O God, whose glory it is always to have mercy: Be gracious to all who have gone astray from your ways, and bring them again with penitent hearts and steadfast faith to embrace and hold fast the unchangeable truth of your Word, Jesus Christ your Son; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
To the Church in Philadelphia
- Philadelphia was thirty miles east of Sardis and located on a major trade route to the rest of Asia Minor (modern day Turkey). Of the seven cities addressed in Revelation, Philadelphia was the youngest.
- The city was founded in 189 B.C. and received its name from an early ruler’s loyalty and devotion to his deceased brother, earning him the name Philadelphus (“lover of his brother”)
- Just as in the earlier letter to Smyrna, the Christians in Philadelphia receive no words of rebuke from Jesus. It is interesting that the two churches that escaped Christ’s condemnation were both under a severe threat from Jewish persecution. Both churches also lacked important resources yet each held firm to its confession.
7 “And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write: ‘The words of the holy one, the true one, who has the key of David, who opens and no one will shut, who shuts and no one opens.
- The Holy One = Only God is Holy in the proper sense – who shares his holiness with the angel of the church / the pastor — even us.
- Isaiah likes referring to God as the Holy One – Isa 1:4; Isa 40:25; Isa 43:15
- How do we get holy? God holies us by being baptized into Jesus, being one with Jesus – by being flesh of his flesh and bone of his bone with Jesus through the Holy Supper.
- ‘And the true one’ – I am the way, the truth…” — Pilate asking ‘What is truth?’ and Jesus standing there looking at him “Hello?”
- Key of David – Isa 22:22 = see Rev 1:18 at the commissioning of John. The keys of death and hades = victory.
- Jesus identifies himself as the one who now holds the “key of David” with absolute authority. The point of this identification is that Jesus holds the power over salvation and judgment and holds all authority to determine who enters the kingdom of God. In David’s time, the holder of the key had authority to grant or deny access to the royal palace.
- Jesus claims to have absolute authority to grant or deny admittance into the New Jerusalem.
8 “‘I know your works. Behold, I have set before you an open door, which no one is able to shut. I know that you have but little power, and yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name.
- Again, Jesus knows the works of the individual local congregations.
- The concept of the Open Door – Jesus opens heaven to these people.
- ‘Little power’ – is probably a numerically small but faithful minority – but with that little power, they remained faithful and did not deny Jesus.
9 Behold, I will make those of the synagogue of Satan who say that they are Jews and are not, but lie—behold, I will make them come and bow down before your feet, and they will learn that I have loved you.
- Here Jesus makes the same division that Paul makes in Galatians and Romans. Not all Israel is Israel.
- What defines Israel is faith – what defines a son is faith. But the Jews here are liars. If the Jews were to tell the truth, they would confess Jesus, who is truth.
- ‘and they will learn that I have loved you’ – This is the scandal of particularity. This is not a literal rounding up of the Jews, to bow before the Christians, but it is a “don’t worry” moment.
- They have you outnumbered, they are persecuting you, they claim to be Jews and they claim that you, the church, are apostate heretics – but you are not.
- I love you and not them. You will win and they will lose.
10 Because you have kept my word about patient endurance, I will keep you from the hour of trial that is coming on the whole world, to try those who dwell on the earth.
- ‘Patient endurance’ = Faith under pressure / trial. The trials will intensify
- This is the great anti rapture verse. This verse is not about exemption from trials but protection from within the trial. In fact, the notion that Christians should be removed from trials, tribulations, and persecution would be completely foreign to the authors of Scripture.
- The Bible is clear that the saints will go through the great tribulation as seen in Rev 7 – “Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, clothed in white robes, and from where have they come?” I said to him, “Sir, you know.” And he said to me, “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.”
- The primary issue at stake is not physical harm but spiritual harm, which has always been and always will be the greatest threat to the people of God.
11 I am coming soon. Hold fast what you have, so that no one may seize your crown.
- The Lord’s continual promise to come soon. However this time it is not in a threatening way – but a positive encouragement.
- Hold fast – perseverance – do not give up.
- What you have – we saw this earlier – they have his word and his name.
- Who can seize my crown? What is Jesus warning of? If it is impossible, why is Jesus wasting his breath?
12 The one who conquers, I will make him a pillar in the temple of my God. Never shall he go out of it, and I will write on him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which comes down from my God out of heaven, and my own new name.
- The one who conquers – now we see a promise. To be made a pillar, the promise is that they not only are allowed into God’s house, but metaphorically become a part of God’s house – which is a position of permanence. You are in forever – you are finally home for the first time.
- This is what happens in baptism as God places his name on us.
- Pay attention to the remainder of this description. The names.
- Jesus promises those who overcome that they will receive three names: the name of God, the name of the City of God, and Jesus’ new name.
- The city of my God – the New Jerusalem. Where does the city come from? Sent down by God from Heaven.
