Lorna Donald, one of our very capable elders, preached this last Sunday in spite of a horrible cold. A very telling sermon, delivered in Lorna’s customary, careful yet passionate delivery.
AN OPEN AND SHUT CASE
The seven churches to whom the letters featured in Revelation chapters 2 & 3 were all located on a major Roman road. As we have heard over recent weeks, the letters collectively provide us with a picture of the church as a whole in John’s day, as it faced the challenges of persecution –
- Ephesus – the loveless church
- Smyrna – the persecuted church
- Pergamum – the worldly church
- Thyatira – the paganised church
- Sardis – the lifeless church
- Philadelphia – the missionary church
- Laodicea – the lukewarm church
Our postman, following a rural delivery route like no other, who left the island of Patmos, where John was in exile, has reached the sixth church – the church at Philadelphia, where we pause today in our journey following the route taken to deliver the letters, which incidentally, is the order in which they appear in the book of Revelation.
Philadelphia, a city founded by the people and government of Pergamum, a gateway to the central plateau of Asia Minor, its original purpose was to keep so-called Barbarians out of the region and to enable the adoption of Greek culture and language.
Of the seven letters written to the seven churches, two contain no words of rebuke. This is one of them; the letter to the church at Smyrna is the other. Given the original reason for the establishment of the city, the keeping of the Barbarians at a safe distance, it is surprising to find that the name Philadelphia means “brotherly love”, and it is, of course, the city after which the famed American city is named.
Throughout Revelation, Christ is given various names and descriptions. In today’s passage he is described as “Holy and True, the one who has the key of David”. The “key of David” both then, at the time of the writing of the book of Revelation, and today, represents Christ’s authority to open the door of invitation into His future kingdom. Isaiah made a very similar prophecy in respect of Eliakim. Attacked on every side, the people of Judah had given up hope, preferring instead to eat and drink. They should, like you and me, have repented. Their problem? They did not trust God’s power or His promises.
The people of Philadelphia were told that Jesus Christ holds the key of David, and that He has set before the church, including and especially our church today, an open door. No-one can shut that door but Christ himself. After the door is opened, no-one can close it – our salvation is assured. Once it is closed however, no-one can open it – judgment is certain.
I wonder if it might be a good idea to pause right here on our journey to contemplate those words that read very simply, but for you and I, in fact for everyone, have a most profound meaning. Christ opening the door, you and I entering through it, knowing that to us, at least, it will never be closed, sounds like a trivial, everyday activity. Going through doors, moving within our own little kingdoms, is something we do every day. However, this door is no ordinary door, for it is the door of salvation. Let us remind ourselves that there are no preconditions attached. Enter through the door of salvation just as you are, however unworthy you feel, carrying whatever baggage life has given you, in the knowledge that you are welcome.
Recall if you will, your own step through the door, possibly taken in trepidation, concerned by that nagging doubt that maybe, just maybe there might be an exception and that you would be it. Recall the moment you realised, the moment of vital personal discovery when you found out for yourself, that there are no exceptions, that no-one, not even you, is turned away, and that the rules of society are different in this kingdom, for here sin has been vanquished and everyone is loved and accepted. And remember the moment you discovered that you did not have to leave your home and familiar surroundings in order to find the place that our Lord, Jesus Christ, inhabits, for that place is as close as it could possibly be – in your heart and mine. Should it be that today, and for some time in fact, you have been standing outside the door, hesitant, ashamed, wondering what it is like within, wondering about the welcome you will receive, seriously doubting the veracity of the words you’ve heard about acceptance, then wonder no more, doubt no more. His word is true. His promises are all kept. You are safe, forever safe, in His arms.
But let us not gloss over the words of warning; the words that remind us that what door He closes, no-one can open. Dwell on that thought for a moment, and the potential consequences of a poor decision, probably made in haste, in bad temper and certainly without thought of long-term consequence. Now this is no hell-fire and damnation sermon, but nevertheless, these are words of warning and we would be wise to heed them.
It’s time to move on. Although the church at Philadelphia had “little strength” which commentators have variously interpreted as having comparatively little spiritual power, nevertheless they had lived up to the meaning of the name of their city, brotherly love, and had witnessed to their community. One commentary describes their missionary drive as having taken due advantage of the opportunities to witness. Equally as important, especially when we consider the words of warning we have just contemplated, they had kept Christ’s word and not denied His name. In fact their missionary activity had won many Jews over to the Christian faith, which not unexpectedly had resulted in violent opposition from the local Jewish community, whose members, claiming to be the people of God, were proved by their actions to be of Satan’s synagogue. The Jews of the Synagogue of Satan were Jews nationally, but not spiritually. They bitterly blasphemed Christ as “the hanged one” and opposed Christianity, so that in rejecting the truth, their synagogue became that of Satan. It would be people such as these who would find the door firmly shut, never to be opened.
A warning – not to deny Christ, and now a promise. In response to their fidelity, their witness, their love for Christ and His church, they receive a promise that Christ will also keep them from the hour of trial that is going to come upon the whole world to test those who live on the earth. Stepping through the door that Christ opened for them and for us, ensures that we are afforded His protection. Note that we are not immune from trials, in fact we are frequently surrounded by them, but that we are, in His safe keeping, and there we are protected.
Now just as this is not a hell-fire and damnation sermon, neither is it one on end times. I shall leave that monumental subject for Peter Bristow to explore with us at a later date. The words of assurance found in verse 10, “I will also keep you from the hour of trial that is going to come upon the whole world……” suggest, without stating categorically, that the church will be glorified and taken to heaven before the great tribulation begins. Since that hour from which the people of Philadelphia, and ourselves are to be kept is in fact worldwide and therefore inescapable, scripture suggests that the removal of believers from the scene, will occur.
There is nothing surer in life than the fact that we will be tested; some of us greatly and more frequently than others, some less so. But nevertheless, every one of us will, almost certainly, encounter a major source of personal distress at some time. Scriptures contain numerous promises of how our love for and devotion to the Lord Jesus Christ, whilst not saving us from the time of trial, will nevertheless see us safely through. The passage we are studying today assures us that we will be “overcomers”. Hear these words from Paul’s letter to the Romans.
“We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him,
who have been called according to His purpose.
“What then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be
against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all –
how will He not also, along with Him, graciously give us all things?
“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or
persecution or famine, or nakedness or danger or sword? I am convinced that
neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present or the
future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all
creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus
In the closing words of the letter to the Philadelphian church, Jesus Christ, through His disciple John, provides a wonderful assurance to the people; to the believers. Calling them
“Overcomers”, He assures them that they will become a “pillar in the temple”. Clearly identifiable as strongholds in the new Jerusalem, the believers will know and experience the very presence of Jesus Christ.
What an amazing reward for being one of the “overcomers”, for remaining true to the word of God, for accepting the invitation of our Lord to step through the open door of salvation. We live in a world where temptations are in such abundance, where compromise of moral values for our own personal convenience is commonplace, where the flouting of laws is overlooked by authority simply because resource constraints mean they cannot prosecute everyone who offends. And we dare to lament that it’s happening when we are a part of that world.
As we come to communion, we should remind ourselves once again, that through the love for us of Our Lord, Jesus Christ, and through our own devotion to Him, we will be among the overcomers. We will stand on the streets of the New Jerusalem. He has assured us of that, His word proclaims it throughout scripture. He has offered to us the key and opened the door to our salvation and is forever inviting us into His presence. With just a hint of warning, but a more emphatic invitation, He offers us not just the key of David, but the door to eternal life. You may well agree that through the words of scripture, through His countless promises to us, through assurance after assurance, He puts to us what is clearly an open and shut case.