The church in Satans Headquarters
The church in Satan’s headquarters
I don’t know why but just lately Nina and I have been getting a lot of items in the mail about travel. Ocean and river cruises seem to predominate. The beautifully put together advertisements for river cruises in Europe are especially interesting. In these are wonderfully described cities, with catchy nicknames and with pictures with smiling people. It is nice to have a unique and catchy nickname for your city isn’t it?. Preferably something powerful, positive, attractive and welcoming. Here in Ohio most of us have heard Akron’s – “Rubber Capital of the World”. But have you heard:
Barberton – Magic City
Canton – Hall of Fame City
Dublin – The Emerald City
Gahanna – Ohio’s Herb Capital
Findlay – Flag City
Kent – The Tree City
Norwalk – The Maple City
Sandusky – The Roller Coaster Capital of the World
Then again, sometimes nicknames can not be so nice to have.
Cleveland’s – The Mistake on the Lake
Youngstown’s – Murdertown, USA
Speaking of that, Jesus gave Pergamos a nickname in Revelation 2:13 – “I know thy works, and where thou dwellest, even where Satan's seat is:…” Now wouldn’t that look great on a travel brochure?
I. So, what was going on in Pergamum? Pergamum was located 65 miles north of Smyrna. It is recorded that it had a university with a huge library of 200,000 books. It was the ancient capital of Asia Minor, filled with beautiful palaces and pagan temples. There was a massive altar to Zeus, the god of all gods. Pergamum was also known for its temple in honor of Asclepius, <as-cle-pee-us> the pagan god of healing whose emblem was a serpent entwined on a pole. We are familiar with a similar symbol called a caduceus today.
a. There were at least three temples built to the Roman Emperors there, with one erected about 29 B.C. These temples were used for Emperor worship and every citizen was expected to offer incense and declare “Caesar is Lord." This became a test of loyalty… and frequent grounds for Christian martyrdom.
b. Looking again and continuing in Revelation 2:13 – we read; “I know thy works, and where thou dwellest, even where Satan's seat is: and thou holdest fast my name, and hast not denied my faith, even in those days wherein Antipas was my faithful martyr, who was slain among you, where Satan dwelleth.” When Jesus says that Satan has his “seat” there, He means satan has found a place where he can exercise his evil influence. Pergamum was covered with evil. Even today, satan still has his seats.
i. There are places where satan has been in control for generations. Missionaries know about this. They write of cities clothed in spiritual darkness, which fiercely and bitterly oppose the gospel message.
ii. Perhaps in our experience we’re more apt to find satan hiding in places of cultural influence, in universities, in politics, in areas of economics; and even in religious centers where prayer is offered many times a day but where Christ is nowhere to be found.
iii. Satan has many friends in politics, and on Wall Street, on the Internet, and all over. It’s to the credit of the church in Pergamum that despite the widespread evil, the early Christians remained strong and steadfast in Christ.
c. It wasn’t easy to be a Christian in Pergamum. It’s still not easy to be a Christian in many parts of our world. In universities, on facebook, in Europe, in muslim and hindu parts of the world. Sometimes even in our own backyard. If there’s not outright opposition, there’s subtle and unrelenting pressure to keep quiet, to keep quiet about your faith, and to refuse to speak openly about Jesus Christ.
d. In this great battle, the believers were standing strong in Christ! We need to think about how we are doing.
