Cornerstone EPC Sunday morning
Franklin, NC 28734 January 24, 2021
“Don’t Tolerate That!”
We arrive, this Lord’s Day morning, at our third stop on the route through the churches mentioned in Revelation 2-3. What have we heard the Spirit saying to the Church so far? We heard, in the message delivered unto the church at Ephesus (2:1-7), that we are to recover our first love. We also heard, in the message delivered unto the church at Smyrna (2:8-11), that we are to be faithful and to fear not. Today, in the message from the risen Christ to the church at Pergamum, we hear something akin to, “Don’t tolerate that!” Let us give our attention once again to the Word of God read and proclaimed in this place.
(HERE READ THE TEXT)
Jesus, speaking to the church at Pergamum, shows His omniscience once again. He knows that the Christians in Pergamum—somewhat north of Ephesus and Smyrna—dwell where Satan’s throne is. Perhaps the city of Pergamum is so dubbed because it has worship of Asclepius, the Greek so-called god of healing—often represented as a serpent—within it, for there was in antiquity a large statue paying homage to him in Pergamum. Jesus calls Pergamum where Satan dwells perhaps because the city (not alone in the Roman Empire) has a Roman emperor cult—in which the Roman emperor demands, and receives, worship rendered unto him alone. This knowledge that Jesus declares—that Pergamum is where Satan dwells—is declaration, to be sure, but it sounds like commendation of a sort as well.
Jesus commends the church at Pergamum for holding fast His Name. In particular, they denied not the faith of (or in) Jesus Christ—even in the days when Antipas, a faithful witness to Jesus in Pergamum, was martyred. The church, without supernatural endowment, could not remain faithful under such duress—yet, empowered by the Spirit, it endured indeed, even in the face of martyrdom, and Jesus commends the church for its fidelity.
Yet, amid these impressive commendations, Jesus reproves the church for a matter amiss. Some in the church at Pergamum hold to the teaching of Balaam. We learn most of what we know about Balaam in Numbers 22-24, where Balak, king of Moab, would have Balaam—a diviner—curse, and not bless, Israel as he nears the Promised Land. Balaam, led the Spirit of God, blessed Israel and cursed him not—much to Balak’s anger. We learn here, as alluded in the Old Testament (Numbers 31:15-16), that Balaam taught Balak to entice Israel to sin through sexual immorality and idolatry (Numbers 25:1 ff.)—an event that led to many deaths in Israel and even to Balaam’s own violent death (Numbers 31:8). Some in Pergamum Church, alas, hold to these sins—eating of food sacrificed to idols and practicing sexual immorality. Moreover, some hold to the teaching of the Nicolaitans—a teaching largely in agreement with that of Balaam. Some, in view of similar libertine behaviors, think Nicolaitans and Balaamites are one and the same. Their behaviors bring reproach to Christ and ill to the church itself; hence, Jesus has ought against them.
Jesus then commands and warns His beloved church. His command, “Repent thou,” is simple enough. The church must expunge those espousing these doctrines and behaviors, and it must turn more wholly to the Lord than before. Jesus warns that, should the church fail to repent, that He will come and fight against the erring with the sword of His mouth, His Word. This visit by Jesus to the church at Pergamum, if it be necessary, likely will be unpleasant for the church, because Jesus issues the specter of it as a warning. ‘Tis better by far for the church to handle this matter in-house. The commendations and corrections end with Jesus’ invitation, “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”
The address ends with Jesus’ promises to the conqueror. The one who conquers, or overcomes, in Christ Jesus receives hidden manna. Hidden manna, according to such commentators as Matthew Henry and John Gill, is the secret consolation of God, especially in trial—a consolation that is our new-birthright by virtue of our union with Christ. This hidden manna also stands emblematic of better fare in Heaven than idolatrous food here. Jesus promises also a white stone to the conqueror in Christ. This white stone could symbolize a number of qualities, such as purity, acquittal (given to a party declared not guilty at law, approbation (that is, approval), or victory (given to the victor in athletic contest). This stone comes also with a new name written on it: perhaps representative of our adoption as the children of God. Furthermore, none knows this new name save the recipient of it—just as Jesus has a Name known to none other save Himself (Revelation 19:12).
The church at Pergamum, maintaining vigilance against persecution and declension under pressure from confessing Christ, failed to maintain full vigilance against erroneous thought and practice in her members. Indeed, it is hard at times to maintain vigilance against these: due either to sufferings (such as persecution, martyrdom, and the like, as in Pergamum) or to ease (as in Laodicea, 3:14-22). Yet we must be vigilant to maintain right doctrine and conduct—no matter if our vigilance and stances be unpopular, whether outside or inside the Church, and no matter if it cost us favor with people, losses in this world, or even loss of life. Yet take heart, beloved of God in Christ. As we pursue, and maintain, right doctrine and conduct, and that in the face of opposition and peril, we receive the special consolations of God for the journey—which only His loved ones know. Furthermore, we receive assurance of our cleansing, acquittal, approbation, and victory in Jesus, through the Spirit, to the glory of God the Father. May He help us, when thoughts and practices intolerable upon the Word of God threaten our church—our His Church—let us, in Christlike manner, not to tolerate that. AMEN.
 Ordinarily, an adopted child surrenders his former surname and receives the surname of the adopting parents.