Scripture
Revelation 2:12-17
Sermon Series
"JESUS SPEAKS TO HIS CHURCH"
Date
July 22, 2018
Speaker
Pastor Witt

 

 

Greeting: Blessed are those who hear the words of this book and take to heart what is written in it.

 

Text: 12) To the angel of the church in Pergamum write: “These are the words of Him who has the sharp, double-edged sword.  13) I know where you live – where Satan has his throne.   Yet you remain true to My name.   You did not renounce your faith in Me, even in the days of Antipas, My faithful witness, who was put to death in your city – where Satan lives.   14) Nevertheless, I have a few things against you; you have people there who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to entice the Israelites to sin by eating food sacrificed to idols and by committing sexual immorality.  15) Likewise you also have those who hold to the teaching of the Nicolaitans.   16) Repent therefore!  Otherwise I will soon come to you and will fight against them with the sword of My mouth.  17) 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.   I will also give him a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to him who receives it.

 

Introduction:  Do you have a “zero tolerance” policy about something?   Is there something that you will not allow or put up with?   Maybe it’s no smoking in the house, no driving while drinking, no coddling of criminals.  Some things are not to be allowed.   This is a lesson we learn from the letter in Revelation that we consider today: Jesus’ letter to the Church in Pergamum.

 

Pergamum was an important city in the Roman province of Asia.  It was the capital; the administrative center for government.   Pergamum was located 50 miles north of its neighboring congregation in Smyrna.   It was the northernmost of the 7 cities Christ addressed in the book of Revelation.

 

Pergamum was a city set on a hill.   It was built on a cone-shaped hill that rose 1,000 feet above the surrounding valley.  Pergamum was renowned for its grand library of over 200,000 books.   It was a religious center that had followers of Aesculapius (the Roman god of healing), Zeus, Apollo, Athena and of the Roman emperor.   Pergamum was well known for restoring the use of parchment writing.   It was a hostile place for Christianity.

 

Jesus addressed believers in Pergamum.   He calls Himself the One with the sharp-edged sword.   His words are sharp and strong, mightier than the power of the mighty city of Pergamum.

 

Jesus found things to praise among the Christians in Pergamum.  They had remained true to Jesus Christ in the face of bitter persecution.   They resisted great pressure.  One of them, Antipas, was the first Christian to die as a martyr for Christ.  Antipas was slowly roasted to death in a large kettle.  The members of the congregation had paid a high price for their faith.   By doing so, they greatly honored their Lord.

 

However, there was a major problem in the congregation.  The members were tolerating false teachers in their church.   Jesus said that they allowed those who hold to “the teaching of Balaam.”  Balaam was the false prophet that Moses wrote about in the Old Testament book of Numbers.  Balaam was the false prophet who had been hired by King Balak of Moab to curse the people of Israel as they came to enter the land of Canaan.   God would not allow Him to speak the curse that he intended.   Instead God took control of Balaam’s mouth and had him speak words of blessing on His people of Israel instead.   However, Balaam did harm Israel by having the people of Moab entice the people of Israel to join in a feast that turned into an idolatrous orgy in which the Israelites joined the Moabites in worshipping the false god Baal and in taking part in sexual immorality.   Jesus was referring to a modern-day Balaam who had introduced the honoring of a false god and  taking part in adultery to the members in Pergamum.

 

Jesus also pointed out that that the members in Pergamum were tolerating the Nicolaitans.  Unlike the Christians in Ephesus who hated the Nicolaitans, the people of Pergamum were approving of them.  The Nicolaitans were a sect in the church that taught that it was OK for a Christian to compromise with paganism and to live however they pleased.

 

It may surprise us that on one level, the church could handle persecution from without, but was vulnerable to attack from within.   This was their situation.   It called for radical action.

 

Jesus called on the Christians in Pergamum to repent or else He would come and drive them out.  If they would not listen to Jesus’ strong, but loving rebuke; if they would not realize the wrong they were doing and turn from it; they would suffer great loss.  All who followed or tolerated false teachers would stand judged and condemned by God’s powerful word.

