Text: Revelation 3:7-13
A few weeks ago California was rocked by some pretty significant earthquakes. News clips showed store owners with all their merchandise shaken off the shelves and shattered on the floor. One owner had just cleaned up only to have the area shaken a second time by an even stronger quake. It’s quite literally a terrifying and unexpected disruption of life. But it also is a parable of so much else in life that also shakes and disrupts and undoes us: sickness, unemployment, betrayal, disappointment, death, and an uncertain future. I know many feel a general concern about our country and society, regardless of what side of the aisle you sit on. It seems like we are tearing apart no less than the ground around those quakes in California.
In A.D. 17, the ancient city of Philadelphia was briefly re-named Neocaesarea (“Caesar’s New City”) in appreciation for imperial reconstruction aid after an earthquake. Like others of these letters in Revelation, Jesus seems to tap into themes that would be familiar to his audience. In this letter to the shaken city, he promises his suffering church an infinitely more stable future – a “pillar in the temple of God” – and a greater name – “the city of My God, the new Jerusalem.” (v.12)
Today we’ll look briefly at what the believers in Philadelphia were doing well and where they were challenged. And I’d like to do an exercise with you out of their story and Jesus’ challenge to them.
The Christians in Philadelphia were not in the cultural majority. They were likely still seen as a minor offshoot of Judaism, and neither recognized yet by the surrounding culture, nor welcomed by the Jews in the city. They indeed had little earthly power or influence, but Jesus identifies what they do have and it is the main thing. They have held fast to God’s Word and to Jesus’ name. Let me repeat those because that’s our focus today: they held fast to God’s Word and to Jesus’ name.
Because of those two anchor points, Jesus promises to protect them in the trials yet to come. Along with that, he claims the power to hold the door open to them. Whatever they will face, Jesus holds the key and is the door into the presence of God, in that new Promised Land, the New Jerusalem. It’s reminiscent of the language in chapter 14 of the Gospel of John, when Jesus tells his disciples that he goes to prepare a place for them that where he is they will also be.
His charge to the believers in Philadelphia who have held fast to God’s Word and to Jesus’ name: keep holding fast! I picture the person fallen overboard to whom the life preserver has been thrown. Those on board are shouting, “Keep holding on!” That life preserver of God’s Word and Jesus’ name will continue to provide rescue and salvation.
Holding Fast to God’s Word
So what do we do with that? How do we appropriate this letter to ancient Greeks for our 21st century selves? I think the lesson is remarkably consistent and close: we too are facing and will face trial, disruption, and uncertainty. And it is still God’s Word and Jesus’ name that serve as our anchor point, our life preserver, our hope for getting through. And Jesus message to us is, “Keep holding on!”
Last week Bob Simes preached an inspiring sermon around the importance of reading and studying God’s Word, the Bible. I’d like to do an exercise that I hope will both demonstrate the importance of this and also convict us of our need to keep on and to go deeper.
What I’d like you to do is think of a verse or phrase from the Bible that has encouraged you or helped you or otherwise inspired you. If you can remember the verse number, add it; but if you can’t, don’t worry. You can either text it to me right now or write it in the white space in your bulletin at the bottom of the first page where there is some white space. Please print so I can read it. If you want to put more than one, that’s fine, too, but just 2-3 at the most. But I want the words, not just a reference like “Psalm 23.” After you are done, please fold them and pass them to the center aisle and I’ll ask the ushers to bring them up to the table. Now if you can’t think of any from memory, would you write out this prayer, “God, help me learn Your Word.”
I’ll give you a moment to do that.
[I collect them.]
Now, I don’t know what you’ve written, but I’d like to read these back to you. In this way your holding fast to God’s Word – however limited or small that may seem – will bless someone else in the room… I believe that. And if we have 50 “Help me learn Your Words” then that is a great prayer for us to lift up today.
*Verses passed forward (I’ve organized them in canonical order, with the prayers to know God’s Word better at the end):
Old Testament Verses
- And thou love the Lord your God with all thy heart, with all thy soul, and with all thy might. (Deuteronomy 6:5)
- Be still and know that I am God. I will be exalted in all the nations. I will be exalted in the earth. (Psalm 46:10) – 4x
- The Lord is my shepherd I shall not want. (Psalm 23:1) – 2x
- Because the Lord is my shepherd I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures… Yea, though I travel through the valley of death I shall not be afraid. (Psalm 23:1-2a,4)
- God, You are so forgiving & good, abounding in love to all who call on You. (Psalm 86:5)
- I lift my eyes to the hills, where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth. (Psalm 121:1) – 2x
- Where can I flee from Your presence? If I rise up on the wings of the dawn and settle on the far side of the sea, yet you are there. (Psalm 139:7b,9)
- Trust in the Lord with all your heart. Lean not on your own understanding. In all of your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight. (Proverbs 3:5)
- Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. (Proverbs 9:10)
- Train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old he will not depart from it. (Proverbs 22:6)
- For everything there is a place (time) under heaven. (Ecclesiastes 3:1)
- I love the verse about rise up on eagle’s wings, but I don’t know it completely. I pray to learn the Bible better. (–> Isaiah 40:31)
- Walk humbly. Act Justly. Love mercy. (Micah 6:8); Also praying to help me learn God’s word.
