7 Letters to 7 Churches: Fully Integrate Faith
Christ the King, Palm Coast, FL ~ Pastor Jay Zahn ~ Revelation 2:12-17 ~ Sunday, September 22, 2019
Have you heard the story of the ancient city of Troy? According to Homer’s Illiad, the Greeks besieged the city of Troy for ten years without success. After the death of the warrior Achilles, many wanted to give up the fight. But Odysseus, the king of Ithaca in Greece, came up with a plan to get the Greek army into Troy. Odysseus built an immense wooden horse. He and his warriors hid inside it. After leaving the horse at the gates of Troy, the rest of the Greek army sailed away. The Trojans thinking the Greeks had given up and had left the horse as a gift, brought it inside their gates. That night, while the Trojans were sleeping, the Greek ships quietly returned. The soldiers inside the horse slipped out and opened the city gates. The Greek army silently entered Troy and started fires all over the city. The Trojans awoke to find their city in flames. As they tried to flee, they were killed by the waiting Greeks.
In his letter to the Christians at Pergamum, Jesus warns that they are facing the spiritual equivalent of what happened to the city of Troy.
Jesus opens his letter to the church in Pergamum by saying “I know where you live.” What a powerful reminder to those Christians as well as to us here and now that Jesus knows well the places where we live along with the kind of pressures and problems we face as we strive to be faithful to him. In describing this city as the place “where Satan’s throne is” (v. 13) he is acknowledging the level of pressure his people were facing in Pergamum for their faith. For example, worshiping the Roman emperor as a god was a popular practice in Pergamum because the people of this Asian city were proud of their links with Rome and Roman rule. So Christians in this city who resisted worshiping the emperor as god out of faithfulness to the one, true God were viewed as being unpatriotic or worse. One historian wrote: “Christians were often accused of ‘hatred against the human race,’ ‘atheism,’ and of advocating for a ‘mischievous superstition’ (cf. Dio, Hist. 67.14; Tacitus, Annals 15.44; Suetonius, Nero 16; Pliny, Epistles10.96).
Though the pressure to cave on their religious convictions and conform to political correctness was incredibly high, “Yet,” Jesus affirms, “you remain true to my name. You did not renounce your faith in me, not even in the days of Antipas, my faithful witness, who was put to death in your city—where Satan lives” (2:13). Standing steadfast in the faith in the face of martyrdom, what integrity!
When something is well built, we say it has structural integrity. So in an earthquake, the building with excellent structural integrity survives. When something physically collapses, we say it didn’t have the integrity to withstand the forces that pushed against it. When political correctness or other cultural forces pressure you to conform in ways that compromise your confession of Christ and his truth, God grant us the kind of spiritual integrity that we see in the Pergamum congregation to stand firm on Scriptural truth even under the pressure of culture’s faithless ideas and fluid ideals!
Yet as much as the Christians at Pergamum are an inspiring example of integrity in the face of public pressure, they still have something to learn about what integrity all involves. Jesus is bringing this to light as he continues: “I have a few things against you. You have 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.” I plan to dig into the story of Balaam, Balak and the Old Testament Israelites as well as the Nicolaitans and their questionable ideas in our Wednesday night bible study this week. For now, let me quickly sum up the issue Jesus is addressing: Some of the Christians in Pergamum saw Christianity in terms of being on the right side of an issue and publicly standing for what is right. What they failed to recognize is that Christianity isn’t simply right knowledge for the head but also right attitudes for the heart and right ways of living for the feet and the hands too. False living is just as dangerous as false teaching. Holding a right confession of faith while still living in sin in my life is like the people of Troy arming the walls while opening the gates to the wooden horse, secretly filled with enemy soldiers.
