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July 1, 2018

Sermon Revelation 2:12-17 ...“Bible places:  Pergamum”

“Bible places:  Pergamum”

Revelation 2:12-17

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus.

In his book, Lies We Tell Ourselves, author Greg Laurie tells the story of a man who went deep into the woods in search of a bear.  It seems that he wanted to shoot one and skin it for its fur coat.  

Finally, after a long wait, the hunter got a huge brown bear in his sight.  And wrapping his finger around the trigger and holding the barrel steady, he aimed for the center of the hulking animal’s huge forehead. 

But just as he was about to squeeze the trigger, the bear raised his big, brown paw and said in a soft voice, “Wait!  Let’s talk this over!  Isn’t it better to talk than to shoot?”

The hunter was so surprised that he lowered his gun.  And as the bear breathed a sigh of relief, he said, “Now, what is it that you want?  Maybe we could negotiate.”

“Well,” the hunter replied, “I’m really cold.  All I want is a fur coat.”

“Good,” said the bear.  “All I want is something to eat.”

And as the two walked into the forest to talk, the hunter laid down his rifle on a big, gray rock.

A few minutes later, the bear came back out alone, apparently having reached an agreement.

The hunter got his fur coat, and the bear got a full stomach.

So it was for the people of the church in Pergamum.

Please turn in your Bible to page 1311, as I read the words of our text.  Revelation chapter 2, verse 12:  “And to the angel of the church in Pergamum write:  ‘The words of Him who has the sharp two-edged sword.

‘I know where you dwell, where Satan’s throne is.  Yet you hold fast My name, and you did not deny My faith even in the days of Antipas My faithful witness, who was killed among you, where Satan dwells.  But I have a few things against you:  you have some there who hold the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel, so that they might eat food sacrificed to idols and practice sexual immorality.  So also you have some who hold the teaching of the Nicolaitans.  Therefore repent.  If not, I will come to you soon and war against them with the sword of My mouth.  He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.  To the one who conquers I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, with a new name written on the stone that no one knows except the one who receives it.’”

So far in our series on the seven churches of Asia Minor, we looked first at the church in Ephesus.  It was to them that Jesus said, in chapter 2, verse 4:  “But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first.”  

Then in verse 10, Jesus said to the church in Smyrna:  “Do not fear what you are about to suffer.”  And He said:  “Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life.”

Now in verse 12, Jesus speaks to another church, the church in Pergamum.  He said, “And to the angel of the church in Pergamum write:  ‘The words of Him who has the sharp two-edged sword.’”

While Ephesus was the largest city and Smyrna was the most beautiful city, Pergamum was the capital city.

To put it another way, if Ephesus was New York City and Smyrna was L.A., Pergamum was Washington, D.C.

And that’s important.  Since Pergamum was the capital city, it was rich.  It was powerful.  It’s where the movers and shakers wanted to be.

In the words of nineteenth-century archaeologist William Ramsay, “Beyond all the other sites in Asia Minor, it was a royal city, the home of authority.”

Even more, it was a center of idol worship.  There you could find a temple dedicated to Dionysius, the god of wine and drama, and to Asclepius, the god of healing, and to Athena, the goddess of wisdom and war.

And at the highest and holiest point in the city, there was even a temple for Zeus, the greatest of all gods, complete with carved figures writhing in battle, lightning and thunderbolts, and an altar forty feet high.

But best of all, Pergamum boasted a library, the second-largest library in the world.  Its shelves held two hundred thousand, not books, (there were no printing presses), but handwritten scrolls.  It was so large and impressive, Marc Anthony later sent it as a present to Cleopatra of Egypt.

And because Pergamum had such a massive library, it became a center for culture and learning.  The physician Galen, second only to Hippocrates, lived and studied there.

And somewhere in the midst of that culturally rich and politically powerful city of Pergamum, there was the small, struggling church of Pergamum.  But while Jesus said to the church in Ephesus in chapter 2, verse 1:  “The words of Him who holds the seven stars in his right hand, who walks among the seven golden lampstands,” and to the church in Smyrna in verse 8:  “The words of the first and the last, who died and came to life,” He said to the church in Pergamum, in verse 12:  “The words of Him who has the sharp two-edged sword.”