New Testament Verses
- Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth. (Matthew 5:5)
- Our Father who art in heaven hallowed be thy name thy kingdom come thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven give us this day our daily bread and forgive our debts as we forgive our debtors and lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil for thine is the kingdom the power and the glory forever. (Matthew 6:9-13)
- I am with you always. (Matthew 28:20)
- Lord, I believe, help me in my disbelief. (Mark 9:24)
- Do unto others as you would have them do to you! (Luke 6:31) – 2x
- In the beginning, the Word was with God, and the Word was God. (John 1:1)
- For God so loved the world He gave His only begotten that whoever believeth in Me should not perish but have everlasting life. (John 3:16) – 6x
- I have come to give you life abundantly (John 10:11)
- And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you unto myself, that where I am there ye may be also, and if I go ye know the way. Thomas said, “Lord, how can we know the way.” Jesus said, I am the way, the truth and the life. No man cometh unto the Lord but by me. (John 14:3-6)
- I am the truth, the life and the way. No one comes to the Father but through me. (John 14:6)
- Greater love hath no man than to lay down his life for his friend. (John 15:13)
- I shall not be ashamed of the gospel for it is the power of God for salvation of all who believe first for the Jews and then the gentiles. (Romans 1:16)
- For all have fallen short of the glory of God, but by grace we are saved. (Romans 3:23-24)
- Therefore we have an obligation but it’s not to the sinful nature to live according to it for if you live according the sinful nature you will die, but if by the spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body you will live! (Romans 8:12-13)
- Nothing can keep God away! (par. of Romans 8: 35-39)
- Faith comes by hearing, hearing from Word of God. (Romans 10:17)
- I appeal to you therefore brethren, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice holy and acceptable to God which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to the world, but be transformed by the mercies of God. (Romans 12:1-2)
- Put on the full armor of God so that you may stand against the wiles of enemies. (Ephesians 6:11)
- I can do all things through Him who strengthens me. (Philippians 4:13) – 6x
- Do not worry about anything but in everything through prayer and thanksgiving present your request to the Lord and the peace of God through Jesus Christ will guard your heart and mind. (Philippians 4:6-7) – 2x
- Love one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. (par. of Colossians 3:12-14)
- All Scripture is given by inspiration of God and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness. (2 Timothy 3:15)
- Cast your cares upon Him, for He cares for you. (1 Peter 5:7)
- God, help me learn Your mind.
- Lord, help me learn Your word.
- Jesus, help me learn Your mind.
- Help me learn Your word.
There have been house churches and persecuted Christians who could not have their own copy of the Bible. In many cases they would commit scripture to memory… no one could remember the whole thing, but when they gathered they could share the Word with each other as you have done this morning.
Home Assignment: If you’d like to take this a step further, I have an interesting home challenge for you. Take a notebook (or computer or cell phone if you like) and see how much scripture you can write out for memory. You can include portions you know word for word, or broad outlines or re-telling of stories: for example, you may not be able to quote past Genesis 1:1, but you could write “Genesis 1-3, creation story.” Imagine if printed Bibles were taken from the world and we had to re-construct it from memory or tell it to our children, what could you remember. I bet it won’t be as much as you’d like, but I also bet it will be more than you think. And as you do this exercise, ponder what it means to be anchored in God’s Word and to hold fast to that Word as the foundational anchor or life preserver in a time of trial or disruption. How might you keep on and go deeper? Would you like to have a better understanding of the overarching story? Or learn key verses?
The other anchor point or life preserver in the letter today is the name of Jesus. What does it mean for us today to hold fast or keep the name of Jesus? I’d suggest two things:
1. “Life in Jesus’ name” means that we live in obedience and service to God through Jesus. We do what he’d have us do. He taught a lot about loving neighbor, helping the least, and living as a citizen of the Kingdom of God. We’re going to focus on that this Fall, starting in September, so we’ll have an opportunity to really dig into “Life in Jesus’ Name.”
2. Affirming Jesus’ name: Jesus specifically mentions (v. 8) not denying his name. The opposite of denying is affirming. In other words, our first allegiance, devotion, commitment, and obedience… is to Jesus. Again with today’s political climate: a Christian is not first a Republican or a Democrat… not first Fox or CNN… a Christian is first a follower of Jesus Christ. We evaluate our politics, our priorities, our lifestyle, our goals by our love for and obedience to Jesus Christ.
Back in the 90s there was a kind of fad that swept through the church… the “WWJD” bracelets, with the letters standing for “What Would Jesus Do?” I even wrote a song about it. That movement was based off a book published in 1896 by Charles Sheldon and called In His Steps. It was the story of a church and town that became convicted they should ask the question “What would Jesus do?” in regards to everything they did. The changes to the church and town were both significant and often surprising. I’m not suggesting we resurrect the bracelets – that was kind of a cheesy marketing gimmick… but life in Jesus’ name does take seriously that question and I think it is one that would change our personal lives and national dialogue in significant and probably surprising ways. On a more manageable level, I’d simply ask you, in addition to considering the role of scripture in your life, to pause to ask the question “What would Jesus do?” throughout the day and particularly as you evaluate the news, post online, and interact with people different than you.
Remember, Jesus holds the door open for us, that we might continue to hold fast to God’s Word and Jesus’ name, and know God’s presence now and forever. Amen.
* I read about 8-10 in the service, but am here including all the verses and prayers handed in to me on Sunday morning. I had suggested that if one could not remember any scripture one could write a prayer to God to “help me learn your Word.” Interesting the variations on that (esp. with ‘mind’ and ‘Word’). In addition, there were two submitted that were interesting and not verses I could find in scripture: “God is God” (certainly a truism, and there are some verses that speak to Israel, “Your God is God” but nothing quite like this); and “Fear nothing – except the wrath of God.” I could not find the latter one, though there are many statements of “do not fear” and “don’t be afraid” and many references to God’s wrath. The closest match was Matthew 10:28 which says “Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” This verse has a narrower and somewhat different focus than the submitted quote seemed to carry. It left me wishing I knew who submitted it to see what they were thinking about. It is also unusual to me that this was the one ‘verse’ given in response to my request for an encouraging verse one might have committed to memory.