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#8 Pergamum

August 12, 2008

So far we have looked at Ephesus, the busy but loveless Church and Smyrna, the persecuted Church. And as we have looked at the conduct of these churches I believe we have been convicted by what we have seen. This morning should be no less convicting as we look at Pergamum, the compromising Church, also called “A Church Married to the World”

 

Let’s begin. (Rev 2:12-17) 12“And to the angel of the church in Pergamum write: The One who has the sharp two-edged sword says this: 13‘I know where you dwell, where Satan’s throne is; and you hold fast My name, and did not deny My faith even in the days of Antipas, My witness, My faithful one, who was killed among you, where Satan dwells. 14‘But I have a few things against you, because you have there some who hold the teaching of Balaam, who kept teaching Balak to put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols and to commit acts of immorality. 15‘So you also have some who in the same way hold the teaching of the Nicolaitans. 16‘Therefore repent; or else I am coming to you quickly, and I will make war against them with the sword of My mouth. 17‘He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, to him I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, and a new name written on the stone which no one knows but he who receives it.’

 

(Rev 2:12-17) 12“And to the angel of the church in Pergamum write: The One who has the sharp two-edged sword says this: What is this sword? It is the Sword of the Spirit: word of God which proceeds out of the mouth of THE WORD OF GOD! With this word Jesus cuts between the bone and marrow, between soul and spirit: in short, He gets to the heart of the matter. His word cuts through all the nonsense. Jesus is about to deal plainly with this Church. First He says to them: 13‘I know where you dwell, where Satan’s throne is;

 

Consider the city of Pergamum for a moment. Even though Smyrna claimed to be the “First City of Asia” even though they claimed to be the most loyal of Roman subjects, the first temple of the imperial cult (a temple dedicated to emperor worship) was built in Pergamum in 29 B.C. in honor of Caesar Augustus. And so Pergamum was the center of emperor worship. Now there were other temples devoted to such god’s as Zeus, Athena, Dionysus and Esculapius (whose name interestingly means the ‘saviour,’ ‘healer) It is interesting that the idol of Esculapius was represented by a serpent, much like the one you see on Doctor’s diplomas. The place was devoted to every demonic idol that came down the pike! It would seem that these people were entirely sold out to evil. Is it any wonder Jesus would say that this was the place ‘where Satan’s throne is… One commentator suggested that the title “Satan’s throne” could be a reference Domitian, a horrible tyrant, a literal antichrist.

 

Another thing to consider is the fact that the inhabitants of Pergamum were known as the chief temple keepers of Asia. When the Babylonian cult of the Magians was driven out of Babylon, they found a haven in Pergamum. The title of the Magian high priest was “Chief Bridge Builder” meaning the one who spans the gap between mortals and Satan and his hosts. In Latin this title was written “Pontifex Maximus,” the title now used by the Pope. This title goes all the way back to Babylon and the beginnings of the mother-child cult under Nimrod of Genesis 10 and his wife Sumerimus. Later, Julius Caesar was elected Pontifex Maximus and when he became Emperor, he became the supreme civil and religious ruler and head of Rome politically and religiously with all the power and functions of the Babylonian pontiff. And so you can see that this place was indeed the place “where Satan’s throne is” For a Christian this was a hideous place, a violent place. But the Christians of Pergamum had reason to rejoice.

 

They had been called out of all of this horrible idolatry and into Christ’s family. Jesus said: and you hold fast My name, this is one of the characteristics of God’s children. They hold fast to His Name. To hold fast means “to take hold of, to seize, to keep carefully and faithfully, to continue to hold, to retain. I always think of a drowning man clinging to a life preserver.

 

In any truly Christian assembly there are those who are there because they love Jesus. They are the faithful remnant, those who have not bowed the knee to Baal, who have not compromised with the world. These who have been called according to His purpose truly love Him! Jesus said of the Christians at Pergamum and (you) did not deny My faith even in the days of Antipas, My witness, My faithful one, who was killed among you, where Satan dwells. Now this is strong faith. Could you stand firm in your faith if it meant that you would be killed? Again, perhaps in this setting we can all say yes. But if the time were to come, and it may, that you will have to seal your testimony with your death: that is when the truth of your faith will come out! That is when it will be known whether or not you have truly been made the recipients of the grace of God. There was a story of 40 soldiers in the Roman army: men noted for their bravery, who also happened to be Christians. They were called the 40 martyrs of Sevaste.

