January 10, 2010
Living in the Lion’s Den – Part 2
Pastor Philip De Courcy
Revelation 2: 12-17

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And turn to Revelation chapter 2. We come this morning to finish a message started some weeks ago entitled Living in the Lion’s Den. We’re coming to take a final look this morning at the church at Pergamos. If you’re joining us for the first time, we’re in a series of studies on the seven churches in the book of the Revelation, a series we have entitled You Have Got Meal, because these are letters from the risen Christ to the church on Earth. We want to learn from Jesus’ last words to the churches in Asia and Jesus’ last word to the church on Earth.
Chapter 2:12, and to the angel of the church in Pergamos write, these things says he who has the sharp two-edged sword. I know your works and where you dwell, where Satan’s throne is, that you hold fast to my name and did not deny my faith even in the days in which Antipas was my faithful martyr, who was killed among you were Satan dwells. But I have a few things against you because you have there those who hold to the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols, and to commit sexual immorality. Thus, you also have those who hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, which thing I hate. Repent or else I will come to you quickly and fight against them with the sword of my mouth. He who has an ear, let him hear what the spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, I will give some of the hidden manna to eat and I will give him a white stone, and on the stone a new name written which no one knows except him who receives it.
Trust God will bless his word to his church this morning. Just recently, I finished a book on prayer by Steve Bryan entitled Approaching God. Then, he tales of a missionary friend who had returned home to enjoy some furlough, and while Steve Bryan was talking to her, he asked her if she was returning to the field. She had been ministering for some extended time in one of the poorest and most oppressed countries in the world. She said, “But of course,” as if there were no other answer to the question. But he asked, “Why do you want to go back to such a horrible place?” The missionary replied, these are striking words, “I’m going back because I have a calling. I have been called to plant flowers in hell.”
That calling was extended to the church at Pergamos, also because as we learned the last time we were together, this was a church in a city that was a Satanic hotspot. Jesus acknowledges their works and he acknowledges where they are doing those works, where Satan’s throne is. This was a city, this was a culture that was saturated by pagan temples and the cult worship of the emperor of Rome himself. This was a difficult place to minister for Jesus Christ, but into that darkness came the light of this church. They were called by God to plant flowers in hell.
We saw in our study together the last time in many ways, this was no place for a Christian to be, but we also reminded ourselves this is the very place a Christian needs to be. But with that calling, there came a challenge and it was the challenge of compromise. Would they affect the culture or would the culture affect them? Would they penetrate the world for Jesus Christ or would the world infiltrate and penetrate them, compromising their witness for Jesus Christ and the world? Because we reminded ourselves that the devil has two ploys and two plots when it comes to the church. If the church can’t be weakened by persecution from the world, the church will be weakened by seduction from the world. That’s the challenge that’s going on here.
As well as they were doing, Christ notices this, he has this against them. That false doctrine has led them to compromise with the world, and they have been eating meat sacrifice to idols and giving themselves to acts of sexual immorality. The church was in the world, but sadly at Pergamos, the world was now in the church. And so, I want to come back to look at this letter with you and to remind ourselves of our calling and the challenges involved in that calling when you and I are called to live behind enemy lines. Here’s a church living in the lion’s den.
Now, we looked at the residents the last time, and I want to pick that up. Jesus acknowledges the fact that they are living in a Satanic hotspot but he seeks to encourage them by two things. He speaks of the sword and he speaks of the saint. Let’s break in then at verse 12. And to the angel of the church in Pergamos write, chapter 2 of the Book of Revelation. These things says he who has the sharp two-edged sword. This is part of the description back in chapter 1. It’s a throwback to that earlier depiction of the Lord Jesus Christ.
In chapter 1:16, the risen and radiant Lord is described as holding in his right hand seven stars, and out of his mouth went a sharp two-edged sword. Now, this was an interesting note. Given the fact that among many of the cities in the Roman Empire, there were but a few that had been given the power and the imperial stamp of approval to wield the sword of capital punishment, but that power had been devolved to the city of Pergamos. Doesn’t Paul talk about the government’s ability to wield authority even in capital punishment?
In Romans 13:40 talks about how the government, the servant, or the minister of God wields what? The sword. And so, here’s the city that wielded the sword. It was a symbol of government power and punishment, and they were all too aware of that fact because what did we read? One of their number had been killed by the Roman authorities. His name was Antipas, verse 13, that already felt the edge of the sword. The Roman proconsulate was situated in this city. The governor of Asia Minor lived in Pergamos. This was a city ruled by the sword of Roman law.