- Who has the new name? Jesus has a new name.
13 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’
- The standard closing.
- But realize this – Jesus will preserve his church and will present his bride to his Father at the end of the age.
We all know the story…a woman whose illness made her an outcast presses through a crowd to try to get to Jesus.
She stumbles through the crowd and manages to just touch the hem of His garment and is healed.
I didn’t really have any new insights into this story…until after my devotional was finished.
My thoughts turned to how in the years after her healing she may have recounted this tale of perseverance to her friends and family.
She recounted the years of sickness and how she determined to find the Savior no matter what.
She talked about pressing through that crowd and how with her last bit of strength she lunged and barely touched His robe.
When Jesus told the story to the angelic host it was about how He knew this woman was coming and slowed down just enough to let her catch Him…
This, of course, is speculation on my part.
While I’m speculating…
I wonder if there was someone in crowd as desperate as our famous woman with the famous gynecological problems.
Someone with diabetes or cancer or any of the other untreatable illnesses of the day.
Someone who, despite their best efforts, couldn’t make it to even the bottom of His robe.
Someone who was left in their affliction while watching someone get healed just a ways in front of them.
What about them?
The Scriptures are painfully silent.
How many of us have seen the provision of God from afar, yet seemingly too far for us to reach?
The answer, (if there is an answer to be had), is in the story of the importunate man who knocked on his neighbors door until he answered and helped him.
I think that’s what the woman with the issue of blood (I wish she had a proper name) did.
She asked, sought, and knocked, until the door flew open on a dusty, crowded street.
We have to do likewise.
He may slow down just enough for us to grab some linen of our own…
Make your own application…
Uniquely American, the king without successor.
There will never be another Graham, just as there has never been another Elvis.
The cultural and societal environment they were part of no longer exists, the ground that produced them forever to lie fallow.
There will always be pretenders to the throne, but all have the comparable gravitas that a Paul Anka had to Presley.
Nice song… now go away, little boy.
I was never a fan of Graham, even in a religious culture that produces fans of clergymen.
I had theological and methodological differences with him and I may never forgive him for siring Franklin.
Despite any of those issues, there was much I admired and respected about Billy Graham.
He was a faithful husband, father, and grandfather.
He was a pioneer of using all the media at his disposal.
He never seemed to be in it for the money.
Above all else, that man loved Jesus.
Jesus, as is his habit, loved Billy first.
I have no doubt that he is enjoying the presence of the Savior.
If you don’t think so, you’re an idiot and probably wouldn’t know Jesus if He personally handed you His business card.
If you think that perhaps Billy is roasting in hell for being “ecumenical” you may think you are saved by pristine doctrine instead of a living Lord.
That means (according to pristine doctrine) that you are going to split hell wide open.
You should have listened to Billy preach the gospel…it’s not too late.
“To the choirmaster. A Psalm of David, when Nathan the prophet went to him, after he had gone in to Bathsheba.”
Psalm 51 is one of the seven Penitential Psalms (or Psalms of Confession). It powerfully and wonderfully teaches the nature of grace – that God favors those who acknowledge their sin.
Psalm 51 juxtaposes the extreme depths of sin and mankind’s innate unworthiness to be loved by God against God who loves just such a person and turns towards him or her with steadfast love and abundant mercy.
Psalm 51 teaches us to know both God and ourselves, while at the same time it furnishes us with exceedingly fruitful prayer language, which we can use both in public worship and in private prayer. By knowing ourselves, that we are exceedingly great sinners, and by knowing God, that He is the Justifier and Savior of exceedingly great sinners, the burdened conscience is encouraged to turn not away from God in unbelief or despair, but to God “who justifies the ungodly” (Rom 4:5). This twofold knowledge of God and man constitutes, in the words of Martin Luther, “true theology.”
For organizational purposes I have divided Psalm 51 into four parts as follows:
Part 1 – The Plea for Forgiveness (vv. 1-2)
Part 2 – The Confession (vv. 3-6)
Part 3 – The Plea for Renewal (vv. 7-12)
Part 4 – The Vow to Teach and Praise (vv. 13-17)
If you are so inclined, you may use these divisions as a convenient vehicle to memorize Psalm 51 part-by-part over the course of the next few weeks. There are many verses in Psalm 51 which are very useful for speaking with God in a variety of circumstances.
Part 1 – The Plea for Forgiveness (vv. 1-2)
“Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your steadfast love;
according to your abundant mercy
blot out my transgressions.
2 Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
and cleanse me from my sin!”
David begins his prayer with a plea for God’s forgiveness: “blot out my transgressions.” It is tempting to flee from God (in self-justification, rebellion or shame) when the awareness of hideous sin is aroused in our conscience, but rather than flee from God, David turns to God in trust that God is merciful to those who believe in Christ the Mediator, as Peter said quoting David: “I saw the Lord always before me, for he is at my right hand that I may not be shaken” (Acts 2:25, quoting Ps 16:8). As terrible as sin is, God’s mercy is more abundant. Therefore, God never despises a broken and contrite heart (Ps 51:17).
