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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
 
Title:Christ calls believers to persevere
Text:Revelation 3:11 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Persecution
 
Preached:2016
Added:2017-01-24
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Psalm 34:1-3

Psalm 40:5 (after the law)

Psalm 129

Hymn 67

Psalm 105:1-3

Scripture reading:  Revelation 3:7-13

Text:  Revelation 3:11

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved congregation of Christ,

In the Christian life, there is always a danger of thinking that we’ve made it, that we’ve arrived.  But the Bible is clear that being a Christian involves a lifetime of serving God and being a disciple of our Lord Jesus.  Sometimes this lifelong process of growth is hard and presents challenges.  Sometimes you’re tempted to give up, even it’s just temporarily.  Sometimes it looks like it’s easier to just coast along and not take God seriously, try to say you’re a Christian and yet live life your own way at the same time.

The text for this morning’s sermon addresses that temptation to give up and take it easy spiritually.  It comes by way of a letter from Jesus.  When we think about letters in the Bible, we often think of those written by Paul to various churches.  But the first three chapters of the book of Revelation include letters from Jesus to seven churches in Asia Minor.  Our text is found in the letter to the church at Philadelphia.  That was a small, struggling church.  They were under pressure.  They were faced with the temptation to give up the good fight of the faith.  In view of that, Christ gives them this letter through his servant John.  He encourages them to stick it out.  I’m going to proclaim the message of our text with this theme, Christ calls believers to persevere.  We’ll consider:

  1. The background to this call
  2. The way to follow this call
  3. The reward for following this call

Christ had to rebuke five of the seven churches to which he wrote letters.  There were only two that didn’t get rebuked; Smyrna was one and Philadelphia was the other.  Both churches had something in common.  They faced more intense persecution and pressure, especially from the Jews who didn’t believe in Christ.  In each city, both Smyrna and Philadelphia, there were Jewish synagogues.  These were places where Jewish believers would gather to worship on the Sabbath.  But Jesus says that these Jewish synagogues are not of God, instead they are synagogues of Satan.  They belong to the enemy of God.  They are opposed to God and therefore they also oppose the gospel and persecute true believers. 

So there was that background of present and ongoing hardship for the Christians in Philadelphia.  Being a Christian was hard – it meant standing out from the crowd.  Being a Christian in that world meant having a target on your back.  You were different.  You didn’t follow the religion of the Jews.  You believed that the Messiah had come and that he had died an accursed death on a cross.  But being a Christian also set you apart from the others in your city.  You didn’t worship the Greek or Roman gods.  You wouldn’t say that Caesar is Lord.  Instead, you acknowledged that Jesus is Lord – he is the Lord of lords and King of kings.  That meant that the people around you would not only have considered you odd, but also a political threat.  In that world, being a Christian would ensure that people hate you and would do you harm if they could. 

But in the verse right before our text, in verse 10, our Lord Jesus reveals that things are going to get worse for the believers in Philadelphia.  He speaks of an “hour of trial” that is coming.  Things may be hard now, but brace yourself, because things are going to become harder.  The Philadelphian believers were going to encounter yet more hatred and persecution.  Because they believe in the Messiah, because they believe that Jesus is Lord, both Jews and Gentiles will make a point of trying to wipe them off the face of the earth.  What they believe and who they believe in will not be tolerated.

