November 10, 2013

The Compromising and Corrupt Churches - Nov 10, 2013

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When Satan does not succeed in breaking down the front door, he circles around to try the back. And most often, he does both at the same time.

In our study of Christ’s letters to the seven churches, one thing has been consistent. Each church has faced outward persecution. But each church has withstood the pressures of persecution.

Today we’ll see how Satan used a two-fold strategy in the cities of Pergamum and Thyatira. He used outward persecution to put pressure on the Christians there, and he sent false teachers to weaken their faith from the inside.

Today we study The Compromising Church and The Corrupt Church.

Revelation 2:12-29 (NASB)

  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.’

  18   “And to the angel of the church in Thyatira write:
The Son of God, who has eyes like a flame of fire, and His feet are like burnished bronze, says this:
  19   ‘I know your deeds, and your love and faith and service and perseverance, and that your deeds of late are greater than at first.
  20   ‘But I have this against you, that you tolerate the woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, and she teaches and leads My bond-servants astray so that they commit acts of immorality and eat things sacrificed to idols.
  21   ‘I gave her time to repent, and she does not want to repent of her immorality.
  22   ‘Behold, I will throw her on a bed of sickness, and those who commit adultery with her into great tribulation, unless they repent of her deeds.
  23   ‘And I will kill her children with pestilence, and all the churches will know that I am He who searches the minds and hearts; and I will give to each one of you according to your deeds.
  24   ‘But I say to you, the rest who are in Thyatira, who do not hold this teaching, who have not known the deep things of Satan, as they call them—I place no other burden on you.
  25   ‘Nevertheless what you have, hold fast until I come.
  26   ‘He who overcomes, and he who keeps My deeds until the end, to him I will give authority over the nations;
  27   and he shall rule them with a rod of iron, as the vessels of the potter are broken to pieces, as I also have received authority from My Father;
  28   and I will give him the morning star.
  29   ‘He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’
Pergamum and Thyatira were good sized cities in their day. They were about 45 miles apart by Roman road.

Pergamum was known for being home to the first temple of Emperor Worship. This might be what Jesus is referring to when he talks about Satan’s throne.

Thyatira had pagan temples too, but it was known more as a manufacturing center than a religious Mecca. The inhabitants of Thyatira dyed cloth, made garments, turned pottery, and produced articles of brass.
Like I said earlier, these congregations had endured persecution for their faith in Christ. In Pergamum, a man by the name of Antipas had even been murdered. And yet, these Christians held just held more tightly to Christ.

In his letters, Jesus has quite a word of praise for the Christians of Pergamum and Thyatira. They were growing mature in their faith, and it was showing. Jesus says that in Thyatira, the things that they were doing in Christ’s name were greater NOW than they had been BEFORE.

But among these congregations a cancer was growing. Some of the people had begun to mix pagan ideas into their Christianity. They were not only worshipping the God of the Bible, they were also worshipping at pagan altars. Jesus says that the teachings of Balaam were at work in these cities.

To which we say, “Huh?”

Jews who heard the name Balaam would have known right away what Jesus was talking about. But we’re not Jewish. So we need a little history lesson about Balaam.
Balaam was a pagan witch-doctor who lived before the people of Israel took possession of the Promised Land. As the people of Israel moved toward Palestine, the nations who saw them got worried. What if this huge group of people decided to invade their country?

The King of Moab was afraid of the Israelites. He knew his army couldn’t stand up to theirs. And so he hired Balaam to pronounce a curse on Israel. If the Israelites were cursed Moab might be able to defeat them in battle.

But, when Balaam tried to pronounce a curse on Israel, the LORD put a blessing in his mouth instead. This happened numerous times and really ticked off the King of Moab. I mean, he was paying Balaam to curse the Israelites, not bless them. But God wouldn’t let it happen.

Finally Balaam came up with a plan that would work. Since he couldn’t openly curse the Israelites, he suggested trying the back door. He told the King of Moab to somehow get the Israelites to start worshipping other gods. Then Yahweh would get angry with them and maybe Moab could win.

At Balaam’s suggestion foreign women started to invite the men of Israel to offer sacrifices to a false called named Baal. These sacrifices included sexually immoral fertility rituals that were supposed to ensure a good harvest, or a productive herd of animals.

The men professed their trust in Baal by eating from the sacrifices that were offered to Baal, and by participating in sexually immoral practices with the women  who worshipped Baal.