Therefore, it’s ironic purposefully that Christ would take from the earlier description of himself one element particularly relevant to this church. If he was going to describe himself in any way, no better way than this. Hey, I’m the one who has the two-edged sword, and you can connect the dots for yourself. This was indeed significant to the church at Pergamos. The inference of the image was that Christ would have the last word and that Christ would have the final say in present affairs and future events. In the end, their words, their sword were no match for his words and his sword.
In fact, this is one of the great themes of the Book of the Revelation, how will history end? It will end under the scepter and under the sword of Jesus Christ. He will be Lord over all the creation and we find his return described, a premillennial return in Revelation 19. Prior to the establishment of Satan’s imprisonment and a thousand-year reign on earth, Jesus appears with the armies of heaven. What did we read in Revelation 19:13? We read this, he was clothed with a robe dipped in blood and his name is called the word of God.
We read in verse 15, these words, now out of his mouth goes a sharp sword that with it he should strike the nations and he himself will rule them with a rod of iron. He himself will tread the wine press of the fierceness of the wrath of almighty God. This isn’t Jesus meek and mild, by the way. This isn’t the Jesus of secular television. This is that Jesus revealed in the word of God who will come in justice and righteous wrath at the end of history and shut every mouth that has blasphemed his name and cut down every enemy that has become the enemy of his gospel and his church. That’s what the Book of Revelation shows. Even verse 21 of that chapter, and the rest were killed with the sword which proceeded from the mouth of him who sat on the horse.
With sword drawn, Jesus is pictured as a divine warrior sent for the defense of his people. Eternal life and in death is in the power of his tongue. Remember what the Book of Proverb says, Chapter 18:21, life and death is in the power of tongue? You can destroy things and marriages and relationships and churches with your tongue. Jesus will destroy with his tongue. This power in his tongue is the power to bring eternal life and the power to announce unending death. Angels obey it. That is his word. Devils fear it. God the Father honors it, and in the end, man will be judged by it. You see, their residents? They’re living under the imperial signature of Roman power. They’re living under Satan’s throne. One of their members has already been cut down, but Jesus comes and he says, “Hey, I’m the one out of whose mouth comes a two-edged sword.”
I don’t know if you have… Remember the scene in the movie Crocodile Dundee’s kind of hapless comedy? But this guy from the outback of Australia who comes to New York for the first time and everything’s an adventure and everything’s a discovery, and one of those things he discovers is that there’s a lot of unsavory characters lurking in the shadows of a modern city, human predators waiting and watching to punt on unsuspecting prey. Sure enough, Crocodile Dundee is out with his female friend and they’re jumped by a gang who seeks to rob the woman of her handbag, at one point to make their point, the gang pulls out some flick knives. Remember that scene? Crocodile Dundee looks at them, then he laughs, and he pulls out a big Bowie knife, and he says to them, “Call that a knife?” And they scattered into the darkness.
Seems to me in a much more profound way, Jesus is saying to the church, “They call that a sword? Hey, I have a sword, two-edged and someday it will act like a sickle cutting down the nations who have rebelled against me.” There is a higher throne basically is what Jesus is saying. There is a greater power, and that’s to be found in the image of the sword. Caesar may reign, but heaven rules is Jesus’ point. There is a greater authority than the human authority. Christ is seated in heaven and someday he will reign on earth. That’s the message of the Book of the Revelation to the churches, who are facing the brunt of oppression and persecution from human sources and demonic sources, but they are being reminded at every molecule and every man and every moment of history and existence is subject to the power and authority of Jesus Christ.
I learned to my encouragement recently that Dawson Trotman, the founder of the Navigators, had an intriguing bedtime habit and custom. When the conversation had ended and the lights were dimming down in his home, he would always show it to everybody, guest or resident, HWLW. Then, someone would recite a passage of scripture, and they would immediately go off to bed. You see, HWLW stood for this, his word, the last word. What a beautiful custom! The end of the day and your family, you talk politics and sports or whatever, and then somebody in the house should shout, “HWLW.” Quote the scripture. Everybody go to bed. Nothing more needs to be said because his word should be the last word, because not only should we end our days like that, history will end like that. His word will be the last word.