Today, here in Australia, we still have the freedom to worship.  There are no government agents in the car park taking down our regos for future reference.  The government is not currently planning to take our children away because we’re Christians.  Compared to Christians in places like North Korea, China, or Saudi Arabia, we have quite a bit of freedom.  We should never take that for granted.  However, we all have to realize that our Christian faith is increasingly under attack.  In Canada, a young man 19 years old ran to become the youngest ever Member of Provincial Parliament in Ontario.  He won the election.  Sam Oosterhoff is a member of one of our sister churches.  He’s a vocal Christian.  The media has been relentless in mocking and attacking him because he’s a Christian.  If you read the comments on some of the news stories about him, you’ll get a sense of how people regard Christians.  They spit out profanity, even express their desire to see him physically hurt or sexually assaulted.  The hatred is just incredible.  Things are no better here.  If you want to be discouraged, read the comments sometime on stories relating to Christians on local news websites.  There too you’ll find that we have neighbours in our state who see us as a threat.  They’d be happy to see us locked away or worse.  Not everyone (thankfully), but they’re out there and they’re increasingly vocal.  If you come out as a Bible-believing Christian, you shouldn’t expect to be popular.  The day may very well come where the government actually turns on us too.  So far thankfully we’ve been protected from that, but for many people in Australian society, it’s open season on Christians.  To some today, being a Christian is like being a Nazi.  It’s okay if you’re one of those “Christians” who doesn’t believe what the Bible says, but if you really want to follow Scripture, it’s like you’re not just a moral leper, you’re a war criminal.

In the face of that, Christ gives encouragement to believers in the first sentence of verse 11.  It’s just a few words: “I am coming soon.”  It’s just four words, but they’re rich with gospel truth.  This is speaking about the return of Christ to judge the living and the dead.  Lord’s Day 19 of the Catechism deals partly with that article of the Apostles’ Creed where we confess Christ’s return to judge the living and the dead.  We confess that this is part of what the gospel promises us.  The good news is centered on the cross of Christ.  It’s focus is first on what Jesus has done to deal with our sin, to atone for it.  But it doesn’t stop there.  The gospel includes Christ’s resurrection from the dead.  It includes his ascension into heaven.  The good news also includes a Saviour who is coming soon.  Christ is returning and this is encouragement for believers under the gun. 

How is it encouragement?  There are two ways that this truth lifts our spirits.  First of all, when he returns, it will be for our ultimate deliverance.  Once Jesus returns, the church that has had to wage war on sin will be at peace.  Once he returns, the church that has had war waged on it for following Christ will be at peace.  All Christian believers in heaven and on earth will finally be delivered from the ravages of spiritual war. It’ll all be over.  For now, our cry goes up, “How long?  How long, Lord?”  To that cry he replies, “Soon.  I am coming soon.”  We don’t know when, but we know he will.  He promised it and he will keep his word.

The second way that this encourages us is that we know that when he returns, it will be for justice and vindication.  Back in the days our text was written, the world looked at the tiny church in Philadelphia and thought, “What a bunch of loonies!  They’re religious extremists.  We need to do something about them.”  Today too, the world regards Christians who take their faith seriously as being just as dangerous as Muslim terrorists.  Something has to be done not only to silence us, but to make us disappear.  All over the world, Christians are regarded as scum of the earth, enemies of the state, thought-criminals.  Our people are tortured and killed for their faith.  To that, Jesus says, “I am coming soon.  I am coming with justice and vindication for my people.”  When he returns, those who persecuted the faithful without ever repenting will receive their just due.  It will be seen that they were persecuting not just people, but the King of kings and Lord of lords.  When he returns, the whole world will see that our cause was the cause of the Son of God.  We will be vindicated in the eyes of the world.   Christians will be seen to have been right, whereas our persecutors and mockers were wrong and unjust.  Everything that’s upside down right now will be turned right side up. 

Loved ones, the gospel promises all this to us too!  Believe that the Saviour who lived a perfect life in your place is coming back for you soon.  Believe that the Jesus who died on the cross in your place is going to return with deliverance and justice.  He has not forgotten what his people are going through, what you’ve been through, or what you may yet someday go through because of your commitment to him.

In the face of persecution and knowing that Christ is coming soon, the call goes out to the believers in Philadelphia:  “hold fast what you have.”  That’s a call to us too.  “Hold fast what you have.”  This is a call to persevere.  This is a call to stick with it.  That’s what persevering means.  It means that you hold the line and don’t give up. 

