There is something in a name. My name is Mike. Actually, Michael's not my first name; my first name is Jerry. I'm Jerry Michael Breaux. On the first day of school—because of the way my name is spelled—teachers would always call me something like "Jerry Bree-ox." It was embarrassing.
There's something about a name that says something about who you are. Some people's names are funny. Some people are embarrassed by their names. Some people change their names over and over. Take Sean Combs, for example. He changed his name to Sean "Puff Daddy" Combs. Then he dropped the "Sean" and the "Combs" and called himself Puff Daddy. Then he went back to Sean P. Diddy Combs. Then he dropped everything and called himself P. Diddy. Now he calls himself Diddy. What's he going to be called next?
Other people are known by just one name—Sting, Bono, Cher, Madonna, Oprah, J.Lo, Prince, Tiger, Colby, Magic, and our President: W.
Some cities are known by nicknames: Boomtown, The Windy City, Sin City, Music City, The Motor City, The Big Apple, and The Big Easy.
In Revelation 3:12, John records Jesus' words to a church in Asia Minor in a city known as Philadelphia. It was a city in a bit of an identity crisis, because it had been named and renamed many times. Philadelphia sat on a geological fault line, so earthquakes and volcanic activity bred constant fear of forced evacuations, unexpected death and devastation, and constant rebuilding. Every time the city had to rebuild, Rome renamed it. Jesus writes incredibly meaningful words to a city living with an ever-changing identity, the anxiety of an ever-shifting earth, and the everyday reality of unrelenting persecution. Imagine being in Philadelphia on the day the pastor stood up and read these particular words to his church: I will write on him the name of my God and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which is coming down out of heaven from my God; and I will also write on him my new name.
Jesus says: I will change your name to an unchanging name, one that has and will stand forever; you will live in and be citizens of an eternal city that cannot be shaken. You'll never have to move. You'll never have to hide. You'll never have to evacuate. You'll never have to leave, board up, pack up, pick up, or rebuild again.
Can you imagine sitting in that little congregation hearing those words read to you from the Lord Jesus Christ?
Jesus opens doors.
Look at the way John starts the letter. Revelation 3:7 reads, "To the angel of the church in Philadelphia write: 'These are the words of him who is holy and true.'" Jesus says: That's my name—holy and true. I am the transcendent one. I am the unchanging one. I am the eternal one. I have an incredible view from above. I see all things. I know all things. I am the real deal. You can trust what I'm about to say. I'm sovereign. I hold the keys of David.
Isaiah 22:22 records a prophecy that the coming Messiah would hold the keys. It said, "I will place on his shoulder the key to the house of David; what he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open." Jesus says: I hold the keys to the kingdom of God, and the kingdom of God will set up residence in any willing heart. I hold the keys to life and death. I hold the keys to heaven and hell. I open doors at my discretion, and I close them as well. No one can lock down what I've opened up, and no one can pry open what I've shut.
As I studied this passage, I thought to myself, We miss so much when we attempt to go our own way. We have someone who is holy and true opening doors for us, yet we still go our own way, knocking over barriers he has set up, or trying to force our way through doors that are locked. God often tries to get our attention and lead us through another door, but we can't hear him, because we're so obsessed with trying to figure out how to open the one that's been closed. We try all kinds of combinations and all kinds of keys, and we stand there banging our heads on the door, because that's the one we want to walk through. But Jesus says: Come on. I know what's best. I have this incredible view from above. Trust me when I open a door. Step through it and follow me.
So many people say they want to find God's will for their lives. They say, "I've been looking for signs. I've been looking for signals. My alarm went off at 7:47. Am I supposed to take a flight?" They wrack their brains, unscrambling letters from license plates or unscrambling headlines. They think finding God's will is like seeing those hidden pictures in the Highlight magazines you find in doctors' offices or completing a Where's Waldo puzzle. But it's not about finding God's will; it's about following God's voice. Jesus said, "My sheep know my voice, and they follow me." Jesus says: Just follow me when I open the door.
After a play has been run, NFL quarterbacks sometimes stand with their fingers in the ear holes of their helmet. It's not because they're dazed; it's because there's a little speaker in there. An offensive coordinator is talking to them. He sits way up in the press box where he has an incredible view of the whole field. He can see things people can't see from the sidelines. All the quarterback has to do is listen to the voice in his helmet and follow it.
