Sermons

Incomplete: Philly Phaithful

October 21, 2018 Pastor: Series: Incomplete

Topic: Christian Living & Discipleship Scripture: Revelation 3:7–3:17

Church family, I’ve waited for this day for a long time. I actually wondered if it would ever come. There’s something I’ve always wanted to talk about with all of you but it’s never felt right to make it the center of our focus. Yes, I’ve mentioned it from time to time. In fact, there was a stretch of time last year where I probably talked about it a smidge too much. But this morning, I can finally discuss it out in the open and at full volume. I want to talk about the city of Philadelphia! Before you roll your eyes, I’m actually talking about the ancient city of Philadelphia, found in Revelation 3. But I can’t pass up the opportunity to tell you how I see parallels between the two and, and to be honest, I can’t pass up the chance to gush a little about my favorite city in the world. So let me share a little bit about my city of Philadelphia, PA, before we dive into the Philadelphia found in ancient central Asia.

I’m guessing that we all know what the name Philadelphia means, right? The city of…Brotherly Love. And that’s true for both cities. The ancient city was founded with the Greek name that has become the moniker for the PA metropolis. And my modern-day Philly leans into that name. Perhaps you’ve seen the iconic LOVE statue that many like to take pictures with. And don’t let anyone mislead you here. Yes, Philly has some rough spots. Just like all cities. But Philly folk are passionate and when they see you as a part of them, you’re in for good. Philadelphia is also a city of rich history. It is the birthplace of our nation. Don’t believe me? Google “birthplace of the US” and see what city pops up in bold. You can go to Independence Hall, where the Declaration of Independence and U.S. Constitution were drafted. You could see the iconic Liberty Bell or even swing over and explore Valley Forge National Park.

But it’s not just the history. The Philadelphia Museum of Art is spectacular and so is the Museum of the American Revolution. If you’re hungry, you have the choice between the delicacies of cheesesteaks, soft pretzels, hoagies, or even a visit to Reading Terminal Market. And you might not know this, I’m not sure I’ve mentioned it before, but Philly is also home to some incredible sports teams. Like the reigning Super Bowl Champion, Philadelphia Eagles.

Now, as I mentioned, Philly gets criticized for a lot. Some of it, admittedly, deserved. But the reason I love Philly so much, other than my teams, is the strong heart that city has. Philly is a loving city - but it’s a tough love and one that isn’t easily broken.

People from Philly love where they come from and wear it on their chest, and they stick up for each other. Even in the shadow of New York, Philly never lets up. It’s why Rocky became not only an iconic hero of Philly but was transformed into a symbol for the city. The little guy who no one gives a chance, who works hard, holds onto their passion, and never stops fighting for what they believe in. That’s Philly. And believe it or not, that’s also the ancient city of Philadelphia – which is what we’ll explore this morning. We’re in Revelation 3:7-13.

Last week we looked at the city of Sardis, and theirs was a fairly bleak tale. In fact, we saw how, in His letter to Sardis, Jesus left out something we had become used to through this Incomplete message series. With Sardis, Jesus gave no encouragement or compliment or commendation. Sardis was in a bad place. Philadelphia, on the other hand, is the complete opposite. When Jesus speaks to this city, He only has encouraging things to say. There is no “I have this against you” message in Christ’s words to Philadelphia. Instead, it is a warm and encouraging acknowledgment of who they are and what they have done. It’s Jesus’ congratulations to the Philly Phaithful.

And even though the message our Savior gives to this ancient Philly is exceedingly positive, there is a good bit to unpack. Jesus tells this group of Christians that He knows their deeds. This is something we’ve heard Jesus say to too many of the churches. And He continues, “I know that you have little strength, yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name.” I want to talk about the “having little strength” part first. What does it mean? One scholar tells us, “The church lacked size and stature in the community and was looked down upon.” One thing we know specifically about the church in this city of Philadelphia - is that it was smaller than the others. On top of that, it didn’t have much pull in the goings on of the city and was more often the butt of the joke than anything else. This ancient Philly was one of the more geographically out-there cities as well, and its inhabitants frequently crossed paths with foreigners and distant traders. It made the evangelistic work of the Philly Phaithful - almost never-ending. And not only their work but the need to defend their faith as well. While not the victims of the most violent persecution, the Philly Christians were always ridiculed first, ignored second, and attacked third.

