August 24, 2020
Uncertain Times…Christ-Centered Churches – Rev 3 – Philadelphia
Time for some honest confession this morning-who loses their keys a lot? Who’s often checking all their pockets or digging through their bag searching for them? Who’s found themselves searching high and low, saying-Okay, they were just here, I just set them here-where did they go? It’s a frightening feeling-and where do we often find them? Usually nearby. Who’s looked all over for their keys-you’ve torn your house or your office upside down-only to realize they were right next to you-under the chair or under your computer or in a different pocket? Some of the most common places people lose their keys are on the roof of their car, in the toilet, in the refrigerator, in the trash, in the washer/dryer or in the ignition of your car or doorknob of your house. Anybody lost your keys there? Where are they? And after endless searching you realize they were right there in the doorknob the whole time! Now let me change gears slightly and ask the other side of the question-who’s found themselves locked out with no keys at all? Who’s been stuck without their house keys or car keys? That’s often worse than having to search for them-because you know where they are-and you’re either no where near them-or they’re locked up inside. One time Monica and I were on vacation with our kids in S. Haven, Michigan-and we had just arrived at our AirB&B for the week, we unloaded the suitcases and got the kids to bed as it was late when we arrived. And once they were settled Monica and I went outside to check out the backyard patio and deck-and as soon as we stepped out and that back door shut I knew what had happened. It was locked-and I had intentionally locked the front door because we had unloaded all the suitcases from the car-time to lock up for the night. And of course the house keys were inside the house, along with our phones inside the house so we couldn’t call the owners for a spare set. And the kids were asleep upstairs-with the loud window air-conditioner running so all our attempts to yell for them were of no use! First night of the vacation and Monica and I are thinking that we’re sleeping outside with our kids waking up wondering what happened to us! Eventually I found a ladder in the unlocked garage-and so I crawled up onto the roof-knocked on the 2nd floor window next to the room Jacob was sleeping in-so you can imagine his surprise having fallen asleep-Why are you on the roof at nearly midnight knocking on the window, Dad! But he heard me and came down to unlock the door for us-disaster averted! And I’m sure we all have funny stories about being locked out!
Here this morning we’re talking about locked doors and keys-but not ones that we lock-but the ones Jesus does. As we saw back in the first week of this series on the 7 churches in Revelation-Jesus is the One who has the most important set of keys in the universe-and He hasn’t lost them, misplaced them, or accidentally locked them inside-but that He’s the one who unlocks the door for us, His people. So turn to Rev 3-or we’ll have it up on the screen-Rev 3:7. So Jesus has the access and authority to open and shut the door that no one else can. The question is what door and what key is Jesus talking about. First of all it mentions the key of David-and of course Jesus follows in the physical lineage of David. God’s Word tells us that Jesus will rule on David’s throne-and that doesn’t just mean the earthly kingdom of David-but refers to the throne of David’s kingdom that will last forever. David’s kingdom was an earthly snapshot, an earthly picture of the eternal reality of God’s kingdom that will last forever upon which Jesus will rule. And so the key of David refers to the historical key during the time of King Hezekiah. He was another king who followed in David’s lineage and under his reign a man named Eliakim served as royal treasurer and was given the key to the vault that housed all of the kingdom’s treasures. It says this exact phrase about him in Isaiah 22-that he shall open the vault that none can shut, and when he shuts it none can open it. So this was a very serious responsibility-you’ve got the key and the access to the vast riches of the kingdom. Don’t lose that key!
Anybody given a key to a storehouse of treasure? Or maybe you have a key to a safe at your house or a safety deposit box at the bank that contains really important valuables. I remember as a kid having a friend in school who’s older brother claimed he had a Pete Rose rookie baseball card-which back in the 80’s was worth a lot-at least worth a lot to a couple of 4th graders! But we never got to see it because he claimed his parents locked it away in their safety deposit box at the bank. My friend and I dreamed of having that key and unlocking that box to see that baseball card! But at some point in life we’ve all had the key to something valuable. And back in the OT this guy Eliakim had the key to something really valuable-all the treasures of the kingdom of David. But even that is just a picture, a snapshot of the real key that houses the real treasures-and that’s the key that Jesus has referenced here. Jesus has the key of David-but it’s not a key that just unlocks the door to bunch of gold bricks and valuable gems and various kingdom treasures-but rather unlocks the door to the infinite value of eternal life in the kingdom itself.