Jesus says: I'm holy and trustworthy, and I've got an incredible view from above. Just follow my voice.
Jesus calls us to walk through open doors.
My sons and I have been involved in our own version of Extreme Home Makeover. We started this project because we followed a prompting; we felt the voice of God was saying, "Here's an open door; walk through it." We decided that instead of giving each other Christmas presents every year, we would give our resources and skills to help a family in need. We didn't know how much money this particular project was going to take, but we were confident that God was telling us to move ahead.
We bit off a lot more than we could chew! We started uncovering things that were broken and rotten. My son called me one day and said, "Dad, we're overwhelmed down here. This is unbelievable. I don't know if we have the money to do this. We're working really hard, but we just don't know what's going to happen." He called me a few days later to tell me that nearly a hundred volunteers had shown up to help. He said, "Dad, you won't believe this! Someone came by and offered to put on a roof for free. He's donating all the shingles, and he's going to do all the labor. Another guy said he's going to do all the siding for free." Others bought appliances, faucets, tile, and carpet.
The greatest thing has been watching my boys walk through a door and watch God show up. God proved to them that he is holy, he is true, he is faithful, and he pays for what he orders. He just asks us to follow his voice.
There are open doors all around us. It's not tough to find God's will for your life. Our neighborhoods, schools, the Gulf Coast, inner cities—there are open doors all around us. We just have to be willing to follow God's voice and walk through the door opened by the one who holds the keys.
Jesus gives strength for the task at hand.
In verse 8 Jesus says, "I know your deeds." In every one of the letters in Revelation 2 and 3—with the exception of the letter to the church in Smyrna—Jesus says, "I know your deeds." Usually he goes on to rebuke them for what they're doing wrong. But not Philadelphia! Jesus has no words of rebuke for this church. He says, "I know your deeds. See, I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut. I know that you have little strength, yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name." Jesus says: I know how faithful and resilient you are. I see your courage every day. I recognize humility when I see it. I know that most of you are poor. You might not be the biggest and the strongest and the richest church on the planet, but I'm going to use you in powerful ways because you depend upon me. Never forget that when you're weak I am strong, and my strength is going to be exhibited through your church. I have opened a door in front of you, and nobody can shut that door.
Some of you are from churches that are small and seemingly insignificant. When you come to Willow Creek, you think, Wow, what a place! Why can't we be like that? Why can't we have that? Why can't we do that? God didn't call you to be us! He called you to be you where you are. He called you to love him with all your heart, with all your mind, with all your soul, and with all your strength—no matter how little that strength might seem. Throw a serving towel over your arm, get on your knees, and depend upon the Holy Spirit of God to supernaturally energize your ministry to walk through every open door God has for you. It's the Enemy who whispers, "You're small. You're ineffective. You're useless. You're weak. What great thing could you ever do? What great thing could your puny church ever do?"
We've had the privilege to partner with several churches in Waveland, Mississippi, a town in one of the Gulf Coast areas that was hit hardest by Hurricane Katrina. Rick Long, a pastor of a small but dynamic church in that area, realized God had opened a door for the church to walk through in the wake of the hurricane damage. They started organizing an incredible relief effort. They even used the money they had been collecting for a new building. Needless to say, they quickly burned through all of it.
As Rick said, "Our little church [was] way in over its head." At one point, they were feeding 6,000 people a day, providing all their supplies and clothes. But this little church's relief effort is now being called one of the best the National Health Department has ever seen in our country's history!
That's the kind of church Jesus was speaking to in Revelation 3: a little church that had very little strength, according to worldly standards. The key for our effectiveness is to realize how little our strength is and stay dependent upon the one who has the strength—the Holy One, the true one, the one who holds the keys. You don't have to be big. You don't have to be impressive. You don't have to be well known to be effective. You just have to follow his voice.
Open doors often lead to persecution.
One problem with open doors is that they usually let annoying flies in. When God opened the door for the church in Philadelphia, they got more than an annoyance; they faced persecution. Because of that, Jesus tells them: I know all about your persecution. I'm eventually going to settle the score. The ones who are persecuting you will be exposed for who they really are.
