Evangelical Community Chapel at Liberal: a Molalla, Oregon Church

Molalla, Oregon

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Revelation 3

August 7th, 2010 by Vic

“Just like Us”

August 8, 2010

Jesus has promised us a blessing if we read, hear, and heed the words of this revelation.  It was not written in any secret code, but 4 times John says he was “in the Spirit” which tells us he was looking at the churches and the world from heaven’s point of view.  He was in God’s space and time, which is less than a split second and more than a thousand years.  Be careful when you are tempted to identify time periods with the 7 churches and the seals.

Pretend you can fly and see like an eagle.  You are flying high above Portland.  In a split second you see buildings, streets, trees, mice, cats, dogs, cars, trucks, trains, emergency vehicles, people, etc.  You see crashes that have happened and some that will happen soon.  You see people praying and people sinning.  Pretend you can also hear all the noises and can smell all the smells.  You hear some people scheming to cheat and some planning to help the helpless.  Now you are told to write down everything that went through your mind.  Where would you start?  How would you link everything together so your readers would feel what you felt?

Sometimes the best way to express reality accurately is with symbols, poetry, or music.  We may do well to listen to Revelation like you do a classic piece of music.  Don’t analyze each note.  Rather listen through the earphones of Jesus.  Listen to what it tells you about God.  He has not changed since John wrote this letter from Jesus.  That’s why it applied to John’s day and applies to our day too.  I applies to churches and individuals.  God has not changed.  Know God.

Reading Revelation may be like me receiving a copy of a letter that my mom wrote to my brother.  The letter is helpful to me because it tells me what is concerning my mom regarding my brother.  It tells me about my mom.  I will appreciate more of what is written between the lines if I know what my brother is doing or going through that precipitated my mom writing to him.  I would learn how mom would talk to me if I were in the same situation.  This is written to reveal Jesus Christ Son of God.

If our situation is similar to the situation in Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea we know that Jesus is telling us the same thing he told them.  We serve a God that does not change.  What He was concerned about in John’s day is no different than His concerns today.  What God wanted them to be is no different than what He wants us to be.

3:1-6 The old city of Sardis was a fortress‑like city built on a broad precipitous rock ridge 1000 feet above the plain below with land sloping up on only one side.  It was historically well known for its wealth.  The largest known ancient synagogue was in Sardis.  There were some wealthy Jews in Sardis.  An early king, Croesus, was legendary for his wealth like Bill Gates today.  His name was in fables of wealth and overconfidence.  They had taken gold out of the river for centuries.  Silver and gold coins were first minted here before the time of Joshua.  The art of dyeing wool was invented here.  They knew about soiled clothes.  During the time of Daniel it was one of the most powerful cities of the ancient world.

In spite of its almost impregnable location, Sardis was overcome by Cyrus the Great in 546 BC.  A popular saying in that day for doing the impossible was to capture Sardis.  We say “till Hell freezes over.”  They said, “till Sardis is conquered.”

On the 14th day of the siege, Cyrus made a proclamation that he would give a reward to the first man who climbed to the top of the wall.  Hyroeades, noticed where guards seldom walked by because it was impregnable.  He happened to see a Lydian soldier descend the cliff after a helmet that had rolled down.  Maybe this end of the wall was the lunch room or smoking bench for the guards.  He found the trail and talked some other Persians into following him.  When they reached the top they found that part of the wall completely unguarded.  They went in and opened the front gates.  The Sardians had thought themselves too safe to need a guard.

That is not the end of the story.  300 years later Alexander the Great made Sardis part of his Greek kingdom.  When Alexander died there were many of his generals claiming power.  Antiochus was appointed ruler of the area in which Sardis stood.  For a year Antiochus tried to conquer the city.  Then a soldier named Lagoras did the same thing that Hyroeades had done 300 years earlier.  At night with a band of agile men they climbed the steep cliffs and once again Sardis fell because no one was watching.  The city had not learned its lesson.

The church at Sardis comes under the most severe denunciation of the 7.  It had become like the city around it.  It was forgetting the past.  They were just living for today.  It had been 300 years.

The church was getting no external persecution.  It was a popular place to be.  People all around talked about the splendor of her worship services.  This was a super crystal cathedral.  It had a great reputation for being alive.  Their attendance was good.  Their meetings made you feel good.  Everyone was content.  But they were not seeking God because they did not need God.  They had no problems.  There was no heresy in the church.  They had become like the world.  Their music was like the world.  Their dress was like the world.  Their speech was like the world.  When you looked at them, you could not tell they were Christians.