What was the problem?  While they were strong to withstand attacks from the outside, they were weak to attacks from within.  They were externally good, but internally compromised.

To put it another way, it’s one thing to have your boat in the water.  It’s quite another to have water in your boat.

Look at verse 14:  “But I have a few things against you:  you have some there who hold the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel, so that they might eat food sacrificed to idols and practice sexual immorality.  So also you have some who hold the teaching of the Nicolaitans.  Therefore repent.  If not, I will come to you soon and war against them with the sword of My mouth.”

What does that mean?  Apparently, the church in Pergamum wanted the best of both worlds.  Yes, they went to church on Sunday.  You could count on them to sit right near the front, wearing their best Sunday clothes.  But come Monday, they were eating dinner over at the temple of Zeus.  Sure, they wanted to go to heaven, just not yet.

And instead of transforming their culture as salt and light as Christ called them to be, they let their culture transform them.

Have you ever heard how to boil a frog?  They say you can’t just heat the water to boil, then toss in the frog.  The water’s too hot, so it would, of course, immediately jump out.

So this is what you do--take one frog, put it in a cool pan of water, then gradually turn up the heat.

And as the temperature starts to rise, the frog adjusts its body temperature accordingly.  And the higher the temperature, the more its adjusts to that temperature.  And just when the water is about to reach its boiling point, he decides to jump out of the water.

There’s just one problem--it’s too late.  He can’t jump, because he can’t adjust anymore.  And so, sure enough, you’ve got yourself one boiled frog.

So what killed the frog?  You might say, the boiling water.  But the truth is, what killed the frog was his inability to decide when to jump out.

“I know where you dwell,” Jesus said, “where Satan’s throne is.  You hold fast My name, and you did not deny My faith....But I have a few things against you...therefore repent.”

Is ninety-nine percent good enough?

What would happen if the Post Office lost 1 ½ million pieces of first class mail every day, or if doctors and nurses dropped 35,000 newborn babies each year, or if 200,000 people got the wrong drug prescription every year, or if water wasn’t safe to drink three days out of the year, or if two million people died from food poisoning each year, or if there were three misspelled words on every page?

When it comes to life as we know it, ninety-nine percent is not good enough.

And neither is it good enough when it comes to faith.

Paul wrote to the Colossians:  “See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ.”  And John wrote in his first epistle:  “For all that is in the world--the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and the pride of life--is not from the Father, but is from the world.  And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.”

In August of 1948, television producer Allen Funt debuted a reality show called, Candid Camera.  The genius of the show was that it caught people in the act of being themselves.  It offered a look into how we often act and think.

And in one episode called, “Face the Rear,” an unsuspecting person boarded an elevator, and naturally turned to face the front.  That’s when three actors also entered the elevator, but faced the rear.  A hidden camera in the elevator captured the look of the one being pranked.  To turn or not to turn?  Finally, when a fourth actor entered the elevator and also faced the rear, without exception, the person facing the front turned around and faced the rear.  The influence to turn was just too overwhelming.

If you would look at the times in your life when you’ve fallen into sin, you could probably trace it back to a series of missteps--small compromises you made that led to the big compromise that led to your fall.  And as compromise finds its way into the church, it weakens us.  And the church compromised is the church impure.  

Be the salt.  Be the light Christ has called you to be.

In the words of The Message, as recorded in Romans chapter 12:  “Here’s what I want you to do, God helping you:  take your everyday, ordinary life--your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life--and place it before God as an offering.  Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for Him.  Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking.  Instead, fix your attention on God.  You’ll be changed from the inside out.  Readily recognize what He wants from you, and quickly respond to it.  Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, and develops well-informed maturity in you.”

In the words of a hymn:  “Make my life a prayer to You.  I want to do what You want me to.  No empty words, and no white lies, no token prayers, no compromise.”

 

We thank You, dear Jesus, for this letter to the church in Pergamum.  Help us to heed Your warning, that we, in our time and place, may faithfully follow You.  This we ask in Your name.  Amen

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