“He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.  To him who overcomes, I will ge 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; Pentecost 16; Dear Church

Your name is a beautiful thing.  It identifies you.  People know you by your name.  Your parents likely thought long and hard and even prayed over your name.  Maybe you were named after a family member.  Maybe it was after a Bible character.  Maybe you were named after a something or someone famous, like an actor, a sports star, or a president.  Maybe your parents just liked the sound of your name, and how it went with your middle and last names.  Your name is a beautiful thing.

Your name also includes many other things along with it.  Your reputation goes along with it.  That is why the Bible regularly encourages us always to seek a good name.  Proverbs 22 says, “A good name is more desirable than great riches; to be esteemed is better than silver or gold.”  And Proverbs 3 says, “Let love and faithfulness never leave you; bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart.  Then you will win favor and a good name in the sight of God and man.” 

Today, we continue in our series titled, “Dear Church!” which is based on the letters in Revelation.  God desires for His church to have a good name.  He wants His church and people to live lives that are true to His name, both inside and out.  To not just look good on the outside, but also inside as well.  In recent weeks, we have looked at how sometimes we may be busy with good things on the outside, but we may have lost our first love, our passion of following Jesus.  Last week, we looked at how important it is to “Be Faithful” in all areas of our lives.  Again, not just on the outside, but inside, in our hearts and minds, as Jesus says, “Be Faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life.”

But, before we go further into today’s lesson, it’s important for us to take a step back and understand some things about these letters.  These letters were inspired by Jesus to His apostle John, while John was in exile on the island of Patmos.  There are seven letters to the churches, and throughout the Bible, the number seven represents fullness, completeness.  So, in many respects, the seven churches represent the whole church of God.  Although they were written during times of great persecution, the issues that are spoken of at that time, apply to us as well today.  We may not be going through physical persecution, but Satan and the world are hard at work to try to destroy God’s church today, and faith in Him. 

The churches were all spread out over what was known as Asia Minor back then, but today would be in the nation of Turkey.  They were the major churches of Asia at that time, and probably all had a connection to the Apostle John.  In previous weeks we have looked at the church of Ephesus and last week the church of Smyrna, and now today we look at the church of Pergamum.

Pergamum (Bergama) is located about 50 miles north of Smyrna.  At one time, Pergamum was known as the Capital City of Asia.  It was home to a large library, some 20,000 volumes which was huge in the ancient day.  Some people suggest that parchment was first made there, as many of the volumes in the library were likely made from parchment.  Pergamum was also the home of major pagan temples, to the gods,Zeus, Athene, Dionysos, and also Asklepios, the Roman god of healing.  Because of this, many people would go to Pergamum to seek healing for their diseases. 

But, Pergamum was even more famous for Emperor worship.  In 29 BC a large temple was built for Caesar Augustus, and at the time of the writing of this letter in 95 AD, people were being forced to bow down and worship the emperor Domitian.  Jesus refers to this as the home of Satan.  But the Christians there were standing strong.  Although threatened with loss of job, loss of land, imprisonment, and even death, they remained true to the name of Jesus, and did not renounce their faith in Him.

In the letter, Jesus commends the church of Pergamum for holding on in faith, but He does address the very sinister and evil problem of “compromising their faith” to the ways of the world.  He writes, “These are the words of Him who has the sharp, double edged sword.  I 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.  Nevertheless, I have a few things against you:  You have been 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.  Likewise you also have those who hold to the teaching of the Nicolaitans.  Repent therefore!  Otherwise I will soon come to you and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth.”

All through the book of Revelation, Jesus speaks of Himself having a sharp double edged sword.  That sword represents the powerful Word of God, which comes out of His mouth.  It is more powerful than all the powers of man.  This Word of God spoke the words of creation.  But this Sword of the Spirit also comes in judgment.  Jesus sees the church in Pergamum as outwardly faithful, but often compromising to the sinful lifestyles of the world.  And He draws upon a lesson from the Old Testament, from the book of Numbers, when the children of Israel were still walking through the wilderness on their way to the Promised Land.  They came near to the land of Moab.  Moab’s king was a man by the name of Balak, and he paid for a sorcerer by the name of Balaam to curse the Children of Israel.  Balaam tried to curse Israel but he could not, but what he did was even worse.  He enticed the Israelites to eat food that was sacrificed to Baal, and even worse, enticed the Israelites to commit sexual immorality with the women of Moab.  They tried to compromise, to be faithful on the outside, but living immorally in private.  But, God saw right through it, and you may remember on that day 24,000 Israelites died.

Jesus sees the same thing going on at Pergamum.  And He calls the church to “Repent”!  Change! Confess your sin! Renounce the compromises that you are making with the world, and let Jesus and His powerful Word bring you forgiveness, hope, and healing.  Many people were coming to Pergamum for healing from the gods.  But the true God, the Triune God, brings healing through faith in Jesus. 

Jesus brings health and healing through the cross.  There He died for the sins of the whole world for the church of Pergamum, and for each one of us.  He said “Father forgive them…”  “It is finished!”  (The debt has been paid!) and “Today you will be with Me in paradise.”  This is what Jesus gives to each of us as well, and also through the Resurrection give us His Spirit to overcome the temptations of Satan and this dark world.

Dear Church, Dear members of Trinity, dear friend, God also knows our lives.  He sees the life of our congregation and our own personal life like an open book.  He knows the outside, how you are trying, but He also sees the inside of our hearts.  He sees how often we compromise to the ways of the world, in the shows that we watch, the books that we read, the sites that we visit on our computer or our phone, in the things that we strive for, and the language that we use.    Compromising to sin has a way of weakening our resolve and our faith in Jesus.   We begin to try to serve two masters.  Today, Jesus calls us personally and as a church to repent.

And He calls us to hear these grace filled words from our true Master.  He says, “He 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.”  We, with ears open overcome through faith in Jesus.  He will bring to us that manna, that gift from heaven, that is the “bread of life”, given to us in the Lord’s Supper which we will receive in just a few moments, to bring us the forgiveness of sins and healing for our lives.

And He will also give us a new name, “Overcomer”, “Conqueror”,  “Victorious” “Not Guilty”, “Set Free” “My Child”, for the white stone was a sign of being declared not guilty in the court of law.  Yes you are an overcomer, victorious, and true to His name through faith in Jesus!  His Dear Church!  His Dear Child!

God grant it…