So what does Jesus say to a dying church?  Wake up, remember, repent, return, watch.

3:2  Keep on becoming awake.  This is a command.  You people are sleeping and nearly dead.  Wake up and don’t believe your reputation.  Be on guard to outside influences.  Watch is the most common command in the NT.

3:3  Keep on remembering (present imperative).  Spiritual death creeps up on a church like a determined soldier creeps up on a city.  When one is preoccupied with his own affairs he does not see the deadly nature of the time.

Make a decision to turn your mind around at once (aorist imperative) repent and wake up!

3:4  A few people had stood against the majority.  They have not been walking through the manure pile.  Jesus walks with them.  They have eternal security.  God looks at a corrupt world, a sinful society, and a dead church and sees the righteous.

It is possible to be true and faithful in the worst of situations.  God sees the minority.  The minority can please God: a teen at school, a Christian at work.  Who but God would look for one righteous among thousands of sinners?  Like Lot in the OT.

3:7-13 This letter is similar to the 2nd letter to Smyrna.  Both receive no blame, only praise.  Both suffered from those who called themselves Jews and were not, both received some persecution, both are assured that the opposition is satanic, and both are promised a crown.

Philadelphia was founded to spread the Greek language, culture, and glories to the eastern world.   They were to be missionaries.  They were given an open door of opportunity.  Philadelphia was called the gateway to the East.

However, the early settlers made one mistake.  They saw the rich soil, the lush vegetation, the tall trees, and decided to build the city on a cluster of small hills.  What they did not see was a fault line underground.  In the big quake of 17 AD they suffered severe damage.

The city tried to be like Athens.  The spirit of the city was cosmopolitan.  They were open to the Christian religion as one among the many.  They were devoted to many gods, but the one on their coins was Bacchus (Roman) or Dionysius (Greek) the god of wine.  It was a rich vine-growing valley.  Their economy was agriculturally based.  In addition to the large vineyards they had large textile and leather industries.  They enjoyed festivals and celebrations.

The spirit of the city is reflected in the attitudes of the church.  It was a city of brotherly love.  Many cultures were represented in the church.  It was not a strong church, but they were faithful.  Their problems were from the extremists.  They were not anti-culture, but they were pro-Jesus.

Jesus introduced Himself as the true.  He is not the ‘little Athens’ pretending to be the original Athens.  He is the original and real God.

Jesus holds the key to the Kingdom of God, the New Jerusalem, not the Jewish leaders.  He has full authority.  Earthquakes do not shake His kingdom.

I have placed before the church an open door.  You have an open door to share salvation to all nations.  Jesus has given you the skills and abilities and calls you to be a faithful steward as you walk in the open door.  For every door, Jesus holds the key.

Philadelphia has a door that God has opened.  But Laodicea has a door that the church has closed.  We’ll see that contrast in the next letter.

If you are faithful, there is a door of opportunity open before you.

3:9  Jesus knows you have critics.  Critics cannot shut the door.  The Jews had a promise in Isaiah 60:14 that Jesus now applies to the church.  The Jewish population was convinced that they were the people of God.  But Jesus says the Church is now the Israel of God.  The Jewish nation has forfeited their privilege by disbelief.  They claim to be Jews, but they are liars.  They were Jews in the flesh, but not in spirit.  The Jews were no longer stewards.  Like Shebna in Isaiah 22:15-22, they were set aside and another was given the keys to proclaim the glories of the kingdom of God to the world.

3:10  Since you have kept, I will also keep.  What a promise!  The one who keeps will be kept.

3:12  We can dwell in God’s temple without fear.  It is not built on a fault line.

We will wear the label, “This person belongs to God”.  And our label will also have our address.  Our citizenship is in heaven.  We only have a visitors visa for this world.

3:14-22 Laodicea was founded in 250 BC by Antiochus, a Roman governor, and named after his wife.  It became an important city because it was on the main road between Ephesus, the Far East and Jerusalem.  It was 100 miles due east of Ephesus.  It had a large horse race track and 3 amphitheatres.

It could never be a military stronghold because they had no drinking water in the city.  Their drinking water came 6 miles from the springs in Colossae through a 3’ stone aqueduct.  That made the city vulnerable to attack.  Anyone could cut off its water supply.  Because they were helpless militarily, the Laodiceans became great diplomats.  They were easy going, pliable, irresolute, tolerant, broad minded, and quick to compromise.  They could talk themselves out any trouble.

