That’s one of the things that attracted me to the Master’s College. The Master’s College was founded in 1927 and has never moved 1 millimeter from its devotion to Jesus Christ in the integrity of its doctrinal statement. Sound doctrine. We established the Master’s Seminary in 1986, and it is our passion and desire that that seminary will be true to Jesus Christ until He comes. It’s not necessary to deviate. Loyalty is what the Lord honors, and He says, “You have not denied My name.”
No matter who were the detractors, no matter how strong the cultural influences, no matter how fierce the persecution, they never moved. They were faithful to Jesus Christ, and that’s the way you’ve been. Jesus Christ has always been the focus of this church. The Lord Jesus Christ, the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, has always been lifted up and exalted. We continue to sing praises to Him. We did it this morning. Didn’t we?
We had a wedding yesterday. I was privileged to perform that wedding. In the middle of the wedding, they asked, and we did this, Kerry Hardy was participating. He stood the whole congregation, and we sang Crown Him with Many Crowns in a tribute to Jesus Christ. The center of everything in this church. And for that, you are to be commended.
Fourth, He commends them for endurance – for endurance. Verse 10, “Because you have kept the word of My perseverance.” Let me give you a little better way to translate that, because you have kept My command to endure patiently or persevere. “You have kept My command to endure patiently.” Life isn’t everything you want it to be. It never is. And we’ve had our struggles in this church. We’ve been attacked from the outside. I’m telling you, we get assaulted all the time. You don’t know about it. You know when they get on the corner over here and pass out their material, and when they stick things behind your windshield wiper in the parking lot. Maybe you pick up things that are said here and there, but the new base of assault is certainly the internet. Those people who can get on there and say anything they want about anybody far and wide are in a regular assault on this church.
There have been people in this church or of tried to tear up our church and divide our church. There have been those who have tried to come against us. And as you know we were sued, and ten years in court, all the way to the Supreme Court before we could defend the integrity of our ministry here. And the Supreme Court of the United States ruled in our favor as the Supreme Court of the State of California had, that we have a right to do what we do, because it is a religious freedom in this country to proclaim the gospel and to preach sin and righteousness and judgment. They would have torn us down if they could, and there were all kinds of people who were against us, siding with those who personally attacked us to bring down the church.
We’ve had our struggles, we’ve had our difficulties, we’ve had our hard times. We’ve had times when people left the church, when disgruntled people left the church. And yet, through it all, you’ve endured and you’ve been faithful and you’ve been patient. These are the best of days, aren’t they? Those of us who’ve been here all the time. People say, when was the best time in your nearly 30 years of ministry? My answer is now. We’ve endured through so much. God has matured us in it. We haven’t had to endure fierce and deadly persecution, but as the Russian pastors always say to me, “I’ll take persecution like we had in Russia rather than the encroachment of the culture that you have to deal with in your church.” This is a true church; this is a faithful church; this church of Philadelphia. It’s a church with power, obedience, a church with loyalty and endurance, a church like our church. I bring this letter to your attention to commend you.
What are the rewards for that? What were the rewards that Philadelphia received? Here they come. Just briefly. Number 1, verse 8, “Behold I have put before you an open door which no one can shut.” Wow. That’s where the idea of naming churches ‘The Church of the Open Door’ came from. It came out of that verse. What He is saying is really this: I’ve opened up the kingdom to you with all its riches. I’ve unlocked a treasure house. Come on in. I have the key, and when I open, nobody shuts; and when I shut, nobody opens. And I’m telling you in your case, I’ve opened it.
The first thing Lord has given to this church is tremendous blessing. Many people have come to Christ here. Many people have been nurtured in the faith here and grown to enjoy the full riches of the blessing of Christ, to bask in the fruit of the Spirit, love, joy, peace, gentleness, goodness, face, meekness, self-control. We have known the hand of God in our marriages. We’ve known the hand of God on our families, our children, and our children’s children. We have been blessed. The treasure house is open before us, and God has said, I have opened it, and nobody is going to shut it. Come on in. Take of the treasures of security and assurance and joy and worship and praise and service and ministry and love and mutual care.
But I see something even beyond that there. I see an evangelistic privilege there. When He says, “I have opened the door and no one can shut it,” I think He means He has given us an open door to bring others into the kingdom with us. This church has been, like the church at Philadelphia, given an open door. Open door was an image that the apostle Paul used to refer to evangelistic opportunity. He said in Ephesus there was an open door. He said in Troas there was an open door. He said, “Pray for me that the Lord will give me free course for the gospel and open the way.” This city, Philadelphia, right on the trade route, because of its location, was ideal for spreading the gospel. And so the Lord not only opened the door to the treasure house and gave them access to all the blessings, but He opened the door to the kingdom and allowed them the privilege of bringing others in. When I think about the most-notable privilege we have at this church, certainly it is that. Through the years, multiplied thousands upon thousands of people coming to faith in Jesus Christ through the ministry of this church – children, young people, adults, whole families. I remember sitting at a dining room table one night and leading seven members of a family to Christ all at once.