So Jesus is addressing this group of Christians who have been trying their hardest to do a faithful work in one of the most difficult environments available. His comment about their strength wasn’t an identification of their weakness, it was a declaration of their fortitude and stout-heartedness. It makes me think of my favorite character from J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy. In a story consisting of warriors and wizards, elves and dwarves, heroes and villains…my favorite character is Samwise Gamgee, the Hobbit friend of Frodo Baggins. In the movies, he received the name Samwise the Brave. In the books, Frodo calls him Samwise the Stout-Hearted. Samwise was a Hobbit with no prowess in combat, no magic to his name, and he lacked any gift for strategy. But he had heart and a resolve that was titanium in its affection for his friends, and his belief in the good that was in the world. Despite every enemy and obstacle, Samwise continued on his impossible journey and supported his weary friend, sometimes literally carrying him on his back. That, my friends, is the ancient church of Philadelphia. They didn’t have the resources of wealth or influence or numbers. But they had a steadfast will and a passionate heart for the person of Jesus Christ. And so they continued.

Right before Jesus commends the Philly Phaithful for their heart and passion despite their strength, He says something else interesting. He says, “See, I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut.” Remember, Philadelphia was on the outskirts and was often the first stop for folks traveling to the port cities on the Mediterranean. The open door Jesus is talking about, is the wide-open opportunity this church had to share about the person and love of Christ, with so many. Their numbers might be small, and their reputation might be laughed at by the city’s population, but every day new people would come into Philadelphia, and this church served as the first introduction to Jesus Christ that those travelers had likely ever heard. Philadelphia was an evangelism, mission-minded church. It was their burden and blessing to share the Good News to all those they came in contact with. And as we can see by Christ’s words for this church, for the Philly Phaithful, Jesus loved this church with a special and intimate affection.

You all know that there is nothing I want more than for you to become lovers of Philadelphia. But I’ll settle for all of us here in First Pres committing to be more like the ancient city of Philadelphia. So how can we do that? How can we, as a church and as individual Christ followers, have this incredibly passionate commitment to sharing our love for Jesus with other people outside these walls?

Well, here’s where I think we start. With one person. The reason why so many people have problems sharing their faith is often times because they’ve never actually done it before. And I am not talking about with our actions. Yes, actions speak louder than words, and yes, the book of James tells us faith without works is dead. Even St. Francis of Assisi gets misquoted for saying, “Share the Gospel at all times. Use words when necessary.”

I’ve encouraged all of us here on countless occasions to live out our faith. But there is an issue if we can’t ever talk about it. And, as I said, the reason I think so many of us struggle with it - is because we’ve never done it before, or don’t know where to start.

Charles Spurgeon, one of the most influential pastors of the 1800’s, and sometimes called the Prince of Preachers, at one time had a man come up to him and ask Spurgeon how he can go about bringing people to Christ. Spurgeon asked him: what are you? What do you do? The man replied saying that he was an engine driver for a train. Spurgeon responded: is your fireman a Christian? The man said he didn’t know. So Spurgeon told him: go back and find out and start on him. We don’t need to go on mission trips to other countries to share the Good News. God has given each and every one of you an open door, just like He did the Philly Phaithful. That door is in your workplace, on your street, in your group of friends, at your school, in the coffee shop or restaurant you like to frequent. William Barclay said, “There is a missionary door for every one of us where we live and work.”

This is literally the last command Jesus gave to His disciples: go and make disciples and tell them everything I have told you. The desire Jesus has for His church is for us to be a people that tell other people about Him. And Jesus tells the church in Philadelphia what the reward is for doing just that. Starting at verse nine in Revelation three, Jesus shows us what is given to those who speak His name to others. ‘

First, Jesus tells the Philly Phaithful that their enemies will fall down at their feet. All those people who mocked, ridiculed, and hurt them - won’t be a problem anymore. But Jesus goes on and says that any who do this, who share Christ with others, will be made into a pillar in the temple of God. If we do this, if we follow the Great Commission, and if we do what Jesus wants us to do in telling others about Him, then we will become a part of the support structure and foundation for the redemptive work of God. We will have a place and purpose in all of the miraculous and wonderful blessings that spring forth from God’s work here on Earth. And that should make sense because when we introduce another person to their Savior, to the One who knows them and loves them more powerfully and more completely than anyone else, we change their world. I saw one of those inspirational quote pictures on Facebook this week. Maybe you saw the same one. But it applies here. It said, “Helping one person might not change the whole world, but it can change the whole world for one person.”

We can be a part of that change for another. We can open a person’s eyes to the presence of a loving God in their life. We can show them that they are valued so much that the Son of God gave His life for them. We can introduce them to the comforts of prayer and the warmth of a family of faith. We can become witnesses to the call God has for each of them. And we can see them become the change we had hoped to be with them. God can use us for all that if we would just try and be more like the Philly Phaithful. 

Let’s pray.

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