David does not base his plea on his own worthiness, sincerity, or the adequacy of his own contrition, but solely on God’s Word, promises and faithfulness: “according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy.” David here may be alluding to God’s promises given to Moses on Mount Sinai:
“The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.” (Ex 34:6-8)
David is calling on God, not in his hidden majesty, but clothed in His Word and promises, so that we must always include Christ, the Incarnate Word, in our prayers. This Christ was known to David through God’s promises, as Peter proclaimed in Acts: “Being therefore a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would set one of his descendants on his throne, he [David] foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption.” (Acts 2:30-31)
For Christ’s sake alone, we have a gracious God whom we may address as Father. When God blots out sin, he cancels them for the sake of the One who paid the ransom for them on our behalf. To be washed from our iniquity and cleansed from our sin is to appropriate through faith the forgiveness of sins which Christ won for us by suffering and dying for our sins on the cross. His blood washes and cleanses us from our sin, as it is written: “the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.” (1 John 1:7)
“3 For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is ever before me.
4 Against you, you only, have I sinned
and done what is evil in your sight,
so that you may be justified in your words
and blameless in your judgment.
5 Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity,
and in sin did my mother conceive me.
6 Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being,
and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart.
7 Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
8 Let me hear joy and gladness;
let the bones that you have broken rejoice.
9 Hide your face from my sins,
and blot out all my iniquities.
10 Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and renew a right spirit within me.
11 Cast me not away from your presence,
and take not your Holy Spirit from me.
12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
and uphold me with a willing spirit.
13 Then I will teach transgressors your ways,
and sinners will return to you.
14 Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God,
O God of my salvation,
and my tongue will sing aloud of your righteousness.
15 O Lord, open my lips,
and my mouth will declare your praise.
16 For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it;
you will not be pleased with a burnt offering.
17 The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.
18 Do good to Zion in your good pleasure;
build up the walls of Jerusalem;
19 then will you delight in right sacrifices,
in burnt offerings and whole burnt offerings;
then bulls will be offered on your altar.”
Thank you for reading. Next week in Part 2, we will examine David’s confession (vv. 3-6). Amen.
In preparing for writing these articles, I made extensive use of the following works:
Brug, John F. Peoples Bible Commentary: Psalms 1. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2005. Print.
Ngien, Dennis. Fruit for the Soul: Luther on the Lament Psalms. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2015. Print.
Terrien, Samuel. The Psalms: Strophic Structure and Theological Commentary. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2003. Print
Phil Naessens and I discuss how the culture is creating killers…and what to do about it.
We reference this article I wrote last week.
1. Why don’t you speak out against abortion? Isn’t that the most important “social justice” issue?
I don’t write much about abortion because everyone else does. There’s really nothing unique I have to offer to the discussion and the Christian community is already well mobilized against it. I’m “pro-life” after the child is born as well…and I don’t think we speak to that nearly enough.
2. Why don’t you write against same sex marriage? Are you another Anglican compromiser?
Again, I don’t write about this subject much because it’s been written about by everyone else ad nauseum. As a pastor/priest I will not perform same sex marriages. As a pastor/priest I will deal with individuals who struggle with same sex attraction with the same care and nuance that we are to give anybody struggling with sin…which is all of us.
3. What about transgender issues?
Above my pay scale. I find that whole area baffling. I do sometimes wonder if we’re placing a huge emphasis on a very tiny percent of the population…and for what purpose?
4. How can you be a liberal and call yourself a Christian?
I don’t identify as a liberal, but as a Christian. Embracing a political label before our primary identity as God’s people in exile is problematic no matter which side of the aisle you’re on. As a secondary identity, I would actually call myself a centrist because that is where the problems actually get solved…
5. Why don’t you write as much as you used to about Calvary Chapel and other church scandals?
If you have the choice to walk in the sewer or the sidewalk, take the sidewalk. I’ll still write when I can do the best job on a story, but the blogging community is doing a great job without me covering those stories.
6. You sound like you’ve abandoned inerrancy. Is that true?
Define inerrancy, then get back to me. I can’t psychically define which of the multiple definitions you want me to affirm… or deny.
7. You seem to have doubts about God and prayer…how can you be a pastor?
Because my congregation has doubts too…we help each other by being honest and confronting those doubts. I believe, help my unbelief…
8. Do you realize that by being ecumenical you’re setting the stage for the Anti-Christ and the one world religion?
Yes. I’m actually a Jesuit plant. We’re the worst.
9. Why do you have a “donate” button?
Because I need the money.
10. Someone calls you a “grumpy old cat man”… what do you say to that?
Guilty as charged.
Thanks again to EricL…support him at top right…