Home > Uncategorized > Lent 5 – Morning Prayer

Lent 5 – Morning Prayer

Note: parts of this sermon were adapted from Revelation for Lent, published by CPH in 2006.

The Letter to Philadelphia:  Neglect—Locked Out in Death’s Night

Isaiah 60:3–11; Revelation 3:7–13; Matthew 28:16–20

27 Sermon for Lent 5 – Morning Prayer mp3 audio

Theme Verse

I will make those who are of the synagogue of Satan, who claim to be Jews though they are not, but are liars—I will make them come and fall down at your feet and acknowledge that I have loved you. (Revelation 3:9)



In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Quite a bit of Christian preaching sounds like preaching to the choir.  After all, presumably the people in the pews are already the converted.  But preaching still is the delivery of the Gospel which is the key to heaven.  And so the church was established from the beginning by Jesus to be a place where the acts of Jesus on the cross in the place of sinners are proclaimed over and over again.  Jesus poured His Spirit out on them to do this very thing.  How else could it have been that eleven men went from hiding frightened behind locked doors to bold preachers in the course of about a month?  When Peter preached at Pentecost, thousands entered into God’s kingdom.  And the apostles continued on with the things that Jesus had given them to do.  They baptized.  They broke the bread and poured the wine and the body and blood of Christ forgave, quickened, and strengthened the souls of the faithful.  So it was among the Christians in Philadelphia.  As they heard and received the Good News, Jesus filled them to overflowing, hearts were opened among their neighbors, whom they loved, and they were moved to believe in Christ Jesus.

And so the angel does not bring a word of correction to the church in Philadelphia.  They had already had enough of that, suffering as they did through frequent earthquakes that occurred in that part of the world.  Much like our Lutheran brothers and sisters in Japan, those who lived in such a dangerous city needed reassurance of God’s continued love. And He did love them.  The Christians in Philadelphia were recognized for their faithfulness in the face of trial, temptation, and persecution.

They were examples of the faith.  Where others failed, the Christians in Philadelphia stood firm in the faith.  They continued to trust God’s Word and to believe in Jesus when it would have been so much easier to return to paganism or Judaism.  And they were sorely tempted.

The area around Philadelphia was a major wine-producing region. It would have been tempting to join in during the festivals for Dionysus, the wine god, his Roman incarnation you might be more familiar with, Bacchus.  We get the term bacchanalia from Bacchus.  The cult of Dionysus was a powerful influence throughout the ancient world but was very powerful in Philadelphia.  As tempted as the Christians in Philadelphia were, they were persecuted even more.  Sadly it was the Jews, not the pagans, who offered the strongest opposition to the faith—Jews who claimed to be the rightful heirs of Abraham and David.  They never ceased trying to have the Christians arrested on trumped up charges of disloyalty to Rome or practicing an illegal religion.  And yet Christ had come to the Jews first. He proclaimed the Good News of the kingdom to them.  He did many miracles to prove His divinity, but the Jews spurned Him.  They called for Jesus’ death.  Even after He rose from the dead, they refused to believe in Jesus.  Here is the extent of their neglect: The Jews despised their birthright. They abandoned faith for dead works.  So bitter and hateful has the antagonism from the Jews become that Jesus calls their synagogue a “synagogue of Satan.”  They claim to be the true Israel, but the Lord Jesus calls them liars and children of the prince of lies.  That describes anyone in any religion who would turn away—or turn you away—from the truth of Jesus to false teachings.  Woe to those who neglect the truth for error!

I don’t think John took any delight in recording this nor do I think John advocated turning the tables and persecuting the Jews.  They were what Jesus called a “synagogue of Satan” only because the devil had blinded them to the truth.  There is no excuse for the barbarity some in the name of Christianity have visited upon the Jews throughout History.  Christians should pray that the Jews and all unbelievers will repent of their unbelief and learn that Jesus is the Son of David, the Messiah for whom they yearn.  We should deal kindly with them so on the day of Christ’s return they may willingly, along with all true believers, acknowledge Jesus as Savior rather than unwillingly bow to Him as judge.

I’ve been working off the idea that these ancient letters to the Christian Churches in Asia Minor are still applicable to the Christian church today and even to our congregation.  I think there are many similarities with Augustana and our beloved Missouri Synod and the letter to the church in Philadelphia.  Unlike any synagogue or temple of Satan, our doctrine is pure.  Our faith is strong.  Oh that we could hear Jesus say that our love for God’s Word is unquestioned and that out morality is above reproach.  I think in many ways, as I indicated last week, we’re a little closer to the church in Laodicea than we are the church in Philadelphia.  Stay tuned.

Those of us who were born into the church, baptized as infants and raised in the church, have a unique challenge in the life of faith.  It’s hard for us to see ourselves as we once were, as slaves of sin, as living in guilt, having no hope because you were excluded from God’s people and His promises of grace.  There are some in the congregation, and I’m not trying to single anyone out by saying this, who did not grow up in the church.  They remember quite well the idols they once worshiped and the vain and temporary things of this world they once chased after.  In some ways, it is harder for us who have always believed, or so we think, to fully identify with the truth that we were once were as guilty of neglect of the truth as the unbelieving Jews and pagans.  And so for us it is harder to see the blessing of Jesus as the key who unlocked the gates of the kingdom of heaven for us.  We simply don’t remember a time when we didn’t know what Jesus had died and rose again for us, when we were baptized into Jesus.  But we do, in a way, by faith, because that old Adam is still close by.  It is the old Adam of ourselves we confess when we say we are poor miserable sinners, when we cry out to the Lord, “Lord, have mercy!”

