Church in Philadelphia
If you need an outline raise your hand.
We’re going to be in Revelation 3, but let’s pray into what we just heard.
Father, please open our eyes to the glorious things that you are doing. Wipe away the doubt and whatever is blocking our vision. Let us see and savor you, in Jesus name, amen.
So one of the biggest challenges for Christians in the area of open doors is battling the fear that can come, and the confusion, regarding when to walk through and when not.
Sometimes we walk through a door that we think God is opening, and it turns out things don’t go as well as we anticipated.
Other times there are multiple doors that appear to be open, all good opportunities, and we’re paralyzed wondering, “Lord, which ones of these should we walk through?”
Further complicating the open door thing is what Kevin DeYoung in his book “Just Do Something” calls “bad open door theology.” Bad open door theology. What do we mean by that? Let me give you a couple examples that he gives. One is when we use an open door as an excuse for laziness. So, you need a job. You post your resume on Monster.com and then you recline on the couch.
A couple of weeks later a friend says, “you have a job yet?” You say, “well, no. God hasn’t opened a door.” Maybe you should get off the couch, make some calls, and knock on some doors.
Second example of bad open door theology is when we use an open door as a way to bless whatever bad idea we had already decided to do. No one’s ever done that have you? You really want to do something; it’s kind of dubious.
So you can say, “Well, God hasn’t opened the door” or “he has opened the door.” For example, DeYoung gives the example of a couple whose marriage is struggling, and they desperately need help, need to get marriage counseling. But the husband hears of a job promotion that’s going to take him on the road a lot. And a friend says, “Are you taking this job?” “Well, yeah! Double the pay. I mean, God opened the door.”
Well, maybe you should not go through that door right now and actually deal with a door that you walked through a long time ago called marriage and get some help with your marriage.
Third example of bad open door theology is when we use an open door as an easy way out. We use an open door as an easy way out. For example, there’s somebody you know you’ve got to have a hard conversation with. You put it off and put it off. Get busy doing other stuff. [friend] “Hey, have you had that hard conversation?” “Well no, God hasn’t opened the door.”
No, I think you haven’t had the conversation. There’s a difference between open doors and neglecting to do what God has already called us to do.
So where do we even get this language, Christian language, of open doors? Typically when we talk about an open door in the New Testament it is an opportunity for gospel advancement. An opportunity for gospel advancement.
You see an example near the end of Paul’s first missionary journey. He and Barnabas returned to the church that had commissioned them in Antioch. Acts 14:27,
“And when they arrived and gathered the church together, they declared all that God had done with them, and how he had” [here it is] “opened a door of faith to the Gentiles. And they remained no little time with the disciples.”
1 Corinthians 16:8,
“But I will stay in Ephesus until Pentecost, for a wide door for effective work has opened to me, and there are many adversaries.”
Now notice those two going together, because today, bad open door theology would say, if the door is open and there are adversaries then it can’t be an open door.
And Paul would say, no! The fact that the door is open doesn’t mean it’s going to be an easy way. A wide door for effective work. Now, a fascinating study that we can’t go into in-depth here today is the history of the way God did what Paul just described–opened this door. Let me just give you one example. In Act 16 Paul, Timothy, and Silas went through Galatia and Phrygia. So this is the second missionary journey. That’s where you see Phrygia kind of in the middle, Galatia, that’s today Turkey, Asia Minor back then.
So he’s going through Galatia, Phrygia. And at one point, if you look at Acts 16, they wanted to turn north into what’s way up at the top, Bithynia. If they entered Bithynia, there’s a major trade route that connects the Roman Empire with the east, all the way to India.
And so if they went into Bithynia, I’m sure in the back of Paul’s mind he’s thinking, we’re going to enter into that major trade route and then head east. But Acts 16:7, “the spirit of Jesus did not allow us.”
We don’t know what that meant, how he did that. But he prevented them from going that way, and instead they went left, west, into Mysia and then Troas. And then in Troas, that’s when he had that night vision, the Macedonian call, where he pictured this guy saying “come help us in Macedonia.” And so instead of going east, they crossed the water and landed in Europe. Just pause there for a second.
