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June 3, 2018

Sermon Revelation 3:7-13 . . .“Bible places:  Philadelphia”

“Bible places:  Philadelphia”

Revelation 3:7-13

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

The magic and mystery of doors and doorways has lasted for thousands of years.  From the incredibly ornate doors of Italian cathedrals to the elaborate carvings on African wooden doors, you can find them in every color, size, shape, and kind.

Think of the doors we read about in books or have seen in movies.  In The Lord of the Rings, Bilbo Baggins had a round, green, hobbit door.  In The Wizard of Oz, the Emerald City had a big, bright, green door.  And in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, the way into Narnia was a simple, wooden, wardrobe door.

The Columbus Doors, made in Germany in the mid-1800s, bear nine panels tell the story of Christopher Columbus and his journey to the New World.  And Number 10 Downing Street in London, England, the home of Britain’s Prime Minister, has a solid black door with a large gold mail slot and a white number “10” in the center. 

And when we speak of doors, we Lutherans can’t help but think of the Castle Church doors in Wittenberg, Germany.  It’s where Luther, five hundred years ago, posted his 95 theses, marking the beginning of the Lutheran Reformation.

The Bible talks a lot about doors too.  David wrote in Psalm 24:  “Lift up your heads, O gates!  And be lifted up, O ancient doors.”  Paul wrote to the Corinthians:  “When I came to Troas for the gospel of Christ, the Lord opened a door for me.”  James wrote:  “Behold, the Judge is standing at the door.”  And in the book of John, Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door.”

And in our Bible reading for today, we hear about a door once more.  Please turn to page 1312 as I read the words of our text, Revelation chapter 3, beginning 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.

“‘I know your works.  Behold, 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.  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.’”

So far in our time together, we’ve looked at the first five churches of Asia Minor.  The church in Ephesus was the “loveless” church, the church in Smyrna was the persecuted church, the church in Pergamum was the tolerant church, the church in Thyatira was the compromised church, and the church in Sardis was the dead church.

And even though these churches were of a very different place and time, they represent, in many ways, every church in the world today.  While some churches may be known for their sound doctrine, they have no love.  Others have love, but no sound doctrine.  Some churches fight against evil.  Other churches tolerate evil.  Some churches are spiritually alive.  Others are spiritually dead.

And now we come to a sixth church, the church in Philadelphia.

Just to give you a little historical context, the city of Philadelphia was the youngest of all the seven cities in Asia Minor.  While some dated back to more than 1500 B.C., this one was founded only 150 years before Christ, by a king named Attalus, king of Pergamos.

And if I could say, Philadelphia wasn’t an “accidental” town.  It didn’t simply spring up on its own, like most cities.  Instead, it was a planned city.  King Attalus intentionally built it where the borders of three kingdoms met, to bring the Greek language and culture to its place and time.

And when he built it, he set it where volcanoes had once spewed lava on a plain...which meant both good news and bad news.

The good news was the volcanic ash made for some very fertile soil, perfect for growing grapes and making wine.  The bad news was it was prone to earthquakes and aftershocks.  Years before, the same earthquake that leveled Sardis, almost destroyed Philadelphia as well.

And how did it get its name?  Because King Attalus loved his brother so much, he gave it one of his own nicknames--Philadelphia--the city of brotherly love.

And somewhere in the middle of this strategically-placed, fertile, earthquake-ridden city was a church.  As it says in 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 before I say anything more, you have to notice something.  Out of all the seven churches of Asia Minor, along with Smyrna, Philadelphia was one of the most faithful of all.  Not only did they receive the Word, they believed the Word, loved the Word, and obeyed the Word.  To put it another way, they talked the walk and they walked the talk.

And while the Lord rebuked the churches in Ephesus, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, and Laodicea, for Philadelphia He had nothing but praise.

Look at verse 8:  “I know that you have but little power, and yet you have kept My Word and have not denied My name.”  And verse 10:  “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.”

Out of all the churches in Asia Minor, Philadelphia was one of the most faithful of all.

But if there was anything they lacked, (no church on earth is perfect!), it’s found in verse 8:  “‘I know your works.  Behold, I have set before you an open door...’”

There they were on the edge of promise and possibility.  They had love, they had power, and they had good, sound doctrine.  Even more, the Lord had opened the door for them to proclaim His gospel, to share His good news.  Literally nothing could stand in their way.

But the question was, would they walk through that door?  Would they proclaim His gospel and share His good news?  

The story is told of Yazoo, Mississippi, in the 1930s, in the days of the Great Depression, when people didn’t have much money, and children especially had no extra money for candy.  So people went to the general store and bought a big jar of molasses, then went home and made their own.  The store owner kept the molasses in a big wooden barrel in the middle of the store.  People filled their jars there.

That’s when a little six-year-old boy, with a sweet tooth, slipped his finger into the barrel, then into his mouth.  

The owner scolded him.  “Stop that!” he said.  “That’s unsanitary.”

Embarrassed, the boy left.

A few days later, his tongue took him there again.  And he did the same thing again, and was caught again.  This time, the man took him by the arm and firmly escorted him out the door.

Caught twice, you’d think he’d learn his lesson.  But ten days later, he came back and did it again.  But before he could get his finger into his mouth, the owner caught him red-handed.  Then he picked him up, turned him upside down, and was about to dip him in head first.

The last thing you could hear was a prayer.  The little boy said, “Lord, give me a tongue equal to this opportunity.”

And that’s our prayer today--make us equal to this opportunity.

Just like the church in Philadelphia, we have everything going for us.  We have love for our Lord and for our fellow members.  We have His Word, and we have good, sound doctrine.  Even more, Christ has given us an open door.

But the question is, will we walk through that door to share His good news?

In July of this past year, a woman named Roberta Ursrey went with her husband and two sons to a beach in Panama City, Florida.  But a few moments later, she realized she couldn’t see her sons, ages 8 and 11, from the shore anymore.  That’s when she spotted them, screaming and crying, far out in the water.  They were caught in a rip current, taking them farther and farther out to sea.

Immediately, she swam out to save them, along with her nephew, mother, and husband.  But the current was just too strong.  Within moments, there were nine people in the water, all of them being taken out to sea.

When police arrived, one officer jumped in, but he couldn’t save them either.

That’s when the people watching from on shore decided to take matters into their own hands.  Within minutes, a group of eighty strangers formed a human chain, stretching out a hundred yards into the Gulf of Mexico.  People who didn’t even know each other went arm-in-arm and hand-in-hand in a line into the water to save them.

And they did save them!  After nearly an hour, people on the beach erupted in applause when everyone was brought safely onto shore.

As the mother, Roberta, said, “I am so grateful.  These people were God’s angels that were in the right place at the right time.  I owe my life and my family’s life to them.  Without them, we wouldn’t be here.”

Once upon a time, you were that person, crying out in the water, being taken out to sea.  And Jesus, with His big, strong arms, reached out to save you and bring you back to shore.  

Now it’s your turn to reach out and save some more.

But the good news is, you’re not alone.  Arm-in-arm, and hand-in-hand, before us, there’s an open door.

As Paul once wrote to the Corinthians:  “All this is from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation.”

He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.


Dear Father, You have placed before us both a challenge and an opportunity.  Help us, by Your Spirit, to live and to share the good news of Jesus.  We pray in His name.  Amen

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