Do you see the encouragement here in the sword? But Jesus not only speaks of the sword, he speaks of the saint. I know your works, verse 13, and where you dwell where Satan’s throne is and you hold fast to my name and did not deny my faith even in the days in which Antipas was my faithful martyr who was killed among you where Satan dwells. The sword leads to a consideration of the saint because the saint had died at the hands of the sword.
Given the hostile environment, Jesus was quick to commend this church who was standing tall for him in difficult circumstances in a alien city and culture, and it was a culture of coercion but they wouldn’t ban, they wouldn’t bow, and they wouldn’t budge. They weren’t chocolate soldiers who melted in the heat of the battle. No, they were unafraid. They did not whisper his name nor did they deny his fear. Their pulpit sounded to fearless preaching of Christ in all his glory. They took their ethics to work and applied them regardless of what others thought. They spoke of Christ in the public square and refused to allow the son of God to become a footnote in social discourse.
Now, this was a body of believers who stood up and stood out. They were bold, they were brave, and they were biblical. They were willing to seal their testimony with their blood. That’s the tribute that Jesus pays, doesn’t he, to Antipas, who paid the ultimate price and faithfulness to Jesus Christ? He was one of the early martyrs of the church, but certainly as time has gone by, he has become part of a great company that continues to be true to this day. In fact, more Christians are being slaughtered today than in any other period in church history. It’s hard for us to imagine that living where we live, but that’s true and Jesus acknowledges his faithful martyr.
It could be translated faithful witness, but over time, the Greek word for witness became synonymous with martyr, because so many early Christians witnessed for Christ even in death that the word became synonymous with martyrdom. Antipas, my faithful witness, my faithful martyr. He witnessed unto death, which is again one of the themes of the Book of Revelation. We read later about those who loved not their life onto death.
We don’t know much about him, we really don’t. Some suggest he was the pastor of the church, but we can’t be sure about that. Others, that he was the first martyr of the Christian Church under Roman persecution in the Asia. We know the first martyr was Stephen, but outside of Israel, he may well be the first martyr, and tradition tells us that Antipas was tortured to death, seared alive in a hollow brass statue in the form of a bull, but he died in faithful witness to Jesus Christ. We’re told that by Tertullian and some of the early church fathers.
Now, let me apply that. This we do know. We may not know much about the man, but we know this, that Antipas was apparently representative of the kind of Christian that made up this church and Jesus commands this church for it. They were made up of a brave bond of believers who didn’t give up their faith in Christ. They were willing to suffer mockery, rejection, imprisonment, and here, even death. They loved not their lives because there were so many things that stick, the souls of man, the glory of Christ, eternal reward. Truth was too valuable to compromise. The joys of having, too glorious to forfeit. The greatness of Christ, too glorious to deny.
You know what? This morning, we need to remind ourselves we need to follow suit even in this culture, because this culture, modern day America is becoming more and more like week by week the city of Pergamos. We’re being asked to bow before the altar of secularism and pluralism. Our increasingly open society is not what we’re being told is increasingly becoming close-minded. Tolerance is morphing into intolerance. You may believe whatever you want so long as you do not believe that what you believe is exclusively true for someone else to believe.
Now, if you believe that, you’re in trouble. There’s no room for Jesus. The word made flesh. Oh, there’s word for Jesus, the Jewish rabbi, the philosopher, the prophet. There’s room for Jesus, the kind of Jesus that Islam likes and Hinduism admires and Judaism respects, but not the Jesus of New Testament biblical Revelation. Virgin-born, the son of God, sinless, dying on a cross for our sins, the only mediator between God and man, the only name under heaven given among man whereby we must be saved. You can put Jesus in the middle of the pantheon of secular gods and religious thought so long as he is our way and our truth and a means to life. But don’t dare say he’s the way, the life, and the only means to the father.
But if you’re willing to say that, if that’s what you’ll preach, if that’s what you’ll live, if that’s what you’ll write about, you will be excoriated by this culture. Increasingly, that openness is becoming close mindedness. The more open our society becomes to secularism and pluralism, the less open it becomes to historic Christianity. That’s why today in America, chaplains in the military are increasingly being told that they cannot pray exclusively in the name of Jesus Christ. They can pray in the generic, they can pray in God’s name because then the audience can make up their mind as to which God.
