Utterly Safe and Sturdy Pillars
I grew in Michigan and had never experienced in earthquake until I move to the Philippines. One day I was sitting at my desk and suddenly the house started shaking. My immediate reaction was to look outside for a big track rolling threw the neighborhood. There wasn’t one, yet the shaking continued. I ran and fond my domestic helper who verified the we’d just experienced an earthquake.
That was a new and exciting experience for me. The epicenter of the quake was on another island hours away. The earthquake did massive damage there, but everything was fine in my neighborhood.
Like the Philippines, Central Turkey is an earthquake “hot zone.” In AD 17, there was a devastating quake that flattened the city. It was rebuilt with a royal grant from the Roman Emperor and became known as “Caesar’s New City,” Philadelphia.
Today we’re going to look at what Jesus says to the church in this earthquake “hot zone.”
This is the second letter that contains no words of correction, no words of rebuke. Jesus’s word are chocked full of encouragement. In fact, he promises to make them “study pillars” in the temple of God.
Think about that… Pillars are critical to a building structure, especially one in a “hot zone.” The imagery Jesus uses honors this little church. “Your faith,” he’s says, “will support my church.”
Let’s see what makes this church so sturdy.
Revelation 3:7–13, ESV
And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write: “The words of the holy one, the true one, who has the key of David, who opens and no one will shut, who shuts and no one opens.
“I know your works. Behold, I have set before you an open door, which no one is able to shut. I know that you have but little power, and yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name. Behold, I will make those of the synagogue of Satan who say that they are Jews and are not, but lie-behold, I will make them come and bow down before your feet, and they will learn that I have loved you. Because you have kept my word about patient endurance, I will keep you from the hour of trial that is coming on the whole world, to try those who dwell on the earth. I am coming soon. Hold fast what you have, so that no one may seize your crown. The one who conquers, I 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. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”
A few years ago I saw the movie “Gifted Hands.” It’s a biographical story about Ben Carson. The story begins by telling how when he was very young he was a poor student. He needed glasses and he sat in front of the television too much.
Eventually his mother sorted those problems. She got him glasses and made his brother and him read books from the library and do book reports; and cut the television back to one program a night. In one scene, Ben is at school in a science class and the teacher holds up a rock and asks the class if they know what it is. Ben shyly names it correctly, “Obsidian,” and he knew how it had formed—he’d just read a book about geology.
When the class was dismissed the teacher asked him to stay behind; he though he was in trouble. But the teacher said to him: “Someone has unlocked the door.” In other words, the door to learning has been opened. You eyes, your heart, your mind has all of a sudden awakened, like an epiphany. Then he took Ben over to a microscope, and had him look inside, and he showed him a whole new world of microbiology. That made a lasting impression on him.
He went on to study life science at Yale, then on to the University of Michigan medical school, and eventually rose to become the chief of pediatric neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins Medical Center. Why? Because someone unlocked the door.
In his greeting to the church in Philadelphia, Jesus uniquely identifies himself: “The holy one, the true one, who has the key of David, who opens and no one will shut, who shuts and no one opens” (Rev 3:7). Then, he says to the church, “Behold, I have set before you an open door, which no one is able to shut” (Rev 3:8). The door has been unlocked.
What’s the door? What’s that all about?
Well, think about Ben Carson. For him it was an awakening of the mind, a capturing of the heart with knowledge and understanding. Similarly, Jesus is saying, “I’ve unlock the kingdom of God for you. You’ve been born of the spirit. Your thought paradigm, your worldview, is shifted. You’re seeing everything differently. You’re moving along a new path, with a new heart, a new purity, and a new purpose.”
For the one who’s had the door unlocked, there’s no locking it. There’s no not “getting it.” No matter what trial or earthquake shakes you; there’s no loosing what you’ve been awakened to, spiritually born to.
The church in Sardis may have been reclining on the beach, but the Philadelphia church is having their home shaken. The Jewish community in the city is putting them through hell, boasting about their connection to Abraham. But Jesus’ word to those claiming that they’re already in the kingdom because of blood, not faith, is a hard word: “You’re a synagogue of Satan.” That’s tough!
Why do you think he calls them that? Jesus says that because the Kingdom of God hasn’t been unlocked to them. They don’t know God relationally. They aren’t living by trusting, dependent faith. They’ve not received and believed God’s promised Messiah. The result of unbelief is they’re bent over backwards about religion and persecuting because it won’t get in line.
The Jews have legal rights, they have numbers. The church is small, they’re meeting in homes, they don’t have power or influence. They have nothing, but they have everything—they have Jesus.