Where open war against Israel would have failed, tempting them to worship false gods succeeded. (see Numbers, chapters 22-25, and 31:8,16)
And Satan was utilizing the same approach in Pergamum and Thyatira.

The people in Pergamum and Thyatira had the same worries as the ancient Israelites. What if the harvest fails this year? What if the cows don’t have as many calves? What will we do if there’s a famine? Who will save us?

But their pagan neighbors had a plan. Add a little insurance to your religion by worshipping our gods also. Offer a sacrifice or two, unite yourself to our gods by eating from our sacrifices. Come visit the temple prostitutes and ensure next year’s harvest.
Now, maybe you’re thinking this study is a waste of time. After all, we don’t face the same temptations here do we? There aren’t too many fertility cults around. No temples that still practice animal sacrifice.

But we have the same worries that people have had for ages. What’s going to happen tomorrow? Will we have the things we need? Will we have the things we want? And what if we don’t?

And OUR unbelieving neighbors have suggestions for us too. Plans for wealth and health that don’t match up with God’s way of living. Strategies and philosophies which might help us reach our hopes and dreams, but will lead us to put our trust in something other than the God of the Bible.
One of the thing that comes out strongly in Christ’s letters here is that God is very serious about doctrine (teaching). The world around us tells us, “Okay, lets say that there really is a God of the universe. You’re telling me that a God that is that big really CARES what little human beings do with each other on earth? Come on!”

But God does care. He cares about us. He cares about what we do. What we say. He cares about what is in our hearts. And he cares about what we teach in our churches. Because each time people accept false teachings, they are rejecting the truth which God wants us to know.

It’s not outward actions that matter so much as what those actions say about our attitude toward God.

Take the first sin for example. Was God really so upset because Eve stole one little piece of fruit from the forbidden tree? Why> Was it because he couldn’t make another piece of fruit? NO! Eve’s action was so offensive to God because it was OPEN REBELLION. It was spitting in his face. It was Eve saying, “God, I know better than you. Your command doesn’t really matter to me.”

If I tell my daughter to hang up her coat, and she refuses, I’m not going to be upset because of the coat! I can hang it up myself. The more serious issue is the rebellion and disrespect shown by her refusal.
Jesus shows us how serious God is about doctrine when he warns the Christians at Pergamum and Thyatira to change their ways. To Pergamum Jesus says,

“…Repent; or else I am coming to you quickly, and I will make war against them with the sword of My mouth” (Revelation 2:16 NASB).

“Listen up!” Jesus says. If his gentle rebuke is not heeded, he will fight using his powerful Word. When you think of the fact that Jesus’ word was able to heal disease, calm storms, and bring people back from the dead—having that Word used against you is a bit of a frightening idea.

And to the woman who was leading the Christians at Thyatira astray, Jesus has an equally sobering message. Jesus calls this woman, “Jezebel” after a murderous queen in the Old Testament who also led people into Baal worship. Jesus says that the modern day “Jezebel” in Thyatira was about to be physically rebuked.

She had been leading men of the congregation at Thyatira to commit adultery in her bed, but now she’d have to lie in that bed to sick to rise. And all who had accepted her false teachings and had done wickedness with her would also be physically rebuked in one way or another.
Now, you and I have come to know Christ as our compassionate Savior. We know him as the Son of God who humbly became human. We know him as the mighty miracle worker who refused to save himself from humiliating torture on a Roman cross. And why, because someone had to suffer the penalty for sin—and he didn’t want it to be us. This is the Jesus we think of most of the time.

So, hearing Jesus talk like he does to Thyatira just sounds wrong in our ears. We know Jesus isn’t some big bully in the sky sitting there with a stick, waiting to smack us each time we stumble in sin. We sin each and every day, and we admit this to God. And we bring our sins to God with a heavy heart, asking him to forgive us once again. And we know that in Christ we have forgiveness. That’s his promise. So why does Jesus speak such harsh words to “Jezebel”?

At the beginning of his letter to Thyatira Jesus calls himself the…

“Son of God, who has eyes like a flame of fire” (Revelation 2:18 NASB).

Later he says…

“I am He who searches the minds and hearts” (Revelation 2:23 NASB).

When speaking this rebuke to “Jezebel” and her followers, Jesus isn’t speaking to Christians who had a humble attitude of repentance. He was speaking to people who had turned away from him and were putting their trust in utterly empty human teachings. Perhaps, “Jezebel” could make a convincing argument for what she was doing—the church at Thyatira was tolerating her after all. But Jesus knew her heart. She had no intention of changing her ways. And so the rebuke of the almighty God was coming to her. Now, Christ would use a firm hand to wake these people up. Their souls were at stake.
In the book of Isaiah, God says…

I am the Lord; that is my name;
my glory I give to no other,
nor my praise to carved idols” (Isaiah 42:8 ESV).