We Lutherans use this phrase.  I’m pretty sure most other Christians do not and I wonder sometimes if we even remember what it means.  It is one of those uniquely Lutheran things that we talk about the old Adam, the old sinful self that seems to forever be not far from us.  St. Paul described that old self very well when he spoke of “the good that I want to do, this I don’t do, and the evil that I don’t want to, this I keep on doing.” (Rom 7)  Dr. Luther saw this as a key to understanding human nature, that as wicked as person could be in their heart, they could be declared not guilty on account of blood of Christ.  And as wonderfully strong as a person in the faith could be, they could still be flawed and broken.  The new self in Christ and the old self, the pagan, the unbeliever, one needing to be daily killed, drowned in the remembrance of baptism, one needing to be daily raised in faith and obedience to the Word of God.  The old self and the new self.  The old Adam and the new.

That old Adam in us is every bit as much a pagan as any who tempted the Christians in Philadelphia; the old Adam in us is every bit as much the unbelieving Jew as any who cried out that day in Pontius Pilate’s court, “Crucify Him! Let His blood be on us and on our children!  Crucify Him!”  That’s us calling for the death at Him who would be our Savior.  And yet, as St. Paul said, “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. 9 Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. 10 For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.”  (Ro 5:8–10) Sinners and enemies of God—that’s what we were and still are in the old Adam.  Those of us who can’t remember truly being outside the church, need to remember we aren’t nearly so saved that we don’t need to drown the old Adam in us, daily.  And yet, when we remember in faith all that God has done for us through Christ, all these treasures are opened through the key Christ has given to us.

Everyone, Jew and pagan, and converted Christian who still struggles against the old Adam in this life needs to hear of Jesus. The beloved apostle Paul has written: “For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on Him, for, ‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’ How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can they preach unless they are sent?” (Romans 10:12–15).

“I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut,” the Lord Jesus says to you. “I know that you have little strength, yet you have kept My word and have not denied My name” (Revelation 3:8). “What open door?” you ask. Open doors come in all shapes, sizes, and places. One open door is assisting missionaries with your offerings. “How can they preach unless they are sent?” (Romans 10:15). And how can they be sent unless you give to support them? And there are other ways. You go to work or school or into the stores and doctors’ offices and homes of friends and neighbors nearly every day.  In almost every conversation, someone will mention a need. That need—a frustration, a family problem, a regret, a worry—is the door through which Christ can enter when you speak a gentle word of faith.  Needs exist all around you.  People are sick, lonesome, hungry, poor, illiterate, confused, abandoned, dying.  Every problem is an open door for Christ, whose love you can share with others by caring enough to help and caring enough to lift up their needs to our God in prayer.

I am certain that you will use the key.  To keep the word of Jesus and to confess Him is to proclaim Him.  That is who you are, people who stand up for Jesus no matter how terrifying the adversary.  You can do that, even in the face of persecution. “Hold on to what you have,” the Lord Jesus encourages you (Revelation 3:11). Let no one take your crown. God will help you.

How do I know?  Because God helped the Christian in Philadelphia who were no different than you.  Not long after they received this letter, great persecution and suffering came on them and ye they continued to bear up under this tribulation and be faithful.  Rome came down especially hard on the Christians in Philadelphia, persecution far worse than the struggles they had with unbelieving Jews in the synagogue.  But not long after than Diocletian’s persecution ended and Rome began to fade into history.  Some 600 years later, the Christians in Philadelphia were steadfast in the face of the onslaught of the Turks and Islam and build a huge basilica style church.  Philadelphia remained a free Christian city until well into the fourteenth century.  Finally, even after the Turks overwhelmed the city, their faith and their church continued.  Even now there is a Christian congregation descended from the original congregation in Philadelphia that still honors the name of Jesus.  And of all the ancient ruins of the old city of Philadelphia the only things left standing after 1400 years of Muslim persecution and earthquakes are the two great pillars of the great church that stood there. It is as if Jesus’ words here have become a prophecy of sorts, “The one who conquers, I will make him a pillar in the temple of my God. Never shall he go out of it,” (Rev 3:12a).

Jesus expected the Christians in Philadelphia to do great things.  Those expectations were fulfilled not because of their strength but because of His.  Just as Jesus kept them, He will keep you strong in faith and love. In Baptism you were named God’s child. Your name is written in the Book of Life. The promise of Jesus for you, and all who overcome, is that your names will be engraved on the pillars of the temple in heaven. Indeed, you will be the temple and Jesus Himself will live among you. It will not be a temple unlike those here on earth, which are destroyed every few centuries by earthquakes. It will be a temple that lasts forever, safe from every enemy. This is Jesus’ promise to you.  Amen.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

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