Laodicea was located halfway between Hierapolis, the biggest hot spring resort of Asia and Colossae, known for its cold springs.  The white sulfur and lime encrusted terraces of Hierapolis were visible from Laodicea.

Laodicea was a banking centre and one of the wealthy cities in the world at that time.  In fact when a big earthquake destroyed this city in 60 AD, the leaders refused financial assistance from Rome.  They wanted to do it themselves.  They were independent and proud of it.

Laodicea was known for its garment industry.  Black wool was a major export.  By clever breeding of sheep they produced valuable soft glossy violet‑black wool.  It had a factory that mass-produced tunics made from this wool.  So they could offer quality garments at reasonable prices.

Laodicea had a large medical centre.  They mass‑produced an eye salve known and used throughout the Roman world and sold a miracle mud from the hot springs.

3:14  Jesus introduces Himself as the Amen, the Witness, and the beginner.  In 3 words Jesus establishes eternal credibility.  “The Amen” was a title used by God (Is 65:16) that means, “so be it”.  When Jesus speaks, so it is.  Jesus was a reliable witness of God’s message.  What He says, happens.  He is the beginner of all things, preexistent to creation and time.

He does not try to impress the Laodiceans by introducing Himself as rich.  He does not say He owns the cattle on a thousand hills.  He does not say that streets in His city are paved with gold.  He does not talk about the size of His estate or the number of cars He has or the number of clubs He belongs to.  To this church He is the Amen, faithful witness, ruler of creation.

“I know you are neither hot nor cold.”  You have lost your hunger and thirst for righteousness.  You are making me sick with your indifference, complacence, and apathy toward the things of God.

3:17  Like the city this church was proud of their wealth and self‑sufficiency.  They did not know they were very poor.  They were proud and did not know they were really naked.  Their black wool cloaks did not cover their spiritual nakedness.  The works they did were offensive to God.

Jesus said, “The Phrygian eye salve that you have made your money on, has caused your blindness.  You have rationalized and deceived yourself into believing your own evaluation of yourself.”  They could say God gave them the resources to build their beautiful church.  God had prospered them and they were thankful God loved them.  They must be doing something right.  Look at how much God had given them.  Their view of themselves is not accurate.  A hypocrite knows he is one thing and pretends to be something else.  These people really believed they were spiritually wealthy.  They did not know they were wretched, miserable, poor, blind and naked.  They were worse than hypocrites.  They lived in a make believe world of dead works.

3:18  There is hope.  Jesus has quality clothes and eye salve.

3:19  Repent.  Jesus is correcting the church because He loves them.  He commands them to repent (in one decisive act; aorist imperative) and make it their practice to continue to live zealously for the Lord (present imperative).

3:20  Listen and open.  You have shut Jesus outside of your life but He is waiting to come in and be Lord of All.  You must open the door that lukewarmness has closed.  This is a conditional appeal to the church and applies to each individual.  Jesus asks permission to enter and re-establish fellowship.  He will not force himself on your will.  You think He’s in your heart already?  Is Jesus Lord of your life or is He knocking?

Supper was the main meal of the day.  It was a leisurely time of fellowship, not a quick bite to eat.

3:21‑22  The letter concludes with a promise of real honor and status.  Christ overcame by way of the cross and this sets the pattern for His followers.  What looked like Christ’s defeat was in fact his victory.  We have victory in Jesus in a way that surprises the world.

Cultural accommodation and compromise are still a major sin in the church.  The spirit of the city can invade the church.  Prosperity and physical ease have silenced the call to commitment.

It is interesting that both churches that had no enemies were the worst off spiritually.  Those churches that were having the most persecution received the greatest complements.

The church in Laodicea was a ‘good’ church.  There was no immorality among the members, no false teachers, no persecution, no problems, but they were lukewarm.  They had riches, and suffered the fate of many that prosper.  They were thankful that God was blessing them.  They were thankful that God was allowing them to succeed.  They were very gracious and proper Christians.

Our church has the same temptations today.  We are tempted to leave Jesus out of our lives.  Have you turned down the noises in your life so you can hear Him knocking?

The lesson seems very obvious.  A church is in danger of becoming like the culture it lives in.  A church is in danger of going with the flow.  A church can make God sick by being lukewarm.  Numbers are only a sign of worldly success.  God’s success criteria are the fruit of the Spirit.  If you have no active love for God and others, you taste terrible to God.

There is hope for the bitterest tasting lukewarm church.  Jesus stands at the door of our hearts and explains why He is knocking.  Do you hear His voice?  Do you want to hear His voice?

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