Toby was the new kid at school. He?d moved to town during the summer after his dad had taken a new job in another state. Being a sophomore in high school is tough enough without any extra baggage, but when you are the new kid in school and you don?t know anybody?well, times can be unbearable.
Toby had never been in trouble in the past. He was consistently listed on the honor roll. He had run for class officer the year before and even though he didn?t win, he got a lot of votes. Toby had been a leader in his youth group at school. He had gone on a mission trip to Mexico the summer before and came home grateful that God had blessed him with a mom and dad who loved him and a roof over his head.
When Toby showed up for the first day of class in his new school he was overwhelmed by how much larger his new school was than his old school. Toby was shy, but he met new friends and began to be invited to hang out with some of the kids. When Toby went to hang out with some of his new friends for the first time he was confronted with opportunities that he had never been a part of in his old school. Oh, he knew about kids who used drugs and alcohol. He knew there were parents who would allow their kids and their friends to party at their house so that they wouldn?t be out on the street, but his parents weren?t among that crowd. Toby knew the kids in his old school who were getting in trouble and making bad decisions, but he chose to stay away from them. Now, he had stepped into the lives of kids he knew nothing about and he was feeling the pressure to conform.
Toby would lie in bed at night and remember how peaceful his life was back at his old school and how he was now feeling constantly torn to go along with the crowd, even though he knew what was right. Toby wanted to make new friends, he wanted to fit in, but his conscience, his convictions, wouldn?t let him sleep at night. Toby was being tempted by the curse of least resistance.
Toby isn?t the first person to suffer from the curse of least resistance. Maybe you?ve heard of the ?course of least resistance??taking the easy route, the widest road, the path that will cost you the least and get you what you want the fastest. History has proven that the course of least resistance is truly the curse of least resistance. This morning we will take a look at the letter to the church in Pergamum, the ?church of least resistance.? Won?t you turn to Revelation 2:12-17 and let?s read our Scripture for this morning.
12 “To the angel of the church in Pergamum write: These are the words of him who has the sharp, double-edged sword. 13I 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. 14 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 food sacrificed to idols and by committing sexual immorality. 15 Likewise you also have those who hold to the teaching of the Nicolaitans. 16 Repent therefore! Otherwise, I will soon come to you and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth. 17He 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. (Revelation 2:12-17 NIV)
If you were to leave Smyrna and drive 57 miles north you would find yourself in Pergamum, a city of about 200,000 in the first century. The ancient city is no longer in existence, but the modern-day Turkish town of Bergama, with a population of about 45,000, is built on the lower portion of where the city once set. Pergamum was located 15 miles inland from the Aegean Sea. If you were to go to the ancient site of Pergamum today the first thing you would notice would be the ruins of the city that were built on the side of a huge cone-shaped hill that rose 1,100 feet above the Caicus River valley below. The city had a major road that ran through it and on to Thyatira and Sardis, the next two cities on our journey through the seven letters of Revelation 2-3.
From 200-150 B.C. King Eumenes II was responsible for building and beautifying Pergamum so that it became the jewel of Asia. He built the Temple to Athena and a 10,000 seat theater built into the steep western slope of the city. He built the magnificent temple to Zeus, which stood four stories tall, to commemorate the victory of Attalus I over the Galatians. King Eumenes II also had the Pergamum library built which rivaled the greatest library in the world in Alexandria, Egypt. The library in Pergamum had over 200,000 scrolls. The city lost its great library to Alexandria when Mark Antony gave it to Cleopatra and had all of the scrolls carried to Egypt in 41 B.C. King Eumenes II also completed five palaces and four theaters in addition to the 10,000 seat theater.
By the time John wrote the book of Revelation Pergamum had been the capital of Asia for almost 250 years. The king of Pergamum, Attalus III, didn?t have any heirs, so he willed his kingdom to the Romans in 133 B.C. in order to prevent a civil war among his people.
With a 200,000 volume library at the fingertips of the people you would think that the people of Pergamum were great thinkers, aspiring students on their way to becoming erudite scholars, but the heartbeat of the city was with its gods. I?ve already mentioned the huge and beautifully adorned temples to Zeus and Athena, which reflected the Greek influence on the city, but there were many more temples built high and low on the high hill. There was the temple to the Greek god, Dionysus, the god of the royal family.
Down in lower Pergamum was the Asclepium, an entire healing complex built in honor of the god Asclepius, who was known as the god of healing. There was a beautiful 2700 foot Corinthian colonnade called the Sacred Way which led to the temple. People from all over the world made their way to the temple of Asclepius to seek healing for themselves and their loved ones. Feeding a live snake in the temple was one of the ways people worshiped at the temple. Those who were sick spent the night in the darkness of the temple where hundreds of nonpoisonous snakes were allowed to roam. If a person was touched by one of these snakes, who they believed was the god himself, the sick would be cured. The famous physician Galen, who served the emperors Marcus Aurelius, Commodus, and Septimius Severus, was born in Pergamum and practiced at the temple of Asclepius.