God has blessed this church and given us the opportunity for evangelizing, to open the door for others to go into the kingdom. I remember back to baptizing Robert Lagerstrom, who had been for years and years in the homosexual community one of the important people in the Gay Pride Parade in Los Angeles, where a million people march in advocacy of homosexuality. And how he had come on a Sunday and sat there knowing he was dying of AIDS. It only took one Sunday to be here, and he gave his heart to Christ and turned his life around and came into the waters of baptism and gave his testimony and evangelized everybody in his sinful past world until his death. Trophies of God’s grace abound in this congregation.
Not only here, but I think about all of our extended ministry. I think about all of the times we traveled all over the world, some of us, some of you, and some of our mission teams. I think about how radio takes the message of Jesus Christ 1189 times a day across this world. Tapes all over the world, and missionaries coming out of the Master Seminary, and young people coming out of the Master’s College and traversing the world and traversing America. God has opened up the door so wide and given us the privilege to bring many people into the kingdom. The promise of blessing, the promise of evangelistic opportunity.
And then there is a special third promise in verse 9 that I think is remarkable. “I will cause those of the synagogue of Satan” – that’s a sad statement. I will comment on it in a minute – ”who say they are Jews and are not, but lie. Behold, I will make them to come and bow down at your feet, and to know that I have loved you.” The thing that irritated the Jews so much about the early church was the fact that they had come to the belief that Gentiles were to be excluded from God’s kingdom. They had come to a very severe racist position, and a religiously inspired racist position. The Gentiles were the off scouring, the scum, and the outcasts, and that they were the favored of God. They wouldn’t so much as dirty their garments by rubbing up against the shoulders of Gentiles. They wouldn’t even come into their own country after traversing in a Gentile area without shaking the dust off their garments, so they didn’t bring Gentile dirt back into Israel. They wouldn’t eat with a Gentile utensil. They wouldn’t go into a Gentile home for fear of contact with them being like contacting a dead body. There was a severe breach.
And when the church came along and pronounced it was proclaiming the true gospel of the true and living God of Israel, and that Jesus was the Messiah of Israel, the Son of the Living God of Israel, and this was the culmination of Judaism, the Jews really could not accept that. And so in large measure, they became the enemy of the church. As you well know, the persecution of the Jews not only led to the death of Jesus Christ but led to the martyrdom that occurred after that in the city of Jerusalem and extended beyond that. Eventually the apostle Paul was even martyred because the Jews had put so much pressure on the Romans to make him a prisoner.
So the Jews were very hostile. And you know that when Paul went into a city to preach, riots were started by the Jews against the preaching of the gospel. So here is a most-notable thing. He says, “I’ll cause those of the synagogue of Satan” – that is a sad statement. It’s referring, no doubt, to a local Jewish synagogue. Once, according to Psalm 74:8, would have been called the synagogue of God but now the synagogue of Satan, because they turned their back on God’s Messiah. And here is a local Jewish synagogue not led by God but led by Satan. And no doubt they had been attacking this little church. They were saying they were Jews, but they weren’t, because not all Israel is Israel. Only those who are of faith are true Israel. They claim to be the true Jews, sons of God, – genetically, legally, and ceremonially – but they weren’t spiritually, because they had rejected Christ. And so they were attacking the church, as they often did. In the wondrous mercy of God, He says, “Behold, I’ll make them come and bow down at your feet and know that I have loved you.” So you know what that promised to that little church in Philadelphia? That the Jews would come to see that they did have the truth, that God really did love Gentiles, and Jews would be brought to Christ.
And I say that, too, parallels the experience we’ve had at Grace Church. Nothing has made me more thrilled through the years – and I rejoice in this repeatedly – than to see Jewish people coming to faith in Jesus Christ in this church. And it’s always been the pattern of this church. In fact, one of the greatest Jewish ministries in America, the American Board of Missions to the Jews, the leader of that ministry, Dr. Harold Sevener, came out of this church. One of the most-popular and well-known Jewish ministries that all of you would have heard of, Jews for Jesus, the leader of that ministry, Moishe Rosen, came out of this church. He was one of our young people when I came here. God has always given us a special ministry with Jewish people. I remember when I was asked to speak at Delhi College, they asked me to speak on Christianity and culture. I don’t know that much about Christianity and culture, but I knew there were a lot of Jewish students, so I elected to speak on why Jesus is the Messiah of Israel. That’s the right subject, I think. So on the open forum, I did that, and it stirred a big stir. I put it mildly. A very big stir, because a lot of Jewish people are at that school and down in North Hollywood. So they threw Molotov cocktails – Jewish Defense League threw some Molotov cocktails through the windows of the American Board of Missions to the Jews Headquarters in North Hollywood. They called my home, threatened me, and threatened our church. Some people got saved out of tha., and we were rejoicing. It launched an attack against us.