Today in America, foster parents in California are being asked to pledge that they will not teach anything opposing homosexuality, which effectively rules out the possibility of Christians becoming foster parents in California, which is a real turnaround, because 10 years ago, homosexual couples couldn’t be foster parents in California. Our culture’s changing. We’re being asked to buy the idol of secularism, and before the gods of pluralism. In fact, today in America, high school and college valedictorians are having their speeches read for obscene and objectionable speech. Now, we’re not talking about foul language. We’re talking about the words Jesus Christ.
You don’t believe that? A few years ago in Texas, a ruling was handed down on school prayer. It was meant to scare teenagers and the like from mentioning Jesus’ name or God’s name in their graduation ceremony, and when the ruling was handed down, the judge in the district court in the state of Texas handed a dime with these words, “If any of you shall mention the name of Jesus or God or any other deity, you will rue the day that you were born and you will spend up the half a year in Galveston jail.”
Now, that’s modern America. It’s becoming like Pergamos, or you can come to the temple and mention Jesus so long as you throw the incense and the pinch of salt under the altar and say, “Gee, Caesar is Lord and Jesus is Lord and that’s all sing kumbaya.” Impossible says Jesus, and you and I need to indeed take a look at what Jesus says here, and may the power of the living Christ and the faith of dying and dead saints call us to greater faithfulness in defending the gospel and being blood earnest in our preaching of it. That’s the residents.
Let’s keep moving. The Remonstrants of verses 14 and 15. There’s criticism that follows commendation. We’ve looked at the residents, now look at the Remonstrants of Jesus. He’s got something against this church. The record card is not all straight As. There’s a problem. Here’s the problem. They were tolerating what Jesus found intolerable. What do we read verse 14, but I have a few things against you because you have those who hold the doctrine of Balaam who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the children of Israel to eat things sacrificed to idols and to commit sexual immorality. Thus, you also have those who hold in the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, which thing I hate.
Here’s Jesus’ beef. You’re tolerating what I find intolerable. They were tolerating false teachers and false teaching. The ancient heresy of Balaam and its modern counterpart, the error of the Nicolaitans had wormed their way within the walls of this church, and the absurdity was this, because it is an absurdity. On the one hand, you have this commendation, and on the other hand you have this condemnation. It seems that the bulk of believers in this church were loyal to the truth, but it seems that the church had allowed, had a weird unsee policy, had turned a blind eye to some who had identified themselves with this church and had brought false teaching within the assembly, and no one had called them to the carpet.
See, it’s one of the jobs of an elder according to Titus 1:9, to reprove those that are an error, and according to chapter 3:10-11, if they bring division and disgrace within the body, they’re to be put out. On the one hand, you have this act of defense of the gospel, but on the other hand, you have this passive denial of the gospel. You see, here’s the point, I think this is the point. Love of the truth also involves you and I opposing what is untrue. It’s not just enough to love the truth and then turn a blind eye to that which can undermine the truth.
Now, if you love the truth, you’ll hate falsehood. To loudly proclaim one’s love of truth while at the same time remaining silent by false doctrine is incongruent in the eyes of the Lord Jesus. Love of the truth leads one to be intolerant of that which contradicts the truth and that’s the problem here. In fact, there’s an interesting contrast between Ephesus and Pergamos. In the Ephesian church, we find them guilty of elevating truth above love. They have left their first love. Oh, they had put the Nicolaitans out, and anybody that professed to be an apostle who wasn’t, but they were very unloving, critical, judgmental. That was their problem.
But if elevating the truth above love was the problem at Ephesus, elevating love above truth was a creeping problem at Pergamos, and their tolerance was intolerant to Christ. You ask why, listen, these are the words of Darrell Johnson in his book on Revelation. Why does Jesus speak this way? Why is Jesus so intolerant? Let’s remind ourselves Jesus is intolerant. You’ll not hear that spoken from many pulpits or written about in many editorials or talked about in the evening news, but our Jesus, the Jesus of the Bible is intolerant.
Why? Well, here’s what he says. In our day, tolerance is elevated as a great virtue, especially on moral and religious matters. Here, Jesus presents himself as passionately intolerant. Why? Because he loves the truth. He speaks the truth. He is the truth, and because as he claims elsewhere, falsehood and deception of any kind, enslaves people. Jesus is passionately intolerant because he is passionately intolerant of people being enslaved. Yes, he is deeply grieved when people are imprisoned by illness and poverty and political oppression, but what grieves him the most is people who are imprisoned by false ideas, false presuppositions about God and about themselves.