II. Jesus praised the people, as He said, 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.
a. We don’t know anything else about Antipas. What matters is the fact that Jesus knew his name and knew that he didn’t give in to the evil. We don’t know who he was, yet, Antipas was remembered in heaven. All the martyrs, known and unknown by humanity — are known by Christ.
b. When we hear of these martyrs, we marvel and admire their courage, strength and faith, but sometimes that’s all we do, we admire from a distance. We don’t pick up their sword or banner, we sit idly watching and waiting for someone else to pick up Christ’s banner and go to battle.
c. Think about it. Are we guilty of that? When we see someone taking action; and we agree with them, do we sit and watch? We honor them, we thank God for them;… and we thank God, it wasn’t us, either. I wonder, was the church at Pergamum guilty of honoring Antipas while neglecting to follow his godly example?
d. From this it looks like the Christians, in spite of how bad this place was, continued in the faith. When you are in a really bad place what sort of reactions could you have…? Do you get out? Try to change it?
e. You could flee the place. Escape. We may feel it would be very much easier to be a Christian in some other place and in some other circumstances. Is the principle of the Christian life to escape…?
f. I’ve heard it stated a principle of Christian life is conquest. That the duty of the Christian is to witness for Christ where life has set him. How would you hold fast to His name in a place like Pergamum? How are we to hold fast to His name in the society forming around us?
III. So, what was their shortcoming? Well, Jesus says in Revelation 2:14-15 – “But I have a few things against thee, because thou hast there them that hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balac to cast a stumblingblock before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed unto idols, and to commit fornication. So hast thou also them that hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, which thing I hate.”
a. There is that word “But”. I don’t know about you, I find that word can take the shine off of something very quickly. Nothing like your boss saying “good job” “but…”
b. What is their error? Here’s the crux of the issue . . . and this may surprise some. Here’s their weakness. They would not practice church discipline. Oh boy, there is a touchy topic today and one that has possible consequences coming out of the secular world. This is one we need to cover as we review our bylaws.
c. Listen to what Jesus said, “You have people there who hold to the teaching of . . . someone other than me.” What I hear is toleration of a wrong doctrine. It seems like they didn’t do anything to stop this. Or maybe they tried and in exasperation, they just gave in.
d. They refused to kick out the false teachers . . . those who held to the teachings of Balaam and the Nicolaitans. It sounds like there were even some in the church who were preaching and teaching these false doctrines. Here I’m speculating, it seems that they were being a little too open minded as to what was acceptable in order to keep the church together. And that never works!
e. Writing in the early 1900's, Dr. G. Campbell Morgan wrote that the church at Pergamum, had “become guilty of Broad Churchism, attempting to find room within her for all sorts and conditions of men and faiths.”
i. Broad Churchism. That sounds like what the modern day church is dealing with.
ii. Evidently at “The First Church of Pergamum”, they said something like, “We preach the word of Christ. We believe in the Apostles doctrines of faith. But if you don’t agree, we won’t kick you out, we will let you teach what you believe. If you frequent the temple prostitutes, know that we view that as sin, but if that helps you to grow closer to your god, that’s okay. If you practice homosexuality, know that it is viewed as a sin but if it helps you that’s ok. If you don’t like the preaching, we will give you an opportunity to preach your doctrine on a special Sunday, devoted to learning more about your practices.”
iii. Isn’t that what many people are wanting from the church? It would be called First Church of whatever. Ultimately, it’s a form of universalism. Any god will work.
f. In the end, the church becomes a deadly mixture of truth and error, purity and impurity, good and evil; and sooner or later — sin no longer seems very sinful.
g. Churches all over are sliding down that slippery slope. We need to guard against perverting the word of God. Now let me clarify something here. We want all people to come to the church of Christ. Our hope is that we will help each person to grow in Christ, to become the very person Christ calls them to be. Not the person the world calls them to be.
h. Let me also say that in churches where this error is happening, the people don’t always see it happening. It doesn’t happen overnight. The people keep attending, giving and supporting the church. In the meantime, the church grows further and further from Christ.
i. I am reminded Benjamin Franklin once quoted: "He that lies down with Dogs, shall rise up with Fleas."