 

I quote: “It was one of the strangest episodes in all of military and Christian history: an army killing its own best soldiers. The year was A.D. 320. The place: Sevaste, in present-day Turkey. The issue: Would Christian soldiers obey and bow to pagan gods? Governor Agricola spoke mildly but firmly. He had good and strong warriors before him. He needed them. They must be brought into line. “I am told you refuse to offer the sacrifice ordered by Emperor Licinius.” One of the soldiers answered on behalf of the rest. “We will not sacrifice. To do so is to betray our holy faith.” “But what about your comrades? Consider — you alone of Caesar’s troops defy him! Think of the disgrace you bring upon your legion. How can you do it?” “To disgrace the name of our Lord Jesus Christ is more terrible still.”

 

A note of exasperation crept into the governor’s voice. “Give up this stubborn folly. You have no lord but Caesar! In his name, I promise promotion to the first of you who steps forward and does his duty.” He paused a moment, expecting his lure would break their ranks. None of them moved. He switched tactics. “You persist in your rebellion? Then prepare for torture, prison, death! This is your last chance. Will you obey your emperor?” The soldiers stood firm, although they well knew the governor would carry out his threat. They spoke: “Nothing you can offer us would replace what we would lose in the next world. As for your threats — we’ve learned to deny our bodies where the welfare of our souls is at stake.” Agricola ordered, “Flog them.” Pairs of guards seized each man and dragged them out into the cold where they were stripped and tied to posts. Soon the swish of whips and the thud of blows filled the air with groans. Hooks of iron tore the men’s sides. Unbelievably, although their flesh was bruised, their skins were tattered and their  blood flowed, not one of the forty surrendered.”Chain them in my dungeons!” roared Agricola. “We’ll see what Lysias has to say about this.” Lysias, commander of the 12th Legion, was in no gentle mood when the forty Christian soldiers were hauled before him a few days later.

 

His ride from Antioch to Sebaste had been tedious and cold. “You will obey me,” he said sternly, “or pay a sharp penalty.” The men answered him with respectful defiance, just as they had Agricola.  Lysias had not become a commander by coddling traitors, and he did not intend to begin now. He motioned to Agricola. Agricola came beside Lysias. As judge, he must make these unbending men conform. But how? Just then, a frigid gale blew across the frozen pond below and stabbed into his cheeks. It gave him an idea. “Take them down to the pond,” he ordered. Turning to the soldiers he added, “You will stand naked on the ice until you agree to sacrifice to the gods.” Agricola could hardly believe what his eyes saw next. The rebels began stripping off their own clothes and running toward the pond in the freezing March air. “We are soldiers of the Lord and fear no hardship,” shouted one. “What is our death but entrance into eternal life?” Sing It, Brothers! Striking up a song, the men marched onto the frozen pond.

 

Baffled, Agricola posted guards around them. He squinted into the falling sun. Surely the bitter cold of evening would change their minds…. Wait! There was something else he could do. “Heat baths of warm water,” he ordered the guards. “Place them around the pond. That ought to lure them out pretty quickly,” he smirked. The sun sank behind the hills. Then upon the night air could be heard a prayer: “Lord, there are forty of us engaged in this battle; grant that forty may be crowned and not one be missing from this sacred number.”  Standing on the shore, the shivering guards shouted into the night. “Don’t be idiots. What’s the point? Come on out. Warm yourselves!” This went on for quite some time. Then suddenly they saw one of the soldiers coming, “Hey! There’s someone coming!  It’s one of them.” Babbling, one of the forty crawled toward them from the ice. This act so moved one of the guards who had been urging the Christians to give up their faith, that he took off his own clothes and ran onto the ice professing faith in Jesus.

 

 What would you do in such a situation because what you do is an epistle about your faith or lack of it! Now the Christians at Pergamum faced persecution and death because of their stand for Christ and they would not renounce their faith. God was truly gracious to them and had sustained them with His presence and power! But there was a problem in this church: a festering sore of compromise that had arisen in the assembly. And this is by no means an isolated event. J.I Packer says that there are many churches which at one time were sold out to Christ but now are so liberal and worldly that you could never tell that they were a church at all! Such compromise doesn’t happen overnight.

 

Paul warned of ravenous wolves and Jude speaks of evil men who have crept unnoticed into the church. The picture is of a man sneaking into a building through a side door and slowly working his way into the assembly: his approach is so subtle that no one notices. And suddenly he’s there, among the believers, masquerading as one of them. No one questions how he got there as they all assume he has always been with them. Keith Green told a story of such a man who crept into an assembly and blended in with the crowd. He began teaching and leading music: in short, he became an active member of the church. And no one could see through his masquerade to the heart of the man. Then one day he asked some of the members of the church who had musical instruments, if he could borrow them. He went to their houses one by one, and picked up the instruments and left, never to be seen again. No one would have suspected. He didn’t look like a wolf. In fact he was someone they trusted! These wicked people had infiltrated the Pergamum Church in the same way. And soon they were spreading their sinful doctrine like gangrene. And no one did anything about it.  So Jesus addresses the problem in verse 14 saying ‘But I have a few things against you, because you have there that is in your assembly some who hold the teaching of Balaam, who kept teaching Balak to put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols and to commit acts of immorality.