It says “hold fast what you have.”  The question should be asked, “Jesus, what do you mean when you refer to what they have?”  What is it that’s in their possession?  The answer is that it’s their faith in him, their trust in him.  It’s that precious treasure of belief in the gospel.  You can see that from verse 8.  Jesus says that he knows they have little power.  He knows that they’re a little struggling church.  In worldly terms, they don’t amount to much.  No power, no influence.  Then he adds, “and yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name.”  So when he says, “hold fast what you have,” he means keep on keeping my word and not denying my name.  Persevere in your Christian faith.  When you’re faced with mockery and persecution, don’t give up.  In today’s terms, don’t throw in the towel when you’re about to get sacked from a job because you won’t affirm and celebrate the LGBT agenda.  Don’t give up when you could face prison because you’ve been committed to what the Bible teaches.  Hold fast!  Hold fast to what you have, hold fast to your faith.         

When we consider this call to persevere and the how of doing this, there are a couple of things we need to keep in mind.  First of all, the emphasis here is on our human responsibility.  What we have here in Revelation 3:11 is a command.  It’s a command that we’re meant to carry out.  We don’t carry it out because we’re going to earn our salvation from it.  Instead, it’s a command that we want to follow because we’ve been so greatly loved by the one who said it.  The One who said this is the one who came into this world to take on our flesh to live and die for us.  He gave up his glory in heaven to go on a rescue mission for us.  The One who said this is the one who had us on his heart when he had the nails hammered through his hands and feet on the cross.  The One who said this is the one who loved us to death.  His love for us is unfathomable.  He loved us that much long before we could ever do anything in return.  We follow his commands not to earn anything from him, but to show our love for him and our thankfulness to him.

Moreover, we don’t follow his commands in our own strength.  Jesus talked about bearing fruit in John 15.  That’s what this is about.  From our side, persevering is about the branches grafted into the vine bearing fruit.  Jesus says in John 15:5, “apart from me you can do nothing.”  You can’t hold fast the Christian faith apart from the strength of Jesus Christ.  You can’t hold the line against persecution and mockery in your own power.  Not going to happen.  That’s why Paul says in Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”  It’s not, “I can do all things on my own.”  But “through him who strengthens me.”  It’s through Christ, through his power.  Specifically, it’s through the power of the Spirit of Christ who lives in believers.  If we are going to hold fast in the face of persecution, we need to rely on the Holy Spirit.  We need to pray for him to strengthen us.  The only way we can follow this call to persevere is through the almighty Spirit.  The only way is through the same Spirit who’s powerfully given life to our dead hearts.  So brothers and sisters, ask God for that strength always, so that you can endure.  Without him, you are nothing.  But with him, with his power, you can and will go the distance, no matter what the world throws at you.           

Our text also speaks about a reward for following this call.  This is in the last part of verse 11 where Jesus says, “hold fast what you have, so that no one may seize your crown.”  In other words, if you persevere to the end, you will have a crown.  If you don’t persevere, if you give up your faith, your crown is going to go to someone else.

But what is this “crown” that Jesus is speaking about here?  The Bible speaks in several places of believers receiving a crown when Christ comes back.  There are different names for this crown.  Sometimes it’s called the crown of righteousness (2 Tim. 4:8).  Sometimes it’s the crown of life (James 1:12, Rev. 2:10).  Sometimes it’s the crown of glory (1 Pet. 5:4).  But we shouldn’t imagine that those are all different crowns.  It’s the same thing being spoken of in different ways with slightly different emphases.  Whether it’s the crown of righteousness, life, or glory, this is always speaking about a reward.  It’s speaking about a glorious honour being bestowed upon believers who have, by God’s grace, held out to the end.

This reward is something for the future.  In every other place where this crown is described, it’s always something future.  For example, 2 Timothy 4:8, “Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.”  The key thing to note is that there is a not yet here.  We don’t have this crown as of right now.  We don’t even really possess it when we die.  We will possess it at Christ’s appearing, after he returns to judge the living and the dead. 

