Revelation 2:13 (2)
Sermon preached on August 28, 2011 by Laurence W. Veinott. © Copyright 2011. All rights reserved. Other sermons can be found at http://www.cantonnewlife.org/.
Unless otherwise noted, quotations are from The Holy Bible: New International Version (NIV). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House.
You'll remember my friend from high school, Bill Kelly, who preached here a couple of years ago. During that visit we talked about our high school years. When we were in high school he didn't know I was a Christian. But I was. He was really searching for the truth and didn't know where to find it. He really went through some struggles during high school. During his visit two years ago he said to me about his high school years,
"If I had known you were a Christian I would have been right there with you."
What he said made me ashamed. In high school, lots of people knew I was a Christian, but not everyone. At that time I was immature in my faith and didn't realize some of the implications of Christianity. One of the things I didn't realize is that we Christians are to be open and explicit about our faith. We are to be witnesses for Jesus.
We see this in our text. Jesus commended the church at Pergamum for their witness. He said to them, (Revelation 2:13)
"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."
The central figure in the church in Pergamum is Antipas, who Jesus describes as,
"my faithful witness".
Jesus also mentioned how they 'held on' to His name and how they did not renounce their faith in Him. These three things show us how important it is to be witnesses for Jesus. This is what Jesus wants for His people.
The idea of Christians being witnesses for Jesus is integral and essential to Christianity.
Do you remember what Jesus said to His followers in the Sermon on the Mount? He said, (Matthew 5:14–16)
"You are the light of the world.
A city on a hill cannot be hidden.
Neither do people light a lamp
and put it under a bowl.
Instead they put it on its stand,
and it gives light to everyone in the house.
In the same way, let your light shine before men,
that they may see your good deeds
and praise your Father in heaven."
In Philippians 2:14–16 the apostle Paul wrote,
"Do everything without complaining or arguing,
so that you may become blameless and pure,
children of God without fault
in a crooked and depraved generation,
in which you shine like stars in the universe
as you hold out the word of life—in order that I may boast
on the day of Christ that I did not run or labor for nothing."
And in 1 Peter 2:9 the apostle Peter wrote to Christians and said,
"But you are a chosen people,
a royal priesthood, a holy nation,
a people belonging to God, that you may declare
the praises of him who called you
out of darkness into his wonderful light."
In Matthew 28:18–20 Jesus said to His disciples,
"All authority in heaven and on earth
has been given to me.
Therefore go and make disciples of all nations,
baptizing them in the name
of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,
and teaching them to obey
everything I have commanded you.
And surely I am with you always,
to the very end of the age."
Why are you here on this earth?
What are you supposed to be doing with your life? You are here to be a light to the world. You are here to shine for Jesus. You are here to declare God's praises. You are to be doing everything in the name of Jesus. Jesus made His disciples, 'fishers of men'. (Matthew 4:19) We are Jesus' representatives and we are to win the world for Him. Michael Horton writes of the Great Commission and the Christian community, (The Christian Faith, p. 712)
"Instead of dominating and subduing by sword, this community will fill the earth with God's glory by announcing the fulfillment of God's promise and his gathering of the remnant from all the nations to Zion."
We are to fill the earth with God's glory. We are to show others 'Christ living in us'. We must never forget that this is our task.
As I mentioned earlier, there are three things in our text that show us this.
First, John holds up to us Antipas, His faithful witness, who was put to death.
There are two interesting things to note here. The first thing is the Greek word for witness, martus. It's the word from which we get our English word martyr. A martyr, is a witness, and as the word developed, it now denotes a witness who is faithful to death. Antipas shows us this. He died for Jesus. He refused to stop being a witness and was put to death for it.
The point is that nothing is to stop you from being a witness for Jesus. As Jesus said to the church in Smyrna, (Revelation 2:10)
"Be faithful, even to the point of death…"
No pressure, no threats, no deprivation is to keep you from giving glory, honor and praise to Jesus Christ. You are to glorify Him no matter what the circumstance.
It's interesting that the description of Antipas here takes us back to the description of Jesus in chapter 1. There Jesus is described as, (verse 5)
"the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead,
and the ruler of the kings of the earth."