 

Our Lord calls us to a “zero tolerance” of false teaching.   It is not to be allowed in Christ’s Church.  False teaching misleads people and destroys them spiritually.   Co-existence between true, divine, biblical teaching and false, man-made, devil-inspired doctrine is impossible.   The toleration of false teaching is betrayal to God and deadly to the souls of people.

 

False teachers must be exposed, silenced, stopped and expelled.   Holy hatred against spiritual lies is the proper position to take.  Listen to some words of God spoken about false teachers through the prophet Jeremiah.   God says: “I am against the prophets who steal from one another words supposedly from Me.  I am against the prophets who wag their own tongues and yet declare, “The Lord declares.”   Indeed, I am against those who prophesy false dreams, declares the Lord.  They tell them and lead my people astray with their reckless lies, yet I did not send or appoint them.   They do not benefit these people in the least, declares the Lord.  .  .  .  Therefore, I will surely forget you and cast you out of My presence.   I will bring upon you everlasting disgrace – everlasting shame that will not be forgotten. (Jeremiah 23:30-32, 39-40)

 

There are many false teachings in the visible church today:  the rejection of absolute, God-given truth; evolution; salvation by self and one’s own works; abortion; easy divorce; gay marriage; denial of hell, limited atonement that insists that Jesus only died for some; an election of souls to damnation; a thousand year rule of Jesus on earth, universalism that maintains that all gods and religions are the same and that God will save everyone regardless of whether they repent and believe in Jesus; Social Gospel that insists the main mission of the church is to change society instead of proclaim God’s Word.

 

Jesus Christ desires that we love Him and the truth of His Word and that we love people and are concerned for their salvation so much that we cannot put up with false confessions and false teaching.   If we are to be physically safe, we must keep our water and food supply safe.   If we are to be spiritually safe, we must keep our supply of God’s life-giving Word safe and pure.

 

As members of the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod, we enjoy many, many blessings.  One of the greatest is the true, clear teaching of Holy Scripture.   The blessing is to be treasured and to be protected.  It takes the interest, attention and vigilance of all of us to make sure that we are a church that values God’s true Word and has zero tolerance for false teaching.

 

Jesus provides tremendous incentive for us to resist and oppose false teaching.  He promises the Christians in Pergamum and us three things.  First, He says:  To Him who overcomes, I will give some of the hidden manna.  Manna was that miraculous food God gave the people of Israel to sustain them through their years of traveling through the desert until they reached the Promised Land.  The “hidden manna”  Jesus refers to is likely based on the words of Psalm 78:24-25, where the inspired writer speaks about manna as the grain of heaven and the bread of angels.  Jesus is indicating that God will sustain the one who opposes false teaching faithfully with everything they need to live in heaven.  A second promised Jesus makes to those who forsake false teaching is the gift of a white stone.  The Greek culture of that time used white stones as a way to indicate that a person was innocent and not guilty of a crime.  God’s gift of a white stone is the promise of the declaration of being righteous before God on the basis of Jesus’ once-for-all sacrifice for our sins.  The white stone Jesus gives is an admission ticket to heaven where only the sinless may live.   The final gift Jesus promises is the gift of a “new name.”   In Isaiah 62:2, God talks about giving a person a new name.  God gave new names to people in the Bible such as Abram to Abraham, Jacob to Israel, Simon to Peter.  Those new names indicated a changed and higher status for that person.  For those who use the truth of God’s Word to fight false teaching, Jesus promises this special new name that only that believer will know.

We can only imagine the special name that God has selected for each of us.

 

Jesus’ letter to the church in Pergamum tells us that Jesus wants His people to forsake and forbid false teachers and their false teachings.   False teaching is deceptive, dangerous and deadly.  Let us not be fooled by it.  And moved by His love that promises to let us share in His heavenly food at the heavenly banquet and a new and better life, may we together be  Christians who faithfully forsake all false teaching.  Amen.