The people Jesus is talking about were mentioned in the letter to the church in Smyrna. They were wreaking the same havoc there. In verse 9, Jesus says, "I will make those who are of the synagogue of Satan, who claim to be Jews though they're not, but are liars—I'll make them come and fall down at your feet and acknowledge that I have loved you." Jesus says: They don't know God! They're phonies! In fact, they're even playing for the other side. They lie because their father is the Father of Lies. Rest assured, I'm going to bring them down. Let me take care of them. They will clearly see one day that I have loved you.
Jesus goes on to say in verse 10, "Since you have kept my command to endure patiently, I will also keep you from the hour of trial that is going to come down on the whole world to test those who live on the earth." We don't really know what that refers to specifically. Some people think it might refer to a specific tribulation period. Maybe Jesus is simply saying that life is going to get worse for everybody. Either way, he encourages them that he will be with them. Jesus says, "I'm coming soon. Hold on to what you have, so that no one will take your crown." Jesus says: Don't let anybody or anything force you to live a defeated life. Choose joy every day. Don't huddle in hiding and get spiritually claustrophobic. Keep the same attitude you've had from the beginning. Stay positive. Stay hope-filled, and walk through the open door that I have placed for you.
It's a good thing to remember that nothing can separate us from the love of Jesus Christ. Every now and then, I need to reread Romans 8. I love the way The message puts it:
So what do you think? With God on our side like this how can we lose? If God didn't hesitate to put everything on the line for us, embracing our condition and exposing himself to the worst by sending his own Son, is there anything else he wouldn't gladly and freely do for us? And who would dare tangle with God by messing with one of God's chosen? Who would dare even to point a finger? The one who died for us—who was raised to life for us!—is in the presence of God at this very moment sticking up for us. Do you think anyone is going to be able to drive a wedge between us and Christ's love for us? There is no way! Not trouble, not hard times, not hatred, not hunger, not homelessness, not bullying threats, not backstabbing, not even the worst sins listed in Scripture …
None of this fazes us because Jesus loves us. I'm absolutely convinced that nothing—nothing living or dead, angelic or demonic, today or tomorrow, high or low, thinkable or unthinkable—absolutely nothing can get between us and God's love because of the way that Jesus our Master has embraced us.
Jesus writes to this little church in the city of Philadelphia to tell them that nothing is going to shake them loose from him. Look at what he promises these Christ-followers in a city that's always under the threat of volcanic and earthquake activity and constantly being rebuilt: "Him who overcomes I will make a pillar in the temple of my God." Never again will he leave it. Jesus says: Stand firm. Depend upon me and walk through the doors I have opened for you. When all is said and done, you'll still be standing in a new city with a new name.
Jesus goes on to say, "I will write on him the name of my God and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which is coming down out of heaven from my God; and I will also write on him my new name." There's something about a name. Can you imagine what it meant to those people? Can you appreciate what it means to you when Jesus says, "I will write that name—my name—on you"? There's something about a name. It gives us a sense of identity. The great news is, we have a new name, and we're going to live in a new city that cannot be shaken. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit has to say to the churches.
For Your Reflection
Personal growth: How has this sermon fed your own soul? ___________________________________________
Skill growth: What did this sermon teach you about how to preach? ____________________________________________________________________________
Exegesis and exposition: Highlight the paragraphs in this sermon that helped you better understand Scripture. How does the sermon model ways you could provide helpful biblical exposition for your hearers? ____________________________________________________________________________
Theological Ideas: What biblical principles in this sermon would you like to develop in a sermon? How would you adapt these ideas to reflect your own understanding of Scripture, the Christian life, and the unique message that God is putting on your heart?
Outline: How would you improve on this outline by changing the wording, or by adding or subtracting points? _____________________________________________________________________
Application: What is the main application of this sermon? What is the main application of the message you sense God wants you to bring to your hearers? ____________________________________________________________________________
Illustrations: Which illustrations in this sermon would relate well with your hearers? Which cannot be used with your hearers, but they suggest illustrations that could work with your hearers? ____________________________________________________________________________
Credit: Do you plan to use the content of this sermon to a degree that obligates you to give credit? If so, when and how will you do it?
Mike Breaux is teaching pastor of Heartland Community Church in Rockford, Illinois.