See, Jesus said what? You shall know the truth and the truth will set you free. People who are imprisoned by falsehood, false beliefs, errant religions, that provokes the Lord Jesus and it should provoke us. It shouldn’t make us belligerent. We shouldn’t go around as Spurgeon warns against with a theological revolver stuck down our pants looking for someone to assassinate mentally or intellectually or whatever. But you know what? People today are being held bondage to false beliefs about who they are and who God is and how they can be right with him, and in the end they will go to hell on a false premise. You and I should be worked up about that, troubled about that. Jesus was. Come on guys, why are you holding to my name and yet allowing those in your assembly to hold to the doctrine of Balaam and the Nicolaitans.
I’m in the middle of a biography on the life of Churchill, which one of my daughters bought me for Christmas, and I was interested to learn that as you can imagine, Churchill was fearless. He had many enemies, the suffragettes didn’t like him and the trade unions didn’t like him, and even people from my own country didn’t like him, because at that time he was willing to give Northern Ireland to the Republic of Ireland in a deal, and the Ulster Protestants, my people, didn’t like that. When Churchill one day was addressing that issue in the London Parliament, a man by the name of Ronald McNeill, an Ulster MP, he responded by taking one of the leather band copies of the standing orders of the British parliament and he hurled it like a football at Churchill. Like Romo, he hit his target right on the head.
It’s the first time Churchill had ever been hit in public parliament. But if you know anything about Churchill, he’s never lost for a word given any situation. Here’s how he replied to being hit on the head by the rule books. “I do not mind a physical blow. It is hostile ideas that hurt me.” What a great statement. Ideas have consequences. Ideas have costs. The works’ righteousness system of Catholicism, the Christ [inaudible 00:31:14] religion of Islam hurt people eternally. False theology, false gospels, other kinds of Jesus send people to hell, and Jesus wasn’t going to stand idly by and watch this doctrine spread.
Now, what is this doctrine? Who are these spies? Who are these saboteurs? Well, they’re identified as the Balaamites and the Nicolaitans. What Balaam was to the children of Israel in the Old Testament, the Nicolaitans were to the church of Jesus Christ in the New. We’ll need to move fast here, let me identify the problem with these two doctrines. We have first of all the doctrine of Balaam write, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the children of Israel to eat things sacrificed to idols and to commit sexual immorality. This takes you back to Numbers 22 through to Numbers 25. This is the story of Balaam, a rent-a-prophet, who was rented and sold out to King Balak and the people of Moab. The Moabites were troubled that Israel was heading in their direction, and they were concerned that somehow they fanned off the threat that Israel reposed as they begun to move in towards the promised land.
And so, King Balak hires Balaam to curse Israel, but since he can’t curse Israel, he seeks to corrupt Israel. It’s a longer story, but the basic idea is this. At some point in the story, Balaam who had sought and ways to curse Israel, but God had turned them into blessings, he decides to corrupt Israel and he said, “You know what you need to do, king? As Israel comes through, you need to get your most beautiful young women of Moab and they need to seduce the young men of Israel, and seduce them not only into sexual immorality but into idolatry, to worship your gods, to surrender to your culture and your values.” And that’s exactly what happens. If you read this story, God disciplines Israel with the loss of 24,000 lives. Bear that in mind.
Then, you’ve got the doctrine of the Nicolaitans. Now, we can’t be sure. Irenaeus and some of the early church fathers argue that this cult of the Nicolaitans was started by Nicolas, one of the seven in Acts chapter 6. You read about a Nicolas in Acts 6:5, and it’s believed that he apostatized and he come up with a false form of church, which emphasized the liberty one had in Jesus Christ. It’s known as antinomianism where there is no law. Basically, the idea goes like this, and whether it was him or someone else, there was this skewed theology of grace. Since you’re forgiven in Christ and since you’re free in Christ, then you’re not obligated to the law or to any human leader. Since we’re received by grace apart from works, then what we do doesn’t undo that fact whether the work is good or whether the work is bad. It’s a material received by grace.
