This sermon is from the series SEVEN DIFFERENT KINDS OF CHURCHES and was preached at Cornerstone Baptist Church in Cherry Log, Georgia on Sunday, June 1, 2014 by Pastor Paul Mims. You can hear this sermon at www.csbccl.org
Revelation 2:12-18The church today is placed in the midst of a society that wants to change us. They want us to accept the re-definition of marriage, the eradication of God from public life, a devaluation of life as in their views on abortion, an effusion of eastern mysticism and other world religions, and a secular world view. They want us to be quiet about government policies that are immoral and accept anything that they hand down to us. Little by little, the liberalizing of these views is finding their way into the church. Churches are being identified by the views that they accept. Churches that do not accept the liberalizing of the morals and views of our culture are called narrow-minded, bigoted, old fashioned, and out of touch with modern day life.
Billy Graham was speaking to a group during a crusade and an opponent said, “If you preach that in our city, you will set the church back ten years.” Mr. Graham responded, “No, I want to set it back 2,000 years.” He was referring to the passion and power of the early church in the book of Acts.
Pergamum was called by Pliny “the most famous city in Asia.” It had been a capital city for over four hundred years by the time that John was writing the Revelation. Their library had over 200,000 parchment books. The word “parchment” is derived from “Pergamum.” For many years they wrote on papyrus which was a derived from the bulrush plant that grew by the Nile River. Later, when they could not get papyrus, they developed parchment from the skins of animals. This is where the term “sheepskin” comes from as graduates are getting their diplomas at this time of year.
Pergamum was a center of Greek culture with acknowledgement of all of the Greek gods. They worshipped Asclepios, who was the god of healing and people came to his temple for help in their sicknesses. The emblem of Asclepios was a serpent which we see on medical emblems.
There are many parallels of the Pergamum church to our churches today.
I. THE DIFFICULTY OF OUR WITNESS
“To the angel (pastor) of the church in Pergamum write: These are the words of him who has the sharp, double-edged sword. 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.” (vv.12-13)
Jesus was saying to the congregation, “I know that you are called upon to bear witness in a most difficult area where Satan’s influence is the strongest. In fact, you live where Satan has his throne.”
Where would you say is the place of Satan’s throne in Georgia? Where is satanic influence the strongest in our state – surely not here in Gilmer or Fannin Counties? Do you think Satan’s influence is stronger in Atlanta, or Macon, or Brunswick? Is he active on the farms and in the small towns? Where would you say is the center of Satanic power in the United States?
I would say that today there is no difference between the city and the small towns or between the farms and the mountains. Satan’s activity is full blast everywhere!
It is just as hard to reach a soul for Christ in Cherry Log, Ellijay, or Blue Ridge as it is in Atlanta.
In essence, Jesus is saying to the people of the congregation, “I know where you live. I know what is going on in your life. I know the struggles you have as you serve me. I know the disappointments that you face as you seek to bear strong witness. I know that you have times of elation and great joy in the faith, but I also know your struggles as you try to build your class, as you visit and try to reach people and there is very little response. I know the strong emotions that go on within you as you try to get it all together in your personal life. I know those strong and deep things you feel and the things you fear. I know where you live. You have remained true to me.’
Isn’t it comforting to have our Lord say that to us this morning?
One of the greatest problems that the modern church has is those who leave the faith and become inactive. In our two counties, Gilmer and Fannin, live approximately 60,000 people. According to demographic studies about 35,000 to 40,000 are not in any church this morning. Many of these have previously been members of a church, but now their witness is lost for the Kingdom. Many are lost and have never been reached by any church.
There was a young man who wrote to the Apostle Paul for guidance. His name was Titus. He was a young minister who faced an almost impossible church situation on the Island of Crete. Paul wrote back and said in essence, “Stand firm for the faith. There is spiritual victory in standing even where Satan’s influence is the strongest – for you hold back the gates of hell.”
We don’t know who Antipas was. Tradition has it that he was the previous pastor at Pergamum. He was burned alive for his faith. Jesus called him, “My faithful witness.”
There is an assumption among some that when you become a Christian that everything is supposed to go smoothly in your life. Some on television say, “It is God’s purpose to make you rich and healthy.” This concept is foreign to the New Testament. It is God’s will to bless and favor His people. But how he does it is in His own providence and is not the same for everyone.
Let us never grow weary of the fact that we wrestle with strong spiritual forces here in our idyllic mountains just as churches in the cities do. These forces have a strong grip on the minds of people here just like they do in Atlanta. Keep on working to grow your Sunday School class. Keep on being a strong witness. There are difficulties in the Lord’s service, but don’t let them discourage you.
