August 2, 2020
Uncertain Times…Christ-Centered Churches – Rev 2 – Pergamum
I want to start off this morning with a word that I don’t think many of us like-and that’s the word compromise. Time for some honest confession-who likes to compromise? Who works hard at trying to compromise-whether with a friend, or your spouse, or anybody? We compromised. I didn’t get what I wanted and they didn’t get what they wanted. Nobody’s actually happy so I think that was a win! Good compromise! But isn’t that usually the result? Who’s every compromised on going out to eat. You were craving that Italian restaurant, they really wanted takeaway from the sushi restaurant, and now you’re sitting at this restaurant here no one wants to eat at! Or who’s compromised on picking out a movie or show on Netflix? You wanted a sci-fi action movie, they wanted a light-hearted comedy and so you settled on watching this slow-paced, historical drama that’s got you both bored-forget the movie let’s read a book! Have you been there? Compromising sounds great-but it rarely leaves anyone happy. Now we’ve all felt that pressure to pretend we’re on board with compromising. What do they say about a strong marriage or a good relationship? It must contain the 3 C’s of commitment, communication and compromise. I’m all about the first 2 C’s-solid commitment and good communication have to be there-but that 3rd C is the one nobody wants! Instead of creating harmony, compromise usually just creates two disgruntled, unhappy people! What’s the famous quote-A compromise is an agreement whereby both parties get what neither of them wanted. So true! But that’s basically the definition of the word. I looked it up and Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary defines compromise as-consent reached by mutual concessions. Not mutual agreement or mutual excitement-as if both parties are thinking this compromise could be a good option! But mutual concessions-meaning mutual giving up, mutual surrender, mutual abandoning of what you really wanted for half-heartedly pretending to like the new option-This is fun, I’m glad we chose this! Mutual concessions are not far off from mutual loss. Nobody concedes a victory to the other team, you concede the loss. So compromise is really a mutual loss-you’re both agreeing to lose and take one for the team. To sit in misery together-which is why we generally avoid compromising and do it as a last resort. However, as we come to our next passage this morning-we’re going to see that compromising is what we often try to do with God. That while we may avoid it at all costs with people, we often compromise right away in our walk with the Lord. Ask yourself-how am I compromising in my faith? That’s the question we’re going to wrestle with-because that’s the question that confronts the next church we’re examining.
So open your Bibles to Rev 2-or we’ll have it up on the screen-Rev 2:12. So the next church is in the city of Pergamum and it was directly north of the city of Smyrna that we looked at last week. And as a note of interest, following last week’s message Monica happened to see this timely bag of fruit at Costco-Smyrna figs. Delicious! So if anyone has any fruits from Pergamum that would be fantastic-Pergamum pears or pomegranates! But here’s a picture of ancient Pergamum. It was the capital city for the Roman Empire in Asia Minor-and was a very important city culturally. It had the 2nd biggest library in the world-over 200,000 books (the only bigger library was in Alexandria, Egypt). And in fact, the name Pergamum is what gives us the word parchment-which wasn’t papyrus like they were using for the books in Egypt-but instead they developed the usage of animal skins for paper-parchment to make the books-which proved to be far superior. So your library card went far in Pergamum-lots of books to read. Plus, it was also a city that loved the theater-and you can see that in this picture. The theater in Pergamum was the steepest in the world! Would you want to sit there at that angle that high up to watch a play? No need to worry about the tall guy sitting in front of you! It seems that Pergamum was the first to invent the concept of stadium seating! Here’s another picture of the theater’s angle. How did people not tumble down these steps-plus how could you see what’s going on down there! But besides being a city focused on books and Broadway-Pergamum had lots of temples. They had temples to Dionysus, Athena, a huge temple to Zeus, a temple to Asclepius-the god of medicine symbolized by the entwined serpent around the staff. And here’s a picture of their temple to the Roman Emperor Trajan. Just like we saw in Smyrna last week, this was a city that worshipped Caesar, they worshipped their Roman Emperor-a man as a god. People would have been required to come to the temple and pay their respects, bowing down saying Caesar is Lord. Which of course, made Pergamum, like Smyrna, a very hostile and difficult place for Christians to live.
But how does Jesus introduce Himself in this letter-Rev 2:12. And of course that’s the sword of judgment and authority that Jesus possesses-but what’s that based on? What is the two-edged sword? It’s the Word of God which contains the truth whereby all mankind is judged and held accountable. Remember what it says in Heb 4:12-13. The truth of God’s Word pierces every heart, every soul, and we’ll be judged on how we respond to the truth of what it says-recognizing that the Word of God points us directly to the Son of God-that being Jesus and whether we’ll give our allegiance to Him. Whether we’ll bow to Him and say Jesus is Lord-or whether we’ll turn to other things and give them our allegiance, like they were doing in Pergamum saying Caesar is Lord. It all comes back to worship. Who or what do you worship? That’s the question that confronted this church back then and it’s the question that confronts us today. Will we follow the culture and give in to the lifestyle of the people around us? Will we compromise our faith in Christ or stand strong recognizing that He alone is the one to whom we must give an account?
