What Christ Says to MDPC: Don’t Water Down The Message
I’m about to read for you words from the second chapter of the Book of Revelation. This is the Word of God:
“To the angel of the church in Pergamum write, ‘These are the words of Him who has the sharp, double-edged sword. I know where you live, where Satan has his throne. Yet, you remain true to My name. You did not renounce your faith in Me even in the days of Antipas, My faithful witness who was put to death in your city where Satan lives. Nevertheless, 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 foods sacrificed to idols and by committing sexual immorality. Likewise, you also have those who hold to the teaching of the Nicolaitans. Repent therefore. Otherwise, I will soon come to you and will fight against them with the sword of My mouth.’
“‘He who has an ear let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, I will give some of the hidden manna. I will also give him a white stone with a new name written on it known only to him who receives it.'”
May God bless to us the reading and the hearing of this, His holy Word.
Pray with me please. Give me Jesus, Lord. Give me Jesus. You can have all the rest, just give me Jesus. Amen.
I like this one. See if you agree. It’s a story of a little boy in the third grade. His teacher gave him a homework assignment. That night, he was to write a paragraph about his family. Later that day, he sat down in his bedroom, picked up his pencil and realized he didn’t have the foggiest idea where to start. So he got up and went to the kitchen where his mother was preparing supper. Without warning, he said to her, “Mom, how was I born?” Well, the mother realized that sooner or later, she probably would have to deal with some birds and bees type issues, but slaving over a hot stove didn’t seem to be the best time to do that. So she put him off with the old saw. “The stork brought you.” He nodded, and he left and went into the living room where his grandmother was reading. He interrupted her and he said, “Grandma, how was my mother born?” Well, this dear lady, a product of the Victorian era, knew that she would never tackle a subject like that. And so she very quickly said to him, “The stork brought your mother.” He then persisted. “Well then, Grandma, how were you born?” She quickly replied, “The stork brought me too.” He thanked her. Went up to his room, picked up his pencil and wrote these words. “There hasn’t been a normal birth in my family for three generations.”
You see, the problem there was that everybody knew the truth, but they were reluctant to speak it. That was also the problem in the church at Pergamum. We know that’s true because of the stinging words Jesus delivered to the church at Pergamum in the third of his seven letters in the Book of Revelation. Now, let me see if I can try to paint the picture with words.
The city of Pergamum was built on a 1,000 high foot cliff jutting out over a vast extended valley. And the city from that very prominent place held a commanding view of the entire surrounding region. That is why Pergamum became a city of great military significance. In fact, the word Pergamum literally means fortress or citadel. Not only that, but Pergamum was a city which played host to a whole host of pagan religions. There was a lot of religion in Pergamum. The problem was most of it was counterfeit religion which only had a profoundly negative impact upon the city and the people of that city. As a matter of fact, it was such a situation that Jesus actually declared that Pergamum was the place where Satan’s throne was located. I doubt that the Pergamum Chamber of Commerce was very happy with that designation.
And so here in this city which could only be characterized as an alien environment for Christians, here was this band of Christ followers struggling to stay true to the truth of Jesus Christ, and not always succeeding at that. We learn from the letter that the church at Pergamum had both external and internal problems. Externally, the church had become so tolerant and compliant, so permissive and lax, so identified with the surrounding culture that the church had ceased to be strong, dynamic witnesses for Christ. Internally, the church had people who belonged to the church. Jesus calls them Balaamites and Nicolaitans. They were people who were bent on watering down the message of the Gospel. They were quick to compromise the values of the faith. They were determined to sow seeds of dissension within the congregation’s life, thus hindering the witness of that church.
Little wonder that Jesus launched such a frontal assault on the church at Pergamum. He said to them, “Repent. Stop what you’re doing. Change your ways. Otherwise, I will come and fight against these things with the sword of My mouth.” Tough words which the church at Pergamum needed to hear. Tough words which the church at MDPC would do well to hear.
Think about it. Here we are, in this absolutely incredible church, in the midst of a great city, surrounded by everything the world could ever conceive. Surrounded by people who have lost their way or at best, are willing to believe anything that seems fashionable or popular. Here we are with nothing to sell and everything to offer. And that is why we at MDPC are called by Christ to speak and live the truth of Jesus Christ at all costs. Let me try to spell out for you a bit of what that means.
I believe it means that we are called to serve Christ without hesitancy.
Golly. What I find so absolutely wondrous is that God has allowed my life and the life of MDPC to intersect in just such a time as this. You see, we are living in a time when there are too many in the church who want to water down the claims and the commands of Christ, who want to compromise the church’s beliefs, who want to change the Gospel in order to accommodate people, rather than changing people in order to accommodate the Gospel. But thank God. MDPC is not now and never has been there. Right from its very beginnings, this church has stood for the truth of Jesus Christ, unvarnished, unadorned, unreserved, unconditional. And I, in my own life and ministry for more than 45 years now, have sought to do the same. And is it so amazing to me that now you and I together have the opportunity to serve Christ like that. Won’t be easy. This is a tough, challenging, threatening time for the church of Jesus Christ.
I have been helped so much by a wonderful little book written by Hans Ehrenberg called Autobiography of a German Pastor. It’s the story of how Ehrenberg’s church managed to stand against Adolf Hitler and the Nazi movement in Germany. In the book, Ehrenberg describes how his task every single Sunday was to preach the gospel in such a way that it would encourage his people to stand strong and firm in their faith in Christ. And then every Thursday of every week, his whole church would meet together to pray, to study the Bible, to analyze the core values of the faith, to immerse themselves in the great creeds and confessions from the history of the church. Ehrenberg refers to these sessions as—listen, rehearsals for what might be coming. And he declares that it was that strategy which enabled his people to resist and to overcome even in concentration camps.