As I just mentioned, Jesus has the most valuable set of keys in the universe-and we heard Jesus say that in the first week of this series-Rev 1:17-18. Jesus has the key, meaning He has the authority over life and death. Jesus didn’t say He was just the guy holding the door open-come on in one and all. And I think that’s how a lot of us view the afterlife. That Jesus has that door wide open for almost everybody who dies-that basically the only people who are kept out are the murders and terrorists. What do a lot of people say-I’ve lived a pretty good life, tried my best, haven’t killed anybody-as if that’s literally the standard for getting in or out of the door to heaven. As long as you haven’t killed anybody you’re in, the door’s open. But that’s not what Jesus is saying. He’s saying that He’s the one who has the keys to lock and unlock that door. Look at what He said in-Luke 13:24-25. Jesus is purposely saying this door is small-not wide-because it’s based on knowing Him. And if you notice-that opportunity is available now-but not in the afterlife. The afterlife, when your life is over, is when that door is shut. The Master-Jesus-shuts it. You can knock on that door all you want-but if you don’t know Jesus now-you won’t know Him then. Listen to what Jesus said of Himself-John 10:9-10. Jesus is taking the analogy further by saying He is literally the door-that to enter into the pastures of eternal life in the kingdom of God-you have to go through Him-meaning you have to know Him and trust in Him to save you. That’s Pt1:Jesus opens the door of salvation-have you entered through Him? And that happens through faith in Him. To enter the door of salvation means you recognize how you’ve messed up, made mistakes, that your sins deserve the penalty of death but that Jesus has paid that penalty for you on the cross so you can be forgiven and made new. Entering through the door of salvation is going through the door that He has unlocked for you at the cost of His own life. It is the most important door you will ever enter! Back to Rev 3:7. Notice how this isn’t a door any single person on planet earth can open themselves-you can’t save yourself, you can’t make your own way to heaven or get in through a backdoor-only Jesus can open the door for you because He is the only one with the key. So that’s where all this begins-entering the door that He opens.
But this becomes a very important concept as the rest of the letter unfolds-because Jesus is always the one opening doors for us. Listen to how He addresses the church-Rev 3:8. So Jesus is transitioning from the eternal door of salvation-to the earthly door of ministry. And He’s saying-I know what you’ve been doing as a church, you’ve been full of good deeds, you’ve clung to your Bibles and held on to the truth. You’ve stood for the truth by not denying my name-even when you may have been tempted to do so. As a church, you’ve been faithful in little, now I’ve opened up a door of opportunity for you to be faithful in much. And I love how Jesus is saying that no one can shut that door either. That if I’ve opened up ministry opportunities for you as a church don’t be intimidated by the world or grow fearful or think you’re too small or too weak. Which was how the church was viewing itself-what did Jesus say-I know that you have little strength-meaning I know it and you know it. And the church in Philadelphia was the smallest and youngest of the 7 churches in Revelation. It didn’t have the riches like the church in Laodicea that we’ll look at next week. It didn’t have the history and the heritage like the church in Ephesus we looked at the first week. It didn’t even have the great reputation like the church in Sardis we looked at last week. From an earthly perspective this was a small, weak, insignificant church. If you were a missionary raising support back then or a new pastor taking a tour of these churches to learn some good ministry strategies you might be tempted to skip this little church in Philly. From an outside glance it doesn’t seem like much is going on there-just a little group of people gathered together with little strength. And that may be how you feel too right now-little strength describes your life. You might try to look strong to others-but you know how weak you are inside. Jesus doesn’t look to the externals in evaluating a church. He doesn’t measure ministry success on the outside-but instead He looks inside. He looks at the people that make up the church and He looks at the hearts that make up the people. And while on the outside they may identify themselves as having little strength-what does Jesus do with those of little strength, what does He do with you and me when we have little strength? Look at-Isa 40:29-31; 2 Cor 12:9-10. And it’s no different with this church in Philly-they were weak, but in Christ they were strong.
