Sermon preached on August 1, 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.
In late 1967 it seemed that the U.S. was making great progress in the Vietnam War. In mid-November Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey went on NBC's 'Today Show' and declared,
"We are beginning to win this struggle. We are on the offensive. Territory is being gained. We are making steady progress."
General William C. Westmoreland, the commander of the Military Assistance Command, Vietnam, gave a speech at the National Press Club about a week later and declared that the communists were,
"unable to mount a major offensive...I am absolutely certain that whereas in 1965 the enemy was winning, today he is certainly losing...We have reached an important point when the end begins to come into view."
General Bruce Palmer, Jr., one of Westmoreland's Field Force commanders, claimed that
"the Viet Cong has been defeated… he can't get food and he can't recruit. He has been forced to change his strategy from trying to control the people on the coast to trying to survive in the mountains."
Yet just over two months after the Vice President's remarks, on January 31, 1968 the North Vietnamese launched the Tet Offensive, a series of coordinated attacks on South Vietnamese cities and military installations. Over 80,000 North Vietnamese and Viet Cong soldiers launched attacks on approximately 100 cites and towns. Saigon was the capital of South Vietnam and it was one of the cities that was attacked. Five important installations in Saigon were targeted—including the army headquarters, a navy base, Independence Palace, the home and workplace of the President of South Vietnam and the U.S. Embassy. At 2:45 A.M. a group of North Vietnamese soldiers blasted a hole through the wall of the U.S. Embassy and occupied parts of it for almost seven hours.
The effect of the Tet Offensive was profound. Even though the Tet Offensive was not a military success in itself—the communists were beaten back and suffered heavy losses—just about all of the optimism about defeating them evaporated. It showed a lot of people that the war was not going well. Many people started thinking that the war was unwinnable. If the North Vietnamese could mount attacks in the very capital of South Vietnam, at the presidential palace, at the U.S. Embassy—their power was far greater than had been believed. Some people became convinced that there would be no stopping them.
We have a similar situation in our text. Jesus established a church in Pergamum—in Satan's capital, where Satan had his throne. Although the church in Pergamum was struggling in certain ways—their presence, their faithfulness and Jesus' words of commendation teach us important lessons about evangelism and the kingdom of our God and Savior Jesus Christ. This is what we're going to look at this morning. Jesus said to the church in Pergamum. (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."
Satan had his throne in Pergamum. But Jesus put a church there. This is significant. Not only that, but Jesus wanted His church there to endure. What does this teach us?
First of all, it shows us that
we are to take the battle right to the enemy.
This world is a dark, evil place. It's now like it was when John wrote about Jesus in John 3:19–20,
"This is the verdict:
Light has come into the world,
but men loved darkness instead of light
because their deeds were evil.
Everyone who does evil hates the light,
and will not come into the light
for fear that his deeds will be exposed."
Many people today don't want to hear the gospel. People love their sin. They want the church to be quiet about sin. They want the church to stop calling sin, sin. They want us to stop telling them that certain things are wrong. They want us to leave them alone. Today's society is just like the society of Isaiah's day. In Isaiah 30:9–11 it says,
"These are rebellious people, deceitful children,
children unwilling to listen to the LORD'S instruction.
They say to the seers,
'See no more visions!'
and to the prophets,
'Give us no more visions of what is right!
Tell us pleasant things, prophesy illusions.
Leave this way, get off this path,
and stop confronting us with the Holy One of Israel!"
It was that way in the city of Pergamum. Pergamum wanted nothing to do with the gospel of Jesus Christ. It was devoted to other gods. Pergamum had the oldest temple in the area devoted to emperor worship. It was built in 20 B.C. and was dedicated to 'the divine Augustus and the goddess Roma'. (Johnson, The Triumph of the Lamb, p. 75) Pergamum also had a temple dedicated to Asklepios the Savior, the patron god of healing. His symbol was a serpent. Pergamum also had an enormous altar to Zeus. Pergamum was a great center of idolatry.