The fact that Antipas is given the same title as our Lord shows us that we are to be like Jesus—undefeatable in being a witness. Indeed, it reminds me of Jesus' words in Matthew 10:24–25. He said to His disciples,
"A student is not above his teacher,
nor a servant above his master.
It is enough for the student to be like his teacher,
and the servant like his master.
If the head of the house
has been called Beelzebub,
how much more the members of his household!"
The point is that we are to be witnesses to the world, like Jesus was— it is enough for the student to be like his teacher. We have the same calling. He was the light of the world—we are to point people to His light. We are to do this in spite of any opposition.
You are never to renounce your faith.
This is the second thing. Jesus commends the faithful ones, saying,
"You did not renounce your faith in me…"
We are to be faithful witness in spite of any opposition, any threats. We have a good example of this in Acts 5. The apostles had been arrested and put in jail for the second time. The first time the authorities had told them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. (Acts 4:18) During the night an angel of the Lord came to them in jail, opened the doors of the jail, and brought them out. He said to them, (Acts 5:20)
"Go, stand in the temple courts
and tell the people the full message
of this new life."
Christianity is about a new life that everyone needs. If you have it can you keep quiet about your Savior, about this new life. What did the apostles do? In Acts 5 we read that when the temple guard found the apostles were not in jail, they went and reported it to the chief priests. They were all puzzled. They wondered where the apostles were. But they shouldn't have. In verse 25 we read that someone came and said,
"Look! The men you put in jail
are standing in the temple courts
teaching the people."
Christians, never hide your Christianity. Be a faithful witness. Remember what Jesus said in Matthew 10:32–33,
"Whoever acknowledges me before men,
I will also acknowledge him
before my Father in heaven.
But whoever disowns me before men,
I will disown him
before my Father in heaven."
we are to hold on to Jesus' name.
The NIV translates it that we are to be 'true' to Jesus' name. But literally, the word means to 'hold on'. The Greek, the word 'hold on' is used three times in the letter to Pergamum. First, it's used to refer to the faithful ones in Pergamum who 'held on' to Jesus name. Secondly, it's used of those heretics and 'held on' to the teaching of Balaam. Thirdly, it's used of those who 'held on' to the teachings of the Nicolaitans. Those two groups of unfaithful ones had departed from the faith, from, among other things, the Scriptural teaching on idolatry and sexual purity.
So keeping Jesus' name, or holding on to it involves holding on to His teaching.
You'll remember that in the Great Commission, that I quoted earlier, Jesus told His disciples to go out and,
"teaching them to obey
everything I have commanded you."
Holding on to Jesus' name means to hold on to His teaching. Merely invoking His name is not enough. You'll remember in Matthew 7:20f Jesus said,
"by their fruit you will recognize them.
Not everyone who says to me,
'Lord, Lord,' will enter
the kingdom of heaven,
but only he who does the will
of my Father who is in heaven.
Many will say to me on that day,
'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name,
and in your name drive out demons
and perform many miracles?'
Then I will tell them plainly,
'I never knew you.
Away from me, you evildoers!'"
We have many people in our society (and many churches) who claim to be Christian yet have rejected the teachings of Jesus, the teachings of the Bible. They can call themselves Christians all they want—but they are not Christians. Be on your guard against them.
The second thing that holding on to Jesus' name means is that
you need to be overtly Christian.
Can anyone be a secret Christian? Can we live our lives so that we hide our Christianity from others? That's a denial of our calling. That's not how it should be. In Colossians 3:16–17 Paul wrote,
"Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach
and admonish one another with all wisdom,
and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs
with gratitude in your hearts to God.
And whatever you do, whether in word or deed,
do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus,
giving thanks to God the Father through him."
We are to be open about our Christianity. We are to be doing everything in Jesus' name.
Let me give you one example. I love it when some Christian athletes, when they are interviewed after some great game, say that they give all the glory and praise to their Savior, Jesus Christ. They make a statement, in front of everyone, that they believe in Jesus. That's one example of doing everything in the name of Jesus.