IV. One writer said, No church remains in the Pergamum stage forever. You can’t hold fast to sound doctrine while harboring those who promote something else. In the end the church must go one way or the other. Toleration can be a very, very bad thing and lead ultimately to destruction.
a. How about any false religion or religious teaching that people bring with them today?
i. - Gnosticism entices people through deceitful philosophy, promising a special relationship with God that cannot be obtained except through that religion.
ii. - pagan religions entice people with fulfillment of lustful desires, that whatever you believe is ok.
iii. - enlightenment religions entice people with the promise of enlightenment, usually through ascetic <as-set-ick. or “alternate” lifestyles.
iv. - Pentecostal religions entice people with the promise of supernatural power, using magic and tricks to deceive them.
v. - Universal religions entice people with the promise of eternal life, obey the priest and be saved, punishment will only be for a short time in purgatory, one can always be forgiven even if one is to dies before confession.
vi. - Protestant religions entice people with once saved always saved, no matter what you do, you’ll be saved anyway.
vii. - Sexual sins: condoned by society (commercials, pornography, etc.) and religion (homosexuality, adultery, etc.)
V. I recall a cartoon that demonstrated how people don't like to take responsibility. It was a Peanuts cartoon, and it showed Peppermint Patty talking to Charlie Brown. She said, "Guess what, Chuck. The first day of school, I got sent to the principal's office. It was your fault, Chuck." Charlie Brown says, "My fault? How could it be my fault? Why do you say everything is my fault?" She said, "You're my friend, aren't you, Chuck? You should have been a better influence on me." Somehow, we think that someone else is responsible for what is happening.
VI. Now, Jesus gives his command to the church in Pergamum. Revelation 2:16 – “Repent; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth.”
a. Christ takes personal offense when His church condones immorality within its self. He threatens to pay a personal visit to Pergamum and fight against the evil teachers. This verse does raise an interesting question. Who exactly is supposed to do the repenting? Certainly the false teachers need to repent.
b. Here’s what I see, the greater call must be to the church itself for condoning moral and spiritual compromise. In the name of “open-mindedness and toleration” and even “building common ground,” churches have subtly compromised the gospel. If we as a church do nothing then we are all guilty, harsh as that sounds.
c. Who are the guilty parties here…? Those guilty of the sins and the rest of the church that tolerated them. What are the choices…? The guilty parties would have to reform or…? And here we need to think and be prepared.
d. We, the church, must decide what it is called to be. Will we be true to the gospel call of Jesus? Will we do the hard work which is necessary for us to be the church HE wants us to be, or will we compromise and try to be the average, run of the mill, good ol’ boy and girl church?
e. You could easily imagine the church at Pergamum saying, “We want to be known as a church where everyone is welcome… and everyone’s view is honored.” That sounds good, but it’s not biblical.
i. Jesus warns that if the church doesn’t take strong action, He will do it Himself. And His judgment is always harsher than ours. The same Jesus who said, “Come unto me” also said “Depart from me.”
ii. It’s a frightening thing when Jesus says, “I will fight against you.” We’re going to lose that contest every time. Our arms are too short to box with God.
f. So, what are we left to do? Again it sounds harsh, but we can’t tolerate sin! Now that becomes a real conundrum. What do we do if we see it? First of all we need to be certain ourselves by going to the word of God.
g. Then we make sure we handle situations with Christian love and grace, yet with Christ in mind. When we hear gossip, we stop it. When there’s bitterness and unforgiveness we try to help them, not condone it. When someone is teaching something wrong, we examine it, talk to them, and make sure they understand what they were doing. We seek to teach Christ and… demonstrate Christ.
h. The ultimate goal is to help each person grow as a Christ follower. It’s hard work, it’s not safe nor easy or without risk. It may cause you to lose a family member. It may mean you can’t associate with someone who is belittling and hurtful. You need to tell the world who Jesus is, and take that risk, knowing God will give you the power, courage and strength to endure whatever comes your way.
i. We do what’s right as a church, unless we’d rather fight against Jesus.