Back to Rev 3:8. This church may have been focusing on their little strength-but Jesus was highlighting their faithfulness despite that and the open door He had put before them. The question was what they would focus on-and it’s the same question for you and me. Pt2:Jesus opens doors of opportunity-do you only see closed doors of weakness? And I think we often do. I know I do. What about you? For whatever reason staring at closed doors often seems so much easier, doesn’t it? We recognize ways we’ve failed, times we’ve let God down, bad decisions we’ve made, bridges we’ve burned, opportunities we’ve wasted. We focus on all of our weaknesses and little strength, all of the closed doors that we completely miss seeing the door He’s opened that no one can shut. And that’s the key point. It didn’t matter how weak or strong the believers were in Philly-Jesus had opened the door for them-He just wanted them to trust Him and go through it. Just like how God opened the door for His people in the Red Sea. He didn’t tell them to figure out how to cross it. He opened the door for them, He parted the waters and revealed the dry land so all they had to do was walk across it. Same with us. I can remember my senior class motto from high school that we chose and voted on as a class and had a big banner hanging up during graduation-If opportunity doesn’t knock, build a door. And while I appreciate the industriousness of the phrase-sort of a seize the day and make something happen-I think it runs counter to what God’s Word is saying. As we follow Christ, He doesn’t tell us to forge our own path ahead and build our own doors. He tells us to go through the doors that He’s opened for us that no one can shut. That’s what the group of believers in Philly needed to do back them-that’s what this group of believers in Dix Hills needs to do now. So it begs the question-what open doors does He have for you? Where is He calling you to taking a step of faith and follow Him? Where is He telling you to take your little strength and trust in His incredible power working within you? Where do you need to peel your eyes away from the closed doors you’ve been staring at and look towards the open door He’s got on the horizon?
We said last week that being a follower of Christ is a life of increasing dependance on Him, not decreasing. That the longer you’re a follower the more you realize how much more you need Him, not less. And if there’s one place that we definitely need the Lord it’s in those open doors. Because we all know that closed aren’t very scary or intimidating. They’re closed. They’re nothing more than a lost chance, an Oh well, too bad-what could have been-sort of thing. There’s nothing that stretches you about a closed door. It’s the open door that takes courage, it’s the open door that takes faith. And yet the one thing Jesus is reminding these believers of is how much they can have faith in Him no matter what happens. And there’s some big things happening on the horizon. Look at how the passage continues-Rev 3:9. This was a group of Jews that were opposing and persecuting the church. They were wanting the Christians to admit the error of their ways by following Jesus as the Messiah and thereby bow to them. But Jesus is saying-No, no-they’ll come and bow before you, they’ll be humbled because they’ll realize that I am the Messiah and that I have loved you. So despite this tough persecution, Jesus is with them and protecting them-but it doesn’t end there. Listen to what He says next-Rev 3:10.
And here’s where the rabbit hole goes a whole lot deeper than just this letter. Jesus is speaking to this specific church in ancient Philadelphia-but in all of these 7 letters He’s speaking to The Church, all of His people, including the churches of today. And while this is a challenging verse to interpret lots of scholars believe it refers to the end times during that final 7 years of Tribulation that the book of Revelation will go on to describe in coming chapters. It’s the time of wrath and suffering that God will send upon the world to judge it in preparation for the return of Christ. It will reveal and expose people for who they are-that without Christ, left to ourselves mankind isn’t good but will end up fighting and nearly destroying itself. That’s why it’s called that hour of trial to test people. But it’s a defined period of time-that hour most likely refers to the 7 years of Tribulation-or to Daniel’s 70th from the OT. But notice how it’s a global event-it’s going to come upon the whole world. So this isn’t just a historical event from the early first century or something local to the region of these 7 churches-this extends far beyond the church in Philly-promising that The Church will be delivered from this worldwide hour of Tribulation-and that deliverance is most commonly known as the Rapture. No doubt you’ve heard of that. And while the word rapture isn’t found in the Bible-it’s a theological concept that’s supported by verses like this-along with many others. Look at 1 Thess 4:16-17. And many Bible scholars believe that’s when believers are kept from the Tribulation and caught up with Christ in the air to be in His presence. That while we should and ought to remain here to receive the punishment for the mistakes we’ve made-the wrath of God that our sins deserve-in Christ we are delivered from it because He’s already faced that hour of suffering for us when He endured God’s wrath on the cross. What did Jesus say-John 12:27. Jesus has faced and endured and emptied all of God’s wrath for us that our sins deserve when He died on the cross for us. So now what remains is our forgiveness and deliverance. That while the rest of the world will face God’s suffering and wrath by not turning to Christ, believers will be kept from because they have turned to Christ. So back to our verse-Rev 3:10. And whether that is the event known as the Rapture where the Lord will take His people away, or whether we’ll be here living through it we don’t completely know-end times things are hard to determine. But Jesus does promise two things-(1) His protection during this time-I will keep you from that hour-all throughout the Bible the Lord has always protected His people (2) His imminent return. Look at Rev 3:11.
