Please read the third chapter of the Revelation. There are three letters in the third chapter that are addressed from Jesus to three different churches. There are several lessons that are taught in each of these letters. I have tried to see what lesson predominates. What is there that seems to be central in the message to these churches? In the third chapter there was one thing that seemed to strike me particularly, and as I went back and looked at the second chapter, I noticed it occurring again and again, and that theme is one that can be expressed several ways.
One way of putting it is that the Christian life is a long distance race. It is not a sprint. Maybe we can think about the Olympics and we can express some of these ideas in track terms, and that is one of them. The Christian life is a life of endurance. Practically all of the teachings of scripture are designed in such a way to build us up for the long haul. They try to give us stamina, they try to give us strength for a lifetime of service and a lifetime of activity that will be against great pressures and great difficulties.
Jesus never tried to make anyone think that the Christian life was easy. His own life led to a cross and He says that you, too, will suffer persecutions. If that is the case, it means that we must have fortitude. We must have endurance. This is a theme that is found in the message to each of these churches and should be taken as a message to the church as a whole for all times. It is a message we need very much. So, I would like to call your attention to certain portions of these letters that I think emphasize this point and, hopefully, we can pick up a point or two that will help us to gain this kind of endurance.
In Revelation 3:2, in the letter to the church in Sardis, Jesus said, “Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die, for I have not found your works perfect before God.” The word “perfect,” as it usually does in the New Testament, has the basic notion of “complete” or “brought to maturity.” I think it calls our attention to the fact that is is easy for people to begin well. If you are like I am you have started quite a lot of projects in your lifetime that you never did finish
for one reason or another. They just died. And from time to time in the church you try to initiate various programs and activities and in the passing of time they just seem to die. They do not just come to a screeching halt. They just die a slow death. And I believe that I have seen, and you, too, have probably seen, that happen to many Christian lives. It is not unusual that you see a Christian all fired up and enthusiastic who then slowly drops it all and that is the end of it. Usually the spark and enthusiasm slowly die and spiritual life vanishes.
Jesus says that you need to “strengthen the things which remain.” It reminds me somewhat of the thought that you see in the first Psalm where the man who is the blessed man is the one who is looking into the law of God and meditating on it day and night. He is the one who is like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that brings forth its fruit in its season, whose leaf also does not wither, and whatever he does shall prosper. One gets the picture of a tree that has put down roots that are solid and is drinking up the moisture and bearing fruit. A man like this is meditating day and night on the law of God, and this is something that we all must do, I am convinced, if we are going to survive in this Christian experience. If we are going to excel, we must allow God's word to be our meditation constantly. It is our source of strength, our source of guidance and direction.
Then Jesus says also in Revelation 3:2, “... for I have not found your works perfect before God.” We need to work on the business of beginning those things that are good and then continuing in them and not slacking up. How are we going to be able to do that? I believe the next verse gives us a clue. He says, “Remember therefore how you have received and heard; hold fast and repent." After discussing the fact that they were lacking in this matter of endurance, He says, “I want you to remember.”
Memory is a powerful device if it is properly used and disciplined. He wants them to remember the beginning of their Christian life, the enthusiasm, commitment, and conviction with which they entered into it, to remember what it was that caused that conviction. What did you see at that time? What was there that you noticed about the Christian life that attracted you to it? Remember? Think. Think back to the good times, the times
when you were filled with enthusiasm. What was happening that was creating that enthusiasm? If we remember and will think and look back and keep before our minds those things, then, perhaps, we can latch on to that same enthusiasm again. We can again see and possess those things that created that initial conviction and enthusiasm for God's purpose.
The matter of endurance is mentioned again in verse 5. Jesus says, “He who overcomes shall be clothed in white garments, and I will not blot out his name from the Book of Life; but I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels.” He says of him who overcomes, “I will not blot out his name from the Book of Life.”
And later in Revelation you will see the great scene of the judgment where the books were opened and another book was opened, which is the Book of Life. The names of God's righteous people had been written in that book. And the dead were judged by the things which were written in the books.
I take that to be the books of the Bible because the only fair way that judgment could be done would be by comparing our lives with what God had already revealed to us. It is not fair for a teacher to give a test from material the students have not studied, and I think God is fair. He is not going to bring us to the judgment and open up another set of books we have never seen and say, “Here is what you are going to be judged by.” No. He is going to open books He has given to us all along, and we are going to be judged by them.
Those who gain entrance into the eternal kingdom are those whose names are written in the Book of Life. But what He says here is that He will not blot out the name of those who overcome from the Book of Life. Your name will stay there if you overcome and the ones who overcome are the ones who endure to the end. And essentially what He is saying is, “Endure or else.” And this, along with many other verses in the New Testament, says clearly and unequivocally that a Christian can be lost.