I wonder if you know that in the past 15 years there have been 32 terrorist attacks in France. In 2017 there were 9, in 2018 there were 3, and this year their have been 2. They haven’t made the news much. But in 2016 over 86 were killed over 400 were injured when a terrorist ran a truck through a crowd. All over Facebook people showed solidarity with the French by posting pictures of the Eiffel Tower as their profile photo.
I think you’d agree with me that the Eiffel Tower is one of the most recognizable landmarks on the planet. It was built as the grand entrance to an 1889 world trade fair, and thousands of visit it every year. The tower symbolizes Paris.
But… did you know that when the Tower was built a group of artists and writers filed a petition against it? It read:
“We, the writers, painters, sculptors, architects and lovers of the beau-ty of Paris, do protest with all our vigor and all our indignation, in the name of French taste and endangered French art and history, against the useless and monstrous Eiffel Tower.”
History has vindicated Alexandre Eiffel.
The opinions of that others have about Christians isn’t what matters. Those opinions change faster than French clothing styles. What matters is what Christians stand on and hold onto. We stand on the Rock; we hold onto Jesus, who is the “first and the last” word about everything (Rev 1:17).
Alexandre Eiffel was vindicated, and Jesus is telling the Christians in Philadelphia: “I’m going to vindicate your faith. Hold on, stay true, wait for me.” Waiting in faith is one of the hardest things for Christians. We are addicted to producing for ourselves the good feelings that we want to have now. “Hold on, Christian. Wait,” Jesus says.
Jesus also says something really interesting, he says: “I will make them come and bow down before your feet, and they will learn that I have loved you.” That’s fascinating.
But it’s not the first time something like this has been said in the Bible. In Isaiah 60, the Lord spoke to the Israelites who were being persecuted and told them that their oppressors would come and bow down to them and confess that they were God’s beloved. Whether that’s a physical bowing down, or psychological one that comes when one is forced to see the truth, we don’t know. But either way there’s a humbling that occurs.
In our passage, it’s the Gentile Christians who’ve become the faith-descendants of Abraham, whose heart’s contrite and circumcised before God. As the Lord says through Paul, “I have been found by those who did not seek me. I have shown myself to those who did not ask for me” (Rom 10:20). Then a little bit later in the book of Romas the Lord says, “Israel failed to obtain what it was seeking. The elect obtained it, but the rest were hard and, as it is written, ‘God gave them a spirit of stupor, eyes that would not see and ears that would not here, down to this very day’” (Rom 11:7–8). This takes us back to when Jesus said in our passage: “I have the key that unlocks the door” (see Rev 3:7).
Some ethnic Jew, those who are Jews by blood, will come into the Kingdom by faith in Jesus. But the number is small—a remnant from each tribe will be regrafted into the tree (see Rev 7:1–8). And we wonder, “How Come? How come it’s not all of them?”
How come? Well, it’s because Christianity isn’t like every other religion. Every other religion is rule by the principal: “Keep the rules, follow the program, do more good than bad, and the scale will tip in your favor, and you will be blessed.” That’s religion, not Christianity.
Religion says: The good are in, the bad are out.
Christianity says: The proud are out, the humble are in.
Why? Because it’s the humble who know their need for a savior. It’s the humble who say, “All my goodness is nothing more than filthy rags; it’s always tainted with some impure motive.”
The message of grace is really an offensive message to human pride.
The Jews in Philadelphia didn’t like that message. The world doesn’t like that message.
I bet you remember all of the news stories about ISIS. Do you know why they said that they were attacking the West, and France? Because, they said, the West was persecuting their brother in Syria. But here’s the reason down beneath the waterline: They’re persecuting the West because they want Sharia Law to be enforced; Sharia Law is Islamic legalism—religion.
The West is undergirded—even if many people don’t claim to be Christian—by a Christian worldview, even if it’s eroding.
But here’s the point: You don’t need an ounce of humility to be religious—remember that! In fact, very religious folk typically take a lot of pride in it. The very religious person can go through every religious action and never themself as being in need of a savior. Religiosity doesn’t have to be, but often it becomes a barrier to salvation. Why? Because there is an internal refrain that goes: “I don’t need a savior; I’m being religious.” No humility. No seeing oneself as a sinner. No savior. No relationship with Jesus.
That’s a hard truth. Yet for the humble it’s a comforting truth. Jesus encourage the church in Philadelphia: “Don’t you worry. Because you’ve held on to me, because you’ve leaned on my word, because you’ve endured patiently by cleaving to me … don’t you worry. I’ll preserve you.” Verse 10 says, “I’ll keep you from the hour of trial.”