Talk about a great end times verse! That above and beyond all things our hope is in the greatest and most incredible of truths, the event we’ve all been waiting for-our Savior Jesus is coming back. And we can’t lose sight of that word soon. He didn’t say-I’m coming back ages from now, it’s a long time coming, settle in to a good book or a long tv series I’m not coming back anytime soon. No-He said He is coming soon. And while that’s been the promise to God’s people for over 2000 years-one day it’s going to happen. One day His return won’t be a promise written on the pages of Scripture, but a reality taking place across the sky as we join Him to be in His presence forever. And where is that-Rev 3:12. And of course Jesus’ new name is King of Kings, Lord of Lords. And when He puts His new name on us it means we forever belong to Him, we are His children, His loyal subjects, heirs of His kingdom-the new Jerusalem where we will dwell for eternity. I love what it says-never again leave it. There’s no moving trucks in heaven. No one’s relocating, no goodbyes or farewells. Instead we are firmly and forever planted in our eternal home. And what’s the image-to be a pillar in God’s temple-and a pillar isn’t going anywhere! Take a look at this picture of ancient Philadelphia-pic. The part of the city that remains 2000 years later are these massive pillars. Down through the centuries the rest of the city has collapsed and fallen from earthquakes and erosion, nothing more than ancient ruins-but these pillars have held on and stood the whole time. And that’s exactly what Jesus says we’ll be-pillars in His kingdom-not just holding on for 2000 years or so-but holding on for eternity. And if that’s what we’re destined for as His followers-then that’s what He’s calling us to do now.
So last verse-back to Rev 3:11. Jesus is saying I’m returning-it’s happening soon-each day in this world brings us closer to that day-so hold on to what you have. Hold on to the truth of the gospel. Don’t let go of what it says and what it promises. Don’t let go of who you are in Me. And I don’t know about you-but holding on to the truth seems like it’s becoming harder and harder in our world these days, isn’t it? Our world continually grows hostile to the gospel. It’s so much easier to try and blend in with the world and hide the fact that we believe in Jesus, instead of standing confidently for Him. So Pt3:Jesus is coming soon-are you holding on to Him and going the distance? Because that’s what He’s telling us to do. Stand strong, endure, hang tight, persevere, you may have little strength but hold on to Me and go the distance because I’m coming soon. And when I think of having little strength but still being called to go the distance-I think of the other Philadelphia. Here’s a picture of the Philadelphia Museum of Art-and it has a whole lot of steps that a whole lot of people like to run! 2nd famous movie location in the world-that’s because of Rocky. Here he is at the top of those steps. And Rocky was a boxer of little strength-because of a promotional fluke he was given the chance to fight the heavyweight champion of the world-Apollo Creed. No one thought Rocky had a chance-he was too old, too weak. He didn’t even think he had a chance. But what does he famously say to Adrian-I can’t beat him…who am I kiddin’? I ain’t even in the guy’s league…all I wanna do is go the distance. To last all 15 rounds in the ring. And that’s what Jesus is telling us to do-you may have little strength, this isn’t going to be easy, this world is a fight, it’s a boxing match going 15 rounds-but through Me you can go the distance-Rev 3:11. Let us hold on to Jesus-who in the end is holding on to us!