Monday, May 17, 2010

Sermon on Revelation 3:7-13, for the 7th Sunday of Easter, "Philadelphia--An Open Door!"

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. As we come to the last two churches in our Easter Letters series this week and next, we come to the best and the worst of the seven churches, Philadelphia and Laodicea. Last week we heard of Sardis, which was called away from a false trust in their own reputation to a living exercise of their faith and love, and to walk with Christ in white. Today we hear the letter to the church of Philadelphia, noteworthy in that it was given no specific call to repent, and that it received a strong commendation from Christ. Jesus addresses a church that had little power, but held fast to His Word and Name, and Jesus had set an open door before them. Let’s consider today what our own open door is here on Maui. Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

Philadelphia. The city whose name means “brotherly love.” Struck by the same earthquake that devastated Sardis in 17 AD, Philadelphia never fully recovered, and was plagued with earthquakes and tremors for many years afterward. A nervous and fearful existence, living with unstable homes and buildings. A small population, mostly farmers, remained there. Those who’ve experienced an earthquake and its aftershocks like the one here on Maui in 2006, know how unsettling this can be, and how that feeling lingers. An earthquake really humbles you to realize that you have no power at all to stop it, and you’re reminded that God alone is in control.

When Jesus addresses the church of Philadelphia, He’s the one who has the key of David, who opens and no one will shut, who shuts and no one will open. What’s this key, and the obscure reference to opening and shutting? Of course the imagery is of a key and lock on doors, but what does it mean? In the introduction to these 7 letters Jesus says that He’s the one who holds the keys to death and Hades. Because of His death and resurrection, Jesus has ultimate power over death and life. God appointed Him judge of all the living and dead. Authority is given to Him as to who are saved eternally, and who aren’t. This is what Jesus means when He calls Himself the “door of the sheep” in John 10. Anyone who enters through Him, will be saved.

Isaiah uses this imagery to describe the palace steward who was entrusted with the tremendous power and authority to admit people into the presence of the king, or to exclude people from entry into the palace. This was what it meant to have the “key of the house of David.” Jesus is pictured in that same language as the one who controls the entry to the heavenly presence of God the Father. Jesus alone can bring people into God’s presence, or exclude them. When He opens the door that no one can shut, that means that He unbars the way to Paradise. Our sin barred us from God’s presence, and the original sin of Adam and Eve that sent them away from God and left an angel barring their reentry to Paradise. The bars of death that would keep us from life—these are all shattered and broken in Christ’s victory on the cross. For all who enter by Jesus, the door, the way stands open and no one in heaven or on earth can bar the way. Bars are broken and the way stands open to us through Jesus.

We enter through Jesus, the door, when we’ve put away our sins by repentance and are dressed in Christ’s innocence, to walk with Him in white. For anyone who tries to enter by another way, who seeks entry by any other method than by Jesus, their entry is blocked. When a person comes dressed in the clothing of their own sinful deeds, and expects entry, they’ll be cast out (Matt. 22:11-14). God has offered one Way, one Door, and who are we to refuse it or demand another? If Jesus shuts a door, then no one may open it. But for all who trust in Him, the door is open—enter through it!

To the Philadelphian Christians, Christ speaks again of setting before them an open door that no one can shut. In several other places in the New Testament, this phrase also describes a mission opportunity—an opportunity for the Gospel to be heard. He goes on to say that He knows they have but little power, but they’ve kept His Word and not denied His Name. Perhaps in this weakened and fearful community, the group of believers seemed small and weak—compounded by persecution they faced from the Jewish synagogue. Christ commends them for holding fast to His Word and Name—but they still needed boldness to go forward through the open door—to take full advantage of their mission opportunity.

Believers at Emmanuel, Christ has also set before us an open door! Do you know what it is? Do you see the mission opportunity set before us? The biggest opportunity that now lies before us—that’s been our focus for several years now, is to expand and grow our preschool and grade school programs, to reach more children on Maui with the saving news of Jesus’ love. To show more and more people the door to Paradise that Jesus holds open for us. We’ve been blessed with a great education program and staff that are committed to sharing Jesus’ love with the children. We’ve a huge opportunity that’s staring us in the face if we will take hold of it and go through that door. Yet you may say, “We have but little power!” We might feel small and weak, like the church of Philadelphia. Shaken by hard economic times, and uncertain of our future. Of limited financial means. You’d be right to say that we don’t have the power to do it on our own. But the God who saves us has no limitations. He calls on us to ask and to ask boldly. Some have pointed out that to ask too little of God in prayer is practically an insult to Him. Do we pray for crumbs of bread from the one who performs miracles?