And then what exactly is this reward, this glorious honour that we can look forward to?  For the answer to that, we have to skip ahead to verse 12.  Jesus speaks there about the one who conquers, the one who has persevered.  He says that there will be a glorious honour, a reward for that person.  This is the crown that you don’t want anyone to seize from you.  It’s first of all being a pillar in the temple of God.  A pillar in the temple of God symbolizes a lasting, enduring place in God’s dwelling.  You’re not a piece of furniture that could get removed, but a pillar.  A pillar is part of the structure.  No one takes out a pillar.  It’s there to last, and so it will be with all who hold fast to the faith.  You will last forever in God’s house, in his presence.  But there’s more.  Jesus also speaks about names being written on these conquering and persevering believers.  There’s the name of God, the name of the city, the New Jerusalem.  There’s the name of Christ himself.  Having that name imprinted on you symbolizes ownership – you belong to God, you belong to the city of God, you belong to Christ.  Having that name imprinted on you symbolizes safety and security.  If you’re his, nobody and nothing can touch you.  You belong to the Almighty God and you’re going to be eternally protected.  Taken all together, the glorious honour is to be permanently owned, forever safe and secure.  In this world, we have so much that’s fleeting and uncertain, but in the new heavens and new earth, we will have the definite and glorious honour of living with God forever.  We have a certain future! 

This crown is held out to believers as a motivation to persevere.  You see, Christ just doesn’t tell us to persevere and leave it at that.  No, he motivates us with the knowledge of what will be waiting for us after we persevere.  Remember this is about human responsibility.  This is about us responding to a command:  hold fast what you have.  Because he knows us, because he knows we’re weak, he says, “Here’s part of the reason why.  You can get motivated knowing that the crown is waiting for you.” 

But, of course, there’s also a warning here.  The warning is that if you don’t hold fast, someone else will take your honour, take your crown.  Christ isn’t speaking here from the perspective of divine sovereignty in our salvation.  He isn’t coming at this from the angle of what we call the perseverance of the saints.  You know that in the Canons of Dort we confess that true believers will be preserved by God’s grace until the end.  That’s not in view here.  Here the focus is not on comforting believers with God’s sovereignty, but motivating believers with their human responsibility.  We are responsible to hear Christ’s commands and respond to them.  In this case, we are responsible to hear the call to hold fast what we have, and then be motivated to respond with the knowledge of the waiting crown.  Again, we do that, not on our own steam, but through the grace and power of the Holy Spirit who lives in us.  But we still have to do it!                       

Loved ones, your Saviour wants you to hold fast what you have.  The world is probably going to throw a lot at you if you’re serious about being a disciple of Jesus.  You’re going to get mocked as a religious nut or extremist.  Jesus warned us it would happen.  If we’re really following him, we should expect it to happen.  When it does, remember the words of our text.  Jesus says, “I am coming soon, hold fast what you have so that no one will seize your crown.”  Persevere to the end, no matter what the cost, and you will be amazed at what your God has in store for you when Christ returns.  AMEN.

PRAYER

Dear merciful Saviour, thank you for the words you gave to the church at Philadelphia all those years ago.  Those words also give us much encouragement.  We look forward to your return.  We look forward to our ultimate deliverance.  We’re eager to see justice and vindication for believers who’ve been mistreated and persecuted.  We look forward to glory and honour with you, our crown.  Thank you for promising believers a permanent place in the house of the Father, a place where we’ll be forever owned, forever secure.  Now our dear Lord, we pray for your Spirit to richly strengthen us.  Help us to hold fast to what we have, to hold the faith, no matter what the cost, no matter what the mockery, no matter the hatred we face.  With your grace and Spirit, please help us all to hold the line, to keep the faith, to fight the good fight to the end.  Please also give our young people grace to persevere.  We also pray for persecuted believers around the world.  Please also help them to stand fast in the face of those who hate you and hate the gospel.  Please give them strength to provide a faithful gospel witness to their persecutors and tormentors.  We pray that the blood of the martyrs would continue to be the seed of the church, for the glory of your Name and the advance of the gospel.                                      




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

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