Back to Jesus’ words-Rev 2:12-13a. Pergamum, right? He knows the town where this church was planted and where they’re gathering to worship. Well Pergamum may be their official mailing address-but look at how Jesus describes it-Rev 2:13. So right away we can clearly see that Pergamum was a spiritually dark place. This was a city filled with temples to pagan gods and goddess (who didn’t exist) and temples to Roman Emperors (who were merely men)-so Jesus calls a spade a spade-which He does over and over in these 7 letters to the churches. But this time He’s calling Pergamum the city where Satan lives and rules. Not a flattering description! Not what you put on your tourism brochure-Come visit Pergamum-hometown of Satan-the deviled eggs are delicious! But that’s what Jesus sees when He evaluates their city. Now the residents wouldn’t admit that, they wouldn’t say that about their hometown-why? Because they don’t see it! Remember Satan is the great deceiver. He hides behind all these great cultural achievements-and if he can get people to forget about Jesus-the resurrected Son of God-and instead believe these man-made temples pointed people to what they ought to worship than his job is done. If Satan can fool the residents into thinking that the great architecture and culture they’ve established in Pergamum is worthy of worship then his mission is complete. Because no doubt the people in Pergamum thought they lived in a great, vibrant, cultural city-We celebrate the arts with our massive library and our stadium-seating theater. We have amazing temples, we’re totally loyal to Caesar by worshipping him-we’re the capital city of Asia Minor representing Rome-look at us! But Jesus sees right through it all-past the culture, past the arts and the architecture-and says this is where Satan lives.
And I wonder if Jesus would describe several of our American cities that same way today? How would He describe the things we worship and idolize in our culture? Would he say that some of our cities are Satan’s hometown also? It certainly seems likely-and yet a lot of us might be tempted to say-No, hold up-that sounds a bit extreme. Crime may be up, people’s behavior might not be great, morals and values might be on the decline-but to say our city is where Satan lives sounds a bit harsh. And it might be a bit harsh! But because it’s coming from Jesus it’s the truth. And if he called one of their great cultural cities back then Satan’s throne, why should we suppose it’s any different now. The things we worship may have changed-we don’t necessarily go to pagan temples and worship Roman gods and emperors-but our idolatry is still the same. Think of all the things that are shut down in our cities that people used to fervently worship-movie theaters and Broadway are shut so we can’t worship actors and actresses, concerts are cancelled so we can’t worship our favorite bands and singers, art galleries are closed, museums are closed, and who knows about sports and where that’s headed-but professional athletes have definitely been a source of worship in our country. So our situation and where we’re living isn’t all that different from Pergamum-and yet I love Jesus’ words-I know where you live. If anyone understands what we’re facing, if anyone understands what we’re going through and who our real enemy is-it’s Jesus! He’s saying to the people of this church back then-and He’s saying to us today-I know where you live and what’s going on. I know it’s tough out there, times aren’t easy, and it’s hard to stand for the truth-but hang in there! This statement from Jesus makes it so clear you’re not alone, we’re not alone as a church. He’s sees it-v. 13. And many people believe that Antipas was their first pastor at the church who was killed for his faith by not bowing before Caesar, claiming him to be lord. So Jesus is encouraging the church in Pergamum for remaining true and continuing to be His faithful witnesses in a tough climate.
And that’s Pt1:Jesus didn’t say pack up and leave, He said don’t compromise. Huge difference! If you’re like me your first reaction upon hearing these words from Jesus that your town is where Satan lives might be to high-tail it out of there and leave asap! Get me somewhere safe-the devil just moved in! But that’s never been the message from God’s Word. He never tells His people to flee-He tells us to be faithful and stand for the truth. Look at what it says in-1 Pet 5:8-9. Peter is saying that there isn’t anywhere you can go in the world where the devil isn’t prowling around trying to devour you-whether it’s Pergamum, Paris or Pittsburgh! The call is the same-to resist him and stand firm. To not ignore the culture around you and try to block it out, but not to adapt to the culture and compromise either. To reach out without selling out. Back to Pt1.