That one decision of whether to go right or left, east/west, and the way the Spirit opened one door and closed another door has massive impact even today, the fact that we’re gathered here, and where the gospel went first as Europe opened up, western civilization created and transformed.
So, Paul asked his prayer team in Colossae to pray about open doors, praying for open doors. For example in Colossians 4:2,
“Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving. At the same time, pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ, on account of which I am in prison — that I may make it clear, which is how I ought to speak.”
Now notice again the fact that you’re praying for a door to be opened doesn’t mean it’s going to be automatic or easy.
Paul’s in prison while he’s writing that. So when we come to the sixth letter to the churches, the letter in Revelation, the letter to the church of Philadelphia, we encounter this open door language. Look at verse 8, Revelation 3:8. By the way, if you’re feeling a little like I’m feeling, like church after church after church, week after week after week, and you feel a little overwhelmed, like “I haven’t even processed last week’s, and now I’m getting hit with another letter to another church.” I’m with you. We’re going to wrap it up next week, try to summarize, and the following week we’re going to process. What is the Spirit saying to us through the composite of what he said to these churches? He has a word for us, and we want to hear that.
When we gather, we’re not just trying to gather information and get bigger Bible heads. We really want to hear what he has to say to our hearts and then have that shape who we are and what we do as a church. So we’re tuned into that.
But I just want to give you a heads up if, if you’re wondering “woah, are we just like racing through these churches, and are we going to have time to summarize and process?” We will. And hopefully you can be doing that as well on your own.
So look at verse 8.
“I know your works. Behold, [look!] 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.”
Wow! Jesus is saying look, there’s an open door. I’ve put it before you, and no one is able to shut this door. I’m putting before you an unshuttable door. So, I’m putting before you not just another task or project or even a temporary revival as beautiful as that would be.
I’m putting before you a kind of gospel advancement that is unshuttable, that no one could come along and put a damper on or slam in your face. And notice verse 8, second half, it is not because this church was particularly [woah, got lost in some “L’s” there] especially strong or articulate. Notice in the second part of verse 8, “I know that you have but little power. Yet you’ve kept my word and have not denied my name. You are a faithful, feeble church.”
Anybody resonate with that? Jesus is saying, you have kept my faith. You’ve not denied my name but you have “micros dunamis.” There are two words there, very cool words. Micros – what word do we get there? Think micro. Some of you have micro dogs. It’s actually a category. These are dogs that are cats that bark. Really high. Micro dogs. Small dogs, very small dogs. And Jesus is saying you have micro power. Dunamis, power, you have small amounts of power.
So he’s not saying to them, “Hey guys, I’m opening this door. You make sure you keep it open. You be strong enough to get through that door and take that opportunity for gospel advancement in your own lives or in your church or in your community. You make sure you pull this off.” No! “I’m acknowledging that you are of little power.” And the New American Standard translates that, I believe rightly, “since you have little power,” “because you have little power, but have kept my word and have not denied [my faith] my name.”
So, as I’ve been praying for the persecuted church around the world, this vision has been so strong, imagining what it would be like for Syrian refugee believers who experienced horrific things under ISIS and have been now set free, some of them. So you have women experiencing nightmares, unimaginable nightmares, from what they experienced, disassociation, all sorts of things. You have people who don’t even want to go back to what was their homes for fear of what they will find or what might return. You have Nigerian believers, Christians who are being slaughtered, and the Western press largely ignores all that’s happening.
You have Chinese Christians who are bracing for another crackdown, government crackdown. Totalitarian government trying to control and crush its people. Imagining our brothers and sisters around the world hearing out of the mouth of Jesus, “I’ve set before you an open door, and no one, which no one can shut.”
Not just a prison door, not just a temporary reprieve, but an open door, a door of gospel advancement at a time when you would least likely think the gospel is going to advance in your heart or in anybody else.
A season that you would think is hopeless, Jesus is saying there’s actually a door there, and it’s a door that is unshuttable.