When it comes to his glory, God doesn’t compromise with mankind. He doesn’t say, “Oh, worship whatever you want, and I’ll consider THAT worship of me.” He doesn’t say, “Teach whatever you want, and I’ll call THAT my teachings.”

If we are to have a true relationship with the almighty God, it doesn’t come on our terms—that relationship comes on HIS terms.

Martin Luther’s motto was, “Soli Deo Gloria”. That is, “To God alone be the glory.” When we trust in a god other than the God of the Bible, we rob him of his glory. When we permit false teachings to be mixed in with God’s teachings, we insult his glory. And when we allow our sinful nature to lead our lives, we invite God’s wrath to fall on us. Better to say with Luther, “To God alone be the glory. I will trust in HIM. I will get my doctrine from HIS Word. The LORD will steer my life.”
And the amazing thing is, that even though God will not compromise with mankind, that doesn’t mean God won’t GIVE astounding gifts to mankind.

To the people in Thyatira who weren’t allied with “Jezebel”, Jesus says, “Just keep holding on guys. You’re going to get a lot more out of aligning yourself with me, than with her.”

With each of these letters there’s a pattern. At the end of each letter Jesus holds out words of promise for his faithful followers. He says, “Those of you who keep trusting in me to the end, I’m going to bless you in a BIG WAY.”
To the faithful Christians at Pergamum Jesus says that he’s going to give them some of the “hidden manna”, and a “white stone”, and a “new name”.

The original “manna” was the bread that kept the Israelites alive when they were wandering around in the desert. Here Jesus promises his people a better bread, one that sustains for eternity.

When a jury back then would vote, they used stones. A black stone signified a vote for “guilty”, a white stone was a vote for “not-guilty”. Here Jesus promises his people a verdict of “not-guilty” on the final day of judgment. When the Judge himself gives you a white stone, you’re free.

At significant turning points in a person’s life they would sometimes receive a new name. Abram became Abraham. Jacob became Israel. Here Jesus promises his people a new name in heaven. We’ll be us, but we’ll be the NEW us. Past sins forgiven. Sinful nature removed. A NEW NAME will be very fitting.
God will not share his glory with those who try to rob it for themselves. But to those who look to him in faith, he gives nearly everything.

In the Bible Jesus promises that his followers will get to sit with him on his throne (Revelation 3:21). We’ll receive the crown of life (Revelation 2:10). We’ll be called “children of God” (1 John 3:1). We’ll see God face to face (1 John 3:2).

To the faithful Christians at Thyatira, Jesus says that he’s going to give them “authority over the nations.” He also says he’ll give them “the morning star”.

The “morning star”? That one’s a little puzzling. But Balaam helps us to understand. Like I said earlier, when Balaam tried to curse the Israelites, he only ended up speaking blessings on them. The forth time Balaam spoke, the Holy Spirit used him to say …

“I see him, but not now;
I behold him, but not near.
A star will come out of Jacob;
A scepter will rise out of Israel…” (Numbers 24:17 NIV).

Know who that’s talking about?

To remove any doubt in our minds what the “morning star” is, Jesus says the following in Revelation 22

I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star” (Revelation 22:16 ESV).

That makes it pretty clear.

To those who trust Christ as their Savior to the very end, Christ will give himself as their prize. The eternal Son of God will belong to us forever. Our great God. Our powerful Brother. Our Master and Savior. We will be forever his, and he forever ours.

Now that’s a promise worth holding on to.
When the weight of the world bears down on you, don’t compromise. Your God is stronger, and he’s with you. Read his Word for yourself. Tuck it in your heart so that you’ll hear Satan clearly when he comes rustling around at the back door. Tuck the teachings of Jesus in your mind so you can reject the gentle, sweet words of the false teacher.

Prayer: Father in heaven, right now we don’t face the same level of outward persecution in this country that your children in Pergamum and Thyatira did. It seems that Satan has found false teaching to be a more effective faith killer than violence. Help us to stay awake, and actively absorbing your teachings so that we’ll know when subtle lies enter our church. Help us NEVER to tolerate false teaching of any form. Keep us trusting in your Gospel, instead of the so called wisdom of the world. Strengthen our grip on your gift of forgiveness and everlasting life—until we receive our new name before your throne. Amen.

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