That’s why Jesus quickly follows up his criticism with this urgent plea: “Repent therefore!” Repentance is the Savior’s call for life-level change, a call to live with full integrity. The Latin word ‘integer’ from which our word “integrity” comes, means whole and complete. So integrity involves an inner sense of ‘wholeness,’ consistency of character. Christian integrity means speaking up for Christian teaching in public and living out what that teaching means in private, even when no one else is watching. Living with Christian Integrity means there is only one ‘you.’ There’s not a ‘work you,’ a ‘family you,’ and a ‘church you.’ You are YOU, and that’s the same YOU, all the time.
Now if that doesn’t describe you, then you are actually contributing to your own downfall. Jesus warns against being comfortable living a divided life when he says: “Otherwise, I will soon come to you and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth.” The sword of Jesus’ mouth is his penetrating Word. Jesus uses his Word to cut out our lack of integrity with a change of heart that produces a life in harmony with Christian truth. But if we resist it and reject the healing sword (think: surgeon’s scalpel), then the sword of the Spirit will become a weapon that cuts us off from the presence of God and all of his good and gracious blessings forever! The writer to the Hebrews warns us: “It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (10:31).
I don’t know about you, but I really don’t want Jesus to wage war against me. I would much rather fight against Satan than war with Jesus! Jesus wants the same thing, which is why he says, “Repent, therefore!” Repentance is about fighting with Jesus against Satan. It’s about identifying and getting rid of any hypocrisy between my public confession and my private life and doing so by letting go of those behaviors that are out of alignment with Christ and his character. To “repent” means handing my duplicity over to Jesus, placing my divided self into his hands. It means trusting in the Jesus who knows where we live, trusting in him and why he came to live among us. Jesus came to live with us on this earth—“the place where Satan has his throne”—and to do battle with Satan for 40 days in the wilderness (Matthew 4:11) and for the entire 33 years of his perfect life, finally defeating Satan, sin, and death once for all when he triumphantly rose to life on Easter Sunday. And he did it all to heal us, to make us whole again!
Jesus outlines the blessings and benefits of what he accomplished for us when he came to live among us: “To him who overcomes, [that is, “to him who keeps trusting in me until death”] I will give some of the hidden manna. I will also give him a white stone with a new name written on it…”
Manna gave life to Israel in the years of desert as they made their way to the Promised Land of Israel after God delivered them from oppressive slavery in Egypt. There is bread from heaven even greater than that. “I am the true bread who came down from heaven,” Jesus once preached. He is our Bread of Life. His forgiveness, his promises, his presence sustains our souls as we journey through this world that is otherwise a spiritually barren wasteland.
Even as we journey on earth, we can be sure of where we’re headed after this life because Jesus promises: I will also give him a white stone. In the Roman world, juries voted for guilt or innocence with a dark or white stone. The white stone was the verdict of “Not guilty.”
And notice what this white stone has written on – a new name. To have a new name means to have a new relationship with God. It means we are no longer what we were before. We came into this world as slaves of sin and Satan, but now through faith in Christ we are children of God; once we were just lone individuals trying to make our way in this world, but now we have become the people of God who are making our way together to the heavenly Promised Land that Jesus is preparing for us in eternity.
Though our enemy is trying his hardest to force us to compromise our Christian convictions or seduce us to do so by giving in to our own wayward desires, our Savior sustains us with the strong sword of his mouth. He uses it to cut out false beliefs because of the danger they pose to living faith as well as false living that weakens our Christian confession. The manna of his grace strengthens our grip on biblical truth and our grit to stand strong upon it. He calls us to live in the confidence that God has cast a white stone as his verdict on our case, acquitting us of all our past sins, and calling us to live with complete Christian integrity. Living out the new name He’s given us: washed, redeemed, dearly loved child of the most High God. Doing so as examples, as shining lights and beacons of for this wayward and wandering world. Because what our world really needs isn’t merely Christians who can talk good about the faith but Christians who embrace it and embody it, revealing the goodness of it through fully integrated beliefs and behaviors that point to the One who is at the center of it all: Jesus Christ the perfectly righteous and perfectly forgiving one. God work such integrity of faith in us and through the exercise of our faith extend his blessings out to many, many others! Amen.