But of course, it's not enough to merely talk about being a Christian. We are overtly Christian most of all when we live as Jesus lived, when we act like Him, when we try to think like Him. For instance, in Romans 12 the apostle Paul told us to be renew our minds. Donald Macleod writes, (A Faith to Live By, p. 215)
"this is not simply a matter of what we think. It is more a matter of how we think. In his book, The Christian Mind, Harry Blamires argues that Christians often attack problems in exactly the same way as non-Christians. Their judgments on political issues, their attitudes to professional problems and their approaches to ethical dilemmas are often no different. Surely there is something wrong here. If we are Christians, shouldn't we approach a problem differently? Shouldn't we approach it from the Bible's point of view? Our instinct should be to ask, what would Jesus do? How would He see this particular problem? If we are Christians, both our starting point in our method of approach are different because our minds are different."
Faithful Christians hold on to Jesus' name, to His teachings. Yet it seems that in our society secularism is affecting many Christians and they are praising things that are decidedly anti-Christian.
Let me give you an example. This past week, a politician in another country died. He died of cancer and his death was very sad. There's been a national outpouring of sorrow and sympathy because of his death. He's being hailed as 'a great man. Some Christians I know have changed their Facebook profile picture to this picture. Some Christians are saying that because he was such a great man, they wished they had voted for his party in the last election.
How can Christians say that in light of the fact that one of the things he pushed for in the election this past spring was even greater access to abortion? He was courting the women's vote and as leader of his party he emphasized their plan to move that country beyond the status of state-funded abortion-on-demand, promising to promote even greater access to abortion across the country. They saw it as a problem that there are no abortions performed in one section of the country. His party said they were committed to,
"universal access to abortion services and guaranteed reproductive freedoms for all … women, regardless of income or where they live."
A great leader? Someone I wished I had voted for? What are those Christians thinking? They're being so politically correct. They're being just like everyone else. They're certainly not thinking biblically. They're certainly not being faithful witnesses. Consider what Jesus said to the church at Pergamum. He rebuked them for tolerating sin. He said to them, (verses 14–16)
"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.
Likewise you also have those who hold
to the teaching of the Nicolaitans.
Repent therefore! Otherwise,
I will soon come to you and will fight
against them with the sword of my mouth."
They tolerated sin and Jesus told them to stop it.
Christians, don't turn a blind eye to the evil in the world. Don't become a fan of any politician who advocates anti-Christian principles and practices.
I know that people will object and say,
"But things are more complicated than that. Politics is complicated. You're really superficial if you let one issue determine your vote."
To that I would reply that sometimes one issue is so important that you should let it determine your stance. I ask you, was slavery an important enough issue in the 1800's? Was that issue important enough to determine your political stance? Or what about if you lived in Nazi Germany in the late 30's? Would the fact that the Nazis were persecuting the Jews be important enough to determine your stance? Before the war and during the first part of the war a lot of Germans turned a blind eye because Hitler was doing great things for the German economy and to enhance Germany's stance in the world.
Historians estimate that somewhere around 60 million people died in World War II. Do you know that the number of abortions performed in our country since 1973 is fast approaching that number? It's over 50 million. But of course, it's superficial to let one issue determine your vote.
No. Christians, be witnesses for Jesus. Be faithful witnesses. Stand up for the oppressed. Based on what we see in the New Testament, if Jesus were here today, bodily, there would be very few (if any) politicians that He would be lauding. But the important thing for you to think about, is—what would He be saying to you? What would His criticisms of you be? You don't have to wonder about it. All you have to do is to think about the biblical teaching that you've been ignoring and refusing to apply to your life. All you have to do is consider how you're failing to be a faithful witness for Jesus.
Christian, change those things. Jesus doesn't want you to be a secret Christian. He doesn't want you to be a Christian that tolerates evil and sin. He wants you to be a light in this dark world.
Lastly, for those of you who are not Christians,
if you're not holding on to Jesus, you're holding on to something that will destroy you.
I don't know what your idol is—whether it's your pride, your love of pleasure, your love of not being anyone's slave. What are you holding to that's keeping you from going to Jesus. Look at it. Think about it. Unless you let go of that thing it's going to put you in hell forever and ever. Is it worth it? It's not. Let go of it and go to Jesus. May God give you grace to do so.