VII. ”…and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth.” Jesus has the right to make that judgment because he judges with perfect judgment. That’s what verse 12 means when Jesus said, 12 “These things saith he which hath the sharp sword with two edges;”
a. The sword speaks of Christ’s unswerving, unsparing judgment. It has two edges which indicate it cuts on the stroke and the return stroke. He sees through our facades, and can examine our heart, soul, spirit and mind. He can reach into the deepest recesses of our being and He knows what’s there.
b. Jesus is talking about false teachers remaining in their positions, and if we allow them to stay in those positions, we’re hurting the entire body. We end up with a corrupt church, but also with people who think they’re safe when in fact they’re hanging by a thread under the sword of Gods judgment.
VIII. Christ’s message ends in a series of wonderful promises to those who overcome by faith: Revelation 2:17 - “He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the hidden manna, and will give him a white stone, and in the stone a new name written, which no man knoweth saving he that receiveth it.”
a. In contrast to the so called enlightenment and spiritual experiences offered by the world religions, Jesus offers something much greater to those who follow him. Hidden manna speaks of personal communion with the Lord. Jesus is saying, “I am greater than all the attractive temptations of the world. Those who eat the Living Bread and drink the Living Water will never hunger or thirst again.”
b. The white stone speaks of acquittal and purity. When you were found not guilty in an ancient trial you were given a white stone. It was also given to those who were invited to attend a banquet. White was the symbol of purity.
c. As to the new name, nobody knows for sure, because no living person has ever received it. That awaits us in heaven.
i. I like an illustration from Ray Pritchard. He wrote, almost every married couple has pet names for each other. Usually these nicknames are funny. Sometimes they come from an event shared together. Sometimes they are romantic. They’re usually never shared with anyone else. I won’t give an example, but every married couple knows what I’m talking about.
ii. Those personal names cannot be shared not only for all the obvious reasons, but also because they would not make sense to others. This is even true for many parents and their children.
iii. Maybe that represents the best picture of what Christ promises. Yet we wonder, if there are millions of people in heaven, will we ever even see the Lord? Will He really know us? Most of us struggle to keep track of a few names. How will we not get lost in the crowd when we get to heaven?
iv. I believe this offers us a wonderful assurance. We will each be known by the Lord as a husband and wife know one another. As a parent knows their child. He will call us by a name that only we will know. In heaven no one will ever be lost in the crowd. Despite the great numbers, we will be known.
v. I don’t pretend to know how all this will work, but I believe it to be true. When we reach heaven, we will know Him, even as we are known by Him.
Conclusion: The following was reported to have been sent to the IRS: Gentlemen:
Enclosed you will find a check for $150. I cheated on my income tax return last year and have not been able to sleep well ever since.
If I still have trouble sleeping I will send you the rest.
Sincerely, A Tax Payer
The Word of God, the teaching of God, must be taken with seriousness, and not just half way. It’s not enough to just be right in our doctrine. We can’t tolerate those who teach a false doctrine. We won’t tolerate it in the church.
This may not be a politically correct message, but it’s a message we need to keep in mind if the church is to be the light of the world. We cannot help sinners by saying sin is not sinful. Christ came to save sinners, His grace and forgiveness gives us amazing hope.
May God help us to stand strong for the gospel in this age of moral compromise. If people call us narrow-minded, let us take it as a compliment and stay the course. Let’s be as narrow as God’s truth is narrow… and as broad as God’s grace is broad.
We learn from the New Testament how to be saved. We need to hear the word; believe in Jesus; repent of our sins; we must confess our belief that Jesus is the Son of God; and be baptized for the remission of our sins… If we follow these steps, the Lord adds us to His church.
Perhaps there is someone in the assembly today with the need to be buried with Christ in baptism. If you have never done these things, we urge you to do so today. If anyone has this need or desires the prayers of faithful Christians on their behalf, we encourage them to come forward while we stand and sing.
All Things Are Ready #607
March 4, 2012
Where and when we meet
Chardon, Ohio 44024