II. THERE ARE SOME DANGERS IN OUR WITNESS
“Nevertheless, I have a few things against you: You have a few 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.” (vv.14-16)
What is the doctrine of Balaam? In essence it was this. If the church would lower its standards and compromise with the popular mindset they could grow in great numbers.
Do you remember the story of Balaam in the Old Testament in Numbers 23, 24, and 25? Balak, king of Moab, saw the Israelites coming out of Egypt and into his land. He did not know what to do with all these people. And so, he called upon a holy man named Balaam who prayed to God. Balak said to Balaam, “Put a curse on these people.” But God restrained him and he said, “I could not go if you filled my house with silver and gold.” Again, Balak appealed to him to curse the Israelites so that they would not overcome him. Balaam again prayed and he fooled himself into thinking that God would have him to go. And on the way, he found an angel standing in the road with a sword to prevent him.
But he went on in spite of the angel and tried to curse Israel, but God turned it into a blessing. Balaam was a Gentile prophet who had a grasp of truth about God, but his weaknesses nullified any effectiveness for God. Since God would not allow him to curse the Israelites, he taught Balak to entice them to weaken them by Idolatry and immorality. So the doctrine of Balaam is to weaken the church by corrupting it through a breakdown of moral values by getting them to accept the values of the world. We see this today with people adopting lifestyles that they see on television and in the movies of living with their lovers before they are married. This may seem ok on the surface, but it weakens the church and its witness.
Look at the result of the doctrine of Balaam in the life of Israel as recorded in Numbers 25:1-3: “…the men began to indulge in sexual immorality with Moabite women, who invited them to the sacrifices to their gods. The people ate and bowed down before these gods. So Israel joined in worshipping the Baal of Peor. And the Lord’s anger burned against them.
The other thing that Jesus mentioned was the doctrine of the Nicolaitans. They sought to persuade the congregation that there was nothing wrong with some conformity to the world’s standards. The word, “Nicolaitan” is made of “nici” and “laos’ – these two words mean “victory over the people.” This is where control over the people entered the church and would come to full fruition several hundred years later when the pope and priests would try to keep the Bible from the people by making it a sentence of death to own a Bible.
We were walking down the street in the French Quarter in New Orleans and passed one of those sleazy places. My friend said to me, “The lady who owns this place is a member of a prominent church in town. And she goes to church once or twice a year and gives a big offering.”
Satan knows that the way to rob the church of its power is to infiltrate it with a hybrid kind of Christianity that talks faith and courts sin.
I was in a cab with Dr. Jack Flanders who was a New Testament professor at Baylor. I said to him, “Dr. Flanders, what is the greatest sin that we as Baptists commit?” And he said, “Riding piggy-back on Jesus for personal gain. That is, putting the stamp of the approval of Jesus on anything we want to do – declaring a certain course to be God’s will because we want it done.” That is what Balaam did. He got the message from the Lord that he wanted.
Jesus said, “Repent therefore! Otherwise, I will soon come to you and will fight them with the sword of my mouth.” (v.16) The sword is the divine truth – the Word of God. The faithful Christians did not need to repent, but those who adhered to the false doctrines did. But evidently they did not repent and the church did not last very long.
III. THE DELIGHT OF OUR WITNESS
“To him who overcomes, I will give some of the hidden manna. I will also give him a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to him who receives it.”
The believer who is true to his or her Lord will be given the privilege to know the deep things of God. This “hidden manna” feeds the soul on the righteousness of God. The “white stone” was a judicial response. A “black stone” meant that the judgment went against you. The “white stone” meant that you were free. You were justified. A new name on the white stone meant that you had a new future. That is what we have in Christ if we are faithful to the end.
One day, I remembered having dinner with Dr. R. G. Lee and Dr. Gerald Martin in Memphis, Tennessee. Dr. Lee was pastor of the Bellevue Baptist Church. I wanted to hear the famous preacher again so I sought him out on the Internet. I found a video of him preaching his famous sermon “Pay Day Someday.”
Years ago, I heard about how he died. Billy Graham happened to be in Memphis and went to see him and when he got to the house he found Dr. Lee unconscious. Several gathered around his bed and sang a hymn about heaven. In the midst of the old hymn, Dr. Lee opened his eyes and then he was off again. Mr. Graham never did get to talk to him.
Then in a little while his adoptive daughter was there by the bed and Dr. Lee was saying, “I see it. I see it.” “What do you see, Papa? “I see heaven! And I never did it justice in my preaching. Then he said, “I see” – and he listed various members of the family who had died.
Dr. Lee was given his white stone, his new name, his privilege of entering the glories of Christ. Think about this man who preached all over the world and said, “I never did it justice!”
The delight of our witness is to be true to the revelation we have and know that it is so much more than we have told the people. “To him that overcometh” is the promise made.
PRAISE BE TO HIS NAME!