That promise doesn’t mean that Jesus will scoop the church up so that they’ll avoid difficulty. It’s not speaking about a rapture, an escape. When we consider the entire counsel of scripture we come to the conclusion that Jesus is saying that he’s going to preserve them through the “hot zone,” just like he did Daniel’s friends Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.
There’s no escape from trials and tribulations in this world. The Bible doesn’t teach that. But God does promise to preserve us in the midst of the difficulties that we face.
Do you remember what Jesus prayed in John 17? He prayed: “Father … I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one” (John 17:14–15).
In 1979, the tugboat Cahaba was headed down the Tombingbee River in Alabama. The current was fast as the tug’s pilot approached the bridge and released his coal barges. He then put his 1800 horsepower twin engines into reverse to get away, but when the boat moved slightly off line the current swung the boat sideways and slammed it into the bridge. The current was so strong that it forced the boat down under the water. To the astonishment of onlookers it passed under the bridge and popped up, upright, with the engines still going and the pilot at the wheel, on the other side.
Can you guess why it come back to the surface upright? Because it was ballasted with 3-foot thick lining of cement on the bottom of the hull. The Tug was sturdy. When things are difficult or just go horribly wrong, with Jesus as your “ballast” you’ll emerge upright on the other side.
But maybe I can bring this home to you a bit more personally with another story. Imagine the scene of our movie, which we’ve written to demonstrate the gospel. “As the credits roll, the camera pans along a crowded beach on a bright Saturday afternoon. … We see the the surf is up, that the lifeguard is busy ordering people out of the water. When they’re all out, he returns to his lifeguard tower and puts up the “No Swimming” sign.” The crowd complains, but then settles in for some sun-bathing. But then someone “spots a teenage girl waving frantically a hundred yards off shore. The music fades as the action begins.”
The way most of the world would want to tell the story would be for the lifeguard to come off the tower, swim gallantly out to the girl, and tow her back to safety on the beach. That’s what Jesus does, most think. But remember we’re trying to demonstrate the true gospel. So we have to rewrite the script a bit, because the God’s salvation often isn’t what you think and it usually doesn’t please the fickle crowd. Here’s how the true gospel scene would read with the necessary theological adjustments.
GIRL #1: You really have tomato everybody get out of the water?
LIFEGUARD: ‘Fraid so. The surf’s getting stronger and there’s a bad undertow.
GIRL #2: Bummer! This is my only weekend out here.
LIFEGUARD: Better luck next time. It’s just not safe. … C’mon! Everybody out! It’s getting too dangerous.
SWIMMER #1: Do we have to? Why can’t we just stay in the shallow part?
LIFEGUARD: Because I said you can’t. Move it!
SWIMMER #2: How to ruin a nice day! I don’t think it’s all that bad.
LIFEGUARD: Trust me, it is. Out!
SWIMMER #2: All right already! I thought this was a free country.
LIFEGUARD: Not on my beach
BOY: Hey, look! Look! There’s still somebody out there!
GIRL: Help! Help!
CROWD MEMBER #1: How in the world did we miss her?
CROWD MEMBER #2: You think he’ll get to her in time?
CROWD MEMBER #3: I certainly hope so.
CROWD MEMBER #1: What’s happening?
CROWD MEMBER #2: I can’t see them!
CROWD MEMBER #1: Why aren’t they coming up?
CROWD MEMBER #3: You think they’ve both drowned?
CROWD MEMBER #4: It can’t be!
CROWD MEMBER #2: I hate to say it, but I think it’s true.
CROWD MEMBERs GENERALLY:
I don’t believe this! It’s weird! Just this morning I had the strongest feeling something bad was going to happen.
How can God just stand by and let people die like that?
While the crowd is still talking, we pan to the lifeguard tower. We zoom in on a clipboard left laying on the seat.
Close-up on the clipboard; a note read: “It’s all okay. Trust me, she’s safe in my death.”
We reverse slowly to a long shot of the ocean. We see no one, and we hold on the emptiness.
Fade to black.
(Script story from Robert Capon, The Foolishness of Preaching, pp. 3–7).
Our text today reads: “Hold fast what you have, so that no one may seize your crown. The one who conquers, I 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.”
When we realize that we are utterly safe within the death of Jesus, there’s a strength that fills us an enables us to stand as a study pillar against difficulty. And as we trust that we are utterly safe within the death of Jesus we become sturdy pillar in his temple, in his kingdom, in his city … even if our difficulties drown us … we are still utterly safe within the death of Jesus.
Let the one who has an ear, hear what the Spirit says.