Wednesday after Advent 2 + Revelation 2:12-22 + December 12, 2018
[This sermon was preached on Wednesday, Dec 19th due to pastor being ill on the 12th. There will not be a sermon on the letters to the three remaining churches in Revelation 3.]
In the Name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
Last week we heard the glorified Christ tells the saints at Smyrna, “Do not fear any of those things which you are about to suffer. Indeed, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and you will have tribulation ten days. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life” (Rev. 2:10). In Smyrna the church would face persecution for ten days, a relatively brief time. Although it was men that would apprehend the Christians and incarcerate them, it was the work of the devil. In the first letter for our consideration this week, Christ’s letter to the saints at Pergamos, we see that these saints have a greater share of persecution than the Smyrneans. Christ tells them, “I know your works, 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 devil had been active in Smyrna but in Pergamos he incited unbelievers to such hatred and vitriol that they martyred the church’s pastor, Antipas. He was faithful until death and received his crown.
This would be terrible for any flock of Christ to bear. The prophet Zechariah foretold of Christ’s disciples, “Strike the Shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered” (Zechariah 13:7). And while that was true for Christ’s disciples on the night in which He was betrayed, it did not hold true for the saints at Pergamos. These sheep do not scatter at the death of their undershepherd, Antipas. They hold fast to Christ’s name, the doctrine of the Shepherd and Bishop of their souls. The Good Shepherd will send them another undershepherd to replace the faithful martyr pastor, Antipas. Christ tells them “I will come to you quickly and will fight against them with the sword of My mouth.” The “them” is the Nicolaitans in their midst, those holding to the doctrine of Balaam, which we’ll get to in a moment. Christ promises to deal with these false Christians with the sword of His mouth, which is His word. And His word is preached by His called servants. These dear saints who have lost their pastor to martyrdom will not be left as sheep without a shepherd. Christ, the Good Shepherd, will send them another messenger to faithfully teach His Word among them.
His teaching will fortify the faithful and comfort the true Christians while simultaneously fighting against the Nicolaitans. There are some in Symrna 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.” Balaam was a Moabite prophet whom Balak, the king of Moab, hired to curse Israel as they travelled through Moab to the Promised Land. When Balaam could only bless them, he suggested to that Balak invite Israel to his sacrifices and seduce them to commit fornication with Moabite women as part of their religious ceremonies. Moses writes in Numbers 25:2 that “They invited the people to the sacrifices of their gods, and the people ate and bowed down to their gods.” So these Nicolaitans, false Christians, were doing something similar in Pergamos. They fornicated, enjoying every sexual license, and participated in sacrifices to false gods yet called themselves Christians. By their example they led many astray. The Lord would send another faithful preacher to condemn their sins with the sword of His Word.
To those who have not dulled their ears with their sins, those who will listen to Christ’s word and hold fast to it as Antipas did, Christ says, “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.” The manna of the Old Testament was a type of the Gospel, the bread of life, to come in the New Testament. To the one who overcomes the temptations of the flesh Christ will give this manna which will refresh their souls. He calls it “hidden” because the wise and prominent of the world cannot find it. It is “hidden” in the fact that only Christ can reveal it and give it those who sorrow over their sins. He feeds them with Himself, His promise of forgiveness for all who flee to Him for mercy. For this is how one overcomes temptations and the guilt that comes when we fail in the hour of temptation.
To the one who overcomes He also promises a white stone, “and on the stone a new name written which no one knows except him who receives it.” When judges voted to acquit a defendant they would cast their vote with a white stone for innocent and a black stone for guilty. This is the white stone which Christ promises to the one who overcomes. He will be absolved from his sins and declared “not guilty” before the holy tribunal of God on the Last Day. To the one who faithfully confesses Christ, as Antipas had, Christ will confess that one before His Father on the Last Day. The white stone also has a new name written one which no one knows except the one who receives it. This name is the name “son of God” and because they will be declared to be a son of God through faith in Christ Jesus, this means they too will inherit everlasting life. These two go together. Whenever God justifies sinners and declares them “not guilty” He simultaneously declares them righteous with the righteousness Christ earned during His earthly life, so that their sins are forgiven and they are made inheritors of all the blessings of Christ.
The same can be said of the church at Thyatira. They had been pestered by a false prophetess. While the Nicolaitans resembled Balaam, this woman resembled Jezebel, the Old Testament paragon of a faithfulness, wicked woman who enticed others to sin. Christ is clear that she will be judged and all those who follow her in her sin, which is similar to that of the Nicolaitans. To these poor saints in Thyatira who have not gone alone with these false teachings, Christ gives them only this charge: “hold fast what you have till I come.” “Do not let go the sacred deposit I have given you in the gospel. Live in daily repentance and faith, looking to me for your sustenance and salvation and to no other.” To the one who overcomes by holding fast to Christ’s doctrine until He comes, He promises that He will rule with Him in eternity and shine like the Morningstar Himself.
Through His letters to these two churches Christ teaches us that He wants His church to be faithful to Him through persecution, martyrdom, loss, and harassment by false teachers. Christ is present with them through His Word to fight against their enemies with the “sharp two-edged sword” of His mouth. So it is for His church throughout every age. Persecution comes in different forms at different times. Martyrdom is not always sealed in blood but can be any loss we experience specifically because we confess the truth of Christ’s doctrine and hold fast to His name. The false prophets rage in every age and will until Christ returns. But none of this is our concern. Christ fights them with the sword of His mouth. You, take heed to yourselves that you daily overcome temptation to sin, doubt of God’s mercy, and the perplexity the devil seeks to bring over you. Overcome Satan not by your own strength or willpower, but by faith in Christ, trusting the white stone of absolution He gives, even as He feeds and sustains you with the hidden manna of His gospel. It is through these means that He strengthens you so that you might, as the Thyatirians, “hold fast what you have,” and by holding fast, win the crown of everlasting life.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.