One of the distinguishing things about the idolaters Pergamum is that they would not tolerate Christians who were faithful to Jesus. Antipas, a Christian, who Jesus described as,
"my faithful witness",
had actually been killed because of his faithfulness to Jesus. The whole environment in Pergamum was hostile to Christianity. Faithful Christians were being persecuted. Satanic influences were dominant.
Yet Jesus wanted His church to be there. He wanted Christians to be there. He didn't say to them,
"What were you thinking, establishing a church there?"
There's no hint of anything like that. Of course not. We're don't know how the church at Pergamum was established but we know it was in accordance with God's plan and will. Jesus directed the spread of the gospel and the growth of the church. You'll remember in Acts 16 we are told how God directed the evangelism of Paul. We read, (verses 6-10)
"Paul and his companions traveled
throughout the region of Phrygia and Galatia,
having been kept by the Holy Spirit
from preaching the word
in the province of Asia.
When they came to the border of Mysia,
they tried to enter Bithynia,
but the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to.
So they passed by Mysia
and went down to Troas.
During the night Paul had a vision
of a man of Macedonia standing and begging him,
'Come over to Macedonia and help us.'
After Paul had seen the vision,
we got ready at once to leave for Macedonia,
concluding that God had called us
to preach the gospel to them."
God directed the spread of the gospel. He wanted a church in Pergamum and He established it there.
What does Jesus tell His church? What's His overall message to the church in the city where Satan has His throne?
He wanted them to persevere. He wanted them to remain there even after Antipas had been killed. Jesus doesn't tell them to flee. There's no suggestion of that. Rather, He commends them for being faithful. He urges them to keep the church pure. He urges them to overcome—to conquer.
When Jesus told His disciples to go into all the world—the Great Commission—He meant it. In the Great Commission Jesus said, (Matthew 28:18–20)
"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."
Jesus wanted His church in Pergamum. Jesus sent His messengers right into the heart of darkness, right into the enemy capital. His actions in doing that remind me of what Jesus said as He was sending out the 12 in Matthew 10:16. He said,
"I am sending you out
like sheep among wolves."
This shows us that
nowhere is off limits to the gospel.
The gospel of Jesus Christ should be proclaimed everywhere. The gospel was for Pergamum. The gospel was even for Rome, the capital of the Roman empire. Robert Mounce writes,
"As Rome had become the center of Satan's activity in the West… so Pergamum had become his 'throne' in the East."
Both were claimed for Jesus. Remember how the apostle Paul said he wanted to go to Rome with the gospel and preach the gospel there? In Acts 19:21 we read,
"After all this had happened,
Paul decided to go to Jerusalem,
passing through Macedonia and Achaia.
'After I have been there,' he said,
'I must visit Rome also.'"
Jesus wanted Paul to go to Rome. In Acts 23:11, we read,
"The following night the Lord
stood near Paul and said, 'Take courage!
As you have testified about me in Jerusalem,
so you must also testify in Rome.'"
What did Paul do when he got to Rome? At the very end of the book of Acts we read, (Acts 28:30–31)
"For two whole years Paul stayed there
in his own rented house and
welcomed all who came to see him.
Boldly and without hindrance
he preached the kingdom of God
and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ."
Paul proclaimed Christ in Rome.
How does this apply to us?
First of all, it means that we really need to be much more missionary minded.
The church is not just about us, about our congregation, how we're doing.
We give a certain portion of our budget to missions. The portion that we give—is it the correct portion? Do we give enough to missions? Do we really have a passion for Jesus to be known where Satan has his throne. Think of Dave and Jean Coles, laboring in Indonesia, a predominantly Muslim nation. Are we supporting them enough? How passionate are we about wanting Jesus to be known in other Muslim nations? How passionate are we about fulfilling what the prophet talked about in Habakkuk 2:14,
"the earth will be filled with the knowledge
of the glory of the LORD,
as the waters cover the sea."