We could go on and on taking a look at the people and places of Pergamum this morning, but let me simply say that you can get on the internet and learn so much about the ancient city that Jesus addressed in Revelation 2:12-17. Let?s take a look at the first section of our Scripture for this morning. In Revelation 2:12-13, Jesus says,
12 “To the angel of the church in Pergamum write: These are the words of him who has the sharp, double-edged sword. 13I 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. (Revelation 2:12-13 NIV)
Once again we find one of the descriptions of Jesus from the list of seven in Revelation 1. Turn with me to Revelation 1:16 and let?s read together.
16 In his right hand he held seven stars, and out of his mouth came a sharp double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance. (Revelation 1:16 NIV)
Jesus is the Risen Savior who has the sharp double-edged sword. We know from studying God?s Word that the sword spoken of is the Word of God. Let me show you a couple of other places where we see the ?Sword? spoken of in Scripture. In Ephesians 6 Paul tells the folks in Ephesus that they need to put on the full armor of God if they are going to live strong for the Lord. I won?t read the entire section of Scripture to you, but the part of the armor that I want us to look at is found in verse 17.
17 Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. (Ephesians 6:17 NIV)
Take up the sword of the Spirit? What is the sword of the Spirit? Great question. Paul answers our question by giving us the answer: The sword of the Spirit is the Word of God.
In Hebrews 4:12 we see that the Word of God is sharper than any double-edged sword. Read along with me.
12 For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. (Hebrews 4:12 NIV)
The Word of God rightly divides our intentions, it judges our actions and attitudes, and it comes to us with authority. We might be able to fool our friends or even convince ourselves that what we are doing or planning on doing is really okay, but God?s Word will not allow us to slide?it cuts through our facades, deceptions, and justifications and speaks to us with accuracy and authority. John MacArthur writes,
This is not a positive, promising introduction; it is a threatening one. It is the first negative introduction of Christ because the Pergamum church faced imminent judgment. Disaster loomed on the horizon for this worldly church; it was and is but a short step from compromising with the world to forsaking God altogether and facing His wrath. (John MacArthur, Revelation 1:11, pg. 83)
In verse 13 Jesus tells the folks of Pergamum, ?I know where you live, you live where Satan has his throne.? The top of the high hill with all of the temples to false gods built on it looked like the seat of a throne. Jesus knows that His people live in the midst of the adversary?s stronghold. It is interesting that Jesus doesn?t promise to send moving vans to get them out of the pagan city filled with all kinds of strange religious teaching, immorality, and debauchery. It?s interesting that Jesus doesn?t tell them to move outside of the city where they can set up a Christian commune. He simply says, ?I know where you live?? He goes on to say,
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. (Revelation 2:13 NIV)
Jesus commends the congregation for remaining faithful to His name. When it would have been easier to renounce their faith or slink into the shadows they didn?t do it. They remained true to Jesus even though they knew they did so at the risk of losing their lives like Antipas had lost his.
In verses 14-15 we read Jesus? critique of the congregation. Read along with me.
14 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 food sacrificed to idols and by committing sexual immorality. 15 Likewise you also have those who hold to the teaching of the Nicolaitans. (Revelation 2:14-15 NIV)
Jesus says He has a ?few things? against the people of the church in Pergamum. First on the list is the tolerance of those who hold to the teachings of Balaam. You are probably wondering, ?What is the teaching of Balaam?? That?s a great question and we can find our answer by studying Numbers 22-25. We won?t read this story, but let me summarize what happened for us.
When God?s people were on their way to Canaan they came to the land of the Moabites. Balak, the king of Moab was afraid, so he sent for Balaam to try and gain an upper hand over God?s people. In Numbers 22:4-6 we can read about the initial contact of Balak?s messengers with Balaam.