Now, you can imagine the implication of that is you don’t have to live under any kind of standard. And so, many in this cult give themselves to sin, testing the grace of God. That’s one of the issues, isn’t it? In Romans 6:7, where Paul says, “Hey, don’t get this idea that the grace of God is theirs so that you can sin,” but that’s what was going on with this group. Now, let’s wed those two ideas together, and it’s simply this, that these doctrines encouraged the toleration of idolatry and immorality, whatever way it was working out in this church, the doctrine of Balaam and the doctrine of the Nicolaitans entrapped the people of God and caused them to commit spiritual adultery and physical immorality.
They adopted the world’s lifestyles. They surrendered to the culture’s convictions. They bought into this idea, you know what to get along, you got to go along. Now, here’s probably how it worked out. Remember what we said from last time and just briefly this morning, this was the city dominated by pagan temples, and those temples, this’ll help you, were something like the convention centers of Las Vegas or New York or LA. All the trade shows would go there. Anything that happened in that city would go there. All the gills and the employment agencies would have some kind of party there.
And so, to get on in the culture, it was hard to avoid going to one of these temple feasts, going to one of these temple festivals. But these temple feasts and festivals were marked by two things, idolatry, the worship of Roman gods or the emperor himself, or immorality. It was often cult prostitution. The wine flowed, the music was played, and you know the rest of the story. Now, how could a Christian get on in that culture and stay separated from that? The Christian was willing to deny himself and pick up hiss cross, but the Christian who was being influenced by the doctrine of Balaam and by the libertinism of the Nicolaitans, well maybe they began lower their guard and they began to rationalize their sin and they began to be poured into the mold of this world. Therefore, you have compromise in the church. That’s the point you and I want to take away from this.
The takeaway from this is that the Christian cannot enjoy both worlds. There is no give and take with the surrounding culture whose values and pursuits stand in complete contradiction to the law of God and the life of Christ, right? That’s James’ argument. In James 1:27, he argues what? We must remain unspotted from the world. In James 4, he says, if you get friendly with the world, then you become increasingly an enemy of God.
Remember what we said? We’re not talking about the people of the world necessarily, even the physical material, we’re talking about a philosophy of life. It’s the unredeemed culture. It’s unregenerate human flesh and hearts that live in autonomy from God and rebellion against his word, and therefore their entertainment and their business pursuits, and their dress codes and their thinking and the way they set up a home and define a home is completely antithetical to the Christian ethic and the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Therefore, if you and I live among them under Satan’s throne waiting for the establishment of Christ’s kingdom when Jesus will say the last word, we’re going to have to constantly fight the pressure to be molded. Romans 12 write, be not conformed to this world, but be renewed in your mind and give yourself to Jesus Christ in an abandoned fashion. Paul is warning us that the Christian will always be pressed like a piece of metal in a workshop pressed into a mold. The world wants to form us and conform us around its ideas. Whatever you read, whatever you watch, whatever you do, you’ve got to have that mindset as a Christian.
Am I buying into the world? Am I beginning to surrender to the doctrine of the Balaamites and to the doctrine of the Nicolaitans that my values and my standards and my morality doesn’t matter, I’m free in Christ? Or you know what? There may be some advantages to giving a little bit up here and surrendering a little bit over here. Now, there’s to be no love lost between our love for God and our dislike for the world. You have got to dislike the world. This world is not our home. This is the lion’s den.
Let me illustrate this a little. America has been called the melting pot of the world, and so it is. It’s a fantastic country, and I say that as not one naturally born here. Every country is to be found in this country. Every kind of people is to be found among our people. In fact, I remember when I was ministering in Santa Clarita, a friend of mine, Al Potter once said about ministering on the West Coast. He said, “Why go anywhere else in the world? Stay and minister in Los Angeles because the world comes to you.” It’s a great statement. It’s one of the reasons I’m back on the West Coast. I think there’s few places like it.
In the normal course of time, in the history of our country, all kinds of people from all kinds of places began to inter-marry. And so, the true American is part this and part that. The crazy ones are part Italian, part Irish, but the silly ones are part Armenian and I will not go there. I will not go. But we’re part this, we’re part. I remember in the early days here, somebody said, “Hey pastor, you’re Irish. I’m part German, part Cherokee Indian, part Italian.” It was like, you guys are schizophrenic. Make your mind up. What are you? But all of that at the end of the day, you’re an American.