Luther wrote “If the richest and most powerful emperor were to [ask] a poor beggar [to] ask for whatever he might desire and were ready to give great, princely presents, but the fool were to beg only for a serving of common soup, he would justly be considered a rogue and a scoundrel” for making mockery of the Imperial Majesty’s offer. It would be shameful unbelief to think that God can provide us with nothing more than meager portions, when God is ready to pour out heavenly blessings on us. If you seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, then all these things shall be added to you (Matt. 6:33). God desires “the honor of giving far more abundantly and richly than anyone can comprehend, like an eternal, unfailing fountain…and He desires nothing more earnestly of us than that we ask many and great things of Him, and He is angry if we do not pray and petition with confidence.” (What Luther Says 3510)

In the eyes of the world, we may look weak, we may look powerless to achieve much—but see how greatly God has blessed us, and how eagerly He desires our bold and confident prayer! For those who have but little power, for we who are weak, Jesus is ready to establish and make us strong. Do you not know that God’s power is made perfect in weakness? Do we all see the opportunity that lies before us? Are our prayers small and timid? Or are we all praying bold prayers for God’s great and miraculous gifts, and that He would continue to open the doors of opportunity and pave the way for us to reach that dream of expanding God’s kingdom?

Starting with myself, I know we aren’t. I am not bold enough in prayer, and haven’t made it a consistent enough focus—and with the help of God I pledge to strive harder. I ask for all of you to raise daily prayers that God would open our eyes to ideas and opportunities that we may not see. That our doors would be open and welcoming. That we’d seek first His kingdom and His righteousness. That we’d strengthen what we already have, and cling boldly to His Word and His Name in all difficulty. That we’ll raise the necessary funds to accomplish this great undertaking of faith. That we’d wisely and carefully count the cost of constructing our new schools, and that we may each lend our talents and services and leadership where they’re needed.

We don’t know God’s timing, but we do know His power. We don’t know whether a major gift could be around the corner, whether there may be unused potential for our new property even now, whether there may be ideas yet to be explored. But we need His boldness to go through that open door. What was our slogan for the building program again? With Great Boldness, a New Tomorrow! Yes, we’ll go forth in boldness, and commit ourselves to prayer and service and generosity in this task. Psalm 127 says, “Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain.” If we commit our task first to God and His leading, and to the service of His kingdom, then He will undoubtedly bless it in His timing. But if we put ourselves first, or put our trust in our name and reputation, as we heard last week, then our task is in vain.

Finally, Christ promises many and great blessings to those who hold fast to His Word and don’t deny Him in difficulty and persecution. He makes a fascinating promise to the one who conquers—that He will “make him a pillar in the temple of my God. Never shall he go out of it, and I will write on him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which comes down from my God out of heaven, and my own new name.” What’s this about Christ making us a pillar in the temple of God, with names written on the pillar? In Solomon’s temple, two magnificent pillars stood at the entrance of the temple, and both had special names. One was named Jachin, which means “He will establish”, and the other Boaz, which means “In Him is strength” (1 Kings 7:21). Established by God, we can stand firm and find strength in Him. In a place that is often shaken and faces hardship—whether that be from earthquakes and persecution, or from financial crises and indifference toward the faith—to find stability and strength in God is blessing indeed.

For those who have but little power, we’re made strong in Christ. Open doors and opportunities are set before us, and challenges are raised against us, but Jesus’ faithfully delivers us through. He desires to make us pillars—firm and unshaken. Built like living stones into His holy temple. We stand by Christ, the open door, and we show the way to life in His name. We invite people to meet God through the open door of Jesus, who brings us into the presence of our eternal God and King. Rejoice and be glad that this entrance stands open to us through Jesus’ life and death for us. And when Christ opens a door of mission and opportunity for us here on earth, then enter it with boldness and trust in the One who holds the keys of the kingdom and blesses us more richly than we can either ask or imagine. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Now the peace of God which passes all understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, unto life everlasting. Amen.

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1. The name Philadelphia means “brotherly love” and commemorated the loyalty of the two Greek brothers Eumenes and Attalus, who founded the city. Historians and leaders of that time held up these brothers as remarkable examples of loyalty and devotion that others should imitate. Philadelphia suffered devastation in the same 17 AD earthquake that struck Sardis. For many years later it continued to be weakened by earthquakes, and so had cautious and few residents.

2. Identify the following in the letter to Sardis: (these basic features are repeated in each letter)
Image of Christ:
Local detail about the church:
What Christ sees: A) Good B) Bad
Call to Repent:
Promise to the One who Conquers:

3. Jesus has the “keys of David.” What “access” does He control? What does it mean that what He opens no one will shut, and what He shuts, no one will open? Isaiah 22:20-25; Matt. 16:19; John 20:22-23; Rev. 1:18. What door stands open to us because Christ holds these keys?

4. What door was opened for the church of Philadelphia? Cf. Acts. 14:27; 1 Cor. 16:8-9; 2 Cor. 2:12. What door (of opportunity) is open to us at Emmanuel on Maui? What steps do we need to take to go through it?

5. For those who have “little power”, of what comfort is it to know that we conquer together with Christ? That we are established and made firm as pillars in His temple? Eph. 2:19-22; 1 Pet. 2:4-10; 1 Cor. 6:19

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