A person who has experienced the grace of God and salvation and who has been born again is not guaranteed automatically a ticket to heaven. He has got to be faithful even until death if he is to receive the crown of life. That is why exhortations are
continually given to the church to be faithful, to endure, to hold fast, to keep on, because we need that or we will not receive the crown of life. We must have this kind of encouragement
In 3:11, we find the next letter, the one to the church in Philadelphia. Jesus says, “Behold, I am coming quickly! Hold fast what you have, that no one may take your crown.” Here is th same message again. Hold fast so no one can take your crown away from you; that is, the crown of life. That is a conditional thing. The crown of life is for those who hold fast. If you do not hold fast you lose that reward. Let us go back to the second chapter. I want to quickly show you this thing is taught to every one of these churches. Look again at the church in Ephesus in Revelation 2:3: “And you have persevered and have patience, have labored for My name's sake and have not become weary.” He is commending the people in the church of Ephesus because they had patience. That means steadfastness. You just keep on. You have borne the burdens in the heat of the day.
These are people then who have not grown weary. We are told in Galatians 6:9, “Let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart." The time is coming. That is an absolute guarantee of God. That is the beauty of this. That is the thing that I think can help us to keep on. That which God promises us is the one certainty in the whole universe, that if you are faithful to God to the day you die, you will receive heaven. There is no way it can be otherwise. I mean, if you want a one hundred percent guarantee on anything in life, that is it! All you have to do is keep on living faithfully to God and you are going to receive the crown of life. That is the assurance the Christian has.
Now, granted, that is easier said than done, but, still, the fact remains, that God has assured you that what you have to do is not something spectacular, just something steady. Just keep at it. That is what God wants of us.
Read Revelation 2:10, which is written to the church in Smyrna: “Do not fear any of those things, which you are about to suffer. Indeed, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and you will have tribulation ten days. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown
of life.” He is saying to them, “Look, you people are in serious trouble. You have some problems that are coming; you have some tremendous suffering to go through.” That does not encourage anybody. So, immediately He adds: Look, just “be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.” That is worth it all.
What more could you want out of life that to be able to live forever with God and enjoy all the blessings of God, without any of the curses of life? Forever! That is the greatest thing that could ever happen. You take all the pleasures of this life and all of the thrills and temporary excitement that the world can give you and nothing can compare to this one thing.
It does not take a man who is a millionaire to do it; it does not take a man who has an I.Q. of 180; it does not take a man who has four doctoral degrees; it does not take a man who is the most skillful athlete in the world; all it takes is an ordinary person, anybody who will just stick with it and keep on going. Anyone! It is whoever will. All it takes is will. It takes the will and determination to keep on going for God.
Notice what Jesus said to the church in Pergamum in Revelation 2:13: “I know your works, and where you dwell, where Satan's throne is. And you hold fast to My name, and did not deny My faith even in the days in which Antipas was my faithful martyr, who was killed among you, where Satan dwells.” Here the church had undergone a terrible ordeal where one of their number was actually put to death for his faith. But Jesus said, “You held fast to My name and you did not deny My faith,” That is what God wants, people who will stand up for Him and stick with Him all the way.
Read Revelation 2:19 to the church in Thyatira: He wants you to get that message. You have to hang in there; you cannot give up. You have to keep after it. Do not slack up, do not give in, do not compromise, but just keep on with God.
Go to Revelation 3:15–16 again. This letter is written to the church in Laodicea. Jesus says, “I know your works,that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot. So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of my mouth.” The one thing God does not want is lukewarm church members. He does not want somebody who is just complacent and sitting back and watching everybody do whatever they do. He wants people who are hot, and that word is a word that, sometimes at least, means boiling. It means a person who is on fire, blazing with fervor and zeal for God.
That does not mean that you have to jump up and down and clap your hands twenty-four hours a day to be zealous and on fire. But it means you are to be a person who really has the burning desire and concern for the advancement of the purposes of God. It means I am to be devoted and dedicated to doing all that I can with the talents God has given me to contribute what I can to furthering the cause of God in our world. He wants people who are hot, people who are burning and on fire for God, “Then I [Jeremiah] said, ‘I will not make mention of Him, nor speak anymore in His name. But His word was in my heart like a burning fire shut up in my bones; I was weary of holding it back, and I could not’ ” (Jeremiah 20:9). The Christian has a message that must be spoken to others.
Now, unfortunately, there was something wrong with the church in Laodicea. They were lukewarm. Part of the reason they did not have this zeal, which they needed in order to endure and hold fast was, as is said in Revelation 3:17; “Because you say, ‘I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing’—and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked.” Here are people who are blind to realities. There were some things that they were not seeing, and they were not seeing certain things because they had forgotten certain things again.
What is it that causes spiritual blindness? Go back to II Peter 1:5–7, “But also for this very reason, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, to knowledge self–control, to self–control perseverance, to perseverance godliness, to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness, love.” In other words just keep on throughout your life adding
and growing and developing all of these qualities and characteristics. Peter continues: “For if these things are yours and abound, you will be neither barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Now notice verse 9: “For he who lacks these things is shortsighted, even to blindness, and has forgotten that he was cleansed from his old sins.” There is something they had forgotten that had caused a blindness to occur. What did they forget? Peter continues “has forgotten that he was cleansed from his old sins.”