 

You remember the story of Balaam! After unsuccessfully trying to curse the Israelites, he offered Balak some “advice” (Numbers 24:14) concerning how to cause Israel to stumble! The next thing you see happening in the camp of Israel is that they are committing sexual sins with the Moabite women and they are sacrificing to their gods: all the while the pillar of cloud and fire are visible. Somehow they decided that it was ok to do this evil in the sight of the Lord! And they are judged according to their sin. Jude’s infiltrators had this condemnation laid against them: they were “ungodly persons who turn the grace of our God into licentiousness (a license to sin) and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.” These men were trying to make it sound ok to sin! The Gnostics taught as much. And such doctrine appeals to the flesh. Suddenly it’s ok to have your cake and eat it too! Suddenly it’s ok to practice sin and worship God.

 

But what does the sharp, two edged sword of the word of God say! (2Cor 6:14-18)  Do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness? (15) Or what harmony has Christ with Belial, or what has a believer in common with an unbeliever? (16) Or what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; just as God said, “I WILL DWELL IN THEM AND WALK AMONG THEM; AND I WILL BE THEIR GOD, AND THEY SHALL BE MY PEOPLE. (17) “Therefore, COME OUT FROM THEIR MIDST AND BE SEPARATE,” says the Lord. “AND DO NOT TOUCH WHAT IS UNCLEAN; and I will welcome you. (18) “And I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to Me,” says the Lord Almighty. (1Cor 10:18-22)  Look at the nation Israel; are not those who eat the sacrifices sharers in the altar? 19 What do I mean then? That a thing sacrificed to idols is anything, or that an idol is anything? 20 No, but I say that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to demons and not to God; and I do not want you to become sharers in demons. 21 You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons; you cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons.

 

James calls such compromisers, adulterers! And Jesus gives specifics: He names names, tells the church exactly who these people are just so no one will be able to say, “I didn’t know they were doing that. In verse 15 He says, ‘So you also have some who in the same way hold the teaching of the Nicolaitans. And it can’t be that they didn’t know! I mean there were these people in their church who were teaching that it was ok to sin. This is not something you can hide.  Here is an illustration of a new member coming into the Church at Pergamum. “Here is our sanctuary. In here we have our Sunday school classes, senior adults, young adults, the lewd and adulterous adults” Here is the idol worshiping class” and so on. It is interesting that people think they can get away with such wicked behavior: that they can practice sin and still call themselves Christians. And it is also interesting that the people in the church could compromise to such an extent with the world! Now perhaps the evil guys in this church thought they were getting away with their sin. Perhaps they thought no one noticed. Perhaps the true believers were hoping Jesus wouldn’t notice! But suddenly here is a letter from Jesus Christ Himself telling them that He has seen, He knows. Suddenly theirs was the testimony of Moses: SURELY THE THING IS KNOWN!  Not only that: God was mad! Action was about to be taken one way or another!

 

Jesus tells them 16‘Therefore repent; or else I am coming to you quickly, and I will make war against them with the sword of My mouth. Notice the wording. Jesus is telling the faithful of the church to repent! He is telling them that they are guilty of compromise, of allowing the world to be a part of the church! They are guilty of allowing these evil men to set up shop in the church and to dictate church policy, namely, the condoning of the practice of sin! And He says, “if you don’t deal with the situation I’m coming down their to do it Myself.” The machinery is already set up in the church to deal with sinning brethren and with sin in the Church. We all know Matthew 18:15-19. This was a situation that should have been nipped in the bud. Jesus compared sin to weeds in His parable of the tares. When you work in your yard you try to pull the weeds when they are still small and few in number. You try to keep on top of the situation because you know if you don’t, one day you are going to wake up and not be able to see your yard for the weeds! And then drastic measures must be taken.

 

The same idea is going on here! Instead of dealing with the problem they turned a blind eye and hoped it would go away. I had a boss who was being harassed by bill collectors. He had a plan that he thought would deal with the problem. DON’T ANSWER THE PHONE! He thought that if he just didn’t answer the phone the problem would go away. But it didn’t go away. It never does. Not dealing with problems when they are small means that one day you will be face to face with the BLOB! They just continue to grow and fester till one day they fill your whole sphere of existence! And let me tell you, either you take care of the problem or Jesus will! That is exactly what He is saying to the Church of Pergamum. Either you deal with this problem in the manner I prescribed or I will. Hendricksen says that (make war) speaks of destruction: that Jesus would come and destroy those who persisted in their worldly practices. Wouldn’t you rather nip your problems in the bud: when they’re small, instead of turning a blind eye until they grow into monsters! Jesus says to them and us 17‘He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.