Ehrenberg, who himself ultimately was dispatched to a concentration camp, tells of an incident with one of the young teenage girls in his congregation. An incident, he says, which says it all. It was the first week of summer camp for girls. And the teenage girls assembled in the assembly hall at the camp on the opening day for what was termed the opening service of worship. When they entered the hall, they were confronted with a large picture of Adolf Hitler placed front and center, an indicator of what was about to transpire. One of those campers was this young girl from Ehrenberg’s church. Suddenly, she got up. She walked down to the front. She picked up the picture of Adolf Hitler and smashed it against the wall and turned and cried out, “Thou shalt have no other gods before me.” Ehrenberg writes, “What was so remarkable about that was not that she smashed Adolf Hitler’s picture. Not even that she had the courage to confess the first commandment. What was so remarkable about that was that she had been prepared beforehand to do both.”
That’s our task. Yours and mine. To get prepared for whatever might be coming. And that’s why it’s worth noting that here in this church during Holy Week, a church dared to launch a non-stop round-the-clock public reading of the Bible from beginning to end. That here in this church in September, we are going to be called to invest in a deep intensive study of the creeds and confessions of our great Presbyterian Reform tradition. That here in this church, we dare to send our young people to the bitter streets of New Orleans there to share the faith with the least and the lost. That is our calling. To get prepared for whatever might be coming. That is our calling. To serve Christ together without hesitancy.
And then I believe that we are called to share Christ without apology.
I want to be very clear at this point. Here in the letter to the church at Pergamum, Jesus speaks about Satan. He plainly and clearly describes that Satan is at work in that city and in that church. He even calls Pergamum the place where Satan’s throne is located. Now, I know. I know. There are a lot of Christians who get a little embarrassed when you start talking about Satan. They conjure up this juvenile, Halloweenish idea of a fiend dressed in red with a pitchfork and a pointed tail and horns. And they say that image just does not fit with this intellectually enlightened time. Well, that in itself is evidence of Satan at work.
Satan is always trying to convince us that he doesn’t exist. But I believe Satan exists because Jesus believes that Satan exists. And quite frankly, my Savior’s belief is good enough for me. Satan is at work. He’s out to win the world and failing that, he’s out to create as much hardship, heartbreak, and heartache as possible. And if you write Satan off as nothing more than just a harmless myth, then let me kindly suggest to you that you are not really taking seriously the power of evil that exists in this world. And unless that evil is acknowledged and attacked by those of us in the faith, that evil will work to prevail. Now, the good news for us as Christians is we know that because of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, Satan, in the ultimate sense, has been defeated. The war has been won. God has triumphed. But Satan, like a mortally wounded animal, will continue to fight and claw and scratch until at last, death overtakes it. So Satan, mortally wounded, continues to wreak havoc in the church and in the world and even in our lives.
And that’s why we are called, warned by the church at Pergamum, we are called to speak and live the truth of Jesus Christ.
There are too many today who want to water down that message. Too many who want to rationalize away the claims of the faith. There are too many who say, “Well, with the new morality and the new standards, we need to adjust.”nLet me say this as plainly as I know how. The Ten Commandments have never been repealed. Oh, I need to hear that. Now, I’m preaching to myself at this point; listen in if you like. I am constantly confronted with the temptation to be the kindly old preacher who preaches an easy, comfortable gospel when in fact, I am called by the Holy Spirit of God to preach the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help me God.
I was visiting with a man not long ago. He was telling me about his preacher. He said to me—he said, “I love my preacher because for all the years he’s been in my church, he’s never once said a disturbing thing from the pulpit.” Phoo. My heart sank like a stone. God forbid that anything like that should ever be said about me. I must preach a gospel which, yes, comforts the afflicted, by all means, but I also must preach a gospel which afflicts the comfortable. I must preach a gospel which both soothes and startles. I must preach a gospel which relentlessly scolds wickedness, condemns injustice, provokes conversion, elevates the spirit, and encourages transformation. And it is my intent, for as long as God permits me to stand here, it is my intent from this sacred desk to deliver nothing less than the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help me God.
And what is true of me needs to be true for all of us in our everyday lives. You see, when we commit ourselves to Jesus Christ, we are called to holy and righteous living. In Pergamum, they’d forgotten that. Those Christians were engaged in trying to find ways to justify immoral behavior. They were professing Christians but practicing pagans. They were saying all the right words and doing all the wrong things. That is why it is so essential for us at MDPC in this difficult challenging time to once again, recommit ourselves to deliberately, intentionally, following the Word, the Way, the Will of our Lord Jesus Christ. We’re called to speak and to live the truth of Christ. Every way, every day, cost what it may. Remember, when we belong to Jesus Christ, we are fighting on the winning side.
Back in the early days of the church, there was a young man who was publicly announcing the truth of Christ. The authority seized him. They showed him the executioner sword, and they said, “Unless you renounce your faith in Christ, you will be beheaded right now.” He turned to his adversaries and said, “You may take my head from my shoulders, but you will never take my heart from my King.”
Imagine. Just imagine. Yes. Just imagine what would happen if we at MDPC all had that kind of courageous, uncompromised faith and commitment to Jesus Christ. Just imagine. And that is why I plead with you, my new cherished friends, I plead with you today. Don’t ever let anyone or anything take your heart from the King.
Soli Deo Gloria.
To God alone be the glory.
Amen and amen.