Then I was asked to speak at Cal State Northridge on the open forum. As I spoke, a whole bunch of protesting Jewish people got in a circle and did Jewish songs like Hava Nagila and danced around the thing so nobody could hear me speak. It was kind of an interesting collision. But out of it all, the Lord was just saving Jewish people and bringing them to Christ. And that’s always been the way in our church. We’ve become involved with the Friends of Israel and Marty Wolf and his ongoing ministry. The Lord has brought many of God’s chosen people, who are often God’s frozen people and need to be thawed out by the gospel. He has brought them here to bow the knee to Jesus Christ and recognize that God does love us Gentiles, too. The kingdom will be for the Jews uniquely, and we understand that, and they have a special place in God’s plan. They are yet to be saved. It’s a wonderful promise. Romans 11, “All Israel will be saved. The day will come when the nation will turn to the Messiah.” But we see a foretaste of that and always have in our church, and I just praise God for that. I praise God for that. I have a special love for Jewish people and a special desire that they would know their Messiah.
Well God has greatly blessed us. There’s one other blessing, and it comes in verse 10. He has blessed us by opening the door to all spiritual blessings. He has blessed us by giving us evangelistic opportunity around the world. He has blessed us by bringing those from Judaism to faith in Jesus Christ, to bow the knee to the gospel, and he has blessed us with protection. Verse 10, “Because you have kept the word of My perseverance, you have endured faithfully, I will keep you from the hour of testing.” Here is a promise of protection. You know, you can worry about a church, and a pastor does and elders do and leaders do. But I rest in the fact that where you have a faithful congregation, you have the pledge of God’s divine protection, and Christ will care for His church. “Because you have kept the word of My perseverance” – because you have endured patiently and faithfully and obeyed, because the power flows through you, and you are obedient, and you are loyal, and you are patient, I’ll protect you.
And certainly, it meant that He would protect them from any local event to happen in Philadelphia during that time. Some simple historical allusion to saving the church from some trouble or some natural disaster or some war or some persecution, sure. But beyond that, any faithful church has the promise of unique protection. And that will extend, He says – and here is one of those eschatological sweeps here – all the way to “that hour which is about to come upon the whole earth to test those who dwell upon the earth.” That’s a reference to the coming tribulation time described in Revelation 6-19, the time of tribulation to come upon the whole earth. He sweeps beyond any local thing. Something future, “I will.” Something limited in time, “The hour.” Something to test, “The hour of testing.” Something worldwide, “The world.” Something inclusive, “The whole world.” And something that’s going to come on non-Christians, who are identified as, “Those who dwell upon the earth.” That is a phrase used repeatedly in Revelation to identify non-Christians. It’s used about seven or eight times.
There was coming a time of trial on the earth. It’s going to fall on nonbelievers, and I promise you, I’m going to keep you from that hour. That’s why we say we believe we’re going to be raptured before the time of tribulation comes, because we have that promise of protection. It’s a promise of protection for now, and it extends all the way to the end. He’ll keep us, who belong to Him faithfully, from that time of testing. For one reason, why would He need to test us if we’re faithful? What promises. And beloved, I believe that we enjoy from God a door that lets us into the treasure house of blessings, an open door for world evangelization. God has given us a unique opportunity to reach Jewish people, His chosen people. And God has given us great protection from all who would harm us, and will until Jesus comes for us.
Verse 11 sums it up. And this is the one word that I have to say to you that Jesus had to say to them. “I’m coming quickly.” He means by that it’s next, immanent. “Hold fast what you have in order that no one take your crown.” What is He saying? Don’t change. Stay the way you are. So that when He comes, you’ll receive your full reward. Right? Hold on. Just keep doing what you’re doing. Be more faithful, so that you don’t lose any of the reward the Lord has prepared for you.
Let’s pray. What an encouraging word, Father. I just thank You so much for the picture of this church. Yes, Lord, there are churches that lose their first love. There are churches that tolerate sin, churches that compromise with the world, churches that are dead, churches that are lukewarm and nauseating. But there are also those true churches who are faithful, and this is such a church.
And Father, we would bring to them the exhilarating joy and pleasure of Your commendation. Your church needs to know that You’re pleased. And we thank You, Lord, because You have made all this possible. We couldn’t be powerful without Your power. We couldn’t be obedient without Your strength and truth. We couldn’t be loyal without the strength of Your Holy Spirit to keep us. We couldn’t endure, unless You undergirded us in the midst of trials. And so, Lord, we give You all the glory, and we think You for blessing us, for opening the door to reach the world with the Gospel, for bringing many from your special people, Israel, to the foot of the cross and to embrace the Savior. We thank You for the protection that You’ve given us, how You’ve guarded this church and protected it through the years and will until Jesus comes.
Oh Lord, we thank You for the faithful people, the overcomers, who by faith in Jesus Christ belong to You. And we pray, Lord, that we would all be faithful and hold on in Your strength until that full reward in the day when we receive the crown that You have prepared for us. The reason we want to be faithful is that we may take that crown and give it to You, Who are worthy. Thank You for this truth and for its implications to our lives and the encouragement it brings to our hearts. In Christ’s Name, Amen.
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