In fact, I was interested in reading something of the life story of Tiger Woods a little while ago that he considers himself as much Asian American as African American, and it bothers him sometimes that people have forgotten his Asian heritage from his mother’s side. In fact, this biographer says that while he was being interviewed on the Oprah Winfrey show once, he described himself as Cablinasian. Cablinasian, the Ca represents Caucasian, the bla means black, the in means Native American, and the Asian combines his Thai and Chinese parts. Cablinasian. That’s what Tiger Woods is.
Now, here’s my point. Intermarriage among peoples as a social trend is one thing. That’s allowable and it’s enriching, but intermarriage between the church and the world is quite another. That’s spiritual adultery and there can be no Cablinasian Christians, a little bit of this and a little bit of that. When you come to Jesus Christ, you must be sold out to him 100%. If it’s a part here and a part there that’s not surrendered yet, that’s the job at hand to get that part into his hands, to increasingly become detached from the world and given to Jesus Christ, in the world, but not of it. We are saints. It’s one of the descriptions of the Christian. The word hagios means separated, distinct. Almost every New Testament letter begins with into the saint’s heart.
They were at Philippi and they were at Ephesus and so on and so forth, but they were separate there. They didn’t dress just like everybody else. There was a modesty to their dress, their values, their handling of money, their pursuits, places they would go, things they would watch. They were different in an attractive way, in an authentic way, and so must we be. Jesus is saying, “Hey, I don’t want you sacrificing me to idols. I want you to stay away from sexual immorality.” I want to tell you this, idolatry and immorality is just as much a challenge to us as to them, because don’t be thinking that idolatry is bowing down before some grotesque image made out of stone somewhere in Africa. It may be involved in you waxing that car or wearing that dress or wanting that thing. It may be a boyfriend you can’t give up when you know need to give him up, because he’s not a Christian. It can be anything or anyone who’s more important to you and to me than Jesus Christ.
I’ll tell you what idolatry is. I just finished a very good book by Timothy Keller entitled Counterfeit Gods. He says this that it’s the taking of good things and making them ultimate things. It’s just anything that takes God’s place in our life. It’s something you can’t give up. In fact, a heart, a wound can even be an idolatrous thing because you won’t surrender it up in forgiveness. Anything can become idolatrous that has God standing in line in our life waiting his turn, and what can I say about sexual immorality? You and I need to guard our eyes, guard our hearts, watch our relationships, strengthen the love that’s within our marriages because we’re swimming against the tide. We’re in a society where the only true moral is safe sex, any kind of sex along as it’s safe. Safe sex outside the will of God is unsafe sex, any day, any week.
Two minutes, then repentance. It’s verses 17, really. He who has an ear let him hear. What does he need to hear? He that overcomes, I’ll give hidden manna and I’ll give him a white stone. Jesus is asking this church to repent things of God, to change the false teachers and the false teaching have to go. John trapped the [inaudible 00:46:26] and said amendment of life is the best repentance and there was to be good repentance here. In fact, Jesus said, “If you don’t stop it, I’ll stop it.”
I think you need to notice the end of verse 16. I’ll come and fight against him. You don’t want Jesus chewing up on a Sunday morning picking a fight with his church, but that’s possible. The Lord of the church can be against his church. If his church begins to accommodate the world and allow false doctrine, he’ll come and clean it out. Just read church history, but alongside these threats, they’re these promises, hidden manna and white stones. You go hidden manna, white stones, let me just paint in the background briefly. Well, instead of eating meat sacrificed to idols, they were to abstain even at the cost to their business and so forth, and just as Israel was fed manna from heaven during their journey, Jesus is saying from John 6, an illusion to Exodus, “Hey, I’ll be your bread. I’ll be your satisfaction. I’ll be your joy. I’ll be that unending spring of life to you.”
He’s basically saying, why fool around eating at the table of lesser gods when you can feast upon my food? Oh yes, you’ll say no to this and you’ll say no to that for my sake, but you’ll say yes to a love that will not let you go. You’ll say yes to a peace that passes all understanding. You’ll say yes to a joy unspeakable and full of glory. You’ll say yes to the indwelling overwhelming presence and power of the Holy Spirit. You’ll say yes to an inheritance that feedeth not away. Of course, you’ll say no to that, but you’ll say yes to the hidden manna, the bread of life, the joy that I alone can give, and it beats the world any day, any week, any year.