Adam and Krista are ministering in Mexico, where the drug cartels are exercising more and more violence against the people. Mexico needs the gospel.
Lauren W. is spending a couple of months in Tanzania. I don't think you can beat an experience like that for opening up eyes to how much Jesus is needed in the world. I read a letter that she wrote this past week about a little 8 year old girl in the hospital. Lucy was in a car accident with her mother three months ago. Her mother was killed. Lauren says the girl has no family and that the system over there for 8 year old children isn't good. Younger children are put in orphanages. But an 8 year old is too old for that. When she's released from the hospital she'll be on the street, fending for herself. Tanzania needs the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Jack M. is studying to be a pastor. I know he has great needs. We're helping him. But are we doing enough?
Joe W. is a chaplain in Riverview Correctional Facility and does a great work. We also have a couple of other prison ministries. Prisons can be dark, evil places. Satan is active there. It could be easy to think, "We can concentrate on other things rather than the prisons." Prisoners need the gospel. Prisoners need the gospel.
Some college campuses are characterized by binge drinking, drugs, immorality. College kids need the gospel. Spiritually, college campuses can be dark places. Are we doing enough there?
Christianity is for everyone, every group and kind of people.
Think of your non-Christian neighbors. Are you concerned that they become Christians? Many Christians today try to isolate themselves from certain aspects of our society. They just have Christian friends. They move almost exclusively in Christian circles. They don't want to be corrupted by the world. That's a legitimate concern.
But withdrawing from non-Christians is the wrong thing to do. That's retreating instead of advancing. Jesus ate and drank with tax collectors and sinners. He saved prostitutes and adulterers. We can sometimes look at someone and we can be deceived into thinking that they're too bad for the gospel. People might have thought that about Saul of Tarsus.
Be bold in witnessing about Jesus to those who you think wouldn't accept Jesus. Don't just have Christian friends. Sure, I understand that you don't want to be influenced toward evil and you have to guard against that. But how are your acquaintances going to get to know Christ unless you befriend them, love them, show them Christ living in you?
Secondly, our text shows us that
we are to be overt about the gospel in a hostile society.
We are to proclaim the gospel to everyone—even people who don't want to hear it. The people in Pergamum didn't want to hear it. But Jesus put his church there. Antipas was put to death because he was bold in following Jesus.
We are to shine like stars in the universe as we hold out the Word of God. Consider the preaching of the apostles in the book of Acts. They didn't pull any punches. They told people they had to repent. They told people that God was going to come in judgment.
Today in our society there is great pressure on the church not to be overt in proclaiming Christ. People tell us that it's arrogant to believe that Jesus is the only way people can be saved. They tell us that we should just let people be, let them be as they are, and not try to convert them.
Don't give in to the world. Some professing Christians do. This past week I read an article by Carl Medearis on CNN. He's been a missionary to Lebanon for over 20 years. When he first went there he was concerned about evangelizing and 'converting' people. But he's now come to the conclusion that that's not what Christians should be doing. He said,
"Funny thing is, Jesus never said, 'Go into the world and convert people to Christianity.' What he said was, 'Go and make disciples of all nations.'""What if evangelicals today, instead of focusing on 'evangelizing' and 'converting' people, were to begin to think of Jesus not as starting a new religion, but as the central figure of a movement that transcends religious distinctions and identities?""Even the Apostle Paul insisted that it's faith in Jesus that matters, not converting to a new religion or a new socio-religious identity."
There's a lot of obscuring of the issues there. He seems to think that you can become a follower of Jesus without becoming a Christian. You can't. He seems to suggest that you can have faith in Jesus while remaining a Muslim. You can't.
Medearis' message seems to be that we need to tone down the gospel, even though he calls it elevating the gospel. He doesn't want the church to evangelize and make people Christians. When King Agrippa heard Paul preach it was quite clear to him that Paul was calling on him to believe in Jesus and become a Christian. He said to Paul, (Acts 26:28)
"Do you think that in such a short time
you can persuade me to be a Christian?"