I think of some of our college students, especially those in secular schools who are directly and indirectly told a thousand different times, “If you’re intelligent you will think this way about all these things. If you’re unintelligent you will think this way. No debate. This is the way it is.”
They can often feel “micros dunamis,” very vulnerable, very confused, very weak in the face of such strength and power and winsome cultural analysis.
I think also of our young moms, a stage in life where you feel daily, utterly exhausted, concerned for your little ones, their habits, their hearts. God, how are you going to reach them with your love and truth? Are they going to be a responsible citizen, a follower of you? Feeling very “micros dunamis.”
I think of moms whose kids are a little older and who are leaving the home, and you’re going through an identity crisis wondering “Who am I now?” All I know is me as a mom. For so many years, that was what I did day in and day out, and now all of a sudden my “momness” seems to be disappearing as my children are leaving. And I’m wondering, Lord is my time of fruitfulness over? And imagine hearing Jesus saying to you, no! As a matter of fact, I’m placing an open door before you, an unshuttable one.
Or our widows or widowers who can easily feel as they watch friends die and health fade, I’m off on the shelf now. It’s someone else who’s going to enter this season of fruitfulness. And hearing Jesus say, no! I have an unshuttable door that is before you.
This is the kind of door that doesn’t just open when a certain candidate wins and closes when another candidate. It doesn’t matter who’s in the White House. It doesn’t matter what the headline is or how well or poorly a particular election goes. Much of our sense of hopefulness regarding the future and advancement of, whether it’s the church or our career or lives, feels like it rises and falls with so many factors.
And Jesus is saying no, no, no, no!
I have an open door and no one can shut that door. There is a kind of (I hate to even use the word because it’s used so often in superficial ways today) optimism and positivity. But ultimately Christians have the greatest optimism, positivity, hopefulness. Not a delusional kind. As if, if Jesus is going to open a door, it’s never going to lead to a jail cell.
No, Paul wrote about open doors from a jail cell. It’s never going to lead to a disease cell. He’s never going to call me to go through sickness or hardship. When Jesus may actually be saying, as a matter of fact, that’s the door I have for you, but it is an open door, and it’s an unshuttable door, and it leads to indescribable gospel advancement both in your heart, in your loved ones or your community or at your work.
Follow me through this open door.
Jesus doesn’t get super specific about this open door, so I’m struggling to not be more specific than what his word is. But I’m just wondering if many of us, as we look to the future, are seeing walls, darkness, uncertainty. Like the bright days are in the past. We smile when we look at memories. We shake when we look to the future. And Jesus is saying no, no, no!
That door is open. And he’s saying that to a church that had suffered greatly and felt small and weak. And he says, I have an unshuttable door.
And really I believe there’s a lot more detail. We’re going to summarize it. There’s no way we can cover it all in detail today. But I feel like that’s the message we need to hear. If we get that, we’ve got it.
Are we willing to see Jesus opening up? He describes himself as the door. But here he’s describing himself as the door opener.
You come with me through this, into this season of what you thought was going to be hopeless or fruitless or dead end is actually a season of unending fruitfulness.
Elisabeth Elliot who is now with the Lord, ended her book on loneliness by sharing a verse. Now most of you know the story of Elisabeth Elliott, maybe some of you don’t. In her 20s she and her husband were ministering in South America. Her husband was murdered as he sought to share the gospel with a tribe that had never heard.
So she was a widow in her 20s with a little girl, later was married again. Addison, I think it was four or five years later, he died of cancer. So here’s a woman who knew what it was like to experience intense loss, wondering where the future is going to take her. Is God playing games with my life? Do you ever feel that way? God, is this a game? You couldn’t write a script like this.
This is how she ended that book with this passage from Hosea. Remember Hosea is God writing to his unfaithful people. “Therefore” [did I say Isaiah? Hosea] Hosea 2:14,
“Therefore, behold, I will allure her,” [woo her, God saying to his people] “and bring her into the wilderness, and speak tenderly to her. And there I will give her vineyards” [which communicates fruitfulness] “and make the Valley of Achor [that is trouble] a door of hope.”