The white stone, well, you wouldn’t believe this. There are some seven interpretations which I won’t bore you with this morning, but here I’m leaning towards one that argues that the white stone was a custom in that day and age, that if you were invited to the White House, you couldn’t crash it, not back then at least, and you’d be given a white stone to come to some festival or feast, or if you were an athlete and you’d won some, you’d be given a white stone with your name on it invited to the great celebration and the great banquet Hall in your honor or whatever the case might be. You think that’s significant?
Again, remember the image, they’re going to be faithful, they can’t go into those temples. They’re going to get cut out. They’re the outsiders. They can’t go to the feasts. They can’t go along just to get along, too much at stake. What do you do? You’re on the outside, ostracized, forgotten. You’re the offscouring of the world. Jesus says, “Hey, I’ll give you the best ticket in time. I’m going to give you a white stone and I’m inviting you to the supper of the lamb.” Revelation 19, “Where you’ll feast with me in heaven forever. You’ll be dressed in white and I’ll give you a name that no man knows.”
That’s the symbolism. They may have been rejected on earth, but they were accepted in heaven. Someday, the who’s who of Earth will be the who’s not of heaven. You might want to write that down and think about it next time you read People Magazine or you’re tempted to watch TMZ on television and we get roped in to looking at empty lives as if they’re the lives we should be patterning ourselves after. Oh no, the who’s who of Earth will be the who’s not of heaven, and the who’s not of Earth will be the who’s who of heaven. We’ll sit down with Christ and supper with him forever.
As the team comes up, I’ll tell you this story. I was sent that this week [inaudible 00:50:39] story related to Billy Graham, January 2000, leaders in Charlotte, North Carolina invites him, their favorite son, to a luncheon in his honor. He was frail, struggling, as we know with Parkinson’s disease, and yet they said, “Look, Billy. We don’t want you to do a lot. It’s in your honor.” And so, he agrees and the whole night, Billy Graham is honored by all that is said and done, but at the end he stands up to give a short word and as he comes to the microphone, he said, “You know what?” The story he’s told that one day Albert Einstein was in a train and this brilliant man, in fact, Time Magazine on a particular called him the man of the century.
He’s sitting on a tree and the conductor comes along, asks for the tickets, and Einstein, that great man, is putting his hand in his inside pockets and his outside pockets and he’s looking around, can’t find his ticket, he’s embarrassed. The conductor says, “You know what, Mr. Einstein, don’t you worry about it. I know who you are and I’m sure you had that ticket and you’ve just lost it.” He heads on down the carriage of the train and looking back, he sees Einstein’s still sticking his hand in his inside pocket, in his outside pocket. The conductor goes back and says, “Look, don’t worry about it. I know who you are. You don’t need a ticket.” Einstein looks at the conductor and says, “Young man, I know who I am. I just don’t know where I’m going.”
Now, having said that, Billy Graham says this, “See the suit I’m wearing? It’s a brand new suit. My children and my grandchildren are telling me I’ve gotten a little sloven in my old age. I used to be a bit more fastidious. So I went out and bought a new suit for this luncheon, and one more occasion. You know what that occasion is? This is the suit they’re going to bury me in, and when you hear that Billy Graham is dead, I don’t want you to immediately remember the suit I’m wearing. I want you to remember this. I not only know who I am, but I know where I’m going.” Amen.
Jesus says to his church, living in the lion’s den, “I know who you are and I know what you’re facing, and I want you to be confident of this fact. Someday, I’ll give you a white stone. You need to know where you’re going. You’ll leave the [inaudible 00:53:19] of earth to sit under the smile of God himself. Therefore, hold fast my name and reject those from within you who reject me.”
Let’s pray. Lord, this has been a stirring word to our souls this morning. We’re so excited to get back into our study of these letters. We thank you for John, the postman. We thank you for this meal. As we have opened this letter this morning afresh, may you post its message in our hearts. May its message be written large in our lives. Oh God, this is a seducing world, it seeks to subtly bend us and bow us to its values and its thinking and its philosophies and its ideologies. Help us to push back. Help us to stand out and not fit in. Help us to be fearful like Antipas and help us each and every day to feed on that hidden manna and to lay hold of the promise of the white stone. Lord, if there’s someone here this morning who doesn’t know you and doesn’t know where they’re going, may they close in with the one who said, “I am the way. I am the truth, and I am the life. No man comes to the Father, but by me.” Amen. Let’s stand.