So Balak son of Zippor, who was king of Moab at that time, 5sent messengers to summon Balaam son of Beor, who was at Pethor, near the River, in his native land. Balak said: “A people has come out of Egypt; they cover the face of the land and have settled next to me. 6 Now come and put a curse on these people, because they are too powerful for me. Perhaps then I will be able to defeat them and drive them out of the country. For I know that those you bless are blessed, and those you curse are cursed.” (Numbers 22:4-6 NIV)
Balak promised Balaam that if he would put a curse on God?s people he would reward him handsomely. The Lord would not permit Balaam to curse His people. As a matter of fact every time he opened his mouth he blessed the Hebrews instead of cursing them. This made Balak furious. In Numbers 23:11 we read,
11 Balak said to Balaam, “What have you done to me? I brought you to curse my enemies, but you have done nothing but bless them!” (Numbers 23:11 NIV)
Three times Balak sought to have the Hebrews cursed by Balaam, but three times God used Balaam to bless His people. Finally, Balaam left Balak to go back home, but not before he told Balak how he could turn God?s people against their God and cause God to become angry. Balaam told Balak that he should invite the Hebrews to the immoral feasts of their false god, Baal-Peor. The Hebrew men joined with the Moabite women in their sensual feasts and committed idolatry and gross sexual immorality. Turn with me to Numbers 25:1-3 and let?s read together the account of what happened.
1While Israel was staying in Shittim, the men began to indulge in sexual immorality with Moabite women, 2who invited them to the sacrifices to their gods. The people ate and bowed down before these gods. 3So Israel joined in worshiping the Baal of Peor. And the LORD?S anger burned against them. (Numbers 25:1-3 NIV)
In Numbers 31:16 we find out that the evil plan of King Balak was devised based upon Balaam?s advice. In this section of Scripture we find Moses asking the commanders of his army,
15 “Have you allowed all the women to live?” he asked them. 16 “They were the ones who followed Balaam’s advice and were the means of turning the Israelites away from the LORD in what happened at Peor, so that a plague struck the LORD’s people. (Numbers 31:15-16 NIV)
God?s anger burned against His people for their sin and 24,000 people, including many leaders, died in God?s judgment. The judgment of God stopped the Hebrews slide into immorality and spiritual unfaithfulness and they repented. Robert Mounce writes,
Thus Balaam became a prototype of all corrupt teachers who betrayed believers into fatal compromise with worldly ideologies. At Pergamum, where Satan sat enthroned, some within the church had decided that accommodation was the wisest policy. They taught the way of compromise. (Robert Mounce, Revelation, p. 81)
Throughout Scripture God?s people are constantly warned to avoid mixing the ways of God with the ways of the world. In 2 Corinthians Paul wrote,
14Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? 15What harmony is there between Christ and Belial? What does a believer have in common with an unbeliever? 16 What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols? For we are the temple of the living God. As God has said: “I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people.” 17 “Therefore come out from them and be separate, says the Lord. Touch no unclean thing, and I will receive you.” (2 Corinthians 6:14-17 NIV)
God has claimed us out of the darkness and brought us into His glorious light. We can?t walk in the darkness and the light at the same time. He has delivered us from destruction. Why would we want to go back to our deeds of darkness and be destroyed when our King has such a glorious future in store for us?
We are not only to abstain from the ways of the world so that we don?t destroy ourselves, but we are also called to live as God?s people so that those who are caught in the grip of destruction might come to know our Savior as they watch our lives. Read along with me from 1 Peter 2:11-12.
11 Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul. 12 Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us. (1 Peter 2:11-12 NIV)
At the foundation of our discussion concerning how we are to live is this one question we must answer: Do we want to be God?s people or enemies of God? That?s it plain and simple. What do you want to be? A man or woman of God or an enemy of God? James writes,
4 You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. (James 4:4 NIV)
The church in Pergamum was criticized by our Lord because they were tolerating teachers who taught that you can embrace the cross and the world at the same time. They had teachers in their church who were bringing the teachings of faith together with the practices of the temples. They taught that you can sacrifice at the emperor?s temple and worship at God?s house with no problem. They were teaching folks that they could be sexually promiscuous and still be faithful to God. They were teaching that the ways of the world and the ways of God are not in conflict with one another.
The sin of Pergamum was the opposite of the sin of the church in Ephesus. The church in Ephesus wouldn?t tolerate any false doctrine, but they had lost their love for God and people. The church in Pergamum had no doctrinal conviction; they just wanted to get along with everyone.
The leaders of this church and all churches today are called by God to shepherd the flock. We are called to make sure that it is the Word of God that is taught in God?s house. I know there are many, many philosophies, religions, and ideologies that are embraced by the people of our society today. I will promise you that no matter what you believe or what kind of lifestyle you are trying to justify, you can find support for it in our society, but you might not find support for it in God?s Word. Society can rationalize and justify most all of the ideologies and practices of our people, but among God?s people there is one guiding message?the Word of God. It is a great temptation to jump on the bandwagon of whatever will attract people to your church and cause it to grow, but Scripture urges, commands, us to stay focused. Paul wrote to Timothy and said,
2 Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage– with great patience and careful instruction. 3 For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. 4 They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. (2 Timothy 4:2-4 NIV)
Jesus tells the church in Pergamum and the church in our day, to repent. Stop doing what you are doing and get back to doing what you are supposed to do! Stop walking in the world and walk in the Spirit! Jesus says that if the church doesn?t repent He will come and fight them. Jesus doesn?t say He will tear down Zeus? temple, He says He will wage war on those in the church who are leading others astray and those who are allowing them to lead others astray. Just sitting back and doing nothing will bring a guilty verdict.