Do you remember what it was like when you had to live day to day with the knowledge that you might die at any moment? You realized, “There is no hope for me; I have no confidence or assurance whatever that God is pleased with me, that God can accept me, and if I died today I would be lost and I would spend eternity in hell.” You cannot live that way, with that kind of realization. Somewhere down deep inside of every man who is in that condition, there is that knowledge and, in the back of his mind, an awareness that takes the pleasure out of life. There is a realization that, “I am alienated for God and there is something wrong with me. My life is twisted out of shape. It is bent out of shape. I am not what I ought to be. There is a sickness in my soul. There is something missing. There is a vacuum that God must fill.”
But these people had forgotten the cleansing from their sins and what it means to have that relief and to know that, “If I were to die tonight, when everything is well with my soul, I would know that God loves me. He has forgiven me.” He loves us all, but unfortunately not all of us have accepted the expression of His love to us, and have not done that which provides for us the cleansing of our sins. And so there will always be that misery and knowledge that something is wrong because I am not right with God. Here were people who did not have the zest for life and the zeal for God, having forgotten the cleansing of their own sins. Continue to read in II Peter 1:10–11, where he says, “Therefore brethren, be even more diligent to make your call and election sure, for if you do these things you will never stumble; for so an entrance will be supplied to you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” He is lavishly providing for you the kingdom that is everlasting, but it requires, on your part, diligence and faithfulness and fidelity.
Return to our text in Revelation chapter 3 and look at verse 19. Jesus says, “As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten. Therefore be zealous and repent.” We have got to have a zeal for God. Next comes one of the most famous passages from the Bible. In Revelation 3:20, Jesus said, "Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with me."
Contrary to the way it is commonly used, this is not an invitation to those who have never begun to live with God. This is a statement written to Christians. Jesus is speaking to Christians. He is speaking to people in the church. “I am standing at your door, the door of your heart, and I am knocking and I want to come in.” He is not talking about men who are alienated from God, who have never known the cleansing of their sins. He is talking to lukewarm church members, and He said, “I want to fill you with my own presence in your life, and I am knocking at the door of your heart. Let Me come in.”
Now the broader application, of course, would still be true. Jesus wants to come into the hearts of those who have never made a commitment to Him. But, unfortunately, many of us have driven Jesus out of our lives and our hearts and have become an indifferent people. And Jesus wants to come back into our hearts and lives, and so He says to us, those who are in the church, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me.”
I heard a story about a father who took his little girl to an art gallery, and there was hanging on one of the walls a picture that many of you might have seen. It is a picture of a man who is standing at the door of a house and he is in a posture of knocking on the door and in the picture it is obvious that the person who is there is Jesus. But the little girl was not familiar with this kind of art work and could not understand what this was about and so she said, “Daddy, who is that man in that picture?” And the daddy said, “That is Jesus.” And the little girl said, “What is he doing?” And he said, “Well, he is knocking at the door of that person's house.” And she said, “Daddy, why will they not open the door? Why will they not let him come in?” Now the father was getting kind of irritated because he wanted to get on his way and he said, “Well, I do
not know.” So they started on down the way and the little girl tugged at him and again said, “Daddy, do you not know why they would do this?” Again, he just shrugged it off and said, “No, I do not know.” That night the little girl, seeming not to be able to get that thing out of her mind brought it up again.
Little children do this. I do not know why, but they just get stuck on something that we do not think is important when it really is important to them. So that little girl said again that night, “Daddy, why would they not let Jesus in their house?" Well, nothing else seemed to work so he finally just said, “I guess they were mean and mad,” and that seemed to make sense to her, and that was the end of the conversation. But he went to bed that night and could not get that out of his mind, and he lay in bed and tossed and turned. Finally, as it began to work on him, he began to think more seriously about that picture and began asking himself, “Why will I not let Jesus come into my heart?”
Sometimes it takes strange things like that to make an impression on us. But why would you keep Jesus our of your life? Is it because you are mean and mad? Is there any good reason not to let the loveliest person who ever lived enter your life and try to make something beautiful out of it? What are you making of your life? You are making a temple or you are making a tomb. Is you heart filled with lovely things and with goodness and the love of God that overflows in kindness toward others, or is your life totally dominated with selfishness and self-centeredness and interest only in yourself?
Jesus continues to stand at the door and knock and we continue to refuse to allow Him to come in. But, hopefully, we are like those that Jesus speaks of: “To him who overcomes I will grant to sit with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne” (Revelation 3:21). Think of that. Jesus Christ wants to take you and to bring you to the throne where He sits with His Father, Almighty God. He invites you to sit down there and share a place at home with Him where you shall reign with Him forever and ever. Would you shut Him out of your life? He invites you to Him, and we encourage you to believe on Him, repent of your sins, be baptized, and begin that great life that never ends.