The idea that Jesus didn't literally say that we are to into the world and convert people to Christianity is irrelevant. He may not have used those exact words—but that's what He told us to do.
Christians, don't compromise the message of Jesus.
The second thing our text implies is that
Satan is not the rightful ruler of anything. He is a usurper.
Jesus is the rightful ruler of every place and every human being. Although Satan
Although he is called the prince of the air in Ephesians 2:2, he is a usurper. He has no right to anything. Jesus owns everything. All things were created by Him and for His glory. Ephesians 1:9–10 says about God,
"he made known to us the mystery of his will
according to his good pleasure,
which he purposed in Christ,
to be put into effect when the times
will have reached their fulfillment—
to bring all things in heaven and on earth
together under one head, even Christ."
Ephesians 1:20–22 says that God the Father raised Jesus from the dead,
"and seated him at his right hand
in the heavenly realms,
far above all rule and authority,
power and dominion,
and every title that can be given,
not only in the present age
but also in the one to come.
And God placed all things under his feet
and appointed him to be head
over everything for the church,"
"He is the image of the invisible God,
the firstborn over all creation.
For by him all things were created:
things in heaven and on earth,
visible and invisible, whether thrones
or powers or rulers or authorities;
all things were created by him and for him.
He is before all things,
and in him all things hold together."
Everything belongs to Jesus. The ancient city of Pergamum owed allegiance to Jesus, not Satan. We as Christians should not cede any part of this world to Satan. Jesus is Lord. He's Lord of every place. He's Lord over every government. He's Lord over every individual. We are to go out in His name and command people everywhere to repent.
The third thing our text implies is that
Jesus is going to win. He's defeated Satan. Victory is certain.
Satan's throne was in Pergamum, but Jesus' advance forces were there to tear it down. Jesus saved people in Pergamum. Jesus sent His disciples into the city where Satan had his throne and staked His claim to that city. Satan couldn't stop Him. Satan had Antipas killed, but the church endured. Jesus will His church.
Jesus has defeated Satan. Satan's fate is certain. He has been cast out of heaven. In Revelation 12:7–9 we read,
"And there was war in heaven. Michael and his angels
fought against the dragon,
and the dragon and his angels fought back.
But he was not strong enough,
and they lost their place in heaven.
The great dragon was hurled down
—that ancient serpent called the devil,
or Satan, who leads the whole world astray.
He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him."
Revelation 12:12 continues,
"Therefore rejoice, you heavens
and you who dwell in them!
But woe to the earth and the sea,
because the devil has gone down to you!
He is filled with fury,
because he knows that his time is short."
Lastly, for those of you who aren't Christians,
you should realize that unless you go to Jesus your fall is certain.
Pergamum was Satan's strongholds. Satan's people thought they were secure there. But they were not. Satan's throne is going to be destroyed. Revelation 18 tells of the fall of the great Babylon. Her sins were piled up to heaven. In her heart, she boasted, (Revelation 18:7–8)
"I sit as queen; I am not a widow,
and I will never mourn."
But God decreed her judgment. He said,
"Therefore in one day her plagues will overtake her: death, mourning and famine.
She will be consumed by fire,
for mighty is the Lord God who judges her."
Later in Revelation 18:21–24 it says,
"Then a mighty angel picked up a boulder
the size of a large millstone
and threw it into the sea, and said:
With such violence the great city
of Babylon will be thrown down,
never to be found again.
The music of harpists and musicians,
flute players and trumpeters,
will never be heard in you again.
No workman of any trade
will ever be found in you again.
The sound of a millstone will never be heard in you again.
The light of a lamp will never shine in you again.
The voice of bridegroom and bride
will never be heard in you again."
Jesus is going to conquer all His enemies. You need to embrace Him or you will be destroyed. Go to Jesus today. He's your only hope. He died for sinners. He offers you life. Repent and go to Him.