But that’s what some of the people were doing in the church-they were compromising. They were letting the devil’s lies to the culture subtly slip into their lives-Rev 2:14. The believers in the church may have remained true to Jesus-but they let false doctrine creep in and distort the truth of Scripture. The story of Balaam and Balak is found way back in the OT book of Numbers-initially Balak who was the king of Moab hired Balaam-a false prophet-to curse the Israelites who were advancing upon their border in obtaining the Promised Land. However, every time Balaam opened his mouth to curse them, God caused blessings to be spoken on the Israelites instead. It was a great display of God’s power-and the exact opposite of what Balak, king of Moab wanted to accomplish. So Balaam and Balak came up with a new plan to get pagan women to seduce the Israelites and through their seduction persuade them to worship the false gods of Moab. And as you might expect, the power of seduction worked just as well back then as it does today and the Israelites fell into sexual immorality and idolatry-and God judged them accordingly. Obviously Balak and Balaam are no longer around in Revelation or alive in Pergamum, but that set of sins was taking place. God’s people in the church were committing sexual immorality which led them to idolatry of the false Roman gods and participating in pagan feasts and eating food sacrificed to idols. Sort of like raising a glass to the gods. Basically the people were celebrating the idols of the culture and adopting the sexual ethics of the culture.
And once again, doesn’t that sound a lot like today. People in the church can find themselves celebrating the idols of our culture and easily, in fact willingly, adopting the sexual ethics of our culture saying no big deal. Instead of reaching out, we find ourselves selling out. Instead of being transformed by Christ, we find ourselves being conformed to the world. Look at-Rev 2:15. And again this was a group that led the people into immorality and assaulted the church with sexual temptations. The ancient church historian, Clement of Alexandria in the 2nd century, spoke about the Nicolaitans saying-They abandoned themselves to pleasure like goats, leading a life of self-indulgence. Basically the Nicolaitans perverted grace and replaced liberty with license. The idea that God’s grace is big enough so it’s a license to sin. And that’s always the wrong way to think about it-but it’s what we do. God will forgive me, what does it matter if I act this way, or dabble in this behavior, or stretch the limits this far. Everyone around me is doing it, this is what our culture does. God understands. And that thinking had permeated the church in Pergamum and it’s where they found themselves compromising. Pt2:Idolatry says God isn’t enough for me, what else can I worship? Immorality says God is withholding from me, what else can I have? Idolatry is taking the good things God has given us and making them the center of our heart and our object of worship-which they were never meant for. Immorality is taking the good things God has given us-and going far beyond the limits He’s established. God says sex is for a husband and wife in marriage, immorality says I want sex before that, I want sex outside of that. If we’re in love why is sex wrong-we’ll probably get married one day anyway. Now the wider culture doesn’t care-that’s what everybody does. But that’s where the church can easily find itself compromising. It did back then-and it’s not any different today.
And that’s Pt3:Satan doesn’t want the church to stay faithful, he loves it when we compromise. That’s his goal, that’s one of his best strategies. He knows that God’s people are eternally secure in Him. He can’t destroy their salvation or remove the grace they’ve been given-but he can sure encourage the church to abuse that grace. To compromise on God’s standard in order to act more like the world so that we say-Oh well, God will just forgive me, I’ve already got my ticket to heaven, may as well have some fun on earth! That’s the thinking Satan uses to deceive us. Remember what Paul asked in Rom 6:1-2. The devil says you can, you should. Why not keep on sinning-if God’s so full of grace then let it abound while you have your fun. That’s what the church in Pergamum was doing as they followed these threads of thinking from Balaam and Balak and the Nicolatians-and it’s exactly the same kind of thinking we follow today when we compromise. Ask yourself if you’ve adopted this thinking. Where have you found yourself compromising? Where are you acting more like the world and the culture around you instead of the person God’s called you to be? Where are you giving up and surrendering what you once believed in order to fit in or have fun? How are you continuing in sin assuming that God’s grace will abound? These are the questions that we as the church need to reflect on because Satan loves it when we compromise-Christ-centered Exposition, 61. Do you see any of those things happening in your life? What does Jesus say-Rev 2:16. Who wants Jesus fighting against you-and He does it with the Word of God bringing that conviction. Why? Because compromise isn’t who you are, compromise isn’t who the church is. Look at our real identity-Rev 2:17. No need to indulge in immorality, Jesus will nourish us with what truly satisfies-the hidden manna-meaning eternal life. And the white stone is what an athlete won in the games as part of his prize-that stone was an admission pass, an entry ticket into the winners celebration, the victory party. The white stone from Jesus is our admission pass into the eternal victory celebration, the grand party of heaven. And what’s written on it is our new name, meaning our new identity in Him as a beloved son or daughter of God. In eternity our idols are forever broken and King Jesus is the rightful ruler of our lives. Let’s not be a people that compromise on that glorious identity now!