Now where was the Valley of Achor? That actually was the first valley that Israel entered when they entered into the promised land.
But there you have the sin of Achan, curse fell on them. God is saying to them I’m going to produce fruitfulness in a place that had been under curse, a place of failure, and I’m going to open up a door of hope.
I just want us to take that in. Can you imagine Jesus saying to you at a time in your life when you feel you have very “micros dunamis” (little power). Him saying to you, I have an open door, a season of fruitfulness, a time of gospel advancement in your life and through your life. No one can shut it and it’s full of hope.
The future is bright, and it’s not based on what you can muster up. It’s based on something, someone much bigger.
And that’s really the whole letter to the church at Philadelphia. Let me show you real quickly. How can Jesus promise an unshuttable door? Because of who he is. Number 1, because of who Jesus is. Look at verse 7,
“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.’”
Now imagine people hearing there is a person who can do that? Jesus is described here as the holy one. Holy means to be “set apart,” unlike anyone else you know. You’re not going to find a human comparison to the kind of separateness of purity and power. The true one, the authentic one, not the trendy one, the true one. And I can only find my true self in the true one who has the key of David. This is a reference back to Isaiah 22. Basically means he has the authority and controls access into his kingdom. He holds the key. When he shuts, no one opens. When he opens, no one shuts because of who he is.
Number 2, because of what Jesus does. Verses 8-12 basically is full of verbs. “I will make,” “keep,” “write.” These are the actions of the door opener. Let me show you a few. First of all, he will make his love known. Verse 9, he will make his love known.
“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.”
Now again we’ve got to enter into what was it like for this church, these Christians who had been expelled from the synagogue? So they were cast out, rejects, heretics. To hear the words of Jesus so strong. And it seems scary strong to us. Synagogue of Satan? C’mon, Jesus. What is Jesus saying there? Similar to what he said to Peter. Remember when Peter was arguing with him in Matthew 16 and said, “No, you’re not going to the cross, not over my dead body.”
And Jesus turned to Peter and said “Get behind me Satan.” Why? That seems so strong. He went on to explain. Jesus said, “Well actually you’re thinking thoughts with the mind of man, and you’re rejecting the thoughts that come from the mind of God.” So you’re actually fighting for the wrong team here, Peter, by clinging to this vision of what life should look like, looking at it from a human perspective alone when in actuality my death, burial, and resurrection is going to be the path of life. You think you’re saving life but you’re actually joining Satan if you oppose the cross. And Jesus is saying something similar here to the Jewish leaders who were kicking Christians out of the synagogues, thinking they’re doing it to the glory of God. And he calls them a “synagogue of Satan.” And he says to them, to the believers who had been cast out, I will make my love known. These people will know that I love you. What a comfort when you have experienced human rejection, horrible words thrown at you, and that label of reject/heretic affects your ability to get a job, to feed your family, to live a life without being spit upon.
And to hear the words of Jesus, the one who experienced all of that on our behalf, saying I will make it known. I love you. He will make his love known.
Secondly, he will keep his own. Verses 10-11, he will keep his own.
“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.”
Here he is fueling the believers to persevere to the end. Don’t cast away your confidence. And he promises here, he will keep his own.
Now there are major interpretational challenges here. Let me give you a quick four possible interpretations as to what he means when he says “I will keep you from the hour of trial.” One is preservation from a worldwide trial, or an immediate trial that was going to come upon them, which is very possible. We don’t know of a massive trial.
We know right before this letter, not far before this letter, big earthquakes hit this area. Philadelphia was actually destroyed.
We don’t know of any right afterwards, but this could be what Jesus is referring to.
Secondly, deliverance through the rapture from the great tribulation. So if you hold, and some of you this won’t mean anything or make any sense, but if you’re pre-trib, in other words you believe the timing of the rapture is right before the tribulation, then this is a really important verse.
It has the idea that this explains the universal aspect.
It does raise questions about, what about the believers who do come through the tribulation in Revelation 7 and Mark 13 and other places? But this is possible interpretation.
Third, spiritual protection through the hour of the trial. Spiritual protection.