 

Have you heard? Are you a problem in Jesus’ Church? Are you the cause of problems in Jesus’ Church? Search your hearts and see whether this is so! And if you find it to be true, repent or He will deal with you and I wouldn’t want to be in your shoes for anything. I like the prayer that Keith Green prayed, “Lord, spank me early before my sin becomes like the sin of Israel!” We must pray that God would give us eyes to see and ears to hear lest we become like the people of Pergamum. There is no place for compromise in the Church of Jesus Christ. Our standard for living is the Word of God, the Law and the Testimony! We have no place to claim ignorance when we have the Word of God which is a lamp for our feet and a light for our path! We must fight against sin and compromise in our lives. We don’t want to be labeled adulterers by the Lord do we? Surely we want to be found faithful. And Jesus gives us a word of hope here. He says, “To him who overcomes, what does that mean but that it is possible to overcome. Paul said, “I buffet my body and keep it under so that I don’t become a castaway! Does this not give you a ray, a glimmer of hope? There is hope for those struggling against sin.

 

There is hope for those who have gone down the road of compromise. Jesus wouldn’t speak of overcoming if it were not possible. He wouldn’t say “repent” if He didn’t mean to give the grace to repent. But we must remember that it is only by His grace and the power of the Holy Spirit that we are able to do anything at all. Remember the words of James in (James 4:7-10) Submit (the idea hear is surrender) yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, (in the strength that God alone gives) and he will flee from you. (8) Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you. Cleanse your hands, ye sinners; and purify your hearts, ye double minded. (9) Be afflicted, and mourn, and weep: let your laughter be turned to mourning, and your joy to heaviness. (10) Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he shall lift you up. Jesus says “to him that is, to the overcomer, to the one who loves Me and obeys Me, to the one who repents and submits, I will give some of the hidden manna, Now what was the purpose of the manna in the wilderness? It was to feed the physical bodies of the Israelites. They were quite literally in a howling wilderness, a desert place which was evidenced by their continued complaint about water. It was a dry place. But God caused streams to flow in the desert. He rained bread from heaven and caused water to come out of a rock. He nourished the hungry, thirsty souls of the children of Israel.

 

Now consider Pergamum: the place where Satan’s throne is. What could be dryer than that? Jesus is telling those who will repent that He Himself will fill their hungry souls with Himself. “He prepares a table for me in the presence of my enemies. My cup overflows.”  Their flirting with the world had proven an empty endeavor as it always is. But Jesus Christ called for them to turn back onto the narrow path. He said He would never leave us nor forsake us who are His true children. And this was no empty promise. Neither is the promise to destroy those who willfully rebel against Him: who persist in practicing unrighteousness. And the reason is because these unrepentant rebels have proven that they never knew Him: therefore on the last day He will declare the same, “I NEVER KNEW YOU!!!!!!!!!

 

But what does He say to His faithful ones: to those who overcome? Not only will He satisfy our souls but He saysand I will give him a white stone, white of course symbolizing purity and holiness. When we receive Christ we are clothed in the robe of His righteousness which grants us access into the Holy Throne Room of God. “And He says that there is a new name written on the stone which no one knows but he who receives it.’ It is quite interesting how much speculation has arisen concerning “what this new name is” seeing that the statement is clear. No one will know it but the one who receives it! I think that is the key point. It is a special gift given to us by Jesus Christ Himself. It is a token of His love for us and a symbol of our belonging to Him! We won’t know what it is till we receive it! Cease striving about it! The letter to Pergamum is a warning to us. There is no place for compromise. The only real haven of rest, the only true place of peace and satisfaction comes from Jesus Christ. In this world you have tribulation. In Jesus you have rest for your souls. Compromise leads to emptiness and grief.

 

Faithfulness leads to grace and peace even in the midst of the storms of life. The broad road, which includes all sorts of sin and fleshly delights, leads to destruction. The narrow road which is the King’s highway: where we walk with the King of kings Himself, leads to life. The question is this: are you walking with Jesus or are you trying to straddle both roads to “get the best of both worlds”! Are you be faithful to Christ or are you compromising: committing adultery with the world? There is only one way that leads to Jesus Who is life and peace and rest! The other leads to Hell, to separation from God and eternal torment! What road are you on?

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