After Jesus commends and critiques the church in Pergamum, He reminds them that if they will repent of their sin and deal with what is happening in His church that He will greatly reward them. Read along with me in verse 17.
17He 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. (Revelation 2:17 NIV)
Jesus promises those who overcome that they will receive hidden manna and a white stone with a new name written on it. The ?hidden manna? is a reference to the manna that God provided for the children of Israel while they were traveling in the wilderness. For forty years God sustained His people while they were making their way through the wilderness. We can read about this in Exodus 16:32-35.
32Moses said, “This is what the LORD has commanded: ‘Take an omer of manna and keep it for the generations to come, so they can see the bread I gave you to eat in the desert when I brought you out of Egypt.'” 33 So Moses said to Aaron, “Take a jar and put an omer of manna in it. Then place it before the LORD to be kept for the generations to come.” 34 As the LORD commanded Moses, Aaron put the manna in front of the Testimony, that it might be kept. 35 The Israelites ate manna forty years, until they came to a land that was settled; they ate manna until they reached the border of Canaan. (Exodus 16:32-35 NIV)
God not only fed His people in the wilderness, but He promised to sustain those in Pergamum who would refuse to succumb to the temptations and pressures of society and cling to Him. Some of those in the church who had sat on their hands may have been afraid to speak up in opposition to the false teachers, but Jesus promised to sustain them in the battle.
I pray that you will hear this message as a reminder to you and me today. We live in a temptation-filled society. The marriage of the church and society is rampant. Don?t give in. Don?t convince yourself that you can compromise the ways of God. Don?t give a wink and a nod to those who try to synthesize God?s Word with the teachings of popular culture. God will sustain you when you grow weary. He will give you some of the ?hidden manna,? the spiritual food you and I need to walk faithfully with our Savior. He will take care of you!
Secondly, we read that Jesus will give them a white stone with a new name written on it. There are as many as a dozen different ideas on the significance of the ?white stone.? Jurors would use white and black stones to cast votes of innocence or guilt. Some say that the white stone stands in contrast to the magical amulets that were distributed at the temples in Pergamum. White stones were sometimes used as a pass of admission to special occasions and events. As I said there are many different ideas. In thinking and studying about the church in Pergamum this past week I have to believe that the manna, white stone, and new name are all connected and stand in stark contrast to the pagan feasts and festivals of Pergamum.
If you were a citizen of Pergamum who wanted to keep up with Jones? and fit in with the ?in crowd? then you had to participate in the things the ?in crowd? participated in. They marked their calendars for the weekend so they could attend the pagan feasts where there was tons of food that had been sacrificed to the gods and idols of the land. At the festivals and feasts there were temple prostitutes and sexual perversion for all to indulge in. Sounds like some of the parties that take place in our own society? Ever hear of Mardi Gras? I don?t think we would have to wait for Mardi Gras to find a party like this, you could probably find one on any night of the week right here in Oklahoma City?
For those who participated in the feasts and frivolity of Pergamum and for those who participate in those kinds of activities today?the end result is destruction. There is no future for those who live in this manner. If you go to Pergamum today all you will see is ruins and if you live this kind of life your life will end in ruins as well.
Standing in stark contrast to the decadence of Pergamum?s idolatrous feasts and carousing is the marriage supper of the Lamb. In Revelation 19:6-9 John had a glorious vision. Read along with me.
6 Then I heard what sounded like a great multitude, like the roar of rushing waters and like loud peals of thunder, shouting: “Hallelujah! For our Lord God Almighty reigns. 7Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready. 8 Fine linen, bright and clean, was given her to wear.” (Fine linen stands for the righteous acts of the saints.) 9 Then the angel said to me, “Write: ‘Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!'” And he added, “These are the true words of God.” (Revelation 19:6-9 NIV)
For those who will be sustained by the hidden manna, those who will allow the Lord to sustain them through each and every temptation and tug from society?there is promised a feast like the world has never seen. We don?t worship an image carved in marble or a dead emperor?we worship our Living Savior, who died and came to life again! He lives forever more! For those who renounce the ways of this depraved world He gives them a new name?they belong to Him.
Where are you today? Are you living among the ruins of Pergamum or are you planning for the marriage feast of the Lamb? Are you God?s man or woman or are you an enemy of God? I pray that if you don?t know Jesus as Lord of your life that today will be the day that you bow your knee before His glorious throne and invite Him into your heart.