So what Jesus, in this interpretation, is saying, Jesus is not promising to save them from all suffering (they had already experienced some), but specifically from an hour, he may be talking about an hour of intense suffering, the hour of trial which is often characterized as Satan’s hour.
In other words, similar to the prayer Jesus prayed in John 17:15 when he promised, “I do not ask that you” [to his Father] “take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one.” Protect them from the power of the evil one, who is going to try to shut the door. And Jesus is saying no! I’m promising to keep it open.
And number 3, deliverance from the great trial of final judgment. This was a new one to me, which I really think is possible. Kirkeslager holds this position that explains the universality of the trial here, believes that the hour of testing refers to final judgment, when believers will not be judicially condemned, tried, tested, as unbelievers will be. And it makes sense in light of the statement about Jesus’ coming. So we don’t have time to unpack all four of those but the overall point is super clear.
If you remember a few weeks ago when we looked at the Heidelberg Catechism, this is a great summary of what Jesus, the point Jesus is making.
“Question number one: what is my only comfort in life and death?”
[Here it is]
“That I with body and soul, both in life and death, am not my own, but belong unto my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ; who, with His precious blood, has fully satisfied for all my sins, and delivered me from all the power of the devil; and so preserves me, that without the will of my heavenly Father, not a hair can fall from my head; yea, that all things must be subservient to my salvation and, therefore, by His Holy Spirit, He also assures me of eternal life and makes me sincerely willing and ready henceforth to live unto Him.”
What a beautiful summary of how Jesus will keep his own.
And then finally, he enables us to truly belong. He enables us to truly belong. Look at verse 12, “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” [look at how many places he writes] “I will write on him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, and the New Jerusalem, which comes down from [my father] my God out of heaven, and my own new name.” [All of these I’m going to write on him.] “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”
So essentially he is saying this, “I will identify with you forever. I am going to write my name all over you. There’s going be no question as to whose you are. I will make you [he gives this image of living pillars, pillars in the temple in his presence, which is the imagery of you’re going to have a substantial role to fulfill.] And you will have an unchangeable relationship with me. Never shall he go out of it.”
This is a fulfillment of Isaiah 56, which is a chapter that assures those, and it lists eunuchs, foreigners, people who are like, “I don’t really belong here.”
Do you ever feel that way? Times when you come into church and you look around and you’re like, “Oh these people have their act together. If they knew, I don’t really fit in.”
And Jesus is saying, no! You’re a part of me, and I’m going to put my name all over you, and you’re never going to leave. No one can ever shut that door. Ongoing relationship. So this is where our confidence comes to walk through the open doors that God puts before us. It’s not, “Well, if I can get enough strength.” No, Jesus is acknowledging, you people are of micro power, a little bit of power. Let’s be honest about that. Even if you have more power than your neighbor, micro power. And Jesus says, “But I have an open door I want you to walk through that is unshuttable. No one can shut it. Nothing can separate you from my love.”
So I’m not sure specifically how he’s going to work that into your heart right now.
But if we’re willing to hear his word today, will we at least acknowledge, “Okay, Jesus. You are the one who opens and closes doors.” Some of us are standing before doors that we’re afraid to walk through, and Jesus is saying to us today, “I’ve got this.” Will you evict fear? And you notice, they “kept the word.” Philadelphian believers “kept the word.” In other words, receive my word, and walk forward in faith.
Father, thank you for speaking words of encouragement to us this morning.
You have gone out of your way to communicate that you are the one who opens and closes doors, and when you open a door, we don’t need to live our lives fearing what you will bring us to next. Even if you call us to a new season or a new task, or you challenge us to do things a different way.
You are leading us into the future, which is not an uncertain future to you.
We don’t know everything, but it’s not an uncertain future to you. So Jesus we’re going to follow you. Jesus, my life is hidden with you. I am not going to try to muster up enough strength by looking at myself. I’m looking at you. You fill me with confidence because your love is constant.
And we praise you. Send us out this morning fueled with hope because we’ve gotten a glimpse of your heart this morning. In Jesus name, amen. Go in peace!